Why is Congress Turning over Public Lands to Foreign Copper Mine Companies?

Thursday, February 26, 2015
Copper mining structure overlooks Tonto National Forest in Arizona (photo: Resolution Copper Mining)

Nearly 2,500 acres of public lands in Arizona has been handed over to two foreign mining companies that plan to excavate $130 billion in copper from an area considered sacred to Native Americans.


Oak Flat, part of the Tonto National Forest about 100 miles north of Tucson, is the site where Resolution Copper Mining, a British-Australian partnership, intends to develop an enormous copper mine.


Resolution got permission to create the mine after Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, slipped a provision into the Defense Reauthorization Act. McCain says the deal with Resolution is good for his state, claiming the mine will generate 1,400 jobs and billions of dollars for the state economy. But in the process, Resolution will be removing an estimated $130 billion worth of copper that’s now owned by the American people.


The proposal has been around since 2005, but never got through Congress until McCain and fellow Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake put it into the “must-pass” defense bill, which President Barack Obama signed in December.


Members of the Apache and Yavapai tribes consider the land sacred and have started a sit-in protest on the site to stop the project. The Apaches and Yavapai are getting support from other tribes and tribal organizations, including the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the National Congress of American Indians and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona.


Wendsler Nosie, a former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, told the Arizona Daily Star, “we’re not moving.  . . . “We can work with the United States to fix this. If the United States fails and becomes defensive, then I have no control. There’s going to be a lot of tribes here coming from all over the country.”


In exchange for getting the rights to the 2,400 acres of public land, Resolution is trading 5,300 acres of land it owns elsewhere in Arizona to the federal government.


Resolution consists of the two largest mining companies in the world: Rio Tinto, headquartered in London, and BHP Billiton, based in Melbourne, Australia.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Tribe's Protest of Mine Plan Near Superior Is in 3rd Week (by Emily Bregel, Arizona Daily Star)

Did the GOP Just Give Away $130 Billion of Public Property? (by Alan Grayson, The Nation)

In Arizona, a Controversial Federal Land Swap Leaves Apaches in the Lurch (by Serene Fang and Adam May, Al Jazeera America)

Resolution Copper Deal Elicits Celebration, Outrage (by Emily Bregel, Arizona Daily Star)


Cyndi Tuell 9 years ago
We also need to ask Montana's Senator Jon Tester (who is on the Appropriations Committee, also Indian Affairs Committee) why he approved giving away our public lands and Apache Sacred land. He could have and should have stopped the Oak Flat land exchange. Did he sell us out because Montana got some wilderness in this same bill? The people of Montana should let him know they are ashamed of what has been done in this backroom deal.
George Nickas 9 years ago
One needs to ask organizations like The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, and the Pew Foundation why they supported giving away these lands and minerals to a foreign corporation. Without their support for the package, it wouldn't have seen the light of day and senators McCain and Flake's efforts wouldn't have amounted to anything. Many of the grassroots conservation groups around the country fought to protect these lands and others, but the Beltway greens sold us all, including the Apache Tribe, down the river.

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