The San Carlos Apache Tribe (“Tribe”) will continue to pursue multiple avenues to block construction of the proposed Resolution Copper Mine despite Friday’s federal appeals court decision rejecting an Apache grassroots group’s lawsuit seeking to stop the mine on religious freedom issues.
“While disappointing, the appeals court decision does not advance the Resolution Mine project one inch and we intend to stop this environmentally and culturally destructive project,” says the Tribe’s Chairman, Terry Rambler, “We will continue to relentlessly oppose this project in Congress, the courts and with the Biden Administration.”
The Tribe, as well a coalition of Arizona tribal and environmental groups, have two separate federal lawsuits pending against the U.S. Forest Service seeking to stop the mine that would obliterate sacred Western Apache land at Oak Flat, which is located on the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix.
The lawsuits are based on substantive environmental and cultural issues that have not yet been litigated. The cases were stayed in early 2021 after the Biden Administration withdrew an environmental study that is necessary to advance the mine. (See: San Carlos Apache Tribe vs. U.S. Forest Service, and Arizona Mining Reform Coalition et al vs. U.S. Forest Service.)
The Administration ordered the Forest Service to engage in meaningful consultations about the environmental study with Arizona tribes that would be impacted by construction of the mine, including the San Carlos Apache. These consultations are ongoing. The Biden Administration last fall also committed to strengthening tribal authority in government-to-government consultations over federal decisions that impact indigenous people.
Once the tribal consultations are completed and a new Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) is published, the two pending federal lawsuits may be advanced to challenge the findings in the environmental report. A 2014 law requires the Forest Service to transfer Oak Flat to Resolution Copper for private land within 60 days of publishing the FEIS.
In addition, the Tribe remains laser-focused on supporting the passage of the Save Oak Flat Act that is pending in Congress. The bill, which has passed the House Natural Resources Committee, would rescind the mandate trading Oak Flat to Resolution Copper. Resolution is owned by Rio Tinto (55%) and BHP (45%), two foreign-based multinational mining companies.
“We strongly urge Congress to immediately pass the Save Oak Flat Act to finally end this disastrous mining project,” Chairman Rambler says.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal on procedural grounds by the nonprofit group Apache Stronghold. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court upheld a lower federal court decision that Apache Stronghold’s religious arguments were unlikely to succeed at trial. Based on the unlikelihood of success, the U.S. District Court rejected Apache Stronghold’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the pending land transfer that would allow the mining project to proceed. The appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision.
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