President Joseph R. Biden
First Lady Jill Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President and Dr. Biden:
On behalf of the nearly 17,000 members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe (“Tribe”), I humbly request your assistance to save Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, known as Oak Flat, which is a Traditional Cultural Property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located on public land in southeastern Arizona.
A backroom rider called the Southeastern Arizona Land Exchange was parachuted as Section 3003 into the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 113-291, in the waning hours of the 113th Congress. This rider gives away 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest (“TNF”) land, including sacred Oak Flat, to foreign conglomerates, Rio Tinto and BHP Copper, through their shell limited liability company called Resolution Copper in return for Resolution Copper-owned parcels to the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. These foreign corporations seek to develop one of the largest mines in North America to monetize natural resources owned by the American people for their own private enrichment.
Resolution Copper’s proposed mining activities will decimate numerous sacred springs, traditional areas, burial locations, and other cultural places and destroy thousands of acres of public lands. The block-cave mining technique Resolution Copper plans to use will create a 1.8- mile wide crater (the distance between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial) over a thousand feet deep. The mine will require over 40 miles of pipeline through large swaths of TNF, including blasting through a mountain peak and building a pipeline bridge over Ga’an (Apache mountain spirits) Canyon, to slurry out toxic waste and ore concentrate. It will also require the construction of massive utility and road corridors that could span 500 feet in width. This mine will deplete and contaminate precious water resources in the region and result in a toxic waste dump that will be taller than the Washington Monument and potentially span over 15,000 acres.
Despite Resolution Copper’s claim that this proposed mine would supply up to 25% of U.S. domestic demands, the U.S. is not facing a shortage of domestically produced copper concentrate; and, in fact, in 2009 the U.S. was the fifth largest exporting nation in the world shipping $2.34 billion worth of copper ore abroad. Most likely, Resolution’s copper concentrate is bound for China, which is by far the world’s largest importer of copper ore. Rio Tinto’s single largest investor is the government of China through Chinalco Mining Corporation International.
Even if one accepts Resolution’s highly optimistic estimate for water usage, the mine will actually use about 775,000 acre feet of water over the life of the mine, of which approximately 70% will be pumped from a large network of new extraction wells in the East Salt River Valley. 775,000 acre feet equals 250 billion gallons of water. It is hard to visualize the immensity of this amount of water. A football field covers about one acre, so if the water Resolution plans to use was stored in a tank the dimensions of a football field, such a tank would need to be 147 miles high to accommodate all the water. The Salt River upstream of Phoenix is about 100 feet wide and 5 feet deep. For a river the size of the Salt River to hold the amount of water required by this mine, it would need to be more than 12,000 miles long, extending halfway around the world.
Resolution Copper admits that at least 550,000-acre feet of groundwater that would come from an area outside of Phoenix called the East Salt River Valley will be required to slurry toxic waste through over 20 miles of pipelines. This groundwater pumping will result in water levels being drawn down 199 feet in some areas, which, in turn, could cause the land to subside by as much as 52 inches and impact Arizona’s water, municipal, and agricultural infrastructure.
Arizona does not have enough water to accommodate this large new demand. Resolution’s proposed Desert Wellfield is in the Phoenix Active Management Area and is just north of the Pinal AMA. Active Management Areas were created by the state to better manage aquifers in parts of the state that were experiencing depleted groundwater resources. In an October 2019 study of the Pinal AMA, Arizona Department of Water Resources identified a future unmet demand of 8.1 million acre-feet.
TNF has indicated that the Southeastern Arizona Land Exchange rider requires it to give Oak Flat to Resolution Copper within 60 days of publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”), which paves the way for its mine that will destroy Oak Flat, large parts of TNF, and other surrounding areas. Resolution Copper sought to rush the EIS process, resulting in TNF under the Trump Administration publishing the FEIS on January 15, 2021 despite strong objections from tribes and concerned citizens in the region.
We deeply appreciate that on March 1, 2021, USDA directed the Forest Service to withdraw the FEIS, stating that rescinding the FEIS will ensure the agency complies with “the environmental, cultural, and archaeological analyses required” and that “additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law.” USDA also stated that because the land exchange was directed under the FY15 NDAA that “long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress.”
We understand that USDA plans to issue a new FEIS within the next 6 months without explaining how it plans to address the numerous serious deficiencies in the EIS process within this short time frame. We humbly request that USDA and the Department of the Interior, which would receive Resolution Copper-owned parcels under Section 3003, engage in government-to- government consultations with tribes to, among other things, discuss and develop a plan to properly analyze all impacts from the proposed mine and ensure full compliance with federal law. Without such a plan, we are concerned that USDA is simply going through the motions in violation of its treaty and trust responsibilities to tribal nations and in violation of the law.
In Congress, H.R. 1884/S. 915, the Save Oak Flat Act, was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva and Senator Bernie Sanders, respectively. The Save Oak Flat Act would provide long- term protections for Oak Flat by repealing Section 3003 and withdrawing Oak Flat from the public land and mining laws. We further humbly request your support for this legislation and the assistance of the Administration to help ensure this legislation is enacted into law as soon as possible.
Please feel free to contact me if there are any questions. As we say in our Apache language, Ahi’yi’ é (thank you) for your efforts and consideration.
SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE
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