By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Today the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on two Republican bills that would give one of the world’s largest copper deposits away to the Resolution Copper Company, owned by the large multi-national mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. The deposit is located on public lands in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.
Sens. John Kyl (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ) are the biggest proponents of the bills in the Senate. Kyl testified today that
The legislation that came over to the Senate from the House is perfectly good legislation, it has all of the protections in it, and it has Congress making the decision.
Under the bill, the Resolution Copper Company would receive more than 2,000 acres of land with the copper deposit in exchange for approximately 5,000 acres of land that the company currently owns which would be set aside for conservation. The Resolution Copper Company plans to mine the copper deposit as soon as the transfer is complete.
The House version of this bill (H.R. 1904), which was debated today, would prohibit environmental review from taking place until after the land exchange had occurred. So, the extent of the environmental impacts would not be determined until after the land is made private, thereby limiting the ability of surrounding communities to work to stop or modify the mine should major problems be predicted.
Additionally, American taxpayers would not be properly compensated for the value of the copper that would come off of these lands when the area is made private in the land exchange. Instead, a single multinational corporation would benefit from one of the largest copper deposits in the world — a true example of giving away our public lands for corporate profits.
Finally, the Resolution Copper mine would be built on Oak Flat, a site that is sacred to Native American tribes. As Shan Lewis, president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona testified today:
Federal laws and policies are designed to protect Native sacred sites like Oak Flat. The proposed land exchange that would be mandated by H.R. 1904 would circumvent these laws and policies and transfer ownership to of federal lands containing a sacred site of Apache, Yavapai, and other Native people to a company for mining activities that will destroy this sacred site. Although ITCA is not opposed to mining in general, mining in this location that will result in the destruction of a sacred site is offensive to us and should not be condoned.
In past sessions of Congress, both McCain and Kyl have held up other Senate bills and nominations in order to try to move previous versions of the Resolution Copper bill.