MAC: Mines and Communities

US House of Representatives gives Native territory to Rio Tinto

Published by MAC on 2011-11-08
Source: Minnesota Independent, The Hill Blog, statement (2011-10-28)

It's "nothing more than an attempt to transfer American resources from the hands of the American public to foreign interests".

That's what a representative of the San Carlos Apache Tribe told the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in April 2010.  See: San Carlos Apache call for removal of Resolution Copper

He was referring to the threat to Apache holy places, posed by Rio Tinto's subsidiary in Arizona, Resolution Copper, as it advances towards mining one of the world's largest copper deposits.

Now, more than a year later, the UK-Australian mega-miner has moved much closer to achieving its objective, with approval by the House of Representatives of a "land swap" bill'.

In effect, this means that Rio Tinto may now gain access to the coveted deposit, in return for which the company will "hand over" other land that isn't mineral rich.

Amendments to exempt Native American heritage sites from the transfer plan; to charge royalties on the minerals extracted from the transfered land; and to require that the company hire local workers, were all rejected by the Republican-controlled House.

House passes bill giving Arizona land to mining company; Minnesota delegation splits

A subsidiary of Rio Tinto is exploring a non-ferrous mine site in northeast Minnesota.

By Eartha Jane Melzer

The Minnesota Independent

28 October 2011

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that authorizes the transfer of 2,400 acres of Arizona federal forest land to the UK and Australia-based mining company, Rio Tinto.

In a 235-186 vote this week, the House passed the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011, which approves the trade of 2,400 acres of federal land for 5,000 acres controlled by the mining company. The Minnesota House delegation split its vote along party lines.

A Rio Tinto subsidiary, Resolution Copper Mining, is seeking the land swap in order to better access what it claims may be the largest copper ore body in the world near Superior, Ariz. Another subsidiary of Rio Tinto, Kennecott, is exploring a non-ferrous mining site in northeast Minnesota. Minnesota has no working non-ferrous mines, although some are nearing the end of their permitting process.

The land sought by the mining company in Arizona includes the Tonto National Forest's Oak Flat Campground, which was recognized as an important natural resource and placed off limits to mining activity by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955. The mining company claims that the project will create jobs.

In testimony to the U.S. Senate Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests in June 2009, Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter argued that the land swap will diminish recreational opportunities and threaten rare and endangered plants and animals including the black-chinned sparrow, Costa's hummingbird, Lewis' woodpecker, and the endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus.

Bahr also warned that the mine will deplete the area's already scarce water supply.

"According to Resolution Copper Company (RCC), this mine will need as much as 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot of water is roughly the amount of water a family of four uses in one year, so 20,000 acre-feet is enough water for 20,000 families or 80,000 people for one year," she said.

"Considering how important as water is in Arizona, the continued long-term droughts we experience, and the predictions of scientists that we are going to get hotter and drier due to the impacts of climate change, it would be irresponsible to move this bill without a thorough analysis and some strong assurances that the water will be there and will not risk riparian areas or drinking water supplies."

In 2009 the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution that asked the U.S. federal government to recognize and protect the area's cultural and spiritual value and to protect it from mining.

The Congress said that mining this area will "break the relationships between tribes and all the elements of the natural world in this region,... result in the diminishment of the power and effectiveness of tribal ceremonies, songs, prayers, and traditional life ... and add to physical and mental illnesses, and social problems."

This is not the first time the company has run afoul of both Native Americans or environmentalists.

Another Rio Tinto subsidiary, Kennecott Eagle, is developing a nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on land that is considered sacred by local tribes. They are also facing a lawsuit in Wisconsin over the leaching of toxic chemicals from a mine there and another suit by citizens of Papua New Guinea accusing them of engaging in genocide and human rights violations for another mine in that country.

The land swap bill is supported by business groups including the American Supply Association, the Associated General Contractors of America, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Mining Association, Rio Tinto, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Americans for Prosperity, according to Maplight, a nonpartisan organization that researches money in politics.

Maplight found that supporters of the bill spent 14 times as much as those opposing it.

The group found that metal mining and processing groups gave on average 22 times as much to House Republicans that voted "yes" as they gave to House Republicans that voted "no".

Amendments to exempt Native American heritage sites from the land transfer, charge royalties on the minerals extracted from the transfered land and require that the company hire local workers were all rejected in the House.


House moves ahead with bill allowing copper mine in Arizona

Pete Kasperowicz

The Hill Blog

25 October 2011

The House on Tuesday afternoon approved a rule for a bill that would allow a land swap between the federal government and a foreign-owned mining company, which would allow that company to extract copper from a massive copper deposit in southeast Arizona.

The rule was approved in a 245-178 vote in which less than a dozen Democrats voted for it. Democrats lodged several protests against the bill, including that it would only help foreign owned companies. Resolution Copper Mining LLC would be permitted to mine the copper, and that company is owned by Rio Tinto and BHP-Billiton, which both have headquarters and major offices in Britain and Australia.

"Today's bill is not written for the American worker," said House Rules Committee Ranking Member Louise Slaughter (D-NY). "It was written for foreign mining giants who hope to profit for our generosity."

Democrats also argued that Rio Tinto in particular is known to run mines remotely with robots, and said that fact undercuts Republican arguments that allowing the mining to take place would help create U.S. jobs.

"Seriously? We're creating jobs for foreign robots instead of American workers?" Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) asked. "No offense to R2-D2, but there are American workers who need help."

But Republicans rejected these arguments and said the bill would help create 3,700 direct and indirect jobs related to the operation of the mine, and another 3,000 to help construct the site. "If we vote against this bill, we'll still be providing jobs, but jobs overseas," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Bishop and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) both said the mine would help the U.S. meet its increasing demand for copper. "The United States currently imports 30 percent of the country's copper demand," Gosar said. "This project could contribute enough copper, equal to 25 percent of our demand, contributing significantly to the U.S.'s energy and mineral independence."

Gosar said the bill would create $14 billion in federal tax revenues over the life of the mine.

Rep. Bishop also noted that despite objections from Democrats, the bill is similar to one that was introduced by a House Democrat in 2010. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) brought the bill up in 2010 as a stimulus bill that would not cost the government a penny, although it was controversial because the land Resolution would take over is the Oak Flats Campground.

Still, the federal government would get nearly twice as much land in return from Resolution under the bill. Specifically, Resolution would get 2,422 acres of the campground for mining, and would give up nearly 5,250 acres to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

With passage of the rule, the House is expected to move to general debate and debate on an handful of amendments on Wednesday.


Rosemont Copper CEO responds to Comments on Forest Service Public Meetings

Rosemont Copper press release

26 October 2011

To ensure public input, the Forest Service planned an unprecedented six hearings to take public comments on this Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) over a 90 day period, even though the National Environmental Policy Act does not require any public hearings and calls for just 45 days of public review.

The Forest Service chose the dates and the location for each public hearing in order to ensure that the greatest number of people were able to participate, large venues in a number of cities were chosen and most of the hearings were scheduled on Saturdays so people would not have to miss work. Rosemont was not involved in the selection of dates or locations.

Considering this process was originally slated to take two years, any question about the independence and completeness of the four-year long, nine million dollar Forest Service review and any criticism about the opportunities for public comment with six proposed public hearings are completely misleading and disingenuous.

Opponents of Rosemont continue to try to twist the rules and regulations set forth by the NEPA process to attempt to delay and or prevent the public from sharing their comments on the DEIS for Rosemont, which clearly states that Rosemont can operate meeting all federal, state and local environmental standards.

Rosemont looks forward to completing the permitting process that will allow the creation of an estimated 1,500 construction jobs during development and 2,100 long-term jobs during operation. The Rosemont Project is a 21st century operation using the latest technology to help reduce impacts to the environment.

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