San Carlos Apache Sues Forest Service over Resolution Copper Mine
The San Carlos Apache Tribe filed a federal lawsuit late Thursday seeking to stop the US Forest Service from transferring sacred tribal land at Chichil Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat, to two foreign multi-national mining companies planning to construct the Resolution Copper Mine. The lawsuit was filed in US District Court of Arizona one day before the Forest Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement earlier. The publication of the FEIS triggers a 60-day window where 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest, including 760 acres at Oak Flat, must be exchanged with land owned by Rio Tinto PLC and BHP Copper Inc. Oak Flat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
The land exchange mandate was included in a rider attached to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The Resolution Copper Mine could not be built without the transfer of Oak Flat from public ownership where federal laws would prohibit its destruction into private ownership where these laws would not apply.
The Forest Services informed the Tribe that legally required appraisals of the federal and private land to be exchanged were not completed nor subject to public review prior to the publication of the FEIS.
The lawsuit documents that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The suit states that the Forest Service ignored significant and technically substantial new information consisting of at least a dozen new studies and reports totaling thousands of pages that are relevant to the environmental impact of Resolution's proposed massive mine tailings dump that threatens regional groundwater supplies.
The suit also states that the Forest Service violated the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to adequately consult with the Tribe about ancestral land with great historic, cultural, and religious importance to the Tribe and its members.
Rio Tinto and BHP are the world's two largest transnational mining companies with operations based in Australia and Britain. The companies have a notorious record of destroying sacred indigenous sites around the world.