Oak Flat Environmental Review Put on Ice

On March 1, the US Forest Service did what numerous groups asked them to do: withdraw the incredibly flawed Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which would have allowed the Resolution Copper Mine to proceed under a land exchange. The exchange would place Forest Service land—protected since the 1950’s from mining—directly into the hands of Resolution Copper, a company owned by two of the world’s largest mining companies. It would eventually cause the complete destruction of Oak Flat — an area sacred to the San Carlos Apache people with plentiful and rich archeological artifacts dating back tens of thousands of years. It would also cause the largest loss of a public rock climbing resource in US history, and deplete vital water resources and wildlife habitat throughout a vast area. 

The FEIS had enough major flaws to fill hundreds of pages of legal filings by the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Native American civic groups, and environmental conservation organizations.  Among the top inadequacies are: 1.) lack of proper Tribal Consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act; 2.) lack of appraisal information supporting that the lands and minerals exchanged are of relatively equal value; 3.) lack of analysis of physical water availability with many competing demands on future water and 4.) use of the wrong federal permitting frameworks and inadequate analysis of impacts from proposed pipelines, tunnels, and roads needed for mine infrastructure. 

Faced with three separate lawsuits, the Forest Service withdrew the FEIS until the proper impacts analysis is complete, a process that could take as little as a few months. 

While this is a necessary step, the only way to permanently protect the Oak Flat area is by an act of Congress that reverses the existing mandate authorizing the land exchange. Fortunately, Congress has just introduced a bill to do just that—the Save Oak Flat Act.  

With a new Administration, we believe the time is right to pass the Save Oak Flat Act. The public never wanted a mine at Oak Flat, which is why a standalone bill to accomplish the land exchange failed a dozen times. Only when it was buried in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, where no one could see it, did it become law.