Environmental Concerns

 

HR 687 and S 339 bypass the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the “public interest” determination that typically governs land exchanges.

The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act provides only that Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) comply with NEPA provisions prior to beginning mine production. Therefore this law will not be informed by an environmental impact study (EIS) conducted prior to the land exchange, and there is no opportunity for a proper public interest determination to be made prior to the land conveyance. This type of analysis helps the public better evaluate whether they are getting a fair exchange and also evaluate the true environmental impacts of such an exchange, the purpose of which is a massive block-cave mine on a scale never seen before in North America.

RCM themselves liken the scale of eventual subsidence caused by their mine at Oak Flat to Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona.

A NEPA analysis can identify a less environmentally harmful alternative as well. It is clear that RCM will reap enormous financial benefit from this exchange. It is less clear that the public is getting a fair return on the loss of Oak Flat, the possible damage to Gaan Canyon (Devil’s Canyon), and the threats to Apache Leap and Pinto Creek. A less damaging alternative might include mining of a smaller amount of ore using more conventional methods that would not cause surface subsidence, dewater Gaan Canyon, or damage Apache Leap. As HR 687 and S 339 are written, the public will not know the effects of this proposed mine until after the fact. It should be stated that two major land exchanges involving mining in Arizona— the Ray Mine and the Safford land exchanges, both conducted EISs prior to consummating the land exchanges.

Arizona suffers from severe drought conditions, yet RCM needs water for its mine
According to Resolution Copper Mining (RCM), 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. As there is insufficient groundwater to maintain yearly mining operations over the 40 years of the mine’s operation, RCM has obtained and banked Central Arizona Project (CAP) water, but, banked water does not compensate for the local depletion of groundwater that RCM’s pumping is likely to cause. Considering how important water is in Arizona, the continued long-term droughts the state experiences, and the predictions of scientists that Arizona is 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 strong assurances that the water will remain and that mining activities will not risk riparian areas or drinking water supplies.

**Some facts provided by Don Steuter, Sierra Club, Testimony on HR 1904, June 2011