Save Oak Flat

Overview of the Issue
Oak Flat is a unique and irreplaceable climbing area only fifty miles east of Phoenix, Arizona. Heavily used by rock climbers, boulderers, campers, hikers, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts, Oak Flat was recognized sixty years ago as an important recreational area and withdrawn from mining activities by Federal executive order.

In December 2014, a bill to vacate the executive order and to transfer this protected land to a foreign-owned mining conglomerate was signed into law. Unless this action can be reversed, mining activities at Oak Flat will result in the complete destruction of the rock climbing and other wonderful recreational resources that exist there.

Resolution Copper (RCM) intends to employ block caving at Oak Flat. This involves creating a mining infrastructure below the actual ore deposit that will cause the copper deposit itself and all of the ground above it to collapse over time, as the ore is extracted from below. By RCM’s own estimate, the resulting surface crater from this mining operation would be over a mile wide and 1,000 feet deep—consuming Oak Flat and all of the fantastic recreational resources within it.

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Ask your Congressional Representatives and Senators to support the “Save Oak Flat” bills currently in Congress (HR 2915 and S 1375) introduced by Congressman Grijalva and Senator Sanders, respectively. These bills aim to repeal the land exchange legislation that was surreptitiously included in the 2015 NDAA. Congress should also be told that the Save Oak Flat bills deserve open public discussions in Congressional hearings.
  • Email your comments or concerns on the proposed Resolution Copper EIS to: comments@resolutionmineeis.us

History

For ten years running, Resolution Copper lobbyists have succeeded in convincing pro-mining legislators to introduce land exchange legislation into Congress that would give them outright ownership of Oak Flat. However, over that same ten-year time period, through both Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses, the numerous versions of the land exchange legislation failed to pass through Congress.

Frustrated by their inability to pass this legislation on its own merits, sponsors of the RCM land exchange legislation succeeded in getting the bill attached as an unrelated rider to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The process of attaching the RCM land exchange bill to the NDAA involved back-room, closed-door negotiations between powerful members of Congress and was devoid of any public input, comment, or scrutiny.

Each year the NDAA is considered a piece of “must pass” legislation as it provides funding for our military services. Thus, when the NDAA was passed by Congress in late December of 2014, the president had no option but to sign it into law—in spite of the Administration’s well-known objection to this land exchange.

In early 2016, the National Park Service added Oak Flat, Arizona to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was made by the Tonto National Forest to recognize that the area, also know by its traditional name "Chi’chil Bildagoteel,” has been used for centuries by Native Americans for traditional and cultural purposes. All of the centuries-old cultural resources will also be destroyed if this mine project moves forward. Although this designation does not preclude the land exchange, it does trigger Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, requiring additional study and mitigation of disruption to culturally sensitive sites.

The Forest Service must now complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the mine, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before the public land at Oak Flat can be conveyed to RCM. Because the scope of this mining project and its impacts are vast, this will be a lengthy process—taking several years. The Access Fund is fully invested in the EIS process, having submitted detailed comments during the open scoping period and is attending all public meetings scheduled by the Forest Service. The Forest Service currently anticipates publication of a draft EIS in mid-2019 and a final EIS and Record of Decision in mid-2020. Access Fund is actively working to get the land exchange legislation repealed and see Oak Flat protected in perpetuity.

Questions?

For more information email policy@accessfund.org