Save Oak Flat


Overview of the Issue

Oak Flat is a unique and irreplaceable recreational 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and other outdoor enthusiasts, Oak Flat was recognized sixty years ago as an important recreational area and withdrawn from all mining activities by Federal executive order.

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

The National Park Service has 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.

What Can You Do to Help?

  1. Climbers from all over the country can ask their Congressional Representatives and Senators to support the “Save Oak Flat” bill (HR 2915 and S 1375) introduced by Congressman Grijalva and Senator Sanders, respectively. This bill will repeal the land exchange legislation that was surreptitiously included in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Congress should also be told that the Save Oak Flat bill deserves open public discussions in Congressional hearings.
  2. Comments or concerns on the proposed Resolution Copper can be made here http://www.resolutionmineeis.us prior to May 17th, when the 60-day scoping period ends. Comments are welcome at anytime during the EIS, but it is only those comments received during the scoping period that are used to determine the scope of issues that must be addressed in the EIS.

History

For ten years running, Resolution Copper lobbyists had 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 private 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 objections to this land exchange.

The Forest Service must now issue a complete 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. This provides us with an opportunity to see the land exchange legislation repealed and Oak Flat protected in perpetuity.

On March 18, 2016, the Tonto National Forest published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, formally initiating this process. This begins a 60-day scoping period that is critical to those wishing to have input on the proposed Resolution mine project. As the name implies, scoping is an early and open process for determining the scope of the issues to be addressed in the EIS.

Questions?

For more information email policy@accessfund.org