The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act facilitates the development of an underground copper mine that will create thousands of American jobs, will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and minerals, and will generate significant revenues for federal and state treasuries. Once the operation is running, this mine will provide 25% of the United States’ copper supply and will be the largest copper mine in North America. The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act will create approximately 4,000 new jobs and will generate $60 billion for Arizona’s economy over the life of the mine. This legislation is not only a jobs bill; it's a conservation bill. The lands the federal government acquires in the exchange are highly-coveted recreational and conservation areas.
For those not familiar with land exchanges—which are common practice in the West—the bill allows for a consolidation of a checker-board of lands to ensure maximum mineral production and maximum conservation. The bill authorizes and facilitates the exchange of land between Resolution Copper, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Federal legislation is required because the exchange involves third parties. The exchange will bring into federal stewardship 5,344 acres of high priority conservation land in exchange for 2,422 acres of national forest system land containing one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the world. Prior to passage of this legislation, Resolution Copper already owned unpatented mining claims that covered 75 % of the parcel.
In today’s overbearing, 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy for facts to get crowded out by sensationalism and melodrama. It should come as no surprise then that certain anti-mining opponents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Earth Guardians and Greenpeace, are now relying on bogus claims and a misinformation campaign to try and repeal this bipartisan jobs bill. And while the nearly 4,000 Arizonans who will gain employment from this mine may not be able to compete with the PR department of certain special-interest groups, I guarantee they hope you will see this mine for what it really is: an economic engine that will create good-paying jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign critical minerals and provide a much needed boost to our nation’s sluggish economy.
This repeal effort is severely misguided and defies commonsense for several reasons. First, the sponsor of the repeal bill, Save Oak Flat Act, recently apologized to a tribe in writing for claiming in the text of this legislation that the land exchange transferred the tribe’s sacred land, when in fact, it did not. Second, the new law will result in more environmental protections for this area and requires full environmental compliance before the land exchange can be completed. Third, the act does not exchange any reservation lands, ensures greater protection for actual sacred tribal lands and maintains tribal access to Oak Flat (a small, poorly-maintained campground previously on forest service land 20 miles from the tribe’s reservation). Fourth, Dale Miles, a member of the San Carlos Tribe and the former tribal historian, recently wrote an excellent op-ed pointing out that the Oak Flat campground has never been a sacred site. Finally, the law would significantly benefit local employment and tribal members who are in dire need of these good-paying jobs and have had unemployment numbers as high as 70%.
As a result of the misinformation campaign, I would like to take a moment to dispel some of the myths put forth by the opponents.
Myth vs. Fact on the Resolution Copper Land Exchange Bill
Oak Flat Campground Apache Leap
Myth: Oak Flat is a “sacred site” and contains Indian burial grounds
Fact: Oak Flat is a small, poorly-maintained campground previously on forest service land more than 20 miles from the nearest tribe’s reservation. The U.S. Forest Service does not register the Oak Flat campground as a “sacred site.” In fact, the Forest Service has stated that: “there is no verifiable evidence to date that cultural and religious sites would be negatively impacted by the project that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act sets in motion.” Further, the Forest Service conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact for this exchange stating, “The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.”
The majestic Apache Leap Cliffs—which are celebrated by Native American lore— are NOT included in the mine project. The bill bans mining from impacting the Apache Leap and even designates a new Forest Service Special Management Area to ensure its protection. The land exchange is consistent with important tribal cultural protection laws including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. There are no Indian burial grounds on the property.
Dale Miles, a member of the San Carlos Tribe and the former tribal historian, recently wrote an excellent op-ed pointing out that the Oak Flat campground has never been a sacred site.
In the op-ed, Mr. Miles stated:
"Oak Flat is a sacred site? It never was before.
It was with great interest that my son, who just graduated from Arizona State University, showed me a recent story regarding the controversy around Oak Flat, near the small mining town of Superior. As a San Carlos tribal member and Apache historian, I was surprised by some of the misinformation contained within the op-ed.My book, “The History of the San Carlos Apache,” published by the San Carlos Apache Historic and Cultural Preservation Office in 1997, offers a much different perspective. There has not been a long history of ceremonial or cultural activities such as Sunrise or Holy Ground ceremonies taking place at Oak Flat.
From my personal perspective, the thought of having such a ceremony at Oak Flat, far from the support of relatives, clan members and friends in the San Carlos tribal area is almost unthinkable.My uncle, who lived in Superior, would regularly attend most tribal ceremonies. He would travel to the San Carlos Apache reservation or the White Mountain Apache reservation. I attended my first tribal Sunrise ceremony at Cibecue, in the White Mountains; the idea of having a sunrise ceremony at Oak Flat was never considered.
Such an event requires the support of family, relatives and friends plus the input of the medicine man or spiritual person who performs the complex ceremony. He has much to say about the site, and choosing the right place is important because the dance often becomes a community event. Evidently the person who wrote the op-ed didn’t have much knowledge on what the ceremony involves in commitment, logistics and preparation.In 1970, the Magma Copper Company built a mine shaft on Oak Flat that you can see from the passing highway. No member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe said anything about it being a sacred site. I know because I was living in Superior at the time. Some tribal people from San Carlos even talked about getting employment with the mine.
There were no protests, no publicity of any kind. Why not? If this area was sacred, wouldn’t opposition arise many years before today? There was never any statement made by tribal members or tribal leadership.It wasn’t until recent years that the site of Oak Flat was called sacred in any kind of way. All one has to do is examine the records to see if the word sacred was ever used for the site. However, the real truth about speaking out with an opinion on Oak Flat contrary to the tribal government’s stance is fear. People working for the tribe will often say (to me and others) that if they go against what the tribal council supports, they will be fired.
Does it not bother anyone that rarely do we hear a voice of someone on the street who doesn’t support tribal government’s view on Oak Flat? If people have a different opinion on a subject they should not have to be called traitors or be accused of being against their own people.
Before making any kind of judgment on a subject of importance, all the facts should be studied and examined to the utmost for the good of all concerned."
Dale Miles of San Carlos is a member and former tribal historian of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. (Photo: AZ Republic)
Myth: The entire San Carlos Apache Tribe is opposed to the bill.
Fact: While some of the tribal counsel members and a DC lobbyist from the Clinton Administration are opposed to the bill because they fundamentally oppose mining, it is important to note that the population of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is not united in their opposition to the bill. A poll found that the majority of tribal members actually support the bill and wanted the jobs that will be created by this law.
Furthermore, former Tribal Chairman Harrison Talgo testified before the House Natural Resources Committee in strong SUPPORT of the bill. In his testimony, he stated: “We are one of the poorest Indian tribes in the nation. Seven in ten eligible workers in the tribe are unemployed. Almost 80 percent of our people live in poverty. Alcoholism and drug use are rampant and suicide rates are high… Without jobs, our children are forced to move to neighboring communities or into the city to find work. Not many of them return. With each passing generation, a piece of Apache identity and culture is lost. I can tell you as a father and grandfather and one who grew up in traditional ways and learned the language of my fathers, that is heartbreaking.
The issue today is not about our reservation land, our sovereignty, our heritage, our self respect – these are not for sale. This is about putting our people – a lot of people – to work. I believe economic development should be our leadership’s top priority... Because many members of the San Carlos Apache Nation are dependent on the tribal government for food, utilities, and a limited number of available jobs, they often do not speak out against Council decisions in fear of losing those benefits. I am not afraid to speak out. I can assure you I do not stand alone as a member of the San Carlos Apache Nation in support of the Resolution Copper Mine and the jobs and prosperity it will create. I made personal phone calls to many people within my community of 2,000 tribal members and the majority of them responded in favor of this project.”
(Former Tribal Chairman Harrison Talgo testifying in support of the land exchange)
Myth: The San Carlos Tribe and other citizens will never again be able to access the Oak Flat campground site.
Fact: The new law maintains access to the campground even after the land exchange is complete as long as the property can be accessed in a safe manner. There will be restricted access during certain times when the property is actually being mined in order to protect the general public.
Myth: There is no NEPA EIS on the mine until after the land exchange has already happened.
Fact: The law requires a FULL NEPA on the mine BEFORE the land exchange is complete. Every interested and impacted party will have multiple opportunities during the NEPA process to engage in meaningful dialogue and government-to-government consultation PRIOR to title transfer. One of the most vocal opponents of the bill, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition Roger Featherstone, said in a news story on 12/4/14 “that a swap contingent on NEPA is the only way to help address concerns.” The law is contingent on NEPA and requires compliance with all environmental laws.
Myth: The land exchange circumvents the tribal cultural protection law
Fact: The land exchange is consistent with important tribal cultural protection laws including: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Furthermore, the land that will be mined is more than 20 miles from the nearest tribe’s reservation. The U.S. Forest Service does not register the Oak Flat campground as a “sacred site.” In fact, the Forest Service has stated that: “there is no verifiable evidence to date that cultural and religious sites would be negatively impacted by the project that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act sets in motion.” Further, the Forest Service conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact for this exchange stating, “The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.” In addition, before the land exchange occurs, the federal government is required to consult with tribes to find a way to mitigate tribal concerns.
Myth: This bill was not vetted by Congress.
Fact: Abouslutely false.The bill text was agreed to by the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate ENR Committee and represents a bipartisan, bicameral compromise between the committees of jurisdiction. This compromise language was the subject of months of daily negotiations with Democrats & Republicans and was signed off by Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Energy Committee Chair Mary Landrieu, Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, Senator Lisa Murkowski, then House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, then House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. The original bill received hearings in the House and the Senate, passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, and passed on the floor of the full House of Representatives in the 112th Congress. The bill received hearings and passed the House Committee on Natural Resources in the 113th Congress. The bill passed the full House of Representatives and full Senate as a provision included in H.R. 3979. H.R. 3979 was signed by the president in December of 2014.
Letters of Support
This land exchange has strong bipartisan support across the State of Arizona and throughout the country. Below are some of the letters of support (Click to view each).
Gila County Supervisor Michael Pastor (D) Letter of Support
Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin (R) Letter of Support
Gila County Supervisor John Marcanti (D) Letter of Support
Gila County Board of Supervisors Resolution of Support
Pinal County Board of Supervisors Resolution of Support
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Resolution of Support
Arizona State Government
Governor Jan Brewer (R) Letter of Support
Senate President Andy Biggs (R) Letter of Support
State Sen Barb McGuire (D) - Letter of Support
State Rep. Frank Pratt (R) Letter of Support
State Rep. TJ Shoppe (R) Proclamation of Support
State Rep. Brenda Barton (R) Letter of Support.
Bicameral Arizona Legislature Letter of Support
City of Mesa Letter of Support
City of Apache Junction Letter of Support
City of Globe Resolution of Support
Town of Payson Town Council Resolution of Support
Town of Kearny Resolution of Support
Town of Winkelman Resolution of Support
Town of Miami Resolution of Support
Mayor of the Town Payson Kenny J. Evans
Mayor of Globe Terence Wheeler Letter of Support
Superior City Councilman John Tameron Letter of Support
Former Superior Councilman and local business owner Lynn Heglie Letter of Support
Bullhead City Council Member Sam Medrano Letter of Support
Superior City Councilwoman Mila Besich-Lira
Former Chairman of the San Carlos Tribe Harrison Talgo
Arizona Game and Fish Commission Unanimous Vote of Support
Queen Creek Climbers Association Letter of Support
The Nature Conservency Letter
The Sonoran Institute
Arizona Business Community
Arizona Chamber of Commerce Letter of Support
Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Letter of Support
Globe Miami Chamber of Commerce Letter of Support
Valley Partnership Letter of Support
East Valley Partnership Letter of Support
Greater Phoenix Economic Council Letter of Support
Greater Phoenix Leadership Letter of Support
Science Foundation Arizona Letter of Support
WestMarc Letter of Support
Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition Letter of Support
Arizona Rock Products Association Letter of Support
Arizona Mining Association Letter of Support
Arizona Chapter Associated General Contractors Letter of Support
Sundt Construction - Letter of Support
Arizona Trucking Association Letter of Support
National Business Community
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
American Supply Association Letter of Support
American Clean Energy Resources Trust Letter of Support
Associated General Contractors of America Letter of Support
Northwest Mining Association
National Mining Association
National Association of Manufacturers
Other Letters of Support
Central Arizona Governments Regional Council Resolution of Support
Arizona Commerce Authority Letter of Support
Superior Unified School District Letter of Support
Town of Superior Little League Letter of Support
Gila County Democrat Party Resolution of Support
Cobre Valley Democrats Vote of Support
Phoenix Indian Center Letter of Support
Superior Copper Alliance
A full list of supporters and their full letters of support from similar legislation in the 112th Congress can be found here: http://gosar.house.gov/HR1904BusinessSupport
Video from the House Natural Resources Committee during the 113th Congress
The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act was again considered by the House Natural Resources Committee in the 113th Congress. Below is Congressman Gosar's opening statement from the hearing.
The Importance of Copper
Copper is a critical metal used in the production of electronics, transportation, machinery, and renewable energy technologies, in addition to many other uses. Increased American copper mining will create thousands of jobs, and increase economic activity.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. demand for copper – used heavily in building construction, electric and electronic products, industrial machinery, and consumer goods – is on the rise: the U.S. now relies on foreign sources to provide 35 percent of the copper we consume. For a chart on the U.S. dependence on foreign critical minerals click HERE.
One mine operations are up and running, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act will allow for the production of more than one billion pounds of copper per year for at least 40 years. The mine will produce enough copper to meet 25 percent or more of annual U.S. demand. By taking advantage of American sources of copper, we can prevent supply disruptions and increased dependence on foreign mineral imports from countires like China.
This legislation shows we can protect our land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs. It conserves lands by protecting wildlife habitat, cultural and historic resources, the watershed, recreation sites, and aesthetic values. Furthermore, it enables an important mining project to go forward, which will generate economic and employment opportunities for state and local residents. Some of the high-value conservation lands include:
7B Ranch – Pinal County, Arizona – 3,073 acres within the San Pedro ecosystem designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places on Earth," referred to by the Forest Service as “priceless," and home to a free-flowing artesian spring-fed wetland populated by lowland leopard frogs, nesting birds, and native fish. In addition, this parcel is recognized by BirdLife International as an “Important Bird Area.” The conveyance of this land would be an important addition to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
Appleton Ranch – Santa Cruz County, Arizona – 956 acres adjacent to a congressionally established conservation area that is home to 200 species of birds, 60 species of mammals, more than 90 species of native grass, and 480 native plant species. The acquisition of the ranch will eliminate non-federal lands that are intermingled with the conservation area, providing for a more economically-efficient management of the area.
Dripping Springs – Gila County, Arizona – 160 acres identified by national rock climbers as a significant rock climbing resource.
Tangle Creek – Yavapai County, Arizona - 148 acres recognized for having both pre-historic and historic value. It is believed that the property was important Native American farming land in the 1800s and features a variety of trees and shrubs which are believed to be over 100 years old.
7B Ranch Tangle Creek
Strong Support from National Leaders
Holly Propst, Executive Director / General Counsel of the Western Business Roundtable
"This legislation – which involves a series of land exchanges – presents a “win-win” opportunity for federal land managers, Arizona’s economy, and the American taxpayers. The Roundtable views the legislation as an outstanding example of how, with a bit of ingenuity, the public and private sectors can work together to advance the goals of domestic minerals development and environmental conservation."
Paul A. Yost, Vice President, Energy and Resources Policy National Association of Manufacturers praised Congressman Gosar for his work on this important piece of legislation, saying: “This legislation will be the first step in helping the United States to meet more of our domestic demand for copper. In fact, the proposed mine would produce enough copper to meet about 25% of the current U.S. demand. In doing so, it will also create jobs and generate nearly $20 billion in federal, state, county, and local tax revenue.”
Hal Quinn President & CEO of the National Mining Association
“This land exchange is necessary to protect the global competitiveness of the U.S. mining industry and will provide high-paying jobs and improve a weakened economy.”