SAN CARLOS, Ariz., Jan. 15, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The San Carlos Apache Tribe filed a federal lawsuit late Thursday seeking to stop the U.S. Forest Service from transferring sacred tribal land at Chich'il Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat, to two foreign multi-national mining companies planning to construct the Resolution Copper Mine.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Arizona one day before the Forest Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) earlier today. The publication of the FEIS triggers a 60-day window where 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest, including 760 acres at Oak Flat, must be exchanged with land owned by Rio Tinto PLC and BHP Copper Inc. Oak Flat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
The land exchange mandate was included in a rider attached to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The Resolution Copper Mine could not be built without the transfer of Oak Flat from public ownership where federal laws would prohibit its destruction into private ownership where these laws would not apply.
"The Trump Administration rushed to publish a seriously-flawed FEIS just five days before President Trump leaves office," San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler said today. "This callous, immoral and illegal action is being done to enrich wealthy foreign mining interests while knowing that mining will destroy Oak Flat that for many generations has been the heart of Apache religious and cultural practices. We were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to prevent the transfer of Oak Flat after release of the FEIS."
The Forest Service informed the Tribe that legally required appraisals of the federal and private land to be exchanged were not completed nor subject to public review prior to the publication of the FEIS.
"The Forest Service is grossly derelict in its duty to assure the American people that the appraisals are legitimate and reflect the actual value of the lands rather than just another one-sided government give-away of public land to benefit wealthy foreign mining conglomerates at the expense of the American people," Chairman Rambler said. "The land exchange must not go forward prior to publication of the appraisals and an opportunity for public review and comment."
The lawsuit documents that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The suit states that the Forest Service ignored significant and technically substantial new information consisting of at least a dozen new studies and reports totaling thousands of pages that are relevant to the environmental impact of Resolution's proposed massive mine tailings dump that threatens regional groundwater supplies.
"A Supplemental DEIS must be prepared and made subject to full public review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)," Chairman Rambler said. "This is the only way to ensure full compliance with NEPA by the Tonto National Forest."
The suit also states that the Forest Service violated the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to adequately consult with the Tribe about ancestral land with great historic, cultural, and religious importance to the Tribe and its members.
Rio Tinto and BHP are the world's two largest transnational mining companies with operations based in Australia and Britain. The companies have a notorious record of destroying sacred indigenous sites around the world.
Last year, Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal Juukan Gorge site in Western Australia, leading to the resignation of its chief executive officer. BHP ignored Australian Aboriginal groups' concerns about the future of dozens of heritage sites when it obtained government approval last year to destroy them as part of a mine expansion project.
"The United States must not provide rubber-stamp approvals for these companies to destroy sacred sites on our homeland in Arizona," Chairman Rambler said.
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SOURCE San Carlos Apache Tribe