What is taking place locally could well have national implications. Although the controversy has been simmering for a few years, publicity outside the State has been at a minimum. On the surface, it would appear that a large mining company simply wants to swap some land they own to the Federal Government for some Forestry acreage in order to potentially develop a large subsurface copper deposit. Similar situations in other parts of the nation have been negotiated successfully, and productive mines have evolved to the benefit of the parties involved.
So, what makes this one different? Well, potentially a number of things. Other mining operations have been carried out on public lands or a combination of public and private, without an acreage exchange. Here, Resoulution Copper have stated they cannot proceed without direct ownership of the lands involved due to the regulatory uncertainty of working on public lands. This approach should be a red flag to Congress. As has been suggested, if the mining project should be shelved, the exchanged land could become a sea of condominiums.
The inferred tonnage and grades for this deposit are indicative of a potential world-class copper mine worthy of development. The vein is, however, 7000 feet below sea level and, as Resolution President David Salisbury had indicated originally, the technology was not in place for a production decision within the next decade. Has this changed? If this is the case, what is the hurry for a decision on the land swap before a complete NEPA environmental analysis is completed with viable alternatives to the proposed action, to everyone's satisfaction. If the U. S. public is to hand over these valuable lands to foreign interests, they at least deserve a full disclosure of the environmental, social, and cultural impacts that will result.
In 1955 the Eisenhower administration, under Public Land Order 1229, specifically placed the area of the Oak Flats Campground off limits for mining. It was to be reserved for recreation. Pulling National Forestry lands that had previously been set aside from mining back into the mix sets a bad precedent, especially if the NEPA guidelines are ignored. These lands have been reserved for the enjoyment of the public and for the protection of environmentally sensitive locales. To reduce these acreages as our population increases is counterproductive.
The argument has been made by Senators Kirkpatrick and McCain, and echoed by David Salisbury that successful passage of this legislation will produce local jobs. Salisbury talked of a few hundred new jobs over the next four years, eventually rising to 2,600. He has now jumped this figure to 3,700. This still does not seem like a strong enough justification to pass the Bill, and I suggest that even these figures may be inflated. The fact is that the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition in Superior, who should benefit most from increased employment opportunities, have opposed passage of the legislation in the past.
The parent company, Rio Tinto does not have an enviable record as an employer. Their eleven iron mines in the Pilbara region of Australia have, to quite an extent, switched to remote-driven drilling machines as well as robots loading cargo and placing explosives, all controlled by satellite links from centralized locations, thus eliminating thousands of man-hours of employment each year. Their bauxite mine in California has been converting to a largely remote-controlled operation, decreasing the numbers of employees and forcing contract changes through a labor lockout. Rio Tinto has been accused of labor problems and human rights violations in Papua New Guinea and the island of Bougainville, in addition to a bad labor record in South Africa and the Bingham Mine near Salt Lake City. In light of these trends the job-increase predictions for Arizona become suspect.
The multitude of objections to this project over the past years has forced their proponents to backtrack and produce revised submissions. I suggest there is still a lot of room for improvement to produce a deal that will satisfy and benefit all parties.
As a desperate move, Senators McCain and Flake have tagged this land swap approval onto the Defense Department spending measure, which was passed in a rush on Dec. 12th. If this project is a good thing for the state and the nation, it should have been able to stand on its own feet and gone through the normal approval procedures rather than as a last minute add-on. Perhaps President Obama can forsee the negative effects of this project, and refuse to support it with his signature.
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