Dear Colleague: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) on Save Oak Flat Act

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), far right, with members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe at Save Oak Flat rally in Washington, D.C. July 22, 2015. Photo from Facebook

The following are the text of two Dear Colleague letters written by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) regarding H.R.2811, the Save Oak Flat Act.

The lead proponent of the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, who repeatedly stated “the facts set you free” during a hearing on the project, seems to be trapped. I write today to set him free by providing the facts about the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange.

The basic facts about how the Land Exchange became law represent Congress at its very worst. House Leadership twice pulled the bill from the House floor because the Land Exchange lacked support of its own caucus. The Land Exchange failed because it is a historic giveaway of American taxpayer resources gift-wrapped to Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) – the foreign-owned mining corporation earmarked to benefit from the project.

Ignoring the will of the people, proponents of the Land Exchange slipped the project into the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act as a rider on page 1,103 of the 1,700 page bill. Attaching this earmark to a foreign-owned corporation that continues to do business with Iran into a must-pass bill that funds our troops is the height of hypocrisy.

However, the will of the people refuse to be ignored, and the backlash against this midnight rider is growing.

In response to the growing backlash, the proponents of the Land Exchange are doubling down on half-truths and blatant falsehoods. I offer these facts to set them free:

MYTH: “Even the Obama Administration agrees that this law would not negatively impact sacred land. That’s right; the current administration conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact stating, ‘The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.’”

FACT: The 2010 FONSI did not study impacts on Oak Flat or its surrounding area, but instead only applied to exploration drill sites. The Obama Administration, in FACT, testified that it opposed the Land Exchange specifically because of the adverse impacts that it would have on Native American culture and religion. (Testimony of Leslie Weldon, Deputy Chief, National Forest System, USDA, before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Nov. 20, 2013).

MYTH: “The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act will generate more than $60 billion for our economy and create nearly 4,000 new jobs in an economically depressed area.”

FACT: Rio Tinto/ RCM, the earmarked beneficiaries of billions in U.S. taxpayer assets conveyed by the Land Exchange, have made wide and diverse claims about the number of jobs that the project will bring to Arizona. RCM’s latest claim is 4,000 jobs. Not long ago, its estimate was 1,400 jobs. See Resolution Copper website. In 2004, when this project was first proposed, Rio Tinto, Resolution Copper’s parent company, estimated 5,000 jobs. The only constant in Rio Tinto's jobs claims is the lack of any fact-based economic impact data.

FACT: Rio Tinto/Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) has stated that it will use the block cave mining technique, deemed the “Mine of the Future”™, for this project. The Corporation’s own website states that it will use automated drills and a driverless fleet of haul trucks, all of which can be controlled from an operations center in a remote location. See RCM website: The stated purpose of the Mine of the Future™ is to “improve capital productivity” and “improve labor productivity”, which in terms of the middle class means less American jobs and more profits for the foreign corporation earmarked to benefit from taxpayer resources.

FACT: Nothing in the Land Exchange requires Rio Tinto / RCM to hire locally or even use American-made products when implementing their Mine of the Future™. The sponsor of the bill and the foreign corporation earmarked for its benefits opposed changes that would require a remote operations center to be based in Arizona, would have required minerals to remain the United States, and would require the use of Made in America equipment for the project. See House floor debate, Congressional Record H7106 (October 26, 2011).

MYTH: “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. Moreover, the majestic Apache Leap Cliffs—which are celebrated by Native American lore— are NOT included in the mine project.”

FACT: The Land Exchange circumvents protections for Native American sacred and cultural areas. The Land Exchange mandates that 2,400 acres of federal Forest Service land containing Native American sacred and cultural areas to be transferred into the private ownership of Rio Tinto / RCM. Protections that apply to federal lands under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act will disappear once the lands are privatized.

The backlash against the Land Exchange continues to grow. To answer the will of the people and to restore the public’s faith in Congress, I was proud to introduce H.R. 2811, the Save Oak Flat Act, strong bipartisan legislation that will repeal the midnight rider that authorized the Land Exchange.

The proponents of the Resolution Copper mine in eastern Arizona will stop at nothing to misrepresent the deceitful land swap tucked into last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This swap benefited a mining company called Resolution Copper – owned by international mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton – at the expense of the Oak Flat area sacred to the San Carlos Apache Nation. I opposed this swap last year and I still do. In fact, I recently introduced H.R. 2811 to repeal it.

A Dear Colleague letter currently being circulated by Rep. Paul Gosar alleges that I previously supported this land giveaway. This is false. I did not and will not vote to give a foreign mining company control of land sacred to Native Americans, whether in Arizona or anywhere else. He is misrepresenting my vote in the 113th Congress for H.R. 3979, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014 – an unrelated measure that became the 2014 defense bill following a House-Senate conference – as support for stealing Native American land. I voted for a bill with the same number as the NDAA when it was an entirely different measure. I voted against the final version of the NDAA that included the land giveaway.

The truth is that during the last Congress, House leadership twice pulled Rep. Gosar’s bill to mandate the Oak Flat giveaway from floor consideration due to a lack of support. The Senate refused to advance the bill through regular order. To circumvent this opposition, the mining corporations and their proponents forced a closed-door deal to include the land giveaway as an NDAA rider. It was not included in the NDAA version originally approved by the House or Senate. It was added only during the final conference, without debate by either chamber. The final bill passed in the waning hours of the lame duck session.

Rep. Gosar’s perhaps honest mistake about my voting record isn’t the most offensive part of Resolution Copper’s ongoing disinformation campaign. The most offensive part is the continued claim by Resolution and its corporate boosters that it will not cause harm to Oak Flat or other nearby sacred lands such as Apache Leap, where a group of warriors leapt to their deaths to avoid capture by pursuing U.S. cavalry. The truth is that these sacred lands face the risk of severe damage if the Resolution Copper project moves forward. The San Carlos Apache know this, which is why they have forthrightly opposed this giveaway from the beginning.

Resolution Copper plans to use the block cave mining method – which is known to be highly environmentally destructive – to extract the copper beneath Oak Flat. Resolution Copper freely admits that the surface of Oak Flat and the surrounding area will collapse. The result will be an open pit 2 miles in diameter, destroying forever this sacred area.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask the hundreds of San Carlos Apache members that recently traveled across the country to protest the destruction of Oak Flat, or ask those currently occupying Oak Flat to prevent its destruction.

Support HR. 2811 and stand with our tribal allies to correct this injustice.

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