Hidden in recent defense bill was a package granting illegal land swap near Superior, Ariz., for the benefit of a foreign company Rio Tinto PLC who seek to mine copper.
Resolution Copper -- a Rio Tinto venture with BHP Billiton Ltd. -- would be given more than 2,000 acres of federal land in return for more than 5,000 acres of company land.
Conservation advocates and American Indian groups, particularly the San Carlos Apache Tribe, have for years been trying to block the swap, saying the mine would damage natural resources and culturally sensitive areas. A site called Apache Leap in the Tonto National Forest has been of particular concern.
Response to Petition
By Jodi Gillette
Thank you for your petition. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (NDAA) became law on December 19. Section 3003 of the NDAA -- which the Administration opposed -- provides for the exchange of thousands of acres of public land to a private company called Resolution Copper Mining. The public lands to be transferred have significant religious, cultural, historical, and archeological value to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other tribes in the region. For these tribes, the area is sacred.
As Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in her statement on the passage of the NDAA, which you can read here, "I am profoundly disappointed with the Resolution Copper provision, which has no regard for lands considered sacred by nearby Indian tribes."
In legislatively providing for the exchange of these lands, section 3003 "short circuits the long-standing and fundamental practice of pursuing meaningful government-to-government consultation with the 566 federally recognized tribes with whom we have a unique legal and trust responsibility. Although there are consultation requirements in the legislation, the appropriate time for honoring our relationship with tribes is before legislating issues of this magnitude." The provision also significantly weakens the environmental assessment generally required by the National Environmental Protection Act -- an assessment that similarly should have been conducted before providing for the transfer of these lands.
Moving forward, the Administration will work with Rio Tinto (Resolution Copper's parent company) to determine what can be done to work with the tribes to preserve these sacred areas.
Jodi Gillette is Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs