Saturday, September 28, 2013

House Advances Bill to Sell AZ Public Lands to Foreign Mining Company, Kills Two Dem Amendments

While you were busy watching Ted Cruz yesterday, the House started the amendment process on H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013. H.R. 687 would expedite the sale of 2,400 acres of public lands in Arizona to Resolution Copper, bypassing the normal permitting process and environmental assessments. Oak Flat, the public land being privatized, is a popular camping ground, especially with rock climbers, and contains Native American sacred sites.

Yesterday, the House killed two amendments, one by Rep. Raul Grijalva on local job creation and one by Rep. Grace Napolitano on clean water protection. I'll get to those shortly. First, let's take a look at the legislation itself.

So what is it?

H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013, was introduced by GOP Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04). The three other Republicans from Arizona--Matt Salmon (AZ-05), David Schweikert (AZ-06), and Trent Franks (AZ-08)--are all co-sponsors, as is Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), one of the most conservative members of the caucus.

Here's the description offered by Steny Hoyer on the webpage for the Democratic Whip's office:
The bill directs the U.S. Agriculture Department to convey approximately 2,400 acres of federal Forest Service land to Resolution Copper, a mining company, if the company agrees to provide roughly 5,000 acres of non-federal land in return (roughly 1,200 acres would become National Forest land and the rest would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management). The 2,400 acres of land that would be provided to Resolution Copper are located in Pinal County, Ariz., and are known as the Oak Flat Parcel. The area is likely home to the country’s 3rd largest copper deposit, estimated at a size of 1.6 billion tons or about 25% of the U.S. copper supply over the next 40 years. However, the bill limits review of the environmental effects of this land transfer and has raised concern among several Native American tribes that it does not include consultation regarding the protection of sacred and cultural sites prior to the land transfer.
(Emphasis added) 
It is now the 12th attempt at the land exchange.

The bill passed out of Committee (Natural Resources) on May 15th, in a vote of 23 to 19. The vote was party line with one exception: Democrat Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-04), who has a big mining district, voted for it.

Who supports it?

Rep. Gosar has a list of supporters in Arizona and nationwide. Unsurprisingly, it has the support of Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer.

Members of the national business community listed as supporters are the following:

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

Rep. Gosar is very loose in his definition of "support," though. He includes a letter from the Nature Conservancy (whose name he spells incorrectly) in his list of letters of support. Here's the second line of the Nature Conservancy's letter: "The Nature Conservancy has no formal position on this legislation."

Who opposes it?

Environmental groups and tribal organizations oppose this legislation.

The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition organized a letter of various groups in opposition to the legislation, including environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation, and religious organizations.
Here is the body of the letter:
Rio Tinto and BHP - Billiton have created a subsidiary that is proposing to mine an ore body more than 7,000 feet below the surface east of Superior, Arizona. As a first step, Rio Tinto asked Representatives Gosar and Kirkpatrick to introduce HR 687 that would end an executive order banning mining from Oak Flat Campground and privatize more than 2,400 acres of public land. The bill asks Congress to make a determination that the land exchange is in the best interest of the United States without the benefit of the normal process of permitting mines on public land which would require a mining plan of operations to be prepared. It bypasses the normal process of permitting mines on public lands that require the US Forest Service to conduct studies looking at a full range of impacts and alternatives required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). HR 687 is special interest legislation that would trade away the Oak Flat Campground and surrounding federal lands to foreign mining companies. Oak Flat is sacred to Native Americans and is critical for cultural and recreational activities.

• HR 687 is the only piece of legislation in Congress that would turn over a Native American sacred site on federal lands to foreign mining companies.

• HR 687 would mandate the loss of the largest amount of federal lands ever for recreational rock climbing resulting in financial ruin for small businesses based on the climbing industry.

• HR 687 would result in massive dewatering of the riparian area and the loss of habitat critical to rare and endangered plants and animals.

Not only have the previous 11 versions of the bill failed, there are many new reasons that the land exchange is particularly inappropriate at this time.

• While Rio Tinto promised the United States Senate in February of 2012 that a mining plan of operations would be submitted to the US Forest Service by June of 2012, no document has yet been produced. In fact, it would be impossible for Rio Tinto to produce a valid mining plan of operations at this time, as the company has not even completed basic exploratory work or other critical studies. The US Congress is being asked to privatize public land that is far more valuable for non-mining uses without the benefit of being able to look at a plan that answers basic questions needed to show that the health and welfare of the public and the environment would be protected. Further, on April 25th at a public meeting, Rio Tinto admitted that is does not even know where it would be able to dump 1.6 billion tons of toxic mine waste and that a mining plan could not be written until a suitable dump site is found.
• The town Council of Superior passed a unanimous resolution on March 13 opposing HR 687 (attached) and has terminated a mutual benefits agreement with Rio Tinto citing that the agreement and the bill protects the company, but not the town.

• The town of Queen Valley’s Homeowners Association and Golf association oppose a mine at Oak Flat because it would dewater the town and place environmentally hazardous tailings at the gateway to the town.
(Emphasis added) 
And here are the organizations that signed on to the open letter:

 Arizona Mining Reform Coalition - Access Fund - The American Alpine Club - Center for Biological Diversity - Comstock Residents Association - Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition - Concerned Climbers of Arizona, LLC - Earthworks - Environment Arizona - Friends of Ironwood Forest - Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness - Friends Of The Cloquet Valley State Forest - Friends of the Kalmiopsis - Groundwater Awareness League - High Country Citizens' Alliance - Information Network for Responsible Mining - Keepers of the Water - Maricopa Audubon Society - Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem, North Carolina & Vicinity - The Morning Star Institute - Mount Graham Coalition - Natural Resources Defense Council - Progressive National Baptist Convention - Religion and Human Rights Forum for the Preservation of Native American Sacred Sites and Rights - Rock Creek Alliance - San Juan Citizens Alliance - Save Our Cabinets - Save Our Sky Blue Waters - Save the Scenic Santa Ritas - Sierra Club - Sky Island Alliance - The Lands Council - Western Lands Project - Wilderness Workshop - Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Here are petitions from the Sierra Club and the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition.

In addition to environmental groups, many tribal nations and organizations also oppose H.R. 687 and have provided testimony against it:

National Congress of American Indians
Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
San Carlos Apache Tribe
White Mountain Apache Tribe
Yavapai Apache Nation
Navajo Nation
Hopi Tribe
Ft. McDowell Yavapai Nation
Mescalero Apache Nation
United Southern and Eastern Tribe, Inc.
Jicarilla Apache Nation
Pueblo of Tesuque
Pueblo of Zuni
Pascua Yaqui Tribe
Susanville Indian Rancheria
All Indian Pueblo Council
Eight Northern Indian Pueblos
Tohono O'odham Nation
Azee Bee Nahagha of Dine Nation
Karuk Tribe
Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
Inter Tribal Council of Nevada, Inc.
Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association
Picuris Pueblo
Ramona band of Cahuilla

So what happened on Thursday?

Thursday, while you were busy reading about the looming government shutdown, the House voted on two amendments to the bill and killed them both.

Rep. Raul Grijalva offered an amendment to require the Remote Operating Center for mining operations conducted on lands conveyed under the bill to be located in the town of Superior, Arizona, or an adjacent mining community to ensure jobs are created in local communities. The bill's boosters love to say that it will create jobs, right? So why not guarantee that those jobs will benefit the local community.

This amendment failed by voice vote in Committee back in May. On Thursday, it failed 180 to 227. The vote was largely party line with some exceptions, of course. Two Republicans--Chris Gibson (NY-19) and Walter Jones (NC-03) voted for it.

The following 9 Democrats voted against it:

Jim Cooper (TN-05)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Jared Polis (CO-02)

Rep. Grace Napolitano (CA-38) offered an amendment to protect water quality and water quantity for the people living and working near this proposed mine, given estimates that mining operations will consume the equivalent of the annual water supply for 20,000 homes. Her amendment had failed in Committee 18 to 23. In the vote yesterday, the House likewise killed it, voting it down 191 to 217.
Only one Democrat voted no. That would be one of the Blue Doggiest of the Blue Blue Dogs Jim Matheson (UT-04). Six Republicans voted for it: Justin Amash (MI-03), Mike Coffman (CO-06), Chris Gibson (NY-19), Walter Jones (NC-03), Pat Meehan (PA-07), and Scott Tipton (CO-03).

What next?

I'd encourage you to sign one of the petitions to which I linked above and to call your representatives in Congress. If you are in Arizona, you might want to connect with one of the organizations listed above as well.

I'll keep an eye out on the legislation as it moves forward.

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