The tribe warns the United States government not to go forward with me

PHOENIX (AP) – Members of a Native American tribe fighting plans for a massive copper mine on land they consider sacred say they are concerned that U.S. officials will publish an environmental review that would clear the way for the project even as they await a federal appeals court decision. matter

When a US government lawyer said Last month’s hearing A full panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the final environmental impact study for the construction of the mine in Oak Flat, Arizona, could be published this spring.

Terry Rambler, chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, said during a visit last week that U.S. Forest Service officials have confirmed plans to publish an environmental analysis going forward. That action would begin a 60-day period that would end with a land swap that would allow the project to move forward.

“Destroying Oak Flat for copper mining is a serious human rights violation against indigenous peoples and an environmental disaster,” Rambler said in a written statement this week. “The Biden administration’s commitment to Indian country will be severely undermined if it approves this mine.

Apache Stronghold, a group made up of San Carlos Apache members and others, wants to stop the land swap while the case plays out in court. An 11-judge panel of the appeals court is expected to rule in the next few months.

Apache Stronghold He sued the US government According to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to protect the land known as Chichile Bildagotel, the ancient oak trees and traditional plants of the San Carlos Apaches are important to their culture.

Tonto National Forest officials referred emailed questions from The Associated Press about the agency’s plans to their superiors. Oak Flat is located in the Tonto National Forest about 70 miles (110 km) east of Phoenix.

Representatives of the Resolution Copper mining company said they did not know what the agency was planning.

U.S. Representative Raul M. Grijalva, a Democrat from southern Arizona, has introduced legislation aimed at stopping the project. This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged continued publication of the environmental assessment.

“If allowed to proceed, Decision Copper would desecrate the cultural and religious heritage of the Oak Flats Tribe, destroy Arizona’s water resources, negatively impact endangered species, and create a sinkhole up to 1,115 feet deep and approximately 1.8 miles across,” Grijalva wrote. . “This mine will do more harm than good.”

The swap decision was a provision included in a defense bill that would require Copper to pass 3.75 square miles (9.71 square kilometers) of national forest land to the company for eight other parcels in Arizona.

The publication of the environmental analysis starts the clock on the Forest Service’s 60-day period to transfer oak flats to solution copper.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, has spent months advising Native Americans and others on issues of concern, but an earlier environmental study was pushed back.

The mining company said it was addressing issues with the project. He notes that there is widespread local support for the mine, which would create thousands of jobs, add up to $1 billion a year to Arizona’s economy and supply enough copper to meet up to a quarter of U.S. demand.

Quality Copper is a joint venture between Rio Tinto, headquartered in Australia and the United Kingdom, and BHP, based in Australia.

A smaller 9th Circuit panel previously ruled 2-1. The court agreed to adjourn the case.

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