For Immediate Release, March 15, 2021

Contact:

Randy Serraglio, (520) 784-1504, rserraglio@biologicaldiversity.org

House Bill Introduced to Save Sacred Oak Flat, in Arizona, From Massive Copper Mine

TUCSON, Ariz.— U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Save Oak Flat Act today to protect the Indigenous sacred site in central Arizona from being destroyed by a massive copper mine.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. The bills would overturn 2014 legislation that authorized the land to be traded away to multinational mining giant Rio Tinto for a massive copper mine. Oak Flat is considered sacred by Apache and other native people, with profound importance to western Apache culture and religion.

“The Save Oak Flat Act is a critical step to overturn the death sentence Oak Flat faces,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re grateful for the leadership of Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Sanders, who’ve worked for years to protect Oak Flat. Now the work begins to get these bills passed and signed into law.”

The mine would eventually create a crater more than a mile wide and 1,000 feet deep, which would completely decimate the area. The 1.4 billion tons of toxic waste the mine would produce would be dumped on thousands of acres of nearby wildlands, turning a vibrant landscape into an industrial wasteland and threatening to contaminate groundwater and surface water in the area. The mine would use a vast amount of groundwater annually, equal to the amount used by the entire city of Tempe.

Legislation to authorize a land exchange between Rio Tinto and the Tonto National Forest failed a dozen times in Congress before it was inserted as a rider into an unrelated, must-pass defense spending bill by the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the largest recipients of campaign contributions from Rio Tinto at the time.

“This proposed land trade was a sleazy deal to begin with,” said Serraglio. “The Trump administration doubled down on that corruption and tried to fast-track the land swap before leaving office. We need Congress to step up and protect this precious place.”

Oak Flat has been used for centuries by Apache and other Native people for ceremony, sustenance and habitation, and ceremonies are still conducted there. Several tribes consider it sacred, including the nearby San Carlos Apache Tribe, which filed suit Jan. 15 to challenge the land exchange. Two other lawsuits have been filed by the resistance group Apache Stronghold and by a coalition of tribes and conservation groups, including the Center.

Oak Flat is also a popular campground and recreation area, with stunning scenery and world-renowned rock climbing. It and the surrounding lands are important habitat for a diverse array of wildlife, including ocelot, migratory and endangered birds, and endangered plants and fish.

“Oak Flat is priceless and should never be traded away, especially to a rapacious mining company that seeks to destroy it for profit,” said Serraglio. “We’ll keep fighting for as long as it takes to protect it.”

RSPhoto_Oak_Flat_By_Russ_McSpadden_Center_for_Biological_Diversity (1)-scr.JPG
Site of proposed Resolution Copper mine, Oak Flat, Ariz. Photo credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.