Via E-mail and U.S. Postal Service on March 29, 2021

The Honorable Doug Ducey Governor
State of Arizona
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
d.ducey@az.gov

Dear Governor Ducey:

I am extremely disappointed in the inaccurate statements and flagrant omissions of fact in your March 16, 2021 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack concerning the proposed massive mine of foreign-owned conglomerates Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton though their limited liability company, Resolution Copper. Virtually all Arizona Indian tribes oppose this dangerous mine because it will destroy public land of significant historical, religious, cultural, and archeological value, including Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Your characterization of the Agriculture Department’s decision to withdraw the Tonto National Forest’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) as “an unprecedented retroactive step” ignores the Department’s primary reason for taking the action which was to ensure it was complying with federal law. The Department’s March 1 statement reads in part:

“The project is proposed on Oak Flat, a site sacred to numerous Federally Recognized Tribes in the Southwest…USDA has concluded that additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law.”

We believe in the rule of law and we fully expect the state of Arizona and the federal government to comply with environmental and Native American cultural and religious freedom laws. The Resolution FEIS is grossly incomplete, misleading, violates numerous federal laws and was rushed to publication in the final days of the Trump administration. Three separate plaintiffs, including my Tribe, have filed federal lawsuits challenging the FEIS. There is ample support for Secretary’s Vilsack’s prudent decision to withdraw the FEIS.

Your letter is also misleading by claiming that Resolution Copper is “a vital project” that will supply up to 25% of U.S. domestic demands. The United States is not facing a shortage of domestically produced copper concentrate and, in fact, in 2019 the U.S. was the fifth largest exporting nation in the world shipping $2.34 billion worth of copper ore abroad.

Resolution’s copper concentrate production is most likely bound for export markets as the United States has only three operating copper smelters. Importantly, Resolution Copper has never publicly stated where its copper concentrate will be refined. Arizona’s two smelters are owned and operated by competitors including Freeport-MacMoRan’s Miami smelter and Grupo Mexico’s Hayden smelter. Rio Tinto operates the third U.S. smelter in Garfield, UT, where it processes concentrate from the Bingham Mine and appears to have limited excess capacity.

Most likely, Resolution’s copper concentrate is bound for China, which is by far the world’s largest importer of copper ore. Rio Tinto’s single largest investor is the government of China through Chinalco Mining Corporation International. This one fact makes this entire project a strategic foreign policy concern, one that should be approached with caution.

Your letter also notes that Arizona state agencies “have been closely involved” in developing the FEIS and that you have “high confidence” in the process that created the report. I would like to point out to you that the Arizona State Land Department stated in its Nov. 7, 2019 submission to the Tonto National Forest that the preferred location of Resolution’s waste and tailings dump on state-owned land at Skunk Creek “will adversely impact the trust” by a minimum of $537 million.

The department warned that Resolution’s heavy groundwater pumping ranging from 180,000 acre-feet to 600,000 acre-feet over the life of the mine will result “in the loss of the development of at least 3,440 acres of State Trust land” in the Superstition Vistas Planning Area. Nearby State Trust land was recently auctioned to a developer for $156,000 an acre. The department concluded that Resolution’s “negative impact of the proposed ground water consumption sourced from Superstition Vistas Planning Area far outweighs the estimated financial benefits to the Trust resulting from other aspects of the project by a factor of 20:1.”

An acre-foot of water equals roughly 325,851 gallons. Under even the most conservative estimates, the mine would consume at least 256 billion gallons of water – enough water for up to 168,000 homes over 40 years. Resolution Copper admits that at least 550,000-acre feet of water coming from East Salt River Valley groundwater will be required to slurry toxic waste through over 20 miles of pipelines to Skunk Camp, the area Resolution Copper seeks to dump 1.37 billion tons of toxic waste across 2,300-5,900 acres that will be higher than the 40-story Chase Tower, the tallest building in Arizona. This groundwater pumping will result in water levels being drawn down 199 feet in some areas, which, in turn, could cause the land to subside by as much as 52 inches and impact the Central Arizona Project canal, municipal infrastructure, and agricultural infrastructure.

Furthermore, and equally important to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, is the devastating impacts that the ill-conceived Resolution Copper Mine project will have on the region and state’s surface and groundwater. The demands of this mining project will deplete, destroy and poison substantial, limited and precious surface and groundwater resources for the region.

Based on the state land department’s stark assessment, it is clear the Resolution Copper project would seriously and negatively impact State Trust land and therefore its beneficiaries, including K-12 public schools and Arizona’s three state universities.

Further, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has refused to sign the Programmatic Agreement dealing with historic preservation due to failures of the Forest to meaningfully consult with tribes and mitigate damage to cultural resources in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Council would not sign this agreement because “the measures in the [agreement] are not sufficient to adequately resolve those adverse effects.”

I urge you to reconsider your support for the Resolution Copper project. The evidence is clear. The mine would forever destroy sacred land for several Arizona tribes in violation of federal laws, inflict massive environmental damage, export copper concentrate overseas, enrich two foreign-owned multinational mining companies, seriously deplete Arizona’s ground water at a time of prolonged drought and negatively impact the value of the State Trust land by at least a half-billion dollars.

I respectfully request an opportunity to discuss with you why the proposed Resolution Mine is a bad idea for all the people of the state of Arizona.

As we say in our Apache language, Ahi’yi’é (thank you) for considering my requests. Sincerely,

SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE

Terry Rambler
Chairman

A PDF copy of this letter can be downloaded.

Below is an editable Word document for writing to your government representatives to request their support for the Save Oak Flat Act. Be sure to fill in the blanks with the appropriate information before sending it to your representatives.