FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors is planning a letter in support of the long-planned Resolution Copper mine near Superior, following a setback in the mine’s environmental approval.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently pushed back the early-March date for a federal land swap in order to consult with Native American tribes and other concerned groups for further environmental review.

“Basically they’re eliminating all the work that was done by Resolution Copper for their NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and are refusing to allow the land exchange to go forward,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said Wednesday.

“… I fear that not allowing this process to go forward will affect not just Resolution Copper but it can affect mining in Arizona as a whole. Like it or not, it’s one of the biggest industries we have here. There are tons of revenue and jobs that are generated from it.”

Resolution would be the largest copper mine in North America and would eventually employ up to 3,700 people, most of them on site.

“The whole federal government wants to go more green, and green energy uses copper,” Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, said. “As a matter of national security, we don’t want to be buying copper from foreign countries.”

The supervisors were scheduled Wednesday to consider approval of a letter to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation seeking that agency’s support of the mine. But Miller said based on recent events, “we need to make a stronger letter,” and the board voted to table the matter.

U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Tucson, hailed the news that the U.S. Forest Service is withdrawing its final environmental impact statement in a news release:

“The Trump administration rushed this document out the door as just one more favor to industry, regardless of how legally or scientifically unsupportable it was. The Biden administration is doing the right thing with this reset, and I intend to reintroduce the Save Oak Flat Act in the coming days to make sure this needless controversy is settled on the side of justice once and for all,” Grijalva said.

The congressman said he has been leading on the issue since the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act included a federal government transfer of 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest land to Resolution Copper — a joint venture by international mining conglomerates BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto — in exchange for less valuable land.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.