Mining Arizona fights the drilling economy, electric vehicles against conservation, culture

Early last year, Darren Lewis paid $ 800,000 to buy a hardware store in the small mining giant Rio Tinto plc in Arizona. (RIO.L) Hopes to build one of the largest underground copper mines in the world.

Rio buys the equipment from Lewis’ Superior Hardware & Lumber for its Resolution Mine website, which accounts for a third of the store’s sales and helps keep it afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

But US President Joe Biden suspended the mining project last month in response to concerns from Indians who say it will destroy the Holy Land and environmentalists who fear it will eat up water in a drought-ridden situation.

This sparked concern among Lewis and others here in Superior, Arizona, who wanted to reap the economic benefits of a mine that would harvest more than 40 billion pounds of copper.

“I sank everything I sank here,” said Lewis, surrounded by a hammer drill, wrenches and other goods at his shop. “It will definitely destroy us if this mine is not opened.”

Biden off the project Reverse decision By his predecessor Donald Trump who allegedly gave Rio the land for the mine. Biden ordered more government analysis of the project.

The ongoing battle between conservationists and Native Americans against local officials and residents who support its economic benefits. The complex controversy heralds an upcoming fight as the United States scrambles to build more electric cars, which use twice the amount of copper found in cars with internal combustion engines. The resolution mine could cover about 25% of the demand for US cooperation.

The Arizona dispute revolves around the Oak Flat Campground, which some Apache say is the home of the deities known as Jan. At the site, near the San Carlos Apache Reserve, religious ceremonies are held to celebrate the adolescent girls’ puberty. Many Apache have buried their ancestors under igneous rocks.

In 2014, the Obama administration and Congress launched a complex process of Federally owning 3,000 acres of land, including campground, versus 4,500 acres that Rio owns next door. Biden This transfer is interrupted

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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“If Ryo gets this position, the mine will kill the angels and gods who live here,” said Windler Nozi, the San Carlos Apache clan who ran a protest camp on the site for 18 months. There is a sign describing the Earth, known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel in the Western Apache language, as the physical embodiment of the Earth’s soul.

Nozi gained widespread support for his cause, buoyed by growing global concerns about indigenous peoples’ rights. Rio itself fueled trouble last year when it blew up shelters of cultural significance for indigenous people in Australia.

If the land swap is approved, Ryo said it will keep the camp open for decades to come before the underground mine causes a pit that could submerge the site. The company also said it will seek pre-approval for the project and study ways to prevent well formation.

“The land swap gives us the opportunity to collect more data, so we can improve our plans and look for ways to prevent and reduce damage to the site,” said Vicki Bessi, Senior Permits Manager for the Rio Project.

Rio, based in Australia and the United Kingdom, has pledged to preserve other cultural sites as well, including the Apache Leap, a rocky cliff overlooking the President where the Apache jumped to death to prevent them from reaching the end of the 19th century. Captured by American forces.

American copper

Politicians in the presidency – a city of 3,000 people who voted twice for Democrat Biden in a Republican majority on two occasions last November – are now urging the president to change his mind.

The land swap, if Biden agrees, would also allow the super city to buy more than 600 acres that officials say are essential to diversifying the local economy by expanding the airport, developing an industrial park and building affordable housing.

“President Biden will have to make some bold decisions,” said Democratic Mayor Mila Pesic.

She said mining was essential to achieving Biden’s goal of expanding electric vehicle production. “We need more American copper,” she said.

While the area has long been popular with hikers and campers, it is known as the “Copper Trail,” with mines from Freeport McMuran. (FCX.N) And others.

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The closure of the Magma copper mine in 1996 devastated the president’s economy. Officials now pinned their hopes on the decision. Since copper deposits were first discovered in 1995, Rio and minority partner BHP Group Plc (BHPB.L) It has spent more than $ 2 billion digging an exploration well and dismantling an old magma smelter. They haven’t produced copper yet. BHP declined to comment.

More than half of the buildings in Downtown Superior are free. Several Tesla Corporation (TSLA.O) Charging stations signal the city’s ambition to be part of the rise of electric vehicles. Nicola Corp. (NKLA.O) Lucid Motors is building its EV plants under 50 miles.

Rio has pledged to hire 1,400 full-time workers at an average annual salary of over $ 100,000. This is roughly half of the population of a city with an average income less than a third of the national average.

“What is sacred to my community is that people have a job and a home,” said Mayor Pesic.

The Arizona governor said the mine would increase state, state and federal tax coffers by $ 280 million annually and add $ 1 billion to the state’s economy.

But Pisic backed out when investigations found that Rio would only pay the city $ 350,000 in taxes per year, which is far less than the $ 1 million it would need annually to get more police, fires and road maintenance.

Rio agreed to pay more to the city to ensure Superior’s water supply and donate $ 1.2 million to the school district. Without Rio’s support, Superintendent Steve Estatico said, district schools – where enrollments have dropped 13 percent since 2016 – could close their doors.

“Rio has had to know in recent years that the host communities cannot be taken for granted,” Pesic said.

Negotiations stalled

Chairman Terry Rambler said the San Carlos Apache family – one of the first Native American tribes to support Biden’s presidential bid – did not negotiate with Rio because the tribal council prefers direct talks with the US government.

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Rio’s copper chief, Bold Batar, said he hopes to negotiate directly with the tribe when he visits Arizona in early June, as soon as the epidemiological restrictions allow.

“We hear everyone’s concerns,” Batar told Reuters. There will be no mines until we do our best to obtain approval. “

Not all Indians are against mine. Some members of the White Mountain Apache, which is located north of San Carlos Apache, say they do not consider the site a sacred site.

“The belief that the site is religious is news for me,” said Alvina Bush, a member of the White Mountain Apache Apache Council that supports the project.

Concerns about water

Ryo has dug a mine about two kilometers underground on her land near the campsite. The lower part of the shaft became the staging area for future mining activities.

The miner drains the water from the nearby copper deposits to make it easier to extract. Every minute, more than 600 liters of water are pumped to surface treatment plants for use in local agriculture.

Rio plans to extract the copper using a technique known as block drilling. It involves carving a cave out of a large portion of the rock, which then collapses under the weight of the rocks above, creating a crater three kilometers wide and 304 meters deep.

According to an environmental study by the US Forest Service, this method would damage the aquifers that feed two local springs. According to the report, the entire mine will reduce the available groundwater in the region, which has been suffering from drought since the late 1990s.

“This land will be worthless if there is no water,” said Henry Munoz, who leads a large group of retired miners who are opposed to the project.

Biden is expected to decide later this spring whether to give Ryo the land for the mine. Lewis, the hardware store owner, hopes his ordeal will be considered out of all the competing interests.

He said, “If I had anything to say to President Biden, it would be open to me.”

Our Criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Megan Vasquez

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