Biden Administration Says Oak Flat Land Swap Should Proceed Despite Lawsuit

Site of proposed Resolution Copper mine, Oak Flat, Ariz. /Photo credit: Russ McSpadden, Center for Biological Diversity

By Josh Kelety | Phoenix New Times

Disclosure: Rose Law Group represents Resolution Copper

The Biden administration recently argued in federal court that a controversial land trade in the Oak Flat region for a copper mine shouldn’t be stopped by a lawsuit — despite previously moving to pause the project.

In an 83-page brief filed in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 17, attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice asserted that a lower federal court was right to deny an injunction sought by Apache Stronghold, a group that is currently suing the federal government to stop the copper mine project. They argued that Apache Stronghold’s claims that the land transfer violates historic tribal treaties and religious freedoms fall flat.

“Plaintiffs cannot establish that they will suffer irreparable harm absent preliminary relief,” the brief states. “The district court’s order denying preliminary injunctive relief should be affirmed.”

For years, two Australian mining companies, Rio Tinto and BHP, have sought to build a massive copper mine in Oak Flat, a region of the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix that is considered sacred by the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other regional Native American tribes. The proposal, which was approved by Congress in 2014, involves swapping 2,422 acres of federally protected forest land in that area for over 5,000 acres of private land and constructing a roughly mile-wide crater to extract copper deposits located underneath Oak Flat. Critics of the project argue that it will be an environmental disaster and decimate indigenous sacred sites.

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