In a letter to Natural Resource Committee head, Grijalva makes the case for Oak Flat legislation

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Thursday, April 6, 2023 - 10:45am
Updated: Thursday, April 6, 2023 - 10:46am

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Raúl Grijalva
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Raúl Grijalva

In a letter to Republican Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas this week, Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva says he wants a committee hearing on a piece of legislation that would prohibit mining at Oak Flat.

Westerman chairs Congress' Natural Resources Committee, of which Grijalva is a ranking member. Oak Flat is a roughly 2,400 acre stretch of National Forest Service land that is a sacred religious site to the San Carlos Apache Tribe. But at the end of 2014, control of the site was transferred to the mining conglomerate Resolution Copper in a last-minute addition to Congress’ must-pass defense bill. Now it’s slated to become part of one of the largest copper mining operations in the U.S. 

Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat from Foreign Mining Act aims to change that, by repealing the 2014 section and permanently barring foreign mining operations from the site.

In his letter to Westerman, Grijalva says the largest shareholder of Rio Tinto — one of the mining companies that owns Resolution Copper —  is a holding company owned by the Chinese government. He argues allowing the foreign-owned mine to go forward conflicts House Republicans’House Republicans’ efforts to move more mining into the hands of U.S. operators and companies.

"Why should we let foreign mining companies with a history of operational failures and environmental destruction establish the Resolution Copper mine in Arizona?," the letter reads. "My legislation, HR 1351, would repeal the land transfer that would allow foreign mining companies Rio Tinto and BPH to establish the Resolution Copper mine within the Tonto National Forest’s Chí’chil Biłdagoteel Historic District, also known as Oak Flat."

Grijalva says mining copper at Oak Flat would bring  no return to the American people. Instead, he says it would likely be extracted and shipped overseas to be processed and sold. The lawmaker also sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture urging the agency not to green-light the project.