Resolution Copper Update
On January 15, 2021, the Tonto National Forest released the Resolution Copper Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for objection. In the time since these documents were released, the Agency and Department have received significant input from collaborators, partners, and the public through a variety of means.
On March 1, 2021, USDA directed the Forest Service to withdraw the Notice of Availability and rescind the FEIS and draft ROD. The pre-decisional objection period will be halted as well. Because the FEIS and draft ROD have been rescinded, the Forest cannot move forward with the transfer of title at this time. In accordance with the statute, the Forest intends to transfer title within 60 days after the future FEIS is published.
On September 10, 2021, the Forest Service proceeded with re-initiating government-to-government consultation with Tribal Nations to fully understand concerns raised by the Tribes and the project’s impact to tribally important and sacred resources within the project area. The Forest Service distributed letters to 15 Arizona tribes, requesting to re-initiate Tribal Consultation, focusing on water quality and mining techniques to consider further measures that may be discussed with Resolution Copper in subsequent Company Consultation. Further consultation with Resolution Copper concerning water quality and mining techniques may be productive in addressing concerns of the land exchange on affected Tribes.
Barnie Gyant, Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, has been delegated by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as the Consulting Official for government-to-government consultation with Tribal Nations for the Resolution Copper Land Exchange project and consultation efforts on matters related to the NDAA.
The project is proposed on Oak Flat, a site sacred to numerous Federally Recognized Tribes in the Southwest. The Department is taking this step to provide an opportunity for the agency to conduct a thorough review based on significant input received from collaborators, partners, and the public since these documents were released. The recent Presidential Memorandum on tribal consultation and strengthening nation to nation relationships counsels in favor of ensuring the Forest Service has complied with the environmental, cultural, and archaeological analyses required. 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. USDA and the Forest Service also understand that under federal law that the Forest Service has limited discretion related to protection of Oak Flat. Because the Resolution Copper Mine and Land Exchange Project was directed under the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress. USDA and the Forest Service cannot give a precise length of time for completing the re-initiation of consultation but consultations such as this generally take several months.
Tonto National Forest releases final Environmental Impact Statement,
draft decision for Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange
PHOENIX, January 15, 2021 — For Immediate Release. Today, USDA Forest Service released the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange.
The FEIS describes the potential environmental effects from two proposed actions: a general plan of operations for development of a large-scale underground copper mine by Resolution Copper Mining, LLC.; and a related, legislatively mandated land exchange. The draft ROD explains the Forest Service’s rationale and decision concerning the proposed action for which the agency prepared an environmental impact statement. The FEIS also includes detailed mitigation measures to minimize impacts.
The Resolution Copper project is a proposed underground copper mine near the town of Superior, Arizona. The Project would create one of the largest copper mines in the United States. The mine is projected to create about 1,450 jobs and pay about $149 million annually. Additionally, the mine is estimated to generate between $80 and $120 million per year in State and local taxes and another $200 million per year for the federal government.
The public may access the FEIS and draft ROD along with related documents on the project website at https://www.resolutionmineeis.us/.
The Tonto National Forest prepared the FEIS for use as the basis for all decisions under Federal law related to the proposed mine and the Resolution mine plan of operations and any related major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.
“Our multiple use mission means that we have to balance demand for mineral extraction and the related economic benefits with our commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability,” said Tom Torres, acting Tonto National Forest supervisor. “The Forest Service is required by regulation to consider mining plans of operations on our public lands, ensure the plans comply with environmental regulations, and minimize any adverse impacts to the extent feasible.
“This project is complex, and the impacts were rigorously analyzed over the past five years,” Torres continued. “The final EIS and resulting draft decision include numerous changes and mitigation measures that seek to minimize the environmental effects from the mining operations, especially the new location of the tailings facility.
“The project also included consultation with affected Indian tribes to best address the negative impacts to sacred tribal lands,” Torres added. “Consistent with the legislative language, we have sought to address these impacts in consultation with the mining company and will establish numerous programs to alleviate those concerns now and into the future.”
A Notice of Availability was released alongside the final EIS and draft ROD in the Federal Register and begins a 45-day objection period for people who had previously submitted specific comments regarding the proposed project in accordance with regulations at 36 CFR 218.5(a). The Southwestern Regional Forester is overseeing the objection process.
Tonto officials expect to announce the final Record of Decision in summer 2021. Section 3003 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 mandated a land exchange from the federal government to Resolution Copper Mining. This includes land previously withdrawn from mineral entry. Once an environmental impact statement is complete and a decision is rendered the land exchange will give Resolution Copper Mining legal access to the copper ore deposit.