For the past several weeks, many national news outlets have been sharing stories on the activities and protests by environmental groups and Apache Stronghold, who have long protested the Resolution Copper project. Much of this news comes as the Ninth Circuit court is expected to rehear the Apache Stronghold v. United States case this week in what the court calls an “en banc” hearing. This means that the full panel of 11 judges will hear the case.
The lawsuit was originally filed in February 2021 in federal court. Originally the court rejected the case after three judges heard the arguments and ruled against Apache Stronghold. In November 2022, in an unprecedented announcement the Ninth Circuit court announced they would rehear the case “en banc”.
The Apache Stronghold case is a religious freedoms case: Apache Stronghold is arguing that Oak Flats is a sacred place and that the mining operations will prohibit their right to worship under the freedom of religion amendment. Joining the Apache Stronghold fight to Save Oak Flats are leaders from Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons and Mennonites. These religious groups have joined the support for Apache Stronghold in fear that if the case is lost there could be other religious freedom setbacks.
Many will remember that the Final Federal Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which would be part of the permitting of the mine, was pulled by the Biden Administration on March 1, 2021, to allow for more tribal consultation. It has been reported by Town of Superior officials that they were informed that by the Forest Service that tribal consultation has been completed and the agency is finalizing a review of the FEIS. Local leaders are optimistic that the FEIS will be released in 2023. Once the FEIS is re-released, there is expected to be a 45-day objection period and then the final Record of Decision can be signed by the Chief Forester of the Tonto National Forest. Once the FEIS is re-released it is expected that the Ninth Circuit court will hear suits filed by the San Carlos Apache Tribe and mining reform groups.
Resolution Copper continues to press on with community engagement and community projects throughout Superior, the Copper Triangle and across the local Native American communities. Resolution Copper has recently renewed multi-year agreements with Rebuild Superior Inc. to continue community and economic development work in Superior.
During this past year many community leaders and elected officials have visited the project. Most recently Pinal County Supervisor Jeff Serdy and the Pinal County Economic Development team. This past summer, Mayor Mila Besich and Councilmember Olga Lopez also visited the mine for a tour 7,000 feet below the earth’s surface.
“This project is good for Superior, Pinal County and the entire state of Arizona,” said Pinal County Supervisor Jeff Serdy.
To date the Resolution Copper project is one of the single largest private economic investments in the State of Arizona. It is expected to be a 7 billion dollar investment to get the mine in operation and once in operation it will be one of the richest and deepest copper ore deposits in North America adding 1 billion dollars to the state’s economy each year once in production.
At a recent meeting with Senator Sinema in Globe, Mayor Besich thanked Sinema for her support of the Resolution Copper project and asked for her help to have the White House look at this project urgently. During her visit Sinema expressed her goals to work with the Arizona Manufacturing and Defense Council to promote rare earth mineral development, and mining this copper in a environmentally sound way, here in Arizona. She has also been working to have copper listed as a critical mineral for national defense. This would mean mining projects producing copper would have priority.