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rio tinto

The Apache Leap area

The U.S. Senate passed a measure authorizing the nation’s defense programs and along with it managed to give lands sacred to Native Americans to a foreign company that owns a uranium mine with Iran.

The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 is one of the must-pass pieces of legislation that Congress moves every year. But like they did in attaching extraneous riders to the must-pass government funding bill, lawmakers used the defense bill as a vehicle to pass a massive public lands package.

Mining a massive copper deposit

Through the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, the exchange transfers 2,400 acres of Sacred Apache land in the Tonto National Forest into Resolution Copper’s “ownership.” Simultaneously, this Australian-English mining firm, Rio Tinto, transfers about 5,300 acres of “privately-held land to the government.”

The Iran connection comes from a uranium mine in Namibia, in which Tehran has owned a 15 percent stake since the days of the shah.

Rio Tinto, which removed Iran’s two members of the mine board in 2012, has argued that Iran gets no benefit from the property, that there is no active partnership, and that it has discussed the issue with the U.S. State Department to “ensure that no sanctions against Iran are violated.”

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that officials had discussed the site, but declined to say that they could assure there were no violations of sanctions.

“We are aware of the mine in question and have discussed relevant compliance issues with the company,” the spokesperson said.

The official also declined to say if, as might be expected, Iran would be able to benefit from the mine if Secretary of State John Kerry is successful in negotiations to limit the regime’s nuclear aspirations, and sanctions are lifted. “We are not going to speculate on any hypotheticals,” the official said. A Rio Tinto official also declined to speculate, but noted that under the current sanctions and Namibian law, it’s impossible to buy out Iran’s share or sever the tie.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) mounted a bid to strip the entire lands package from the bill, but secured only 18 votes in his favor.

It’s not only people concerned about any benefit Iran might get who were worried about giving American forest land to a foreign firm that has such a connection.

Apache Grounds Seized by Congress

Apache Grounds Seized by CongressNative Americans, particularly the Apache tribe in the area, say digging a massive mine under their ancestral lands will destroy sacred ceremonial and burial grounds.

Rio Tinto says it will work closely with the tribes to “ensure their concerns are heard,” and will work with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the environment.

The measure was added into the NDAA largely thanks to the efforts of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who, along with fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, sees the project as an “economic boon” that will create supposedly 3,700 jobs over several decades. The question is, who will be getting those jobs?

Flake acknowledged that the deal never would have passed on its own, even as he “lamented the process that got it through the Senate.”

“It’s never good to see big packages with so many things in them — that’s what we want to get away from,” Flake said. “But it’s been very difficult to move individual pieces of legislation over the last few years.”

In this case, the addition of the Arizona swap and the other land measures were never discussed in public, and were added during secret negotiations between the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. The deal was never publicly revealed until the House started work on passing the entire defense bill last Dec.

Why is this important?

Federal land should not be given away — especially land that was preserved on behalf of Native Americans who maintain burial and ceremonial grounds in the area. The land in question also contains a site known as the Apache Leap, where trapped Apaches once jumped to their deaths rather than being killed or captured in an attack by settlers. Additionally Rio Tinto as a holder of hard-rock mining rights pay no royalties to the federal government, as they do with oil leases. And if the bulk of the copper winds up being shipped to China, the world’s top consumer of the metal there would be very little benefit to American taxpayers.

obama signing RioTintoRio Tinto, though subsidiary Resolution Copper, will take possession of the land a year later. Although the land will then be private property and federal environmental reviews will no longer be enforceable, the company said in a statement after the measure passed that it would abide by such reviews. It also pledged to be “a good neighbor:”

Resolution Copper Mining is pleased that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with strong bipartisan support. Passage of the legislation means that Resolution Copper can move forward with the development of this world-class ore body which will create “approximately” 3,700 jobs, generate over $60 billion in economic impact and result in almost $20 billion in state and federal tax payments,” said project director Andrew Taplin. (See the actual details below in the “Related” section below).

“There is much more work to be done before commercial mining can begin and Resolution Copper looks forward to working with all stakeholders as we continue to progress through the regulatory review process toward responsible development and operation of a world-class copper mine that will safely produce over 25 percent of the current annual demand for copper in the United States.”

Signed into law by Obama, Resolution Copper land swap  will focus on the comprehensive environmental and regulatory review under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), where there will be “broad public consultation” (NOT!), government-to-government consultation with Arizona Native American tribes and a comprehensive valuation appraisal of the copper deposit as required by Congress.

Resolution Copper plans to work to expand existing partnerships and create new ones with neighboring communities and Native American Tribes. The company will “endeavor” to hire locally and regionally “whenever possible.

The heart of the legislation is the exchange of 2,400 acres of federally owned land above the copper deposit for 5,300 acres of land owned by Resolution Copper composed of valuable recreational, conservation and culturally significant land throughout Arizona.




Public review. What “Public Review?

According to text of the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act:

Before consummating the land exchange under this Act, the Secretary shall make the appraisals of the land to be exchanged (or a summary thereof) available for public review. (In fact, this has NOT been made public “BEFORE” consummating the land exchange under this Act).

Who gets what?

Equal value land exchange

The value of the Federal land and non-Federal land to be exchanged under this Act shall be equal or shall be equalized in accordance with this subsection.

Surplus of Federal land value

If the final appraised value of the Federal land exceeds the value of the non-Federal land, Resolution Copper shall—

convey additional non-Federal land in the State to the Secretary or the Secretary of the Interior, consistent with the requirements of this Act and subject to the approval of the applicable Secretary;

make a cash payment to the United States; or use a combination of the methods described in clauses (i) and (ii), as agreed to by Resolution Copper, the Secretary, and the Secretary of the Interior.

Amount of payment

(B) The Secretary may accept a payment in excess of 25 percent of the total value of the land or interests conveyed, notwithstanding section 206(b) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1716(b) ).

Disposition and use of proceeds
(C) Any amounts received by the United States under this subparagraph shall be deposited in the fund established under Public Law 90–171 (commonly known as the Sisk Act ; 16 U.S.C. 484a ) and shall be made available, in such amounts as are provided in advance in appropriation Acts, to the Secretary for the acquisition of land for addition to the National Forest System.

Surplus of non-Federal land

If the final appraised value of the non-Federal land exceeds the value of the Federal land—

(A) the United States shall not make a payment to Resolution Copper to equalize the value; and
(B) the surplus value of the non-Federal land shall be considered to be a “donation” by Resolution Copper to the United States.
(Did you catch that? Here are the specifics:
If the value of the federal lands are determined to be higher than the Resolution Copper lands, the company will make up the difference, “either through a payment to the United States Treasury or donation of additional lands” subject to the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture or Secretary of Interior as appropriate.)

Conveyance and management of non-Federal land

On receipt of title to the Federal land, Resolution Copper shall simultaneously convey—

to the Secretary, all right, title, and interest that the Secretary determines to be acceptable

In addition the approximately 3,050 acres of land located in Pinal County, Arizona, identified as Lands to DOI as generally depicted on the map entitled Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013–Non-Federal Parcel–Lower San Pedro River.

State Law Unaffected

Nothing in this section modifies, expands, diminishes, amends, or otherwise affects any State law relating to the imposition, application, timing, or collection of a
State excise or severance tax.
Use of Funds
(1) Separate fund.–All funds paid to the United States under this section shall be deposited in a special fund established in the Treasury and shall be available, in such amounts as are provided in advance in appropriation Acts, to the Secretary and the Secretary of the Interior only for the purposes authorized by paragraph 2.
(2) Authorized useAmounts in the special fund established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be used for maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation projects for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management assets.

Boundary revision

On the acquisition of land by the Secretary under this Act, “the boundaries of the national forest shall be modified” to reflect the inclusion of the acquired land.

Rights of Resolution Copper

Nothing in this Act shall interfere with, limit, or otherwise impair, the unpatented mining claims or rights currently held by Resolution Copper on the Federal land, nor in any way change, diminish, qualify, or otherwise impact Resolution Copper’s rights and ability to conduct activities on the Federal land under such unpatented mining claims and the general mining laws of the United States, including the permitting or authorization of such activities.

Miscellaneous provisions

Revocation of orders

Any public land order that withdraws the Federal land from appropriation or disposal under a public land law shall be revoked to the extent necessary to permit “disposal of the land.”


On the date of enactment of this Act, if the Federal land or any Federal interest in the non-Federal land to be exchanged under section 4 is not withdrawn or segregated from entry and appropriation under a public land law (including mining and mineral leasing laws and the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 (30 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.)), the land or interest shall be withdrawn, without further action required by the Secretary concerned, from entry and appropriation.