Political News

Copper industry, environmentalists battle over US monuments

Posted August 27

— Arizona's copper industry, environmentalists and recreation groups are fighting over the future of three national monuments in the state.

As the U.S. Interior Department reviews the size of 21 national monuments across the country, the multinational mining company Asarco is asking that more than 11,000 acres be pulled from the 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson so it can mine more copper there, next to the company's Silver Bell copper mine, the Arizona Daily Star reports (http://bit.ly/2wErswa .)

Asarco say its needs use of the 11,000 acres because it's unable to make economic use of 880 acres it owns and 4,050 federally owned acres on which it has filed mining claims within monument boundaries.

The Silver Bell mine, which borders the monument's southwest side, has produced copper and other minerals for more than 65 years and lies within one of five historic mining districts near and inside the monument, according to a letter the company sent to Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said.

But Asarco says it's been prevented from exploring the monument land to assess its mineral deposits — an act it says would be in accord with the 1872 Mining Law.

In 2000, Asarco pegged its economic losses caused by its inability to exploit those claims at $146 million, said Nancy Johannesmeyer, the company's senior manager for environmental affairs.

The state mining industry also is trying to shrink two other Arizona national monuments that were named by President Bill Clinton: the Sonoran Desert National Monument lying north of Ironwood in Pinal County and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Coconino County.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, said the Trump administration will be sued if it decides to shrink Ironwood and other monuments.

"The whole review by (Interior Department Secretary Ryan) Zinke is an industry-driven, extraction-driven review, whether it's gas and oil in some areas and mining in others," said Grijalva, whose district includes most of Ironwood. "This process that Zinke and Trump are directing is contrived to see how much land can be opened up.

"The reason Ironwood was designated was to protect its habitat and protect its land in perpetuity," said Grijalva, who sat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors when it unanimously voted to recommend creating the monument in March 2000. "There are no private rights to public property."

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