Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

NEWS RELEASE: July 12, 2001
CONTACT: Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 623-5252 x308
Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project (303) 473-9618
More Information: Ray Mine Web Site

BLM LAND EXCHANGE WITH MINING GIANT ASARCO CHALLENGED

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Seattle-based Western Land Exchange Project and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club today officially appealed a proposed land exchange between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and multi-national mining corporation Asarco (a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico). The exchange, which would give Asarco 10,976 acre of public land in exchange for 7,300 acres of the company's private holdings, is designed primarily to facilitate the expansion of Asarco's Ray Mine, an open-pit copper mine located 65 miles east of Phoenix. The appeal will be heard by the Department of Interior's Board of Land Appeals based in Washington, D.C.

Located on Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Gila River, the Ray Mine has operated since 1948. Environmental contamination at the mine—including routine spills of industrial pollutants such as copper, cadmium, and beryllium—is so severe that in 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality sued Asarco for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act. An environmental contaminants report issued in 1997 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife found that copper levels in fish found on Mineral Creek are by far the highest recorded nationally. Additionally, the mine uses approximately 20,000 gallons of groundwater per minute, resulting in reduced flows to Mineral Creek and the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, designated critical habitat for endangered species including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, spikedace, and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

"Asarco's Ray Mine complex is one of Arizona's largest industrial polluters. It is simply inappropriate for the BLM to be trading away our public lands to expand this facility," stated Brian Segee, attorney with CBD.

Federal land exchanges are required by law to be in the public's interest. However, the public land to be traded away in this exchange contains rare perennial waters and riparian deciduous forest, and is a priority reintroduction site for bighorn sheep. Additionally, Asarco would be given land directly bordering the spectacular White Canyon Wilderness. Once the corporation begins mining, it would block existing public access to the wilderness.

"The BLM illegally believed that Asarco would have a right to mine the public lands in the exchange. Such an erroneous conclusion violates federal law and its own Department of Interior policy," stated Roger Flynn, attorney for the groups. "The entire exchange process was skewed towards facilitating Asarco's mining proposals," continued Flynn.

"Land exchanges are supposed to be in the public interest, but the only interest being served here is Asarco's bottom line," said Segee. "Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of BLM benefitting the mining industry at the expense of the taxpayer," concluded Segee.

The Center for Biological Diversity, formed in 1989, is a science-based environmental advocacy organization with more than 5,000 members which works on wildlife and habitat protection issues throughout Western North America. The Western Land Exchange Project (WLXP) is a non-profit, membership organization conducting research, outreach, and advocacy toward reform in federal land exchange policy. The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club works to preserve and protect the environment and to promote environmental justice. The Grand Canyon Chapter has over 11,000 members in the state of Arizona.

The groups are represented in their appeal by attorneys Roger Flynn and Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project, a non-profit legal advocacy firm based in Boulder, Colorado representing public interests on mining issues throughout the West.

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