Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 19, 2001
SUIT FILED TO HALT HUGE LAND TRADE BETWEEN ASARCO AND BLM
Three environmental organizations have sued in Arizona's federal district court to halt the proposed Ray land exchange between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Asarco, a multi-national mining corporation and subsidiary of Grupo Mexico. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Land Exchange Project, and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club filed suit against Interior Secretary Gail Norton, who oversees the BLM, citing numerous environmental and procedural problems with the agency's decision to make the trade.
The exchange would give Asarco 10,976 acre of public land in exchange for 7,300 acres of the company's private holdings, and would facilitate the expansion of Asarco's Ray Mine, an open-pit copper mine located 65 miles east of Phoenix and 50 miles north of Tucson. By gaining private ownership of the land, Asarco would no longer be subject to federal planning, reclamation, and bonding requirements designed to reduce the environmental impacts of hard-rock mining operations.
Located on Mineral Creek, a tributary of the Gila River, the Ray Mine has been an open-pit operation since 1948. Environmental contamination at Ray has been 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. The company's groundwater pumping at the site has reduced flows in Mineral Creek and the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, further imperiling endangered species including the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, spikedace, and Southwestern willow flycatcher.
"According to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, the Ray Mine is one of Arizona's biggest industrial polluters," stated Brian Segee with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trading away our public lands to encourage an expansion of this mine is simply inexcusable."
Federal land trades are supposed to serve the public, but are often driven by private interests seeking access to federal land and resources. In the past four years alone, federal watchdog agencies have conducted 15 audits on exchanges and found the projects wanting. In this case, the public land slated for trade contains rare perennial waters, riparian deciduous forest, and a priority reintroduction site for bighorn sheep. Asarco's new ownership would also block public access to the White Canyon Wilderness area.
"The Ray Mine exchange is a classic example of the BLM's propensity for disposing of public land as though it were junk," said Western Land Exchange Project Director Janine Blaeloch.
"The BLM has completely misinterpreted the Mining Law and stated that Asarco has a right' to mine these public lands," stated Roger Flynn, an attorney with Western Mining Action Project. "The company would use the land mostly for dumping waste. That is forbidden under recent Department of Interior rulingsand it's about the worst purpose you can think of for trading away public lands."
"If this trade went through, it would essentially gut the White Canyon Resource Conservation Area. It would allow mining in a largely pristine area next to the White Canyon Wilderness and a BLM designated Area of Critical Environmental," said Don Steuter, Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The proposed Arizona Trail runs right through this land."
The Center for Biological Diversity, formed in 1989, is a science-based organization with more than 5,000 members that works on wildlife and habitat protection issues throughout Western North America. The Western Land Exchange Project is a non-profit group advocating reform in federal land exchange policy. The 12,000-member Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club works to preserve and protect the environment and to promote environmental justice.
The groups are represented 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.