The Biden administration had better hope the world needs a lot of American-made solar panels.
If not, the calculus of its environmental jobs push — that dirty old stuff like coal and copper mining can be replaced by new green infrastructure projects like building windmills (that hopefully don’t freeze) — might be a bit problematic.
In any event, it’s not particularly popular with a lot of local politicians looking at huge job losses, particularly after President Joe Biden pulled the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.
You can now count Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey among the aggrieved.
On Monday, The Arizona Republic reported, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew a decision based on a final environmental impact statement issued in January that would have allowed a copper mine project near Superior, Arizona. The Resolution Copper Project involves a land swap involving more than 2,000 acres of land that several Native American tribes consider sacred.
The swap would have given control of the land to Resolution Copper, which is owned by the British-Australian mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP, The Republic reported.
The Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, had already ruled the ground could be mined ethically and safely, but the Biden administration is looking to Keystone XL this shindig, apparently.
In a statement, the USDA said it had “concluded that additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law.”
Activist groups, which were challenging the January decision in court, are all but doing a victory lap now.
“This is the right move by the Department of Agriculture,” said San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler in a statement, according to The Republic. ‘
“The Resolution project will desecrate Chich’il Bildagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of our religious and cultural beliefs.”
However, as previously noted, the Forest Service had already weighed these considerations — and, in January, Ducey praised the decision that would allow the Resolution Copper Project to go forward.
“Arizona has a long history of responsible mining, showing that we can have a robust mining sector while protecting our environment and cultural history,” Ducey said in a statement. “My thanks to the USDA Forest Service for their partnership on a project that will benefit our mining industry, mining professionals, and entire state.”
In the statement, the governor’s office said that the mine would “ensure a reliable supply up to one billion pounds of copper annually” and would “create one of the largest copper mines in the United States.”
“The mine is projected to create about 1,450 jobs and pay about $149 million annually. The Draft EIS estimated that the total direct and indirect economic impacts to the state will total more than $1 billion per year,” the statement read.
Now, Biden’s administration is set to nuke those 1,450 jobs as well as the other benefits to the economy, and Ducey isn’t happy.
#BREAKING: The U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn an environmental review, temporarily halting the transfer of Apache sacred site Oak Flat to Australian mining company Resolution Copper. https://t.co/uQmictgMbz
— Emily McFarlan Miller (@emmillerwrites) March 1, 2021
“I am extremely disappointed in the Administration’s decision to cease progress on Arizona’s Resolution Copper project, which is set to grow jobs and is estimated to create a direct and indirect economic impact of more than $1 billion to Arizona’s economy every year,” Ducey said in a Monday statement.
“An effective and predictable regulatory environment is a critical factor in Arizona’s booming economy. In Arizona, we follow what works. Undoing lengthy, comprehensive, and already-completed federal environmental studies on a whim with the changing of federal administrations doesn’t work,” the statement continued.
“This type of activity threatens an untold number of major projects in Arizona and around the country. I am calling on the USDA to reissue these crucial documents in a timely manner and continue progress on this job-creating project.”
Uh, so about that “timely manner” thing: Not a chance.
“Because the Resolution Copper Mine and Land Exchange Project was directed under the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress,” the statement from the USDA read.
“USDA and the Forest Service cannot give a precise length of time for completing the re-initiation of consultation but consultations such as this generally take several months.”
The wording there should give you pause. First, a quick primer: The land exchange which allowed the Resolution Project to proceed was included as a provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Yes, it had nothing to do with defense authorization, but we live in a world where Democrats are trying to funnel money to a troubled, over-budget public transit project in the Bay Area as part of a COVID-19 relief bill, so this should surprise no one.
However, the USDA’s statement says that “long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress.” Does this mean that an act of Congress to provide the “long term protection” the USDA suddenly feels is necessary is a prerequisite for the Resolution Copper Project going forward?
If so, this is tantamount to a cancelation; why would the Democrats who now control Congress even bother taking the issue up? Major copper mining initiatives are about as radioactive as Andrew Cuomo right now, no matter what the economic benefit might be. Even if it’s not, the USDA under the Biden administration could simply sit on the re-approval process indefinitely, essentially killing the project.
Oh, and this isn’t a matter of opening up an unspoiled area to copper mining; The Arizona Republic noted that copper mining under Oak Flat had been going on for over a century. The Resolution Copper Project would use what’s known as block cave mining, which can extract ore from up to 7,000 feet below ground level.
“Resolution has stated that the block cave mining method is safe, environmentally sound and cost-effective,” The Arizona Republic reported. “But Resolution and the Forest Service have also said that Oak Flat would eventually sink, creating a crater nearly 2 miles in diameter and about 800 to 1,000 feet deep, according to the study mandated by the National Environmental Protection Act.”
This is hardly earth-shattering stuff. Furthermore, the impact has already been studied for nigh on six years now. The reason the permits are being revoked is not because they were hastily given or the studies were incomplete. The difference is Democrat Joe Biden is in the White House now, and vocal activists now have the ear of the administration, which will likely either stall or insist the environmental or cultural impact is too great.
Meanwhile, the estimated $1 billion in direct and indirect economic impact to Arizona will disappear — as well those nearly 1,500 jobs. It’s yet another slap in the face after the estimated 11,000 jobs that were axed via the cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Cheer up, though. Arizona seems like a great place for solar panels.
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