Rio Tinto plans to submit a mining plan of operations to the US Forest Service early next week regarding their dream of building a mine at Oak Flat. Curiously, Rio Tinto has stated that the plan will not be available to the public until next year!
Rio Tinto has gone to great lengths to avoid filing a plan since 2004, opting instead to cajole the US Congress to pass a bill giving them Oak Flat without detailing how destructive a mine at Oak Flat would be to sacred, ecologically critical, and recreationally important lands.
The submitting of the plan is timed to jump start HR 687 in the US House of Representatives, which was stalled in October when the bill was poised for a vote on the House floor but was pulled by the House leadership. The bill’s sponsors in the House were worried that the Lujan amendment (which forbids the Secretary of Agriculture from giving any sacred lands at Oak Flat to Rio Tinto) would pass, effectively scuttling the land exchange itself. The US Senate has scheduled a hearing on the Senate version of the bill, S 339 for November 20.
All 12 versions of the land exchange bill have prevented the full and open public process that all other mines on public land go through for approval before the land would be given to Rio Tinto and BHP, two of the world’s largest foreign mining companies.
The mining plan has been hastily written and will be far from complete. Normally, a mining plan of operations is submitted after all studies and plans are complete. In the case of a proposed mine at Oak Flat, those studies and reports would not be complete for at least several more years.
For example, Rio Tinto submitted a plan to the US Forest Service in June of 2013 asking for permission to begin testing 15 square miles of public land west of the town of Superior as a location for a huge toxic tailings dump. The Forest Service has not yet accepted the plan, and the process for deciding whether to approve the plan is a good year or more from completion. If the plan were approved, the testing would stake another several years. A complete design for a tailing dump cannot be completed until testing is complete.
Yet, Rio Tinto’s plan of operations includes this location for tailings not knowing whether it is acceptable or not.
The Forest Service has no choice but to reject the plan as incomplete and send it back to Rio Tinto to complete their homework. A Forest Service decision to accept the plan or not could take as much as 9 months and the decision-making process could take at least several years once the plan is accepted.
However, Rio Tinto is banking on Congress and other decision-makers ignoring the incomplete nature of the plan and giving them the land exchange immediately.
Once again, Rio Tinto is gaming the system and if they don’t get their way, they will pout until they do!