Native American group seeks to overturn US court ruling on Rio’s Arizona copper mine

By Thomson Reuters Apr 15, 2024 | 9:42 PM

By Mrinmay Dey and Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) – A Native American group has asked all members of a U.S. appeals court on Monday to overturn an earlier ruling that granted land to Rio Tinto for a copper mine in Arizona, saying the land was sacred and culturally significant.

A ruling from a smaller group of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier this month ruled that the federal government may give away thousands of acres in U.S. state Arizona to Rio Tinto and minority partner BHP for the Resolution Copper project.

Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit group comprised of the San Carlos Apache tribe and others has long opposed the mine, which would destroy a site where Indigenous ceremonies have been held for generations.

If developed, the mine would supply more than a quarter of U.S. copper demand for the renewable energy transition. However, it would create a crater 2 miles (3 km) wide and 1,000 feet (304 m) deep that would destroy that worship site.

“If any case warrants full-court review, it is this one,” said Luke Goodrich, a Becket Law attorney who represents Apache Stronghold.

Rio and BHP did not immediately return requests for comment.

When the U.S. appeals court approved the land swap, it had essentially deferred to a 2014 decision by the U.S. Congress and then-President Barack Obama.

The decision comes amid the U.S. presidential election season, in which former President Donald Trump, who supports the mine, is likely to face off against President Joe Biden, who narrowly won Arizona in the 2020 election thanks to Native American votes.

(Reporting by Mrinmay Dey and Ernest Scheyder; editing by Miral Fahmy)