The federal government has ordered the US Forest Service to withdraw an environmental impact statement that would have given Resolution Copper the land.
A 15 January decision, just days before the end of Donald Trump’s time in office, had started a 60-day process to swap 5,376 acres of private land for 2,200 acres of forest land for Resolution Copper to develop a mine.
“This is the right move by the Department of Agriculture,” said San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler.
“The Resolution project will desecrate Chich’il Bildagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of our religious and cultural beliefs.”
A spokesperson for Resolution Copper said the company “is evaluating the Forest Service’s decision to rescind the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Record of Decision.
“In the meantime, we will continue to engage in the process determined by the US government and are committed to ongoing consultation with Native American Tribes and local communities.”
The land swap was mandated by Congress in 2014 as a rider for a must-pass defence appropriations bill.
Resolution Copper says it has invested $2 billion so far on the project and actual mining operations would not begin for 10 years after the transfer goes through.
Michael Nixon, an attorney for the Apache Stronghold group, says that the USDA move is welcome but will not have much impact.
“Oak Flat is still on death row,” he said.
“Essentially, they’re just changing the execution date.”
The Oak Flat land has ancient oak groves, traditional plants and living beings that tribal leaders say are essential to their culture.
Apache Stronghold says that while those things exist elsewhere they have unique power within Oak Flat.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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