Dear Colleague: Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) on Save Oak Flat Act

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona). Photo from Facebook

The following is the text of a Dear Colleague letter written by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) regarding H.R.2811, the Save Oak Flat Act.

Dear Colleague,

In today’s overbearing, 24-hour news cycle, it can be easy for facts to get crowded out by sensationalism and melodrama. It should come as no surprise then that certain anti-mining opponents, including the Center for Biological Diversity, are relying on bogus claims and a misinformation campaign to try and repeal a bipartisan jobs bill.

The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act will generate more than $60 billion for our economy and create nearly 4,000 new jobs in an economically depressed area. The legislation consolidates a checker-board of lands in Arizona to ensure maximum mineral production as well as conservation by exchanging approximately 2,400 acres of Forest Service land for 5,000 acres of privately held, environmentally sensitive land.  

With these facts in mind, it’s easy to see why Republicans and Democrats alike strongly supported the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. In fact, in the 112th Congress the legislation passed the House as a stand-alone bill with a bipartisan vote of 235-186. In the 113th Congress, the exchange was included in H.R.3979 which passed the House 410-0 and the Senate 89-11. Even Ranking Member Grijlava voted for the bill containing the land exchange at that time, knowing full well the implications of his vote.

Unfortunately, a DC lobbyist from the Clinton Administration, a couple of special interest environmental groups, and tribal council members from the San Carlos Apache Tribe are pushing a misleading bill, entitled “Save Oak Flat”, which aims to kill jobs and repeal this legislation. Ironically, some of these same opponents claim to object to the land exchange being included in H.R.3979, despite the fact that they wholeheartedly endorsed many of the 70+ other public lands bills that were signed into law using this same legislative process. Tribes have also greatly benefited in the past by having their priorities included in other legislative vehicles.

This repeal effort is severely misguided and defies commonsense for several reasons. First, the sponsor of the repeal bill recently apologized to a tribe in writing for claiming in the text of this legislation that the land exchange transferred the tribe’s sacred land, when in fact it did not. Second, the new law will result in more environmental protections for this area and requires full environmental compliance before the land exchange can be completed. Third, the act does not exchange any reservation lands, ensures greater protection for actual sacred tribal lands, and maintains tribal access to Oak Flat (a small, poorly-maintained campground previously on forest service land 20 miles from the tribe’s reservation).Finally, the law would significantly benefit local employment and tribal members who are in need of these good-paying jobs.

A scientific poll as well as testimony before Congress from the former tribal chairman confirmed that the majority of the San Carlos Tribe supports the land exchange and wants these jobs. Former Chairman Talgo testified in strong support of the land exchange stating, “The issue today is not about our reservation land, our sovereignty, our heritage, our self respect – these are not for sale. This is about putting our people—a lot of people—to work.”

Yet, these anti-mining opponents continue to try and spread their misinformation campaign, falsely claiming the land exchange would negatively impact sacred land. But here come those pesky facts again: The land exchange is consistent with important tribal cultural protection laws including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Moreover, the majestic Apache Leap Cliffs—which are celebrated by Native American lore— are NOT included in the mine project. The bill bans mining from impacting Apache Leap and even designates a new Forest Service Special Management Area to ensure its protection.

Even the Obama Administration agrees that this law would not negatively impact sacred land. That’s right; the current administration conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact stating, “The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.”

When the curtain is ultimately pulled back and the facts of this critically important mine are brought to the surface, opponents are left with nothing but the hope that their baseless, emotional pleas will make you forget that this agreement was one of the rare successes accomplished during a contentious 113th Congress. And while the nearly 4,000 Arizonans who will gain employment from this mine may not be able to compete with the PR department of certain special-interest groups, I guarantee they hope you will see this mine for what it really is: an economic engine that will reduce our dependence on foreign critical minerals and provide a much needed boost to our nation’s sluggish economy.

More information on the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act can be found HERE. If you have further questions on why H.R. 2811 is such a flawed and misguided bill, please contact Jeff Small at Jeff.small@mail.house.gov


Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S .
Member of Congress

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