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1 Mär 2024

Ernest Scheyder, Reuters

USA: Appeals court upholds land swap for Rio Tinto's copper mine in Arizona, despite Native Americans opposition

"In blow to Native Americans, US court approves land swap for Rio's Arizona copper mine", 1 Mar 2024

A U.S. appeals court... narrowly ruled that the federal government may give away thousands of acres in Arizona to Rio Tinto for a copper mine, upholding a previous ruling and rejecting an argument from Native Americans that the land should be preserved for its religious and cultural value.

The 6-5 ruling from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially defers to a 2014 decision made by the U.S. Congress and then-President Barack Obama to give the land to Rio and minority partner BHP for the Resolution Copper project...

The move is the latest blow to the Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit group comprised of the San Carlos Apache tribe and others who have long opposed the mine, which would destroy a site where Indigenous ceremonies have been held for generations but would, if developed, supply more than a quarter of U.S. copper demand for the renewable energy transition.

Three members of the Appeals Court had ruled for Rio and the land swap in 2022. All 11 members of the appeals court then said they would decide the case in what is known as an en banc hearing, held last March...

In their 253-page ruling, the judges spared over whether a land transfer by the government could prevent some from exercising their religious beliefs.

The majority ruled that the land transfer would not be a "substantial burden" on the San Carlos Apache's religious rights because it would not reflect the government forcing the tribe to stop worshiping their deities.

The five dissenters argued that it would be impossible for the Apache to practice their religion if the place where they worship is destroyed...

Vicky Peacey, who runs the Resolution project for Rio, said the company welcomed the decision and would continue to talk with tribes "as we seek to understand and address the concerns that have been raised."

Representatives for the San Carlos Apache, Apache Stronghold and BHP did not immediately return requests for comment...

Part of the following timelines

USA: Indigenous groups oppose Rio Tinto & BHP copper mine due to potential negative impacts on cultural rights & the environment

Resolution Copper lawsuit (re land swap of notable area, USA)