A Star headline last week meant little to winter visitors here to see blazing wildflower color: “Corps gives Rosemont Mine final permit for construction.” Against a national backdrop, it was a calamitous sign of the times.
America’s watchdog reporters bark louder than ever when public trust is betrayed. Yet unless citizens react, ignoring partisan poodles and pit bulls who mislead them, newshounds might as well be coyotes howling futilely at the moon.
We all know the big picture. Too many people tune out “the media,” confused and overwhelmed. Donald Trump creates an alternate reality by default, burrowing into a White House from which he will be exceedingly hard to evict.
But a hard look at Rosemont shows how much natural wealth and cultural heritage we are losing forever as a polarized nation fixates in closed loops on moronic Twitter babble and extraneous political circus.
In sum, 12 years of hard facts, covered in scrupulous detail by the Star’s Tony Davis and other reporters elsewhere, are being simply brushed aside.
Under Trump, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed past denials to let Hudbay Minerals of Toronto dig a vast open-pit copper mine. Pima County authorities say the $1.9 billion project would cripple Tucson’s water supply. It would destroy priceless splendor on national forest land sacred to Indians.
An 1872 federal law exempts it from royalties; Arizona statutes require only token taxes. Copper would go to Asia for smelting, with profits banked in Canada.
After Pima County commissioned an independent study, administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote the supervisors in 2011 that if the mine displaced “only one percent of travel and tourism-related spending in the region, the economic loss would be greater than the entire annual payroll of the mine.” The study calculated that Rosemont would amount to 0.3 of a percent of the county’s earnings.
When I researched a Harper’s magazine piece that ran last September, Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biodiversity took me down scenic Highway 82 to see what was at risk. Along with the rest, he worries about El Jefe, perhaps the last jaguar left north of Mexico. Rosemont property abuts his last known habitat.
“This goes way beyond one beautiful valley and one mountain range adjacent to a city of 1 million people,” he said. “This is a profound conflict over what is happening to the American West. At what point do we stop colonizing rural areas and landscapes, raping natural resources to fuel corporate profit? There are a hundred reasons why the Santa Ritas are important, and copper is only one of them.”
That quote didn’t make it into Harper’s, which cut much of the copy to make room for stunning photos of atrocious scars that copper mining has left in beautiful parts of the Grand Canyon state.
Nor did quotes from Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva: “This administration has turned all past practices on their head,” he told me. He said natural resources are now “purely a commodity, and not for anything else,” adding that regulatory agencies “are under tremendous pressure to go along.”
Grijalva said mining companies’ political contributions and grants to universities influence decisions. “They are not honest arbiters,” he said, charging Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature with circumventing regulatory processes and facilitating the industry. (Hunter Moore, Ducey’s chief policy adviser, told me that Arizona adheres to state and federal law, with no bias toward any special interest.)
Now in the majority, Grijalva chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. But Congress is out of the loop. Pending lawsuits by Indian tribes and environmentalists might stop the mine, but without a restraining order, the bulldozers could soon begin tearing up the Santa Ritas.
The Environmental Protection Agency could veto the permit. Its fifth report, late in 2017, again excoriated Rosemont’s plan for not offsetting its water usage. But if administrator Andrew Wheeler overrules his field scientists, that leaves only the courts.
A March 5 letter on this page made the point with hyperbole. If copper were found under Notre Dame Cathedral, it asked, “would Hudbay crave it, too?” As a Paris-based reporter, I can picture the French response to that.
The big picture is easy to see for anyone who looks. Money rules in a changing America. Steven Livitsky, author of “How Democracies Die,” sent chills down spines at the Tucson Festival of Books. Don’t be surprised, he said, if Donald Trump Jr. runs in 2024.
But all those smaller ones — such as water sources, cultural heritage and grandeur like the breath-catching view toward Mexico that could soon be blocked by a mountain of mine tailings – matter just as much.