The world’s largest public copper company, with a record of fines for environmental pollution, has just acquired almost 17,000 acres of Arizona desert to use as a dump for toxic mine tailings.
The land is important to 11 Native American tribes, and the Arizona agency that sold the land has never assessed it for endangered species.
The company is a major contributor to the Arizona economy, and has negotiated archaeological-conservation measures with some of the Native American tribes connected to the region.
Water supply fears
Freeport-McMoran quietly purchased the site in the Sonora Desert in early January.
Although the company’s history is checkered by environmental and social conflicts, the purchase went largely unremarked in the press.
Based in Phoenix, the mining corporation earned $2.6 billion 2018, and plays an important role in Arizona’s economy,.
Its latest acquisition is a “tailings storage facility” for the toxic sludge generated from its Bagdad, Arizona, copper mine.
Despite guarantees from the company that the waste will be adequately contained, environmentalists and researchers are concerned about potential harm to water supplies due to changes in the Clean Water Act.
The Trump administration recently deemed that seasonal runoff was not necessary to protect — and the intermittent, seasonal streams of this desert location are all threatened by the dump.
Native American sites
Of the eleven Native American tribes with connections to the site, the Hopi, Hualapai, and Yavapai-Prescott contacted the Arizona State Land Department when it put the land up for auction.
The deal identified 65 archaeological sites that Freeport-McMoran must not damage; the company has posted a $500,000 bond to guarantee compliance.
Despite general tribal concerns in Arizona over the lack of adequate consultation in such operations, no specific complaint against Freeport-McMoran has come to light.
And no tribal spokespeople were willing to comment on the sale to the Phoenix New Times, which broke the story on the sale.
The Arizona Land Department sold the land for over $13 million and Freeport-McMoran was the sole bidder.
Although the deal addressed some Native American concerns, no ecological details were involved in the negotiations.
It is unknown whether the site holds any endangered species, though mountain lion, bobcat, and other common Sonora Desert animals are no doubt found there.
The Land Department, which exists solely to garner revenue from over 9 million acres of state trust lands, and has been selling its charges rapidly in recent years, and has no mandate for biodiversity conservation.
Freeport-McMoran, meanwhile, is more profitable than ever, and is planning on expanding operations in West Papua, Indonesia, where it has caused over $13 billion in damage to the environment.
Closer to home, it has been fined various times by the state of Arizona and the federal government for water contamination.