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Arizona’s Second-Largest Labor Union Urges Congress To Block Copper Mine

Ryan Heinsius

Arizona’s second-largest labor union is urging Congress to pass a bill that would block a massive copper mine in central Arizona. The controversial project is slated for Oak Flat, an area considered sacred by many tribal members in the Southwest. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The Save Oak Flat Act would reverse a 2014 federal swap of nearly 2,500 acres with the international mining giant Rio Tinto. The company says its Resolution Copper mine, which would be one of the largest in the North America, will create 1,500 full-time jobs and pump a billion dollars a year into Arizona’s economy.

But the Teamsters Local 104 based in Phoenix says it’ll be mostly automated and won’t create the kind jobs promised by project managers. According to the union, many of its 8,400 members are also members of tribal nations, and they support the protection of sacred sites.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe and others say the mine will destroy Oak Flat, an area with deep cultural and spiritual significance.

According to a spokesperson for Rio Tinto, automation at the mine could improve safety and create highly skilled jobs. The company also says hundreds of people from local and Native American communities already are working on the project.

The U.S. Forest Service in March put the final environmental review of the mine on hold delaying it indefinitely.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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