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Anti-Mine Lobbyists’ Hypocrisy Exposed in the Arizona Copper Debate

ARPN readers know the vehemence of anti-mining activists in the U.S., including groups like Earthworks, whose director admitted during Congressional testimony earlier this year that the group couldn’t identify a single mine that had ever met with its approval.

But the cynical tactics on display in the debate taking place around a U.S. House bill to allow development of an Arizona copper mine have reached new heights.

The Daily Caller reports that the lobbying firm retained by an Arizona tribe to fight the Resolution Copper project – Washington-based Mapetsi Policy Group – is sending emails to House lawmakers alleging that the mine would destroy a “sacred site”, in spite of the fact that, according to the Daily Caller, “the U.S. Forest Service… reviewed the proposed mining area in 2010 and found that it did not conflict with any of the sacred tribal lands in the area.”

But this is more than a case of a lobby group spinning for its client. The Daily Caller reports that the same firm “has been involved in this issue before. That time, the firm’s client was the one building on sacred lands.”

Writes the Daily Caller Foundation’s Michael Bastasch:

Last year, the Muscogee Creek Nation filed a lawsuit to prevent the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from building a casino on Muscogee ceremonial burial grounds. According to the lawsuit, the Poarch Band even moved about 57 sets of human burials last April to build a $246 million casino in the area known as Hickory Ground.

Indian Country Today Media Network reports that: “Hickory Ground was the last capitol of the National Council of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The sacred place includes a ceremonial ground, a tribal burial ground and individual graves. The current day Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s ancestors lived and were buried there before the tribe was forced from its Alabama homeland on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. The sacred site is now held in trust by the Interior Department for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.”

The Poarch Band is one of Mapetsi’s biggest clients, spending $570,000 on lobbying throughout 2012, according to Influence Explorer.

The Poarch Band acquired the land in 1984 with help from the state of Alabama and a grant the U.S. Interior Department. However, the Poarch tribe promised that “Acquisition will prevent development on the property” in applying for the federal grant. Just a few years after the land was taken into trust, the Poarch unveiled plans to build a casino there.

But a few years after Hickory Ground was taken into trust, the Poarch Band unveiled plans to develop a gaming facility there.

The Mapetsi group did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment about the Poarch Band’s sacred ground troubles.

And little wonder. What can be said to explain why it is fine to destroy a sacred site in order to build a casino, but not to build a mine – and how the same group can take both positions at once? The question mark only gets bigger in the Arizona instance when the federal agency overseeing the mining proposal has found no sacred site to be at risk.

Like any tribe near a mining project, the Arizona tribe in this case deserves to have its views heard. But tribal leaders may want to do better due diligence when shopping with scarce dollars for high-priced lobbying help. Hiring a firm on both sides of the sacred sites issue is probably not the best way to encourage dialogue and inspire confidence.

The protection of sacred sites is a serious policy issue. It shouldn’t be dragged into the debate when it doesn’t exist – especially when those raising the matter have cynically treated sacred sites as expendable elsewhere.

Whatever happens in the House today, let’s debate new mining projects on the basis of facts, not false claims. Resource development in the U.S. is too critical to do otherwise.