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Ex-US Interior Secretary blasts company’s request for Arizona land

(Bureau of Land Management Photo)

TUCSON, Ariz. — Former Interior Secretary and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt ripped a major copper mining company over its effort to push the government to reduce the size of the Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson as it plans an expansion in the area.

Babbitt, who was Interior Secretary when then-President Bill Clinton designated the monument, said Asarco is trying to take advantage of a favorable political climate during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Babbitt said Asarco is framing its request to make a case for its elimination, though its formal request was to modify the monument’s boundaries, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

Asarco wrote the Interior Department seeking to have nearly 10 percent of the monument’s federally owned land removed because it can’t “make economic use” of the mining claims and land it owns within monument boundaries because of the designation.

A coalition of mining interest groups also asked the Interior Department to shrink Ironwood and to reduce in size or eliminate three of four other Arizona monuments Clinton created.

Clinton, a Democrat, had approved the Arizona monuments toward the end of his tenure to leave behind a legacy of conservation. Today, Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is conducting a review of three of those and 14 other monuments created by past administrations to see if they should be shrunk or eliminated.

Zinke submitted recommendations from the review to Trump a week ago. The administration has not released them to the public.

“When I talk about this around the country in terms of all these other things Zinke is trying to do, I remind people that this monument was endorsed by a unanimous vote of county supervisors,” Babbitt said. “What Zinke is saying is that ‘I’m looking at these items, and there is no local support.’ But there was. He is fronting for the mining industry.”

Asarco said in its June 30 letter that much of the Ironwood land failed to meet a host of criteria under the federal Antiquities Act for designating a monument. Among those are that the monument be of the smallest area needed to properly care for the objects to be managed.

It also argued that too much of the land’s desert landscape does not qualify, because the act’s main purpose is to “preserve the works of man” and that the cacti and other desert plants aren’t objects of historic or scientific interest.

“My only thought is they misread the language of the act. The act says to protect objects of scientific importance,” and the monument’s Sonoran Desert lands are scientifically important, said Babbitt, who was Arizona’s governor from 1978 to 1987.

Nancy Johannesmeyer, Asarco’s senior environmental affairs manager, did not respond to several requests from the Star seeking comment on Babbitt’s statements.

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