WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Photo Credit: EcoFlight

Ray Mine Expansion – Privatization of public lands

Ray Mine Expansion

ASARCO LLC’s Ray Mine in Pinal County, Arizona, has an alarming track record of environmental damage: it once spilled 20 tons of sulfuric acid onto the central Arizona landscape, and the water quality in the stream receiving its waste is so poor that the Department of Environmental Quality recommends humans stay out of it. That doesn’t bother ASARCO, which wants to expand the mine—or the Bureau of Land Management, which is pursuing a land trade to make it happen.

Explore all public lands privatization schemes.

Ray Mine Expansion Location

Ray Mine Expansion

The owner of the Ray Mine has an abominable track record of environmental damage, but the Bureau of Land Management is nevertheless proposing a land trade with it.

Public Lands Explained

Find out what public lands are, who manages them, and what their designations mean from Guardians’ Public Lands Guardian.

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Ray Mine Expansion – The Details

The Ray Mine’s history of environmental damage includes disfiguring the central Arizona landscape and spilling PCBs and 20 tons of sulfuric acid. Monitoring wells near the mine have recorded elevated levels of metals, total dissolved solids, sulfates, and nitrates in groundwater. Mineral Creek, a 17-mile stream that receives the mine’s wastewater, suffers from elevated levels of copper, zinc, turbidity and pH. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has determined that Mineral Creek is too polluted for swimming and bathing, livestock watering, and wildlife.

For decades, Ray Mine’s owner, ASARCO LLC, has sought to expand the mine and extend its life. In 2000, the multinational corporation reached an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to acquire approximately 8,200 acres of public lands and 2,800 acres of federally owned minerals via a land exchange (in return, BLM would receive about 7,300 acres of ASARCO land elsewhere in Arizona.) Owning the land used for the mine expansion would allow ASARCO to operate primarily under Arizona’s environmental and mining laws rather than stricter federal law. A lighter regulatory regime would enable ASARCO to invest less capital in environmental safeguards and remediation, resulting in greater profits and more environmental damage.

While common sense dictates that a lighter regulatory regime will result in greater environmental impacts, BLM, tasked with analyzing the land trade’s impacts, reached a different conclusion. It concluded that ASARCO would operate the Ray Mine the same way regardless of whether BLM made the trade or not. Conservationists challenged BLM’s illogical determination and a federal appeals court ultimately agreed, stopping the land trade in 2010 and chastising the agency for ignoring the additional environmental impacts that could be expected.

Now—more than 20 years after it was first proposed—BLM has once again done ASARCO’s bidding and re-committed to the Ray Mine trade.  In October, 2019, BLM issued its decision to proceed with the Ray Land Exchange with ASARCO. Opponents of the exchange have 45 days to file an administrative protest. Litigation, if necessary would not begin until all protests are resolved by Interior.

Astonishingly, BLM has once again concluded ASARCO would operate its mine the same way whether or not the land trade took place. The agency ignored the 2010 court decision and neglected to alter its analysis in any substantial way. Conservationists are digging in, ready to once again take BLM to court if the Department of the Interior denies the protests.

ASARCO’s persistent interest in this land exchange is unsurprising. Mining companies often pursue land exchanges as the preferred means of expanding operations. Operating on private land, rather than public, minimizes federal oversight. In addition to state law being more lenient than federal law, state regulators are generally thought to be more responsive to the requests and concerns of mining companies than their federal counterparts.

Don’t Miss Out on Public Lands News!

You’re informed about the most dastardly privatization schemes—now, ensure you stay that way! Join Guardians’ email list and we’ll keep you apprised of what’s going on in the world of public lands. 

Sign up for email list

Public Lands Privatization Schemes

Learn more about the public lands at risk across the United States.

Dairy Syncline Mine

Village at Wolf Creek

Wolf-Creek Pass West View to West wildearth guardians Erik Voss 370

Resolution Copper Mine

resolution copper oak flat region wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

Ray Mine Expansion

ray mine wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

Las Vegas Sprawl

las vegas sprawl wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale

desert bighorn sheep bedded wildearth guardians Don McCrady 370

Emery County Public Land Management Act

emery county plma wildearth guardians BLM 370

ONSHORE Act and Federal Land Freedom Act

pump jacks WY federal land freedom act wildearth guardians BLM 370

King Cove Land Exchange

izembek lagoon brant wildearth guardians USFWS 370

National Monument Reductions

natlmonument reduction protest wildearth guardians US Dept Interior 370

How You Can Help

Help protect the magnificent wild places of the West! Be a guardian for public lands by joining the conversation, learning about current issues, and making your voice heard. Together, we’re a powerful force for nature.

Recent Stories From Public Lands

The importance of mature and old-growth forests

November 11, 2022

WildEarth Guardians’ Dr. Lisa Markovchick explains why mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal public lands need protection

Read more >

The importance of mature and old-growth forests

November 11, 2022

WildEarth Guardians’ Dr. Lisa Markovchick explains why mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal public lands need protection

Read more >

Public Lands Press

The Greater Gila Teaches us That Worlds are Sometimes Forged in Flame

Counter Punch | Oct 14, 2022

There is a collection of poetry by Indonesian American poet Cynthia Dewi Oka titled Fire is Not a Country. I stumble across it while searching for poems about fire.

Read more >

All Public Lands Op-Eds

Large Trees, Bad Projects
Counter Punch | Jul 22, 2022

Conservation Groups Intervene To Protect Utah Monuments, Antiquities Act

Earth Justice | Nov 22, 2022

Conservation groups filed a motion to intervene in two lawsuits challenging President Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments today.

Read more >

All Public Lands In the News

We want to stay in touch with you

Receive regular updates from WildEarth Guardians in your inbox.

"*" indicates required fields