LONDON/HOUSTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A leading British local government pension group has called on mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP to clarify how they intend to protect the environment in and around an Arizona copper project that is opposed by many Native American tribes.
The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) said this week that it has written to both companies asking how the U.S. project, which could be approved within days, will affect local communities, as Native American tribes say it could destroy cultural and religious sites.
Clashes are becoming more frequent between indigenous groups and mining companies eager to produce more copper for electric vehicles and other green technologies.
Rio Tinto and BHP, via their subsidiary Resolution Copper Co, have sought for years to access the copper deposit in Arizona. A land swap, proposed in 2015, is now expected to be approved by the outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which is moving to loosen mining regulations before leaving office later this month.
Rio Tinto, which is the project’s majority owner and operator, and BHP, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The underground copper deposit in the Tonto National Forest abuts the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservation that the local tribes consider the home of religious deities and sites used for tribal ceremonies.
LAPFF, whose member schemes manage more than 300 billion pounds ($407.28 billion) in assets, has direct holdings in both Rio Tinto and BHP.
It opposes the use of block mining expected to be the chosen method in the project, the pension group’s Chairman Doug McMurdo told Reuters on Friday.
In block caving, a large section of rock is undercut, creating an artificial cave that fills with its own rubble as it collapses under its own weight.
“Over the past couple of years, LAPFF has engaged extensively with communities affected by mining operations in Brazil, Australia, and the U.S.,” McMurdo said in a statement.
“These engagements have revealed troubling patterns of mining companies failing to incorporate community voice adequately into decision-making processes.”
LAPFF is in contact with other pension funds and shareholders of the mining companies.
The destruction of Australia’s 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters by Rio Tinto in 2020 sparked public and investor uproar that ultimately led to the resignation of its chief executive and two deputies. ($1 = 0.7366 pounds) (Reporting by Clara Denina and Ernest Scheyder Editing by Susan Fenton)