Lawmakers stall vote on bill that will open door to US largest copper mine

Lawmakers stall vote on bill that will open door to largest US copper mine

The land swap bill implies that more than 5,000 acres of high-value Arizona conservation lands – including endangered species, sensitive ecosystems, recreational sites and historic landmarks – will be protected.

Rio Tinto and BHP’s plans to build North America’s largest copper mine in Arizona were dealt a major blow Wednesday when congressional supporters of the project cancelled a vote on the land swap bill that could allow the vast Resolution Copper mine to go ahead.

For the second time in two months, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., was forced to pull his bill, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, from the House floor or risk defeat. The congressman, however, said in a press release the new setback would not discourage him from his continued fight for the job-generating bill.

"I am disappointed that a mine of national significance that would have employed so many Native Americans was opposed by the leadership of the San Carlos Apache Tribe – a tribe plagued with excessively high unemployment and poverty,” he said.

“It is inexplicable decisions like this that directly result in the continued poverty of the tribe and the deterioration of the economic prospects of the town of Superior and the entire State of Arizona," Gosar added.

Supporters and opponents of the bill credited heavy lobbying by tribes for derailing the bill, as they have insisted it would weaken the ground beneath their sacred Native American lands, such as Apache Leap. They’ve also claimed the bill would harm the environment and rock-climbing areas, as well as threaten the Phoenix area’s water supply.

If approved by both chambers of Congress, Resolution Copper would get about 2,400 acres in the Oak Flat area of the Tonto National Forest in return for giving more than 5,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout Arizona to the federal government, which has vowed to protect them.

Based in Arizona’s famous Copper Corridor, the Resolution Copper mine —a 55%-45% joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP— is expected to create 3,700 direct and indirect jobs and bring over $61 billion in economic benefits to Arizona over its 66-year life.

Copper output from the mine, to begin production in 2021, is projected to meet 25% of the US total demand.

Image by Arizona Wonders