Senate passes huge Arizona copper mine

The United States Senate has passed a controversial land swap deal, paving the way for the country's largest copper mine to move forward, following close to a decade of roadblocks by Washington.

Senators passed the measure by 89 votes to 11 on Friday, just ahead of their Christmas recess.

The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 is a "must-pass" piece of legislation that Congress moves every year. This year, however, the bill became controversial when lawmakers used it as a way to pass a massive public lands package, the Huffington Post explained:

"Many of the land measures were popular. But one, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, had twice failed to win support in the House of Representatives, blocked both by conservationists and conservatives."

The deal now allows mining giants Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) to jointly build a massive copper mine in the state as part of a deal with the U.S. Government. The bill allows Rio to acquire 2,400 acres of the federally protected Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state.

Both miners have said they expect operations at their Resolution Copper project —55%-45% owned by Rio and BHP— to start as early as 2020. But they have had to deal with legal hurdles and opposition by the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other southwestern nations, who claim the massive project would weaken the ground beneath their sacred Native American lands.

Resolution Copper, located in Arizona’s famous Copper Corridor, is expected to create 3,700 direct and indirect jobs and bring more than $6o billion in economic benefits to the state over its 66-year life. Rio and BHP estimate that output from the mine will meet 25% of the U.S. total demand, which will make it North America's largest copper mine

Learn more about the project:

Resolution Copper Mining – Mine Plan of Operations from Resolution Copper on Vimeo.