A bill that could help move ahead a federal land swap that would pave the way for the development of the Resolution Copper's copper mine near Superior, AZ got new life as it was added to a defense bill that is likely to be passed before the end of the year.
The land exchange bill that would grant Resolution Copper the rights to begin drilling was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, a key bill that continues funding for the U.S. Defense Department.
AZ Central reported the must-pass defense legislation may give the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act its best chance of passage yet. A House committee will vote on the defense bill Wednesday, Dec. 10 and likely advance it to a full House vote on Thursday. From there it would go to the Senate, where no amendments would be allowed.
Lawmakers are trying to plow through a list of lame-duck priorities before leaving for Christmas.
The project has been fought over in Washington, D.C., for years. U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R, AZ) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D, AZ) gave the proposal a bipartisan boost in 2013 and Sen. John McCain, (R, AZ) vowed to push for it in the Senate if it succeeded in the House.
It stalled last year when a vote was scheduled at the same time the White House was hosting Native American leaders in Washington. A number of tribes in Arizona and the country oppose the project, saying it endangers sacred lands and water. The tribes pressured lawmakers, torpedoing support.
Environmental activists and outdoor enthusiasts also oppose the project.
The new legislation includes changes that could quiet some critics.
The bill requires a final environmental-impact study to be completed before the land-exchange. It also provides expanded protections for Apache Leap, a nearby mountain that is important to the San Carlos Apache, and public access to the Oak Flat campground for as long as it is safe during mining operations.
Some conservatives who support the project are complaining about a land bill being grafted onto unrelated legislation.
Heritage Action, a conservative policy organization, warned lawmakers not to water down the defense bill. A spokesman told The Arizona Republic the group supports the Resolution Copper mine but opposes the current method of passing it.