Resolution Copper’s land swap could be approved soon
According to media reports from Reuters and other outlets, the U.S. Forest Service intends to publish a final environmental impact statement for the Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona on Jan. 15 and the Trump administration will approve the needed land swap before Donald Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.
The land swap of 5,376 acres of private land for 2,200 acres of federal land to Resolution Copper has long been contested by environmental and in indigenous groups, who are increasingly vocal about the need to preserve historical lands. Some critics of the project charge the process has been fast-tracked to get the mine permitted before Trump leaves office. However, a spokesperson for Resolution Copper said that is not the case.
“The project continues to progress through the comprehensive and independent regulatory review in line with the schedule determined by the Forest Service, under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the spokesperson told Mining Engineering. “The publication of the Final EIS by the U.S. Forest Service has been delayed from its original schedule of July 2020, as a result of extensive public consultation, significant interagency coordination and COVID related changes to the pace of work. It is not being ‘fast-tracked’ and Resolution Copper has not sought to apply for programs that are available to expedite projects in permitting review.”
The land exchange between the Tonto National Forest and Resolution Copper passed with bipartisan support in December 2014. It was signed into law by President Obama, according to the Resolution Copper website. It included a requirement for completing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before any land exchange occurs.
The Arizona Republic reported that completed impact statement would start a 60-day clock on a land exchange that would allow the mine to move forward.
Publication could come five days before Trump is replaced by President-elect Joe Biden, who has not spoken publicly about the project but promised Arizona tribal leaders in October that they would “have a seat at the table” in his administration.
“Publication of the Final EIS and completion of the land exchange is by no means the conclusion of the permitting process,” a spokesperson for Resolution Copper told Mining Engineering. “Resolution Copper is committed to ongoing engagement with the Forest Service under the next Administration, with tribes and the community to continue shaping the project and building programs that protect Native American cultural heritage and help diversify the local economy.”
Rio Tinto, which owns Resolution Copper, said it is “is committed to ongoing engagement with the Forest Service” once Biden is president, as well as with “with tribes and the community to continue shaping the project and building programs that protect Native American cultural heritage and help diversify the local economy.”
Rio Tinto and partner BHP Group Ltd must still get construction permits for the mine, which the incoming Biden administration is likely to oppose or slow-walk, analysts say.
Officials from the San Carlos Apache Tribe and their allies have vowed not to let the mine open and have already begun lobbying Biden to block construction permits.