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Measure in House reconciliation bill could block Resolution Copper Mine

September 21, 2021

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has voted to include language in a wider budget reconciliation package that would block Rio Tinto Ltd  from building its Resolution copper mine in Arizona.

The Save Oak Flat Act was worked into $3.5 trillion infrastructure package along with other proposals focused on conservation efforts in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and the waters off Louisiana’s coast. The full House could reverse the move and it faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate.

Reuters reported that the San Carlos Apache tribe and other Native Americans say the mine would destroy sacred land where they hold religious ceremonies. Elected officials in nearby Superior, Arizona, say the mine is crucial for the region's economy.

If approved, the bill would reverse a 2014 decision by former President Barack Obama and Congress that set in motion a complex process to give Rio Tinto federally-owned Arizona land that contains more than 40 billion pounds of copper in exchange for acreage that Rio Tinto owns nearby.

Former President Donald Trump gave the land swap final approval before leaving office in January, but successor Joe Biden reversed that decision, leaving the project in limbo.

The final reconciliation budget is expected to include funding for solar, wind and other renewable energy projects that require immense volumes of copper. Electric vehicles use twice as much copper as those with internal combustion engines. The Resolution mine could fill about 25 percent of the demand for U.S. copper.

Superior Mayor Mila Besich, a Democrat, said the project seems increasingly stuck in “bureaucratic purgatory.”

“This move seems contradictory to what the Biden administration is trying to do to address climate change,” said Besich. “I hope the full House does not allow that language to stay in the final bill.”

Rio Tinto said it would continue consultation with local communities and tribes. Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm plans to visit Arizona later this year.

 

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