Rio & BHP edge closer to securing US$6bn copper mine deal

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Superior, Arizona Image credit: flickr user: Resolution Copper

Arizona lawmakers have passed a mining legislation that will allow miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to jointly build a massive copper mine in the state as part of a deal with the US Government, reports Mining.com.

Superior, Arizona Image credit: flickr user: Resolution Copper
Superior, Arizona
Image credit: flickr user: Resolution Copper

The legislation, which was tucked deep into the 1,600 page National Defense Authorisation Act that lawmakers must pass before the end of the year, will authorise a federal land swap to allow international mining giants drill into one of North America’s richest copper deposits near Superior, about 60 miles east of Phoenix.

The land swap deal will see Rio Tinto 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.

According to AZ Central, the House Committee will vote on the defence bill on Wednesday and will likely advance it to a full House vote on Thursday, after which it would go to the Senate, where no amendments would be allowed.

The project has been fought over in Washington, D.C. for years, drawing firm opposition from environmental activists and outdoor enthusiasts, as well from a number of tribes in Arizona and the country who claim that it endangers sacred lands and water.

However, the new legislation includes changes that could quiet some of the critics, such as the completion of a final environmental-impact study before the land-exchange, as well as an expanded protection for Apache Leap and public access to the Oak Flat campground for as long as it is safe during mining operations.

Both Rio and BHP have said they expect operations at the jointly-owned Resolution Copper project to start as early as 2020, despite the legal hurdles and opposition by the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Analysts are confident that Rio and BHP will be granted their wish this time.

“This land swap has faced a long and bumpy road in Congress,” Caitlin Webber, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, told The Daily Telegraph.

“Finally being tucked into this must-pass bill is the closest it’s been to enactment,” she added.