Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton Closer to Developing the Largest Copper Mine in U.S.
Lawmakers in Arizona have revived a bill that would allow Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) to jointly build a massive copper mine (the biggest in the United States) in southeast Arizona.
The controversial bill – H.R. 687 Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 -would authorize a subsidiary of Rio Tinto 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.
Lawmakers added the land-swap bill late Tuesday night into the 1,600-page National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense appropriation legislation that must be passed each year.
The Resolution Copper project, which is a 55 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 45 percent owned by BHP, could start as early as 2020 if everything goes according to plan. However, legal hurdles and opposition could derail the massive project.
The massive underground copper mine has been fiercely opposed by southwestern nations like the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Sierra Club in the past, who fear the mine would devastate the water and land on Oak Flats – part of the Apaches’ ancestral territory.
“This land swap has faced a long and bumpy road in Congress,” Caitlin Webber, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst said.
“Finally being tucked into this must-pass bill is the closest it’s been to enactment,” she added.
If the Resolution Copper project does come to fruition, it is expected to create 3,700 direct and indirect jobs and bring more than $6 billion in economic benefits to the state over its 66-year life span.