Join myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about mining news.
The future of a US copper mine owned by Rio Tinto and BHP is called into question after US lawmakers a bill passed trying to stop its development.
The Committee on Natural Resources passed on Thursday an amendment who added the Save Oak Flat Act and a number of other measures for Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 tonne domestic spending package, which are yet to be voted into law.
Oak Flat, 65 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona, is home to a giant underground ore body that contains enough copper to supply U.S. demand for 40 years.
Buyer Resolution, a joint venture between Rio and BHP, wants to exploit it, but was encountered by the San Carlos Apache tribe for whom the site has a special religious significance.
Their efforts are backed by Arizona Congressman Raúl Manuel Grijalva, who has been trying for several years to pass the Save Oak Flat Act.
The law seeks to repeal a 2014 land swap agreement that provides for the transfer of 2,400 acres of national woodland, including Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper, in exchange for 5,400 acres of land owned by the two miners.
The committee’s decision to adopt Grijalva’s amendment comes as Rio chief executive Jakob Stausholm prepares to visit Resolution Copper, one of the company’s key projects.
Copper, used in electric vehicles and wind turbines, will play a leading role in the fight against climate change. However, high-grade deposits in politically stable jurisdictions are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Rio’s other major underground copper project in Mongolia is running too late and is too high. Its development is also marred by repeated disagreements with the government.
From the mid-1950s, Oak Flat was protected from mining under federal law. That changed in 2014 when Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to allow the land swap.
However, there was a caveat: the exchange could only take place before the US Forest Service completed a final environmental impact study (FEIS), which would evaluate the possible consequences of mining development.
In the last days of the Trump presidency, the 3,000-page document was finally released, setting in motion the land swap. However, the Biden administration, which pledged to respect the sovereignty of the tribe, quickly recalled the FEIS, saying that extra time was needed to ‘fully understand the concerns raised by tribes and the public’
Rio said it was monitoring the process to finalize the $ 3.5-ton US spending plan.
“We continue to consult with local communities and Native American tribes to guide the further design of the Resolution Copper project and the significant benefits it can bring,” the company said in a statement.
The final form of the spending package has yet to be determined, and because it has no Republican support, the Democrats must pass it through a special budget procedure. called ‘reconciliation’. This would allow it to be approved by a simple majority in the Senate.
Resolution Buyer is 55 percent owned by Rio and 45 percent owned by BHP. The two miners have already spent $ 2 billion on the project, including a 2 km deep ash.