A US House committee voted to include the language in a broader budget reconciliation package that would prevent Rio Tinto Ltd from building its Resolution copper mine in Arizona. Elected officials in nearby Superior, Arizona, have said the mine is crucial to the region’s economy. The tribe of San Carlos Apaches and other Indians say the mine would destroy the sacred land where they hold religious ceremonies. Conflict has stalled a decision until now, but the committee’s vote finalizes the language that will determine the future of the mine.
The House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday passed the Save Oak Flat Act, a $3.5 trillion compensation measure. Should the House reverse the move, the measure faces an uncertain fate in the US Senate. Approval of the measure would reverse a 2014 decision by former President Barack Obama that Congress began a complex process to hand over more than 40 billion pounds of copper owned by Rio Tinto in exchange for acreage Rio owns nearby. Former President Donald Trump gave final approval to the process before leaving office in January, but his successor Joe Biden could reverse it and leave the project in limbo.
A final reconciliation budget should also include funds for solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects that require tremendous amounts of copper. Electric vehicles consume much of the metal, as do internal combustion engines. The Resolution mine would cover about 25% of the demand for U.S. copper.
Mayor Mila Besich, a Democrat, said the project appeared stuck in “bureaucratic purgatory”. She hopes the House will not allow the language to remain in the final bill. The move “seems contradictory to what the Biden administration is trying to do to address climate change”, Besich said.
Rio said it would continue consultations with local communities and tribes. Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm plans to visit Arizona later this year.