For now, a proposed Congressional measure that aims to block Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper Mine project is tied to the fate of a $3.5-trillion budget reconciliation bill; meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is looking to restart consultations with Native American tribes on the project.
On Sept. 9 the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee voted to include H.R. 1884, also known as the Save Oak Flat Act, in the larger reconciliation package. That package was approved by the House Budget Committee on Sept. 25, and now goes to the full House for consideration.
If approved, H.R. 1884 would overturn a 2014 bipartisan federal decision authorizing a land swap that would transfer public land on the proposed mine site to Rio Tinto, who would operate the mine with BHP as a partner, in exchange for company-owned acreage. The action gained final approval in January but was then reversed by President Joe Biden, leaving the Resolution Mine’s future unclear. The San Carlos Apache Tribe asserts that the Resolution Copper Mine would destroy sacred ground around Oak Flat where some of the Apache people hold religious ceremonies.
The full House could reverse the committee’s move, dropping H.R. 1884 from the reconciliation package, and the fate of Senate legislation to block the mine is uncertain. “We are monitoring the ongoing process to finalize the reconciliation bill, as we continue to consult with local communities and Native American Tribes to guide further shaping of the Resolution Copper project and the significant benefits it will deliver,” said a Resolution Copper spokesperson.
“We have strong support from the local community and leaders to build a responsible copper mine that would create more than 3,700 direct and indirect jobs, add $1 billion a year to the state’s economy and supply up to one quarter of the nation’s copper demand. Mining has co-existed with outdoor recreation, ranching and cultural activities in the Copper Triangle area for over a century. We recognize the importance of balancing these priorities and we have already started taking action to protect the area’s cultural heritage. These efforts are aligned with our goal to create new opportunities that will put Arizona copper and workers at the center of the nation’s clean energy transformation.”
The final reconciliation budget is expected to include funding for an array of renewable energy projects that will require great amounts of copper, in which the Resolution Mine site is rich; it could fill around a quarter of the demand for U.S. copper.
A bipartisan group of elected officials from Gila and Pinal Counties has sent a letter urging the removal of H.R. 1884 from the reconciliation bill.
“The region needs to be very, very aware of what’s happening in the federal government right now,” said one of the letter’s signers, Superior Mayor Mila Besich, “because if these political maneuvers continue we could see the Resolution Copper project further delayed. That would be a detriment to our region and the workforce that is already employed by Resolution.”
A statewide poll of 1,000 potential voters conducted from September 7 through 12 by OH Predictive Insights, and commissioned by Resolution Copper, found that most people who replied were unfamiliar with Resolution. After reading a description of the project, according to the poll, 53 percent of responding voters either strongly or somewhat supported it, 21 percent were strongly or somewhat opposed and 26 percent were undecided. The poll had a 3.1 percent margin of error. It also found that support for the mine project grew after potential voters learned more, including opponents’ statements and the importance of copper in electric vehicles and renewable energy.
On another track, on Sept. 10 the U.S. Forest Service moved to restart government-to-government consultation with Tribal Nations in order to fully understand their concerns with the project. The Service distributed letters to 15 Arizona tribes, requesting to reinitiate consultations that will focus on water quality and mining techniques. Barnie Gyant, associate deputy chief for the National Forest System, has been delegated by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as the consulting official for those talks, which will include an Oct. 19 listening session. Consultations with the tribes would be followed by further discussion between the Forest Service and Resolution Copper on tribal concerns and possible solutions.