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Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton Get Approval for $6-Billion Copper Mine in Arizona

Mining companies Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) have been given the green light from the US Congress to swap land with the government, a...

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|Dec 16|magazine5 min read

Mining companies Rio Tinto (LSE:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) have been given the green light from the US Congress to swap land with the government, allowing the miners to build a long-delayed $6 billion copper mine in Arizona.

First proposed nine years ago, the approved land swap bill will give Rio Tinto permission to acquire 2,400 acres of federally owned land above the copper deposit in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state.

The bill, which was tucked into the annual defense policy, was passed by the Senate on Friday and the House last week. It will now be sent to President Barack Obama to sign it into law.

The Resolution project, 55 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 45 percent owned by BHP, was acquired by the latter in 1996. The mine is expected to produce more than one billion pounds of copper a year at its peak, making it the largest copper producer in North America and one of the biggest in the world.  

Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have already invested more than one billion on drilling and digging a 1.3-mile shaft on the land.

Once the bill is signed by Obama, Resolution Copper will focus on the comprehensive environmental and regulatory review under NEPA. The company’s director Andrew Taplin said: "Passage of the legislation means that Resolution Copper can move forward with the development of this world-class ore body, which will create approximately 3,700 jobs, generate over $60bn in economic impact and result almost $20bn in state and federal tax payments.

The project has been widely opposed by environmental and Native American groups like the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Sierra Club in the past.