Congress clears way for copper mine in Arizona

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SUPERIOR, Ariz. (AP) -- A trade of public and private lands needed to allow the development of a massive copper mine 70 miles southeast of Phoenix is on its way to President Barack Obama's desk as part of the nation's annual defense funding bill.

The annual defense authorization bill passed by the Senate Friday includes the trade that will allow Resolution Copper Mining Co. to develop the mine near Superior, touted as the largest in North America. The company will trade 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive land under the control of its parent company for 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest.

The proposal has been in the works for almost a decade but has been stalled by environmental concerns and objections by the Apache tribe, which considers a spot known as Apache Leap near the mine to be sacred.

The proposed land swap also ensnared former Rep. Rick Renzi, who was convicted of corruption charges last year in part for his effort to get land he co-owned included in the land exchange.

The mine is expected to create more than 3,700 jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue over its 60-year lifespan.

U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Paul Gosar and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake championed the exchange.

The land exchange bill includes a provision that a full environmental review be completed before the land trade is finalized, a major sticking point in moving the proposal forward for years. Mine opponents argued that allowing the trade to be completed before the review would make it hard to stop it from moving forward if major issues were identified.

Other provisions include promises that tribes will be able to access the Oak Flat campground until underground mining makes it unsafe and the designation of the Apache Leap cliffs as a protected area.

Resolution Copper said it would quickly begin the environmental review and consult with tribes and the public, provide a valuation assessment of the mine as required by Congress and work with nearby American Indian tribes.

The copper will be mined from a low-grade ore body 7,000 feet underground. Resolution Copper plans to pull out massive quantities of ore over 60 years beginning as early as the early 2020s. Removing the ore will cause the mountains above to subside, the main concern about the Apache Leap cliffs.

Resolution, owned by mining giants Rio Tinto PLC and BHP Billiton PLC, said it will start mining as far as possible from Apache Leap and will have decades of experience in subsidence before the mine nears the site.

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