The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that authorizes the transfer of 2,400 acres of Arizona federal forest land to the UK and Australia-based mining company, Rio Tinto.
In a 235-186 vote this week, the House passed the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011, which approves the trade of 2,400 acres of federal land for 5,000 acres controlled by the mining company.
A Rio Tinto subsidiary, Resolution Copper Mining, is seeking the land swap in order to better access what it claims may be the largest copper ore body in the world near Superior, Arizona.
The mining company claims that the project will create jobs but the swap is opposed by numerous groups in Arizona.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests in June 2009, Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter argued that the land swap will diminish recreational opportunities and threaten rare and endangered plants and animals including the black-chinned sparrow, Costa’s hummingbird, Lewis’ woodpecker, and the endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus.
The land sought by the mining company includes the Tonto National Forest’s Oak Flat Campground, which was recognized as an important natural resource and placed off limits to mining activity by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955.
Bahr also warned that the mine will deplete the area’s already scarce water supply.
According to Resolution Copper Company (RCC), this mine will need as much as 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot of water is roughly the amount of water a family of four uses in one year, so 20,000 acre-feet is enough water for 20,000 families or 80,000 people for one year. … What will the impact of this be? Considering how important as water is in Arizona, the continued long-term droughts we experience, and the predictions of scientists that we are going to get hotter and drier due to the impacts of climate change, it would be irresponsible to move this bill without a thorough analysis and some strong assurances that the water will be there and will not risk riparian areas or drinking water supplies.