The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources conducted a hearing this morning on two bills – H.R. 1904 and S. 409. You can see the hearing in its entirety by clicking here. (Note: You’ll have to go 17 minutes into the video before the hearing starts.)
These bills address the land exchange being sought by Resolution Copper to improve the efficiency of operations of the mine we seek to develop near Superior, Ariz.
Through the exchange, Resolution would receive 2,422 acres of National Forest Service land, and we would give the government about 5,300 acres of high-quality conservation lands we own.
H.R. 1904 was passed last year by the House. The Senate bill was first introduced in the previous Congress – the 111th Congress – and was not acted on at that time.
Sen. McCain and Sen. Kyl of Arizona both spoke in favor of H.R. 1904. They expressed frustration that the land exchange has been sought since 2005 and has not been authorized. Sen. McCain noted that the mine will support 3,700 jobs, will have an overall economic impact of more than $60 billion during its lifetime and will supply 25 percent of the nation’s copper needs. He pleaded for quick action on H.R. 1904. Sen. Kyl urged the Senate to proceed with H.R. 1904 instead of S. 409.
The primary difference in the two bills is that the Senate bill would require Resolution to conduct an environmental analysis before the land exchange occurs. If this version were to pass, Resolution Copper would have to conduct the environmental analysis on land it does not own. Final approval of the exchange would rest with the Secretary of Agriculture, who would have the discretion to say whether the exchange would be in the public interest. If the determination went against the exchange, we would have gone to considerable expense without receiving the land.
The House bill has no such requirement. By passing this bill, Congress would be exercising its authority to declare the exchange in the public interest. Before we mine, we still would have to conduct a full-scale environmental impact study, but we would be doing so with the certainty that we owned the land we would be studying. The Agriculture Department still would have jurisdiction over our mine plan of operation and could seek modifications if it wished to do so.
It was noted in the hearing that we had no objection to conducting a pre-exchange study in the previous session of Congress but that we object now. This is true, and the reason is simple. The passage of time has changed the political and economic risks we are willing to take on. Since the pre-exchange study was first proposed, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into exploration, project design and engineering. As our investment has increased, the costs associated with delay in this project, and delay in seeing any return on that investment, have also increased. We need to move forward without the risk of delay and the uncertainty associated with the pre-exchange NEPA and public interest determination provisions.
Shan Lewis of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona testified and expressed concern over the potential impact of lands considered by the San Carlos Apache tribe to be sacred. He indicated a willingness to talk about the issue but wants those talks to be with the federal government. We understand and appreciate that the tribe desires this because it respects tribal sovereignty. We remain willing to talk with the San Carlos Apache tribe if it desires to do so.
We would like to see the Senate go forward with a bill that is in line with H.R. 1904, and we hope this happens soon.