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Resolution Copper land swap passes House committee

WASHINGTON – A House committee Wednesday beat back repeated amendments and passed a bill to swap thousands of acres of federal land in Pinal County for thousands more owned by Resolution Copper throughout southeastern Arizona.

It is the 10th time in the last six years that Congress has taken up a version of the bill, and the first time it has gotten out of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The committee vote to approve the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 fell strictly along party lines.

Supporters say the swap will create mining jobs and bring economic development to the region, but opponents say it poses too much environmental risk and for not enough benefit.

“I find it odd, strange and, frankly, wrong that an asset that belongs to the people of the United States is being given away,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.

Of the six amendments presented Wednesday, one simply updated citations in the bill and was easily passed.

Four of the remaining five amendments came from Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who said this bill faces the same issues its predecessors did. All five were defeated.

“My amendments are not new, but they do ask the questions that have been asked for three or four years now,” Grijalva said.

The first amendment would have required Resolution Copper to establish its remote operation center for the proposed mine in Superior. It would have also required the company to hire only Arizonans, establish training programs to develop a local workforce and use only vehicles registered in Arizona.

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Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, the bill’s author, attacked the amendment as unconstitutional because it would give Arizonans rights over other Americans. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, agreed, saying that requiring the company to hire only Arizonans was “simply unreasonable.”

The second amendment from Grijalva would have required consultations between the Interior Department and affected Indian tribes take place before the land exchange could be finalized. The bill currently requires those consultations, but would let the exchange go forward before they are completed.

Gosar said he and Resolution Copper have been meeting with tribal leaders since before he started writing the bill. But Grijalva said those meetings were insufficient.

“If the mining company wanted to develop underground tunnels beneath Gettysburg or Arlington, there would be plenty of consultation,” Grijalva said.

His other failed amendments would have required Resolution Copper to provide its exploration data about the copper ore body for a more accurate appraisal of the land, and would have asked the U.S. Geological Survey to analyze the potential effects of mining on water resources.

Bishop called the appraisal amendment “redundant,” and Gosar said Resolution Copper already has to include potential water resource impacts in its mine operations plan.

A final amendment would have required the company to submit production reports and pay a 5 percent royalty to the federal government each year the proposed mine was active.

Bishop and Gosar said the current language about payments by Resolution Copper was sufficient, and the amendment failed.

After the markup, Gosar was optimistic about chances the bill will make it through the House and Senate, saying he’s tried to resolve issues before Congress identifies them.

“We’ve extended ourselves, interacted with anybody who would talk to us,” Gosar said.

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Matthew Trotter/Cronkite News Service

Superior Mayor Michael Ong Hing, left, Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn and Resolution Copper Vice President Jon Cherry testified last month in favor of the southeastern Arizona land swap bill.

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