Groundbreaking new rules required for Rio Tinto copper mine
RIO TINTO’S proposed Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona would tunnel more than 2km underground, where rocks radiate heat from the earth’s molten core. It would suck up enough water to supply a city and leave a crater 2.4km wide and 300 metres deep.
Planned for more than a decade, the project would be a prototype for a looming era of more invasive US mines as companies run out of easy-to-reach deposits, geologists say. It is also the project President Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, had in mind as he began crafting a “hit list” of regulations that should be killed to speed industrial permitting.
“A company shouldn’t have to be hundreds of millions of dollars into risk money without knowing whether there is a real chance it is going to get approved,” Ross said in May, referring to the mine.
The massive project – which would be among the world’s largest copper mines – underscores the dangers of weakening America’s rigorous permitting process at a time mining endeavours are becoming increasingly complex and environmentally risky. And Ross’s citation of Resolution as a poster child for suffocating regulation reflects how far the Trump administration is willing to go to advance economic growth.
Sorting out the mine’s potentially negative impacts is anything but simple, and many local residents, along with native American and environmental groups, say Resolution is exactly the kind of development that cries out for intense public scrutiny – no matter how long it takes.
“The companies have to mitigate their risks – mitigate what people are losing,” said Mila Besich-Lira, the mayor of Superior, the town closest to the project. A federal government review of the project has drawn about 130 000 comments from concerned constituents.
The Resolution mine would also give the region a big economic boost, employing 1 400 people and injecting $20 billion (R267.5bn) into public coffers, Rio Tinto estimates.