Ground­break­ing new rules re­quired for Rio Tinto cop­per mine

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Emily Flit­ter

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.

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