Rio Tinto, Republicans Face Indian Opposition to Copper Plan

Rio Tinto Group is getting support from two key Senate Republicans -- and Indian tribe opposition - - as it seeks congressional backing for a land swap that would give the company access to copper resources in Arizona.

Both Republican senators from the state testified at a hearing today in favor of a measure that would give the company access to 2,422 acres of federal land that Rio Tinto says holds the world’s third-largest undeveloped copper resources. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl said Rio Tinto’s development would create 3,700 jobs, provide a fourth of U.S. copper supply and generate $20 billion in federal, state and local revenue.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill allowing London-based Rio Tinto, the world’s third-largest mining company, to acquire the property in exchange for about 5,300 acres Rio says are “high-quality conservation lands,” chosen with input from the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department. The Senate is now considering whether to propose legislation.

“Proponents contend that the mine will create significant economic benefits,” Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said at the panel’s hearing on the proposal in Washington. “There is considerable disagreement as to the effect that the development will have on cultural resources, and to the sites that nearby Indian tribes consider sacred.”

Shan Lewis, the president of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, told the lawmakers the 20 Indian tribes represented by the organization oppose the land swap because it includes sites of cultural significance. They include Devil’s Canyon, Apache Leap and the Oak Flat campground, he said.

The bill passed in October is H.R. 1904.

BHP Billiton Ltd. of Melbourne is the world’s largest mining company, followed by Vale SA, based in Rio de Janeiro.

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