Salazar Urges Consensus on AZ Copper Mine Land Swap

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"The Obama administration has not indicated if it will support the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. . ."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has urged miners, environmentalists, tribes and local officials to continue to discuss a long-stalled land swap proposal that would allow Rio Tinto's Resolution Copper to build an underground copper mine that would supply as much as 20% of U.S. copper for 50 years.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based Elliot D. Pollack & Company says the annual impact of the mine itself is estimated to be US$535.6 million annually and is anticipated to generate total tax revenue in excess of US$10.7 billion.

For the project to move forward, Resolution needs to exchange 5,500 acres of environmentally sensitive land with the U.S. government in exchange for 2,400 acres of the Oak Flat area of Tonto National Forest, where Resolution hopes to build the mine. The parcels to be protected in the exchange include lands along the San Pedro River, an important migratory bird corridor, riparian and wetland habitat for threatened and endangered animal and plant species, and canyons and forests that are home to big game species.

The Obama administration has not indicated if it will support the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which Arizona senators John McCain and John Kyl introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

The land exchange was delayed nearly two years ago after Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Arizona, was the subject of a 35-count indictment accusing him of using his position as a member of Congress to promote the sale of the land owned by his former business partner. The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud and extortion. The indictment claims Renzi agreed to support the land exchange bill, if as part of the swap, Resolution bought a 480-acre alfalfa field owed by his former business partner James Sandlin, in Renzi's home town of Sierra Vista.

The U.S. Attorney in Phoenix who was in the midst of investigating Congressman Renzi was among those U.S. Attorneys who were forced by the Bush Administration to suddenly resign in December 2006.

Acting at the behest of Arizona's senators, Interior Secretary Salazar toured the Resolution Copper minesite Friday. The swap is opposed by environmentalists who believe the land the federal government will receive isn't that valuable, and by others who worry about the mine's impact on an underground water aquifer.

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