Controversial mine legislation slipped into defense bill – by Rebekah L. Sanders (The Arizona Republic – December 3, 2014)

A controversial Arizona mining bill that appeared dead for this Congress has gotten new life, as supporters have tucked it deep into a defense bill that lawmakers must pass before the end of the year.

The legislation would authorize a federal land swap to allow an international mining company to drill into one of North America’s richest copper deposits near Superior, about 60 miles east of Phoenix.

House lawmakers slipped the land-exchange bill late Tuesday night into the 1,600-page National Defense Authorization Act, a key bill that continues funding for the Defense Department.

The must-pass defense legislation may give the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act its best chance of passage yet. A House committee will vote on the defense bill Wednesday and likely advance it to a full House vote on Thursday. From there it would go to the Senate, where no amendments would be allowed.

Lawmakers are trying to plow through a list of lame-duck priorities before leaving for Christmas. Most of Arizona’s delegation supports the land exchange, though they are staying mum for now.

The delegation’s main opponent, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is researching the legislation and will have comment Thursday, a spokesman said.

The project has been fought over in Washington, D.C., for years. U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., gave the proposal a bipartisan boost in 2013 and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., vowed to push for it in the Senate if it succeeded in the House.

It stalled last year in an embarrassing episode in which a vote was scheduled at the same time the White House was hosting Native American leaders in Washington.

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