The $6 billion Resolution Copper Project in Arizona was discovered almost two decades ago and is slated to become North America’s largest copper mine. Don’t expect production to start any time soon.
Co-owners Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton Ltd. waited 10 years to get federal approval in December to gain access to the land. It will probably take another five years to get permits from various federal, state and local agencies for the mile-deep shaft in Arizona.
The tortuous bureaucratic process to approve new mining projects in the U.S. is among the slowest in the world, hindering access to mineral resources that the National Mining Association values at $6.2 trillion. It’s drawing criticism from mining executives and has spurred a Republican-backed push to reform mining laws.
“The U.S., by and large, is the longest of the permitting exercises,” said Diane Garrett, chief executive officer of Romarco Minerals Inc.
Romarco began applying for permits for its Haile gold mine in South Carolina in January 2011 and got federal approval in November. Because the mine is on private land, fewer agencies get to weigh in on permits than for projects on public land, and the process is typically faster. Yet, in one case, a federal agency asked the Toronto-based company to duplicate a study it had already completed for Haile, delaying the process by a year.
“These permits should not drag on,” said Garrett, who has also developed mines in Latin America.
The permitting process in the U.S. is “very slow” compared to other countries, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, head of Rio Tinto’s global copper and coal business, said in an interview.
“The current system is complex and often duplicative among various federal agencies,” he said June 4 at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce roundtable advocating for shorter permit wait times.
Accelerating the process is the goal of legislation sponsored by Representative Mark Amodei, a Nevada Republican, that would cap environmental reviews at 30 months and limit lawsuits against projects. Similar legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in the past two sessions and failed in the Senate.
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