The US Forest Service is expected to re-issue a key environmental report before July 2023 that would allow a long-stalled federal land swap to proceed and permit Resolution Copper Mining to build a controversial copper-molybdenum mine in eastern Arizona, Kallanish reports.

That document would allow the Biden administration to proceed with the land swap that would allow joint venture partners Rio Tinto and BHP to build its underground Resolution Mine in the Tonto National Forest. The project is being fought by the Apache Stronghold because it would destroy the sacred Oak Flat area.

Joan Pepin, an attorney for the Forest Service, told a federal appeals court that her agency does not believe that an 1852 treaty between the US government and the Apaches gives the Native Americans the right to Oak Flat, according to media reports. Congress’ approval of the land swap also overrides the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she says.

The land swap must proceed within 60 days after the new report is issued. The original report had been approved by the Trump administration and then rescinded in March 2021 by the Biden administration.

That news came out when the 11 judges of the US 9th District Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether the US government improperly proceeded with the land swap. A decision is months away. Last June, three appeals court judges had ruled for Rio Tinto and BHP.

In 2014, Congress and then-President Barack Obama had agreed to the land swap. Resolution Copper is to get 9.71 square kilometres of Forest Service land in exchange for eight parcels the company owns elsewhere.

The proposed mine near Superior, Arizona, could produce 40 billion pounds of copper over 40 years. Resolution Copper intends to conduct a feasibility study over several years, after the permitting is completed.