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Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise today in strong support of H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. As our Nation continues to suffer from high unemployment, a rising national debt, and annual deficits, Congress's top priority should be advancing solutions that put Americans back to work and help to strengthen and grow the economy. The bill before us does just that.

Mr. Chairman, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, sponsored by our colleague and Natural Resources Committee member, Mr. Gosar from Arizona, is a bipartisan measure that will create thousands of new American jobs and boost our economy through increased U.S. mineral production.

The bill authorizes an equal-value land exchange between Resolution Copper and the Federal Government that will open up the third largest undeveloped copper resource in the world. The bill requires that the cost of the land exchange be fully paid for by the mine developer--Copper Resolution, in this case--ensuring that there will be fair treatment for taxpayers.

This project will provide substantial benefits to the United States and the State of Arizona in the form of job creation, economic growth, and for increased national security for the United States. The mining project is estimated to support 3,700 new jobs. These are good-paying, family-wage American jobs that will equate to more than $220 million in annual wages.

At a time when our economy continues to struggle, this mining project will provide a much-needed boost through private investment. This mining activity will have over a $60 billion economic impact and will generate an estimated $20 billion in total Federal, State, county, and local tax revenue through the life of the project. This bill is a perfect example of how safely and responsibly harnessing our resources will generate revenue and get our economy back on track.

The importance of increased U.S. copper production cannot be overstated. Our Nation has become increasingly reliant on foreign countries for our mineral resources--placing our economic competitiveness and national security at risk. The U.S. currently imports 30 percent of the copper we need, and we will continue to be dependent on foreign countries if we fail to develop our own resources here at home.

The copper produced from this single project is estimated to meet 25 percent of the United States' entire copper demand. This copper could be used for a variety of items, ranging from medical devices, plumbing, computers, and even, Mr. Chairman, hybrid cars. It's also essential for our national defense equipment and technology, including satellites, space and aviation, and weapons guidance and communications systems.

The benefits and reasons to pass this bill are plentiful. However, we are likely to hear several inaccurate claims from those who are opposed to mining in the United States. I would like to take a moment to set the record straight right from the beginning.

First, this bill follows the standard Federal land appraisal process procedures issued by the Department of Justice, which has been in use for decades. The appraisal requires full market value to be paid for both the land and the minerals located within the land. If, by chance, there is copper production beyond the appraised value, the mine developer will be required to pay the United States the difference. This, Mr. Chairman, would be assessed annually. This is an added guarantee to ensure that taxpayers get a fair return for these copper resources.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, this bill is about creating nearly 3,700 American jobs. It's not about helping foreign mining interests at home, as some have charged. Opposing this mine and not producing copper in the U.S. is what truly benefits foreign nations, by sending American jobs overseas and making us increasingly reliant on foreign sources of critical minerals.

Finally, the bill requires full compliance with environmental laws and tribal consultation prior to constructing the mine. This bill provides more conservation and protection of culturally sensitive, riparian, and critical habitat than otherwise would occur. This bill does not, Mr. Chairman, waive any existing laws or protections for sacred sites under Federal law. It upholds the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. It will not allow

the desecration of any sacred area. It does, Mr. Chairman, specifically and permanently protect a site called Apache Leap that is well known and special to Arizonans and the area tribes.

H.R. 687 is about creating new American jobs, strengthening our economy, and decreasing our dependence on foreign minerals. The bill has broad support from over 50 local and national organizations and government entities, including Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturing, and the National Mining Association.

Furthermore, the Arizona Republic Editorial Board has endorsed this bill. They highlighted the bipartisan support from the Arizona congressional delegation and noted that ``it has the potential to be an economic bonanza for our State and a national security boon to our country.''

I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill to put Americans back to work and end our dependency on foreign minerals.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to make a few comments here in response to what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have been saying regarding this legislation. Certainly, there is a great deal of hyperbole going on that, I think, simply doesn't meet the ``straight face'' test in many respects.

First of all, it has been implied--and maybe said specifically--by one of my colleagues that this legislation waives environmental laws. Mr. Chairman, I want to say very specifically that this does not waive any environmental laws. Let me walk back to how this works, because my friends on the other side of the aisle are talking about the NEPA review. NEPA is a pretty important environmental law--I certainly understand that--but let's put this in context.

This legislation is a land exchange legislation--you exchange this piece of land for this piece of land. Now, that is a policy decision that we are debating and making here on the floor of the House. We are making a policy decision on exchanging this piece of land for another piece of land. If that exchange is done and if this becomes law, then, yes, there will be a copper mine on that land that's exchanged--we acknowledge that--but my friends on the other side of the aisle suggest that we should have a NEPA review before we make a law.

How absurd is that? Are we going to have a NEPA review on every law? Mr. Chairman, don't we make the policy here in this country? Their criticism is that we are not allowing a NEPA review before we make a law. I did not know that the NEPA policy said that, before there is a land exchange or before Congress passes a statute, you have to have a NEPA review. Yet, that's what their argument is in this case. After the land exchange, the process starts of developing a mine, and then you go through all of those environmental hoops that you normally go through in this sort of activity.

So I just wanted to clarify that. I hope that my friends on the other side of the aisle aren't suggesting by their argument of a NEPA review that we should have a NEPA review on Congress' action. A NEPA review on a statute? That doesn't make sense.

Mr. Chairman, this is a good piece of legislation. It has been worked on very hard, on a bipartisan basis, by Mr. Gosar and others from the Arizona delegation. Obviously, Arizonans broadly support this, at least by the evidence that we see in the media and so forth. I think it's a good bill. We have several amendments. We will debate those, and we will address those issues during that debate; but I urge my colleagues to vote for this legislation.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The fundamental purpose of H.R. 687 is to facilitate a land exchange; then after that land exchange was done, there would be a production and mining of copper, which of course would create thousands of American jobs.

Mr. Chairman, I have to say that the way this amendment is written, it would make it impossible by creating mandates that just simply couldn't be achieved.

I have to give my friend from Arizona credit. He has made no bones about the fact that he does not like this bill. He said that very well. I don't agree with him, but he has said it very well.

Generally, when you offer an amendment to a bill, however, you offer an amendment to improve the bill. Believe me, Mr. Chairman, this will not improve the bill. In all likelihood, if adopted, it would probably kill the bill because it dictates a precise town where the mine operations should be.

I suspect that the company will have some offices in those areas. That stands to reason if you're going to invest some money. But the Federal Government should not be dictating specifically what town somebody should set up an enterprise.

Mr. Chairman, if you want to go to the absurd, if the idea is to help a distressed area by dictating where you should locate some facility or manufacturing or some company, one could say, Gee, whiz, what city in the United States is really hurting? The first city that comes to mind, of course, is Detroit, Michigan. Are we going to suggest, for example, that the Federal Government dictate that Apple from Cupertino, California, should be relocated to Detroit? Of course that's absurd. Yet, when you start this precedent here that is suggested in this amendment, one could lead to that conclusion in the future.

I urge my colleagues to reject this amendment, pass the underlying bill, and reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

It is critical that the Congress listen to and show respect to Indian tribes and their elected leaders. And, Mr. Chairman, it's for that reason that when I had the privilege of becoming chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, a new Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs was established. That hadn't been the case prior to my assuming the chairmanship of that committee. And the purpose was to ensure a special forum for issues and concerns important to Indian tribes and to native people.

It's important that Indian tribes have a role and are consulted on decisions that affect their land and their reservation lands.

But I just want to make a couple of points: this bill does not waive any existing laws dealing with Native Americans, none whatsoever.

Mr. BEN RAY LUJÁN of New Mexico. Will the chairman yield?

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. If I have time, I will be more than happy to yield.

But probably more specific on this, this area that we're talking about in Arizona known as the Copper Triangle has been mined for--well, a long time. And this particular land exchange is right kind of in the middle of this Copper Triangle. And the closest Indian reservation is some 20 miles away.

Now I understand that, as in my area in central Washington, I know that Native Americans moved around, and that's certainly the case in Arizona. I understand that. But the effect of this amendment, the effect of this amendment would undermine our responsibility in Congress by giving total authority, total authority to the Secretary of the Interior to make determinations on whether sacred sites or other things important to Native Americans are violated. I think that's contrary to what our role is here.

And again, this law does not waive any--any--existing laws. None at all. In fact, we specifically, notwithstanding the fact that the nearest reservation is 20 miles away, we specifically say there should be consultation before this project goes forward. So I think this amendment is unnecessary.

I would be happy to yield to my friend from New Mexico.

Mr. BEN RAY LUJÁN of New Mexico. I thank the chairman.

Mr. Chairman, I don't believe that anyone is suggesting that items are being waived.

The fact of the matter is, when land is transferred from a public domain to a private domain, it goes away. And that's the problem here. And I am glad to hear--and I know the profound respect that Chairman Hastings has for tribes across the country and the sacred sites, protections--

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Reclaiming my time, just to make the point that the gentleman's amendment, the intent is to address Native American issues. That's what we should be debating.

And I am just simply saying, if you affect Native American issues by implication, you would be waiving them. We are not waiving anything. We are respecting the laws that are in place right now.

I urge rejection of the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to reject this amendment because this amendment in no way risks water supply or safety. In fact, it upholds existing laws that protect water quality and availability. And probably the best way to illustrate that is to simply look at the support for this bill, especially from those that reside in the State of Arizona and represent people in the State of Arizona.

We all know that Arizona is a very diverse State. I have a very diverse State in Washington. And certainly California is diverse geographically. But there are certain areas in that State that are very dry. Water is very, very important.

Now, I daresay that no Member from Arizona would support a bill that would jeopardize water in Arizona. Yet we have heard on the floor here the bipartisan support of those from Arizona, representing Arizonans that support this bill. So I think that that issue, frankly, is simply not valid at all.

This amendment may sound like it's well intended. But what it really will do, there would be red tape involved with this because of the vagueness of the language in this amendment. And I think really what this amendment is, in deference to my good friend from California, it's an open invitation. In fact, Mr. Chairman, you might call it an ambulance siren for lawyers to start filing lawsuits in this issue. One more area. Goodness knows, there are going to be lawsuits anyway. This would be one more, in my view, if this amendment is passed.

And finally, I would just say this: 100 percent of the water needs of this mine will be secured before production commences.

So with that, I urge rejection of the amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.


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