In December, two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, pushed Congress and the president into giving away what could amount to over $130 billion in public property.
That’s enough to provide every single unemployed American a minimum-wage job for an entire year. That’s enough to pay for a year of tuition at a public institution for every college student in the US.
And yet the GOP big-shots call themselves “fiscal conservatives”! “Fiscal conservatives,” my you-know-what.
I’m talking about the huge giveaway to the mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton in the Defense Authorization Act. It was splayed across ten pages of the bill, pages 441 to 450 (out of 697).
Rio Tinto is a 142-year-old mining company headquartered in London with management offices in Melbourne, Australia. It has a market capitalization of $74-$87 billion. BHP Billiton is a 155-year-old mining company, also run out of Melbourne. It has a market capitalization of $124–126 billion. Based on market value, they are the two largest mining companies in the world. Rather than actually competing against each other (no chance of that happening!), they joined hands. Rio Tinto owns 55 percent of a company called Resolution Copper Mining LLC, and BHP Billiton owns the remaining 45 percent. And thanks to the maneuvering of GOP senators McCain and Flake, the US government is handing over land with more than $130 billion in underground copper to Resolution Copper.
In a land-swap deal, the Defense Authorization Act took four square miles of Tonto National Forest—public land in Pinal County, just outside Superior, Arizona—and gave it to Resolution Copper, so that Resolution Copper can build a copper mine on the site. According to Resolution Copper’s website, the copper resource under that land contains 1.6 billion metric tons of copper-rich ore, which itself contains 1.47 percent copper. (That’s roughly 30 pounds of copper in every ton of ore.) So there are approximately 23.5 million tons of copper sitting under those four square miles of public property.
As I write this, copper goes for $5666 per ton. So the copper under those 2,422 acres of national park land is worth roughly $133.8 billion, at current prices.
The law does say that if the land Resolution Copper gives the federal government in return is less than the federal land they just got, they’ll have to pay the difference in cash. But that Resolution Copper gets a say in which appraiser gets chosen, and it’s not clear that the appraisal will fairly incorporate the value of the copper reserves.