The US Justice Department (DOJ) is supporting the land swap deal between the government and Rio Tinto to enable the development of the Resolution Copper project in Arizona, despite opposition from native tribes.

According to the agreement, Resolution would transfer ownership of land in Arizona to the US Government in return for nearly 2,400 acres of national forest, where the mine will be constructed.

The project is to be developed on Oak Flat, considered to be a sacred site to federally recognised tribes in the US Southwest.

In a legal briefing with the 9th US District Court of Appeals, the DOJ said that the land exchange deal would not pose ‘a substantial burden on anyone, even if it severely impacts their religious exercise’, reported The Payson Roundup news site.

In 2014, then-US President Barak Obama administration signed off on the land swap but on the condition that an environmental impact survey was conducted beforehand.

Although the final assessment was published by the US Forest Service earlier, the Biden administration reversed the former US President’s final approval for the land exchange in March 2021.

The agency was directed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to rescind the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and draft record of decision (ROD) issued for the copper project and land exchange involved for its development.

Based on significant input from collaborators and the public raising concerns over the project’s impact, the agency then said that it needed more time to totally understand the concerns.

A joint venture between Rio Tinto (55%) and BHP (45%), Resolution Copper is expected to produce approximately 25% of the annual copper demand in the US during its operational life of 40 years.