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Resolution Copper advocates changing state law limiting miners’ hours

This mine shaft near Superior will eventually be sunk to 7,000 feet. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente)

As it prepares for a huge copper mine set to open near Superior in 2021, Resolution Copper Co. is urging state lawmakers to allow miners who work underground to be scheduled for shifts of up to 12 hours.

State law currently limits underground miners to eight hours per shift.

The copper company, a joint venture of Anglo–Australian mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, is advocating for SB 1054, authored by Sen. John Nelson, R–Litchfield Park, which would make the change.

“This provides for more actual work time and increases our productivity, our efficiency and our competitiveness,” Bruce Richardson, a Resolution Copper spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

At the mine it’s planning just east of Superior, Resolution Copper intends to mine a deposit more than a mile down. That plan depends on Congress approving a swap of 2,400 acres of Forest Service land at the site for 5,300 acres elsewhere offered by the company.

Resolution Copper says the mine would bring 3,700 jobs and up to $61 billion to the region over 40 years.

Adam Hawkins, a policy adviser for Resolution Copper, told the House Employment and Regulatory Affairs Committee on Tuesday that operations in several other states that increased their limits to 12 hours have seen decreases in time lost to injuries.

“Since the integration of 12–hour shifts, our workers have found that they prefer these because this means more time at home, less time commuting and more time with the family,” he said.

The bill also would remove language from state law declaring that employment in underground mining is “injurious to health and dangerous to life and limb of those employed.”

The committee endorsed the bill on a 7–1 vote, with Rep. Daniel Patterson, D–Tucson, not explaining why he voted against it.

Nelson, the author, didn’t address the committee.

The bill had already won Senate approval and received the endorsement of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It was headed to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Richardson, the Resolution Copper spokesman, said it takes at least 20 minutes of a miner’s workday to descend into an underground mine. And that follows time spent putting on safety gear.

“It brings us up to modern methods of mining,” he said of the proposed change. “There’s a lot of time in preparatory work where there’s not a lot of work being done.”

SB 1054 provisions:
• Increase the maximum number of hours from eight to 12 that any person employed in underground mining can work within a 24-hour period.
• Removes language that declares employment in underground mining injurious to health and dangerous to life and limb.

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