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Why should Arizona Desecrate Sacred Lands Just to Send Copper to China?

Arizona mining promoters often claim that the world faces a drastic copper shortage that will block the development of a clean energy economy needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The only way to achieve a decarbonized future, they say, is for copper-rich Arizona to avert the supply crisis by developing another generation of so-called “sustainable” copper mines.

Their pitch then deploys an America First trope that other countries, like China, will fill the void without Arizona developing new copper mines.

But the truth is far different, and the copper barons know it.

There is no copper shortage

The copper cheerleaders now include Fred DuVal, who misleadingly states in his March 13 guest column that “the current – and projected – global copper supply is insufficient to power this transition to clean energy.”

DuVal then suggests a specific way to avert America’s dire copper shortage by constructing the proposed Resolution Mine east of Superior, repeating an unsupported industry assertion that Resolution “will produce up to 25% of America’s needs.”

Here are the facts.

First, the world is not facing a copper supply crisis, according to the leading industry source for copper market transparency. The International Copper Study Group World Copper Factbook for 2020 states:

“Since 1960, there has always been, on average, 38 years of reserves and significantly greater amounts of known resources. In addition, recycling, innovation, and mining exploration continue to contribute to the long‐term availability of copper … Despite increased demand for copper produced from ore in recent years, increases in reserves have grown, and there is more identified copper available to the world than at any other time in history.”

The U.S. Geological Survey’s 2022 copper production report states that the world produced 21 million metric tons of copper last year. A 2015 USGS survey determined the world has 2.1 billion metric tons of copper resources and estimated undiscovered copper resources of 3.5 billion tons.

The fact that copper is widely available and has low exposure to trade disruptions are two reasons why copper is not included in the USGS 2022 list of 50 mineral commodities critical to the U.S. economy and national security.

Resolution’s copper would likely go to China

Second, U.S. mines already produce more copper concentrate than can be domestically refined into useable metal. Last year, U.S. mines produced 1.2 million metric tons of raw copper. They exported 360,000 tons overseas, the bulk of which came from Arizona mines. The U.S. only has three copper smelters and they do not have sufficient capacity to process what’s already produced in the U.S.

DuVal asserts that the Resolution Mine will supply 25% of America’s copper needs. Resolution has stated it does not intend to build a new smelter to process its 500,000 tons of sulfide ore projected to be produced each year. So, where will Resolution’s copper be smelted?

China is the only logical place to smelt Resolution’s copper.

Resolution Copper Project is a joint venture of the two largest, foreign-based mining companies globally, Rio Tinto (55%) and BHP (45%). Aluminum Corporation of China is Rio Tinto’s single largest shareholder with 14.6% of the company’s stock.

By huge margins, China is the world’s leading importer of raw copper and is the world’s leading producer of refined copper. According to USGS, Chinese refiners produced 10 million metric tons of copper in 2021, 10 times the amount produced in the United States.

Why destroy a sacred site for that?

There is no legitimate reason to destroy and industrialize a vast area of Tonto National Forest and obliterate our most sacred religious site for copper controlled by foreign mining companies destined for export overseas, most likely to China.

Our tribe stands vehemently opposed to the Resolution Mine that would destroy irreplaceable sacred and cultural sites at Oak Flat on the Tonto National Forest 70 miles east of Phoenix. Oak Flat is the foundation of our traditional religious beliefs. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.

Our tribe has opposed Resolution for nearly 20 years.

During this period, we have gained a few insights into the hypocrisy of copper industry boosters. They intend to continue extracting raw American copper, desecrating our land and then shipping it overseas to be processed into useable products sold back to American consumers.

Those are the facts that DuVal ignores.