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Mining Industry Expert: “A Serious Conversation About Infrastructure and Clean Energy Must Start at the Beginning of the Supply Chain. It’s Time to Boost Domestic Supply of Copper”

As was to be expected, President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to both chambers of Congress to tout his American Jobs Plan, which has been billed as comprehensive package to make the economy more productive through investments in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change.

And while nobody can argue against the need to bolster our future competitiveness in clean energy and infrastructure, many in Washington, D.C. are “failing to acknowledge how much [it] depends on having a robust supply of metals and critical minerals”, writes Laura Skaer, a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Mining Coalition and former director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, in a new piece for Morning Consult.

Skaer argues that metals and minerals like “[c]obalt, lithium, manganese, zinc, nickel, rare earths and silver are just some of the mineral building blocks for our modern economy.” Whether or not we produce them domestically or import them — they are “essential for the modern technologies and infrastructure President Joe Biden has proposed.”

In spite of the fact that copper has not made the Department of Energy’s list of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. economic and national security — a fact that ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty lamented at the time — Skaer thinks that copper is in fact the “metal that is most needed.”

She writes:

“Electric vehicles use four times the amount of copper as conventional cars. Batteries, electric motors, charging stations, wind turbines, solar panels and transmission lines that deliver clean energy to the grid all rely on copper. And many copper byproducts like tellurium and molybdenum are essential to manufacturing the advanced technologies that will power our economy for generations to come.

By 2050, the World Bank expects copper demand to rise by 200 percent. In the United States, there are only two active smelters capable of producing copper. Meanwhile, China and other countries are working overtime to bolster their smelting and refining capacity.

Last year, the United States imported 37 percent of the copper we used. China already refines 50 percent of the world’s copper and the United States only refines about 3 percent. National security experts have warned that relying on China for critical supply-chain materials like refined copper poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests.”

Recently-introduced federal legislation that would stop the development of a big copper mine near Superior, Arizona, which could supply a quarter of our nation’s copper demand and has strong support in the community, would, in Skaer’s view “close the door on a project that will benefit Arizona and the entire nation, expose the federal government to substantial takings claims, and send a signal to other companies that America is closed for business when it comes to mining.”

Concludes Skaer:

“The United States can become a domestic minerals supply-chain powerhouse — but not if Congress withdraws mining permission from areas where mineral development is a vital source of jobs and tax revenue.

If we want to have a serious conversation about infrastructure and clean energy, we have to start at the beginning of the supply chain by boosting our domestic supply of copper. The inescapable fact is that mines can only be located in the few places where economically viable mineral deposits have been formed and discovered. Arizona’s Copper Triangle is one of those rare places.

For the sake of the clean energy future so many Americans want and the national security and the economic investment we need, the Resolution Copper project must not be delayed any more.”

To read her full piece, click here, and to learn more about the Women’s Mining Coalition, click here.