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The Most Critical Non-Critical? A Look at Copper

In a new piece for Metal Tech News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on the U.S. government’s failure – at least to date – to afford critical mineral status to copper, which is not only a key mainstay metal but an indispensable component in clean energy technology, and supply scenarios in the face of surging demand as the world accelerates the push towards net zero carbon are challenging at best.

Laments Lasley:

“The case for copper’s criticality is backed by commodity analysts who predict global copper production will need to double by 2035 to meet demands driven by global net-zero emission goals. Building that level of capacity in just 12 years, while at the same time not losing any output from existing mines, is a highly unlikely scenario.


Despite the growing consensus that it is going to require extraordinary measures to ensure that there is enough copper to achieve global net-zero carbon emission goals, the U.S. Geological Survey has remained steadfast in its refusal to add this metal to America’s critical minerals list.”

USGS Director Dave Applegate has publicly stated that while copper is considered an essential mineral, copper does not meet the agencies criteria for elevating the material onto the critical minerals list, an assessment that, in Lasley’s eyes, “seems to ignore the forecasts that demand will outstrip supply over the next two decades.”

Lasley points to the Copper Development Association’s (CDA’s) commissioning of an analysis mimicking USGS methodology employed for the 2022 Critical Minerals List, which the association maintains was based on out-of-date data.  The CDA-commissioned analysis concluding that copper does meet the “critical” criteria when basing the assessment on “the very latest available data.” 

As followers of ARPN well know, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has called for the designation of copper as a critical mineral on several occasions, and has submitted public comments to USGS to this effect.

However, USGS has remained steadfast in its refusal to re-consider copper’s status even though the Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has statutory authority to add copper to the Critical Minerals List without waiting for the next official update of the entire list, and has rejected a formal request by a broad coalition including federal lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle and more than 70 trade associations and unions to do so.

The U.S. Department of Energy, meanwhile, recognized the growing importance of copper and included it into its critical materials list as part of its 2023 Critical Materials Assessment. While agreeing with the USGS notion of a diverse and relatively low-risk global copper supply, the department’s inclusion of copper was prompted by a longer-time view that declining ore grades and growing competition for available resources might change the outlook so that “identifying and mitigating material criticality now will ensure that a clean energy future is possible for decades to come.”

USGS may have rejected a direct broad-based push to include copper into the overall government Critical Minerals List, but a congressional push is still underway, and the recent DOE elevation of copper’s status may provide a boost for U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani’s (R-Ariz.) Copper is Critical Act, which would do so with or without USGS consent.

As copper demand in an increasingly net zero world continues to grow, ARPN will watch the push to add the perhaps most critical non-critical to the official U.S. government list with great interest.