Arizona continues to distinguish itself as major player in the global mining space. In fact, Arizona was the number one non-fuel mineral-producing state in the U.S. in 2021 according to the United States Geological Survey.
While the primary minerals produced include copper and molybdenum, Arizona also has abundant rare earth minerals, lithium, manganese, lead, silver, gold, potash, and helium. These are critical minerals needed to meet the needs of the future and ensure economic development and technology advancement for not only our state, but the entire United States and beyond.
It’s not a surprise that Arizona is known for its copper production. An impressive 72% of the nation’s copper comes from our great state of Arizona. Moreover, Arizona is fourth in the world in production of copper after Chile, Peru, and China. This is significant because copper is vital to cell phones, laptops, electric cars, appliances, life-saving medical devices, microbial disinfectants, and national defense systems. To put this into perspective, the AH-64 Apache helicopter manufactured here in Arizona requires eight miles of copper wire to produce.
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Not only is copper important to the economy here in Arizona, but it plays a significant role in our country’s ability to stay competitive in the global economy.
Arizona is ranked the second-best jurisdiction for mining investment in the world according to the Frazer Institute. That is an excellent position to be in given the mineral endowment that Arizona was blessed with.
Despite all of this, the reality is that the federal process to permit a mine changes constantly depending on the administration, and is subject to political challenges and third-party lawsuits resulting in a staggering average of 10-12 years to permit an average project. Just let that sink in.
Just how important are these critical minerals? They are essential for the quality of life we have come to enjoy, transitioning to a green economy, our national security, and the ability to compete in the global economy. Everything from computers to mobile communications, electric vehicles, batteries, and weapon systems cannot be made without critical and even non-critical minerals.
Based on the recent changes made by the Department of Interior in February of 2022, there are now 50 minerals on the critical minerals list; up from 35, an indicator that we are importing more of these materials than we are producing domestically. The U.S. and Arizona have significant critical minerals, but there are considerable technical, political, and regulatory obstacles involved in accessing them.
The U.S. was 37% import reliant on copper in 2020, and 45% import reliant in 2021. Arizona produces approximately three quarters of our copper in the U.S. each year, adhering to strict production and safety regulations.
It is imperative to understand that many critical minerals we are importing are completely controlled by foreign governments that lack rigid environmental standards, meaningful worker safety programs, anti-corruption laws or ethical leadership. For instance, China currently controls the production of 80% of rare earth elements, 70% graphite, 59% lithium and 36% cobalt.
As it pertains to our national defense, when U.S. companies build military weapons systems, they rely heavily on a few dozen minerals, many of which are mined and refined almost entirely by other countries. Building a single F-35A fighter jet, for example, requires 950 lbs. of rare earth elements alone that come primarily from China.
By 2050, it is projected that the demand for copper will increase 200% and there will be a staggering 450% increase in demand for battery metals such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt. As the regulatory temperature stands today, this means that we could become two to four times more reliant on foreign governments to meet our domestic needs. This is not a good position for the U.S.
A recent poll indicated 87% of people believed that our material supply chains should be sourced from U.S. mines. While security and certainty of sourcing materials may be one reason for this, it may also be due to our focus on employee safety, the environment and overall responsible mining practices in the U.S.
Current and future challenges include but are not limited to supply chain issues, land access, need for science-based regulations, workforce development, timely authorizations, the lack of manufacturing and domestic production.
Arizona is blessed with tremendous mineral resources. With common sense reforms and responsible access to minerals, Arizona mining could deliver renewable energy minerals, assist in supply chain issues, and create high-paying jobs. This can only be done by embracing efficient permitting processes, ensuring fiscal and regulatory policies that encourage investment in mining, recognizing the role of federal lands in reducing import reliance and acknowledgment that “Made-in-America” means Mined-in-America. ￼
Steve Trussell is the executive director of the Arizona Mining Association.