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US lawmakers: Copper is critical, period

Metal Tech News - June 9, 2023

Arizona lawmaker defies USGS with bill that would elevate copper onto the list of minerals deemed critical to the US.

Copper is critical – this is the message a group of Western lawmakers is sending to the U.S. Geological Survey with the Copper is Critical Act.

This bill, which was introduced to the House by Congressman Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., on June 8, consists of one sentence that defines minerals critical to the United States as copper and whatever other minerals, elements, substances, or materials deemed critical by the USGS.

This one-line copper bill is cosponsored by Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.; Jim Baird, R-Ind.; David Schweikert, R-Ariz.; Eli Crane, R-Ariz.; and Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.

"The importance of copper to our economy and national security cannot be overstated," Congressman Newhouse said. "It is long overdue that copper be designated as a critical mineral and I'm proud to support this legislation to make that a reality."

Copper criticality debate

A debate has been brewing over copper's criticality since the USGS unveiled its updated list of critical minerals in 2022. Copper was nowhere to be found between the aluminum and zinc on this list of 50 minerals and metals deemed critical to the U.S.

This was a surprise to many, considering the enormous quantities of copper that are forecast to be needed to build the wind turbines, solar farms, electric vehicles, and increased electrical transmission lines required to deliver energy of a low-carbon future.

In 2019, the World Bank estimated that roughly 550 million tons of copper are needed over 25 years, which is roughly equivalent to all copper that has been mined over the 5,000 years since the dawn of the Bronze Age.

Metals analysts at S&P Global, Goldman Sachs, and other large financial institutions have put out similar forecasts for copper.

Based on the expected growing demand and competition for copper, which Goldman Sachs deemed to be the new oil, CDA decided to get a second opinion on copper's criticality.

"Because USGS data was considerably out of date upon the release of the 2022 Critical Minerals List, and the risks to copper from imports has increased dramatically, we engaged an analyst to update copper's supply risk score with the most recently available data to 2022," said Copper Development Association (CDA) President Andrew Kireta, Jr.

Based on this analysis using USGS methodology, the CDA says copper has hit the "critical" echelon and called for the electrical conducting metal to be included in the U.S. critical minerals list.

"Copper is and always has been critical to our economic and national security but now to the clean energy transition as well," Kireta added. "As copper now meets the threshold for inclusion based on the very latest available data, we need to act immediately to enable the copper industry to provide the essential inputs that copper provides to our national defense and economic security."

Critical copper coalition

A growing critical copper coalition that includes U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and trade organizations representing essentially the entirety of the American economy joined CDA in petitioning the USGS to elevate copper's criticality status.

This included a group of 75 associations and unions that include the Electric School Bus Coalition, National Mining Association, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Zero Emission Transportation Association, which did not mince words in their support of adding copper to the U.S. critical minerals list.

"We, the undersigned users, consumers, partners and supporters of the copper industry write to urge you to formally designate copper as an official USGS Critical Mineral without delay," the coalition penned in a Feb. 2 letter to U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.

Six U.S. senators – Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Mike Braun (R-IN), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) – were equally emphatic that the USGS reexamine copper's criticality.

In their own letter to Haaland, the senators pointed to a recent S&P Global report that forecasts a "chronic gap between worldwide copper supply and demand projected to begin in the middle of this decade will have serious consequences across the global economy and will affect the timing of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050."

"By recognizing copper as a critical mineral, the United States' federal government can more effectively ensure a secure and reliable supply of domestic copper resources in the years to come at all points of the supply chain including recycling, mining, and processing," the senators wrote in the letter to Haaland.

Debate heats up

USGS, which falls under Haaland's Interior Department, held steadfast that copper does not belong on the list of 50 minerals critical to the U.S.

"While copper is clearly an essential mineral commodity, its supply chain vulnerabilities are mitigated by domestic capacity, trade with reliable partners, and significant secondary capacity," USGS Director David Applegate penned in a letter to U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz. "As a result, the USGS does not believe that the available information on copper supply and demand justifies an out-of-cycle addition to the list at this time."

Applegate's letters to Sinema and other senators that sent letters to Haaland elicited an uncharacteristically heated response from Kireta.

"Despite clear data showing that copper's supply risk score is now above the threshold for automatic inclusion on the 2022 Critical Minerals list, USGS sent well-crafted letters to a bipartisan group of congressmen and senators filled with misleading arguments that were not part of its own official 2022 methodology, or consistent with the spirit or letter of the law, to justify a decision to forego immediately adding copper to the list," said the CDA president. "This decision was made even though Secretary Haaland has the authority given to her by statute to add copper to the list, without waiting for the next update in three years."

Act of Congress

Arizona Rep. Ciscomani and members of the Western Caucus decided that if the USGS was unwilling to put copper on the critical minerals list, they would let Congress take up the matter.

"Designating copper as a critical mineral will open up more doors to creating a dependable domestic stockpile of the material," he said.

The Copper is Critical Act introduced by Ciscomani proposes that copper be deemed critical, period.

"We must ensure that America's manufacturers and supply chains have ready, reliable, economic access to copper to meet the growing demand and policy goals for a cleaner electrical grid, a lower carbon economy, and a strong and resilient defense sector," said Kireta. "CDA calls upon members of Congress to not accept USGS' decision lightly and to undertake all means and measures to address this ill-conceived and unfounded decision."

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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