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Sinema and Kelly urge designation of copper as critical mineral

The Oak Flat campground on the Tonto National Forest
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
The Oak Flat campground on the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Ariz., is the site of the Resolution Copper mine, which would become one of the nation's if it's allowed to go forward.

Arizona’s U.S. senators are urging federal officials to classify copper as a critical mineral amid growing demand. They say it’s necessary for national security and water and clean energy infrastructure.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly along with others wrote a letter this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking for the U.S. Geological Survey designation. They say it’s necessary to ensure a reliable domestic copper supply to support the nation’s power grid and the transition to renewable energy. Observers worry that demand for the metal could surpass supply in the coming years as it’s used in electric vehicles, wind turbines and other equipment needed to meet the Biden administration’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But conservation groups say the designation isn’t needed and could lead to additional threats to the environment. It’s also opposed by tribal groups fighting the Resolution mine near Superior. The site would be one of the nation’s largest copper mines but is located at Oak Flat, an Apache sacred site. Former San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Wendsler Nosie says listing copper as a critical mineral would further endanger sacred areas along with dwindling western water resources.