By Shay Stautz (2nd of a 4+ part series)
February 28, 2020
In 2014 when I worked at the University of Arizona, I organized a briefing for the Arizona congressional delegation’s Arizona-based staff on the state of mining in Arizona. The UA has always held a unique position in mining in Arizona and in our nation, and I was proud to bring the world-class resources of the UA to bear to educate our congressional staff on mining’s contribution to Arizona. Most don’t know that UA’s iconic Old Main building, from which General John “Blackjack” Pershing addressed US troops in the early 1920s and in which the UA President’s office is now housed, began construction in 1887 as the Arizona School of Mines Building! Along with 3 fantastic UA faculty members, I organized the briefing to be conducted in the UA’s San Xavier mine, one of only two university owned mines in the nation. To my great delight, the briefing surprised everyone – our Democrats were surprised to learn that the mining industry in Arizona is increasing in safety and decreasing its water use (below those of agriculture and even of golf courses), and the Republicans were surprised to learn that mines are increasingly able and willing to accommodate archaeological, water and light pollution concerns into their operations – all while continuing to contribute to Arizona’s economy and provide great paying jobs. I considered the briefing a success but was disappointed to realize it made little difference in how our members of Congress addressed the contributions of mining to Arizona.
I have since learned even more. The Arizona Geological Survey notes that Arizona’s earliest miners “were Native Americans who chiefly mined surface outcrops of salt, clays, hematite, quarts, obsidian, stone, turquoise and coal”. Mining in Arizona has a $4.29 billion annual impact, providing 12,000 direct mining jobs, and 31,800 indirect jobs which in turn generate $1.2 billion in state and local taxes. Today, someone with a graduate degree from the UA in mining engineering can command a salary of $93,720, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics!
One of the most promising new mines for Arizona’s Congressional District 2, which is currently represented by Ann Kirkpatrick, is Hudbay’s Rosemont Mine, a planned open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson and which was ready to start construction on Aug 1 2019. On April 12, 2019, Ann Kirkpatrick said she was “disappointed” that the Rosemont Mine had received its final permits to move forward and joined US Rep. Raul Grijalva in her opposition to it. This came as no surprise, given her stated longstanding opposition to the mine. This, despite Rosemont being one of the most advanced mines on the planet from a safety, environmental and even a light pollution perspective. However, shortly thereafter on August 16th 2019 a US District judge put a 2-year hold on Rosement. Rosemont’s corporate sponsor, Hudbay, had already engaged in a 12-year regulatory process before the judge-ordered stay – now, it faces delays of up to another 24 months before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals can rule on an anticipated appeal of Soto’s decision. (‘Shocking,’ ‘blockbuster’ Rosemont Mine ruling has national implications, experts say Tony Davis; Aug 16, 2019; Tucson.com)
This is deeply disappointing – Judge Soto overturned the Forest Service’s approval of the mine, which would create 500 full-time jobs at high wages and 2,500 construction jobs, but would disturb 3,653 acres of national forest. The judge found that the Forest Service had erred in approving Rosemont without determining the validity of the mining claims on 2,447 acres of public land where Hudbay Minerals Inc. wants to dump the mine’s waste rock and tailings, and throwing into question historic definitions related to mining rights covered by the federal 1872 Mining Law.
This discussion hasn’t event scratched the surface of the potential for Arizona mining to contribute to the national economy and national security – strategic minerals mining is becoming more and more critical to the US national security industrial base. Strategic minerals – minerals critical for advanced electronics including defense systems such missile guidance systems, used to be produced primarily in the United States but are now dominated by China and other nation’s producers. Although it controls only 36 percent of known global rare-earth reserves, China produces about 95 percent of rare earths used worldwide due to low labor costs, abundant supply and lax environmental regulations, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This puts the US defense industrial base at risk but Arizona is positioned to contribute to US production. The South32 Hermosa Project in Patagonia has the potential to be a major contributor to US production of the strategic mineral manganese, for which there is no other major US source. According to the 2017 USGS Critical Mineral Resources of the US – Manganese:
The combination of total import reliance for manganese, the mineral commodity’s essential uses in our industrialized society, and the potential for supply disruptions because of the limited sources of the ore makes manganese among the most critical minerals for the United States. The U.S. Department of Defense rates manganese as one of the most critical mineral commodities for the United States because it is both essential for industry and has no substitutes, and because of the potential for and the likely effects of supply disruptions (fig. L1; National Research Council, 2008). Geopolitical concerns have led to a long-term goal of identifying and ensuring supplies that are not susceptible to disruption.
While the Hermosa Project will primarily be a silver and zinc mine (South 32 believes it will be among the top 4 zinc producing mines in the world), it will contribute an anticipated $21.6B to Arizona’s GDP, will be the “mine of the future” in that it will include autonomous and remote control vehicles and would anchor South32’s company-wide goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. If all goes according to plan, construction will begin in 2022/23, currently employing 250 and growing to 2500 during peak construction, while ultimately employing 550 people long term. For every direct job the mine creates, seven more indirect jobs will be created, company feasibility studies show. (https://azbigmedia.com/business/economy/mine-of-future-expected-to-energize-economies-across-arizona/)
These are the types of mines – state of the art, advanced and sustainable, providing meaningful employment to Arizonans, and contributing to the national security of the United States, that our members of Congress should be supporting with all they have.
In 2014, I brought my briefing on mining to our Arizona congressional staff hoping it would allow our members of Congress to make decisions on mining based on science. It didn’t seem to change many perspectives and now six years later in 2020, that hasn’t changed. Ann Kirkpatrick and others who are simply opposed to mining – and thus are opposed to the jobs and economic growth that comes with it, have perspectives we Arizonans simply cannot afford.