- - Friday, March 17, 2023

As technology progresses and the United States continues to transition to clean and renewable energy, it is essential to have the materials we need to continue this growth as our country’s needs scale. One of the most vital materials needed for this transitional period is copper.

As an increasingly rare and valuable natural resource, the highly conductive element is going to be the foundation of our future. Between electric vehicles, solar and wind power, and just about everything related to energy infrastructure, the demand for copper is only going to continue to grow.

Luckily enough, about 60 miles east of Phoenix sits Superior, Arizona, a small town that forms part of the Copper Triangle, as well as home to the third-largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world. This area has been the site of some of the largest mining operations in the U.S. for over a century, and the discovery of a massive copper deposit in Pinal County, Arizona, is keeping the deep and historical roots of copper mining alive.

If developed, this domestic source of copper would greatly benefit the home of the mine and the residents of Arizona. The Resolution Copper Mine would create 3,700 jobs for Arizonans and generate more than $61 billion in economic growth, as well as $19 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

This mine is not only beneficial for local residents. On a national scale, this deposit alone could supply over 25% of U.S. copper demand for 40 years. Not only would the deposit produce a quarter of copper needs for almost half a century, but the U.S. would also no longer need to import the mineral from other countries to meet its critical needs. The U.S. would be able to work its way to energy independence and enhance national security.

Roadblocks, however, stand in the way of our nation’s success — specifically, an appeal in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals regarding the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013. The act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The appellate court’s decision will determine whether the U.S. can continue to work toward a sustainable and energy-independent future. One of the claims brought by the respondent, Apache Stronghold, contends that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Act of 2013 violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

For background, there was little to no significant opposition from area stakeholders at the time the law was passed by Congress nearly a decade ago.

With the land exchange, Resolution copper mining will give up 5,300 acres of environmentally sensitive and culturally important land to the United States so it can be deemed federally protected along with 800 acres of a special management area, which will be enshrined as a significant Apache cultural site.

In exchange, the act enables the development of one of the world’s richest copper deposits for the benefit of the United States.

Despite previous legal decisions holding that the government is under no obligation to adhere to civilian religious practices when they are in conflict with standing law, the respondents continue to fight against this essential copper mine — even though the political process of passing the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act into law had been played out in Congress over 10 years ago.

The 9th Circuit should uphold this essential law, not only the greater good of Arizona, but also for a sustainable and energy independent America.

• T. Michael Andrews is senior vice president at McGuireWoods LLC and leads the firm’s tribal affairs practice.

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