The 48th U.S. state, Arizona, got its state flag in 1917. This bold flag boasts a setting sun with 13 red and yellow rays – for America’s original 13 colonies –and a prominent copper-colored star, identifying Arizona as the greatest copper producer in the United States. And it still is.
A century later, Arizona maintains its position as a leader not only in the production of copper, but also in molybdenum, perlite, silver, sand and gravel, and gemstones such as turquoise.
Since the American Mining and Trading Company began copper extraction in the mid-1850s, and with the discovery of gold in the 1860s, Arizona has been a top-five mineral-producing state in the U.S.
“We are a mining state and have been dubbed the ‘copper state,’ says Steve Trussell, Executive Director of the Arizona Mining Association (AMA). “We have a copper star on the state flag, a miner on our state seal, and a copper dome on our capitol.
“Mining was taking place in the very beginning of Arizona’s history with indigenous people. Later, in the 1870s, there was a mining boom of gold, silver, and copper followed by another during the first and second world wars.”
Nationwide, Arizona is the leading producer of non-fuel mineral resources – $9.96 billion in 2021 alone – and provides 74 percent of the nation’s copper: about 852,000 tons last year.
The fourth-largest copper producer in the world, the state is known as the place where ‘Copper is King,’ but it is clear, says Trussell, that “Arizona has achieved a position as a leading growth state due to a diverse base of mineral deposits.”
Trussell, who started with the AMA 25 years ago as an educational consultant, taught educators about the mining industry for about six years. Then, going to work in 2001 for the Arizona Rock Products Association (ARPA), where he represented the construction aggregates industry as communications manager, he became executive director in 2007.
A decade later, Trussell took on the post of executive director of the Arizona Mining Association where he now oversees the operations of both the AMA and ARPA.
For centuries, copper has proven itself to be one of the most useful and versatile metals. Mined and smelted by prehistoric peoples, it has been found in the ruins of the ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, and Europe, and was long known to Native Americans.
With its many desirable properties – resistance to corrosion; malleability and ductility; outstanding conductivity of heat and electricity – copper is used today for power wiring, electrical machinery, cooking utensils, coins, and more.
Thanks to its striking luster, copper is also popular with artists and sculptors. And as time and technology progress, the need and uses for copper keep growing.
“Copper contributes to every aspect of our daily lives, well-being, and safety and security,” says Trussell. “For example, cell phones, laptops, cars – especially electric cars – appliances, life-saving medical devices, microbial disinfectants, and national defense systems. The adage, ‘If it’s not grown, it’s mined,’ underscores how essential mining is to our standard of living and quality of life.”
In fact, copper is omnipresent both in the workplace and in the home. An average 2,100 square-foot house contains surprising amounts of copper, including 195 pounds (88 kg) of building wire, 51 pounds (23 kg) of plumbing tube, fillings, and valves, 47 pounds (21 kg) in built-in appliances, 24 pounds (11 kg) of plumbers’ brass goods, 12 pounds (5.4 kg) in builders’ hardware and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of other wire and tubing.
Decades of foresight
Back in 1965, explains Trussell, a new awareness was growing amongst luminaries of the mining industry in Arizona – Phelps Dodge, Cypress, BHP, and ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Company) – of the necessity of education for the future of their thrusting industry.
Perceiving clearly that an essential way to maintain the viability of their industry would be to promote education in mining industry best practices – and especially safe and responsible practices and production – they created the AMA.
Today, 57 years on, the Arizona Mining Association keeps growing, sustaining its mission as an advocacy group for Arizona’s mining industry and stakeholders.
As a non-profit corporation comprising entities engaged in mining and mineral processing in Arizona, the AMA promotes legislation and government initiatives that serve to grow and support the industry.
It also develops programs and curricula, educates residents on the benefits of mining to their communities and state economy, and “engages Arizona communities to enhance relationships between mining operators and civilian stakeholders,” as the AMA puts it.
In addition to producing some three-quarters of the nation’s copper, AMA member companies mine considerable amounts of gold, silver, selenium, tellurium, and molybdenum. “The AMA is the unified voice of responsible, sustainable, and safe mining in Arizona,” says Trussell. “Through our advocacy, we help Arizona continue to be a premier location for mining investment in the U.S.”
Mining contributes to the Arizona economy both directly and indirectly.
In 2020, the state’s mining sector had a direct output estimated at $8.0 billion, creating 13,645 direct mining jobs. Arizona mining generated another $6.2 billion of indirect output through mining firms’ purchase of intermediate goods and services, and workers spending their incomes. This saw the creation of 33,617 jobs.
“The total economic impact of the Arizona mining industry was $14.2 billion of output and 47,262 total jobs with $3.6 billion total income in 2020,” says Trussell. He adds that the future, too, looks good, with the use of copper skyrocketing.
Compared to 1950, the world now uses 10 times the amount of copper annually. Even factoring in population growth, we use over three times more copper per capita than we did then. Arizona will need to help supply that demand.
Growing an industry
To get the word out about the multiple benefits of its mines to Arizona, the AMA uses – amongst other tools – social media, community presentations, hiring fairs, and Arizona Construction Career Day events.
The Association also works with schools through education programs, mentoring opportunities, joint technical educational districts, community colleges, and university partnerships.
Currently, the Arizona Mining Association has 146 members. Twelve are Producing Members, three are Developing Members, five are Exploration Members, and the remaining 126 are Consultants and Suppliers. All members benefit from industry advocacy and representation on community relations, and regulatory and political policy-related matters.
In recent years, the AMA has been the recipient of awards including the 2019 Honorable Mention Best Capitol Lawn Event – Mining Day at the Capitol, and the 2019 Honorable Mention Leader of the Year in Public Policy.
“The members were honored to be recognized by our peers for our collective education and policy efforts,” says Trussell, adding that the state’s traditional mining role will be pivotal in the world’s transition to renewable energy.
With the world’s population expected to rise to about 9,735 million by 2050, according to the United Nations, the demand for power will be greater than ever. And as renewable energy sources require more copper to function than do traditional energy sources, the U.S. is fortunate to have a strong domestic source of the metal, making it a leader in the clean energy transition.
In less than 30 years, the demand for copper will grow by 200-plus percent, while other minerals like lithium, graphite, and cobalt will increase by 450 percent. At present, China controls most of these reserves, including 80 percent of rare earths, 70 percent of graphite, and 59 percent of lithium.
The phasing-out of traditional gas-powered vehicles means their replacement by electric vehicles (EVs) that require four times more copper in their manufacture. And with a global push toward non-polluting, sustainable power, wind and solar technology is increasing demand for mined materials. PV solar panels contain about 5.5 tons of copper per megawatt (MW) of output. The storage of energy reserves requires massive amounts of copper. And grid energy-storage installations require between 0.3 and 0.4 tons of copper per MW. Fortunately, the state’s mining companies and the Arizona Mining Association will be on-hand to contribute to future demand.
“Mining is a very technical and sophisticated industry,” says Trussell. “Mining companies hire highly educated and degreed individuals to address incredibly complex issues. Worker output supports that, as we are on par with the aerospace, defense industry, and tech industries. Finally, folks may want to thank a miner for their quality of life, recognizing that ‘if it can’t be grown, it must be mined.’”