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Save the Santa Ritas: Don't let Hudbay destroy even more of the Santa Ritas
editor's pick alert

Save the Santa Ritas: Don't let Hudbay destroy even more of the Santa Ritas

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

In a recent guest column, Andre Lauzon, an executive with Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc., suggested that the United States will not realize a “green future” without the Rosemont Mine, their proposed, open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.

Shortly after Mr. Lauzon’s op-ed, Hudbay announced with great fanfare that it is considering expanding the Rosemont project beyond the existing footprint to include even more of the northern Santa Ritas, including the ridgeline and the west slope.

Residents of Sahuarita and Green Valley could be surrounded by massive open-pit mining operations and their corresponding mine waste if Rosemont’s plan comes to fruition.

These latest developments underscore why it is more important than ever that we stop the Rosemont Mine.

It is remarkable arrogance and cynicism for a foreign mining company’s senior official to claim Hudbay’s proposed mine will be good for the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hudbay’s current proposal is to blast a mile-wide, half-mile deep crater into the Santa Ritas’ northeast crest and pile mine waste 800 feet high over 2,500 acres of Coronado National Forest. The waste dump would be in a watershed that provides significant groundwater recharge to the surrounding area and the Tucson basin.

If Hudbay were to follow through on its expansion plans, Rosemont would sprawl over the top of the Santa Ritas and spill over onto the western slope, where the 24-hour a day mining operation would be visible from Green Valley and Sahuarita.

The Rosemont Mine would use 4.8 million gallons of Southern Arizona drinking water to, among other things, control dust. Rosemont’s expansion to include an open-pit mine on the west side of the Santa Ritas would only increase groundwater pumping from the Rosemont wells in Sahuarita.

A fundamental review of copper economics undermines Mr. Lauzon’s absurd claim that a country unable to meet its domestic copper demand will pay higher prices.

First, copper is a basic commodity, and international markets set its price. Unlike oil, there is no copper cartel. It doesn’t matter how much or little a country produces when it comes to the price of copper.

Second, while the U.S. imported 680,000 tons of refined copper in 2020, the Rosemont Mine would not reduce imports and would very likely cause imports of refined copper to increase. Why? Because the U.S. already produces more raw copper from domestic mines than it can process at its three U.S. copper smelters.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports U.S. copper mines produced 1.2 million metric tons of copper ore, also called concentrate, in 2020. Most of that copper ore was sent to U.S. smelters to produce 860,000 metric tons of refined copper. But nearly one-third of the U.S. copper ore production, or 390,000 metric tons, was exported.

Third, it is doubtful that the United States will construct new copper smelters that are notoriously high emitters of sulfur dioxides and heavy metals. And it is implausible that Rosemont’s copper concentrate would be refined at any of the three existing smelters as they have little if any excess capacity and are owned by competing companies.

The lack of smelting capacity is why Hudbay intends to ship Rosemont’s copper concentrate by train or truck to Mexico, where it will likely then be exported to overseas smelters, most likely China.

America doesn’t need Rosemont to achieve its renewable energy goals.

And Arizona doesn’t need another massive copper project that destroys the landscape while depleting and polluting scarce desert water supplies. The Santa Ritas are a superb sky-island mountain range; they deserve to be preserved and protected.

Gayle Hartmann is president of the board of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.


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