Copper may be the new gold in international markets. Futures prices for copper have soared this year, hitting a record of over $11,000 a ton and far outperforming oil and technology stocks as global demand skyrockets for the metal, a key element in the artificial intelligence and green energy transition fields, including for solar PV, wind, hydro, nuclear, and electric vehicles. According to the International Energy Forum, the mineral is the foundation of current climate policy, and there is not enough being mined to meet the world’s electric vehicle and electricity targets, prompting an international race to obtain copper supplies. Demand for copper is so great that police are dealing with a global crime wave of scrap-metal thieves targeting copper wires in Europe’s train yardscopper pipes in the Midwest and copper cabling in Australia. EV charging stations are also being attacked by thieves because of their large mass of copper cable. Copper is also a major driver behind BHP Group’s $43 billion takeover bid for rival, Anglo American.

The surge in demand has increased global attention on Africa’s copper belt. China has used its presence in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to secure a steady supply of the minerals needed to build up its EV sector and power its cities and high-tech industry. Copper is the dominant mineral in all “green technology” devices for which China is the world’s largest producer.

Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have funneled nearly $1 billion into a massive infrastructure project that spans Angola, the D.R.C. and Zambia. It includes the Lobito rail project, which would transport copper and cobalt from the heart of Africa to a port in Angola, enroute to the United States and Europe. China aims to expand the rail infrastructure in the other direction, by bringing mined materials from the same region to Africa’s eastern coast and onward to Asia. China with its massive industrial base has consumed as much as 30 percent of the world’s copper global production.

The demand is so great that the Biden administration is considering easing sanctions on Israeli billionaire mining magnate Dan Gertler if he gives up his business operations and assets in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Treasury Department is willing to grant limited sanctions relief to Gertler as a way to get him to exit from the Congo completely, including relinquishing his royalty streams on three strategic projects. The United States sanctioned Gertler in 2017 for what it said were hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Congo under the previous administration of President Joseph Kabila. President Donald Trump had granted Gertler a one-year reprieve after repeated requests from the Israeli government, but the Biden administration canceled it early in Biden’s term. The hope is that Western-leaning companies would buy the concessions, securing a new supply line for U.S. companies. But the plan’s future is far from certain, amid strong opposition from some Treasury and State Department officials.

Biden Takes Action Against Copper Mining in the United States

While pushing for mines in other countries and wanting to electrify everything, requiring massive amounts of copper, the Biden administration has stopped numerous copper mine proposals in the United States.

In 2022, the Biden administration canceled leases that date back to the 1960s of the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, Minnesota. The mine would have produced copper, nickel and cobalt in the Duluth Complex within the Superior National Forest, where 95 percent of the nation’s nickel reserves and 88 percent of American cobalt reserves are found. Biden’s Department of the Interior blocked the mine over stated concerns about the safety of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness inside the national forest, even though the mine would be outside.  Biden’s Interior Department withdrew more than 225,000 acres of the Superior National Forest from consideration for mining operations for 20 years, ensuring the Twin Metals project’s demise for the foreseeable future.

The Resolution copper mine in Oak Flat, Arizona, which can meet about 25 percent of U.S. copper demand, is under federal environmental review. In March 2021, the federal government rescinded its approval for the copper mine days before it was to transfer thousands of acres of federal land for the project. The land could have been handed over under a congressionally approved swap in which the federal government would have traded 2,422 acres of land to Resolution Copper in exchange for 5,459 acres of other lands in southeast Arizona. The U.S. Forest Service told a federal court it is not sure when it could approve a land swap to develop the Resolution Copper mine in Arizona.

The Rosemont copper mine in the northern Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona received a setback when Federal regulators rejected its mining company’s request to reduce critical habitat for jaguars deemed endangered on land that overlaps the footprint of the proposed mine. Hudbay Minerals Inc. has been working for more than a decade to get permission to open the mine. The mine only needs about 6 percent of the land that had been excluded for the jaguars in order for the project to proceed. The future of the mine remains uncertain due to environmental and legal challenges.

The Pebble copper and gold mine, 100 miles from Bristol Bay, Alaska had its permit application rejected in November 2020 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and it was resubmitted it in January 2021. However, President Biden’s EPA, citing its authority under the 1972 Clean Water Act, proposed a legal determination that would ban the disposal of mining waste rock in the Bristol Bay watershed. The proposal would create permanent protections for the waters and wildlife of Bristol Bay, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It would prohibit disposing of mine-related waste within 308 square miles around the site of the proposed Pebble Mine project, an area about four times as large as Washington, DC, much of it owned by the State of Alaska.

The Biden administration killed the PolyMet copper mining project by revoking a Clean Water Act permit, previously granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the mineral-rich Duluth Complex of northeastern Minnesota. The government claims that the permit did not comply with the water quality standards set by a sovereign downstream tribe,  the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Copper’s History Shows Price Volatility

Copper is subject to boom-and-bust cycles. Copper prices have experienced significant fluctuations over the years. For instance, in 2008, copper reached a high of $4.06 per pound but dropped to $1.26 per pound during the financial crisis. In 2011, it hit a peak of $4.63 per pound but declined to $3.06 per pound in 2015. While its price is up today, a slump in China that began with the Covid-19 pandemic depressed the country’s need for copper, which left copper prices stagnating for several years.

The recent surge in copper prices reflects its importance in renewable energy technologies and infrastructure development. It is a crucial industrial metal used in various applications, from electrical wiring to construction materials for plumbing and HVAC systems. The drive by the Biden administration to electrify heating and cooling is adding demand for the metal. Tesla, Chinese electric-vehicle makers and other auto companies rushing to make electric vehicles also need copper wiring. Electric vehicles typically use 3 to 4 times as much copper as an internal combustion engine vehicle. While wanting to electrify everything, requiring massive amounts of copper, the Biden administration has stopped numerous copper mine proposals in the United States while pushing for mines in other countries.


The demand for copper is growing since green technology, electric infrastructure expansion and electric vehicle manufacturing all need it. Its price has surged with speculation of future shortages due to its growing demand. Countries are vying for opportunities to mine it, especially in Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia and are building train routes to a port in Angola or to Africa’s east coast. The Biden administration is even considering easing sanctions on an Israeli billionaire, who has business operations and copper assets in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While pushing for mines in other countries, the Biden administration has stood in the way of developing copper mines in the United States, which makes the United States dependent on imports for the metal, increasing national security concerns. While the price for copper is high now, the metal has seen price fluctuations in the past and that may continue in the future if the green technology transition is disrupted for whatever reason.

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