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Environmentalists oppose Arizona copper mine
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Sunday, 10 Mar 2013

On a cold winter's day, with white clouds scudding across the blue sky and patches of snow clearly visible the rugged desert hills of south Arizona are a spectacular backdrop. And they are the battleground between industry and environmentalists.

For a long time in Arizona, copper was king. At the end of the 19th century, mines were built to get to the metal. Towns sprung up around the mines. People moved west to live in the towns and a state was established and grew.

In many places, as the price of copper dropped and the easier seams were tapped, the mining companies shut up shop. Small towns struggled as all that was left behind was a huge hole in the ground.

With copper prices soaring, demand accelerating and new technology bringing harder to reach deposits closer, the miners are heading back with promises of putting billions of dollars into the local economy and providing thousands of jobs. But locals aren't exactly waiting with open arms.

At one proposed site, 50 kilometers south of Tucson, Rosemont Copper, the subsidiary of a Canadian owned firm wants to open a huge open pit mine high in the Santa Rita Mountains. It would gouge a hole in the ground more than a kilometer wide, more than a kilometer long and almost half a kilometer deep.

The company insists the mine is essential, not just for what it would do for industry locally but for the national economy. Rod Pace has been a miner for almost three decades and is now in charge of the Arizona project. As we stand overlooking the site he tells me: This is a world class deposit. Once it's up and running it'll produce 10% of US copper probably for the next 20 or so years. And it'll produce a lot of jobs for this economy; about 2100 new jobs in this area.

The company knows about the environmental objections. It's spent seven years and tens of millions of dollars trying to get the project up and running. It will be the most modern copper mine in the world. It will use green technologies, computer systems and environmental friendly vehicles. And it will even use cows to return some of the land back to its natural state.

But many local people aren't buying that and with many environmental groups they are actively lobbying regulators who will make the final decision on whether the project goes ahead.

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