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A senior executive at Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) affirmed the company’s commitment to retaining all copper extracted from its Resolution mine within the United States if the project receives regulatory approval. The proposed Arizona mine, expected to yield over 40 billion pounds (18.1 million metric tons) of copper over its lifespan, has faced significant opposition from Native American groups concerned about its potential impact on sacred cultural sites.

The project’s significance extends beyond copper production, as it could supply more than a quarter of the nation’s demand for the metal. The debate over Resolution mirrors broader discussions about securing critical minerals, like copper, for the clean energy transition.

Bold Baatar, head of Rio’s copper business, dismissed claims that the company would export the mine’s copper, emphasizing strong domestic demand. He stated in an interview at the World Copper Conference in Santiago that Rio’s preference is for all copper from Resolution to be sold within the U.S.

Rio already operates the Kennecott copper mine and smelter in Utah, where all output is consumed domestically. With Freeport-McMoRan’s (NYSE:FCX) sole U.S. copper smelter, Rio aims to contribute to the nation’s copper self-sufficiency.

However, Resolution faces legal hurdles, with a Native American group urging an appeals court to overturn a prior ruling granting land to Rio and its partner BHP for development. President Joe Biden’s regulatory pause on the project further complicates its future.

Baatar remains optimistic about Resolution’s development, citing the rigorous environmental and regulatory standards in the U.S. He emphasized the importance of securing resources domestically, rather than relying on foreign sources.

The global copper industry confronts similar challenges, with projects like First Quantum’s (NASDAQ:QMCO) Cobre Panama facing closure due to local opposition, impacting global copper supply. Baatar and other industry leaders express concerns about meeting rising demand, particularly from sectors like personal electronics and artificial intelligence, which are driving copper prices to projected increases of over 30% in the coming years.

As Baatar prepares to assume the role of Rio’s chief commercial officer, industry observers see his leadership as pivotal in navigating the evolving landscape of copper supply and demand.