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Lawmaker, students push bill to make copper state symbol

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What started as a class project by an Oro Valley school students and could wind up making copper an official state symbol.

Arizona already has a state gemstone (turquoise) and state fossil (petrified wood), but Jennifer Royer, a teacher at Copper Creek Elementary, has been working with students for three years to promote a place for copper as state metal. They approached their state senator, Republican Steve Smith of Maricopa.

The result: Smith’s SB 1441, which has passed the Senate and won unanimous approval Thursday from the House Government and Higher Education Committee.

Royer wasn’t on hand Thursday, but on Feb. 9 she and many of her students addressed the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

“It began as a simple class discussion as students were researching Arizona state symbols,” Royer said. “Through their research, they discovered that other states in our union have adopted symbols such as a donut in Louisiana and even a fiddle in South Dakota.

“My class wondered, ‘Why hasn’t Arizona adopted copper as a state symbol even though it is one of the major industries in Arizona?’”

Coleman Anderson, a student, used numbers to back up his argument for copper.

“A car contains 42 pounds of copper, and the Statue of Liberty contains 180,000 pounds of copper to make it,” he said. “The average house contains 400 pounds of copper, which makes us producing it even more important.”

Zackery Harris, another student, said Arizona needs to address this gap in its state symbols.

“There are fossils which tell us the past, there are gemstones which represent beautiful craftsmanship, there is soil which allows for corn, and copper is the heart,” he said. “It’s on the star of our state flag”

According to the Arizona Miners Association, 65 percent of U.S. copper production comes from Arizona mines and copper mining had a $4.87 billion impact on Arizona’s economy in 2012.

Kelly Norton, president of the Arizona Mining Association, said the bill is definitely something her organization supports.

“Copper is one of the five Cs that put Arizona on the map,” she said in a telephone interview. “It brought people to Arizona before it was it was even a state.”

John Kemeny, a professor with the College Engineering Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at University of Arizona, said it’s a great idea to make copper a state symbol as it’s already a big part of the state and even included in the state flag.

“The only thing I would wonder if this bill passed is how they would represent it on a poster,” he said in a telephone interview. “Maybe have a symbol of a miner, or a miner with a hard hat.”