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Yellowstone Mining

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announces a ban on new mining claims in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park in 2018 in Emigrant, Montana. Zinke is now a board member of U.S. Gold Corp., which hopes to renew mining of gold and copper at a mine near Cheyenne.

CHEYENNE (AP) — A former gold and copper mining area in Wyoming could get a new lease on life with help from former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently joined the board of a minerals exploration and development company.

Wyoming is the top coal-mining state but has little conventional hard-rock mining compared to other Western states. The Copper King mine, located on state land 20 miles west of Cheyenne, has been idle for decades but recent test drilling has found profitable quantities of gold, copper, silver and zinc, U.S. Gold Corp. President and CEO Edward Karr told The Associated Press on Monday.

This summer, the company plans another series of sample holes at the site southeast of Curt Gowdy State Park.

Eventually, Elko, Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp. could sell the project or develop an open-pit mine in partnership with another company.

"We really think Copper King is very attractive because the resource is defined and getting bigger. And it's in a mining-friendly state," Karr said. "We think that this project will get permitted, this thing will get put into production into the future."

U.S. Gold Corp. acquired the project from another company in 2014, paying $3.2 million. The mine could be profitable at current mineral prices and recoup its estimated $114 million development cost in two-and-a-half years, Karr said.

The mine would create over 100 well-paying jobs, he said.

Zinke announced in December he was stepped down as Interior secretary amid ethics investigations. He will get $114,000 a year in cash and stock as a board member and under a one-year consulting contract with U.S. Gold Corp.

"I'm hoping that Zinke's background, it will give us a little more gravitas at U.S. Gold Corp.," Karr said. "I think he'll be viewed very, very positively by all the regulators in Wyoming."

Coal from vast, open-pit mines in the Powder River Basin dominates the story of Wyoming's modern-day minerals industry. Wyoming also is the top state for uranium, all of it from wells that pump the heavy metal to the surface after dissolving it from rock underground.

The state has seen little gold mining since the 19th century. Copper mining peaked over a century ago. U.S. Gold Corp. has received state permits for the test wells at the Copper King mine but there is no application to open a mine there yet, said Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Keith Guille.

U.S. Gold Corp. also is exploring for gold in north-central Nevada.

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