As a result of lofty zinc prices, the U.S. Treasury loses money with the minting of every penny. So the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week to bring back the steel penny. Clearly, your elected officials see no relief in sight from expensive base metals.

As interesting as the penny story is, there are more efficient ways to play with copper than hoarding pennies in your basement -- mainly because pennies now only contain only 2.5% copper; the rest is zinc.

While I wholly condone obvious copper plays like Southern Copper (NYSE:PCU) and Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), another interesting option waits in their shadow: Taseko Mines (AMEX:TGB).

Taseko may have a market cap of just $740 million, but it sports a megafollowing within the Motley Fool CAPS community, with more than 1,000 players rating the stock. The company posted earnings and news this week that make the stock easy to love. Earnings before taxes rose nearly 41% year over year. Sales of copper concentrate rose 25% to 14.8 million pounds.

During the quarter, Taseko commissioned a new SAG mill (which grinds ore into smaller pieces) at the company's flagship Gibraltar Mine in British Columbia. The company also reported improved throughput volume of ore processed, as well as increased recovery rates from that ore. All of this resulted in a steady boost to copper production over the course of the quarter, from 3.3 million pounds in January to 5.5 million in March.

Looking ahead, Taseko approved a Phase III expansion to the Gibraltar operation, with a projected 50% increase in throughput capacity by Q4 2010. The company is targeting annual production of 180 million pounds of copper and 4.5 million pounds molybdenum. That represents some serious organic growth.

While Taseko will likely never attain the scale of a Freeport-McMoRan, this small cap will keep making pennies from copper, even if the U.S. Mint does not.

Further Foolishness: