Editorial: Stop blocking public land from productive use

Several years ago a high ranking Interior Department official told a Nevada newspaper editorial board that the agency planned to maintain its level of land control by acquiring an acre of land for federal ownership for every acre of land that was released to private ownership. It was a blatant admission that the bureaucracy intended to maintain its power and authority and budget in perpetuity, no matter what was good for the local citizens and their economy.

If recent events are any indication, it appears the bureaucracy has escalated from maintaining power to full-blown growth mode at a rate of 10-to-one.

Clark County officials have been talking about an effort to acquire nearly 40,000 acres of federal public land for auctioning off for private business and residential development. (Where they would get the water for the new development was not addressed.) In exchange, the county is talking about withdrawing from private development another 400,000 acres.

Courtesy Nevada Mining Association via Nevada Appeal

In Washoe County, officials are considering acquiring 60,000 acres for auction for private development in exchange for taking 440,000 acres out of private development access.

In a recent column published in the Elko Daily Free Press, Dana Bennett, president of the Nevada Mining Association, warns that the long-established doctrine of multiple use for federal public lands is being threatened. She notes that more than 80 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal land agencies and currently a third of the state is off limits to mining activity.

And the limits on mining, such as those proposed in Clark and Washoe counties, are growing apace.

“In 2016, nearly 1 million acres of public land were withdrawn from mineral access,” Bennett writes. “This year alone, there are pending proposals to withdraw at least 1.4 million more acres. There is no end in sight.”

Additionally, the Department of the Navy is asking to expand the Naval Air Station at Fallon by 600,000 acres, which would block mining or geothermal power generation on that land for generations to come.

“Nevada minerals power 21st-century technology. Each withdrawn acre represents an area where discovery and development of the minerals that power our future may never be found or developed, no matter how great the need,” Bennett concludes. “Preserving multiple use, meanwhile, gives the public options to determine the best mix of land uses based on the context of the time and situation.”

We agree. Locking up land and barring productive use without thorough examination of alternatives and benefits is nothing but bureaucrats holding onto their power base.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Western officials fear new EPA rules could cripple mining operations

There is growing fear among officials across the West that in the waning days of the Obama administration his Environmental Protection Agency may enact regulations that could cost the hard rock mining industry billions of dollars, jeopardizing jobs and entire communities.

Earlier this year, the EPA, as is its wont, settled a lawsuit from a passel of self-styled environmental groups by agreeing to write further regulations requiring additional financial assurances — in the form of expensive surety bonds — that mining sites will be adequately cleaned up and reclaimed at the end of operations.

The court gave the EPA until Dec. 1 to write these new rules.

Lest we forget, it was the geniuses at the EPA who bungled the reclamation of the Gold King mine near Silverton, Colo., a year ago, dumping millions of gallons of toxic-metal-laced pollutants into the Animas River, turning it a bright yellow.

The Western Governors’ Association and the chairs of two key U.S. House committees have sent letters to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA, asking for information about what the agency plans to do and pointing out that the states and various federal agencies already have reclamation bonding requirements in place and that any additional requirements could be duplicative and costly to the industry.

The letter from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, stressed their concerns that the EPA is not analyzing existing federal and state reclamation requirements.

“If the Agency fails to reduce the amount of the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, otherwise dubbed the Superfund Law) financial assurance obligation to account for these programs, it will result in the unnecessary and duplicative imposition of many billions of dollars of financial assurance requirements on the mining industry.”

The governors’ letter, signed by Wyoming’s Matthew Mead and Montana’s Steve Bullock, asks for an explanation as to why “existing state programs are insufficient to address the concerns …”

A spokesman for Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy commented, “This administration has an unfortunate track record of issuing onerous regulations that are especially painful for states like Nevada that have large mining sectors. As an active member of the Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Hardy will continue to work with the chairman to hold the EPA accountable and prevent job-killing regulations from doing further damage to our state economy.”

Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett has sent a letter to EPA officials saying that the new regulations would have significant economic impact on all miners in the state, “but it will be Nevada’s small miners, who have limited financial and human resources, that will be hit the hardest.”

She also said the proposed rules duplicate currently effective state and federal programs.

Bennett wrote that the EPA has failed to establish a need for further federal rulemaking and has not provided those who will be affected with necessary scientific or economic analysis, noting there has been no cost-benefit analysis and that the costs “appear to vastly outweigh any potential health or environmental benefits.” (2016 Letter re CERCLA)

She also argued that current mines should be exempted from any new programs because it would be fundamentally unfair to add unanticipated regulatory costs that would “threaten the economic viability of the mines and associated jobs and community benefits.”

The National Mining Association has reported that “a growing number of organizations – from state governments to surety underwriters — are expressing concern that EPA is about to impose economically harmful and unnecessary bonding requirements on mineral mining companies.”

In mid-June the House Natural Resources Committee passed a package of 19 mining bills to address funding, technical and legal impediments to mine cleanup efforts. Of course, that will not deter the EPA.

Bishop said at the time, “If we’ve learned anything from the EPA’s Gold King mine disaster, it’s that the federal government lacks the expertise, resources and capacity to reclaim abandoned mines. … This package provides much-needed liability protections and creative solutions to develop the technical talent and funding resources to ensure cleanup is done safely and without further delay.”

According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, mining accounts for a large majority of the jobs in Esmeralda, Eureka and Lander counties and a large percentage in several other rural counties. Excessive regulatory costs added to the already uncertain fortunes of mining companies in a volatile market could devastate some communities that rely on gold, silver, copper and, perhaps someday, lithium production.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The Coeur Rochester silver mine in the Humboldt River Basin (USGS photo) States.

Editorial: Bill to speed up mining permitting process would be a boon to Nevada

Nevada miners (Nevada Mining Association photo)

Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents the northern half of rural Nevada, recently introduced a bill in Congress intended to force the federal land agencies to get into gear, setting the total review process for issuing mining permits at 30 months tops.

Currently, according to The Wall Street Journal, permitting a mine on federal land takes seven to 10 years or longer — the longest permitting period of any nation on earth.

Amodei’s H.R. 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2015, already has 29 sponsors. The Nevada congressman said his legislation is intended to reduce American dependence on foreign minerals, many of which are vital to industry and the military, but currently are being imported from countries such as China.

“It’s not hyperbole to say our national defense and way of life depend on mineral production,” said Amodei in a press release heralding the bill. “From military technology, such as aircraft and missiles used by service men and women to defend our country, to the cars, smartphones and televisions we use every day, they all contain strategic and critical minerals such as rare earth elements, gold and silver, to name a few.”

Amodei blames the permitting delays on duplicative regulations, bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of coordination between federal agencies.

Nevada is rich in minerals — gold, copper, lithium, molybdenum, gypsum, etc.

“Permitting delays stand in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local, often rural, communities,” Amodei said. “This legislation does nothing to circumvent environmental regulations or public input. It would simply streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic, national security and environmental concerns.”

Delays in permitting have tremendous impact on the state’s economy. Mining directly employs more than 11,000 people and another 14,000 jobs provide goods and services to the industry. The average wage is nearly $90,000, double the statewide average wage. The industry pays more than $400 million in state and local taxes.

Amodei’s bill also addresses the fact that environmental groups frequently file frivolous legal challenges to mining operations. The bill sets a 60-day time limit to file a legal challenge to a mining project, gives standing to project proponents, and limits injunctive relief to what is necessary to correct the violation of a legal requirement, and prohibits the payment of attorney’s fees, expenses and other costs by the U.S. taxpayer.

“While few countries can rival our abundance of mineral resources, even fewer have a permitting system as inefficient as the U.S.,” National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn said about the bill. “Our inefficient and duplicative permitting process discourages investment and jeopardizes the growth of downstream industries, related jobs and technological innovation that all depend on a secure and reliable mineral supply chain.”

Amodei’s bill is similar to a bill the House passed in the previous session of Congress. It went nowhere in the Harry Reid-controlled Senate.

We urge our Washington delegation to press for passage of the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2015 for the sake of our strategic defenses, our manufacturing industries and the economic well-being of Nevada and the West. Perhaps Sen. Dean Heller can shepherd the bill in the Senate.

Amodei mining bill

A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.