Witnesses testify mining law reform bill will result in more U.S. job losses
As yet another in a steady stream of mining law reform bills kicked off in its first hearing in a congressional subcommittee Thursday, a Nevada local government official warned representatives, "It would be unforgivable if-especially now in a time of economic crisis-this industry was damaged or destroyed by well meaning but misguided officials from our own government.In testimony before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy & Mining, Elko County, Nevada, Commission Chair Sheri Eklund-Brown asked, "In my community, and maybe in yours, we often hear people wondering: why are Americas losing high-wage jobs? Why are industries that support them moving off shore?"Well, here’s one example: thoughtless regulation is driving them offshore. The unintended consequences of this bill will inflict far-reaching harm on communities like mine, sending our jobs overseas," Eklund-Brown said. "Please keep this in mind as considering the mining industry and its future in this country.Congressman Dean Heller, R-Nevada, told the subcommittee, "With Nevada’s unemployment at 9.1%, the mining industry and the jobs it creates is one of the few bright spots in our current economic environment. It would be misguided to burden the mining industry with excessive regulations and taxes if we want our economy in Nevada to thrive.The Silver State "has had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for 23 straight months," Heller noted. "However, there are bright spots in Nevada’s economy that are still thriving, and those are the areas where mining activity is taking place."My primary concern is that changes made to the mining law should not serve to increase our dependence on foreign sources of mineral resources that our nation needs and certainly should not increase unemployment in my state," he added. "We have to get our mineral resources from somewhere and I believe we should get them in a responsible manner from domestic resources mined by American workers.However, Jim Star, a county commissioner in Gunnison Colorado, declared, "It is undeniable that the 1982 Mining Law, and its particulars, are antiquated and in need of immediate and wholesale reform.While Star said Gunnison County recognizes hardrock minerals are valuable natural resources that should be extracted and put to beneficial uses, "it is only fair and prudent that a mechanism that Congress adopts to make federal lands available to private hardrock extraction explicitly include measures to ensure the negative impacts be avoided or minimized both by the federal government and the operators.Nevertheless, Star said, "I respectfully suggest that Congress carefully examine, first, whether the patent process itself remains a viable, healthy tool-or whether a different process to make federal lands available to private mineral extraction would better serve the country and still accomplish the mission.Star suggested a tool currently exists that should be used to encourage exploration and the use of federal lands for mineral extraction-long term leasing of federal lands for oil and gas exploration and operations. "While this leasing regime has its own flaws, one thing that it does NOT do is transfer fee simple ownership of federal land to private parties."A second benefit of a federal lease mechanism would be that the federal government will remain as a steward of its own land-enhancing its obligation and ability to protect those lands," Star asserted. "A further benefit of a non-fee-simple patent transfer is avoidance of the unintended but realistic consequence of public land going tin private but foreign ownership.Meanwhile, Star also requested that protection of municipal watersheds in critically sensitive areas should "require a demonstration by clear and convincing evidence that there are no other locations where the desired minerals can be extracted.The House Subcommittee on Energy & Mines is reviewing H.R. 699, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, which was introduced by House Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall, D-West Virginia.