Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 | 2:45 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- The chair of the Elko County Commission testified before a House panel Thursday that her community would suffer economically if reforms to the 1872 hard-rock mining law impose steep federal taxes on the industry.
Commission chairwoman Sheri Eklund-Brown told the Natural Resources subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources that mining is a vital industry in Nevada, providing the state’s best-paying jobs.
The committee is considering HR699 a bill that would require mining companies to pay a royalty, just as oil and gas companies do, for extracting minerals from public lands in Nevada and other states. More gold is mined in Nevada than anywhere else in the country.
While Nevada and other states impose royalties on mining operations, the federal government does not. The Pew Center for Responsible Mining said minerals valued at $1 billion annually are extracted from federal lands.
The bill would also set limits on where mines can operate, to protect certain federal lands.
Eklund-Brown told the lawmakers that mining companies are good stewards of the lands public lands.
“Our community cares about clean air and clean water every bit as much as people in San Francisco or Boston do,” she testified.
“Without mining, it would be a short distance between a thriving community and a failing one in need of federal support,” she said. “In Elko, you don’t have to be an economist or a county official to know that we need the tax revenue and the community support that mining provides.”
Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who represents mostly northern Nevada where most of the mining operations in the state are located, also testified before the panel.
The House passed a similar mining overhaul bill last session, but legislation stalled in the Senate. Heller at the time sought to reduce the proposed royalty from 8 percent to 5 percent, but his amendment was defeated in committee on a party-line vote.
Heller is open to change that “achieves the goals of updating current mining law without hurting the economic viability of the mining industry in Nevada,” he said in a statement.
“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,” Heller said. “It would be misguided to burden the mining industry with excessive regulations and taxes if we want our economy in Nevada to thrive.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he’s open to considering reasonable changes to the law.
The Senate is expected to introduce its own version of the bill in coming months.