STATELINE — A political tone edged into this year’s Nevada Mining Association convention with the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates headlining the 40th annual gathering in Stateline.
“It’s important that the companies and their employees get an opportunity to hear both candidates,” said NvMA President Dana Bennett, “to get a chance to shake their hand and look them in the eye.”
Bennett said it is the first time in recent memory that the association has hosted candidates for governor at the convention.
This election year with a contest for the state’s top leadership role made the guest appearances timely as Nevada’s next governor will influence policy that could affect the mining industry.
Both candidates catered their speeches to the audience of mining professionals, who assembled at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Sept. 8 to conclude the days-long event.
In addition to a lineup of education speakers, the conference welcomes the association’s incoming board chairman, and celebrates accomplishments in safety and reclamation.
Steve Sisolak, Democratic candidate for governor, called mining a “foundational industry” for the state. In addition to creating jobs and advancing technology, the Clark County Commission chairman said mining allows Nevada to be a key player in the national and global economies.
Citing high capital costs, Sisolak said mining companies need to be able to attract investment on a global scale.
“That means you need consistency and constancy in regulations,” he said. “You cannot afford to have the regulations changing day by day, year by year, so you have nothing to rely on, nor will your investors invest in you if you have nothing to rely upon. “
The candidate added that consistency in regulations also allows a predictable timeline for projects.
“To do that, you need a good partner in state government, a partner that has fair expectations of the business community … ” he said, explaining that he would strive to continue the legacy of Gov. Brian Sandoval regarding business and “vehemently” opposes any industry-specific tax on mining.
“You’ve shown you’re willing to go the extra mile to support the state that supports you, and that includes paying more than a fair share of your business taxes,” Sisolak said, acknowledging the industry’s support of students, health care, charities and philanthropies.
Calling mining Nevada’s “original STEM industry,” Sisolak congratulated the mining industry for employing tradespeople in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. One of his top campaign issues is education.
“I want all Nevada graduating high school seniors to be career-ready [for] industry opportunities for industries like yours, which is why we need more opportunities for professional, technical training in high school,” Sisolak said.
Increasing the number of STEM jobs aligns with Sisolak’s stated desire to see families supported by well-paying jobs with health insurance. STEM jobs also diversify the state’s economy, which ultimately benefits the communities where Nevadans live.
“You invest in your community, you invest in your employees, and you invest in their families,” Sisolak said. “I’ll be dedicated to sustaining this growth we are experiencing now because every one of you should have the ability to continue to keep supporting yourselves, your families, your companies, your employees and your communities.”
Because of mining companies’ strong support of family and community, the NvMA renounced Ballot Question 3. The candidate lauded the association’s opposition to measure, which would deregulate the electric utility industry.
“While I know that for some of you very large purchasers of energy, [it] might be more beneficial to have the option to opt out and to have, as they call it, deregulation, your employees and your seniors are not in that same position, and our economy would suffer, our citizens would suffer as a result of that,” Sisolak said. “You put their well-being and their families’ well-being ahead of your own as a company. That’s something that I respect tremendously.”
Sisolak also noted that counties with mines, including Lander County, are counties that don’t need state subsidies and where opportunities and education are better.
“As governor, I will be eager to provide any assistance I can to help companies like yours expand,” he said, “and [facilitate the] vertical integration moving forward to make your industry more profitable and more beneficial to our economy and to our citizens.”
Republican candidate for governor Adam Laxalt cautioned against allowing one party to dominate the state’s leadership. Statistics indicate that the Democratic Party will have a majority in the Assembly and Senate, and he urged the audience to elect a Republican governor to protect the mining industry.
“I’m concerned that if we don’t elect a Republican governor that we will see tax increases, regulatory increases, and I think you can particularly see that heading towards this industry,” Laxalt said. “ … [I]f we do not have a check on that, I cannot imagine what happens to our economy. I can’t imagine what a target this industry will be.”
He said the Democrats have a long list of proposals for the state that would be “incredibly expensive.”
“Where is this money going to come from?” he asked. “I think mining is really legitimately a target, and I know mining has always felt like it could be a target. It’s something that we should be concerned about.”
The candidate said he has “mining in his bones,” with ancestors who mined, and turned to his record as attorney general for a history of support for mining.
Laxalt pledged to continue that support by working with the presidential administration to find solutions, and take steps necessary to diversify the economy. He also emphasized the importance of providing education opportunities that train the next generation of employees for businesses including mining companies.
“Know that is a huge priority for me — working with your industry and other industries,” Laxalt said. “We need to make sure that we have a labor pool that can do the jobs that you all are providing every day.”
Laxalt said he is optimistic about the future of the state.
“I’m committed to keeping Nevada’s exceptionalism — the exceptionalism that allowed us to be this great, free, independent libertarian-leaning Western state,” Laxalt said. “We’ve been unique, and we’ve been unique amongst our neighbors. That’s something I’m committed to supporting. I’m committed to pushing forward for Nevada.”
In keeping with the political tone of the convention, Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, provided commentary and took questions on topics including the recently published anonymous op-ed, the credibility of media, and what Gov. Brian Sandoval might do after abdicating the governorship. Bennett called him the association’s favorite political pundit.
Also speaking was Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
He described how changes under the new administration aim to “restore and create opportunity for Americans in all pockets and corners of America, doing that through regulatory relief, advancing better business practices and shifting resources in a way that is going to deliver better services.”
The North Pole native explained that the agency is made up of leaders from the “real West” and that those in charge recognize the contributions that mining makes across the United States. He pointed to Lander County, which reaps the economic benefits from mining, as an example of success.
“That contribution that mining makes … is something that is changing and providing a way of life in a part of America that otherwise would not be possible,” he said.
Goals include providing regulatory relief through rescinding those that don’t work and modernizing others that need updating, he said; the DOI is trying to improve business practices such as putting time limits on environmental impact statements to help provide certainty for investment decisions.
“We feel like we are making great strides,” Balash said. “We’ve gotten a lot done, but we know there is a lot to do. If there is one thing we know and understand, it’s that the solutions to our problems don’t lie in Washington; they’re going to come from people like you who feel it on the ground.”
Association members also welcomed the organization’s incoming chairman, Jerry Pfarr, vice president of sustainability and external relations for Newmont Mining Corp. He replaces Tim Dyher of Nevada Copper, who has completed his one year of service on the board.
The NvMA “is one of the oldest and most effective trade association’s in the country,” Pfarr said. Part of the association’s effectiveness stems from the members’ ability to work together and speak in unity on important issues, including political issues.
Pfarr outlined NvMA’s areas of focus for the coming year: safety; facing environmental struggles such as the effect of wildfire on sage-grouse habitat; the 2019 legislative session, where mining will like enter into conversations about taxes; water; and energy.
The incoming chairman encouraged members to entrust the association as a political arm and to engage the next generation of miners.
“With participation from miners young and old,” he said, “this industry can continue to see success.”
“As governor, I will be eager to provide any assistance I can to help companies like yours expand.” — Steve Sisolak “I’m concerned that if we don’t elect a Republican governor that we will see tax increases, regulatory increases, and I think you can particularly see that heading towards this industry.” — Adam Laxalt
“As governor, I will be eager to provide any assistance I can to help companies like yours expand.” — Steve Sisolak