American Exploration & Mining Association Executive Director Laura Skaer is retiring March 31, but she is planning to be a consultant for the association and members after leaving Spokane, Washington, headquarters.
“I am going to stay involved in the issues, consulting and lobbying,” she said. “I am passionate about the industry and our members and what they do and their importance to the nation. I have been in natural resources since July 1979.”
Skaer took the reins at the Northwest Mining Association on Dec. 1, 1996, and in the 22 years since has seen the association grow and take a new name. The Northwest Mining Association was formed in 1891 and became the American Exploration & Mining Association on Jan. 1, 2013.
The name was changed “to reflect that the association had grown beyond being a regional association to be a national association, and 25 percent of the members are in Nevada,” Skaer said. “Now we have members in 42 states and seven Canadian provinces.”
Current membership is roughly 2,000, including individuals and corporations, although membership “goes up and down when metal prices go up or down,” she said. She credited staff over the years for helping build up the association. Currently, there are six people in the Spokane office, including Skaer.
Much of Skaer’s work is keeping track of legislation that affects the mining industry, lobbying in Washington, D.C., for the industry and commenting on proposals from federal agencies that affect mining.
Over the years, attempts to change the 1872 mining law have been a key focus, and she expects that when the Democrats take control of the House, there will be another attempt. She doesn’t foresee such an attempt getting through the Republican majority in the Senate, however.
Not long after she became the association’s executive director, she led the association in a lawsuit against then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt over bonding regulations and won.
“Laura’s leadership at AEMA has played an essential role in the hardrock mining industry’s interests in key mining states and on Capitol Hill for the past 22 years,” said Debra Struhsacker, an environmental permitting and government relations consultant in Nevada.
Currently, the association is working on the greater sage-grouse land-use plan amendments coming from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
“We’ve commented on all the plans” for the Western states affected by the sage-grouse issue, she said.
The BLM, Interior and Forest Service are working with the Western Governor’s Association to make the plans in line with state sage-grouse conservation plans, Skaer said.
She believes the federal government needs to abandon maps for sage-grouse territory and manage the conservation on a project-by-project basis “with on-the-ground examination of sites,” as well as clarify restrictions on development and travel management.
Skaer said the restrictions don’t apply to locatable minerals, and “they violate mining law rights.”
She also is hoping to advance good Samaritan legislation, working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “get it across the finish line.” Such legislation would allow mining companies to reclaim old mining disturbances by prior companies without liability.
“We’re also getting better at protecting the environment,” Skaer said.
“Today, AEMA is the premier voice for mineral exploration and access to public lands thanks to Laura Skaer’s proactive leadership,” the immediate past president of the association, Erik Best, said in her retirement announcement on Nov. 15.
Lobbying in Washington
Skaer spends roughly eight weeks a year in Washington, D.C., advocating for association members. She and her staff developed one-page policy handouts that are updated for each visit to the nation’s capital. The single, two-sided handout provides information about the association and about the importance of mining.
The handouts point out that it takes an average of eight-plus years to permit a new mine, list ways to speed up the permitting process and show this country’s import reliance on a long list of minerals.
Looking to the future, Skaer said she believes there is greater awareness that it “isn’t healthy” for this country to be so dependent upon foreign countries for critical minerals, “especially the Chinese. I think you are seeing public support building” to discover the critical minerals in the United States, which in turn will provide jobs and an economic boost.
New technologies will help with the discovery of new mineral deposits in new places, she said, and demand for more minerals from developing countries will boost the industry, including the increased demand for electricity in that part of the world.
“Copper is the best metal for moving electricity,” Skaer said.
Also, copper demand is increasing because of electrical and hybrid vehicles.
“The demand for minerals and metals is always going to increase. Everything we do depends on metals,” Skaer said.
While gold is the mineral that often receives the most attention, the association represents the silver, copper, lithium, potash, phosphate, steel, cobalt and more mining and exploration companies. The association doesn’t represent coal companies, nor sand and gravel industries, however.
This year’s annual meeting at the convention center in Spokane will be Skaer’s last as executive director. The annual meeting likely will be in Reno next year in an alternating pattern established as more and more members were tied with the gold mining industry in Nevada.
The 2018 annual meeting’s main events are Dec. 5-7, featuring 240 exhibitions.
Skaer recalled the lean years after Sept. 11, 2001, when there were flight restrictions and low gold prices. The annual meeting was moved to Spokane hotels for four years because the convention center was too big. Then, the association decided in 2006 to come to Reno.
“That first year we jumped to 2,000 attendees,” she said.
Once her tenure ends at the association, and she has helped with the transition to her successor, Skaer, 70, plans to move to Columbia, Missouri, which she described as a “vibrant college town.” She has bought a house in Columbia, where she has friends and season tickets for the University of Missouri football games. She also plans to travel and play golf.
“It’s about halfway for kids and grandkids in Denver and Dallas,” she said.
Skaer described her 22 years with the association as “the most rewarding and personally satisfying part of my 44-year professional career since I graduated from law school in 1974.”
Earlier in her career, Skaer was vice president and general counsel from 1979-1995 for Skaer Enterprises Inc., an independent oil and gas production company, after serving as an associate and partner in a law firm in Kansas City, Mo., now called Husch Blackwell LLP.
She was active in oil and gas associations and became an industry expert on income, real and personal property tax issues and on severance tax issues in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. She received the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1990.
Later, Skaer received the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Sustainable Development Award in 2004 and a Special Recognition Award from the U.S. Forest Service’s Division of Minerals and Geology Management. In 2013, she was named one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining by Women in Mining UK.