After five years at the head of the Nevada Mining Association, Dana Bennett announced on Nov. 8 that she will retire as president of the association effective Jan. 31, 2020.
The first woman to lead this century-old organization, Bennett directed the educational and advocacy efforts of Nevada’s original STEM industry. She also represented Nevada’s mining industry in national and international arenas.
With deep experience in public policy and educated as an historian, Bennett combined both passions into a role helping a historic sector redefine itself as a vibrant, integral part of Nevada’s 21st-century economy, especially as a foundation for the renewables and clean energy sectors. This work has encompassed several legislative sessions and participation in numerous panels, commissions, speaking engagements, and media interviews in every corner of Nevada telling the story of the state’s mining past, present, and future.
Robert Stepper, the chairman of the NvMA board of directors and general manager of the Coeur Rochester Mine, said “Dana Bennett has been a positive, articulate, and effective leader through numerous challenges and changes. Her tenure has seen the association expand exponentially, and her efforts to educate both decision makers and the general public regarding the value and importance of the mining industry to our state will continue to be felt for many years to come.”
Stepper said the search for the group’s next president is underway, with the goal of a seamless and smooth transition from Bennett’s leadership.
Apart from her advocacy on behalf of the mining industry, Bennett serves on several boards, including the Nevada Board of Economic Development and the Advisory Council for the Kenny C. Guinn Center for Policy Priorities. A published author and lifelong Nevadan, Bennett has been engaged in Nevada’s policy development since she was first hired by the Legislative Counsel Bureau in 1988. She is an advocate for public lands, education, and the arts in Nevada and expects to continue, in some fashion, to serve her home state.
On the day of the announcement of her retirement, the Mining Quarterly called Bennett for a conversation about her years with the Nevada Mining Association.
Q: You’re at home in Midas now?
Eventually—not right now. Reno is still home … The association will begin a search for the next president, and I want to make sure that the transition is as smooth and seamless as it can possibly be.
Q: Where is Midas?
It’s in Elko County, due north of Battle Mountain.
The town is close to the Midas Mine. The Twin Creeks-Turquoise Ridge complex is not too far from here. Carlin is far enough away that geologists have been debating … is it part of the Carlin Trend, or is it its own trend? There are some geologists who call this the Midas Trend and some who think that it’s part of the Carlin Trend.
It’s really quite the debate. Because when you look at historical mining, there was a lot more in this area in the early 20th century and not so much in what we now know as the Carlin Trend. There was actually very little mining there. For Elko County, in the 20s and 30s, Midas was the biggest producer out of the entire county. But of course, that’s changed as technology has changed, and an understanding of the disseminated gold features of the Carlin Trend.
Q: Back then they weren’t doing the microscopic gold.
No, the technology did not exist.
When this mine was developed in 1999, it was a JV between Euro-Nevada and Franco-Nevada. It was narrow vein mining. The Midas Mine continues to be one of the – I think there are only two – narrow vein underground mines now in the state, and those are Midas and Fire Creek.
Q: I read the conversation that you had with Mining Quarterly editor Marianne Kobak McKown back in January 2015, shortly after you became president of the Nevada Mining Association. One thing you said in that interview is that it’s actually in the bylaws that the president of the Nevada Mining Association has to visit every mine. How many mines have you visited?
I have visited quite a few. I’ve got a map in my office where I’ve marked them all, but I haven’t counted them up. As you know, it depends on what’s the definition of a mine. If you go to Turquoise Ridge and Twin Creeks, and at Twin Creeks, if you go to the surface but you don’t go underground – how do you count that?
But I have been to a lot of Nevada’s mines, certainly in gold mining – in silver mining, I was out at Coeur Rochester yesterday. The lithium mine – Nevada is the only state in the country with an operating lithium mine, down by Silver Peak, and I’ve been there—and I’ve been to the silica mine outside of Overton, and to the salt mine outside of Fallon. And of course the copper mine by Ely.
I have been to a lot, but I have to confess that I have not been to every mine, darn it.
Hopefully I’m not done. I’m a Nevadan, I intend to stay in Nevada, and there could very well be more mines to visit afterwards.
Q: I’ve just been to five now.
Depending on how you count, you either have 105 to go, or 200, or 60 …
Q: In the interview with Marianne you said there is a mine in every county in Nevada except Carson City.
And Douglas, too—there are two counties. Douglas and Carson City don’t have any mines, and historically there really hasn’t been a lot mining activity in those two areas. When Carson City was Ormsby County, there was a little bit of mining where the Carson River crosses that area, but really most of Nevada’s mining has taken place in the other 15 counties.
Each mine has its own personality, its own strengths and challenges. You cannot say that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They truly are all unique.
Q: Have you visited some mines multiple times?
Sure, because one of the major activities that the Mining Association does is to lead mine tours. That’s been one of the things I’ve really enjoyed in this job is being able to take groups of people from Reno and from Las Vegas and from Carson City out to visit an area of the state that they … It was always interesting to me the number of folks who would be on one of my tours who had never been east of Ely or had never been in Humboldt County or Elko County.
In doing those tours, Turquoise Ridge is always accommodating, and Twin Creeks and the mines on the Carlin Trend, Marigold, Coeur, have all been welcoming to tours, and so yes, I have been to some more than once.
Q: You started the Women Influencers mine tour. Is that something that’s ongoing? Former Mining Quarterly editor Suzanne Featherston wrote a story about the Women Influencers mine tour she went on in 2018.
That was actually the second one. It’s something that I do hope continues, and I think it will continue. It is a great opportunity to invite businesswomen from Reno and Las Vegas to meet businesswomen in Elko and Winnemucca and to discover that we have more similarities than we have differences.
Those tours really are probably my favorites. The engagement from business leaders in Reno and Las Vegas meant they asked great questions and were interested in all aspects of the mining process. And for them to have the opportunity to meet women who are making their living in mining allowed for some great conversations.
To be able to showcase for urban Nevada that there are fabulous things happening in rural Nevada, that they actually have more similarities than they have differences—those tours were just fabulous.
Q: When did you do the Women Influencers mine tours?
I think we did the first one in 2016 and the second one in 2018.
Q: A big part of what the Nevada Mining Association does is deal with legislative issues. What have been some of the major legislative issues the Mining Association has dealt with over the years? What issues are coming up?
As a foundational industry in Nevada, the mining industry has always been involved in the legislature. It is, as you know, the most heavily regulated in the state. So there is always interest in what is being proposed in Carson City.
In 2015 when Gov. Sandoval proposed the tax reform for education, we really were proud to be part of that statewide effort, when business recognized the needs of education, and we participated in that. Even though it raised our taxes, it was an important effort.
Last session we worked well with Gov. Sisolak on some of his initiatives. And as you know, he has already been out to visit a mine. And he recognizes the importance of the industry to rural Nevada, and certainly the great jobs that are provided here in rural Nevada.
Those are areas that we tend to be involved in legislatively—workforce development, education, and the regulation of the industry, of course. And we will continue to be engaged in those issues going forward.
Q: I’m wondering if you have any new perspectives now on some of the questions that Marianne asked back in 2015. She said, “Here in rural Nevada we know a lot about mining. We understand the industry. What do you think people in the urban areas don’t understand? What do you think the main misconception is in places like Vegas and Reno?”
Most Nevadans live in urban areas, and so they don’t see a mine as part of their regular course of the day, and they don’t know anybody and aren’t related to anybody who’s working directly on a mine. So it’s sort of out of sight, out of mind.
For those folks who don’t see the industry on a regular basis, they tend to think it’s old fashioned, or a historic artifact, or something that people used to do. And so I’ve really enjoyed showcasing to Nevadans that the industry is technologically advanced, that it’s complex, that it’s science-based, that it’s innovative, that it is not at all what they think it is. That it’s safe, that these are good jobs, where people are compensated well, and have great benefit packages. And that miners care very deeply about the environment in which they’re operating, and that they care very deeply about the state, and that they are engaged in their community.
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I used to joke that if you put three people together, I’ll come talk to them about mining, which is only half a joke. The Lions Clubs and the Rotary Clubs around the state invited me, and other groups. And they really were interested. And that to me was very encouraging. It didn’t matter where I was in the state—Nevadans are very interested in this industry, and they’re very interested in what makes the 21st century industry different from what they may have seen in their history textbooks.
That’s been one of the most enjoyable parts of the job—describing that to folks who don’t see mining on a regular basis.
Q: Marianne also asked, “What do you think miners themselves may not know about mining in this state? Do you think there are any misconceptions or issues that they don’t understand?”
I’m not sure how I would answer that.
I learned something new about mining every day. That was something else I really enjoyed about this position, it gave me the opportunity to learn. There are incredibly smart people who work in mining. And how they do what they do is a source of endless fascination for me.
I’m not sure anyone could ever learn it all, because it is so complex and it is diverse. And I’ve really enjoyed that.
Q: There’s a lot to the whole process.
And process really is the key word. Mining isn’t just digging a hole in the ground and moving the dirt. There’s so much more.
When you look at what goes into exploration, how are new ore bodies even discovered is a great science. And you would think, here we are in the 21st century, with all of our technological advancements, that we know where everything is already. But the reality is that we don’t. And that’s something that I learned from those who are in exploration, that there is still a lot to learn, to find, to discover.
And that’s just the beginning of the mining supply chain. Along the whole gamut it is a very complex and a very diverse industry.
Q: Sometimes in discussions of mining some people say the industry doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes. Does the industry pay its fair share of taxes?
The answer is absolutely, unequivocably yes. Mining pays the taxes that every business pays, property tax, sales tax, modified business tax, which is a tax on payroll—and when it comes to MBT, mining pays the highest rate. And is paying on average the highest salaries.
And then on top of that, there is the net proceeds of minerals tax, which is a mining-only tax. No one else pays that tax, and it in essence doubles the tax burden on the industry.
So in comparing this industry to other industries in Nevada, absolutely. And certainly in times of distress—during the Great Recession, mining was essentially the only industry that was paying taxes in the state of Nevada.
The only answer to that question is absolutely yes.
Q: What are your comments on the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 supported by Congressman Grijalva of Arizona?
Congressman Grijalva has proposed amendments to the federal mining law that would place royalties on mining. The proposal obviously is something that we do not support. I was very pleased to see that Nevada’s delegation did not support that as well.
It’s a conversation we are willing to have, and in the letter that we sent to the committee we recognize this is something that’s been talked about for a long time, and we are willing to have that conversation. But there needs to be a recognition that Nevada is already highly regulating this industry, and all of that needs to be taken into consideration.
I’ve seen the columns that have been in the Elko Daily by the local leaders in Elko County, and I think they are eloquently demonstrating that mining is absolutely paying a great deal in taxes to the state and local governments, and that the counties and cities of northern Nevada are certainly benefiting from mining taxes.
Q: Mining has obviously changed a lot in the past 100 years, with advances in safety, environmental responsibility, and social investment. The industry is going through a lot of changes today with advances in technology, and the pace of change may keep getting faster. In the past five years, what kind of changes have you seen, and what do you foresee for the future?
A lot is happening with technology and innovation—that’s certainly what I’ve seen during my tenure. What I see happening is that the changes are being brought by advancements in technology, and by the innovative applications of technology. For instance, when you think about the use of drones, remote piloted vehicles—five years ago, we were talking about the application of drones for surveying and being able to cover large areas of land. Well, now there’s the lab at UNR that is working to develop drones that can operate underground. Drones that are not in sight of a human pilot or in communication with a satellite, that in essence are operating by themselves underground. And that’s a tremendous leap forward.
Other autonomous vehicles are certainly advancing. At the Mine Expo in 2016, everyone was excited about the haul truck that didn’t have a cab on it, because it was going to be used autonomously. And now we’re seeing the use of autonomous drills that are drilling the holes for explosives. That, again, adds to the safety features so there’s no human out there with that big equipment.
I think we’re going to continue to see that. Just the autonomous systems and autonomous equipment, they’re changing rapidly and will continue, I think, to rapidly change what the industry does.
Q: The press release about your retirement from the Nevada Mining Association mentions mining being a foundation for the renewables and clean energy sectors going forward. In what ways will mining be the foundation for these sectors? Is that talking about specific minerals like lithium?
Lithium is one important mineral. Like I said, Nevada has the only operating lithium mine in the United States, and the large lithium deposit that Lithium Nevada is developing outside of Winnemucca, that’s certainly key to renewable energy and clean energy.
There’s also the vanadium deposit south of Battle Mountain. Vanadium shows great promise for large storage capacity, city-sized batteries.
The rare earths conversations – the only rare earths mine is located outside of Las Vegas. It’s on the California border, but you look at the geology and you wonder, are there rare earths in Nevada? So there is some exploration in that regard.
Q: What is rare earth?
As it’s been explained to me, it’s a section of periodic table, and these elements all come together in a group. And they are critical for defense, and they are what makes your phone vibrate. They have all sorts of applications that we didn’t understand 20 years ago.
China has the corner on the rare earths market. They control the source of it, the pricing of it. And because it is such a critical element, there is a lot of interest in finding it domestically. Of course, we’re hopeful that Nevada will be where rare earths are located.
But even those elements that have been part of our history – we’re the silver state. Silver is still produced in Nevada, and silver is necessary for solar panels.
Copper is something that we’ve produced in Nevada from the very beginning. And of course we were a major copper producer in the early 20th century.
An electric vehicle uses twice as much copper as a gas-powered vehicle. And every wind turbine has a lot of copper in it, there is literally tons of copper in a wind turbine. So as wind farms are developed they are going to need more and more copper for that energy source to be utilized.
So, yes, in terms of the development of our renewable energy sector and our clean energy discussions, Nevada’s minerals and metals are absolutely foundational to the success of those industries.
Q: What statistics do you know on the percentages of women working in mining through the industry’s history and today? What do you foresee for the future?
There has been a long-held superstition that women shouldn’t be in a mine. Some states actually had laws on the books that women were not allowed on mine sites. Nevada was not one of those. But those attitudes meant that you really didn’t find a lot of women working in mining. There would be some isolated stories of women prospectors, and even a woman who owned a silver mine near Beowawe in 1910. But those were rare.
By 1965 when the federal government started counting all kinds of workers in various industries, they found that of the mining workforce in Nevada, only one percent was female.
When we did a survey a couple of years ago, we found that 13 percent of the workforce is female. Which on the one hand doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but on the other hand, that’s quite a lot of progress in an industry that has struggled with superstition.
Thinking about other major mining jurisdictions—in South Africa, women were not allowed in mining until the 1990s. And I think one of the first women who went into an underground mine was a Nevada woman.
For Nevada, we now see women in all aspects of the industry, driving haul trucks, and operating equipment, and environmental scientists, working on the permitting side of things. There are women in leadership, as vice presidents and even on boards of directors. I think – double check this—the boards of all the major companies now have women. (A Bedford Consulting Group survey released one year ago said that within the nearly 200 mining companies in their sample, 13 percent of the board members were women, and eight percent of the executive officers in mining firms were women.)
So it’s an exciting time. It was a great opportunity for me to talk about the women who are working in the industry now, and also certainly the potential for women in the future. I think we’re going to get to the point where it’s not remarkable. Which would be a great outcome.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, and spending more time in Midas. Eventually this will be home. And I’m excited about that.
I’m in the process of writing an article for the Nevada Historical Quarterly, and I’m looking forward to being able to do more of that, to do more writing about Nevada’s history, which I haven’t been able to do for several years. Now I can devote some time to that.
Q: Do you have any other comments?
It’s been such a tremendous honor to represent the hard-working men and women who are in this industry. I admire everyone who gets up super early in the morning and gets on that bus and does a tremendous day’s work. It’s been a real honor.