I recently went to the Elko Mining Expo and was pleased to see that the city is as alive and healthy as the entire state was in 2005 and 2006. Much of the equipment at the expo was U.S.-made-and purchased by mining operations — meaning that these products are indicative of jobs, which we still need a lot of here in Nevada and across the nation.
It was a wake-up call when state unemployment zoomed from 6 to 10 percent in 2009 and peaked at 14 percent in October 2010. After enduring three years of double-digit unemployment, it’s time to stop asking ourselves, “When will it end?” and start asking, “What will we do differently?”
If we are to see real, lasting change in Nevada, we must look strategically at our state’s strengths and utilize our inherent resources. By supporting legislation that could increase production of Nevada’s vast mineral resources, we can fuel innovation and manufacturing, and create stable, high-paying jobs that will improve our state economy and spur nationwide growth.
Nevada is the largest gold producer in the United States and the fourth-largest in the world, helping bring to market an essential element used in medical diagnostics, nanotechnology and computer circuitry. There are more than a dozen minerals mined in Nevada that are crucial in the development of cutting-edge technologies that represent the future of American business and manufacturing. Molybdenum, for example, which is to be produced at the General Moly mine in Eureka, is integral to wind turbines and other high-strength steel applications.
High demand for minerals offers resource-rich Nevada a unique opportunity. Mining is able to support 12,000 direct jobs at an average salary of $83,000; and every direct job generates four indirect positions. The Nevada Mining Association reports that in 2009, mining paid more than $204 million in state and local taxes alone, and generated $9.5 billion in economic activity — a sorely needed boost during some of our state’s darkest days.
But neither our state nor our nation can realize the full benefits minerals mining can bring — not when a federal mining permitting process characterized by muddled bureaucracy and unpredictable delays creates an unwelcoming business environment. For state lands under its control, the State of Nevada has established timely permitting processes that attract investment in mining and moves the economy forward.
In contrast, for millions of acres of federal lands in Nevada and the rest of the United States, our federal government has allowed the permitting problem to fester to the point that our share of global mining investment has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past 20 years. Minerals exist in several of our counties with higher unemployment rates, so just a little action from federal bureaucrats could turn more of rural Nevada into thriving places like Elko.
If we are to produce the minerals that will propel the economies of both our nation and still-struggling state, we must support the development of a more efficient federal mining permitting process. Rep. Mark Amodei has introduced H.R. 4402, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012,” to address this barrier to growth. His bill would help establish a more efficient federal permitting process, a standardized regulatory framework, and timely reviews that will attract investment and help increase production of U.S. minerals-all while maintaining the most stringent environmental safeguards in the world.
This dismal employment situation has haunted Nevada long enough. By supporting Rep. Amodei’s bill for minerals mining permitting reform, Nevadans can take a simple, immediate step to create job opportunities, fuel innovation and manufacturing, and put much of Nevada on track for a sustained, but different path to economic growth.
Ray Bacon is the executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association.