Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Editorial: Proposed ban on mining is for the birds
The announcement this week that the federal government had compiled data to be used in considering a ban on mining across 10 million acres of the Western United States raised the blood pressure of many local residents, although it should have come as no surprise.
This political end-run around the 1872 Mining Law originated last fall when the Obama administration announced out of one side of its mouth that the sage grouse did not warrant a listing under the Endangered Species Act, while out of the other side of its mouth it enacted a de facto “listing” in the form of massive land-use restrictions. Part of that policy was a two-year ban on mining across 10 million acres, including a large slice of northern Nevada along the Oregon and Idaho border.
The data released this week by the USGS was compiled over the past year and will be used to justify any or all mining closures for the next 20 years. The temporary closures have already impacted Western Exploration LLC and Quantum Minerals LLC, which along with Elko County and Nevada’s Attorney General are suing the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has taken the opposite approach, working with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to lessen the impact of restrictions. In January, he proposed swapping about one-fifth of the withdrawn area – about 555,000 acres — for 394,000 alternative acres considered to be more critical habitat for grouse.
The maps released this week show two new chunks in Nevada as a result of the governor’s intervention. The Nevada additions “were identified by the state of Nevada as substitute areas to be considered for withdrawal in lieu of other areas within the boundary of the Sagebrush Focal Areas,” stated the USGS.
Last month the governor also announced a deal between the Interior Department and Newmont Mining Corp. that allows continued mining in exchange for sagebrush landscape conservation across 1.5 million acres under Nevada’s Conservation Credit System (CCS).
...Keeping big mining companies like Newmont in business is important for northeastern Nevada, but it’s hard to overestimate the impact federal restrictions will have on smaller companies with less lobbying power, such as those that were exploring for gold in northern Elko County before the ban.
There is no question that Nevada has a wealth of minerals, as do other states in the sagebrush zone. Besides gold, the USGS assessment also looks at antimony, barite, bentonite, copper, gemstone, gypsum, hectorite, lead, lithium, mercury, molybdenum, opal, silver, sunstone, tungsten, uranium, zeolite and zinc.
America needs to keep mining essential minerals to avoid dependence on other countries, and reasonable policies are needed to balance the impacts of mineral extraction with other public land uses...