In Case You Missed It, the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council and the secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, Rob Benner, highlighted the importance of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) legislation to protect rural Nevada’s economy, union jobs, and working families in The Nevada Independent.
Senator Cortez Masto’s bill, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, would address the recent Rosemont judicial decision, which could upend responsible mining projects by prohibiting mining-support activities, like waste or processing, on lands that do not contain economically valuable minerals. The decision is a significant departure from long-held mining practices and, without congressional action, could threaten critical mineral projects across the West.
The Nevada Independent: Rural Nevadans depend on mining for good-paying jobs
By Rob Benner, 06/03/2023
Since before the Civil War, Nevada’s mining industry has been an outsized part of our state’s economy. There’s a reason we’re both the Silver State and the Battle Born State. It’s because the discovery of $400 million of silver in the Comstock Lode in 1859 — and our subsequent graduation to statehood in 1864 — paid the way for the Union to win the Civil War.
Even though our state found its beginnings within mining in the Civil War era, we’ve advanced far beyond those early days of our history. Nevada leads the nation in 21st century mining operations and regulatory oversight, and with these modern advancements, our state has a strong track record of mitigating impacts on the environment.
In addition, our state’s rich natural resources have consistently provided domestic value to the nation and have been a major source of good-paying union jobs with health care and high-quality benefits, especially in the rurals, where Nevadans don’t benefit from our state’s tourism economy nearly as much as our cities do.
Thanks to organized labor, mining has some of the best-paying jobs in rural Nevada. In a 2023 report, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development found that workers in Nevada’s mining sector made an average of $125,848 a year. That’s vastly higher than Nevada’s overall average wage of $55,490 across all sectors.
For every mining job, approximately four other jobs provide goods and services used by the mining industry. This means that for every mining job Nevada loses, we’d stand to lose four more jobs downstream.
Unfortunately, last year’s Rosemont decision threatens our state’s economy and the thousands of good-paying union jobs rural Nevadans have because of mining. The Rosemont decision, which was made by just two federal judges, requires a mining company to prove that all public land they intend to use for their mining operation, including lands set to be used for non-mining purposes like waste rock storage and tailing piles, must be proven to have commercially valuable resources.
The problem is, it makes no economic sense for miners to use land that has commercially valuable minerals for sites where they don’t actually plan to do any mining. This court decision unnecessarily prevents mining operations from moving forward.
People who support the Rosemont decision seem to miss the fact that mining is how thousands of Nevadans provide for their families. That’s something Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto understands — and why, after my organized labor colleagues and I spoke to her about the consequences of this decision, she got to work to make sure Nevadans could keep their mining jobs.
Cortez Masto’s Mining Regulatory Clarity Act is hugely important if mining is going to continue anywhere in the United States, including here in Nevada. This bill would allow mining in rural Nevada to continue, with oversight from the Bureau of Land Management, as it has for decades.
This piece of legislation is essential for Nevada’s rural workers. If we stop mining here, we’re just off-shoring mining jobs to countries with low or no environmental safety regulations or worker protections. We have an ethical responsibility to safeguard our rural communities and protect the union workers who spend their days working hard to support their families.
If the congressional measure doesn’t pass, we risk losing not only those good-paying union jobs, but our rural communities themselves. Our state is already full of ghost towns. We don’t need any more.
Rural Nevadans, like everyone else in our state, want and deserve stable jobs so they can take care of their families and put food on the table. That’s why it’s so important that we support the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act. The Silver State — and all her people — depend on it.
Rob Benner is the secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada and the secretary-treasurer of the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council. He also serves on the executive board for the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the Governor’s Workforce Development Board, the Nevada Task Force on Worker Misclassification and the board of the Nevada Division of Industrial Relations.