• Mining’s Toxic Legacy

    Testimony to be given by PLAN Executive Director Bob Fulkerson to the Nevada Legislative Joint Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday February 12, 2013

     

    Mining’s Toxic Legacy

    Any lingering doubts about mining’s toxic legacy should be dismissed in light of recent actions by federal regulators against Nevada’s gold mining industry.

     

    Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency released its annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) showing that in 2011, mining counted for 98% of the of 529 million pounds of toxic chemicals that were dumped released into Nevada’s land, water and air. The massive quantities of earth moved for mining — and the exposure of elements and compounds once safely underground and separated from air and water — starts a chemical chain reaction of long-term, and in fact unending, pollution to our streams, rivers and lakes. Mining has released more toxics than any industrial sector by a wide margin, for decades. But while other industries, abiding new regulations, have begun to lower their pollution levels, the pollution of the under-regulated mining industry continues to increase.

     

    Shortly after the TRI report, the Environmental Protection Agency caught Barrick Gold lying about under-reporting the amount of toxics it had released in Nevada, assessing a fine of. $618,000.

     

    The mining industry’s under-reporting of toxic releases is not new. The Idaho Statesman reported five years ago:

     

    “The owners of Jerritt Canyon Mine near Elko, Nev., had claimed to have voluntarily cut 97 percent of mercury emissions between 1998 and 2005. The pollutant falls into water and accumulates in fish and can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in babies and young children. But tests conducted as part of Nevada’s new mandatory mercury control program in 2006 showed emissions near 1998′s levels.”

     

    As a result, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection took the unprecedented action of shutting down the mine until it installed better mercury emission control equipment.

     

    We might never know how many other mines are currently or have in the past under-reported mercury emissions. According to the NDEP:

     

    In Nevada the largest source of atmospheric mercury is caused from processing gold through precious metal mines operations. Once mercury is released into the atmosphere through smokestacks and processing emissions, it can travel long distances, settle on soil and wash into lakes and rivers.

     

    Mercury in lakes and rivers is converted into methyl mercury by certain bacteria. Fish ingest methyl mercury by swimming or feeding in contaminated water. Methyl mercury accumulates in fish tissue and is carried up the food chain to larger fish, animals and humans. Methyl mercury is dangerous because the concentration of methyl mercury increases as it goes up the food chain.”

     

    What we do know is that shortly after EPA fined Barrick, it turned its attention on Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. EPA called on the state agency to list an additional 19 streams, lakes, rivers, including Ruby and Comins Lakes, the Owyhee River, Wildhorse and South Fork Reservoirs to the methyl mercury fish warning list.

     

    As a result of mercury contamination from Nevada’s mines, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has issued Methyl Mercury Health Advisories for more than 90% of Nevada waters. Some of these water bodies were contaminated from historic mining on the Comstock when we didn’t know any better. But others were added more recently, in large part because of the massive amounts of mercury Nevada mines are pumping out.

     

    Between 2006-2011, Nevada mines reported emitting into our air 20,215 pounds of mercury compounds. Guess where they end up? In our fish, in our kids and in us, as well as our neighbors in Idaho andUtah. Is this how mining is supposed to work for Nevada?

     

    I used to live on the Tonkin Ranch, and every day we’d catch and eat Rainbow trout from the Tonkin Reservoir. Today, thanks to modern mining, if you eat more than one Rainbow per week from there you’re in danger of mercury contamination. That is mining’s toxic legacy for Nevada.

     

    With the price of gold approaching $1,700 per ounce, we can expect many more massive gold mining operations and increased production, with attendant increases in the amount of mercury and other toxics released into our air, precious water supplies and public lands. We recognize that mercury air emissions from thermal sources have been reduced, compared to what was emitted 10 years ago, but there is still a long way to go, particularly from fugitive emissions.

     

    Would we applaud a husband who now only beats his wife 3 instead of 5 times a week? No. We call for full regulation, monitoring and reporting of the large amount of additional fugitive mercury emissions from sources currently neither recognized nor monitored by NDEP: tailings impoundments and heaps. The industry should be challenged to develop ways of reducing emissions from these and other sources.

     

    Based on research conducted at UNR, we now know that mercury emissions from tailings facilities and active heap leach operations now probably double the amount of mercury being released into the air, compared to that reported under NDEP requirements   The technology exists to decrease mercury air pollution from these sources, but neither the mining industry or the NDEP seems to care.

     

    We rightfully market our state as one of incredible natural beauty and unparalleled outdoor opportunities. But how are we going to lure anglers and other outdoor tourists here when they learn that, because of methyl mercury contamination from Nevada’s mines, the Department of Wildlife has placed fish consumption limits on all but seven out of 116 waters in eastern and western Nevada? And how much worse will it be 25, 50 or 100 years from now after Barrick and Newmont have left Nevada, and all we have to show for their presence here are massive pits, undrinkable water and contaminated fish?

     

    It’s well past time to take a hard look at the colossal legacy of toxic pollution being created every day in Nevada by a handful of companies, and high time to control it.

     

     

  • Nevada Mining Fact Sheet

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    Nevada Mining Fact Sheet

     

    Sweetheart Tax Deals

    • Senate Joint Resolution 15, which passed in the 2011 session, would allow Nevada voters to decide whether mining’s tax loopholes should continue to be chiseled in the stone of the state constitution. Currently legislators have no flexibility and cannot adjust the Net Proceeds on Minerals Tax based on a more equitable tax load compared to our non-extractive industries. S.J.R. 15, would allow the voters to decide whether legislators should have that flexibility.

     

    • Trans-national mining conglomerates took $8.76 billion in gold from Nevada in 2011, and paid a total of $104 million to the state general fund under the mining tax, an effective tax rate of 1.187%. In 2010, they mined $6.64 billion in gold, and paid $71.7 million in taxes, an effective tax rate of 1.079%. (Nevada Department of Taxation)

     

    •  Mining does pay sales tax and they pay certain property taxes—but not on the value of the mine or their mining claims. Renters, the unemployed, and minimum wage workers also pay sales and property taxes. But gold mining is different, so it should be taxed differently. Once that gold is gone, it’s gone forever. The money will be in Canada and other foreign countries, leaving Nevada with clean up costs and massive pits.

     

    •  Three of the five largest mines in Nevada are foreign-owned. The second largest mine in the world, and the most profitable mine in the world, is owned by Barrick corporation, based in Canada. This single mine will exceed $1 billion in profits in 2012, having reaped $500 million in the second quarter and $313 million in the third quarter of 2012 alone.

     

    •  Barrick pays next to nothing in taxes on the huge windfall profits from the world’s most profitable gold mine—paying a mere 1% on gross production value in taxes to Nevada’s General Fund in 2010, according to the state’s 2010-11 net proceeds of minerals tax (NPOM) bulletin.

     

    •  In 2011, Barrick didn’t pay any net proceeds tax on $120 million of gold produced at its Bald Mountain mine, and nor did Veris on the $105 million it produced at its Jerritt Canyon mine. The price of gold in 2011 $1920.70. But Jerritt’s special — it’s only paid net proceeds in one of the last six years, two of the last eight.

     

    • According to a 2011 report from the Fraser Institute, a highly respected international research firm, Nevada is one of the most stable, mineral-rich, least-taxed places to mine on the planet.  Making mining pay what they pay in other states or countries would not cause them to suffer or abandon operations here.

     

    • 111 times over ten years, one Nevada gold mine or another claimed that gold produced at that mine had no taxable value. As a result, more than $4.3 billion was produced at gold mines where the mines paid no mining taxes whatsoever.

     

    •  Some of mining’s sweetheart tax loopholes that were closed in 2011 will sunset unless the 2013 Legislature acts. Transnational mining conglomerates will again be able to double-dip and claim health deductions from both the Modified Business Tax AND the Net Proceeds on Minerals. As a result, the Economic Forum predicts that the general fund contributions from the mining tax will shrink from $117 million in 2012 to $95 million in 2015-in spite of increases in both production and the price of gold.

     

    • Barrick Mining gave more than $30,000 to the Keystone Corporation, one of the most strident anti-tax groups in the state, even while their lobbyists were saying they wanted to contribute to Nevada’s tax discussions.

     

    •  According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, removing mining’s sweetheart tax status from the Constitution will in no way change how mining is currently taxed. The Net Proceeds on Mining Tax, which is contained in NRS 362.140, remains unchanged under SJR 15.

     

    •   Producers of oil, gas and coal on U.S. public lands might pay state severance taxes – effectively a tax on gross value – of as much as 6 or 7 percent, plus federal mineral royalties that might be as high as 16 percent, plus state corporate income taxes. In Wyoming, the total tax load on a mineral producer can be as high as 25 or 30% on the value of minerals.

     

    • In the Dominican Republic, Barrick can easily afford a 36.95% tax rate. In 2012 Barrick will start paying 3.2 percent of gross production, 25 percent for income tax and 8.75 percent from net earnings. This will amount to $11 billion in tax revenue from one mine.

     

    1872 Mining Law

     

    •  Thanks to federal law established during the administration of Ulysses Grant in 1872, Nevada gold producers pay no federal mineral royalties whatsoever. And of course, the corporations mining Nevada’s gold pay no Nevada state corporate income tax.

     

    Barrick paid $5 per acre when it patented approximately 1,000 acres of public land in Nevada that contained more than $10 billion in recoverable gold reserves, under the 1872 Mining Law.

     

    •  An estimated 424,000 acres of public land in Nevada – an area more than half the size of Yosemite National Park– have already been sold to private interests for either $2.50 or $5.00 per acre. This subsidized sale of public lands is allowed under the federal 1872 Mining Law.

     

    • The General Accounting Office reports that multi-national gold mining conglomerates refuse to provide figures for the amount of gold and other minerals they take from public lands belonging to all the people. But it is estimated that $2.4 billion hardrock metals alone are taken from public lands every year.

     

     

     

     

    Impacts on Great Basin Native American Communities

     

    •  The discovery of the Comstock lode in 1859 began the first chapter of mining’s extreme impacts on Native American people in Nevada, bringing new diseases, racism, displacement, loss of hunting and gathering areas, and other forms of violence. In one form or another, this continues into the 21st century.

     

    •  The Western Shoshone consider Mt. Tenabo in central Nevada a sacred place figuring back to their creation stories. Today, Barrick mining is tearing it down; it is the second-largest and most profitable gold mine in the world.

     

    •  One of the newest mines in Nevada, the Mt. Hope Molybdenum Mine, will result in the complete elimination of Mt. Hope and surrounding forests, a pine nut and food gathering source used by the Western Shoshone for millennia.

     

    •  Because of mining pollution, members of the Yerington Paiute Tribe cannot drink the water on their reservation; it could kill them.

     

    Land, Water and Wildlife Impacts

     

    • According to the US EPA, a total of 529 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into Nevada’s land, water and air during 2011. Mining accounted for 98% of these releases. Seven of the10 biggest polluters in Nevada are mines owned by transnational mining conglomerates Barrick and Newmont.

     

    •  Nevada Department of Wildlife scientists and wildlife advocates are gravely concerned that Barrick’s fast-track expansion of its massive Bald Mountain Mine northwest of Ely will cut off the north-south migratory route for 23% of Nevada’s deer population. The decline in herd health and numbers from separating the deer from water and food sources in summer and winter seasons is unknown at this time, but thought to be significant. Yet, Barrick has been unwilling to accommodate mule deer corridors that would allow safe passage.

     

    •  Newmont’s Long Canyon Mine in the Pequop Range (which rivals Carlin Trend for the presence of smoke-particle sized gold) will wreak havoc with lands that should be designated wilderness, Another mine proposed for the South Pequops will detract from wilderness experience in the adjacent Wilderness Study Area.

     

    •  Massive pit lakes are being created in Nevada, almost all of which will have questionable water quality, and effectively none of these lakes are being planned for future public access and use.   These pit lakes represent a large loss of groundwater from surface evaporation, and that loss will affect water availability and spring water production for centuries.

     

    •  The massive quantities of earth moved for mining — and the exposure of elements and compounds once safely underground to air and water — starts a chemical chain reaction that is  known to pollute our streams, rivers and lakes over the long term for centuries.

     

    •  EPA estimates that more than 40 percent of western watersheds have been contaminated with mine waste. U.S. taxpayers took on $2.6 billion in Superfund and other federal cleanup of mines in the past decade — and are on the hook for an estimated $50 billion more.

     

    •  Meantime, every year the industry takes billions in gold and other hardrock minerals without compensating taxpayers as a whole, states like Nevada, or covering cleanup costs.

     

    Taxpayers Picking Up the Costs

     

    •  The General Accounting Office has expressed strong concerns about inadequate reclamation bonding in Nevada: “We determined that 57 hardrock operations (in 12 western states) had inadequate financial assurances—amounting to about $24 million less than needed to fully cover estimated reclamation costs.” GAO, Abandoned Mines: Information on the Number of Hardrock Mines, Cost of Cleanup, and Value of Financial Assurances, GAO-11-834T (Washington, D.C.: July 14, 2011).

     

    • Nevada’s share of that $24 million is $23,853,662 (more than 99.4% of the total of the 12 western states.)

     

    • Approximately 30-40% of mining in Nevada is on public lands, which belongs to the people of the United States.  And 75% Long Canyon mine pit area, the newest massive gold mine in Nevada, is on public land. gold discovery

     

    •  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the cost for cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines could run as high as $54 billion. Much of that cost could ultimately be borne by U.S. taxpayers.

     

    Worker Safety Concerns

     

    • As reported in the Elko Daily Free Press, “three gold miners died in Nevada in 2008, compared with two miners in 2007 and a zero death toll in 2006. The highest number of deaths at Nevada mines in recent years occurred in 1999, when nine miners died.”

    •  At one Barrick mine alone (Meikle Mine in Carlin) a total of seven workers have died since 1994. In the most recent fatalities, which occurred August 12, 2010, Mine Safety and Health Administration faulted managers for negligence.

    •  In May, 2011, the US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) ordered Barrick to pay a $70,000 fine for violating worker safety at its Goldstrike mine in Eureka County.

    •  In November, 2011, MSHA cited Jerritt Canyon Mill, finding that 13 of the 14 actions against the mill concerned “significant and substantial” violations that could result in serious injury or illness. MSHA issued orders to withdraw miners from certain areas of the mine.

     

    •  In spite of record profits by gold mining corporations, Nevada still lacks funds to pay for mine safety inspectors and top-educated and experienced mining tax auditors.

     

    •  Nevada has plenty of funds for 10 staff at the Division of Minerals, which exists to protect and advocate for mining corporations and which is overseen by a commission that includes mostly people on the payroll of extractive industries.

     

    Conclusion

     

    According to former Nevada State Archivist and historian Guy Rocha, the mining industry of Nevada Territory was so opposed to the level of mineral extraction taxation in the draft Nevada constitution of 1864, it compelled the constitutional delegates to draft new language that was much more favorable to the mining industry. Today, mining still bullies lawmakers in order to protect its unique and generous tax advantages.

     

    In Nevada, 90% of mining is from gold, and 90% of gold mined is from two transnational mining conglomerates, Barrick and Newmont.  Not surprisingly, their campaign contributions dwarf those of all other mining corporations combined. The Nevada Mining Association is the 3rd-largest contributor. They made big investments in lawmakers in 2012 and are now expecting to be repaid by having SJR 15 killed in the 2013 session.

     

    It’s time for mining’s free ride to end.

  • Nevada Home Owners Stand Up for Justice

    Legislative Town Hall Jan 30On Wednesday PLAN hosted a Legislative Town Hall for struggling home owners in Southern Nevada. Our own state happens to be home to one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Banks in America have often times (if not always) made the matter even worse. How many times have we heard the stories of underwater homeowners trying to work with their banks to fix their drowning mortgages, only to get the run around.

    That’s exactly what happened to Elizabeth of Sun Valley native in Northern Nevada. She has been trying to work with her bank since 2009 to no avail, including four failed attempts to fix her mortgage with her bank. They’ve even “lost” her paperwork. Elizabeth now fears that one day she won’t have a home to go to.

    It’s stories like Elizabeth that inspires me to organize for home owners.

    More than 40 members of the community turned out for PLAN’s legislative town hall. Included in the panel were Nevada State Senators Tick Segerblom & Justin Jones, along with Venicia Considine from Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Others in attendance included Leslie Lewis from Senator Harry Reid’s office who handed out flyers for their upcoming Housing Helpdesk event this Saturay, Christina Tetreault from Consumers Union, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, and Brian DeMarzio representing Congresswoman Dina Titus.

    Leg Townhall 2013-2

    As I welcomed everyone into the town hall, I pointed to the three story boards displayed around the room that highlighted many of the stories we collected from struggling home owners. The stories ranged from people seeking a principal reduction to people who have already had their house foreclosed. It was a chilling reminder of what Nevadans have gone through since the collapse of the market. The story boards had a real effect on the state senators; Senator Segerblom kept referencing back to them when he talked about his bill proposals.

    We were especially pleased to have Venicia explain the proposed Home Owners Bill of Rights (a more in depth post on the HOBOR to come later). Venicia is an invaluable resource and Nevada is really lucky to have someone like her fighting on behalf of the community.

    After Senators Segerblom and Jones & Venicia finished their opening remarks, the town hall was open for  Q&A from the audience. Teresa’s story is what brought the entire town hall into perspective. Teresa is a school teacher in Las Vegas, NV who has been living in her car for the past couple days. Her home is about to be foreclosed and she is a single mother of two. She tried asking then-Senator Ensign and Governor Sandoval for help but was told that Nevada “has no jurisdiction” on her bank. Which begs to ask the question: why were they doing business in the state of Nevada if they’re not even a registered business entity here? Emotions ran high and I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the room once she finished telling her story. I actually got a call from her an hour and a half before the town hall asking if she could attend even though she’ll be a bit late. Teresa just got done teaching a class before attending. Thankfully, Teresa was connected with people who might be able to help her out.

    Leg Townhall 2013-1

    I hope that we won’t have to hear stories Teresa’s; no one, especially an educator, should have to go through this. But until then, we’ll have to fight harder on behalf of home owners. The audience agree, legislation is just part of the solution. We have to do our part to make sure that the stories of people already affected by this housing crisis aren’t forgotten and serve as a reminder that the road to economic justice is a long one, but with the help of our fellow activists we will get there.

    -Christopher Preciado

    Organizer, PLAN