Mining means business

IMLAY -- When Martin Price first started mining 30 years ago, he was 1,200 feet underground, a helmet headlight illuminating his pickax as he dug for precious ore.

Now when he mines, he stands high atop a ridge in the bright sun, wearing sunglasses as he stares into a gargantuan pit where six-story tall, $5.8 million electric shovels -- equipment powerful enough to fill two dump trucks with one scoop -- dig for gold and other minerals.

Mining trucks as large as two-story houses, with 3,400 horsepower engines, roar by at speeds that reach 45 mph.

"The tires on those trucks cost about $25,000 apiece," Price yells over the din made louder by a whistling wind.

Owned by Japan's Jipangu International, this gold mine 50 miles west of Winnemucca employs 115.

Before any earth removal began, satellite surveys and the latest geochemistry were used to see if gold deposits existed.

"We don't go on fishing expeditions," says Price, the 48-year-old president and CEO of Jipangu's Florida Canyon and Standard Mining.

"There are so many misinformed people around today that want to stop mining on the grounds of the environment," he says. "The truth is, you couldn't live without what mining produces. The industry today is environmentally conscious."

There is no doubt, he says, that he will be involved in the Republican presidential caucuses.

"All of us in mining have to be politically involved," Price says. "Not just to keep our jobs, but for the good of the country. Democrats want to put on so many restrictions that the industry wouldn't be profitable."

Mining is rural Nevada's largest industry. In 2004, it directly employed 11,690 people at an average wage of $63,388.

Vendors of goods and services to the industry produced another 51,000 jobs.

Every year, mining provides approximately $100 million in state tax revenue. With gold now soaring to around $900 an ounce, more mines could open.

Still, Price knows miners must continually fight public perception that their industry is always at odds with the environment and worker safety.

There is no question that there have been problems.

The state is tightening up standards for mercury emissions that endanger workers, pregnant mothers and children.

The EPA is currently involved in cleaning up a huge abandoned copper mine near Yerington. Studies found soil and groundwater had been contaminated with uranium, arsenic, beryllium, lead, mercury and selenium.

"We have to get our drinking water from Reno now," says Mary Stevens, a Paiute Indian who attended a recent practice caucus event in Yerington.

Last July, miner Dan Shaw was killed at an underground mine near Winnemucca when the ground caved in beneath the loader he was operating.

When Price shows up for the caucuses in Winnemucca, he may do what he often does when he is around nonminers: educate them about mining.

"You can't even brush your teeth without mining," he says. "Look it up."

Toothpaste contains limestone, phosphate, gypsum, selenite, fluorite and dolomite. Without products from mining, Price says, the only thing left of your home would be the mortgage.

And then he patiently ticks off the mining products that go into a house: Limestone, sand and gravel as well other minerals go into a home's foundation; windows contain silica; tiles and bricks are made of clay; gypsum is used in drywall; copper pipes carry water and copper wiring carries electricity; lime is found in carpets and linoleum contains calcium carbonate.

Price will caucus for Mitt Romney.

"I think he's a businessman who understands that without allowing mining to go forward in a profitable way, people would have to start living outside and going nowhere," he says.

"Don't tell me it's not safe. I've worked in the business for 30 years and never been involved in a serious injury or fatality. How many people in any industry can say that?"