Obama outlines rural Nevada plan

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he does not support mining reform legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives and would work to find a compromise that is more friendly to the mining industry.

"The legislation that has been proposed places a significant burden on the mining industry and could have a significant impact on jobs (in rural Nevada) given the difficulties the industry is already facing in maintaining its operations," Obama said during a conference call with Nevada reporters discussing his platform for rural Nevada.

Of the detailed, 11-page package of proposals, Obama stressed shoring up the mining industry, improving rural residents' access to health care and fighting "the scourge of methamphetamine."

The plan also includes supporting the state's right to regulate gaming, keeping Lake Tahoe blue, fighting wildfires, protecting ranchers and opposing the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

On guns, the plan states, "Obama believes that we can protect the rights of hunters and other lawful gun owners while still working to reduce gun violence."

Questions during the conference call revolved around legislation sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., that would for the first time alter federal mining laws enacted in 1872 and require hard-rock mining companies to pay royalties on the public lands they use.

Environmental groups support the legislation, but rural Nevada, which depends heavily on gold mining for its economic base, is deeply jittery about it. Obama said he will join Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in seeking legislation to update the old law but also "provide greater business certainty for the mining industry and the communities that depend on it."

Compromise legislation should include "fair" compensation for use of federal lands and should ensure that abandoned mine sites get cleaned up, Obama said. Rahall's bill would impose an 8 percent royalty on the gross proceeds of new hard-rock mines and a 4 percent tax on existing mines.

Asked about using bonds to make sure mine-site cleanup is done, Obama said, "I think that it's important for mining operators to be responsible stewards of the land. I am not wedded to bonds as the only way to ensure that that happens, but I think it's important that mining operators aren't able to simply engage in practices that over time can devastate surrounding communities."

Nevada has the world's fourth largest gold-mining economy, after South Africa, Australia and China.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.