Commentary

Mining’s supporters should be thanking, not blasting Cortez Masto

January 11, 2022 5:50 am

Like Harry Reid before her, Catherine Cortez Masto has assured the industry that Nevada will remain a mining colony. Unfortunately. (Photo: Ken LundCC BY-SA 2.0)

Demar Dahl is a Republican rancher in Elko County who served on the county commission through 2020 before he was termed out. Last week he wrote a guest column in the Elko Daily Free Press praising Adam Laxalt and scorning Catherine Cortez Masto.

I know what you’re thinking: So what? 

Here’s what. Dahl got a bunch of stuff really wrong, including but not limited to stuff regarding something a former chair of the Elko County Commission would be expected to know something about: mining policy and politics.

“When Democrats in Congress tried to impose a royalty on miners, Cortez Masto indicated her support for doing so. She only reversed course after Adam Laxalt called her out for failing to protect our mining industry,” Dahl wrote.

No.

When Democrats in Congress tried to impose a royalty on miners, Cortez Masto got Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman and fellow Democrat Joe Manchin to schedule a hearing precisely so Cortez Masto could publicly demonstrate that a federal mining royalty was absolutely positively not going to happen.

At that committee hearing in October, Barrick Gold Corporation’s general counsel, Rich Haddock, “indicated support,” as Dahl put it, for establishing a federal mineral royalty. And that support was conditioned on the royalty being structured exactly like Nevada’s mining tax, to make sure Barrick could deduct its way out of fair taxation with the feds just like it does with Nevada.

That kid-gloves treatment is a far cry from the federal mineral royalty that a large majority of congressional Democrats wanted to pass – and that Cortez Masto squashed like a bug. Just like her predecessor Harry Reid did time and again while in the Senate.

Over the course of the hearing, Cortez Masto, Manchin, a few other senators (from both parties) and a National Mining Association lobbyist also “indicated support” for a vague mineral royalty compromise modeled after Nevada’s mining tax. The mining industry has been making that offer for decades, whenever a federal mineral royalty comes up. The last Republican in the U.S. Senate, Dean Heller, is on record favoring a federal royalty that mirrors Nevada’s tax. 

And no one’s serious about it. Cortez Masto wasn’t serious about it. It’s all a ruse designed to make the transnational mining conglomerates look like “good corporate citizens.” The industry, royalty advocates, and her colleagues all know that as long as Cortez Masto is in the Senate, a federal mineral royalty is toast. Unfortunately.

When Dahl asserts Cortez Masto “only reversed course” after the mighty Adam Laxalt made her do so, Dahl is demonstrating that he’s either clueless about what “course” was being taken in the first place, or he’s deliberately mischaracterizing Cortez Masto and her position.

If it’s the former, Dahl can relax. Cortez Masto has made it crystal clear she will do everything in her – considerable on this issue – power to shield Nevada’s mining corporations from ever paying a federal mineral royalty. Like Reid before her, she has assured the industry that Nevada will remain a mining colony. Unfortunately. 

If it’s the latter, Dahl was deliberately twisting Cortez Masto’s position with no regard for the truth or facts.

There’s reason to believe it’s the latter. Dahl is one of the “Laxalt Leaders,” that is, among the more more than 30 Laxalt campaign “co-chairs.” Presumably such luminaries don’t place guest columns without at least running them by the campaign first. And if any enterprise is likely to have scant if any regard for facts and truth, history has shown it would be any enterprise involving Laxalt.

(At least Dahl has the courtesy and respect to call Nevada’s senior senator by her name, Catherine “Cortez Masto.” Laxalt, ill-mannered whelp that he is, routinely refers to her merely as “Masto.” Being an elitist product of upper-tier American white male privilege, Laxalt would probably prefer not to remind voters that Cortez Masto is, by contrast, the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.)

If Dahl and other mining-loving rural Nevadans sincerely doubt Cortez Masto’s unwavering support for and fealty to the industry, they should double check with Barrick Gold Corporation’s general counsel, Rich Haddock. While they’re at it, they should ask Haddock why he “indicated support” for a federal mineral royalty at that Senate hearing in October.

They might also check in with National Mining Association President Rich Nolan, who was recently quoted in Energy & Environment Daily describing Cortez Masto as “a great champion for the miners in her state.” Or maybe mining’s supporters could get in touch with Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray, who in the same story applauded Cortez Masto’s scuttling of the federal mineral royalty. “What you see is a desire to put jobs ahead of politics,” Gray said.

House Democrats passed the mineral royalty provision last year. It was perhaps the closest Congress has ever come to enacting long-overdue reforms of federal mining law since the extremely mining-friendly statute was enacted during the administration of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.

And according to the mining reform bill’s leading congressional sponsor, Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, Cortez Masto “almost single-handedly” killed it.

Positive statements to trade journals are literally the least the industry can do. Cortez Masto had mining’s back in Congress. Barrick, Newmont and their mining association lobbyists should return the favor, and publicly call out Laxalt and his campaign for deliberately trying to mislead rural Nevada voters.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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