Undercurrent

Dormant for years, mining oversight committee is getting resurrected

By: - September 7, 2021 4:02 pm
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The seven-member commission created by the Legislature in 2011 hasn’t met since 2015. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management, Nevada office)

A dormant committee originally created to ask tough questions about Nevada’s lucrative mining industry may soon be revived.

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced in a press release Tuesday that “progress has been made toward completing appointments” to the Mining Oversight and Accountability Commission. The seven-member commission was created by the Nevada State Legislature in 2011, but it currently has no members and has not met since 2015.

Sisolak indicated he intends to select Jerry Pfarr and Anthony Ruiz for the two seats he directly appoints. Pfarr is a retired vice president of Newmont Mining Corporation, which is the largest gold mining company in the world and the junior partner with Barrick Gold Mines in the Nevada Gold Mines joint venture, by far the most lucrative mining operator within the state. Pfarr retired in 2019 after more than two decades with the corporation, according to his LinkedIn page. Ruiz is the senior advisor of government relations and community affairs at Nevada State College.

Sisolak also announced he plans to appoint Jose Witt and Pamella Harrington, who were recommended by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, and Melissa Clary, who was recommended by Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro.

Witt is the executive director of the Southern Nevada Conservancy. Harrington is a Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited.

Clary, who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was appointed to MOAC in January 2018 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. However, no additional members were ever appointed and terms quietly expired. The commission last met in 2015.

After the five pending appointments are finalized, MOAC will still have two vacant seats. According to Sisolak’s statement, the process for filling those positions is still underway. One of the remaining positions will come from a recommendation from Cannizzaro. The other will be a recommendation from Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer.

Each commission member is appointed for a two-year term and may be reappointed.

When MOAC was created in 2011, the mining industry was under heavy scrutiny from state lawmakers and progressive advocates for its constitutionally protected low tax rate, which the industry has made lower still through extensive use of deductions, and which can often result in mining companies paying zero dollars toward the state general fund.

In 2014, a ballot question to remove the mining industry’s tax structure from the Nevada Constitution, allowing for the rates to be set by the Legislature as with other industries, was narrowly defeated by voters.

The mining industry saw a resurgence in criticism over the past two years, particularly as state coffers were devastated by the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Legislature created a new excise tax on gold and silver mining companies with more than $20 million in gross revenue annually and rerouted some existing mining taxes toward the K-12 education system.

However, progressive groups still contend the mining industry should be paying more.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.

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