Thursday, November 08, 2007

Obama Panders to Nevada Voters

In one of most annoying attempts at pandering so far this election cycle, Barack Obama has come out against changing the General Mining Act of 1872. This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to appeal to voters in the Nevada primary. Obama claims, ''What is clear to me is that the legislation that has been proposed places a significant burden on the mining industry and could have a significant impact on jobs." This is hogwash. Obama is simply repeating typical industry anti-tax propaganda. So long as the minerals are there, people are going to mine them. Paying a 4 to 8% surtax is not going to make much of a difference.

Obama is showing a marked lack of principle here. The 1872 Mining Act is one of the nation's worst laws. Environmentalists have been fighting it for decades. It allows mining companies to rape the land and pay next to nothing to the government. When mining companies stake a claim, they have to pay about $5 an acre to the government. It doesn't matter how much gold, uranium, silver, or whatever is underneath. $5 an acre. It amounts to the nation giving away its minerals to private companies for free.

Why does such a stance work in Nevada? I would argue that Nevada, particularly outside of Las Vegas, is right there with Wyoming as the most western of the western states. A lot of Nevada's residents both support the mining industry and think they can get rich by staking claims themselves. They think that when they hit it big, they don't want to pay a bunch of money to the government. Of course, none of them are going to hit it rich. It's like the lottery. But it still drives a lot a westerners' mentalities. Nevada also is the nation's biggest gold producing state and is a leader for many other minerals as well.

The House passed a bill last week reforming this absurd law. Bush has promised to veto the measure. It won't get that far anyway because Harry Reid opposes it as a good Nevadan.

I highly recommend this 2001 Seattle Public-Intelligencer article about the Mining Act. It provides an excellent overview of the insane giveaway of public land to mining companies, the wealth made off mining, and the environmental cost.

I have a hard time taking Obama seriously on environmental issues at this point. Reforming the Mining Act should be a fundamental issue for any candidate who is environmentally minded. But I guess theoretically offending Nevada voters is not worth it. He could have at least sat the issue out rather than pander to the worst political leanings of the American West.