Open-pit mining accounts for 90 percent of mining operations in Nevada, with the majority of gold extracted by two of the largest transnational mining corporations in the world, Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining. Last year Nevada mining corporations raked in 6.4 billion dollars in profits for their CEOs and shareholders.
Nevada is undoubtably rich in natural resources, ranking fourth in the world in gold production. So why isn’t that wealth reflected in our public schools and social services? Mining’s power and influence over lawmakers means that much of that wealth leaves the state, as the industry pays effective state tax rate of just 1 percent to the general fund. The 1872 Mining Law, which is still in effect today, allows corporations to dig up billions in valuable hard rock minerals from public land without paying the federal royalties charged to other non-renewable resources like oil, gas and coal.
Hard rock mining also comes with a high environmental cost. The more than 30 gold and silver mines currently in operation throughout state are polluting public and indigenous lands and depleting water resources at an alarming rate. Nevada’s continued dependence on an extractive economy, especially gold mining which is particularly wasteful and unnecessary, must change in order to truly address the climate crisis.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Nevada ranks fourth in the U.S. for levels of toxic chemicals released in the environment and 97 percent is caused by gold and silver mines. The top five polluters are gold mines owned by Barrick and Newmont. Nevada is also home to nine of the top 10 mercury producing mines in the U.S. As a result, 34 of Nevada rivers, streams and reservoirs are contaminated with toxic levels of mercury – an almost two-fold increase since 2006.
No matter how advanced the technology, no gold mine can operate sustainably or without irreparable consequences. We must ask ourselves: What is more important for future generations: water or gold?
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