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September 3, 2015

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Romney doesn’t stake out detailed position on hard rock mining royalties

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Christopher DeVargas

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval at right, address supporters during a campaign rally at a local business, Tuesday May 29, 2012.

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Miners set off a blast at the PABCO Gypsum mine near Lake Mead during an earth science workshop for teachers Wednesday, April 4, 2012. The workshops are sponsored by the Nevada Mining Association and the Nevada Division of Minerals.

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In an op-ed printed last week in the Elko Daily Free Press, Gov. Brian Sandoval took President Barack Obama to task for proposed mining taxes he said would “be devastating for those of us in Nevada.”

It’s a theme Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign has played on repeatedly in an effort to continue galvanizing the rural vote.

In short, when Obama campaigned in Nevada four years ago, he promised to protect the mining industry from regulation and taxes that would stunt its ability to generate jobs in rural Nevada. Now, Obama’s administration has proposed a 5 percent royalty on the mining of public lands and a dirt tax to fund reclamation efforts.

Romney’s campaign was quick to call Obama a flip-flopper.

But what about Romney? What’s his position on the 1872 mining law that gives mining companies royalty-free access to public lands?

Republicans and Democrats largely agree that the 1872 law, passed at a time when the federal government wanted to encourage expansion of the fledgling industry, is outmoded and no longer fits an industry dominated by large multinational corporations.

Unlike Obama, Romney—and his campaign—has been consistent in answering questions about his approach to the 1872 hard rock mining law. But that doesn’t mean Romney has actually provided any kind of details about what he would do as president if confronted with a reform bill.

In 2007, Romney gave the Reno Gazette-Journal a rather nondescript answer to the question.

“The last bill on mining was from, what? 1872? Signed by Ulysses Grant. There’s been some suggestion we should look at that again,” he said. “That is something you want to do in discussion with people who understand the business and are closest to it.

“I don’t have a series of changes I would make to mining laws. I do want to make sure we don’t have any individuals with a bone to pick or some kind of a radical agenda in some way hurting the mining industry.”

This summer, when the Romney campaign began pointing out Obama’s inconsistencies on the subject, the Sun asked for details on his approach to hard rock mining. The question was bumped up the campaign chain to the policy people and apparently lost in the busy campaign shuffle at the time.

But it was early and the potential existed for an interview with the candidate himself, so it wasn’t pursued.

This election cycle, however, has been notable for the sheer dearth—so far anyway—of presidential campaign visits to rural counties. Four years ago, both tickets visited Elko, Carson City and other towns. This year, neither ticket has ventured very far out of Las Vegas or Reno.

One more thing neither presidential candidate has done much of this year: talk to Nevada newspaper reporters.

Romney last talked to the Sun the week of the presidential primary debate in Las Vegas one year ago. That’s also the last time he did an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

He hasn’t spoken with the Reno Gazette-Journal either.

Obama has thrown a few bones to the print press, doing a brief roundtable with a group of rural newspaper reporters on a trip to Reno this summer.

So, so far, there's been no opportunity to ask Romney what he would do as president with hard rock mining. That means reporters have been reliant on the campaign’s policy advisors and spokespeople for an answer on such topics.

And on mining, they stayed true to Romney’s 2007 form.

“Gov. Romney is open to reforming the law, but unlike the President, wouldn’t propose taxes or policies that would threaten the competitiveness of our mining industry or hamper job creation,” spokesman Mason Harrison said in a statement on Thursday. “Mining has been one of the few bright spots in Nevada’s economy and it would be a mistake to single that industry out with actions that would cost jobs when Nevada is facing an unemployment rate above 12 percent.

“Gov. Romney will work with Congress to implement pro-growth policies that will make our businesses more competitive and help get Americans back to work.”

Consistent? Yes. Detailed? No.

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