Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives passed the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, legislation designed to reform the 1872 Mining Law. Many Nevadans have written to me with strong concerns about the House bill. I have heard your calls and want you to know that the House bill is just the beginning of the debate. Over the coming months, I will be working closely with my Senate colleagues in both parties to craft legislation that moves Nevada's mining industry forward, with good, reasonable improvements to our nation's mineral policies.
As the son of a hard rock miner, I know first hand what's at stake. Mining is the number one industry in rural Nevada and has been one of the primary economic drivers in our state for well over 100 years. Today, Nevada leads the country in mineral production with a record $4.9 billion worth of minerals produced from Nevada mines in 2006. This kind of production means good jobs, and lots of them. More than 11,000 people were directly employed by mining in Nevada last year with an average wage of almost $70,000, well above the state and national average.
And Nevada's mining matters well beyond our own borders. Globally, Nevada ranks near the top in terms of minerals production. In 2006, only South Africa, Australia and China produced more gold on an annual basis than our state. The gold, copper and other key metals that our mines produce are the raw materials for key technologies, telecommunications systems and other vital industries around the world.
During my time in Congress I have been proud to work with and defend the interests of Nevada's mining communities. A few times in the past, notably in 1994, efforts to reform the 1872 Mining Law have been seriously considered by Congress. But none of these efforts has struck the careful balance needed to win the support needed to become law.
I am hopeful that next year will be different. When members of the House of Representatives came to me in the spring to talk about the possibility of mining law reform, I asked that if they were serious about reform that they come to Elko to learn what mining looks like today. I was pleased when Congressman Jim Costa, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, took me up on that offer.
The hearing held in Elko this August - and accompanying tours of the local mines - brought real substance to the House debate. I was pleased to have the opportunity to testify at that field hearing. My message that day was a simple one. I told the crowd that I believe it is time to develop a comprehensive and modern national minerals policy that gives Nevada's mining families and mining towns the certainty that they deserve.
Because the current Mining Law is so old, written in 1872, much of the mining industry's activities are controlled through regulation, instead of law. What this means is that each new presidential administration is free to review and change that regulation as they see fit. Rather than leave our communities open to the whims of each passing administration, as is the case today, the time has come to make deliberate improvements to our nation's mining laws.
In the months ahead I will help craft bipartisan legislation that protects Nevada's mining towns, makes important improvements to the management of our public lands, and that provides a fair and reasonable return to our nation's taxpayers.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in both the Senate and House who care about mining, public lands and rural America to provide a new vision for industry and conservation in the West. When Congress succeeds in meeting this challenge, communities like Elko, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain and Ely will have a much brighter and more certain future.
• U.S. Sen. Harry Reid grew up in Searchlight and is the Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate. Prior to that, he had been a city attorney, a state legislator, lieutenant governor, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and a U.S. representative.