Nothing should rank higher among our priorities today than protecting the jobs we have throughout Nevada and encouraging the creation of new ones.
We haven't seen this level of unemployment in 25 years. Our housing crisis affects people in all parts of the state, and it's made worse as people lose jobs. Nevada's families face unprecedented challenges, and I keep this in mind when considering any legislation.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, my colleague from New Mexico, recently introduced legislation aimed at reforming the 1872 Mining Law. The legislation is more moderate than proposals that have been seen in the House of Representatives in recent years, but it still needs work.
I have made clear to my fellow senators that I stand ready to engage in this important debate as long as our goal is to find a reasonable middle ground and to protect the long-term interests of Nevada's mining families. As the son of a hardrock miner, these are issues that I know and care about a great deal.
Mining brings crucial jobs to our state. It is the No. 1 industry in rural Nevada and it has always played a central role in our state's economy. Today, Nevada leads the country in mineral production with a $9.1 billion annual output. Nearly 14,000 people were directly employed by mining in Nevada last year, with an average wage of just more than $70,000 per year.
Jobs are hard enough to come by today, especially ones that pay enough to raise a family and put a roof over their heads. These are jobs that must be protected and encouraged.
The conversations currently taking place about mining law reform are certainly not new. Revision of our mining laws has been a regular topic for more than 100 years. During my time in Congress, I have fought against and defeated many ill-conceived reform efforts that would have hurt rural Nevada.
Reform is still possible, though, as long as it strikes the careful balance we need to keep our mining towns humming and our environment properly protected.
In fact, I believe we would put our communities on a stronger footing if we were able to pass meaningful reform and end the current practice of letting each secretary of interior make and alter the rules that the industry must follow.
Nevada's families deserve the peace of mind that would come from a carefully considered and well-thought out piece of legislation. Long-term certainty for our mining towns and mining families is the key. If my colleagues want to have a discussion that heads down that path, I am ready to do so.
- Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the senate majority leader.