DANIEL ROTHBERG The Nevada Independent
Throughout the year, Governor Steve Sisolak’s office sends out press releases that include a long list of recent appointments to state boards, commissions, and agencies. In June, the Democratic governor made 78 nominations. The previous month, he had made 31 appointments.
Absent from these lists: the Mining Oversight and Accountability Commission.
The Mines Supervisory Board, set up by the Legislative Assembly in 2011 and modeled after the Gaming Commission, held its last recorded meeting in December 2015. Since then it has struggled to maintain a quorum, and today oday, the seven seats on the board of directors of the commission are vacant.
In February 2020, a spokesperson for Sisolak told the Nevada Independent that the governor was working to make nominations, a shared responsibility with legislative leaders. But more than a year later, Sisolak has made no new appointments to a commission that progressive members of his party championed and the Legislature approved in a bipartisan vote.
It’s unclear why Sisolak hasn’t made any appointments, but in a statement, the governor’s office appeared to attribute the slow process to the pandemic and delays by legislative leaders.
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As the council collapsed without members, lawmakers and state officials wondered what to do. Some have questioned whether the commission, housed by the Department of Revenue, should be disbanded or restructured. Mining watchdog groups argue that a broad mining watchdog still has a role to play that could serve as a forum to discuss issues involving the industry.
Although housed in the state tax department, the oversight board had a broader statutory focus than a narrow focus on fiscal policy. The law gives the council the power to investigate many aspects of mining, reviewing regulations relating to operations, safety and environmental impacts. The commission further has the power to request audits, call witnesses and subpoena documents.
The law also required government agencies responsible for mining regulation, including the Industrial Relations Division and the Environmental Protection Division, to submit reports to the council.
But unlike the Gambling Commission, the council did not have the power to impose penalties. And in reality, even when the commission had a quorum, it lacked the resources and staff to do much more than collect testimony and record public comment, former board members said.
The governor’s office did not respond to a written question about whether Sisolak supports efforts to overhaul the council’s structure. The office also did not specify his timeline for appointments or whether Sisolak feared having any vacancies on the commission.
A spokeswoman for the governor, Meghin Delaney, said Sisolak planned to make board appointments, and she suggested the COVID-19 pandemic was partly to blame for the delay.
She said that “the office was actively working to obtain the remainder of the recommendations and confer with legislative leaders in February and early March 2020. The global COVID-19 pandemic shifted the full attention of this office to deal with the unprecedented and historic crisis facing our state. ”
Sisolak appointed more than 200 people to commissions, boards and agencies between August and December, at the height of the pandemic, according to a review of public announcements.
Questions about the board’s future come as Nevada mining companies seek to capitalize on efforts to expand the nation’s mining of critical minerals, the metals needed to build electric cars and batteries in the lithium, two important technologies to move away from fossil fuels.
Sisolak touted Nevada’s lithium potential in his State of the State address earlier this year, and his administration gave tax breaks to a large-scale lithium project near Winnemucca that has raised concerns among local residents and Native American tribes of the Great Basin.
“Policies for rapidly deploying new technologies currently require a dramatic increase in mining,” said John Hadder, who heads Great Basin Resource Watch, a mining watchdog group that supports the watchdog. “And I think we have to be prepared for that. What kind of permits do we want to put in place to deal with what is, in some ways, almost a gold rush? »
Even though more and more exploration companies are interested in lithium, gold remains a major player in Nevada. A political action committee affiliated with Sisolak received half a million dollars from the state’s largest mining operation, Nevada Gold Mines, a joint venture between Barrick and Newmont.
Another factor that may delay the appointment process is consultation with legislative leaders. Sisolak is not solely responsible for mining board appointments. The law that created the oversight board requires the governor to confer with legislative leaders.
By law, top legislative leaders from both political parties are required to submit a list of recommendations to the governor. The governor must then select five members from these recommendations. The governor is authorized to select the two remaining members himself.
Before making a final decision, the law requires the governor to consult with legislative leaders to ensure that “no more than two of the members have a direct or indirect financial interest in the mining industry or are related by blood or marriage.” to a person who has such an interest.
Delaney said the office received applications from 11 people, including one person who withdrew. The governor’s office is also awaiting legislative recommendations. The office, she said, “received some, but not all, recommendations from legislative leaders.”
The statement from the governor’s office said Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) sent recommendations.
Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) also sent a recommendation to Sisolak’s office, a Nevada Republican Senate Caucus staffer confirmed.
Delaney said the office had not received recommendations from Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus and was working with Cannizzaro “to ensure his recommendations still stand.”
Titus, in a statement, said neither Sisolak nor her office had contacted her.
“I haven’t heard from the governor’s office or the governor,” Titus said. “At my request, the [Legislative Counsel Bureau] The director considers the matter. Assembly Republicans are ready for collaborative apolitical governance to benefit those who call Nevada home.
Even if vacancies are filled, questions remain about the effectiveness of the board. Last year, former members of the commission told The Nevada Independent that while the board could provide oversight, it was under-resourced and never lived up to its task. name. ￼
Hadder said that was no reason to give up completely. Yet he would also like to see big changes. On the one hand, he said he would like the board to leave the tax department.
As for why no one was named to the board, Hadder said that’s a valid question.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” he added.