Nevada officials on March 8 approved state regulations for the control of mercury emissions from mining operations.

The unanimous vote by the Nevada Environmental Commission came over protests by neighboring states and environmentalists, who said the regulations lack teeth and depend on mining companies themselves for enforcement.

The reaction was not favorable, except in the mining industry.

“Nevada’s gold mines are a gold mine for that state, so it is depressing but not unexpected that its regulators would tread gingerly around the question of regulating them,” the Salt Lake Tribune said in an editorial. “Rules adopted last week basically allow Nevada’s mines to monitor themselves and unwisely fail to set any standards for reducing the tons of dangerous mercury that they emit. But Idaho and Utah are the likely downwind recipients of far too much of that material, which is turning up in fish and waterfowl.”

(Nevada economist Thomas Cargill has said, in fact, that mining is a negligible part of the state’s economy. While it is important to individual counties, he says, it’s a blip on the radar.)

The newspaper also criticized both Nevada and Utah environmental officials. It said the Utah officials had failed to fight hard enough for tougher regulations. Utah Environmental Quality director Dianne Nielson responded that the regulations may not be the last word.

“Our job is going to be to make sure Nevada does what it says it’s going to do,” said Nielson, adding that the new regulations should be implemented, monitoring should be stepped up and, eventually, new controls should be set on mercury from the mines. This isn’t the end of the regulation. … [T]his is the right next step.”

Utah has issued mercury warnings against eating three kinds of fish and two kinds of duck.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson wanted stronger regulations because he believes emissions from Nevada account at least in part for high mercury levels in the Great Salt Lake.

Newmont North American Mining official John Mudge told Dorothy Kosich of Mineweb that the state officials were limited in what they could impose.

“The state’s rule says, ‘Control technology.’ We endorse that. The environmental community was saying, ‘Do risk analysis, and figure out what’s safe and what safe numbers are.’ The feds couldn’t do it; therefore, the state can’t do it.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...