Mining's future looks good in an Obama Administration, but so-so in Congress
U.S. miners may have a pro-mining president in Barack Obama, but the ranks of mining’s congressional supporters may be substantially fewer in number.
U.S. mining would have fared well with the election of either Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain as president, thanks to considerable groundwork by mining companies and their associations.
President-elect Obama hails from a coal state, Illinois, and has long been a proponent of federal funding of clean coal technology. However, the outlook for mining may not be so rosy in the U.S. House and Senate.
The Obama campaign targeted so-called swing states, a number of them western mining states, including Nevada and Colorado, which voted in a Democrat for president for the first time in years. However, Utah and Wyoming voted with McCain and the GOP.
During a campaign stop September in Reno, Obama said, "We'll invest in technology that will allow us to use more coal, America's most abundant energy source, with the goal of creating five ‘first-of-a-kind coal-fired demonstration plans with carbon capture and sequestration."
On September 23rd, the Obama-Biden campaign announced a Clean Coal Jobs Task force with the mission of working "to promote the Obama-Biden agenda to invest in advanced coal-based technologies, create more jobs in the coal sector and enhance mine safety."
The Obama presidency may also portend good fortune for hardrock miners. The Associated Press reported late last year that Obama opposes the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 on the ground that it places a significant burden on the mining industry and also would have an adverse impact on jobs.
Now stalled in the Senate, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act would impose a gross royalty on mining on federal lands. AP reported that Obama opposes the section of the bill that would impose royalties of 4% of gross revenue on existing hardrock mine, and an 8% gross-revenue royalty on new mines.
Right to work states, including Nevada miners, will find Obama to be a strong supporter of unions. In fact, the Obama for President Campaign website says he will aim "to strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions."
National Mining Association Senior Vice President Carol Ralston told Mineweb Tuesday that miners recognized mining states were going to be battleground states. Mining companies and their associations "worked very hard with both campaigns" to improve understanding of three key policy areas: energy policy (such as carbon capture and storage R&D); minerals policy (including mining law reform and abandoned mined lands; and mine safety.
Most importantly miners and their associations consistently reached out to both political parties, Ralston advised.
Another area of concern to miners may be the Obama Administration's appointments to key cabinet positions such as the secretaries of interior and energy. The president-elect is likely to choose several of his top aides, including some Cabinet secretaries, from three key sources: Democratic governors midway through their second and final terms in office; former top officials from the Clinton Administration; and politicians from Obama's home base of Chicago.
Possible U.S. attorney general candidate, Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, is expected to play a prominent role regarding western issues. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, believed to be on a short list for U.S. Secretary of State, is a former U.S. energy secretary and hails from another western mining state.
Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania or Montana Gov. Brian Switzer may be considered for the top energy job. No word yet as to who might be named to head the Department of Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency. A potential Ming Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) appointee has also not been revealed at this point.
An Obama administration has also been publicly supportive of a massive infrastructure program, which would benefit base metal and industrial minerals companies.
Another potential issue looming on U.S. gold mining's horizon is a U.S. offer from the outgoing Bush Administration to host a global summit in December modeled on the 1944 Bretton Woods system. Bretton Woods is credited with tying the trading and currency systems to the gold standard to achieve global stability. Although the U.S. abandoned the gold standard in 1971, the Bretton Woods system is still alive.
AND THEN THERE'S CONGRESS...
As of Mineweb's deadline early Wednesday morning, Democratic senators held 54 seats compared to the GOP's 50 seats with several races yet to be decided. Mining's stalwart and powerful advocate, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, is stepping down because of illness. New Mexico Congressman Tom Udall, a well-known environmentalist, was declared the winner of Domenici's senate seat.
The son of former U.S. Secretary of interior Morris Udall, Democrat Mark Udall will hold the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Wayne Allard. Idaho's staunch hardrock mining advocate, the scandal -plagued Larry Craig, did not seek re-election. Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican, has been elected to Craig's former seat.
Democratic West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, a strong mine safety advocate, easily won re-election, as did fellow Democrat Max Baucus of Montana. Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming was re-elected, while fellow Senator John Barrasso, also of Wyoming, was elected to fill the remaining four years of the term of the deceased Sen. Craig Thomas.
Most importantly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the son of a hardrock gold miner and domestic hardrock mining's most powerful advocated, has gained even more control of the Senate. However, he fell short of a filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority. Nevertheless some Republicans could occasionally join Democrats to break Senate logjams on bills and judicial appointments.
Meanwhile House Democrats solidified their control of the Northeast and made good gains in the South, ousting four Republic incumbents and capturing five open GOP seats. Nevada Congressman Dean Heller, a Republican, was maintaining his lead over rancher Jill Derby as of Mineweb's deadline. Longtime small-miner champion Don Young, a Republican, was holding onto a slim lead for his congressional seat representing Alaska.
Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who was recently convicted of corruption last week, is locked in a tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. The 84-year old Stevens is the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate.
New senators will also have to be appointed to represent Illinois and Delaware now that Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden are leaving the U.S. Senate.