CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada's mining industry, a watchdog group and two victims of mercury poisoning said Monday they endorse a scaled-back bill to increase inspections of mercury emissions at mining operations.
The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee heard testimony on AB115, with no one opposing the measure. Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said worker safety was her top priority in crafting the legislation.
AB115 would add two new inspectors at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to conduct unannounced visits to mines at least twice per year. Leslie reached a compromise with industry groups by deleting specific deadlines for cutting back mercury emissions.
The bill also requires the agency to raise fees to pay for the positions. The fee increase means the bill requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
Gov. Jim Gibbons' legislative liaison, Steve Robinson, testified that the governor supports the measure, adding, 'The bill illustrates how we can address environmental concerns and still have a healthy mining industry.'
The governor has said he would oppose any fee hikes, but Leo Drozdoff, head of NDEP, said the governor approved AB115 because it is industry-specific.
Russell Fields of the Nevada Mining Association said the industry already follows an aggressive program to limit mercury and that worker safety is its foremost concern.
Dan Randolph, director of the watchdog group Great Basin Mine Watch said regulations on mercury emissions were written in the 1970s and only applied to mercury mines, not heavy metal mines which often emit mercury vapors.
'We feel there is a need for greater public confidence in the program. We think these two additional inspectors will enhance that,' Randolph said.
The proposal also was endorsed by Leonard Hawk and John Malden, who both testified that they were suffering from mercury poisoning from eating fish.
State health officials recently warned anglers not to eat any fish they catch from several lakes, streams or reservoirs in northern Nevada because of elevated mercury levels.
The warning was issued after sampling by the Nevada Department of Wildlife revealed high levels of methylmercury -- the organic form of mercury that can be particularly toxic -- in some fish tested over the past 18 months in 39 Nevada waterways.
Mercury is released into the atmosphere during roasting and other refining procedures used to extract gold from ore. A neurotoxin, the substance is of particular danger to children and developing fetuses.
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