After five years leading the Nevada Mining Association, Dana Bennett announced Friday that she will step down as its president at the beginning of next year.
Bennett, the first woman to head the association, led the old industry in a changing Nevada, as the state has worked to diversify its economy and as there is more interest in how federal public lands are managed.
A 30-year veteran in the public policy arena, Bennett plans to retire on Jan. 31 to enjoy a slower pace and spend more time with family.
“This has been such an incredible opportunity and incredible adventure,” Bennett said during a phone interview on Friday from her home in Midas. “And it is a very demanding job.”
As the first woman to lead the association, Bennett said she was able to “demonstrate a different view of mining” and address misconceptions about the industry when leading mine tours or talking to groups. The diversity of the industry often came as a surprise, she said.
“Obviously I look very different than my predecessors,” Bennett said. “It was a great opportunity to talk about the diversity in the industry, which is another thing that surprises a lot of folks.”
Mining is one of Nevada’s oldest industries. But most contemporary Nevadans are not directly connected to modern mining, which tends to be concentrated in the more remote areas of the state.
Still, the industry’s legacy is deeply interwoven in the state’s image, as historical photos are used to boost tourism. Bennett often found that there was an entrenched stereotype of the “grizzled old guy with a pickaxe and a burro wandering around Nevada poking at rocks.”
A historian who has published books and articles on Nevada’s past, Bennett said she sought to educate the public and policymakers about modern mining, and, more recently, to connect it to a supply chain that supports advanced manufacturing and renewable energy.
“One-hundred-fifty years ago, most people in Nevada lived near a mine of some kind and they knew somebody who was in mining,” she said. “And now that’s not necessarily the case. So really the challenge was doing that continual education and answering questions and making sure that policymakers knew the repercussions of the ideas that they were contemplating.”
Bennett, who listed growing the association as one of her primary accomplishments, said that there was optimism about the industry, noting steady employment and increased exploration activity.
At the mining association’s annual meeting earlier this year, she said the industry also faced headwinds, ranging from Congress revisiting mining laws to rules around protecting the sage grouse. In the interview, Bennett expanded on that subject, noting that the federal government’s large presence in managing the state’s land presented an advantage and a challenge for miners.
“Because Nevada is a public lands state where the vast majority of the acreage in the state is managed by the federal government, that provides a lot of opportunities for exploration and operation that doesn’t exist in other states,” she said. “It also provides a challenge because the federal land managers are tasked with balancing all of the demands that are often competing.”
In recent years, other Western states, including Montana and Colorado, have considered new mining regulations, including some that restrict states from approving mines when polluted water would need to be treated in perpetuity. Bennett said she expects similar debates around regulatory proposals to arise in Nevada over the coming years.
“Certainly things that are happening in other states are going to show up here,” she said. “And I am certain that policymakers will consider them carefully and look at it within the context of Nevada. What may be good policy for Montana may not be good policy for Nevada.”
Bennett, who grew up in Reno, came to the mining association after stints at the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. She earned a PhD in history at Arizona State University, writing a dissertation on female legislators and tax policy.
She was not surprised Nevada was the first state to have a majority-female Legislature.
“What I was surprised by was how long it took us to get here,” she said.