List of languishing public lands bills slip out of committee … again

Pardon us for not swooning in anticipation of the economic windfall about to be bestowed on rural Nevada by the seven public lands bills that have again been passed out of a House committee just before the August recess.

Both of Nevada’s congressmen who represent the rural areas — Mark Amodei in the north and Steven Horsford in the south — put out verbatim press releases heralding the passage out of theHouse Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent a package of seven bills that could have major economic impact on several communities if ever signed into law.

Pumpkin Hollow mine shaft

The same set of bills passed the same committee in January by a vote of 29-14, though there reportedly has been some tweaking of the bills since then.

The press releases said the bipartisan support clears the way for the legislation to be brought to the House floor in September as a non-controversial suspension bill.

“Working to create jobs and strengthen the middle class has been my number one priority in Congress,” said Horsford in both releases. “Today, Democrats and Republicans unanimously moved a legislative package forward that will grow Nevada’s economy. Thanks to Congressman Mark Amodei and others, we have been able to find common sense bipartisan solutions that bridge the partisan divide. When we work together and put Nevada first, political posturing fades into the background, and our constituents benefit.”

For his part Amodei was quoted as saying, “These are community-driven lands measures that will create jobs without cost to the federal taxpayer. For the second time in two years, the eyes of Northern Nevada turn to the Senate.”

Wovoka

While the congressman from northern Nevada was not so gauche as to spell out what he meant by that remark, allow us.

The Senate is under the leadership of Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid, who has not deigned it a priority to push various versions of these bills, including ones he and Sen. Dean Heller have sponsored over on the Senate side.

In fact, when last one of the bills in question progressed to the point of actually being voted on, Reid threw a monkey wrench in the works. What is now called H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, would allow the town of Yerington to buy, at market value, 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.

Reid demanded that the bill include the set aside of 48,000 acres of wilderness, to be called the Wovoka Wilderness Area, a proposal the local residences had previously rejected.

H.R. 696, now has a section that states “the area designated as the Wovoka Wilderness by this section contains unique and spectacular natural resources, including — (A) priceless habitat for numerous species of plants and wildlife; (B) thousands of acres of land that remain in a natural state; and (C) habitat important to the continued survival of the population of the greater sage grouse of western Nevada and eastern California …”

The Yerington bill now has languished in Congress for six years.

Other bills in the package include:

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, which also has been sought by Humboldt County officials for years, would create a 26,000-acre wilderness area.

H.R. 1167, the Restoring Storey County Act would transfer the surface rights to 1,750 acres of federal land in Virginia City to Storey County to resolve conflicting ownership and title claims.

H.R. 1168, the Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act would let Carlin buy federal land surrounding the city at fair market value for multi-use development.

H.R. 1169, the Naval Air Station Fallon Housing and Safety Development Act would transfer 400 acres to the Navy, allowing it to build 200 new military family homes. The transfer was first requested in 1991.

H.R. 1170, the Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.

H.R. 2455, the Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act would provide 275 acres for the Te-moak Tribe of Western Shoshone to construct a motocross recreation area.

Harry Reid should take a little time between rants about the Koch brothers to put these bills to a Senate vote.

 

 

 

 

Mike Miller — an illustrated life

Las Vegas centennial painting by Mike Miller

Las Vegas centennial painting by Mike Miller

I don’t read the obits. I’m afraid of how many names of people I know will be there.

Besides, a lot of the people I know wind up in the news pages for one reason or another upon their passing.

So, it was a bit of a punch to the gut to pick up this morning’s paper and read the one thing I always read — John L. Smith’s column — and find the name of longtime Review-Journal coworker Mike Miller, still among the living but coping with what is likely to be a terminal stage of cancer. According to Smith, Miller, 74, has opted to not go through the agony of chemotherapy now that his colon cancer has returned.

Mike Miller (R-J file photo)

Miller — a lifelong artist, cartoonist, illustrator, sketcher and scribbler — recently had a meet-the-artist event at Collective Souls Fine Art at Tivoli Village.

Thanks to Smith, we now know that Miller started his life of art at Disney Studio as an apprentice on “Sleeping Beauty” and “101 Dalmatians” for the princely sum of $62.50 a week and that he created the Hey Reb! logo for UNLV for a dollar. He also did commissioned pieces for Elvis Presley, Louis Prima and Wayne Newton.

In 2005, the newspaper had him do a series of paintings depicting the city of Las Vegas’ centennial. The paper sold numbered and signed prints of the series and gave employees a ridiculous discount. The frame of the one I have hanging in my living room cost 20 times what the print did.

I believe we have all of his popular “Tomas the Tortoise” children’s book series, which is set in and around the Las Vegas Valley.

As is his wont, Smith picked a telling Miller quote to close out the column: “I have a great family. We’re Christians. We always have been Christians. We have a belief in God. I’m OK with this. I accept that this is God’s will, anyway. When he wants me, he will take me. In the meantime, I was to feel as good as I can and be happy and enjoy as much of life as I can.”

Miller, whenever he is “taken,” will leave a legacy on walls and bookshelves and movie screens.

Tomas the Tortoise book

Tomas the Tortoise book

House subcommittee hears tales of federal land managers abusing their power

(Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber begins at about 50:00 and again at 2:30:00.)

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation picked up with part II this past week with its hearing on “Threats, Intimidation and Bully by Federal Land Managing Agencies.” Previously Nevada rancher Wayne Hage testified in Part I.

Grant Gerber testifies before Congress.

Grant Gerber testifies before Congress.

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber testified federal managers used to be “friendly, they came to the ranch, we worked with them, but over the years that’s changed. …

“They’re predominantly from outside the area and do not develop connections with the locals,” said Gerber. “Many start out with a belligerent attitude, even a commanding presence. They’re especially offended if anyone opposes any federal government actions.”

He told one officer who ticketed some men for illegally cutting firewood, even though the men had a permit. The officer thought he was in a wilderness study area, but he was on the wrong mountain.

Gerber also pointed out that the livelihoods of ranchers rest on the “whims” of BLM managers who are not even following their own rules. He also noted rancher Cliven Bundy tried to cooperate with the BLM but they denied him and other ranchers the right to profitably graze the range as they had done for generations.

Time to make an example of open meeting scofflaws

Nevada’s open meeting law has been widely flouted and largely ignored by numerous public agencies across the state who find it inconvenient and unseemly to conduct the public’s business in public, and the attorneys general over the years have been loath to mete out anything stronger than a mild rebuke and a gentle reminder to obey the law in the future.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

But the actions of the Washoe County School Board two weeks ago mark a new nadir in officials trammeling the open meeting law.

Six of seven members of the board met in a secret session without deigning to give a moment’s notice of the purpose of their deliberations, much less the legally required 72 hours. Nor was there any hint as to what was to be discussed, though the law clearly demands the posting of a detailed agenda of all potential deliberations and actions.

What emerged from under the rock — or from behind closed doors — was an ultimatum to School Superintendent Pedro Martinez that he resign or be fired.

Pedro Martinez (RGJ photo)

The bone of contention, though it hardly matters, is that Martinez padded his resume by claiming to be a certified public accountant. For his part, Martinez says he passed the CPA exam but never claimed to be a licensed, practicing CPA.

Atop the lack of public scrutiny afforded their constituents, the school board members ignored the section of the open meeting law that prohibits them from holding a closed meeting “to consider the character, alleged misconduct or professional competence” of an appointed public officer, such as “a superintendent of a county school district.”

Additionally, the law dictates that no actual deliberations or action or vote may occur behind closed doors.

There was no public vote to fire Martinez or place him on administrative paid leave, whichever story the school board is sticking to at the moment.

A Reno Gazette-Journal editorial called the board members’ claim that no vote was taken unbelievable. “Six members of the board … took part in a news conference Tuesday evening; none protested President Barbara Clark’s announcement that Martinez had been let go. It simply strains credibility that a decision as momentous as the firing of the top official in the school district was made without the full participation — and, yes, vote — of every member of the board of trustees,” the newspaper editorialists correctly deduced.

The first words of the open meeting law clearly state: “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

The question is not whether the superintendent should be fired or not, but whether the board members’ constituents have adequate access to their deliberations and actions to be able to evaluate whether their representatives performed at their behest and in their best interests.

The law says, “Each member of a public body who attends a meeting of that public body where action is taken in violation of any provision of this chapter, with knowledge of the fact that the meeting is in violation thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The attorney general has narrowly defined the “knowledge of the fact that the meeting is in violation” by letting them escape if their deeds complied with “advice of counsel.”

The board’s attorney was reportedly present during the secret and illegal meeting, and acquiesced in the shredding of the open meeting law, board members now claim.

We thought ignorance of the law was no excuse.

Frankly, the violations of the Washoe County School Board are so numerous, so blatant, so obviously outside the broadest and most generous interpretation of the law that the attorney general should for once set a stern example, no matter what the board attorney might have said or advised.

The attorney general must stop treating such flagrant defiance of the law with a wink and a nod.

Each of the six board members should be subject to maximum fines and, as the law dictates upon conviction, removed from office. That would set an example for others to follow.

Newspaper column: Drunk with power, feds coming for our water

There may not be sufficient documentation to prove that Mark Twain ever said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” but Nevada ranchers and farmers are having to fight over water with two branches of their own federal government. It’s enough to drive one to drink, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency rewrote the rules for the Clean Water Act in such a way that gives it authority over just about any stream, dry creek bed or backyard wading pool in the country, even though the law as originally written was meant to protect navigable interstate waterways from pollution.

As if grabbing a claim on every drop of water on the surface were not enough insult and injury, the U.S. Forest Service, a division of the Agriculture Department, has published a “Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management” that would give it virtual veto power over the use of any aquifer remotely connected to any land under Forest Service jurisdiction.

The Western Governors Association has sent a letter to Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack challenging his agency’s authority to carry out this proposal and asking for answers to a number of questions. The letter, signed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and others, notes Congress gave states sole authority over groundwater in the Desert Land Act of 1877 and the Supreme Court upheld this exclusive authority in a 1935 court case.

Among the questions posed by the governors are: “Given the legislative and legal context, what is the legal basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USFS assertion of federal authority in the context of the Proposed Directive?” and “How will USFS ensure that the Proposed Directive will not infringe upon, abrogate, or in any way interfere with states’ exclusive authority to allocate and administer rights to the use of groundwater?”

Additionally, several Western congressmen — including Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mark Amodei — are attempting to insert language in a 2015 appropriations bill that would protect privately held water rights from federal takings. The language was drafted by Amodei and Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado. It passed the House in March as the Water Rights Protection Act. Putting the language in the appropriations bill increases the chances it will be signed into law.

Amodei noted that in recent years various federal land agencies have made a concerted push to acquire water rights, including cases in which land managers demanded that water users apply for their water rights under state law in the name of the agency rather than for themselves.

In another letter to Vilsack signed by Western congressional members, including Amodei and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller but no other member of the Nevada delegation, the secretary is told the proposal would impose “a chilling effect on existing and future water resource development and the uses dependent on that development not only within NFS lands but outside these lands.”

The feds already control 87 percent of Nevada land, now they are coming for the water, too. Some are putting up a fight.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko.

BLM year-long deal dries up in just two months

In May the Bureau of Land Management announced it had come to a year-long deal with ranchers on the Argenta allotment in the Battle Moutain District to allow grazing.

This came after the district manager told ranchers there would be no grazing this summer due to drought, though independent range consultants said the range was suitable and even needed to be grazed to prevent wildfire.

The agreement was reached after a widespread and well-publicized protest to the BLM’s arbitrary and livelihood-threatening decisions.

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber staged what he called a Grass March that highlighted the plight of ranchers and called for the ouster of the district manager.

This week, according to the Elko Daily Free Press, the ranchers were told that half the grazing areas would be closed to grazing and cattle had to be moved in seven days.

“We have 7 days to ride the entire mountain and have the cattle off. We are right in the middle of haying and are forced to drop everything and begin gathering cattle,” the Tomeras wrote in an email to various elected officials. “We are forced to put the cattle in areas that have much less forage than the mountain where they are now. Much of their monitoring reflects only a small portion of the area yet this is what they use to determine the health of the entire area.”

The Tomeras also said their range consultant was denied access to the BLM’s monitoring data. About half the land is privately owned but not fenced off. All the water rights are privately held.

Nevadans will have to pay more for saving the planet

NV Energy managed to convince Nevada lawmakers to toss them in the briar patch. Now power customers will be paying the tab.

According to news reports, the Public Utility Commission may allow the company to recoup up to $60 million a year over the next three years for the cost of shutting down perfectly good, acceptably clean coal-fired power plants.

Then the power company will have to build new power plants to replace the coal-fired capacity. Guess who will pay for those.

To cut its risks and cover its assets the NV Energy submitted Senate Bill 123 to the Legislature. The bill saddles ratepayers with every dime of the cost to mothball the coal plants — including any undepreciated balance, decommissioning and remediation, contract termination costs, even the value of any unused coal left lying around.

Dan Jacobsen of the attorney general’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, which represents ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, said at the time, “In addition to replacing about 1,000 megawatts of coal capacity, the bill also would be replacing a very large amount of power purchase agreements right now that ratepayers don’t have to provide a return on.”

NV Energy’s profits come from a rate of return on equity, which is currently about 10 percent, but the more equity in power plants and power lines the greater the return.

Jacobsen also said SB123 could deter the PUC’s ability to control costs. One part dictates the “Commission shall approve” costs, and another says emissions reduction “shall be deemed to be a prudent investment. The electric utility may recover all just and reasonable costs …”

Time to pay the tab.

And you can thank Harry Reid.

 

Newspaper column: Bashing right-wingers for fun and profit, mostly profit

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently published a report loosely based on the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Bunkerville titled “War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right.”

It was duly reported by the press without a smidgen of skepticism, as noted in this week’s newspaper column available on The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

“The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when  President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year,” the report declares breathlessly on its opening page, without an ounce of documentation or attribution. “Though the movement has waxed and waned over the last three decades, antigovernment extremists have long pushed, most fiercely during Democratic administrations, rabid conspiracy theories about a nefarious New World Order …”

More cameras than guns. (Reuters photo)

SPCL is a multimillion-dollar leftist organization built on direct marketing and scare tactics, having little to do with poverty or law. It touts itself as “a nonprofit organization that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation.” Yet it spreads hate and intolerance with vile innuendo and speculation. It also inflates its hate group count by counting every chapter in every state as a separate group.

In a press release announcing the “War” report, SPLC’s Mark Potok claims, “The Bundy ranch standoff wasn’t a spontaneous response to Cliven Bundy’s predicament but rather a well-organized, military-type action that reflects the potential for violence from a much larger and more dangerous movement.”

This conclusion is based entirely on an interview with a single person, 30-year-old Ryan Payne of Montana, who the report claims told “counter snipers” where to position themselves behind concrete and pavement barriers. Basically, as shown in photographs in the report and in numerous newspapers, a man with a rifle peeked between barriers on a highway overpass. In one photo there is one rifle and a half dozen cameras. No mention is made of the photo taken by Bundy family members of Bureau of Land Management snipers atop hills.

As for the claim that the support for Bundy was not spontaneous, the report contradicts its author by pointing out that Payne spontaneously drove through the night from Montana with a friend after becoming enraged by a YouTube video of BLM agents using a Taser on one of Bundy’s sons.

The standoff between the BLM and the armed supporters ended on April 12. The agency had shown up with hundreds of heavily armed agents to confiscate Bundy’s cattle, which had been grazing without permits on federal land in Gold Butte for 20 years.

Though the SPLC says 900 of Bundy’s cattle had been rounded up and placed in pens, media reports place the number at less than 500. SPLC also notes that the BLM packed up and left, citing a “serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” not mentioning that the BLM had not secured any place to take the confiscated cattle and had no choice but to let them go, as Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has confirmed.

The report also makes numerous redundant references to the presence at the ranch of Jerad and Amanda Miller — who later ambushed and killed two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian who tried to stop them — suggesting an ideological affinity. The report did not mention that the couple was told to leave the ranch or that they had also attended a leftist Million Mask March in Indiana.

SPLC’s definition of hate groups is broad, sweeping in groups that question amnesty for illegal immigrants and church groups that oppose gay marriage. None of the so-called hate groups on its list is on the left of the political spectrum. There are groups with the phrase tea party or patriot in their names but none with occupy or pro choice.

SPLC was founded in 1971 by direct mail marketer Morris Dees. According to the organization’s 2012 IRS report, the latest available, it had assets of more than $290 million, receiving more than $37.5 million in contributions and grants that year.

Writer Potok was paid $163,000, while Dees fetched more than $350,000, as did President and CEO Richard Cohen. Eight other staffers were paid between $100,000 and $200,000 each.

As for tolerance, Potok told a hate crimes conference in 2007, “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on … I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”

Tolerance, sweet tolerance.

Also read the column at Ely or Elko.

Just say no to the rural groundwater grab, once and for all

The Las Vegas newspaper today editorially points out the city’s primary water source is drying up. That’s obvious from the white bath tub ring around Lake Mead.

As to the answer to the problem, the editorialists suggest tapping groundwater from rural Nevada — a proposition that would be harmful for both the rural area and the urbanites.

Saying “make no mistake” twice, the editorial concludes:

The truth is that, historically, droughts along the Colorado River are normal and can last decades. As such, the continuing decline of Lake Mead is a reminder to develop whatever additional water resources we can. Reducing the standard of living in this region is not a solution.

Make no mistake, no one wants to build the rural groundwater pipeline. Indeed, several lawsuits aim to prevent it, and the cost of the project would be massive — many billions of dollars, including service on construction debt. But make no mistake, the water authority must be prepared to forge ahead if river conditions continue to deteriorate.

That would be a mistake.

According to the state engineer, who is water rights arbiter in Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to draw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater would affect the water table outside the valleys that would be tapped. Groundwater in Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys are linked to the White River Flow System and drawing down the water table in those valleys could affect water resources as far away as Pahranagat Valley, Lake Valley, Muddy River Springs Valley, Lower Moapa Valley, and Coyote Spring Valley.

Lake Mead’s bath tub ring

One state lawsuit opposing the pipeline project contends, “The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium.”

That would deter rural development efforts.

As for urban Clark County, the bottom line is that it’s still too darned expensive.

The infrastructure cost is still $7.3 billion, according to a study by Hobbs, Ong & Associates of Las Vegas and Public Financial Management of Seattle. (The study: SNWA_Exh_383_Hobbs and Bonow Report) The cost per acre-foot just for the capital expense alone is well north of $2,000 per acre-foot. That’s while Colorado River water is being sold to farmers in California and Arizona for well less than $20 per acre-foot.

As the SNWA’s own study admits, water rates in Las Vegas would at least triple if the groundwater is tapped and piped south. That would deter development in Clark County.

The first that should be done is to fill Lake Mead with Lake Powell water.

Research for the Glen Canyon Institute by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers found that 260,000 to 390,000 acre-feet of water seeps into the banks of Lake Powell annually, which the Bureau of Reclamation, the manager of the river, fails to take into account.

That is Nevada’s annual allotment of Colorado River water.

But the real solution lies in changing water from a socialized commodity to one openly bought and sold in a free market.

Allow the municipalities, industries, farmers and ranchers with existing water rights to buy, sell and trade in an open market. Why would a farmer continue to grow rice or cotton with his $20 an acre-foot water, when he can sell it to the water authority in Las Vegas for, say, $200? Instead of allowing that allotment to flow through the dams and canals to Yuma, Las Vegas could take that share from Lake Mead.

No need for a water grab. Problem solved.