Freshman 4th Congressional District Rep. Cresent Hardy, whose district covers the southern half of rural Nevada, foresees considerable debate and action coming during this 114th session of Congress on various issues concerning use and control of federal public lands.
Asked about Sen. Harry Reid’s bill to bar development on more than a million acres of land in Gold Butte in Clark County and Coal and Garden valleys in Nye and Lincoln counties, all in his district, Hardy said he’d not yet read the bill but stated, “I know where I’m at with that proposal. I’m fighting tooth and nail. I think it’s time the federal government got out of our state.”
He added that the state taking control of public lands would provide opportunities for the citizens of the state to be “like the Founders expected us to be, laboratories of industry, and let us take control of our public lands ourselves.”
(According to the Las Vegas newspaper, Rep. Dina Titus has introduced a House version of Reid’s land bill. Titus told the paper she thinks Harady is “more open” to protecting Gold Butte than in the past. “I’m fighting tooth and nail,” is a dial back? Was his prior stance: Over my dead body?)
Hardy cited the Equal Footing Doctrine — under which all states are promised to be treated equally with the original 13 states — as an argument for states taking control of federal land. He noted that in 1828 the states of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida used that argument to convince Congress to release control of most federal land within their boundaries.
Today various federal agencies control roughly half the 11 westernmost states in the lower 48 and Alaska and about 85 percent of Nevada, the highest percentage of any state, while only 4 percent of the rest of the states is under federal dominion.
Hardy said he and other members of the delegation have also asked the Bureau of Land Management to back off of a Southern Nevada land management plan it has put out, noting that it took the BLM seven years to develop the 2,200-page plan but it at first was only going to give the residents of the area 30 to 45 days to comment and recommend changes. The comment period was extended, but only to March 9.
The congressman said he also hopes the Nevada Legislature acts on a report from its Nevada Public Lands Management Task Force recommending that the state take control of millions of acres of federal land and forwards it to Congress for its action.
“I’ll tell you what is happening back here. I think people from the East Coast, we’re actually educating folks back here,” Hardy said of the lands issue. “They didn’t understand for all these years the damage that they’ve caused to the West by keeping control of these state lands, like the rights they have and the opportunities they have by having control of their own lands. We need that opportunity, like I said, to be laboratories of industry.”
Noting that he is a member of the congressional Western Caucus, Hardy said it is important for the Western states to combine forces to press their mutual concerns. “The more power we get behind us, the better off we are,” he reasoned. “That’s why this Western states alliance is so important.”
Asked about Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s memo recently outlining plans to try to curb wildfires on federal lands, Hardy replied, “That’s an emotional topic for me. Let’s get people back out on the land, managing the land, who understand the land. The best wildfire prevention is grazing and other proper management by people who know how to do it.”
Though this past week Nevada Sens. Reid and Dean Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval penned a letter to the Washington Post critical of the newspaper’s editorial in support of opening Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste storage and a Reid spokesmen flatly declared the project dead, Hardy said he has been talking with constituents from White Pine, Nye and Lincoln counties and they are open to discussion about the future of Yucca Mountain.
“I think Nevada needs to be in that discussion,” Hardy said. “We need to be involved in it. I’ll never agree to have it shoved down our throats, but I think we need to be involved. If its got to come here, this is the best safety issue for it, then we need to be looking at the opportunities that we may have, if they’re there.”
A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.