Editorial: Court should force feds to start over on sage grouse assessment

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has filed what he is calling his final brief in the lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s economically crippling land use restrictions under the guise of protecting greater sage grouse, perhaps signaling that the case is nearing culmination.

As with previous filings Laxalt accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, divisions of the Interior Department, of violating the law and ignoring scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement in September that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisions restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access on more than 16 million acres of public land in Nevada altogether. This is being done even though the government declined to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Greater sage grouse (BLM photo)

The legal challenge in federal court is being pressed by the state, nine rural counties, two mining companies and a ranch.

“Along with a majority of Nevada counties, my Office has been pushing back against the federal government’s overreaching sage grouse land plan for almost a year,” Laxalt is quoted as saying in a press release accompanying the court filing. “As our latest brief again demonstrates, the Bureau of Land Management’s rushed, one-size-fits-all sage grouse plan not only violates multiple federal laws, but also the agency’s own regulations. The BLM blatantly disregarded the many Nevada experts and stakeholders, and failed to consider how its plan would impact Nevadans. This approach to regulation is as dismissive to our State as it is illegal, and I remain dedicated to protecting the interests of Nevada and ensuring that agencies follow the law and take the State’s concerns and interests into account.”

In the brief, the state argues that the plaintiffs have standing to bring the suit, a matter disputed by the government, because of the harm that will befall the state and county governments, as well as the private businesses. The BLM’s own Economic Impact Summary, prepared by BLM economist Josh Sidon in 2015, “estimates a loss of $31 million and 493 jobs annually for livestock, oil and gas, geothermal and wind in Nevada, stating that Nevada bore the largest impact from reduced wind energy development, with Elko and White Pine Counties hit the hardest.”

But that low balls the impact because it does not take into account the loss of revenues due to minerals being left in the ground. Laxalt argues that the BLM ignored or misrepresented in its analysis the impact of lost mining claims on 2.8 million acres in Nevada, including the loss of $32 million in investments by one mining company.

A previous brief pointed out that the land use plan jeopardizes development of a mine that could be worth $3 billion — 1.4 million ounces of gold and 21 million ounces of silver.

The current brief notes, “Defendants ignore the importance of discussing how mining claims in the SFA (sagebrush focal areas) will be impacted by the proposed withdrawal. Defendants mischaracterize the emails discussing this very issue,which criticize the agencies’ failure to disclose that half of all U.S. mining claims are located in Nevada: ‘… it is a serious omission not to include mining claim data. How can impacts to locatable minerals be adequately addressed if this data is not known?’” That last quote is from an internal BLM email discussing the failings of their own analysis.

The court should grant the relief sought by the plaintiffs to force the Interior Department to start over with a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, one that accurately reflects the economic and scientific facts instead of being crafted to fit a predetermined political agenda.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

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5 comments on “Editorial: Court should force feds to start over on sage grouse assessment

  1. Patrick says:

    So Nevada’s own bastard is at it again huh?

    Someone please, for love of God, tell this moron that until the day comes when he wants to sue the US Military, for doing what they do out at Nellis and Area 51 and Yucca Mountain, because those things are adversely affecting the state, until then just STFU about what the United States government does with the rest of the property it owns.

    Get the bastard to intervene on behalf of those servicemen (and presumably women) who were exposed to those hazardous materials burned out at Area 51, and to all Nevadans exposed to the nuclear fallout and radiation from the Test Site.

    Until then, please just take your phones name, and go back to whatever state you came from.

  2. Rincon says:

    Although one can argue about the wisdom of going to this much trouble to save a single species, if that is what the result would actually be, there is a major side benefit. The proposed action would have the effect of slowing the ongoing process of removing nonrenewable resources from the land. Does anyone actually think there will be any economically mineable deposits of say, copper, molybdenum or cobalt ores remaining in 500 or 1,000 years? These deposits are appreciating assets. Nevada shouldn’t be too anxious to get rid of them

  3. Rincon says:

    Off topic alert.

    According to Consumer Reports (9/16, p.33), the New York Attorney General’s Office tested a variety of herbal supplements. They found that 4 out of 5 didn’t contain the herbs stated on the labels. This is what industry does in the absence of government regulation.

    For the record, my view is that government in the absence of citizen regulation is just as bad, if not worse.

  4. […] BLM’s handling of the sage grouse issue remains in active litigation in federal court, where the agency is being sued by Nevada, nine rural counties, two mining […]

  5. […] several states, including Nevada. Zinke’s order says the changes are not one-size-fits-all, the very words used by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt a year ago about litigation he had filed to block the […]

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