Pruitt ends another costly Obama era EPA practice

It’s about damned time.

EPA administration Scott Pruitt said today his agency is ending the practice that has come to be known as “sue and settle” — in which self-styled environmental sue the government over some feigned failure to protect something or stop some viable economic activity and the government caves without putting up a fight.

“We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Scott Pruitt, head of EPA

As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt was involved in many such lawsuits.

Pruitt said that when a settlement is being considered the EPA will discuss the matter with affected states and communities.

 

Back in 2014 we lamented the “sue and settle” practices of the Obama administration.

The previous fall, the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as threatened — under the terms of the Endangered Species Act — the bi-state greater sage grouse found along the northern California-Nevada border, supposedly a distinct population segment of about 5,000 remaining birds, even though the birds are legally hunted in both states.

That decision followed an October 2010 lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project challenging grazing permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management.

In the spring of 2014 the FWS designated as threatened the lesser prairie chicken, which are found in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico and Kansas.

Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS in 2010 demanding rapid action on the listing status of 251 species. FWS caved.

A Mono Basin bi-state sage grouse

Under the settlement, FWS was also to decide whether to list the greater sage grouse, which are found in 11 Western states, by September 2015. What do you think the odds are? Fortunately, that never happened, though the Obama administration issued a massive and draconian set of land use plans meant to protect the chicken-sized birds. Recently, Pruitt’s EPA rescinded those plans

Many of the causes of Western species decline have nothing to due with farming, ranching, oil and gas exploration or recreation, but with incompetent land management by the federal agencies, which have ignored fuel management practices and allowed vast wildfires to ravage the ranges. Additionally, there a lack of predator control, one of the biggest problems for most of the species in question, but a factor ignored by the feds.

 

During the four decades of the Endangered Species Act less than 2 percent of listed species have been delisted. Once on the list they are on the list forever.

Pruitt appears to be correcting many of the errors of his predecessor.

 

 

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Stadium naming rights? Or just a ruse to dole out corporate welfare?

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority shelling out $80 million over 20 years — $4 million a year — for naming rights for a Summerlin baseball stadium for a minor league team might not have been such a good idea.

At least that’s the opinion of two Las Vegas newspaper columnist and a letter writer in the Sunday edition.

News columnist Victor Joecks points out that for $4 million a year the LVCVA could’ve purchased the naming rights for almost every one of the 15 other ballparks in the Pacific Coast League in which the Las Vegas’ 51s compete. He also said his review of  more than 250 stadiums, fields and arenas found that no other government agency is paying to name a sports venue.

Business columnist Richard Vellota suggests that the whole deal comes across as corporate welfare for the Howard Hughes Corp., owners of the 51s and builders of the new stadium next to the company’s Downtown Summerlin.

A letter writer questions blowing that much money on a ballpark when education could use the money.

Velotta also points out just how lame the whole naming rights ruse really is. It will be called the Las Vegas Ballpark. Like no one would know what town they are in? Like they are going to call the team the Summerlin 51s?

Joecks calls the whole deal a farce and comments, “This whole fiasco makes more sense if you view the $80 million as a construction subsidy. Even for the LVCVA, it’d be hard to justify giving a private business tens of millions of tax dollars. Calling it a ‘naming rights’ deal, however, gave the proposal a thin initial layer of credibility.”

A thin and transparent veneer, indeed.

Rendering via R-J

 

Editorial: Tax reform that could benefit Nevadans slipping away

It looks like a tax reform proposal that could have resulted in lower income tax rates for Nevadans is swirling down the drain.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that congressional Republicans are considering jettisoning a part of President Trump’s proposal that would eliminate IRS deductions for state and local taxes. Dropping the deduction would generate $1.3 trillion in additional federal revenue, thus allowing lower rates for the 70 percent of Americans who do not itemize and take the standard deduction.

While Democrats insist tax reform should in no way benefit the wealthy, the retention of the state and local tax deduction does precisely that for the wealthy who live in Democrat-controlled high tax states, such as New York and California.

The Times conceded that Californians benefit more from the state and local tax deduction than taxpayers in any other state. In fact Californians managed to dodge $101 billion in taxes in 2014 — New York, New Jersey and Illinois were next on the list of top tax dodgers. Of the top 10 states for the deduction, Trump carried only three.

The New York Times also is reporting that some Republican spines are weakening, noting that elimination of the deduction has Republicans in high-tax states worried about backlash from voters whose tax bills might rise.

The newspaper said that Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, said in an interview that party leaders had assured him “there’s not going to be full repeal” of the state and local tax deduction. The paper also quoted Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, as saying the deduction was not a “red line.”

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 per return. Calculated on a per capita basis, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

Nevadans — along with residents of New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota and Alaska — get to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those who live in New York, Maryland, D.C. and California deduct more than 5 percent.

“Republicans have said the deduction largely affects the wealthy and is unfair to residents in lower-tax states,” the Los Angeles newspaper reported. “Eliminating the break would help simplify the tax code and make it more equitable, White House officials said.”

In 1985 Ronald Reagan argued for eliminating the state and local tax deduction. He said in a speech: “We’re reducing tax rates by simplifying the complex system of special provisions that favor some at the expense of others. Restoring confidence in our tax system means restoring and respecting the principle of fairness for all. This means curtailing some business deductions now being written off; it means ending several personal deductions, including the state and local tax deduction, which actually provides a special subsidy for high-income individuals, especially in a few high-tax states. Two-thirds of Americans don’t even itemize, so they receive no benefit from the state and local tax deduction. But they’re being forced to subsidize the high-tax policies of a handful of states. This is truly taxation without representation.”

Reagan failed, primarily because there were too many Republican lawmakers from New York and California, just as there are today. California has 14 Republicans in the House and New York has nine.

If Congress caves in to the few who want to keep their lucrative state and local tax deductions, it is unlikely the 70 percent of Americans who currently do not itemize can be afforded a doubling of the standard deduction as is currently being contemplated.

The tax code should be fair and equitable for all and not carve out breaks for some.

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.

Newspaper column: Jobs and wildlife can coexist

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that years of science-based protections by federal and state land use plans had substantially reduced risks to more than 90 percent of the greater sage grouse’s breeding habitats across its 173 million-acre range.

Thus, its extinction no longer imminent, the breed was removed as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite this finding the Obama administration unilaterally instituted draconian land use restrictions across 10 Western states intended to prevent any presence of the non-native, invasive species known as mankind.

But the Interior Department under Montanan Ryan Zinke is displaying an uncommon outbreak of common sense.

Just this past week the Bureau of Land Management canceled Obama’s prohibition of mining on 10 million acres of federal lands across six Western states, including Nevada. The BLM also announced plans to invite public comments on reworking land use plans that a Nevada federal judge had determined were illegal.

Greater sage grouse (BLM pix)

In a press release the BLM reported the withdrawal of 10 million acres was unreasonable, because mining affected less than 0.1 percent of sage grouse range.

“The proposal to withdraw 10 million acres to prevent 10,000 from potential mineral development was a complete overreach,” said acting BLM Director Mike Nedd. “Secretary Zinke has said from the beginning that by working closely with the states, who are on the front lines and a valued partner in protecting the health of these lands, we can be successful in conserving greater sage grouse habitat without stifling economic development and job growth. And that’s what we intend to do — protect important habitat while also being a good neighbor to states and local communities.”

The 10 million acres had been off-limits to mining for two years, but that restriction expired Sept. 24.

Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement saying, “I support Secretary Zinke’s action to cancel this withdrawal and terminate the environmental analysis associated with it. Mining has not been identified as a widespread significant threat to the sage-grouse and I appreciate the Department of Interior recognizing the overreach of this action, which had such significant economic impact on our state mining and exploration industries.”

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said of the BLM’s decision, “I am gratified that the BLM has accepted our basic argument, which is that we can balance conservation of the sage grouse without injuring the economic lifeblood of Nevada’s local communities. In our suit, we consistently urged that the BLM failed to properly take into account Governor Sandoval’s well-supported and convincing comments about the many shortcomings of the 2015 plan.”

On March 31 in a suit brought by the state of Nevada, nine counties, several mining companies and a ranch, Nevada federal Judge Miranda Du ruled Interior land agencies erred in preparing environmental impact statements for 2.8 million acres of land primarily in Eureka and Humboldt counties and must prepare a supplemental statement.

BLM’s Nedd said of the decision to rework the environmental impact statement, “The BLM is committed to being a good neighbor and cooperating with its partners at all levels of government, including states, as well as tribal leaders, industry and conservation groups, ranchers, and other stakeholders throughout the amendment process. During this process, we are particularly interested in hearing from the many governors whose states put hard work and time into collaborative efforts to develop the existing plans. We welcome their input.”

Sandoval has complained in the past about Nevada’s input on sage grouse protection being ignored.

Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett was quoted as saying of the BLM change of direction, “A wholesale land withdrawal that encompassed 20 times more land than all mining activity combined did little to address the risk of fire and invasive species that threaten the species and its habitat.”

Of course the usual environmentalist reaction was one of doom and gloom. “This move shows Zinke’s total contempt for imperiled species and the places they need to live,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Zinke might as well form a shotgun posse to kill off these animals directly. The Trump administration is perfectly willing to wipe out sage grouse, and a host of other species, to reward its industry friends.”

Interior’s own draft environmental impact statement estimated its grouse restrictions in Nevada alone would reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

Jobs and wildlife can coexist when just a little common sense is applied.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of 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.

Frankly, we thought Trump swore to uphold the Constitution

“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should want to look into it,” President Trump complained to reporters recently, apparently in reaction to something reported by NBC.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Trump tweeted.

He followed this by tweeting, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

Even false and fake news is protected from government interference. The public can decide for itself what to turn on and turn off.

A whole new perspective on driver’s license expiration date

Waiting at the DMV

Everything in the grocery store has a shelf-life, sell-by or, worst of all, expiration date.

Now, I know how that feels. I recently renewed my driver’s license. Nevada is transitioning to driver’s licenses that are good for eight years instead of four, but not for those over the age of 65. We can only get licenses good for four years. Do they think we might expire before eight years? Become too infirm or decrepit to handle a couple of tons of steel at 80 mph on the freeway?

Sounds like age discrimination.

Real ID

I’ll have you know that I can still take to the road and maneuver as well as any well coordinated, rapid-reflex whippersnapper — so long as I have the appropriate cushions and pillows and lidocaine patches to relieve the arthritis. Yes, there are 100,000 miles on the odometer and far more on the driver of the SUV with the vanity plate “4TH ST8,” which is a reference to Edmund Burke’s description of the press gallery in Parliament in 1787 as the Fourth Estate. The other estates of Parliament were the royalty and the church and the commoners. And no I wasn’t there to report on it.

 

At least the DMV offers a senior discount. During the transition those born in even-numbered years receive an eight-year license upon renewal, which must be in person at a DMV office. The fee is $42.25. Those born in odd-numbered years receive a four-year license and may renew by internet, mail or kiosk. The fee is $23.25.

Standard license

In 2018 everyone except the geezers receive eight-year licenses upon renewal. At least the fee for those in their dotage is only $18.25, though it is only for those four precious years.

At least these days you don’t have to spend a large portion of those four years waiting in line at the DMV. You can make an appointment on your computer. The DMV gives you options for appointment times in a couple of days.

You can also opt for a standard license or the Real ID, which you will need to board an aircraft after Oct. 1, 2020. To get the Real ID you need to bring one document for proof of identity, such as birth certificate or passport, one document for proof of Social Security number (I still carry the card I got at age 16 so I could work in the oil fields, the one that says, “For Social Security and tax purposed — not for identification.” That disclaimer was removed in 1972.), two documents to prove your Nevada residential address, such as utility bills, and a completed driver’s license application form.

Once you’ve made the appointment you get text reminders on your cell phone.

So, I made an appointment and dutifully drove to a DMV office and arrived at the appointed hour, only to realize I had left all the documents required for the Real ID on my desk at home. Did I mention something about dotage? I canceled that appointment via cell phone, drove home and made another appointment for the next week.

With documents in hand, I arrived 15 minutes before the next duly appointed hour and stood in line at the appointment desk for an exhausting three minutes. All signed in, I sat in the gymnasium-sized waiting room until the last four digits of my cell phone were called almost precisely at the appointed hour.

An efficient young lady made copies of all the paperwork entered data in her computer terminal and efficiently administered the vision test — at least after I explained to her that I was bionic. The cataract surgeon had replaced my original lens with ones in which the right eye handles distance and the left one close items. “Monovision,” she said, and adjusted the device accordingly.

I was then directed to the photograph section where there was one person in line ahead of me. Photo taken, current license perforated to make it invalid and handed an 8-by-10 sheet of paper to stuff into my already overstuffed wallet — one tends to collect stuff to stuff in one’s wallet over the years — as a temporary license until the new one arrived in the mail about a week later. I was out of there in less than half an hour with my four-year license.

There is something about the whole thing that gives added and ominous meaning to the term expiration date.

Shutterstock

 

 

 

How Nevada provides a disincentive for experienced teachers and other employees to continue working

Once again the folks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute have put out a jeremiad lamenting the state’s self-defeating, tax-draining, counter-productive public employee retirement system.

The opinion section of the Sunday newspaper carries an op-ed by Robert Fellner, director of transparency research at NPRI, that points out that the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada provides a powerful disincentive for experienced teachers, school administrators and other public workers to continue working and providing services to taxpayers.

Thinkstock graphic posted with Fellner op-ed online.

For example, if Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky were to continue working to age 60 — instead of retiring next year at age 53 after 30 years on the job as announced — he would forfeit approximately $1.5 million in PERS payments. The same principle, though lesser amounts, applies to our most experienced classroom teachers, leaving Nevada’s youth, who already trail nearly every other state in educational achievement, in the hands of less experienced instructors.

Feller points out that if the state were to opt for a 401(k)-style retirement plan — as in the private sector — there would be an incentive to continue working because retirement benefits would grow every year instead of reaching a maximum after 30 years.

This is something we have been advocating for years. While various proposals have been floated, all have been sunk by the entrenched public employee unions.

In 2011 a report drafted for the NPRI by Andrew Biggs, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, concluded the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement System is vastly underfunded by more than $40 billion.

“What people don’t realize,” Biggs said to a luncheon audience back then, “is your typical public sector pension plan is a lot more generous than what a typical person is going to get in the private sector. Let’s just take a person and run their wages through what they would get from PERS versus what they could get from a typical 401(k) plan combined with Social Security, because public employees here don’t participate in Social Security. They both pay the same amount on average. The total contribution is about the same, but the benefits for someone under PERS — for a full career employee — is somewhere around 50 percent higher.”

A year ago Fellner penned for NPRI “Footprints: How NVPERS, step by step, made Nevada government employees some of the nation’s richest.”

Fellner warned that “should today’s international no-growth economy stumble into the deep financial crisis that many forecasters fear, NVPERS’ fantasy economic forecasts will be replaced by immediate bankruptcy — leaving every Silver State household with a sudden, implicit, $50,000-plus tax liability.”

The report detailed how NVPERS benefits have ratcheted up over the decades by virtue of incremental benefit increases, collective bargaining gains, earlier retirement age, allowing the purchase of years of service, padding base pay with add-ons such as callback, standby, holiday, shift differential, extra duty, hazard and longevity pay, and simple compound interest.

Fellner noted that local government employees have taken advantage of their collective bargaining union contracts and negotiated to have their employers actually pay the employees’ pension contribution, claiming this is done in lieu of a salary increase or in conjunction with a salary decrease — even though local government pay checks rank eighth highest in the nation.

In a report published during the 2015 legislative session, NPRI’s Fellner wrote, “Over the past 20 years, the amount Nevada taxpayers contribute toward public employee retirements has skyrocketed — from $384 million in 1995 to $1.4 billion today. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent after adjusting for both inflation and membership growth.”

 

The giant sucking sound is drowned out by the chirping crickets.