Editorial: BLM publishes new plans to protect sage grouse

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bureau of Land Management under the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to give states greater flexibility on protecting greater sage grouse. On Friday a 204-page draft management plan for Nevada and northeastern California was published in the Federal Register.

The plan specifically states that its purpose is to enhance cooperation with the states by modifying sage grouse management to better align with the plans created by Nevada and California, covering more than 45 million acres under the jurisdiction of the BLM.

Though it was determined that sage grouse did not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in 2015 the Obama administration violated the law and ignored scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement 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 envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada.

According to a press release put out by the BLM announcing the new plans, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed the more cooperative stance by the agency. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was quoted as saying, “The Department of the Interior’s proposed changes represent an important step toward returning power back to our local communities, and lifting the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulations that have put major restrictions on millions of acres of land in Nevada and stifled economic opportunities.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, commented, “I would like to thank the secretary for doing a much-needed revisit of the previous administration’s policies regarding sage hen habitat. I look forward to hearing back from our stakeholders in Nevada regarding the proposed changes and plan to familiarize myself with this draft and provide further input.”

The publication of the draft plan opens a public comment period. The BLM will accept comments through Aug. 2. Comments may be submitted by mail:  BLM – Greater Sage-Grouse EIS, Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502; or online at https://goo.gl/uz89cT.

The Nevada-California plan is posted online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/103343/143703/176904/NVCA_GRSG_DEIS_201805_508.pdf

The BLM also will conduct public meetings during the public comment period, which will be announced later.

The agency expects to publish a final Environmental Impact Statement and plan amendments by October.

Nevada’s BLM Associate State Director Marci Todd stated, “Two important developments have occurred since the 2015 plans were adopted. First, we’ve had two to three years to invest time and effort into improving sage grouse habitat. Second, we have received a great deal of feedback from our state partners about how the plans are working on the ground and needed changes.”

We welcome the fact that someone in the federal land bureaucracy is finally listening and recognizing the fact that people need to earn a livelihood in rural Nevada and can do so without endangering the sage grouse population.

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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Editorial: Highway robbery on the Electric Highway

The state has released information on just how frequently those rural electric car recharging stations are being used, and it’s not exactly like those lines for gasoline back in the 1970s during the oil embargo.

The Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy reports that drivers have charged their expensive electric vehicles 274 times at the three charging stations built by the state in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca along Highways 95 and 93 since the first one opened in early 2016, according to The Nevada Independent. The donation-funded news website reports this usage saved a total equivalent to 395 gallons of gasoline and dispensed 3,150 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It was dutifully noted that the usage rate is growing.

The costs of these charging stations, which give away the power for free — dubbed the Nevada Electric Highway — has been a moving target. When the first one opened in Beatty in March 2016 the Governor’s Office of Energy said each would cost $15,000.

In the summer of 2015 press accounts said each would cost $30,000.

A June 2017 story in the Las Vegas newspaper quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the cost of each station would range from $85,000 to $250,000, but he assured that “none of that comes from taxpayer dollars. The office is funding its portion of costs with federal grant money, and the electric utility covers the rest.” And we thought federal grant money came from taxpayers and utility costs were passed on to the ratepayers.

According to the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy put up $30,000 in an upfront cost abatement payment. It also reports NV Energy is putting out $30,000 for three stations and Valley Electric Association is shelling out $15,000 for one.

Another station opened a month ago in Hawthorne. No usage for that outpost was mentioned yet. The press release announcing the opening was bereft of dollar signs.

The first three electric car charging stations have been open an average of about 540 days. Thus, according to the state, they are used about once every two days. The station in Panaca has been used only six times since opening in September, less than once a month.

Taking the low-ball cost per station of $15,000 each that means the 395 gallons of gasoline saved cost $114 per gallon in capital outlay alone, never mind maintenance and operating costs. The high-end of $250,000 per station translates to $1,900 per gallon.

Using the current retail power cost of about 12 cents per kWh, the stations have given electric car drivers less than $380 worth of power over two years. Now there’s a bargain.

The NVIndy website said Gov. Brian Sandoval sent it an email statement saying he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” the statement reportedly said. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

When that Beatty charging station opened, Sandoval was on hand to demonstrate by charging up a Ford Focus from the state Department of Transportation fleet in Las Vegas. Since the car had a range of only 76 miles, it had to be hauled to the ceremony from Las Vegas. Most of the Beatty charging stations take four hours to recharge, though a couple can do an 80 percent recharge in half an hour.

According to that 2017 Las Vegas newspaper account, a spokesman for the governor said the office has identified 24 sites along five traffic corridors “where EV charging stations make sense.”

Depends on what one means by make sense.

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.

Gov. Brian Sandoval plugs in an electric Ford Focus in the first electric car charging station along U.S. Highway 95 in Beatty in 2016.

How much of a bargain are those free electric car recharging stations in rural Nevada?

The state has released information on just how frequently those rural electric car recharging stations are being used, and it’s not exactly like the lines for gasoline back in the 1970s.

The Nevada Office of Energy reports that drivers have charged their electric vehicles 274 times at the three charging stations built by the state in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca along Highways 95 and 93 since the first one opened in early 2016, according to The Nevada Independent. The donation funded news website reports this usage saved a total equivalent to 395 gallons of gasoline and gave away 3,150 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It was dutifully noted that the usage rate is growing.

The costs of three charging stations which give away the power — dubbed the Electric Highway — has been a moving target. When the first opened in Beatty in March 2016 the Office of Energy said each would cost $15,000 and the would be paid for taxpayers and the ratepayers of NV Energy and Valley Electric Association. In the summer of 2015 press accounts said each would cost $30,000. A June 2017 story in the Las Vegas newspaper quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the cost of each station would range from $85,000 to $250,000, but he assured its readers “none of that comes from taxpayer dollars. The office is funding its portion of costs with federal grant money, and the electric utility covers the rest.” And we thought federal grant money came from taxpayers.

According to the Office of Energy, NV Energy put up $30,000 in an upfront cost abatement payment. It also reports NV Energy is putting out $30,000 for three stations and Valley Electric $15,000 for one.

Another station opened a month ago in Hawthorne. No usage for that outpost was mentioned yet. The press release announcing the opening was bereft of dollar signs.

The first three electric car charging stations have been open an average of about 540 days. Thus, according the Office of Energy, they are used about once every two days.

Taking the low-ball cost per station of $15,000 each that means the 395 gallons saved cost $114 per gallon in capital outlay alone, never mind maintenance and operating costs. The high-end of $250,000 per station translates to $1,900 per gallon.

Using the current retail power cost of about 11 cents per kWh, the stations have given electric car drivers less than $350 worth of power over two years. Now there’s a bargain.

The NVIndy website said Gov. Brian Sandoval sent it an email statement saying he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” the statement reportedly said. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

When that Beatty charging station opened, Sandoval was on hand demonstrate by charging up a Ford Focus from the state Department of Transportation fleet in Las Vegas. Since the car had a range of only 76 miles, it had to be hauled to the ceremony from Las Vegas. Most of the Beatty charging stations took four hours to recharge, though a couple could do an 80 percent recharge in half an hour.

According to that 2017 Las Vegas newspaper account, a spokesman for the governor said the office has identified 24 sites along five traffic corridors “where EV charging stations make sense.”

Depends on what one means by make sense?

Governor announces Nevada Electric Highway (Photo from governor’s office)

 

 

 

We are still waiting for the voice of Nevada voters to be heard — 22 years and counting

Facebook has this algorithm that pops up something you’ve shared online in the past and asks if you’d like to repost it. It might a cute pix of your dog or a vacation remembrance.

This time it turned out to be a reminder that the will of the voters of Nevada had been ignored for 16 years. It was a link to a blog based on a column that appeared in the Battle Born Media newspapers. Oh yes, it was first posted in February 2012, six years ago, so now the will of the Nevada voters has been ignored for 22 years.

Here is the column appeared in the newspapers but has long since disappeared into the ether:

By Thomas Mitchell

This is not federalism. It is feudalism.

As most Nevadans know, the federal government holds sway over somewhere between 83 and 92 percent of the land in this state, depending on which official government source you cite. That is the highest percentage of any state in the union, including Alaska.

This is the result of something known as a Disclaimer Clause included in the statehood act admitting Nevada as a state. As a condition of entry into the union, the state was required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

The federal government, not the state, controls the land known as Mount Wilson. (Pix by Jo Mitchell)

Putting aside the extortionate nature of the demand and that it was agreed to under duress and that it encumbered generations not yet born, nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government granted an enumerated power to deny any state sovereignty over its own lands. Even sharecroppers have more rights than that.

Over the years it has been unsuccessfully argued that the Disclaimer Clause violates the spirit and letter of the Equal Footing Doctrine under which every new state admitted to the union does so under the same conditions as the 13 original states.

On Oct. 31, 1864, the president proclaimed:

“Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

In fact, in 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court in Coyle v. Smith opined, “No prior decision of this court sanctions the claim that Congress, in admitting a new State, can impose conditions in the enabling act, the acceptance whereof will deprive the State when admitted of any attribute of power essential to its equality with the other States.”

That seems clear enough, but it has been roundly ignored.

Grazing rights are routinely canceled for arbitrary reasons. Roads are closed in order to protect some minnow or bug no matter how much it inconveniences the residents. Permission to obtain rights of way and mining permits languish for decades in the federal bureaucracy. All should be responsibilities of the state of Nevada.

It is estimated that 13 Western states forgo $4.2 billion a year in property taxes due to the vast holdings of untaxed land by the federal government.

In 1993 Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver wrote a lengthy letter to the governor and the various heads of the federal agencies controlling public land in the state. He convincingly argued:

“The people of the Nevada Territory had no authority to pass this act. Research has shown that first, the people of the Territory of Nevada had to give up all their ‘interest’ in the unappropriated lands of the Nevada territory to the Congress of the United States so Congress could pass said lands to the State of Nevada upon acceptance of Nevada into the Union. Then Nevada would become a free sovereign state as the original thirteen states relating to land.”

What many have forgotten is that in 1996 the citizens of Nevada voted to change the Nevada Constitution and strike the Disclaimer Clause. It passed with more than 56 percent of the votes.

Ballot Question 4 read simply: “Shall the Territorial Ordinance of the Nevada Constitution be amended to remove the disclaimer of the state’s interest in the unappropriated public land?” Yes or no.

Nearly 16 long years later, the state Constitution still contains a footnote explaining that the amendment was “proposed and passed by the 1993 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1995 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1996 general election, effective on the date Congress consents to amendment or a legal determination is made that such consent is not necessary.”

Congress has not consented. There has been no legal determination.

Speaking of feudalism, the right to petition for redress of grievances was first embodied in the Magna Carta in 1215.

The Founders thought this so fundamental they included it in the First Amendment as one of five key rights delineated there.

For the voters of Nevada, this right has not been denied, just simply ignored.

In the subsequent blog I noted that I had emailed the office of Gov. Brian Sandoval and asked what he would do, if anything, to address the vote of the citizens of Nevada taken nearly 16 years earlier, but roundly ignored ever since.

I wrote, “I’ve had no reply yet. Just like the voters. I wonder if I will still be waiting 16 years hence.”

Well, it has been six years, only 10 more to go.

YouTube video posted with the blog six years ago:

 

 

Editorial: Nevada should impose work requirement for Medicaid enrollees

Even though Congress could not find a way to repeal the budget-busting, economy-distorting Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as ObamaCare, there are still a few things the states can do to ameliorate its impact.

Chief among these, according to a report prepared for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Washington Policy Center by Dr. Roger Stark, is to implement work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid enrollees. The Trump administration announced recently that it is willing to accept waiver requests — known as 1115A waivers — from states that wish to impose a work requirement.

“Applying for a waiver to implement work requirements is a common-sense reform, and it’s one that’s already supported by the administration,” says NPRI policy analyst Daniel Honchariw. “Medicaid should help its able-bodied members who are willing to work, rather than encouraging an unsustainable and demoralizing cycle of dependency.”

Honchariw notes that 60 percent of the Nevadans who gained free Medicaid coverage under ObamaCare’s expansion of the program — approved by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, by the way — did not earn a penny of income in all of 2015. Expanded Medicaid now covers 600,000 Nevadans at annual cost of about $5,700 each.

“Such costs are unsustainable over the long-run without dramatic tax increases,” Honchariw states.

According to Dr. Stark, ObamaCare has resulted in only 20 million of the 50 million uninsured people before the law was passed — without a single Republican vote, by the way — to gain health insurance coverage. A large portion of those were handed Medicaid. In Washington state, 80 percent of the newly insured were placed on Medicaid.

“Obamacare has raised insurance premiums for virtually everyone in the country outside of the free Medicaid entitlement. Health care spending was 17 percent of the economy when the ACA became law,” Stark writes. “By 2021, with the ACA in place, estimates show that the country will spend 21 percent of the annual economy on health care.”

He said this past year the cost of Medicaid was $545 billion nationally and is projected to grow to $700 billion by 2020.

Studies have found that the health outcomes for people covered by Medicaid are no better than the uninsured.

We encourage Nevada’s lawmakers to take advantage of the work-requirement waiver and other options to curb the cost to taxpayers and break the cycle of dependency such entitlements foster. —TM

 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.

Editorial: Nevada’s own sex scandal needs a full airing

The year 2017 will go down as the year sexual harassment claims erupted — from Hollywood to D.C., from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, from senate candidate Roy Moore to Sen. Al Franken.

Lest we forget, this year Nevada had its own sex scandal, but, unlike the others, this one was buried in secrecy and the accused allowed to resign and slink away.

State Sen. Mark Manendo, a Las Vegas Democrat, resigned in July after the taxpayers shelled out $67,125.12 to a law firm to investigate allegations of multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers and lobbyists over a number of years.

Former state Sen. Mark Manendo

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a Las Vegas Democrat now running for Nevada attorney general, hired the law firm during the legislative session earlier this year after learning of complaints.

The law firm — after interviewing 58 people, including Manendo — reported in July that Manendo violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy on 14 occasions during the 2017 session alone. It also said Manendo tried to interfere with the investigation by trying to get an accuser to recant and attempting to learn the names of other accusers.

In his resignation letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval, Manendo made no mention of the allegations against him. He wrote, “I am grateful for the support, trust, and confidence bestowed upon me over the years by my constituents and colleagues. As my senate term comes to an end, I feel now is the time to step aside and look for new opportunities to serve others.”

When Manendo resigned, the state Senate Democrats put out a press release saying, “Such behavior is not tolerable in any context, let alone by an elected member of the Nevada Senate. It is in the best interests of the institutions of the State Senate and the Nevada Legislature that Senator Manendo resigns from office.”

But the statement also declared, “In order to maintain the privacy and confidentiality promised to the victims and witnesses who spoke to the independent investigator, the investigative report will not be made public.”

Did the Democratic senators purposefully hide the severity of the misdeeds of one of their own that had been going on unaddressed for years?

After news media outlets filed requests for access to the investigative report under the state Public Records Law — which states that, unless exempted by statute, all public records are available for public scrutiny — the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) issued a 37-page document denying those requests.

The LCB explained, strangely enough, “The Public Records Law cannot be applied to the requested materials because the Legislature and its Houses, committees, agencies, caucuses, members, officers and staff do not come within the statutory definition of ‘governmental entity’ as that term is used in the Public Records Law.” The Legislature is not a government entity?

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, commented to the Las Vegas newspaper at the time, “Their lawyers have built a case for protecting legislators from public scrutiny on the argument that it’s not in the public interest and the Legislature is not a governmental entity. That’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of double-talk used by people to justify all kinds of nonsense.”

Concealing a government-contracted and taxpayer-funded report on the behavior of an elected official is tantamount to obstruction of justice. How are the citizens ever to be able to evaluate the seriousness of the allegations or even whether the the allegations might have risen to the level of warranting criminal prosecution?

How high or low is the bar set for future lawmakers and legislative staffers and lobbyists?

We believe the public deserves a full accounting and that someone running for attorney general should join us in demanding that accountability.

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.

Tesla lagging in more ways than one

According to the morning paper, the Tesla Motors gigafactory near Sparks is on track to meet its hiring and tax incentive goals, if not its manufacturing goals.

In a 2014 special session of the Nevada Legislature the company was handed $1.3 billion of tax credits and abatements for which it would qualify if it met certain hiring and capital investment goals. The plan was to build a $5 billion, 10 million-square-foot factory to make batteries for its electric cars and employ 6,500 workers. The money was to be channeled through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Today’s paper quotes the governor’s spokeswoman as saying, “Tesla has met all of its benchmarks and exceeded the state’s goals.”

The story states the factory has 1,400 full-time employees and that Tesla estimated it would need 6,500 employees in the Gigafactory by 2024.

But in 2014 the paper reported that Tesla planned to employ 4,700 workers by 2017 and the 6,500 by 2018.

According to projections published by the GOED at the time, the company payroll would be more than $267 million this year. But using the payroll figures in today’s paper puts the payroll closer to $120 million.

The lithium-ion batteries that are supposed to be built at the factory are to power Tesla’s more modestly priced Model 3, which was to be in full production for by 2018.

According to Forbes, the company planned to building 20,000 cars a month by December, but in the third quarter of this year the company built only 260 cars, below the goal of 1,500. The problem is with the batteries.

Your tax dollars in inaction?

Inside Tesla gigafactory