Newspaper column: EPA Repeals Obama-Era Land Use Restrictions

Trump’s EPA rolls back Obama-era Clean Water Act rules. (AP pix via WSJ)

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has finalized the repeal of yet another Obama-era regulatory overreach, specifically rules that defined every stream, ditch, seasonal puddle and muddy hoof print as being covered by the restrictions of the Clean Water Act of 1972 that was intended to prohibit pollutants being dumped into navigable waters — known as the waters of the United States or WOTUS.

First announced in December but finalized this past week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Our revised and more precise definition will mean that farmers, property owners and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit.”

When the change was first proposed, Wheeler said, “Property owners will be able to stand on their property and determine what is federal water without having to hire outside professionals.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston issued a statement applauding the change.

“The 2015 WOTUS Rule was an illegal effort by the federal government to assert control over both land and water, significantly impacting our ability to implement vital conservation practices,” Houston said. “After years spent fighting the 2015 WOTUS Rule in the halls of Congress, in the Courts, and at the EPA, cattle producers will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that the nightmare is over.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall released a statement saying, “No regulation is perfect, and no rule can accommodate every concern, but the 2015 rule was especially egregious. We are relieved to put it behind us. We are now working to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land. Farm Bureau’s multi-year effort to raise awareness of overreaching provisions was powered by thousands of our members who joined with an array of allies to achieve this victory for clear rules to ensure clean water.”

The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Manufacturers also praised the repeal of the WOTUS overreach, according to The Wall Street Journal, which noted that roughly 25 percent of every dollar spent on a new home in this country is due to regulatory-compliance costs.

The change brings the EPA more in line with what the U.S. Supreme Court has said is appropriate. In 2010 the Hawkes Co., which mines peat for use on golf courses among other things, applied for a permit to mine peat on a 530-acre tract of property it owns in Minnesota. The Army Corps of Engineers told the company they would have to do numerous tests that would cost more than $100,000. The Corps said the wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located some 120 miles away. Failure to comply carried a threat of fines amounting to $37,000 a day and criminal prosecution.

In a concurring opinion in that case, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said that the EPA and Corps “ominous reach” on interpreting the Clean Water Act “continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation.”

Chief Justice John Roberts during arguments noted the arduousness of compliance. He said a specialized individual permit, such as the one sought by Hawkes, on average costs $271,596 and 788 days to complete, not counting any mitigation costs that might be required. He said the permitting process can be “arduous, expensive, and long.” He failed to mention that is also often futile.

Then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who along with 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in this case, applauded the judgment at that time, saying, “The Obama administration seems determined to move as far and as fast as possible to unilaterally change our constitutional system and our congressional laws. … Fortunately in this case, our checks and balances have protected Nevadans from truly unprecedented federal overreach.”

Nevada’s current Democratic Attorney General is being quoted by the press as saying, “At this time, Nevada believes it would be in its best interest to remain under the pre-2015 WOTUS rule,” and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is said to agree.

Though this change in the rules used by the EPA is welcome, some future administration could easily overturn them. Congress needs to act to clarify the Clean Water Act. Previously, the House and Senate passed resolutions that would have blocked the EPA water rules, but in January 2016 the Senate failed to override Obama’s veto.

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.

 

Costly legal fight over taxes was unnecessary

It was a senseless and futile gesture, but our Democratic lawmakers and governor were just the ones to do it.

Despite the fact Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996 amended the state Constitution to declare “an affirmative vote of not fewer than two-thirds of the members elected to each House is necessary to pass a bill or joint resolution which creates, generates, or increases any public revenue in any form,” the 21-member state Senate approved the extension of taxes and fees that were supposed to be curbed with a 13-8 vote, one vote short of the constitutionally mandated two-thirds. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the tax extensions into law.

The eight Republican senators who voted against the tax extensions and three companies that would have to pay the higher taxes have sued in district court in Carson City, asking the court for a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against enactment of the laws.

The Democrats charged ahead with tax and fee extensions after their compliant Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), the lawmakers’ lawyers, issued an opinion that a two-thirds vote was not necessary since the taxes were not being “raised” but merely allowed to continue at a rate that was scheduled to be reduced, paying no heed to the fact the bills in question “generate” public revenue. Asked nearly the same question in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the LCB said a two-thirds vote was necessary.

When Republicans first threatened to sue, Sisolak confidently stated, “We’ve got legal opinion from LCB that, you know, a simple majority is what’s needed. I’ve been in government for 20 some-odd years, and if you don’t trust your attorneys, you’ve got a problem. So I’m confident that the attorneys gave us a good opinion. We’ll move forward from there.”

After the suit was actually filed, a somewhat less assured Sisolak was quoted by the press as demurring, “I remain absolutely committed to taking action if necessary following the court’s decision to ensure our schools continue to receive the total amount of funding approved by the Legislature for the … biennium.”

According to the governor’s executive budget at the end of that biennium there is expected to be a rainy day fund balance of $415.2 million, more than enough to cover the $98 million that the extension of the modified business tax rate and the $7 million that the $1 Department of Motor Vehicles technology fee extension are expected to generate.

The modified business tax extension is scheduled to begin being collected on Oct. 1 and the technology fee was set to end on July 1, 2020.

So, what was the point in pushing the constitution-ignoring legislation?

Senate Republican Leader James Settelmeyer said in a statement released to the media after the suit was filed, “We have checks and balances for a reason and eroding the two-thirds requirement is an unprecedented disregard for the constitution and creates a dangerous precedent. While there was ample money to fund education and other vital programs, Sisolak and (Senate Democratic Leader Nicole) Cannizzaro acted recklessly and their behavior created an unnecessary constitutional crisis at the expense of over 23,000 small business in Nevada.”

The lawsuit itself makes abundantly clear the stakes involved here: “This action involves an issue of of significant public and statewide importance as it seeks to uphold and protect the constitutional amendment proposed by citizen ballot initiative adopted and overwhelmingly approved by Nevada voters in 1994 and 1996. As provided in Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, political power is inherent in the people. Government only has power from the consent of the governed, and the residents and citizens of the State of Nevada twice voted strongly in favor of amending the Nevada Constitution to add the two-thirds requirement, and the two-thirds requirement has, at least prior to 2019, been applied consistently to legislative bills extending sunsets by the Nevada Legislature.”

The Republican senators and three companies, of course, are asking for recovery of reasonable attorney fees and costs. So, the taxpayers are likely to get stuck with all the costs from both sides.

The suit further noted that lawmakers “had enough money to fund the State’s budget without the public revenues created, generated or increased as a result of the changes to the payroll tax …”

So the passage with less than two-thirds votes was senseless, and, once the courts correctly rule that a two-thirds vote was constitutionally necessary, it will have been futile.

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.

Nevada Legislature

Newspaper column: Nevada gets short shrift on PILT checks

The checks are in the mail.

Nevada’s U.S. senators both sent out press releases a couple of weeks ago boasting about all the money Nevada counties will be getting from the federal government to help cover the expense of having so much non-taxable federal public land within their borders — called Payment in Lieu of Taxes. This year’s checks for Nevada counties amount to $27.25 million, an increase of about $250,000 from the previous year.

“I applaud the Department of Interior for providing these payments to the state of Nevada,” said Jacky Rosen’s press release. “These funds will be used to support essential services — especially in our rural communities — such as law enforcement, education, emergency services, health care, and road maintenance.”

Catherine Cortez Masto’s press release states, “The Department of the Interior’s PILT program is a vital resource for Nevada’s local governments and helps fund the public safety, housing, transportation and outdoor recreation projects that Nevada’s rural counties need to thrive. I’ll continue to support the long-term stabilization of the PILT program so that local leaders and innovators can invest in development projects right here in our communities in Nevada, and plan for the future with certainty that federal support will be there for them.”

Neither makes any mention of the fact the PILT handout nationally was cut by 7 percent from the previous year. Nor do they mention that the $500 million being doled out to all the states this year is a paltry fraction of the $11.9 billion in revenue that federal land generates annually from oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, etc.

If the states controlled the land they could collect that $11.9 billion instead of the pitiful $500 million — which amounts to a parsimonious 4 percent of the revenue the land generates. Pennies in an alms cup.

Nor do our Democratic senators note the impenetrable formula used to calculate the checks, which is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county and the population of that county.

While 85 percent of Nevada land is federally controlled, its total PILT checks equal 48 cents per acre of federal land, about the same as the prior year, while every other Western state, except Alaska, gets at least double that amount, even though their acreage percentage is far less and their populations not that dissimilar, except for California.

This year, Utah is getting $1.24 per acre of federal land; Arizona, $1.38; Idaho, 99 cents; California, $1.19; Washington, $1.92; Oregon, $1.19; Wyoming, $1.01; New Mexico, $1.80; Montana, $1.80; and Colorado, $1.68.

And the checks within Nevada vary wildly. For example, Esmeralda County gets 7 cents an acre, while Douglas gets $2.74; Eureka, 17 cents; Washoe, $1.25; Clark, 75 cents; White Pine, 25 cents; Nye, 39 cents; Elko, 46 cents; Lincoln, 15 cents; Mineral, 39 cents.

Perhaps our senators should ask the Interior Department for a clearer explanation of just how the checks are calculated, because the acreage and population explanation doesn’t really pencil out.

While Nevada counties get checks totaling more than $27 million for having almost 57 million acres of non-taxable federal land covered by the PILT charity, neighboring Utah counties are getting checks totaling almost $41 million for less than 33 million acres, even though its population is only 200,000 greater than Nevada’s 3 million.

Idaho counties are getting checks totaling more than $32 million, though it has only 32 million acres of federal public lands and a population of only 1.8 million. New Mexico counties are getting $40 million though the state has less than half the public land as Nevada and only 2 million population. Montana’s checks total $34 million though it also has half the acreage of public land as Nevada and only 1 million population.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million a year by taking over just 10 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands.

So, senators, stop bragging about those niggardly PILT checks and do something about giving Nevada a fair share of the revenue from its public lands.

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.

Newspaper column: Book offers historic perspective on the press

The premise of conservative commentator Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press,” is that modern journalism has devolved into an opinionated, group-think pack of politically partisan propagandists who oppose President Trump at every turn and think he is a danger to freedom of the press.

While we don’t think that conclusion is totally valid, the book does offer a worthy historic perspective on the behaviors of the press and our presidents.

Levin notes that for more than a century the American press was unabashedly partisan, often surviving on printing contracts from the party in power when the newspapers were able to put them there. He seems to accept the notion that sometime early in the 19th Century journalists altruistically embraced the concept of objectivity.

Actually the conversion was mostly profit-motivated. It was borne of the penny press.

The newspaper business model changed from being dependent on government printing contracts and political party handouts to one of being supported by advertisers, whose customers paid the same for a pair of shoes no matter which party they embraced. So why alienate half of your potential customers with partisanship? The newspaper that delivered the highest readership fetched the highest advertising dollar.

Levin’s book does point out correctly that Trump’s often repeated and tweeted animus for the press is benign compared to past presidents.

With the ink still damp on the First Amendment President John Adams pushed through the Federal Congress a series of Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These acts made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute …” The penalty was a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Under those laws more than 20 Republican newspaper editors were arrested and some were imprisoned. Among those was newspaperman James Callender who called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” These details are not in the book, by the way.

Levin notes Abraham Lincoln enforced censorship during the Civil War and jailed several reporters, editors and publishers.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

It is time to cast off our chains and free ourselves from slavery to the clock.

On Sunday morning we are required to spring our clocks forward an hour, if we wish to remain in synch with the rest of the nation, get to church and work on time and tune in at the proper time to our favorite radio and TV programs.

Mankind once worked from can till cain’t, as my ol’ grandpappy used to say — from the time you can see till the time you can’t — and farmers and ranchers such as grandpappy still do. But to make the trains run on time, we strapped ourselves to the clock, even though the clock is uniform and doesn’t change when the amount of daylight does.

Ol’ Ben Franklin, while serving as ambassador in France, accidentally figured out that this out-of-synch arrangement was somewhat uneconomical when he mistakenly arose one day at 6 a.m. instead of noon and discovered the sun was shining through his window. “I love economy exceedingly,” he jested, and proceeded to explain in a letter to a local newspaper how many candles and how much lamp oil could be saved by adjusting the city’s lifestyle to the proclivities of the sun.

Franklin observed:

“This event has given rise in my mind to several serious and important reflections. I considered that, if I had not been awakened so early in the morning, I should have slept six hours longer by the light of the sun, and in exchange have lived six hours the following night by candle-light; and, the latter being a much more expensive light than the former, my love of economy induced me to muster up what little arithmetic I was master of, and to make some calculations, which I shall give you, after observing that utility is, in my opinion the test of value in matters of invention, and that a discovery which can be applied to no use, or is not good for something, is good for nothing.”

Then he did the math, and exclaimed, “An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”

Thus, in 1918 in a effort to be more economical during the war, Congress borrowed from Europe the concept of daylight saving time — springing clocks forward during the summer and back in the winter. From shortly after Pearl Harbor until the end of the Second World War, the nation was on year-round daylight saving time, or war time, as it was called.

National Geographic photo

Moving the clock forward in summer might well save a few kilowatt-hours in lighting, but in states like Nevada that savings is more than made up for with increased air conditioning costs and the fuel used to drive about more after getting off work.

One study found that springing forward causes enough sleep deprivation to cost the U.S. economy $435 million a year. The New England Journal of Medicine found an association between that one hour loss of sleep from daylight saving time and an increase in car accidents, as well as a 5 percent increase in heart attacks in the first three weekdays after the transition to daylight saving time, while an Australian study found an increase in the suicide rate.

In a probably futile gesture to end the charade, the state Legislature a couple of years ago passed Assembly Joint Resolution No. 4 that proposes to make Pacific Daylight Saving Time year-round.

“WHEREAS, Congress also found and declared that ‘the use of year-round daylight saving time could have other beneficial effects on the public interest, including the reduction of crime, improved traffic safety, more daylight outdoor playtime for children and youth of our Nation, [and] greater utilization of parks and recreation areas …’” AJR4 reads in part, also noting possible “expanded economic opportunity through extension of daylight hours to peak shopping hour. ”

It passed both the Assembly and Senate and was enrolled by the Secretary of State.

Changing to year-round daylight saving time might not save electricity, but it could increase productivity and prevent car wrecks.

Alas, as with everything else, the power to fix this lies in Washington, though I can’t seem to find this enumerated power in my copy of the Constitution. Perhaps it is outdated.

In another glaring example of the efficiency and sincerity of our elected officials, AJR4 passed, the morning newspaper reported that no one in Washington had ever heard of AJR4.

AJR4 concludes by beseeching Congress to amend The Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 and allow each state to opt out, the same as Arizona and Hawaii have opted out, but rather than sticking with standard time, AJR4 would adopt Pacific Daylight Savings Time all year. Why should it get dark at 4:30 p.m. in the winter anyway?

Get used to it. Washington is in another century, much less a different time zone.

Versions of this tome have been posted since 2015.

Newspaper column: This big piggy goes oink, oink, oink

The libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute has published this year’s edition of its popular “The Nevada Piggy Book” — a collection of anecdotes illustrating the tendencies of state and local governments to lavishly overspend our money on inefficient and even counterproductive endeavors.

The introduction reaches the dismal conclusion that waste is endemic to government. While you and I watch our spending closely, not so with bureaucracies. “In fact, when agencies blow through their budgets, odds actually increase that politicians, in years to follow, will award them ever larger sums of tax dollars!” NPRI relates.

Take for example the decision by the Nevada Department of Transportation to award a bid of $529,000 to construct federally-approved fencing along a 37-mile stretch of U.S. 95 north of Las Vegas to keep endangered Mojave Desert Tortoises from crossing the highway and too frequently meeting their demise beneath the wheels of speeding vehicles.

But when the project was completed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the fencing failed to meet federal standards — which called for the tortoise fencing to be at least two feet above the ground and one foot below. Some sections of the fence were no more than 8 inches above the ground and as little as 4 inches deep.

The 28-page Piggy Book reported, “Nevada taxpayers alone were forced to cover the $736,000 required to remove the existing, inadequate fencing and replace it with new fencing in line with federal regulations.”

But that’s just the beginning of this tale of waste and woe. NPRI relates that a 2017 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis said that “tortoises that haven’t adjusted to the fencing pace along them, and sometimes overheat and die.” So much for saving tortoises from becoming roadkill.

Fencing wasn’t the only problem.

It turns out, according to the Piggy Book, that a series of culverts under the highway — intended to be tortoise passages and costing $320,000 — had faulty drainage that resulted in, you guessed it, more tortoise deaths.

“Like the tortoise fencing, these culverts will also need to be reengineered and replaced,” NPRI recounts. “As of this writing, it is unclear how much all these repairs will cost, but it seems likely that state — not federal — taxpayers will be responsible for paying the bill.”

Then there is the issue of the state shelling out overtime to unionized prison correctional officers. It turns out overtime is not calculated the same way in government as in the private sector where one must work more than 40 hours to earn overtime pay.

For some government workers overtime is calculated using time “paid” instead of time worked. Paid leave — such as vacation or sick days — count toward overtime eligibility. “In other words, even if an employee took vacation time for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they would still be eligible to receive overtime if they ended up working Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” NPRI explains.

For example, corrections officer Jimmy Jones received $117,551 in overtime pay on top of his $56,720 salary in one year, while corrections officer Stewart Boyer was paid $74,560 in overtime on top of his $33,496 base salary.

“In total, 19 state correctional officers received OT pay that exceeded their base salary, while 135 received OT pay that was at least 50 percent of their regular salary,” NPRI’s analysis found.

That’s just two examples.

“The examples in this book might be merely the tip of a government-spending iceberg in Nevada — but they are powerful reminders of how important it is for the public to see what, exactly, government is doing with all those never-ending tax increases,” the Piggy Book concludes. “Many of the very same government agencies that are routinely found to be wasting tax dollars also go to great lengths to keep the public in the dark when it comes to spending.”

NPRI describes itself as a non-partisan, free-market think tank that promotes public-policy ideas consistent with the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty and limited, accountable and constitutional government. If only the people we elect to represent us in Carson City and our local governing bodies would pay attention, we might have a little less waste and get to keep more of our money.

The Nevada Piggy Book can be found online at: https://www.npri.org.

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.

Newspaper column: Being ‘green’ is easy, ignore facts

If you thought the “green movement” was more about self-righteous politics than clear-headed science, here are two tales that prove the point.

In Arizona a petition is being circulated in an effort to get on the ballot an initiative called the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment. This would require 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030.

The petition states: “The Amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030.”

To get on the November ballot petitioners must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5.

If the measure passes it would necessitate the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, which currently provides about 35 percent of the state’s electricity, even though it produces no carbon emissions.

If the state were to achieve the goal of 50 percent of its power coming from mostly solar and wind, both of which are intermittent, there would be no room on the grid for Palo Verde’s power, because reactors can’t be quickly turned off and on — it takes weeks of preparation.

“We would have to shut Palo Verde down during the day every day,” one plant official was quoted as saying by Cronkite News. “But that’s not how nuclear plants really work. Nuclear plants can’t just be shut down and then started up again.”

The most likely source of rapid start-up generation would be natural gas, which produces carbon emissions, especially when frequently idling.

Adding wind and solar to the power grid could increase the carbon dioxide output.

Retired electrical engineer Kent Hawkins wrote in February 2010 that “the introduction of wind power into an electricity system increases the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions beyond levels that would have occurred using efficient gas plants alone as the providers of electricity equivalent” to the wind generated power.

This is because every kilowatt-hour of intermittent electricity introduced into the grid must be backed up by a reliable fossil-fuel generator. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the demand for electricity remains.

Starting and stopping natural gas-fired generators is inefficient, comparable to operating a car in stop and go traffic instead of steady and efficient on the open highway. Just like the car, the fuel consumption can double, along with the carbon emissions, negating any presumed carbon savings by using solar or wind.

Opponents of the measure say it will drive up power bills in the state. Proponents argue long-term benefits of solar power and reducing nuclear waste offset any immediate cost spike.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to build $6 billion worth of offshore wind turbines while shutting down the nuclear-powered, emission-free Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, explained in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that the wind turbines will produce only 60 percent as much power as the nuclear plant being closed.

How will this gap be covered? You guessed it, natural gas.

“The irony here is colossal. Mr. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing despite the economic boon it has created in neighboring Pennsylvania, and who has repeatedly blocked construction of pipelines, is making New York even more dependent on natural gas, which will increase its carbon emissions,” Bryce writes. “At the same time, he has mandated offshore wind projects that will force New Yorkers to pay more for their electricity, even though the state already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices.”

This past week NV Energy announced plans to contract to build six new solar power projects at a cost of $2 billion and double the state’s renewable energy capacity, but only if voters reject the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot that would end the company’s monopoly in most of the state and allow competition. No mention was made of how this might impact power bills.

In all three states emissions would likely increase, as well as power bills.

Being green is a state of mind. Just never let the facts get in the way.

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.

Palo Vere nuclear plant