Editorial: BLM moving forward with fire prevention effort

The Bureau of Land Management posted on the Federal Register a couple of weeks ago a notice that it is beginning the tedious paperwork process to finally do something to prevent the devastating wildfires that have plagued the Great Basin region in recent years.

The notice states the BLM will create two Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)— one will analyze the effects of constructing fuel breaks that clear flammable material along a swath of land to curb the spread of wildfire and another to study the effectiveness of restoring rangeland to counteract the spread of invasive species such as cheatgrass and conifers that burn too easily. The states involved include portions of Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, California, Utah and Washington.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires consumed nearly 10 million acres in 2017.

In September Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose responsibilities include the BLM, promised, “This Administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires.”

The EISs, which are required by federal law, mark the beginning of fulfilling that promise. Comments may be submitted in writing until Feb. 20. Those comments may be submitted via:

* Website: https://go.usa.gov/ xnQcG.

* Email: GRSG_PEIS@blm.gov.

* Fax: 208-373-3805.

* Mail: Jonathan Beck, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709

Meetings to discuss the proposed fire prevention efforts will be scheduled throughout the region and will be announced 15 days in advance in the local media and on the BLM website.

One of the reasons for the current initiative, according to the Federal Register notice, is that wildfires tend to increase the the risk of still more wildfires — a positive feedback loop.

“In warm, dry settings, sagebrush-steppe usually takes, at a minimum, many decades to recover, even where invasive annual grasses or other invasive plant species do not become dominant,” the notice states. “Invasive species and conifer encroachment can be exacerbated as a result of wildfires in sagebrush ecosystems, resulting in an increased risk of wildfires …”

Among the concerns that will need to be addressed and evaluated during the comment period and subsequent meetings is that fuel breaks and the accompanying road improvements, by their very nature, improve access for firefighters but also for the general public, which might lead to an increase in the number of human-caused fires. Also, such breaks reduce the cover for small wildlife to avoid predators.

The Associated Press quoted Matt Germino, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, as saying fuel breaks are a bit of a paradox. “Fires, especially large fires, are so unambiguously damaging to wildlife habitat in general — that is the motivating factor for getting these fuel breaks out,” he said. “At this point, it’s really difficult to predict which animal species will benefit and which ones won’t. Sometimes you have to just act in light of the uncertainty.”

That cautionary note aside, we strongly endorse this effort by the current administration to protect not only the environment but also those who earn their living from the land by ranching, farming, logging and mining and those who use the public lands for hunting and recreation. We encourage our readers to submit comments and attend meetings to counter the likely resistance by self-styled environmentalists.

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.

Firefighters battle blaze near Wells this past summer. (Photo submitted to Elko Daily News)

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It is so unfair that some can pay more for faster Internet connections

The FCC has voted to end net neutrality.

It makes you wonder about all those who have been arguing — and you can find dozens of them on the Internet — that it is so unfair to allow some people to pay more to get in the online fast lane while others are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It is so unfair.

 

Grounds for impeaching Trump enough for Titus

There were 58 Democrats who voted to move forward with debate on articles of impeachment of President Trump on the grounds that he is an uncouth oaf. Nevada Rep. Dina Titus was one of them.

Although Texas Rep. Al Green’s House Resolution for impeachment contains no text, Politico has linked to what it calls the articles of impeachment, nothing more than a recitation of Trump’s faux pas.

“Donald John Trump, by causing such harm to the society of the United States is unfit to be president and warrants impeachment, trial and removal from office,” Politico quoted Green as saying on the House floor.

Among the agregious deeds listed by Green are Trump’s attempt to block immigration from certain majority Muslim nations, banning transgender persons from military service, denigrating football players for kneeling during the national anthem and calling a Florida representative wacky.

Titus thought these worthy of debating whether to remove the president from office. All other Nevada representatives voted against moving forward.

Get serious.

 

What is unsaid speaks loudly

Sometimes the most notable aspect of a news story is what is not in it.

The Las Vegas newspaper today has a front page story about the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case that could allow all states to legalize sports betting. Since Congress passed the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act in 1992 only Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware have been allowed to engage in sports wagering because they already allowed it, thus were “grandfathered.”

New Jersey is leading the appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the law.

The story reports that the Nevada casino lobby is siding with New Jersey, saying they hope the expansion of state-sponsored regulated betting would effectively end illegal offshore betting competition.

What the story does not say is where casino owner Sheldon Adelson stands on the matter. Adelson, who happens to own the newspaper, has been a vocal opponent of online wagering, but his Venetian casino sports book has a mobile app that can be used anywhere in Nevada, which seems like online gambling.

The story doesn’t even have one of those disclaimers saying the Adelson family owns the paper.

According to an article at The Federalist in August, Adelson has spent years trying to outlaw internet gambling. He was pressing to extend the Federal Wire Act of 1961 to ban the “bad, addictive” practice of online gambling. The bill is called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.

The original act intended to stop “mobsters from using telephone and telegraph systems for organized crime, most notably for horse racing and other sports betting.” This was before the Internet, of course.

Online and sports betting seem to be somewhat connected.

The Offshore Gaming Association, whose ox would be gored by repeal of the sports betting ban, noted recently that the appointment of Neil Gorsuch means the court is dominated by states’ rights Republicans. The article says, “It’s also notable that while the GOP is beholden to Sheldon Adelson for giving millions to their campaigns, Adelson’s fight is for the banning of online gambling. Adelson has no interest or concern surrounding sports betting. And Donald Trump himself felt that PASPA is largely to blame for the demise of Atlantic City casinos.”

Adelson once said of online gambling in an interview with Forbes, “I am willing to spend whatever it takes. My moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue because I am the largest company by far in the industry and I am willing to speak out. I don’t see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet and nobody has ever explained except for the two companies whose special interest is going to be served if there is gaming on the Internet, Caesars and MGM.”

Yet his sports book has an online app for betting. A little clarification might be in order.

Sheldon Adelson, center, with Donald Trump and Miriam Adelson in 2016. (Pix by Andy Abboud/twitter.com)

 

Newspaper column: Tax reform debate falls down a rabbit hole

If you are trying to follow the debate in Washington about tax reform in its various and evolving iterations, you are likely to come away muttering: Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

This past week the House passed its version of tax reform by a vote of 227-205 with not a single Democrat voting aye. The 13 Republicans who voted nay on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are mostly from high tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey, where constituents would no longer be able to deduct high state and local income and sales taxes.

Also this past week and on a party line vote of 14-12, the Senate Finance Committee, where Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller is a member, passed a slightly different tax reform bill with the same name.

Nevada’s Democratic delegates to D.C. were all singing from the same hymnal.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents northern Clark County and the southern portion of rural Nevada, declared the House bill “nothing more than a handout to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans that unfairly sticks working and middle-class families with the bill.”

Kihuen said the bill also will increase taxes by an average of $680 for 113,000 middle- and low-income Nevada families.

This figure apparently comes from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), which calculated that in 2027 about 11 percent of Nevadans in the lowest 60 percent of earners would see taxes increase by $680. Kihuen neglected to mention that in that year 89 percent of those Nevadans in that earning range would still have a tax cut of $490, according to ITEP.

Nor does he mention that ITEP calculates that in 2018 only 3 percent of those lower tier earners would have a tax hike of $460, while 79 percent would see a tax cut of $610. How these number were derived is not explained.

The average tax cut for 84 percent of all Nevadans in 2018 would be $2,670, according to ITEP. Yes, the tax cut for the richest 1 percent would amount to more than $100,000. The poorest 20 percent would only save $270.

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto chimed in by claiming the House bill would raise taxes on 36 million working and middle class families, without bothering to mention that in 2017 there were more than 145 million IRS tax returns filed.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas lamented, “Of the 50,000 constituents in my district who itemize their taxes, the majority earns less than $75,000 per year.” She failed to note that the standard deduction is being doubled and thus eliminates the need for itemizing for many of them. Nor did she mention that only 25 percent of Nevadans’ tax returns are itemized.

First-term Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Henderson, who has already announced she is a candidate for Heller’s Senate seat, wailed, “This partisan plan adds $1.5 trillion to our deficit and could trigger a $25 billion cut from Medicare as well as further cuts to other programs, unfairly shifting costs onto Nevadans who rely on commonsense tax reliefs policies that help those saddled with high-cost medical expenses, students struggling to pay off their college loans, and teachers trying to buy basic supplies for their classrooms.”

But Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, counters that such deficit claims fail to take into account the anticipated growth in GDP that should increase wages and jobs and actually grow federal tax revenue.

“Even a 1% increase in GDP generates about $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years — more than covering the anticipated $1.5 trillion deficit,” Amodei reported in an email. “The accuracy of this projection can be further evidenced by going back to the Clinton Administration where GDP growth was at 3.9% – the highest it’s ever been under the last five administrations – and the government was operating under a surplus.”

The congressman also pointed out that for those in his district with an annual income of around $64,000 the federal tax cut effect is more than $1,200 a year with the new brackets and increased standard deductions.

Amodei and Sen. Heller both cited the calculations by the Tax Foundation which estimates that both the House and Senate bills could bring 8,000 additional jobs to Nevada and boost middle-class income by $2,500 a year.

What are you going to believe? Historic precedence or cherry-picked examples of a handful of outliers?

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.

News coverage of net neutrality changes reveal nuances in news neutrality

FCC Chair Ajit Pai (AP pix via NYT)

Words can convey considerable nuance, suggesting approval or disapproval without coming right out and saying so. Compare the news flashes this morning from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to vote next month to end net neutrality rules. There is a difference in tone and emphasis.

The third paragraph of The Times piece reads:

The clear winners from the move would be telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast that have lobbied for years against regulations of broadband and will now have more control over the online experiences of American consumers. The losers could be internet sites that will have to answer telecom firms to get their content in front of consumers. And consumers may see their bills increase for the best quality of internet service.

The second graph of The Journal article reads:

The changes are expected to be approved at a Federal Communications Commission meeting in mid-December. They would create a range of new opportunities for internet providers, enabling them to form alliances with media and other online firms to offer web services at higher speeds and quality. They also would help clear the way for creative pricing and bundling of services to attract more customers.

The Obama administration imposed the net neutrality rules in 2015. They prohibit internet service providers from charging more for faster connection speed. Sort of like prohibiting a trucking company from charging more for heavier shipments. (No neutrality here, of course.)

The Journal noted that critics argued the rules “stifled investment and innovation in the still-developing broadband industry. Providers also worried the rules could open the door to rate regulation and other new oversight.”

The Times did quote FCC Chairman as saying, “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The next graph in The Times states:

The plan to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules also reverses a hallmark decision by the agency to declare broadband as a service as essential as phones and electricity, a move that created the legal foundation for the net neutrality rules and underscored the importance of high-speed internet service to the nation.

Hallmark. Importance.

The Journal outlined the two sides of the argument:

Many conservatives view the FTC’s case-by-case regulatory approach as more appropriate for the internet economy, to encourage more innovation.

Progressives prefer the FCC’s rule-based approach for the online environment to prevent unfair and anticompetitive practices by internet providers from ever taking root.

The Journal also noted that on Monday the Trump Justice Department filed suit to block a proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner on antitrust grounds, saying this suggested the administration’s   support for big telecommunications combinations has limits. The Times made no mention of this.

News neutrality is difficult to achieve, too.

 

Nebraska approves Keystone pipeline route

Nebraska’s Public Service Commission today, on a 3-2 vote, approved the construction of the Keystone oil pipeline across the state, though it ruled the pipeline must be routed east of the company’s preferred route in order to skirt the Sandhills region.

In 2015, President Obama shut down the $8 billion, 1,200-mile pipeline construction project intended to carry Canadian shale oil to refineries on the Texas coast, saying, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

President Trump reversed that decision but Nebraska still had to approve a route.

The oil industry has claimed the project will be an economic boon, saying it will create 20,000 well-paying jobs during construction and increase personal income by $6.5 billion over the lifetime of the project. It also would generate $138.4 million a year in property tax revenue. They also claim it will create 473 jobs in Nevada by 2020.

Of course, there is likely to be litigation that will further delay the project.