Editorial: ObamaCare costs keep soaring

Premiums for ObamaCare-eligible health insurance plans are soaring this year, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that the lowest priced of the so-called gold plans that cover 80 percent of medical expenses for a 40-year-old non-smoker increased 19 percent nationally this year and 25 percent in Nevada. The lowest cost silver plans for that individual, which covers 70 percent of medical costs, went up 32 percent nationally and 45.6 percent in Nevada. The second lowest priced silver plans jumped 34.3 percent nationally and 48.3 percent in Nevada.

But not to worry, the Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City reports that more than 85 percent of the nearly 100,000 Nevadans who are covered by such plans through the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will not pay much if any of that premium increase because they receive federal subsidies. Guess who pays those federal subsidies? All of us.

The Appeal reports that, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office, the nationwide increase in premiums will cost the taxpayers $10 billion more in subsidies this year.

Of course, a state health exchange executive blamed the premium spikes on “instability in the health insurance market — much of it caused by tactics designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That includes the decision to stop paying insurance companies for the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies mandated by the ACA for consumers making between 138 and 250 percent of the poverty level,” the Appeal explained.

The taxpayers get stuck with the bill either way — subsidize the insurer or subsidize the rate payer. Six of one, a half dozen of the other.

During the debate this past year over those Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies, The Wall Street Journal reported, “In an ironic twist, stopping the subsidies would also wind up costing the federal government more in the end, the (Congressional Budget Office) report said. Higher premiums for mid-priced plans would require the government to pay larger tax credits to consumers to help offset coverage costs. The federal deficit would increase by $194 billion through 2026, the report said.” Instead of paying $7 billion in subsidies to insurers, we are paying $10 billion to ratepayers.

Pay no heed to the fact ObamaCare premiums have been rising sharply since the law was passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote and using dirty tricks devised by Nevada’s own Sen. Harry Reid. According to the website eHealth, from 2013, the year before ObamaCare went into effect, through 2017, health insurance premiums had already increased 140 percent. Forget repeal and replace, just repeal. Remember at the ballot box this fall just who brought us this expensive boondoggle and would vote to keep it.

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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Newspaper column: Opposition to wind farm project expressed

As part of its review process to determine whether to approve an application to allow construction of wind turbines on 32,000 acres of public land in Nevada adjacent to the California border just west of Searchlight, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a series of scoping meetings to allow public input.

At a recent meeting in Las Vegas a half dozen speakers largely expressed support for renewable energy but not on the proposed site.

According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Crescent Peak Renewables is proposing to erect 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada. All of the land is in Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area (Pix by Kurt Kuznicki)

Alan O’Neill, retired superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, testified there is a coalition of conservation organizations in California and Nevada that asked the BLM to hold off on issuing the notice of intent for the wind project until a supplemental resource management plan could be completed.

O’Neill also said the groups asked that the area be designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

“What we’d like the BLM to do, and I’m speaking on behalf of a number of conservation organizations, is for BLM to develop an alternative as part of this EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that has a ‘no wind’ alternative,   combined with establishing the Castle Mountains ACEC. We think that’s a solid alternative,” O’Neill said, noting there are 19 environmental conservation organizations plus four retired superintendents backing the proposal.

“It seems disingenuous to me that in the overall presentation you’re talking about an impact of 750 acres,” actual area cleared for pads and roads, O’Neill remarked. “It is surrounded by wilderness characteristics with basically no roads, except backcountry roads. Those roads are 10 feet wide, and you’re talking about building 93 miles of new roads 36 feet wide, in addition to 15 miles of road that they’re expanding to 36. The impacts of that are astounding. And you’re talking about a hole in the doughnut. You’re talking about this area surrounded by a protected landscape that many of us in this room have spent literally decades trying to get protected. You’re talking about putting in an industrial-sized development.”

Laura Cunningham, a member of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, stated, “I would recommend going to this area, like the Castle Mountains in Nevada, and hiking, because I think what’s not being said here is how absolutely beautiful this place is. It is really pristine. There are hardly any roads there.”

Cunningham added, “So, this is a really wild, remote area, really biologically diverse. My group, Basin and Range Watch, we’re going to have a ‘bioblitz’ April 28th and 29th.”

Her group’s website explains that the bioblitz, which is defined as a biological survey in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area, is part of an effort to persuade the BLM to designate roughly 38,000 acres of Nevada desert — which includes the proposed wind farm — as an ACEC.

“I was just hiking there a couple of weeks ago and it’s got a unique, rare Sonoran Desert grassland with Joshua trees and yuccas,” she said. “You get up on some of those low ridges, they don’t look like much on a map, but when you’re there it looks like you’re in East Africa or Namibia. You just don’t see anything — no transmission lines, maybe there’s one road way off in the distance, a dirt road.”

Jose Witt, who said he belongs to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that, while there is a need to replace fossil fuel power generation with renewable energy, there also is a need to protect view sheds and wildlife habitat.

“If we put this type of development in the middle of all these protected lands, it ruins the integrity and conservation values of all this area. We fragment the habitat and essentially lose islands of protection, or become islands, because there is no continuity,” Witt said.

Shannon Salter said the Joshua trees in the area need to be protected. “Some of them are over 30 feet tall and they are approximately 900 years old. We need them protected. The name of their forest is the Wee Thump Joshua forest. That word Wee Thump is a Paiute Indian word, which means ancient one,” Slater said.

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.

 

Editorial: No solution for wild horse overpopulation in budget

The wild horse can has been kicked down the road yet again.

Congress could not possibly find a way in its 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion budget that President Trump signed a couple of weeks ago to do anything whatsoever about the overpopulation of wild horses.

The Interior Department’s FY2019 budget at one time included this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Among those tools could have been the humane slaughter of sick and unadoptable wild horses and burros that are starving on the overgrazed range in the West. That was the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but every federal budget since 2009 has prohibited this commonsense approach.

So we are stuck with spending $50 million a year to warehouse 46,000 “wild” horses in pens and pastures, while 73,000 roam free on grazing land that can sustain only 27,000 animals. The main population reduction method left for the federal land agencies is adoption. According to The Washington Post only 3,500 wild horses were adopted in 2017.

“We are thrilled that Congress has rejected this sick horse slaughter plan,” the Post quoted Marilyn Kroplick, president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, as saying in a statement that claimed horse lovers had “jammed Congressional phone lines with calls and sent tens of thousands of emails” to make their case.

On the other hand, in the real world, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in an op-ed in The New York Times in December, cited an example of the conditions on the ground, noting that in 2015 the Bureau of Land Management sent agents into the desert outside Las Vegas to round up about 200 wild horses that were reported to be starving to death.

“Bureau employees discovered nearly 500 horses,” Stewart wrote. “They had pounded their range to powder; the desert grasses that remained had been eaten to the nubs. Nearly 30 were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized, and many others were on the brink of death.”

The BLM had determined that the 100,000-acre expanse where these horses were grazing produced only enough grasses and water to sustain 70 horses, the congressman concluded.

Stewart advocated euthanizing excess horses. “I understand that some will recoil from this approach. But anyone who really cares about these majestic animals must understand that other efforts have failed to curb their exploding population and that culling these herds to numbers the land can sustain is the best way to prevent further suffering and death,” he concluded.

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 feral horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, still starving and dying of thirst and crowding out other species and competing with cattle and sheep for forage.

The BLM canceled a meeting of its National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board scheduled for late March in Salt Lake City when a member objected to using a 15-day public notice for “urgent matters,” instead of the customary 30 days. The terms of three board members expired on March 31. Another meeting will be scheduled once new members are seated.

That may be a futile gesture. At a 2016 meeting in Elko the advisory panel recommended “offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed unadoptable, for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia.” The recommendation was ignored.

Meanwhile, nothing is being done to the relieve the suffering of feral horses.

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: Census should ask about citizenship

Ignorance is not bliss.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have sued in an effort to block the 2020 Census from asking about citizenship status, claiming the question will prompt illegal immigrants to not respond and thus result in an undercount of population. That, they say, could result in the loss of congressional representation and federal funding for states, such as California, that have large immigrant populations.

According to the 14th Amendment, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” That’s the whole number of persons, not just citizens.

The stakes for Nevada are also high.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2012 Nevada’s population included 7.6 percent illegal immigrants, its workforce was 10.2 percent illegals and its school enrollment included 17.7 percent whose parents are not in the country legally. All of those levels were the highest in the nation and climbing.

According to estimates posted by the Census Bureau in July, fully 19.3 percent of Nevada residents were foreign born. Fully 27 percent of Californians were foreign born. The problem is that there is no accurate number for how many of those have attained citizenship or legal residency.

The citizenship question was asked up until 1950 and is still asked on the more detailed American Community Survey that goes to about 2.6 percent of the population each year.

The Census Bureau explains why the citizenship and place of birth questions are on the long form: “We ask about people in the community born in other countries in combination with information about housing, language spoken at home, employment, and education, to help government and communities enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination based on national origin. For example, these data are used to support the enforcement responsibilities under the Voting Rights Act to investigate differences in voter participation rates and to enforce other laws and policies regarding bilingual requirements.”

Those who oppose asking about citizenship status do so under the purely speculative supposition that non-citizens will spurn the census entirely, ignoring the fact the Census Bureau is legally bound by strict confidentiality requirements. It may not share individual data with ICE, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA or anyone.

Additionally, refusing to comply with the Census can result in a $100 fine and providing false data can result in a $500 fine, though reportedly no one has been fined since 1970.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto railed, “This decision trades the accuracy of a census designed to provide complete count of the entire nation’s population for a political win for President Trump. This is a direct attack on immigrant populations that could lead to undercounted and underfunded minority districts across the country. It is an assault on our representative democracy and our Constitution which requires a complete and accurate count of everyone living in the country, no matter their citizenship status.”

Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat, said the citizenship question “politicizes the census and drags its integrity into question. It’s clear that the Trump administration is looking to ensure Nevada’s immigrant communities are underserved and underrepresented for the next decade.”

The mostly Democratic-majority states that are suing over the Census question about citizenship are claiming the knowledge will somehow dilute minority representation, but the opposite is the case.

A Wall Street Journal editorial recently pointed out, “The progressive critics are also missing that Commerce says the Justice Department requested the citizenship question to continue a longtime progressive policy: to wit, enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate by race. Justice supposedly needs detailed data on citizen voting-age population by census block, which the American Community Survey doesn’t provide.”

Hans von Spakovsky explained in an essay penned for The Heritage Foundation, “Citizenship information collected in the 2000 census was vital to our efforts to enforce the Voting Rights Act when I worked at the U.S. Department of Justice. When reviewing claims of whether the voting strength of minority voters was being diluted in redistricting, it was essential to know the size of the citizen voting age population.”

So it certainly seems that the self-styled progressives are ignoring the facts, the statistics and the well-being of those they claim to wish to protect.

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.

Editorial: Nevada court rightly upholds public right to know

The Nevada Supreme Court has made it clear that public officials cannot skirt the state public records law by using privately owned electronic devices to conduct the public’s business.

This past week the court unanimously overturned a lower court ruling that rejected a request for records from Lyon County commissioners because those records were not stored on devices owned by the county. The county conceded that public business was indeed conducted using personal phones and email addresses. The county website even lists those phone numbers and email addresses as the commissioners’ contact information.

“The use of private entities in the provision of public services must not deprive members of the public access to inspect and copy books and records relating to the provision of those services,” wrote Justice Michael Cherry, author of the opinion.

The Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) states that, unless otherwise specifically exempted by law, “all public books and public records of a governmental entity must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person, and may be fully copied or an abstract or memorandum may be prepared from those public books and public records.”

Cherry further clarified, “In light of these requirements, (NPRA) cannot be read as limiting public records to those that are physically maintained at a government location or on a government server and are immediately accessible to the public during the business hours of that governmental entity. Such an interpretation would render … (the law) meaningless, as the records of private entities rendering public services would not necessarily be stored at the government office, and providing a time frame for resolving a records request would be unnecessary if records were required to be immediately produced for inspection at that location.”

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, called the ruling important and substantial.

“If it had gone the other way, it would have created a gaping loophole in the law,” Smith said. “During oral arguments, justices asked the right questions. Essentially, they wondered, ‘How could the open-records law work if public officials could simply avoid it by using their personal devices?’”

Smith noted that John Marshall, the attorney for Lyon County citizens seeking the records, had a good analogy. “He said it would be like an official typing up a county document on his own typewriter at home and storing it in his personal filing cabinet. The principle remains the same. If it was public business, then it was a public document,” Smith explained.

Nevada Policy Research Institute Transparency Director Robert Fellner issued a statement saying, “In finding that public officials cannot hide their activities by simply conducting government business on personal devices, the Court reinforces the mandate within Nevada’s Public Records Law that it ‘be construed liberally to carry out [the] important purpose’ of a transparent and open government.”

In order for the public to properly evaluate the conduct of their elected and appointed officials, they must be able to see, hear and read what those officials are doing, why they are doing it, how they are doing it and for whom.

In this particular case Lyon County commissioners had rejected a zoning request for an industrial development, but later reversed themselves. Citizens filed a public records request seeking access to communications about the zoning matter whether contained on public or private devices.

Cherry’s opinion made it abundantly clear that public business must be transparent, writing, “We conclude that the NPRA does not categorically exempt public records maintained on private devices or servers from disclosure. To withhold a public record from disclosure, the government entity must present, with particularity, the grounds on which a given public record is exempt.”

We applaud the court for again upholding the public’s right to know.

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: Customers should be able to shop for electricity

Question 3 on the 2016 General Election ballot — the Energy Choice Initiative — passed by an overwhelming 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent. The measure failed in only one county, White Pine, but by only four votes.

Because the measure would amend the state Constitution it is back on the ballot this fall for final voter approval, but this time around a coalition headed by the state’s largest power monopoly, NV Energy, has vowed to spend $30 million to defeat it.

The Energy Choice Initiative proposes that the Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to pass a law providing an open, competitive retail electric energy market by July 1, 2023. The law must include provisions to reduce customer costs, protect against service disconnections and unfair practices, and prohibit the granting of monopolies for power generation, but could leave in place regulation of transmission or distribution systems.

One of the chief arguments for the measure is that competition would drive down cost.

Nevada and many other states were well on the way to breaking up their electricity generation monopolies 17 years ago until the Enron market manipulation debacle that led to blackouts and price spikes that scared lawmakers into backing off, even though the free market was not the problem. The problem was collusion and manipulation.

According to a Wall Street Journal article at the time, Enron charged California’s Independent System Operator for relieving power congestion without actually doing so. The company also avoided in-state price caps by moving power out of state and then reselling it to California — fraud.

Expect to be inundated in the coming months with “facts and figures” that are wildly contradictory and warnings of another Enron debacle.

Michael Yackira, the former CEO of NV Energy, recently penned an op-ed for the donation-funded news website The Nevada Independent that argued the initiative could jeopardize energy dependability and not lower power bills.

“Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have implemented deregulation,” Yackira writes. “The result: Not one of these has lower rates than Nevada and 11 of these places have higher rates than the national average. When compared to prices throughout the country, Nevada’s prices are below the national average. For example, California’s electricity prices per kilowatt hour are nearly double Nevada’s.”

Days later, Jon Wellinghoff, a backer of the Energy Choice Initiative as well as former general counsel to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, fired back at the same website, saying the initiative is not “deregualtion” at all, because the grid would still be regulated and still operated by the power company and the various rural power cooperatives around the state.

Wellinghoff said it is a basic economic principle that competition lowers costs. “Consider the case of Pennsylvania,” he writes. “Since it enacted energy choice, consumers have saved close to $1 billion per year on their power bills and the residents of Pittsburgh are paying 50 percent LESS for energy than under the monopoly utility, according to former Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner John Hanger.”

He also cited a 2015 study by two veteran utility regulators titled “Evolution of the Revolution: The Sustained Success of Retail Electricity Competition.” That study found that from 1997 to 2014 the states that had adopted customer choice for power saw inflation-adjusted residential rates fall 5.2 percent, while monopoly states saw those rates rise 3.9 percent.

Opponents of the ballot measure like to point out that Nevada’s rates are below the national average and nearly half that of California’s, which has driven up costs by demanding that a huge proportion of its power come from more expensive renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of December 2017 Nevada power rates for all sectors ranked in the middle of the 11 western states, but since commercial and industrial users get lower rates in Nevada, our residential rates were the third highest in the region 12.34 cents per kilowatt-hour. Arizona’s residential rate was 12.85 cents and California’s 18.48. The lowest was in hydropower rich Washington at 9.63 cents.

Wellinghoff points out that large power consumers such as MGM, Switch, Caesars and Barrick Mining are already paying millions of dollars for the privilege of buying power on the open market — in the case of MGM, $87 million, which must mean they are going to save more than $87 million on the open market.

Why shouldn’t residential customers be able to shop for cheaper power?

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.

Update: An alert reader points out that a 2003 investigation of the power market manipulation determined that the underlying cause was poor regulatory plans. “Staff concludes that supply-demand imbalance, flawed market design and inconsistent rules made possible significant market manipulation as delineated in final investigation report. Without underlying market dysfunction, attempts to manipulate the market would not be successful,” the staff report concluded.

Editorial: Wildlife panel drops unwise weapons restriction

At its March meeting the commissioners on the Nevada Board of Wildlife wisely tabled a proposed regulation that would have required hunters to obtain permission of the occupant of a dwelling before discharging a weapon within a certain distance.

The board was responding to reported instances of hunters engaging in unsafe practices near residences, but such a rule would have allowed dwelling occupants to create de facto no hunting zones.

The proposal was first prompted by an incident in 2016 in Genoa in which a hunter with an archery deer tag wounded a deer that then wondered into a residential area. The hunter went knocking on doors asking permission to finish off the deer in peoples’ yards, causing some consternation and raising the issue of whether there should be regulations dictating safe hunting distances from dwellings.

The proposed rule would have amended the Nevada Administrative Code to make it unlawful to discharge a firearm within 5,000 feet of any occupied dwelling without the permission of the owner or occupier of the dwelling. That is almost 1 mile. Further, the rule would prohibit firing a shotgun, bow or crossbow within 1,000 feet of such a dwelling without permission.

Under such a rule owners of land could conceivably be barred from hunting on their own property if there were a home within a mile in any direction where someone objects.

Members of the National Rifle Association, bowhunter groups and other Second Amendment backers questioned the need for the statewide law.

While based on good intentions, such restrictions are unnecessary.

There already is a law on the books that makes it illegal for a person to willfully and maliciously discharge a firearm at or into any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, aircraft, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, railroad locomotive, car or tender. If any of those places is occupied, the crime is a felony punishable by imprisonment for a minimum term of not less than one year and a maximum term of not more than six years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.

Further, many cities and counties already have laws on the books dictating where weapons may be discharged.

This proposal, as one person observed, was a solution in search of a problem.

Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed.

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.

Nevada Board of Wildlife meeting.