Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

Gold Butte National Monument (BLM pix)

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review recent monument designations and Zinke sent a memo to the president recommending the reduction in size of six of those, including Gold Butte. The president has not yet acted on those recommendations.

Bishop’s bill would allow the president to unilaterally reduce the size of any monument by 85,000 acres — and by more with the consent of affected counties and states.

The bill would allow a president in the future to create a new monument unilaterally, but only up to 640 acres. Anything larger than that, up to 10,000 acres, would require an environmental review. Anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres, the apparent size cap on new monuments, would require approval of counties and state officials, as well as the governor.

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop was quoted as saying. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”

Like the Natural Resources Committee, Nevada’s congressional delegation is divided along party lines when it comes to national monuments. The four Democrats have all objected bitterly and volubly to reducing the size of Nevada’s monuments.

But its two Republican delegates in January introduced legislation that would prevent future designations of monuments in Nevada without the consent of Congress — the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22).

The legislation introduced by Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” Their bill would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

In response to Bishop’s bill passing the committee, a Heller press aide sent out a comment, “Unilateral federal land grabs in a state like Nevada where the federal government already owns 85 percent of our land should not be permitted. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations, and that is why I’ve introduced legislation that prevents last year’s land grab under the Obama administration from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to see that it is signed into law.”

Congressman Amodei said in January before Trump’s inauguration, “I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Bishop’s proposal also declares that existing water and land rights are to preserved despite a monument designation.

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.

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Newspaper column: Zinke’s national monument modifications too modest

Frankly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending modifications to a few national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — is far too modest, but it has the Democratic contingent of Nevada’s Washington delegation squealing like a pig stuck under a gate.

Zinke recommended unspecified changes to the Gold Butte boundaries but totally ignored the massive 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument that straddles the border between Nye and Lincoln counties, even though members of the Congressional Western Caucus recommended reducing it to 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible,” as the law says, to protect the Indian petroglyphs there.

The Interior Secretary noted in his memo that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gave the president authority to protect historic and prehistoric landmarks and objects of scientific and historic interest, but the monument designation has instead been used to block use of vast landscapes. “It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining, and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” the memo observes.

Ryan Zinke visits Gold Butte (R-J pix)

He also noted that the public comment process has been usurped by well-organized, well-funded, self-styled environmental groups, drowning out local officials, ranchers, miners and loggers.

These environmental groups and their Democratic cohorts are dead set on protecting every inch of barren dirt and rock from the invasive non-native species known as mankind.

Not that any of them has ever worked as a roughneck or roustabout in the grease orchards, castrated a calf or branded a steer, driven a Euclid filled with ore or operated a jackhammer or a chainsaw or cashed a pay check for doing so.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen of North Las Vegas, whose district includes Gold Butte, screeched about Zinke’s modest memo, “This decision will not only be detrimental to Nevada’s economy and shared cultural heritage, but it is further proof that the monument review process has been rigged from the start. Secretary Zinke promised that Nevadans’ voices would be heard. Instead, we got half-hearted attempts to meet with stakeholders and secret memos cooked up behind closed doors, all when the outcome was predetermined from the beginning. When it comes to altering our monuments and impacting our livelihood, Nevadans deserve more than unofficial leaks and uncorroborated reports. Secretary Zinke should look Nevadans in the eye and give it to us straight, rather than hide behind the administration’s continued shroud of secrecy.”

Actually, his constituents in Mesquite welcome the reduction, especially if it assures the town it will have access to springs in the region that will be needed to supply the growing community with drinking water in the future.

Zinke’s memo specifically noted that the water district has historic water rights to six springs and five of those are within the Obama-designated national monument boundaries. The memo further said that there are four active grazing allotments in the area, though the proclamation claimed there were none.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas weighed in by declaring, “Gold Butte’s opponents have created a straw man argument about water rights without mentioning that the monument’s proclamation includes language to protect them. Now we must recommit our effort to protect these precious public lands in the courts and send a strong message to Zinke and Trump to keep their hands off our monuments.”

Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Henderson claimed, “This rash decision by the Trump Administration will not only endanger Nevada’s natural beauty and chip away at our cultural heritage, but it will also hurt our state’s outdoor recreation economy by eliminating jobs that have contributed significantly to our local tourism industry.”

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Las Vegas has opposed reducing the footprint of any national monument.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei both opposed the designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

Heller said, “As a strong proponent of states’ rights, the Obama Administration’s decision to bypass Congress and designate two national monuments in Nevada despite widespread disagreement at the local level is an example of extreme overreach and the failed Washington-knows-best mentality. That is why I welcomed Secretary Zinke to Nevada to see first-hand the impact of monuments designated under the Antiquities Act with no local input.”

The monument designation does nothing to add actual protection for the few petroglyphs and other artifacts that are located on the sites, but Zinke did recommend the president seek funding to actually protect those artifacts.

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 must examine Yucca Mountain opportunities as well as risks

There are two things we can’t seem to bury: Nuclear waste and the debate over Yucca Mountain.

At something dubbed the RadWaste Summit at a Las Vegas hotel earlier this month the debate over whether or not to bury nuclear waste in a labyrinth of tunnels inside Yucca Mountain continued, breaking no new ground nor changing the minds of anyone so far as we could tell.

Once again it was the debate over whether science or politics would or should prevail. Little has changed since 1987 when Louisiana Sen. J. Bennett Johnston rammed through what many Nevadans affectionately call the Screw Nevada bill, which politically rather than scientifically singled out Yucca Mountain as the sole site to be studied for nuke waste disposal.

Back then there were six sites being studied for by the Department of Energy as potential disposal sites for the nation’s growing pile of radioactive waste from commercial nuclear reactors, waste the federal government had agreed to take off the hands of private power companies.

In addition to Yucca Mountain in Nye County the sites were in Mississippi, Texas, Utah and Louisiana. The Mississippi site was the frontrunner at that time, with the Vacherie salt dome, mere miles from Sen. Johnston’s home, the No. 2 choice.

In 1982 the need for a nuke waste dump was urgent, according to the Office of Technology Assessment, which said “existing reactors are running out of spent fuel storage space, and by 1986 some may face the risk of shutting down for some period if there are delays in efforts to provide additional storage capacity.”

Somehow, the industry has limped along ever since by using pools of water on the power plant sites all over the country — not pleasing the politicians whose constituents live near those sites.

At the RadWaste confab, the press tended to quote Robert Halstead, executive director of the governor’s Agency for Nuclear Projects and an opponent of licensing Yucca Mountain, and Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen, a proponent of using Yucca Mountain as a way to create jobs and boost the economy of his county.

Schinhofen was quoted as saying that opposition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to study whether to license the site relies “on political science over nuclear science.”

While Halstead responded that it was “political science not earth science” that caused Congress to designate only Yucca Mountain as a repository.

Though most Nevada politicians oppose the licensing of Yucca Mountain, they are outnumbered in Congress.

If the scientific study of the site, if it is ever completed, proves the site to be unsafe by all means close up the tunnels and walk away.

On the other hand, Nevada should continue to negotiate for benefits and suggest that the site should be more than just a dump.

In a letter earlier this year the Nye County Commission stated, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

Others note that the country should consider recycling the waste shipped to Yucca Mountain, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds benefitting Nevada citizens.

“The state feels the state can’t win in this,” Schinhofen was quoted as saying after the recent panel discussion. “Well, if they would take the other view that this is a multibillion-dollar, multigenerational project, if it’s found to be safe, the state wins. I mean, we win big. This rivals the Hoover Dam. It’s a huge project that would bring infrastructure, it would bring jobs, it would bring high-paying jobs, it would bring money to our universities.”

Nevadans should be shrewd negotiators and not let opportunities be missed due to misguided fears.

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: A day worthy of celebrating: Constitution Day

This Sunday, Sept. 17, marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On that day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

The Constitution also says, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …”

But when it came to ObamaCare, which is replete with a panoply of revenue generating taxes to offset its expenses, the Senate grabbed an unrelated bill that had passed the House, cut the existing language and substituted the ObamaCare verbiage. The bill number was the only thing that originated in the House.

Yes, it’s those four-handwritten pages that give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …” Not to force people to engage in commerce by buying health insurance or pay a fine or a tax for not doing so.

That Commerce Clause also has been stretched to prohibit a farmer from growing grain to feed his own cattle because that affected demand for grain on the interstate market. The same rationale allows Congress to set minimum wages for jobs that have nothing to do with interstate commerce.

It also gave Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Some wars get declared, while others are just military exercises.

The instrument also says the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Not decide for himself when the Senate is in session. At least the judiciary slapped Obama’s wrist on that one.

During ratification the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment that says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That probably means Congress can’t order a religion to pay for contraceptions, abortifacients and sterilization against its beliefs.

We’re pretty sure the document did not envision a president’s administration creating by regulation laws the Congress refused to pass — think immigration enforcement and rules promulgated by the EPA, FEC, HHS, HUD or USDA without the consent of Congress.

Another clause gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States …” though the foregoing powers and powers vested by the Constitution part is largely ignored.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever … to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” And just when did Congress purchase and the state Legislature consent to turning over 85 percent of Nevada’s land mass to the federal government?

As James Madison said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations …”

Happy Constitution Day, while it lasts.

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 editorial calls for getting Yucca Mountain back on track

Another call for licensing of Yucca Mountain has been made.

Today an editorial in the Albuquerque Journal points out the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository — New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad — is filling up quickly while Yucca Mountain remains mothballed.

The newspaper’s editorial board posits that WIPP can be expanded and such expansion is welcomed by the community for economic development — so long as it can be done safely.

“But WIPP is not a permanent solution for all the nation’s nuclear waste because there are still 70,000 metric tons being stored throughout the U.S., above ground and adjacent to rivers or on top of water tables, with more being created,” the board notes.

Now that Obama and Harry Reid have left office, the newspaper suggests that now is the time to put Yucca Mountain back on track.

“New Mexico has done, and will continue doing, its part to safely dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste. Nevada, which has also benefitted from the nation’s nuclear programs as well as $15 billion-plus in nuclear investment, should do the same,” the editorial concludes.

WIPP is filling up fast. (Photo from WIPP via Albuquerque Journal)

Dueling columnists could be entertaining, except …

Epithets at 10 paces. Turn and fire.

First, in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root took issue with MGM’s CEO Jim Murren telling his employees that the firm would match any donations they decided to make to certain groups that he apparently identified as civil rights organizations. In a letter to employees Murren noted recent violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona and stated, “In the midst of this uncertainty, I want to affirm a clear-eyed, concrete view of the company in which you have chosen to invest your career, because on the question of human rights, MGM Resorts takes and unequivocal position: The protection of human dignity, demonstrated in the form of tolerance and respect for all people, is the core of our identity. We strive to create workplaces and entertainment spaces that are welcoming, open and respectful to all kinds of people, regardless of disability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender identity or sexual orientation.” (His bold face and italics.)

He listed the groups for which the company would match donations as Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, ADL, Council on American Islamic Relations and others.

Root took issue with the doling out of shareholder funds to liberal groups in general but especially with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tossing out hate group labels like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade, and the Council on American Islamic Relation, which has been pegged as the clean-faced front for Hamas.

Root blasted, “Jim Murren has gone too far. And he’s put MGM’s board, shareholders and employees in a terrible position because of his extreme, radical, reckless decisions” — without bothering to append the usual disclaimer about the newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, being both a business competitor with MGM and frequent political opponent of Murren.

Today, the putative editor of the insert inside the Review-Journal filled that gap with a diatribe. Brian Greenspun said of Root’s Thursday missive:

That day, he went after one of Sheldon’s biggest, most forward-thinking and most responsible competitors in the gaming industry. It is exactly what the gaming industry feared might happen when the news — as secret as the Adelson family tried to keep it — broke that one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors had purchased one of the two largest newspapers in Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun is the other “largest” newspaper in Nevada.

I don’t know if Sheldon knows what Root writes from one day to the next, but he should be very careful about what his minions publish in and under his name. Root and publisher Craig Moon certainly know what would please Sheldon.

Not only are Adelson and Murren competitors on the Strip but also in Macau and perhaps in Japan in the future.

Adelson is a huge Republican donor, while Murren was a card-carrying Republican for Reid and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

A couple of years ago Adelson tore into MGM and Caesars for driving down the price of rooms on the Strip and costing his Sands corporation money. Adelson personally attacked Murren for supporting a convention center expansion, which competes with Adelson’s convention center, over a new football stadium.

But perhaps the funniest thing in Greenspun’s screed was this line:

Which reminds me of one of the first lessons in newspaper publishing I learned from my father, Hank Greenspun, many decades ago — publishers have profound responsibilities to the public interest and it must always be placed before personal interest.

Hank Greenspan was notorious for pulling his newspaper like a dueling pistol to attack business competitors and political foes and to support his friends. He was virulently critical of an FBI agent who conducted a sting on certain politicians and he conducted a campaign to discredit a competitor in the cable television business.

Greenspan concludes his spiel, “Come on, Review-Journal, publish your paper in the community interest. You and your owners should be better than this.”

A little dueling between newspaper columnists could be entertaining — if they both weren’t such clowns.

Editorial: Western congressmen seek monument size reductions

Recently the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then-Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres, the letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply. Zinke was scheduled to be in Nevada this week to discuss the matter.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.’”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “City” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.
The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without congressional approval or local support.

Neither monument needs to be so large.

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.

Gold Butte (BLM pix)