Newspaper column: Trump appointees may hold key to Nevada’s economic future

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

What does a Donald Trump presidency forebode for Nevada?

It is hard to say, because Trump has never kept a firm grip on any political position for more than a few hours, seemingly changing stances depending on with whom he has spoken most recently.

On the topic of who should control the public lands in Nevada — where currently 87 percent of the state’s land mass is controlled by the various federal land agencies — President-elect Trump has straddled the fence so much he must have saddle sores.

In January during an interview with Field & Stream magazine in Las Vegas, candidate Trump was asked about the prospect of the federal government transferring some of those lands to the states if he were to be elected president.

Trump unequivocally replied, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?

And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”

Merely a week later in an op-ed piece printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal Trump did a 180-degree turn: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians. Far removed from the beautiful wide open spaces of Nevada, bureaucrats bend to the influence that is closest to them. Honest, hardworking citizens who seek freedom and economic independence must beg for deference from a federal government that is more intent on power and control than it is in serving the citizens of the nation.”

He went on to bemoan the fact local governments have to beg the Washington bureaucracy for land for schools, roads, parks and other public uses and pay a premium price for it. During the Republican convention this past summer the party platform included a call for the federal government to divest itself of a certain portion of public lands.

“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states …” the platform reads. “The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.”

But at the same time an aide to Trump told the Huffington Post that Trump did not oppose the platform plank, but did not really embrace it, saying, Trump “lives in Manhattan and he views the West as this giant federal wonderful ownership property.” The aide said Trump would prefer a middle ground, such as a federal-state management partnership.

In August, according to High Country News, Elko County Commissioner and Nevada Land Management Task Force Chairman Demar Dahl met privately with Trump at a fundraiser at Lake Tahoe and broached the subject of public lands being transferred to the states.

“He said, ‘I’m with you,’” recalls Dahl, an avowed advocate of granting Nevada greater control over public land. He spoke recently before a House subcommittee in favor of a bill that would do so.

Given Trump’s apparent fluidity on this matter, one might be advised to look to who Trump appoints to various cabinet posts in the coming weeks for hints for how Nevada and the West may fare. One good sign for Nevadans who would like to see federal land put to productive use is that Trump reportedly is seriously considering two oil company executives to be secretaries of Interior and/or Energy.

He also has the self-styled environmentalists in a tither over the possibility that he might appoint a so-called climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been pressing forward with its jobs strangling Clean Power Plan to restrict air emissions and its Waters of the U.S. proposal that would usurp control of every mud puddle west of the Rockies. The views of Trump’s appointees may be more important than the rhetoric out of the future president.

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 joins in suit to challenge sweeping redefinition of ‘critical habitat’ under Endangered Species Act

Nevada has joined an 18-state coalition that has filed suit against various federal land agencies for rewriting the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) to in effect give themselves carte blanche over ever square foot of land in the country.

The new rules were published in the Federal Register in February and took effect in March. Though the ESA gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to protect “critical habitat” occupied by endangered or threatened species on public and private land, the new rules sweepingly redefine “critical habitat” to include land currently unoccupied by those species and even to include land that just might someday, in someway, somehow later become “critical habitat” by way of global warming or some other possible change.

The new rules give federal agents the power to block or alter any activity — grazing, farming, construction, mining, recreation, roads, fences, oil and gas exploration — that might somehow adversely affect that potential habitat for certain protected rodents, minnows, bugs, birds, reptiles and beasts.

In a press release announcing the litigation, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt noted that the rule change could allow the federal government to declare “desert land as critical habitat for a protected fish and then prevent the construction of a highway through the land, under the theory that it would prevent the future formation of a stream that might one day support the fish.” The line is lifted almost verbatim from the lawsuit.

The suit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Alabama. It names as defendants the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“As we have seen countless times, this administration’s novel rules reach well beyond anything Congress could have ever intended and will have adverse effects on individual states, businesses and families,” said Laxalt in the press release. “In practice, these latest rules expand federal oversight to the point that the federal government could potentially designate an entire state or even multiple states as critical habitat for certain species. I will continue to protect our state from this type of unwarranted and burdensome federal overreach.”

The sweeping definition of habitat appears to fly in the face of the law’s requirement that “critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species,” except in circumstance determined by the secretary of the Interior.

Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange said in a press release, “Washington bureaucrats have gone beyond common sense by seeking to expand their control to private property adjoining the habitat of an endangered species solely on the basis that these areas might one day be home to a threatened species.”

The suit states:

The Final Rules are an unlawful attempt to expand regulatory authority and control over State lands and waters and should be vacated and enjoined because they violate the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

The ESA carefully delineates how and when the Services may designate areas as critical habitat. The ESA provides that when a species is listed as endangered or threatened, the Services shall “designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat” and “may, from time-to-time thereafter as appropriate, revise such designation.”

The ESA defines critical habitat as “specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed … on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection.” Unoccupied areas trigger an additional requirement — the Services must determine that “such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.”

By employing two different definitions, “[t]he statute thus differentiates between ‘occupied’ and ‘unoccupied’ areas, imposing a more onerous procedure on the designation of unoccupied areas by requiring the [Services] to make a showing that unoccupied areas are essential for … conservation.” The Services have long recognized that they may designate unoccupied areas “only when a designation limited to its present range would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the species.” (Citations omitted.)

The suit also takes issue with the aforementioned fact that the new rules “declare that essential features include not only the physical or biological aspects that actually support the species, but also items that might lead to the development of those species-supporting features sometime in the future.”

Arguments against the rules posted in the Federal Register note that this “constitutes an impermissible reliance upon hope and speculation.”

As well as a crystal ball or reading of tea leaves.

In addition to Nevada and Alabama, other suing states are Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To place the ESA in perspective: Only 1 percent of listed species have recovered sufficiently to be delisted, despite the immense impact on economic endeavors.

Every square foot covered in red tape.

Editorial: State agency playing fast and loose with tax incentives

Let’s make a deal. What’ll it take to get you to close the deal? A little wheeling? A little dealing? A little quid pro quo? Pay no attention to the price tag. That’s for the suckers.

After a meeting of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) this past week, the agency put out a press release boasting that it had approved “the creation of thousands of new jobs in Nevada through the expansion of existing Nevada companies, and companies that are moving to the state.”

GOED Director Steve Hill positively crowed, “We continue to see extraordinary businesses show interest in Nevada for a myriad of reasons, including location, available incentives, business friendliness and the quality of life. These companies will add to the gaining strength of our economy by creating thousands of jobs for Nevadans and continuing the narrative that Nevada is a great state in which to do business.”

Nowhere in the press release did it ever state what those “incentives” were. The word “tax” was nowhere to be seen.

Yet, in one meeting alone the agency magnanimously doled out a total of more than $6 million in tax abatements over the next 10 years to six different companies — five in Clark County, one in Washoe and none anywhere else in the state.

Apparently based on a strict mathematical calculation commonly known as a whim, the companies had their sales taxes slashed to a mere 2 percent for two years — instead of nearer 8 percent for those not so privileged — and their property and modified business taxes are being cut by either 25 percent or 50 percent for several years — depending on how good a deal each could wrangle.

The biggest tax forgiveness packages went to the multi-billion-dollar Internet marketer Amazon — $1.8 million — and something called TH Foods — $2.2 million.

There seemed to be little rhyme nor reason for the size of the largess in comparison to the relative benefit to the state and those taxpayers still required to pay the going rate. You know, the sticker price.

The numbers crunchers claimed one company would generate more than $68 in additional tax revenue for the state for every dollar of abatement, but another would generate only $2.50 for each tax dollar forgiven. Of course, that is pure speculation and conjecture.

Even though one of the stated reasons in the law creating such tax abatement incentives is to create high-wage jobs, only two of the companies so favored last week said their average hourly wages would exceed the targeted statewide average of $21.35 an hour and two companies reported their wages would be less than $15 an hour — one of those Amazon.

This wheeling and dealing was done despite the fact the Nevada Constitution clearly states, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It ain’t uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

And pay no never mind to that part of the Constitution known as the Gift Clause, which states, “The State shall not donate or loan money, or its credit, subscribe to or be, interested in the Stock of any company, association, or corporation, except corporations formed for educational or charitable purposes.”

Remember, that $6 million in tax breaks was from one single meeting of the ever so generous GEOD, which has already doled out billions of dollars in tax “incentives” to Apple, Tesla Motors, Faraday Future and countless other billionaires.

Hey, no peeking behind the curtain at the fact the 2015 Legislature just raised taxes by $1.5 billion on all of us who are too insignificant or too timid to cut special deals, nor at the fact the state is already running a budget deficit of $400 million.

For that $6 million in tax abatements this past week, the companies claimed they might create as many as 2,000 jobs.

In 2012 alone small businesses in Nevada created 15,000 jobs without asking for any tax abatements or credits. What does that make them? Rubes? Suckers?

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.

Amazon plans a warehouse in Nevada like this one in Phoenix. (AP file photo via R-J)

Amazon plans a warehouse in Nevada like this one in Phoenix. (AP file photo via R-J)

Newspaper column: Whither the state’s effort to take control of public lands?

In March 2015 Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, introduced H.R. 1484, dubbed the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act, which, if passed, would require the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to convey to Nevada a portion of the federal public lands they now control and thus partly fulfill an implied promise do so when Nevada became a state 152 years ago.

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources finally got around to conducting a hearing on the bill this past week, though Amodei had been seeking such a hearing for more than a year. The subcommittee took no vote and Amodei is under no illusion the bill has a chance of passage in this session of Congress.

The bill calls for the federal government to transfer ownership of 7.2 million acres of public land to the state in its first phase and about 10 million acres in a subsequent phase. That would still leave the feds controlling about 70 percent of Nevada’s land mass, but down from the current 87 percent, the most of any state.

Testifying in favor of the bill was Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, who chaired a year-long study of the land transfer proposal by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

“I had an opportunity to meet with President-elect (Donald) Trump in August,” Dahl said in his opening remarks. “I said, ‘If you had a hotel with 10 floors on it and eight of those floors were controlled by a bureaucracy that you had virtually no control over that was over 2,000 miles away, how would that work?’

“And he said, ‘I think that you’re actually closer to 90 percent owned and controlled in the state of Nevada by the federal government than you are to 80.’ And that’s true — 87 percent of the state of Nevada is owned and controlled by the federal government.”

The task force Dahl headed up was created by the state Legislature in 2013 and consisted of one member of every county commission in the state, 17 in all.

At their first meeting Dahl said he asked the members whether they thought at the time it was a good idea to transfer land to the state, and more than half said it was not a good idea or they were not sure.

Over the next year the task force met 13 times to hear testimony from state agencies, the Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, various sportsman groups and other stakeholders.

“As we went through the year I could see the lights come on of all of the members and by the time we finished every member was supporting the transfer of the public lands,” said Dahl, a rancher.

An economic analysis contracted by the task force found that the state could expect a net revenue of $350 million a year from controlling the land.

All 17 county commissions voted to support the land transfer effort and in 2015 the proposal passed both houses of the Legislature and resulted in H.R. 1484.

“On the issue of transferring the public lands we discovered that there is more among the residents of the state that unites us than divides us. For the sportsmen, the environmental community and resource users there’s much that we can agree on,” Dahl told the subcommittee. “For instance, 1484 calls for the transfer of all valid existing rights and uses. If you can hunt, fish, camp, graze or prospect on the public lands now, you will be able do it after the transfer.”

No parks, monuments, military or Indian land would be transferred.

Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn of Colorado said to Dahl that people in other parts of the country think residents of the West don’t care about the federal lands, that states would allow a few more barrels of oil to be tapped under a world-class trout stream and the people on either coast need to tell us what to do.

Dahl replied, “My question would be: Why would the people who live there and care for the land, who are able to use it more than anyone else, even though after the transfer people from all over the world will continue to be able to use it, but why would the people of Nevada care less about the land and care less about preserving it for their children, their children’s children and for generations to come?”

Two of the bill’s co-sponsors — Republican Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy — were defeated in the recent election. Where will their Democrat replacements stand on this bill?

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.

 

Trump is picky about who he forgives and Heck ain’t one of ’em

Donald Trump is rather fickle, perhaps even flighty.

While Mitt Romney, who called Trump a phony and a fraud during the early part of the campaign, is being considered for the post of secretary of State, Joe Heck, who disavowed Trump only after the profane, boastful, misogynistic recording was revealed, can’t get a crumb from Trump.

From the transcript of the Trump interview with The New York Times:

And a senator in Nevada who frankly said, he endorsed me then he unendorsed me, and he went down like a lead balloon. And then they called me before the race and said they wanted me to endorse him and do a big thing and I said, ‘No thank you, good luck.’ You know, let’s see what happens. I said, off the record, I hope you lose. Off the record. He was! He was up by 10 points — you know who I’m talking about.

Actually a representative who wanted to be a senator.

Editorial: State agency orders feds to return stream to church retreat property

Erosion on church retreat property.

Over a tiny tract of land — nestled in the middle of the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge northwest of Pahrump that a church uses for a retreat — a state agency has pierced the dark bureaucratic clouds with a ray of sunshine.

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rerouted a stream that had run through the Ministero Roca Solida (Solid Rock) church’s 40-acre parcel of private land since at least the 1880s. The church purchased the land in 2006 and used the stream for traditional baptisms. The federal agency claimed it needed to reroute the stream so it could reintroduce speckled dace, an endangered minnow.

The rerouted spring-fed stream promptly overflowed its poorly engineered banks during a rain storm in 2010, presumably washing away the dace as well. Flooding occurred again in 2015 and twice this year, extensively damaging buildings and creating massive gullies.

But in an order dated Nov. 4 the state Division of Water Resources, arbiter of water rights in Nevada, demanded that Fish and Wildlife within 90 days return the stream to its original banks transversing the church retreat property or face a fine of $10,000 per day.

The state water agency concluded that the contention by Fish and Wildlife that it was reestablishing a historic natural drainage course is clearly wrong and the Carson Slough historically traversed the church land and the church has vested rights to the water, as well as the evidence to prove it, dating as far back as 1887.

The Solid Rock church, pastored by Victor Fuentes, a Cuban immigrant, has been fighting the federal land agency in court for several years with the aid of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation. The court case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“Getting the water returned would be a major first step in making the Ministry whole, after years of suffering litigation and egregious constitutional violations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Joe Becker, director of NPRI’s legal unit. “However, the Ministry still suffered significant harm in the interim from the federal government’s actions — including repeated flooding and five years of flood damage resulting from the illegal water diversion project.”

The first flooding caused $86,000 in damages, but subsequent floods have created so much damage the church is seeking $3 million or complete restoration of the property to its original status. Becker said, “A mini-grand-canyon now cuts through what was once lush wetlands, and the significant improvements made to structures and the land for the benefit of young campers are being undone with each recurring flood.”

The state’s action is a step in the right direction toward restoring the church’s property and water rights, but the federal government needs to repair or pay for the damage it has caused.

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: In Nevada election the tail wags the dog

Welcome to the state of Clark.

The land mass that is Clark County was added to Nevada three years after statehood, carved from a corner of Arizona. It was a part of Lincoln County until 1909, when the Legislature split off Clark County.

Clark dangles on the map like a vestigial tail on the nether region of Nevada.

On Election Day 2016, the tail wagged the dog.

This past week 1.1 million Nevadans cast presidential ballots, fully 68 percent of those were cast in Clark County — and there was a stark difference in how Clark voted compared to the rest of the state.

Only in Clark County did a majority vote for the Democratic Senate candidate. Thus it was for much of the ballot.

In the presidential contest alone the difference was a spectrum shift from bright Democratic blue in Clark to crimson Republican red just about everywhere else in the state.

While Democrat Hillary Clinton beat out Republican nominee Donald Trump statewide by about 36,000 votes, she bested him in Clark by more than 80,000 ballots, while he out polled her in the rest of the state by 55,000 votes, according to Secretary of State tabulations.

The only other Nevada county Clinton won was urban Washoe and that by only 2,500 votes out of more than 190,000 cast there. In other counties Trump won largely by margins exceeding 2-to-1 and in Lincoln County by 6-to-1.

Meanwhile, in the senatorial race to fill the vacancy being left by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won statewide, but the only county she won was Clark. She won statewide by about 2 percentage points or 26,000 votes, but won by 80,000 votes in Clark. Republican Joe Heck, who gave up his Congressional District 3 seat to run for the Senate, won every other county, some by more than 4-to-1. Excluding Clark, Heck won the remainder of Nevada by more than 55,000 votes.

Nearly 4 percent of Nevadans chose “none of these candidates” in the Senate race.

In the 4th Congressional District — which includes part of northern Clark County, the southern part of Lyon County and all of White Pine, Nye, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties — Democrat Ruben Kihuen won districtwide by nearly 10,000 votes but won in Clark by about 24,000.

Incumbent Republican Cresent Hardy won every other county, all by about 2-to-1 or more.

After the dust settles, Nevada switches from having four out of its six Washington delegates being Republicans to four being Democrats.

Democrats won all save one of the Clark County state Senate seats up for grabs, giving the Democrats an 11-10 majority in Carson City, instead of the previous 11-10 GOP edge.

Republicans won every rural Assembly seat, while Democrats carried most races in Clark and Washoe, giving Democrats a 27-15 majority, instead of the previous Republican majority.

The gun grabbing Question 1 ballot initiative requiring background checks for almost every gun purchase or gift passed by 100,000 votes in Clark, but failed in every other county, often with 80 to 90 percent voting no.

Question 2, legalization of pot, passed only in Clark, Washoe, Nye and Story, but narrowly won statewide due to Clark’s numbers.

In 2014 Nevada experienced a red shift, when Republicans won all six statewide elective offices — governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, attorney general — as well as majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

The 2016 reversal of fortune was probably best explained by a little-circulated Associated Press story that appeared about a week before the election. It described how the Las Vegas Culinary union was busing thousands of casino housekeepers and staffers to early voting sites just off the Las Vegas Strip, “speaking in Spanish as they clutched pocket-sized brochures listing candidates endorsed by the powerful Culinary union.”

The union bused workers during their paid lunch break and handed them boxed lunches for the ride back to work.

The story went on to report that the union had registered 34,000 members to vote, had reassigned 150 members to full-time political work, planned to knock on 200,000 doors and place phone calls to co-workers.

There is talk in California since the election of Trump about secession from the Union. Anyone think Clark County should go with them?

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.