Editorial: Where the presidential candidates stand on public land issues

Basin and Range National Monument (R-J photo)

With the Nevada presidential caucuses just weeks away we are offering readers a glimpse into the stances of the candidates on a key issue — federal public lands control.

For the Democrats there is not much choice.

Bernie Sanders has not taken a stance on letting states and counties have a greater say in public land use, but he has called for raising grazing fees and prohibiting logging and oil drilling on public land.

Hillary Clinton during a press conference in Las Vegas a couple of months ago said the country should preserve federal public lands and add even more.

“We certainly should not be giving in to this ideological argument from the right that we need to put more public lands into private hands,” she exclaimed. “I don’t agree with that.”

On the Republican side, most have called for some level of privatization of federal lands.

The exception is Donald Trump, who was asked at a gun show in Las Vegas recently about whether he would support relinquishing federal land control to states.

“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,” he replied. “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.”

While John Kasich has been silent on the topic all the other Republican candidates have expressed some degree of favor for transferring control to states and/or privatizing.

As a senator from Texas Ted Cruz voted in favor of an amendment to facilitate the transfer of public lands to the states. In 2014 he also offered an amendment to a bill that would have prohibited the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state.

Rand Paul has also said federal lands should be transferred to the states. He has met with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and expressed sympathy for his plight.

“You run into problems now with the federal government being, you know, this bully — this big huge government bully,” Paul has said. As a Kentucky senator he introduced a bill to give states more power under the Endangered Species Act. It failed.

Like both Cruz and Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio supported an amendment to facilitate the transfer and sale of public lands.

He also backed transferring control of federal energy resources to the states. “This common sense bill will empower states to develop our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively,” Rubio said. “Ensuring states have more authority in our nation’s energy development will help keep energy costs low, create jobs and grow our economy.”

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina in a recent newspaper interview said, “The federal government does a lousy job of managing forests. The private sector does a much better job of managing forests. The federal government controls too much land in this country.”

Retired surgeon Ben Carson also has expressed the need to allow more local control of the lands. “We the people of the United States are the only ones capable of preventing uncontrolled government expansion and abuse,” Carson wrote in a column in the conservative National Review. “Like the ranchers in Nevada, Americans must find the courage and determination to maintain a free and vibrant nation.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, during a speech in Nevada, said he favored more development of oil and gas exploration on federal lands. “One of the real challenges in the western states is that energy in those areas is often not able to be explored,” he said.

Huckabee also said something is wrong when the federal government can put “a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him” over a cow eating grass.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for moving the headquarters of the Interior Department to the West.

“I think these lands have to be managed in a true partnership,” Bush said during a speech in Reno in October, noting that public lands “should be viewed as something that creates economic activity, can create cultural values, create wins for citizens and residents of the West.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while not addressing directly privatization of federal land, has been a strong advocate of privatizing public services such as parks in his state.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has supported transferring or privatizing public lands. “We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector,” Santorum told an Idaho newspaper. “And we can make money doing it.”

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many 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. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Strange day at a strange place

New editor of R-J, J. Keith Moyer, with interim editor Glenn Cook looking on.

May you work at an interesting place. A curse? Or a blessing?

At noon Friday the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported online that the new publisher had named a new editor. This was an hour after two of the paper’s reporters had tweeted the news with photos of the new editor in the courtyard introducing himself and six minutes after the “competition” Las Vegas Sun posted the news online.

A half hour later, the R-J posted online an editorial endorsement of Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination for the presidency. This included a rather odd disclaimer:

The RJ met with Sen. Rubio on Oct. 9, two months before the announcement of the newspaper’s sale to the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. The Adelsons have detached themselves from our endorsement process, and our endorsement of Sen. Rubio does not represent the support of the family.

Since when has anyone known Adelson to detach himself from anything?

Though the endorsement is online, it has not been published in print, which will probably come in the more widely circulated Sunday edition. Why it was published before the new editor could shake the Minnesota snowflakes from his hair is another oddity.

On Oct. 12 Politico published a story about Rubio courting Adelson for his support, phoning him several times a month to update him on his campaign. Rubio met with Adelson during that Las Vegas visit and Politico described Adelson as “leaning increasingly toward supporting Marco Rubio …”

It also stated, “Adelson, seated at the head of his conference table, heaped praise on Rubio’s performance while he discussed the dynamics of the 2016 race. Those briefed on the meeting described it as short but said it had an air of importance …”

On Jan. 10 The Hill reported, “Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson has joked privately that he belongs to a divided household: He likes Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife Miriam likes Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.”

The story reports that Adelson and his wife spent nearly $100 million supporting Republicans in 2012, a chunk of it going to Newt Gingrich.

Despite the claim of detachment, most of the headlines about the endorsement of Rubio made note of the fact Adelson owns the newspaper.

As for the new editor, J. Keith Moyer — senior fellow in the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication for the past five years and president and publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 2001 to 2007 and editor for Gannett and McClatchy — there is a surprisingly small online footprint.

A search for “by J. Keith Moyer” turns up a laudatory review of a book by former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire, who I know from American Society of Newspaper Editors conventions, and a recommendation for cocktail onions.

There is a rather disquieting report online by a former desk editor who worked with Moyer in Fresno and claims Moyer killed stories about the troubled Fresno State basketball team coached by Jerry Tarkanian and expressed a willingness to bury ledes to curry favor with local government.

Here’s to interesting times at an interesting place to work.



Newspaper column: Governor offers a way to save sage grouse and mining

Gov. Brian Sandoval is imploring the Interior Department to accept a state-created alternative to its proposed draconian plan to remove millions of acres of federal public land from productive use — specifically mining — as a way of paying lip service to saving greater sage grouse habitat.

In September the federal agency declined to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act and instead issued land use plans that bar mineral exploration and development on nearly 3 million acres within Nevada and restricts grazing and public access on a total of 16 million acres in the state.

Greater sage grouse (Rawlins Daily Times via AP)

On Jan. 15, Sandoval sent a letter to Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management, which is a division of Interior and the agency overseeing the bulk of federal public lands in the state, asking him to accept a state proposal that would essentially swap parcels of land to be protected. Instead of restricting mining on 555,000 acres as the federal land use plan outlines, the state plan would restrict mining on 394,000 acres, but the swap would protect an additional 44 active sage grouse leks, as breeding grounds are called. The swap also could free up as many as 3,700 existing mining claims.

The governor warned in a press release this past week that failure to negotiate in good faith would result in his administration pursuing legal options.

Such a legal option is already being pursued, though the governor has insisted it is premature. The state, nine counties, three mining companies and a ranch have filed suit in federal court to block the land use plan.

A Reno federal judge refused to grant an injunction but a trail could take place this summer.

In his letter, Sandoval argues that the grouse protection restrictions would have serious economic impact on the Nevada economy and jobs.

A single lithium mining project in Humboldt County is estimated to have a direct economic impact of $2.5 billion over the life of the project and indirect impact of $3.4 billion, while creating 9,000 person-years of employment and half a billion dollars in salaries. State and local tax revenues are expected to exceed $100 million.

Lithium is used to make lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid cars. The Tesla Motors/Panasonic battery manufacturing plant near Sparks is expected to consume a huge amount of lithium.

“I believe the proposed land withdrawal will not be able to show any measurable results except for the demise of the mineral exploration industry in Nevada,” Sandoval pointedly states. “The urgency to implement the withdrawal proposal prior to conducting the proper analysis needed to evaluate the efficacy of the action and socio-economic impact of the action is unclear,” adding that the agencies involved have “provided no science or analysis at any level to support the rationale” for excluding mining operations.

As for the threats to sage grouse habitat, Sandoval notes, as he has repeatedly in the past, that wild horse overpopulation, invasive species and huge wildfires that consume hundreds of thousands of acres at a time pose a far more significant danger to the grouse than mining, but little, if anything, is being done about those threats.

Additionally, there is relatively little reliable information on just how threatened the grouse population really is. Sandoval’s letter notes one major grouse habitat region nearly doubled in population during a recent three-year period.

Though Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated that valid existing mining claims are exempt from any withdrawals, the governor points out that the definition of such valid claims cannot be found in the Federal Register. There is a question as to whether unpatented mining claims — on which millions of dollars in annual fees have been paid but the claims are not yet worked — will be classified as valid existing claims. Sandoval said this needs to be clarified.

In a press release this past week, Sandoval described his proposal as a win-win. “The proposal detailed in the state’s response delivers a ‘win-win’ solution in an effort to achieve the mutual goals of preserving our thriving mining industry, protecting the sage-grouse and enhancing its habitat and maintaining our state’s vast potential for future economic development opportunities. With the correct plan and management Nevada’s mining industry, the sage-grouse, and future economic development can all coexist and flourish in the Silver State,” he wrote.

BLM Nevada spokesman Stephen Clutter told The Associated Press, “We will certainly give serious consideration to these ideas as well as the other scoping comments we have received.”

That would be a change from past behavior.

A version of this column appears 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, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Solar panels: Who is really subsidizing whom?

When the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted new net-metering rates for residential owners of solar panels, effective Jan. 1, it did so based on NV Energy calculations that solar panel owners were avoiding paying their fair share of infrastructure costs — to the tune of about $52 a month. Thus, the PUC raised the connection fee for net-metering customers and slashed the amount of credit given for power uploaded to the grid.

But The Alliance for Solar Choice begs to differ. In a recent filing with the PUC, the group claims NV Energy failed to adequately take into account the value of that exported energy during peak hours that reduce the need for additional power generation and capital costs.

TASC calculates that each residential solar panel owner provides a net benefit of $12.08 per month to NV Energy and does not require a subsidy of $52 a month. (TASC subsidy filing)

“Exported energy effectively reduces deliveries to neighbors, so should reduce increases in aggregate need to invest to meet capacity growth,” TASC argues in its filing. “These adjustments, which are based on evidence in the record of this proceeding, demonstrate that Vote Smart is correct in concluding that Net Metering does not result in an unreasonable cost shift.”

Vote Smart has also filed challenges to the net-metering decision.


OK, I don't actually understand it either, but ...

OK, I don’t actually understand it either, but …

The PUC is considering a NV Energy filing calling for grandfathering rates for existing residential solar and transitioning rates over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the net-metering battle has moved to Washington, where Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, are seeking an amendment they say would block states from jacking up rates on solar panel owners and save the future of the rooftop solar industry, according to the Review-Journal Washington bureau today and the R-J Carson City bureau yesterday. (Where this power is granted in the Constitution is certainly questionable, because interstate commerce is probably not involved.)

“We should not be pulling the plug on clean energy at a time when more and more Americans are making it work,” Reid said in comments on the Senate floor, according to the R-J.

Meanwhile, on the front page of Investor’s Business Daily, it is reported that subsidies will continue to make residential rooftop solar economical in 2017, but “Nevada won’t be among them.”

IBD says the Nevada PUC overhaul of net-metering rates and the rapid exit from the state of several solar panel installers show the “residential solar market still relies heavily on subsidies and favorable regulation.”


“Clearly, you’re not going to have the opportunity you’ve had in recent years in that market,” an analyst told IBD. “Given that, in our view, demand is going to hit the floor in Nevada.”

Amid all this, petitions are being contemplated to allow the voters to overturn the PUC net-metering decision and to break up the NV Energy monopoly, the R-J reports.

Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices’ petition would allow NV Energy customers to choose another source of power by 2023. Several casino companies are already trying to get the PUC to allow them to buy cheaper power elsewhere.




When a pollster calls there’s no time for debate


WSJ grafix

Nevada, like Iowa, conducts a caucus, not a primary.

Perhaps, like Iowa, the pollsters don’t have the best read on the outcome.

The Des Moines Register poll released just prior to the caucus — described as generally the most accurate — gave Donald Trump the lead with 28 points, followed by Ted Cruz with 23 points and Marco Rubio with just 15 on the Republican slate. Hillary Clinton was expected to best Bernie Sanders by 45 to 42 points.

When the smoke cleared Cruz came out on top and Rubio only trailed Trump by a single point and Clinton and Sanders were virtually tied. The Wall Street Journal subscribers can view a graphic with comprehensive results, that also show the delegate count. (Not to spread fear for the future of this country, but … socialist Sanders, according to WSJ entrance poll, won 84 percent of the 17-29 year-olds.)

Telephone polls are more like primaries, where you go into a booth and make a selection and go home. In a caucus, people actually talk to each other and can point out to supporters of Trump that he is an epithet-spewing, snarling bully who has never met a fence he couldn’t straddle.

He has contributed as much money to Democrats as Republicans, including Harry Reid and Hillary and Bill Clinton.

He strongly favors using the government power of eminent domain to take property from a private property owner to give to rich real estate developers like himself.

He backed a single-payer health care system, saying, “I believe in universal health care. I believe in whatever it takes to make people well and better,” but now says he opposes ObamaCare.

He has criticized the NRA for balking at gun restrictions, but doesn’t say that now.

He was for privatizing Social Security, but not now.

He opposes giving Western states greater control of federal public lands.

He announced his candidacy shortly after getting a phone call from Bill Clinton.

As in Iowa, the latest Nevada poll by Gravis shows Trump leading here with 33 points compared to 20 for Cruz and 11 for Rubio. But perhaps that will change once people start talking to each other about where the candidates really stand on the issues.

The Nevada precinct caucuses later this month will elect delegates to county conventions, where delegates to the state convention will be picked and that’s where delegates for the national conventions this summer will be selected.

The Democrats caucus at noon on the 20th and Republicans on the evening of the 23rd at either 5 p.m. or 7 p.m., depending on the location.

Republicans must be registered with the state by Feb. 13. Republicans may preregister for the caucus at nevadagopcaucus.org.

Democrats may register the day of the caucus. Information can be found at nvdems.com/caucus.


Editorial: Democrats are all for smart guns and dumb ballots

Democrats are calling for technology to be used in an attempt to thwart gun violence. They want smart guns to be mandated.

Obama, after issuing his fatwa, er, executive order expanding the requirement for background checks prior to gun purchase, said, “We can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint. Why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”

As a part of this fiat, Obama ordered “the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.”

He told those departments to review the availability of smart gun technology and to “explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.”

Anti-gun nuts claim smart guns — using some form of biometrics or an electronic fob that must be near the gun before it can be fired — is needed to prevent accidental shootings in the home, shootings with stolen guns, children taking parents’ guns to schools and people or police having their guns taken from them and used against them.

New Jersey lawmakers passed a law called the Childproof Handgun Law that says that once “personalized handguns are available” all handguns sold in New Jersey must be smart guns within two years.

Anything for the sake of safety and security.

But ballot security, forget about it.

Democrats contend that requiring smart ballots that can only be used by those authorized to use them is too burdensome, besides, they say, voter ID laws disproportionately affect the elderly, minorities and low-income groups who tend to vote for Democrats and we can’t have that. Also they contend getting a photo ID can cost money and is just too burdensome.

The Heritage Foundation has documented more than 250 cases of convictions for voter fraud across the country in recent years, including two in Nevada. Those were just the ones who got caught.

Smart guns, but dumb ballots. That’s the Democrat’s way.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in 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.