Newspaper column: New endangered species rule falsely maligned

When the Interior Department released new rules for enforcing the 45-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA) this past week, self-styled environmentalists and many in the news media falsely maligned the changes, saying they would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider economic impact in deciding whether to list a species as endangered or threatened.

In fact, the press release announcing the finalizing of the new rules specifically states that designations will be based solely on the “best available scientific and commercial information” as the original law dictates. The change simply allows the public to be informed of economic impacts created by the law by removing the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”

The rule change proposal noted, “Since 1982, Congress has consistently expressed support for informing the public as to the impacts of regulations in subsequent amendments to statutes and executive orders governing the rulemaking process.” The only change is giving the public more information.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in the press release. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto reacted on Twitter: “Trump’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act — even as species struggle with the effects of the #ClimateCrisis & human activity — threatens protected species & could put even more plants and animals at risk.”

The rule changes actually should help address a fundamental problem with the enforcement of the ESA up until now — that it focuses almost entirely on limiting any conceivable profitable use of land or water that is “critical habitat” of an endangered or threatened species, thus maintaining a fragile status quo rather than actually encouraging recovery of the species population.

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), which refers to itself as the home of free market environmentalism, reports that more than 1,600 species are listed under the ESA, but only 39 species have been determined to be recovered since the law passed (half of those mistakenly listed in the first place), while 11 have become extinct. Nevada has 16 endangered species and 11 threatened.

Previously, when states tried to reintroduce endangered species by breeding, the federal government threatened to sue, saying possession of the species required a federal permit, which it refused to issue.

Another significant change requires that when designating critical habitat that the species is actually present or the area has features essential to the species’ conservation.

This addresses issues raised by a Supreme Court case out of Louisiana in which the owner of 1,500 acres of land was prohibited from using the property because it was declared critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, even though none of the frogs had been seen in the area for 50 years and the land itself could no longer support the frogs.

The case was finally settled in July in the property owner’s favor. 

Mark Miller, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation which sued on behalf of the landowners, said of the agreement, “This federal frog feud is over, and property rights and good government win. The government tried to ban development of 1,500 acres of private property at a cost of $34 million in the name of an endangered frog that does not live on the property and cannot survive there. The feds may as well have labeled this Louisiana property critical habitat for a polar bear. It would have done just as much good.”

Also, in the future a species listed as threatened would not be treated as stringently as those listed as endangered, as currently is the case. 

Advocates of the changes say this will provide incentives for landowners to help species recover. In the past, landowners confronted with restrictions under the ESA were said to have been incentivized to shoot, shovel and shut up. No species. No restrictions. 

“Our interest is getting this landmark wildlife protection law to work better,” said PERC’s executive director Brian Yablonski in a statement. “That means fostering conditions so landowners become more enthusiastic in their role as stewards for species recovery, not worried if they find an endangered species on their land. States and landowners will respond better to carrots, not clubs, in our efforts to improve species recovery results.” 

Delisting of species is preferable to merely maintaining the status quo in perpetuity.

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: Costs of illegal immigration can’t be ignored

Illegal immigration is one of the most controversial topics of this overheated election season. Suggestions to curb illegal immigration by building a wall or increasing enforcement of existing laws are met with passionate accusations of racism and white supremacy. The Census can’t even ask about citizenship.

What is the bottomline cost to the United States and Nevada? That too is controversial. Every time someone comes up with a cost estimate, someone else declares the study fatally flawed, because the estimates are inflated or deflated or simply unknowable since people in the country illegally will not admit it.

Illegal immigrants pay taxes the same as everyone else — sales tax, income tax, property tax, vehicle registration fees. They also receive costly government services — education, welfare, criminal justice system, health care.

Recently the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) calculated that illegal immigrants received $135 billion a year in various expenditures, but paid in only $19 billion in national, state and local taxes — for a total “fiscal burden” of $116 billion. Since Nevada has about 2 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrant population that works out to more than $2 billion for the state’s taxpayers.

A couple of years ago Pew Research Center broke down just one aspect of the cost of illegal immigration — K-12 education.

Pew reported that in 2014, “States in the West and Southwest tend to have the highest shares of K-12 students with unauthorized immigrant parents. In six states, the share is 10% or more: Nevada (17.6%) ranked first, followed by Texas (13.4%), California (12.3%), Arizona (12.2%), Colorado (10.2%) and New Mexico (10.1%).” Of course, many of those children were born in the United States and thus are themselves American citizens, but would not be in class had their parents not come here without the benefit of legal entry.

At the time Nevada was spending about $4 billion a year on K-12 education, meaning the children of illegals cost Nevada about $700 million a year. Spending has increased since then.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Plyler v. Doe that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education due to their immigration status, because the 14th Amendment states, “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Recently the Las Vegas newspaper delved into another cost of illegal immigration, reporting that about one out of 14 inmates serving time in Nevada prisons is in the country illegally — a total of 1,000 criminals, 500 of them convicted of violent felonies. That costs Nevada taxpayers about $21 million a year, the newspaper calculated.

A study by FAIR a decade ago calculated the cost to Nevadans for health care, “State-funded and uncompensated outlays for health care provided to Nevada’s illegal alien population amount to more than an estimated $85 million a year. That is a net cost after crediting compensation from the federal government. Nevadans who have medical insurance pay higher medical insurance bills to cover the costs of those without insurance.”

While most of the debate about illegal immigration revolves about high-minded concepts of human dignity and compassion and the rule of law, there is a cost to unfettered illegal immigration that should not be ignored in this ongoing debate.

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.

FAIR calculation

Newspaper column: Trump call for unity met with derision, slurs

Lisa Benson cartoon

The campaign rhetoric is being brandished like a flame thrower, scorching the stump with recriminations, incriminations, insinuations and denunciations.

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 32 dead and dozens more seriously wounded, Democratic presidential candidates unsheathed accusations that President Trump is the prime mover of such lunatic behavior, calling him a racist and a white supremacist.

“In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech. “Trump offers no moral leadership, no interest in unifying the nation, no evidence the presidency has awakened his conscience in the least.”

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator, told The New York Times that Trump is a white supremacist who has “done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country.”

She added, “Donald Trump has a central message. He says to the American people, if there’s anything wrong in your life, blame them — and ‘them’ means people who aren’t the same color as you, weren’t born where you were born, don’t worship the same way you do.”

Meanwhile, candidate and former El Paso Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke said Trump has made it “very clear” that he is a white supremacist who has “dehumanized or sought to dehumanize those who do not look like or pray like the majority here in this country,” according to Salon.

Candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker noted that both the El Paso shooter and Trump described illegal immigration as an invasion. Booker said, “The character and the culture of who we are hangs in the balance. We can’t let these conversations devolve into the impotent simplicity of who is or isn’t a racist. The real question isn’t who is or isn’t a racist, but who is or isn’t doing something about it.”

Socialist candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was quoted as saying, “We have a president who is an overt racist and xenophobe. He should stay away from El Paso. What he should do right now is end his anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

The target of this vitriol, meanwhile, addressed the nation from the White House in a 10-minute speech calling for unity. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul,” Trump implored.

The president called for a change in the American culture to “stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

He concluded, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love. Our future is in our control.”

The parsing of words was so overwrought that when The New York Times accurately reported in a headline in its first edition the next day that “Trump urges unity vs. racism,” the self-styled social justice warriors stampeded online.

Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted, “Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by — and often relies upon — the cowardice of mainstream institutions.” Many threatened to cancel subscriptions.

In the next edition of the newspaper, the headline read, “Assailing hate but not guns.” All Trump had said was, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

As for blaming Trump for the El Paso shooter’s deeds, the shooter himself wrote in his rambling and demented screed posted online by the Drudge Report, “My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I putting this here because some people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. I know that the media will probably call me a white supremacist anyway and blame Trump’s rhetoric. The media is infamous for fake news. Their reaction to this attack will likely just confirm that.”

Pay no heed to the fact the Dayton shooter was an avowed socialist supporter of Sanders and Warren.

It is hard to create unity when so many who claim to want to lead this country are so divisive and obdurate. They see calls for unity as divisive. Look in the mirror.

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 senators back amendment abridging free speech

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Jacky Rosen. (R-J file pix)

This past week every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — signed on as sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment that would rip the heart from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part that says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …”

The Democracy for All Amendment, as it is wrongly called, would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the Federal Election Commission barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

The court said the First Amendment was written to protect speech, no matter who the speaker may be, whether an individual or a group, such as a corporation or a union.

The proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns the largest newspaper in Nevada. A handful of giant corporations own the vast majority of news media outlets in this country. In order to get around this amendment, all a billionaire or corporation has to do is buy a “press.”

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Aren’t political parties themselves tantamount to corporations — groups of individuals uniting their voices and money in furtherance of a political agenda. Should political parties be silenced?

As Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Congress should not deem itself the arbiter of who gets to speak and who must be gagged. Cortez Masto and Rosen should reverse course.

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: Advocate for West appointed acting head of BLM

BLM land in Nevada (BLM pix)

The self-styled cactus hugging collectivists are aghast.

This past week Interior Secretary David Bernhardt named William Perry Pendley of Wyoming acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 63 percent of the land in Nevada, the largest portion of the 87 percent of the state land controlled by various federal agencies.

Pendley, who worked in the Interior Department under President Reagan, has actually advocated selling off public lands instead of holding onto them in perpetuity.

A group calling itself the Western Values Project called Pendley dangerous and an extremist. Its executive director, Chris Saeger, was quoted as saying, “This appointment shows Trump and Bernhardt are only interested in selling off public lands to the highest bidder. Pendley is an outspoken advocate for the transfer of public lands to the state. Anything they’ve ever said about not selling off public lands has just been a political smokescreen to distract from their real intentions: handing over public lands to their special interest allies.”

William Perry Pendley

What Pendley has advocated is adhering to the intentions of the Founders, who fully intended for all lands owned by the federal government be sold. In an article in the National Review in 2016, Pendley argues that Article I of the Constitution “gives Congress unlimited power ‘to dispose of’ its property, but sharply limits its rulemaking authority to ‘needful Rules and Regulations.’ The Supreme Court correctly and narrowly interpreted the Property Clause in 1845, holding that the clause gave rise to a constitutional duty to dispose of its land holdings.”

Though opponents of selling off federal lands point to the Disclaimer Clauses that are found in verbiage covering admission of new states to the Union — in which the states “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public land lying within” the new state’s boundary — the new head of the BLM says the provision was included simply to assure the clear title of the United States so the land could be sold.

In fact, Nevada’s admission document contains a Disclaimer Clause, but also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state. Thus, the original intention seems pretty clear. Obtain clear title. Sell the land. Divide the proceeds.

Editorial: Nevada should end tax breaks for the select few

For the past decade Nevada’s Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has doled out billions of dollars worth of tax breaks to select companies in order to entice them to make capital investments here and create jobs. The companies getting the tax breaks include giants such as Tesla Motors, Apple, Amazon, eBay and Switch.

The office has done this despite the fact the state Constitution declares, “The Legislature shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation …” It’s not uniform or equal if a select few get breaks while others don’t.

The tax breaks for the certain favored few also ignores the Constitution’s Gift Clause that 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.” Tax breaks certainly sound like gifts, especially if the companies fail to live up to the promised investments and job creations.

Tesla Motors battery factory near Sparks. (AP pix)

According to a recent analysis by the Reno Gazette-Journal, that is precisely what has been happening.

After poring over GOED records, the newspaper reported that companies getting tax breaks — such as sales tax and use abatements, abatements on personal and modified business taxes, real property tax abatements — delivered only 79 percent of the promised jobs and 27 percent of the promised capital investment. GOED gave up $393 million in future sales and property taxes in exchange for 19,900 jobs and $7.1 billion in capital investments. Only 15,732 jobs were created and $1.9 billion was invested.

The newspaper also noted the tax breaks per job creation varied wildly. For example, Tesla was given nearly $170,000 in tax breaks for each job created, while Apple got $1.6 million per job, Switch got nearly $700,000 per job and eBay got nearly $580,000 per job.

For example, the Reno paper found, “Tesla, by far the highest-profile recipient of state subsidies, has so far fallen about $1 billion short of the capital investment it was once projected to bring to Nevada, according to independent auditors. Work on the company’s sprawling Gigafactory outside Sparks has also provided about 2,200 fewer jobs than economic analysts originally predicted.”

Though Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoed a bill during the past legislative session that would have created an oversight committee to review GOED handouts, the newspaper says the governor recently said he intends to begin to more closely review the agency’s tax abatements. That prompted the agency’s spokesman to tell the newspaper, “Tax incentives are a tool that must be wielded with care, and a review of the current system will ensure they work for all Nevadans going forward. We look forward to working with the governor’s office on reshaping GOED and its priorities so they better fit the current economic landscape.”

According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the state has added 38,000 new jobs in the past year — the vast majority of those without any handouts or incentives.

A Cato Institute report in 2018 noted, “Politicians will tend to overuse targeted tax incentives because they create a clientele of voters (the ‘ribbon-cutting’ phenomenon). Broad-based low tax rates do not create a committed political constituency in the same way. But a state-by-state comparison shows that low taxes and other pro-market policies are the best way to grow jobs and economies.”

It is time Nevada jettisoned this constitutionally prohibited practice of unequal tax rates. Treat all fairly and the same.

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.

For our grandchildren: Taxation without representation

The Senate has now passed the so-called budget deal previously approved by the House and President Trump is expected to sign it.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the measure avoids a government shutdown in the fall by suspending the debt ceiling until after the 2020 election and provides more than $2.7 trillion in discretionary spending over the next two years, which means the deficit will grow by $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.

Who will pay for today’s spending tomorrow? Our grandchildren, who have no say in the matter. That’s what was called taxation without representation at the time of the Revolution.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the deal marks the death of the Tea Party movement, according to Fox News.

“Both parties have deserted – have absolutely and utterly deserted – America and show no care and no understanding and no sympathy for the burden of debt they are leaving the taxpayers, the young, the next generation and the future of our country,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “The very underpinnings of our country are being eroded and threatened by this debt.”

Apparently, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei was the only Nevada delegate to vote against this atrocity.

In 2016 Trump promised to wipe out the national debt in eight years.

At least a drunken sailor will sober up eventually.