Newspaper column: EPA Repeals Obama-Era Land Use Restrictions

Trump’s EPA rolls back Obama-era Clean Water Act rules. (AP pix via WSJ)

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has finalized the repeal of yet another Obama-era regulatory overreach, specifically rules that defined every stream, ditch, seasonal puddle and muddy hoof print as being covered by the restrictions of the Clean Water Act of 1972 that was intended to prohibit pollutants being dumped into navigable waters — known as the waters of the United States or WOTUS.

First announced in December but finalized this past week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Our revised and more precise definition will mean that farmers, property owners and businesses will spend less time and money determining whether they need a federal permit.”

When the change was first proposed, Wheeler said, “Property owners will be able to stand on their property and determine what is federal water without having to hire outside professionals.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston issued a statement applauding the change.

“The 2015 WOTUS Rule was an illegal effort by the federal government to assert control over both land and water, significantly impacting our ability to implement vital conservation practices,” Houston said. “After years spent fighting the 2015 WOTUS Rule in the halls of Congress, in the Courts, and at the EPA, cattle producers will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that the nightmare is over.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall released a statement saying, “No regulation is perfect, and no rule can accommodate every concern, but the 2015 rule was especially egregious. We are relieved to put it behind us. We are now working to ensure a fair and reasonable substitute that protects our water and our ability to work and care for the land. Farm Bureau’s multi-year effort to raise awareness of overreaching provisions was powered by thousands of our members who joined with an array of allies to achieve this victory for clear rules to ensure clean water.”

The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Manufacturers also praised the repeal of the WOTUS overreach, according to The Wall Street Journal, which noted that roughly 25 percent of every dollar spent on a new home in this country is due to regulatory-compliance costs.

The change brings the EPA more in line with what the U.S. Supreme Court has said is appropriate. In 2010 the Hawkes Co., which mines peat for use on golf courses among other things, applied for a permit to mine peat on a 530-acre tract of property it owns in Minnesota. The Army Corps of Engineers told the company they would have to do numerous tests that would cost more than $100,000. The Corps said the wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located some 120 miles away. Failure to comply carried a threat of fines amounting to $37,000 a day and criminal prosecution.

In a concurring opinion in that case, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said that the EPA and Corps “ominous reach” on interpreting the Clean Water Act “continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation.”

Chief Justice John Roberts during arguments noted the arduousness of compliance. He said a specialized individual permit, such as the one sought by Hawkes, on average costs $271,596 and 788 days to complete, not counting any mitigation costs that might be required. He said the permitting process can be “arduous, expensive, and long.” He failed to mention that is also often futile.

Then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who along with 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in this case, applauded the judgment at that time, saying, “The Obama administration seems determined to move as far and as fast as possible to unilaterally change our constitutional system and our congressional laws. … Fortunately in this case, our checks and balances have protected Nevadans from truly unprecedented federal overreach.”

Nevada’s current Democratic Attorney General is being quoted by the press as saying, “At this time, Nevada believes it would be in its best interest to remain under the pre-2015 WOTUS rule,” and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is said to agree.

Though this change in the rules used by the EPA is welcome, some future administration could easily overturn them. Congress needs to act to clarify the Clean Water Act. Previously, the House and Senate passed resolutions that would have blocked the EPA water rules, but in January 2016 the Senate failed to override Obama’s veto.

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 say asylum seekers should be allowed in

And you thought the people you elected to represent you in Washington would, you know, represent you, the Nevada taxpayer.

Instead, Nevada’s senior Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has chosen to represent foreigners. She and 22 other Democratic senators, as well as independent Bernie Sanders, have signed a letter addressed to the heads of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security demanding that the Trump administration rescind a policy that forces largely Central American asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting an immigration hearing. 

In January the Trump administration began enforcing what it calls Migrant Protection Protocols, but others have dubbed it the Remain in Mexico policy. The practice started in San Diego but in July was expanded to the Texas border. 

Prior to this, illegal immigrants who claimed to be fleeing persecution in their home countries were freed into the U.S. and given dates to appear for a hearing of their claim, often months or even years away.

In June, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a congressional hearing that a recently conducted study of 7,000 family units revealed that 90 percent failed to appear for their scheduled hearings and simply vanished inside the country, according to Fox News. 

“It depends on demographic, the court, but we see too many cases where people are not showing up,” McAleenan said. “Out of those 7,000 cases, 90 received final orders of removal in absentia, 90 percent.” 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Fox reported, encountered 144,000 migrants at the border in May alone. McAleenan testified that 60,000 children had been entered into Homeland Security custody in just the previous 40 days.

The senators’ letter, dated Aug. 27, claims that at one point more than 30,000 asylum seekers were waiting in Mexico for adjudication of their asylum cases but that number may well have risen to 60,000 by now.

The senators make a humanitarian argument, without addressing the costs to U.S. taxpayers for education, incarceration and welfare benefits. 

“Under the Remain in Mexico policy, the United States has turned its back on its domestic and international legal obligations by forcing men, women, and children to await resolution of their U.S. asylum cases in parts of Mexico plagued by violence,” the senators’ letter states. “While in Mexico, these asylum seekers have limited access to lawyers and shelter, which makes it nearly impossible for them to prepare their cases and effectively denies them meaningful access to the U.S. asylum system.”

The letter recounts specific examples of kidnapping, extortion, trafficking, rape and murder of would-be migrants forced to remain in Mexico. “From January to May 2019, Doctors Without Borders treated 378 patients in Nuevo Laredo,” the letter says. “Of these, more than 45 percent had experienced at least one episode of violence and about 12 percent had been kidnapped while waiting to cross into the U.S.”

In addition to Cortez Masto, U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also signed the letter.

As you may notice, several of them have been or still are Democratic presidential candidates.

There is a process in law for legal immigration. Simply opening the borders to all comers is an affront to those who follow the law and a burden on U.S. taxpayers.

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: Sisolak opposed tighter food stamp rules

Governors of these states oppose changes in food stamp eligibility rules.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has joined 16 other Democratic governors to pen a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding that a proposed change in the rules for food stamp eligibility be dropped.

This summer the Agriculture Department unveiled plans to tighten eligibility requirements for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Instead of allowing states to automatically issue food stamps to anyone receiving any federal welfare benefits, households would be eligible only if they receive at least $50 a month for six months or more from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“For too long, this loophole has been used to effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines. Too often, states have misused this flexibility without restraint,” Secretary Perdue said in a statement. The food stamp program uses federal money but it is administered by states and local governments.

According to press accounts, the change in rules would drop 3 million of the 36 million people currently receiving food stamps and save taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

“If this rule takes effect, hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries across the United States, including 46,000 individuals right here in Nevada, would lose access to basic food assistance,” Gov. Sisolak said in a press release announcing opposition to the change. “This is an absolutely unconscionable act that would have dire impacts on the most vulnerable populations in our state, especially those with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income children on free and reduced-price school meals.”

The governor said the change would result in a loss of nearly $10 million a month for the Nevada economy, though the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates such a change could save Nevada taxpayers $77 million a year and the nation as much as $7 billion a year.

The governors’ letter states, “We shouldn’t be making it harder for struggling Americans to make ends meet and put food on the table — which is what this proposed regulation would do. As governors, we strongly urge you to rescind this proposed rule.”

The letter also complains that the change would mean higher administrative costs for states, though a couple of paragraphs later the letter claims that to qualify for food stamps all households are subject to an interview and must provide “thorough documentation to demonstrate that their monthly income and expenses, such as housing and child care costs, leave them with not enough income to afford access to adequate food.” The letter also claims there is no evidence the current eligibility rule leads to an increase in food stamps being directed to ineligible households.

Actually, this past year a Minnesota millionaire testified before his state’s legislature that — to prove a point — he applied and received $300 a month in food stamps for 19 months. Though he had property and assets in excess of a million dollars, he technically had no income. He said he gave an equivalent amount to charity.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington also oppose the tightening of eligibility rules, The Wall Street Journal quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York as saying, “To cut money for people who need to be fed is just another example of the heartlessness of this administration,” adding that lawmakers will try to beat back the proposal.

“As governors, we urge you to rescind this rule to preserve the flexibility needed to meet the food and nutrition needs of the low-income populations in our states,” the governors’ letter concludes. “We should be working together, at the state and national levels, with the common goals of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable among us, ensuring all children have healthy food on their plates, and making every effort to ensure all families have the opportunity to transition out of poverty and achieve the American dream.”

The governors are arguing for wasting taxpayer dollars on people who do not truly qualify for assistance under the original intent of the law. The current lax rules waste billions of taxpayer dollars.

Other governors signing the letter include those of the states of Michigan, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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.

Our day that will live in infamy

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”

A version of this was posted on this day in 2017 and 2018.

 

Editorial: Nevada AG joins suit over immigrant child detention

Migrant families at the border in Texas. (Reuters pix via WSJ)

Within days of the Trump administration announcing that it intended to scrap a 1997 court decree known as the Flores settlement that prohibited holding illegal immigrant children for more than 20 days, 19 states and the District of Columbia announced they are filing suit to stop the change, including Nevada.

In a press release reporting Nevada’s joining the litigation, Attorney General Aaron Ford said, “This latest Trump Administration policy to keep children in cages for an indefinite period of time is both cruel and shameful. What’s more, it reverses a longstanding court-approved settlement concerning the humane treatment of immigrant children. I stand with other states in fighting this attack on our children and families using every legal tool at my disposal.”

The problem is that the status quo is untenable.

The Flores settlement has resulted in the Southern border being overrun by illegal immigrant families. Nearly half a million such “families” have crossed into the U.S. and turned themselves in so far this year. That is triple the number for all of the previous year and 30 times the number from just seven years ago.

These “families” are being released into the U.S. pending immigration hearings for which the vast majority never show up.

An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal recently noted that this catch and release policy has created a powerful incentive for people, largely from Central America, to cross the border and make specious asylum claims.

“It also created an incentive for smugglers to offer huge discounts to anyone traveling with a child. Instead of attempting to evade Border Patrol, as they do with single adults, smugglers could simply bring migrant families up to the south side of the Rio Grande and tell them when to cross. Families were told to find a Border Patrol agent, turn themselves in, and not worry — they’d soon be released,” the op-ed by John Daniel Davidson, a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, recounts.

Davidson said children have become “passports” into the U.S. and officials have encountered thousands of fake families and instances in which children are being “recycled” — crossing the border multiple times with different adults posing as parents.

The original Flores settlement declared that children could not be held in custody with unrelated adults for more than 24 hours, but the current catch and release program allows those same children to be released into the custody of unrelated adults, many of whom are in the country illegally themselves.

According to Davidson, the number of minors ordered deported after failing to appear for an immigration hearing has risen from 519 in 2010 to 6,700 in 2018. That’s just the minors.

Ford’s press release argues that the administration’s attempted change in detention practices “would result in the vast expansion of family detention centers, which are not state licensed facilities and have historically caused increased trauma in children. The rule will lead to prolonged detention for children with significant long-term negative health consequences. In addition, the attorneys general argue the rule violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

But the greater harm is due to Congress failing to act and require the immediate deportation of persons, whether in a family unit or not, who enter the country illegally.

The 20 attorneys general filing suit are all Democrats.

Ford is not acting in the best interest of Nevada taxpayers, who already are paying to educate the highest percentage of children of illegal immigrants in the nation — 17.6 percent, according to Pew Research. Ford should withdraw from this litigation and let the administration at least come up with a plan before suing.

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: Annual Basque Fry will tout conservative values

Adam Laxalt addresses the 2017 Basque Fry. (R-J file pix

With Democrats holding strong majorities in the Nevada state Senate and Assembly, as well as every statewide constitutional office save one, there seems to be a sense of urgency about this year’s fifth annual Basque Fry coming Sept. 14 at the Corley Ranch in Gardnerville.

The conservative speakers, family entertainment and lamb fries fest is put on by Adam Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada PAC and is modeled after the Basque Fries his grandfather Paul Laxalt, a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator, used to conduct in Nevada and Washington. Adam Laxalt is the state’s former attorney general and was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018.

“We’re very excited about the fifth annual Basque Fry,” Laxalt said during a recent interview. “We’re fortunate this event has taken permanent hold in Northern Nevada. We expect a very large crowd again and think a lot of people are going to be very enthusiastic about it. We’ve talked, leading to the event, about the importance of trying to take back our state and we plan on discussing that at the Basque Fry.”

The list of scheduled speakers include Mick Mulvaney, acing White House chief of staff; Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, and his wife Mercedes Schlapp, a former White House director of communications; Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney general; Corey Lewandowski, who served as President Trump’s campaign manager; John Fund, a columnist for the National Review; Katie Williams, who had her Miss Nevada crown taken away for expressing conservative political views; and, of course, Laxalt.

Laxalt said he expects he and other speakers will highlight how radical and left-wing the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates have become, saying their positions do not align with Nevada values and are not good for our state.

“Some of our Democrats kind of hide out and they are not put on the record whether they are going to denounce these things or whether they support them,” he said. “So, I think it is important to get these positions on the record and in the public consciousness of Nevadans, so they understand what the Democratic Party represents today. The old blue-collar, fairly conservative Democratic Party that existed in Nevada a few decades ago, maybe even closer than that, is long gone. So we have to draw that contrast for everyday voters, especially swing voters in our state.”

Laxalt cited for example the Democratic position supporting open borders and denigrating the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and the laws they are duty bound to enforce.

He also expects the topic of media bias to be addressed. “It’s just frustrating, because for me it is the rule of law. I think that’s what has made our country unique and is an essential piece of what made America the greatest country in modern times. The other side will ignore the rule of law whenever it is politically expedient for them, and they rarely have the media holding them accountable for that kind of thing,” he said.

This year the Basque Fry is being held in conjunction with the Conservative Political Action Conference West, which is being put on by the American Conservative Union at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno the day before.

Laxalt said it is important for conservatives to build policy infrastructure. “To have such a nationally reputable organization like the American Conservative Union and CPAC to come to Nevada and create a CPAC West, I think is going to be great for us,” he said. “We need to rebuild the conservative intellectual base in this state, which we know was not encouraged in the last many years or supported. I think it is important that message is getting out and that people understand there is a strong alternative to progressivism, leftism, socialism, et cetera.”

One of the panels at CPAC West will address the Western lands policies over the past few decades, which have hampered the economic wellbeing of rural communities.

Laxalt concluded by saying, “This type of event is important to encourage people to engage, and if we don’t engage we will lose this state and we will lose this country. Unfortunately, many of our voters they don’t have politics as a hobby. They are raising families and running small businesses and things like that. It is just very hard to get people engaged in this otherwise ugly business, but we need people to get more engaged. I still feel confident if we get more and more people into the system, then we can win back this state.”

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.

Addition: Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also speaking at the Basque Fry.

 

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.