Newspaper column: Energy Department catches possible error, then catches hell

Umbrage has been duly taken.

On the afternoon of July 3 Energy Department Deputy Secretary Daniel Brouillette called Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to let him know the department may have been mistakenly shipping unstable nuclear material to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) monthly for a dozen years.

Mixed low-level radioactive waste — which must be protected from moisture when disposed — may have been mislabeled as merely low-level radioactive waste, which includes such things as rags, papers, filters, equipment, discarded protective clothing and construction debris and need not be protected from moisture. Further, the governor was told the waste might include “reactive” material, which could explode or release toxic fumes if exposed to water.

In a subsequent briefing this past week, Sisolak was told the department had not yet confirmed any of the waste was indeed reactive and the mislabeled shipments from the agency’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had only been coming to Nevada since 2013 and involved only 32 containers.

Though Energy Secretary Rick Perry did not take office until his 2017 appointment by Republican President Donald Trump and his agency caught the apparent error, suspended further shipments and informed Nevada public officials of the possible error, Nevada Democratic office holders unleashed a fusillade of fury, including Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford calling for Perry to resign.

“I am outraged and shocked to hear about the Department of Energy’s repeated transgressions on the people of Nevada,” Horsford said in a statement. “Today we found out that, against the will and consent of Nevadans, the Department of Energy has been covertly shipping dangerous radioactive waste into our state.”

He concluded, “Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus blustered, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty. For decades, the DOE has been an untrustworthy partner and this latest round of illegal shipments is truly a new low. I’m grateful that Governor Sisolak continues to stand up for Nevada and refuses to let this violation of the law go unchallenged.”

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee fulminated, “The continued carelessness with our safety is exactly the concern of every Nevadan who is told that we should welcome the storage of nuclear waste in our own backyard. But let me be clear: we’re not just Nevadans, we are Americans, and it’s clear that the Department of Energy does not take Americans’ health, safety, or security into consideration before making decisions.”

In a joint statement Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen decried, “Last week, we were contacted by the Department of Energy and made aware of the situation. As a result, along with Governor Sisolak we’ve taken immediate action and sent a letter demanding answers from Secretary Perry, and scheduled an immediate classified briefing to ensure there is accountability and oversight on behalf of the State of Nevada. Yet again, the DOE has violated its mission, broken Nevadans’ trust and failed to follow its own compliance procedures.”

Gov. Sisolak released a statement after this past week’s briefing by Energy officials  saying, “I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. … While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans.”

The errors apparently occurred for four years of the Obama administration without anyone catching it, but the agency that caught the error and reported it is dishonest, careless, incompetent and to blame.

The Energy Department released a statement to the media saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six-year period.” Three of those years were during the previous Democratic administration, by the way.

Umbrage always seems to be taken only when the offended ones are of a different political party and, especially when the information can be used to bludgeon attempts to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

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.

NNSS Area 5 storage area (file pix)


Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires

The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting a series of public hearings across the West to get input on an audacious proposal to limit the unchecked spread of rangeland wildfires.

The BLM says wildfires have increased dramatically in size and frequency in the past decade in six Western states — Nevada, Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. During that time, 21 fires have exceed 100,000 acres. A total of 13.5 million acres have burned. Efforts to suppress wildfires by the BLM alone have cost $373 million over the past decade

“These wildfires result in increased destruction of private property, degradation and loss of rangelands, loss of recreational opportunities, and habitat loss for a variety of species, including the conversion of native habitats to invasive annual grasses,” the BLM reports. “The conversion of rangeland habitats to invasive annual grasslands further impedes rangeland health and productivity by slowing or preventing recovery of sagebrush communities.”

To counter this, the federal land agency is proposing to create up to 11,000 miles of firebreaks as a way to keep the fires from spreading into mammoth infernos, like the Martin Fire in northern Nevada this past year, which consumed nearly half a million acres of rangeland.

The draft proposal calls for fuel breaks being created along roads and rights-of-way by mowing, grazing, mechanical and chemical clearing, as well as prescribed burns. Some of the breaks could be brown strips — areas where all vegetation has been removed. Others could be green strips — areas where vegetation that is more flammable has been replaced with less flammable vegetation.

In some areas invasive cheatgrass — a perennial that grows knee high in the spring but dries out in the summer — would be replaced with native plants less susceptible to fire. Also, grazing permits could be adjusted to allow for spring time clearing of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass and wildfires create a vicious cycle. Cheatgrass recovers more quickly than native species after a fire. Thus the more fires, the more cheatgrass. The more cheatgrass, the more fires.

John Ruhs, once the head of the BLM in Nevada and now the head of BLM operations in Idaho, was quoted in an agency press release as saying, “Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control. We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”

The BLM’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Casey Hammond, was quoted as saying, “Wildfires devastate forests, rangeland and communities across Idaho and throughout the West, and without strategic planning they’re likely to continue in the years ahead. With this initiative and others like it, we’re working proactively to curb wildfires’ destruction and make it safer and more effective for firefighters to protect people and property.”

Environmentalists have expressed concerns that firebreaks may fragment wildlife habitats, including that of the threatened greater sage grouse, but the fragmentation should be less threatening than a wall of flames threatening the animals’ very lives and food source.

Brian Rutledge, a vice president of the National Audubon Society, notes, “The safety of a sage-grouse is utterly dependent on its cryptic coloring and cover from overhead predators. If the birds didn’t get burned up in the fire, there’s nowhere to hide eggs in cheatgrass.” Additionally, unlike soft sage leaves, cheatgrass provides little nutrition for the species.

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposal through Aug. 5.

Scoping meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on July 16 at the Red Lion Inn in Elko and July 17 at the Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Firebreaks would be a valuable tool in the effort to cut down the size of rangeland wildfires.

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.

BLM proposes firebreaks along 11,000 miles of roads and rights-of-way.

Newspaper column: Expect long lines come Election Day 2020

Democracy is a chaotic endeavor. Nevada lawmakers have made it more so.

Expect long lines and delayed results come the next Election Day.

Assembly Bill 345, which passed on a party line vote with Democrats favoring and Republicans opposed, will allow people to register to vote on the same day of an election rather than several weeks earlier. This will inevitably mean much longer lines on Election Day and during early voting and require as much as 10 days for election results to be tabulated, because votes cast on Election Day and absentee ballots mailed on Election Day will have to be counted and verified.

It will also cost millions of dollars to implement and might not be fully rolled out in time for the 2020 elections, officials warned. It will require hiring thousands more poll workers. Lawmakers were undeterred by the merely impossible.

Wayne Thorley, deputy Nevada secretary of state in charge of elections, warned lawmakers implementing the changes in time for the 2020 election would be “extremely difficult if not impossible,” because it takes two years to make such changes, according to a Las Vegas newspaper account.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia now have same-day registration.

One argument for this scheme is that it will greatly increase participation in the democratic process. An argument against it is that it will greatly increase participation by the lazy and the uninformed. Another argument is that same-day voter registration is susceptible to voter fraud.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, calls same-day voter registration a prescription for fraud and says it does almost nothing to increase voter participation.

“Allowing a voter to both register and vote on Election Day makes it nearly impossible to prevent duplicate votes in different areas or to verify the accuracy of any information provided by a voter,” von Spakovsky writes.

Further, the new law actually eliminates requirements for informing the public prior to elections. Existing law requires clerks to publish in a newspaper of general circulation the names of candidates and the offices they are seeking. AB345 removes that requirement.

Current law also requires publication of any statewide ballot measure along with an explanation, as well as arguments, rebuttals and fiscal notes. AB345 removes that requirement.

The Nevada Appeal newspaper in Carson City recently published a story quoting public officials as reaffirming the potential problems with the changes in election law.

Carson City Clerk Recorder Aubrey Rowlatt said that in smaller counties, where voters are used to getting to a voting machine within minutes of arrival at the polls and having final results within two hours of the polls closing, the lines will be longer and the results delayed for days.

“There are going to be lines,” she said. “There are going to be late election results.”

Thorley repeated to the newspaper the issues he had raised earlier before lawmakers. “The biggest concern is the delay in election results and educating the public about that,” he told the newspaper.

He warned that changes between election night counts and the final counts more than a week later can lead to accusations of fraud.

Thorley noted, “AB345 allows absentee ballots to be counted after election day so any ballot postmarked by election day but received up to seven days after the election will be counted.”

He also said election officials will have to confirm that people don’t go hopping from county to county registering to vote.

Thorley said the Legislature gave him about a half-million dollars to hire three staffers to set up a process for verifying voter registrations electronically, because doing so by hand would be impossible.

The story ends with Thorley saying he tried to convince lawmakers to give him until the 2022 elections to implement the new law, but Democratic leaders said they wanted it in place by 2020 because of the importance of that election, which is a presidential one. Democrats will stop at nothing in their quest to oust President Trump.

“We will make it work,” Rowlatt was quoted as saying. “It’s just going to be painful so I would just ask for a lot of patience because it’s not going to be fast.”

Remember which lawmakers voted for those long lines come Election Day, as you inch your way toward the voting booth, knowing you may not learn of the outcome for another week to 10 days.

Democracy need not be this chaotic just to make it more convenient for laggards to vote for Democrats.

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: Public worker contracts should be negotiated in the open

Despite being duly warned, Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers and Democratic governor this past legislative session lit the fuse on a huge budget bomb — passing and signing into law Senate Bill 135, which gives state public employees the right to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

A study commissioned by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates this unionization could in two decades increase the cost of state public employees as much as $1.75 billion a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. The entire current general fund budget amounts to about $4 billion a year.

Adding insult to injury, SB135 incorporates language similar to that found in the 1969 law allowing local government employees to collectively bargain. SB135 specifies that “certain meetings convened for the purpose of collective bargaining and resolving disputes relating to collective bargaining are exempt from the provisions of existing law requiring open and public meetings of public bodies.”

Not a single Republican voted for SB135, only the union-backed Democrats. 

Thus the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for whatever is doled out to their employees will be left in the dark about how the negotiations are conducted. We will not be able to see whether the government managers have properly shouldered the public’s fiduciary interests and be able to decide at the next election whether to oust those who appointed them. 

Nevada’s Open Meeting Law states, “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

This is to allow the voters/taxpayers the ability to judge the actions of those conducting their business.

Those voters/taxpayers are already getting the short end of the stick. Among the 50 states, Nevada local government workers rank fifth highest in pay, state public workers, even without collective bargaining, rank 10th, while private-sector workers rank 47th.

And Democrats argued that giving state public employees collective bargaining rights is only “fair.” Fair to whom?

In the private sector, union negotiators have to be mindful that demanding too much of an employer could drive the employer out of business and cost the jobs of union members and union negotiators. This is not the case with government. There is always more of other people’s money. 

That is why those whose ox is being gored should be allowed to see the carnage as it happens. 

The Las Vegas newspaper, in a recent editorial on this subject, quotes Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center as saying, “The public should always have the right to know what trade-offs and promises led to final and binding collective bargaining agreements. Especially when those agreements lock into place millions and sometimes billions of dollars of annual taxpayer spending.”

According to the Commonwealth Foundation of Pennsylvania, a number of states require at least some public worker collective bargaining contract negotiations to be open to the public at some point — Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.

We call on lawmakers to remedy this shortchanging of the voters who elected them. Not only should the state public worker bargaining be conducted in the open but also the local government worker bargaining. It is only “fair.”

In fact, Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has frequently tried to embrace the mantle of transparency, could spend a few of our bucks and call those lawmakers into a special session to remedy this glaring blindering of his constituents. 

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: Nevada gets short shrift on PILT checks

The checks are in the mail.

Nevada’s U.S. senators both sent out press releases a couple of weeks ago boasting about all the money Nevada counties will be getting from the federal government to help cover the expense of having so much non-taxable federal public land within their borders — called Payment in Lieu of Taxes. This year’s checks for Nevada counties amount to $27.25 million, an increase of about $250,000 from the previous year.

“I applaud the Department of Interior for providing these payments to the state of Nevada,” said Jacky Rosen’s press release. “These funds will be used to support essential services — especially in our rural communities — such as law enforcement, education, emergency services, health care, and road maintenance.”

Catherine Cortez Masto’s press release states, “The Department of the Interior’s PILT program is a vital resource for Nevada’s local governments and helps fund the public safety, housing, transportation and outdoor recreation projects that Nevada’s rural counties need to thrive. I’ll continue to support the long-term stabilization of the PILT program so that local leaders and innovators can invest in development projects right here in our communities in Nevada, and plan for the future with certainty that federal support will be there for them.”

Neither makes any mention of the fact the PILT handout nationally was cut by 7 percent from the previous year. Nor do they mention that the $500 million being doled out to all the states this year is a paltry fraction of the $11.9 billion in revenue that federal land generates annually from oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, etc.

If the states controlled the land they could collect that $11.9 billion instead of the pitiful $500 million — which amounts to a parsimonious 4 percent of the revenue the land generates. Pennies in an alms cup.

Nor do our Democratic senators note the impenetrable formula used to calculate the checks, which is based on the number of acres of federal land within each county and the population of that county.

While 85 percent of Nevada land is federally controlled, its total PILT checks equal 48 cents per acre of federal land, about the same as the prior year, while every other Western state, except Alaska, gets at least double that amount, even though their acreage percentage is far less and their populations not that dissimilar, except for California.

This year, Utah is getting $1.24 per acre of federal land; Arizona, $1.38; Idaho, 99 cents; California, $1.19; Washington, $1.92; Oregon, $1.19; Wyoming, $1.01; New Mexico, $1.80; Montana, $1.80; and Colorado, $1.68.

And the checks within Nevada vary wildly. For example, Esmeralda County gets 7 cents an acre, while Douglas gets $2.74; Eureka, 17 cents; Washoe, $1.25; Clark, 75 cents; White Pine, 25 cents; Nye, 39 cents; Elko, 46 cents; Lincoln, 15 cents; Mineral, 39 cents.

Perhaps our senators should ask the Interior Department for a clearer explanation of just how the checks are calculated, because the acreage and population explanation doesn’t really pencil out.

While Nevada counties get checks totaling more than $27 million for having almost 57 million acres of non-taxable federal land covered by the PILT charity, neighboring Utah counties are getting checks totaling almost $41 million for less than 33 million acres, even though its population is only 200,000 greater than Nevada’s 3 million.

Idaho counties are getting checks totaling more than $32 million, though it has only 32 million acres of federal public lands and a population of only 1.8 million. New Mexico counties are getting $40 million though the state has less than half the public land as Nevada and only 2 million population. Montana’s checks total $34 million though it also has half the acreage of public land as Nevada and only 1 million population.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million a year by taking over just 10 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands.

So, senators, stop bragging about those niggardly PILT checks and do something about giving Nevada a fair share of the revenue from its public lands.

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 should reject 50 percent renewable energy

Are Nevada voters and lawmakers falling for a scam?

In an article titled “Solar Power to Hit the Wall in Nevada” in “American Thinker” this past week, retired engineer Norman Rogers says we are.

In November, Nevada voters approved by nearly 60 percent a constitutional amendment that would require 50 percent of the electricity consumed in the state to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. This past legislative session lawmakers passed a law requiring the same thing and Gov. Steve Sisolak promptly signed it.

“Solar power and wind power are loved by the left, but have the serious problem of erratic delivery of power,” Rogers writes. “Wind dominates solar except in places with poor wind and good sunshine, such as Nevada, where I live. In states where a lot of solar has been installed, such as California and Nevada, solar is running into a wall that is related to the time delivery of solar power versus when the electrical grid’s need for power.”

Currently, according to Rogers, about 10 percent of Nevada’s electricity comes from solar, 10 percent from geothermal and the rest from natural gas and imports from other states.

Rogers explains that solar installations are approximately 70 percent subsidized by government. As a consequence, solar power that really costs $70 to $80 per megawatt-hour, can sell for as little as $25 to $30 per megawatt-hour due to the subsidies. If a battery system is added, the energy cost is likely to balloon to $80 or $90 per megawatt-hour. Natural gas power costs about $20 per megawatt-hour, according to Rogers.

Though the self-styled environmentalists demand more green energy many are balking at this project, saying it is too large, too close to wilderness and would damage wildlife and the environment.

A 2013 study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, which was commissioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, estimated the current Nevada renewables requirement of 25 percent by 2025 could cost Nevada between 590 and 3,070 jobs by 2025. This is because power bills would increase from somewhere around 2 percent to nearly 11 percent. While the residential power user’s bill might increase anywhere between $20 and $130 a year, an industrial ratepayer could expect power bills to increase from nearly $7,000 to more than $47,000 a year — costs that would be passed on to consumers. Imagine what doubling the renewables would do.

Rogers also notes that solar power is an expensive way to reduce carbon dioxide, costing about $140 per metric ton. The Obama administration estimated the social cost of carbon to be only $50 per metric ton.

On his website, Rogers writes, “Solar energy works fine for remote cabins and weather stations in the mountains. For supplying the massive needs of modern society, it is quite useless – a scam. Solar is expensive. It can’t be counted to perform when it is needed. Solar stops when a cloud goes in front of the sun. It goes to sleep every night. In sunbaked Las Vegas, demand for electricity peaks on summer evenings, just as solar is putting on its pajamas.”

Rogers concluded his “Thinker” article by writing, “The bottom line is that solar is not a good method of supplying electricity and it is not a good method for reducing CO2 emissions. It keeps going because the promoters constantly lie and spread propaganda. They often brag about cheap solar purchase contracts without mentioning the huge subsidies and the state mandates that force utilities to buy solar (and wind).”

When that constitutional amendment again appears on the ballot next year, Nevada voters should wise up and reject it, sending a message to lawmakers to repeal the 50 percent renewable requirement before it costs a lot of jobs and money.

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: How to save the West from devastating wildfires

As we enter another wildfire season — and each one seems to be more devastating than the previous one — the question lingers: Why?

According to The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Geographic it is unquestionably due to climate change.

Pay no heed to the fact that prior to 1980 less than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. In each of the past two years, more than 1 million acres have burned. Coincidentally, since 1980 the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have made massive cuts in the number of cattle and sheep allowed to graze federal land. The number of sheep has fallen 80 percent and the number of cattle has been cut in half.

This past week’s issue of Executive Intelligence Review magazine asks the question: “What Is Causing Massive Wildfires In the U.S. West: The Environment — Or Environmentalism?”

The article focuses on the largest fire in Nevada history — the July 2018 Martin Fire, which burned nearly half a million acres in Northeast Nevada and devastated the Ninety-Six Ranch, which has been run by the Stock and Stewart families for 155 years. The article includes an extensive interview with rancher Kris Stewart, who has been lobbying the federal land agencies and the president to allow historic levels of grazing to prevent such wildfires.

Stewart told the magazine’s editor the vegetative fuel levels on the rangeland that burned in the Martin Fire had been allowed to reach 1,000 percent of normal by the BLM’s own estimates, and, despite this, she said the ranch was denied permission for additional grazing time.

In the 1960s, she reported, “the modern environmental movement began to inform range management studies and policy, and environmental lawsuits caused a shift in grazing policies. Once considered engaged partners, ranchers were viewed as the enemy …”

This was political, not scientific. Stewart noted that range biologists such as Allan Savory have concluded that livestock grazing disturbs the soil in a healthy manner, “allowing rain and snow water, seeds and fertilizer to be absorbed throughout the soil. They obviously also deposit some of those seeds as well as a completely natural and healthy fertilizer to the soil.”

In the 2015 summer edition of Range magazine, under the headline “Cows can save the world,” Savory stated, “Over millions of years such grasslands — soil life, plants, grazing animals and their predators — developed together in an amazing symbiotic relationship. The grasses needed animals grazing, trampling, dunging and urinating just as much as the animals needed plants.”