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 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.

 

Editorial: Immigrants should be self-supporting

When the Trump administration announced that it is going to start enforcing a Clinton-era law that denies legal immigration status and work cards for non-naturalized immigrants who have come to rely on government welfare programs, Nevada Democrats recoiled in horror.

How dare the administration insist that immigrants earn their own way and not be a burden on the taxpayers.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said at a White House press briefing that President Trump was delivering on his promise to enforce longstanding immigration law. 

“Today, USCIS, the agency I head as part of the Department of Homeland Security, has issued a rule that encourages and ensures self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to, or to stay in, the United States,” Cuccinelli said. “It will also help promote immigrant success in the United States as they seek opportunity here. …  The virtues of perseverance, hard work, and self-sufficiency laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States.”

Ken Cuccinelli

As of Oct. 15 legal immigrants would no longer be able to stay and work in this country if during a 12-month period over the past three years they had received a certain level of cash benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, most forms of Medicaid and some housing programs such as Section 8.

In a Twitter posting Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Dina Titus charged, “The Trump Administration just put forward another cruel plan to cut legal immigration and put food, health care, and housing further out of reach for immigrant families. That’s why I co-sponsored a bill to block this disgraceful proposal from going into effect.”

Democratic Rep. Steve Horsford, who represents northern Clark County and much of Southern Nevada, put out a press release blasting the new criteria. “This is just the latest attack from the Trump administration on immigrant communities — taking health care and food away from children and families …” the congressman said. “This fight isn’t over. We must continue to stand up, speak out, and fight back to protect immigrant families. This regulation forces millions of families to choose between the things the food, shelter and health care they need and the people they love.”

Back in October, when the administration first broached the changes in legal immigration eligibility, Nevada senior Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto joined with several other senators in a letter declaring, “Frightening people away from critical resources would compromise families and communities across our country. The wellbeing of children and parents are inextricably linked. It is impossible to single out one member of a family without having a ripple effect on children and other members of the household. One in four children in America have at least one foreign-born parent, and children of immigrants make up 31 percent of all children in families that receive relevant benefits. Furthermore, over nine million of these children are U.S. citizens.” 

According to various studies as many as 50 to 60 percent of households headed by non-citizen immigrants rely on some form of welfare compared to 30 to 40 percent of homes headed by native-born citizens.

This past week Nevada Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford decided to spend Nevada tax money to fight the new rules, joining with a dozen other attorneys general in filing suit against the federal government. 

“I pledged to protect Nevada’s families, and I will continue to protect our families from the Trump Administration’s numerous attacks,” Ford said in a press release announcing his action. “This proposed change is not only mean-spirited, it essentially makes legal immigrants choose between maintaining their legal status and receiving assistance to meet basic needs, like food, health care and housing. It’s unconscionable.”

U.S. taxpayers should not be expected to feed, house and provide health care for everyone on the planet who manages to make it to our doorstep.

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: State should not violate one’s moral convictions

And you thought the 13th Amendment prohibited involuntary servitude.

This past week Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford joined a coalition of 23 states and local governments in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule aiming to protect health care providers from having to provide services contrary to one’s “religious beliefs or moral convictions” — such as abortion, contraception, sterilization, assisted suicide or transgender hormone treatment or surgery.

The so-called Final Rule was announced in early May by Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS. He said in a statement that the rule “provides enforcement tools to federal conscience protections that have been on the books for decades” and “does not create new substantive rights.”

Severino added, “Finally, laws prohibiting government-funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino. (Getty Images via National Catholic Register)

Ford said in a statement accompanying the announcement of Nevada’s role in the litigation, “The Department of Health and Human Services’ rule would allow individuals and entire institutions to deny lawful and medically necessary care to patients, even in cases of emergencies,” though it is difficult to conjure what constitutes an “emergency” abortion, assisted suicide of transgender treatment.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford

The crux of the lawsuit is money.

The lawsuit and Ford’s press release note that noncompliance with the 440-page Final Rule could result in the denial of federal funding. The lawsuit alleges this could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Ford’s statement further argues “the Final Rule, which will take effect in July 2019, would undermine the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of health care institutions and individuals a right to refuse care, based on the provider’s own personal views. … The Rule makes this right absolute and categorical: no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, a provider or employer is left with no recourse.”

The Wall Street Journal noted at the time the Final Rule was announced that it is an outgrowth of President Trump’s 2017 executive order that included a section on “conscience protections.” The order was seen as a direct response to some Obama administration orders.

“Several religious groups, for example, battled the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers and insurers provide no-cost contraceptive coverage for employees,” the newspaper reported.

Kevin Theriot, vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, told the National Catholic Register earlier this month that those who have conscientious objections to procedures are not discriminating.

“Our clients that have conscientious objections to participating in abortion or participating in, for instance, sex-change therapy or any of those kinds of things, they don’t discriminate based upon a person’s sexual orientation or their sex or anything like that,” Theriot was quoted as saying. “What they’re saying is they shouldn’t be forced to participate in a procedure that violates their convictions. They won’t do that procedure for anybody, so there’s no discrimination going on at all. What’s going on is acknowledging our time-honored practice here in America of respecting rights of conscience.”

As an example of the problem, the Catholic publication noted an example of a New York nurse who was forced to participate in an abortion procedure despite her conscientious objection as a Catholic.

“I’ll never forget the day my supervisor ignored the law and forced me to participate in an abortion. I still have nightmares about that day,” the nurse said in a statement. “As an immigrant to America because of the freedom and opportunity I saw here, today I’m hopeful that HHS’ new rule will help make sure that no other nurses or health care professionals will be forced to go through what I did and that their rights will be protected.”

Theriot noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that each person determines his or her own conscience, not the government.

And you thought the First Amendment prohibited Congress from abridging the free exercise of religion.

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.

Newspaper column: Should each county get a single state senator?

 

Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea is the District 19 incumbent and was not up for re-election this year.

The blue Clark County tail wagged the red Nevada dog in this past week’s election.

Election results show rural and urban Nevada are of two vastly different states of mind.

For example, in the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Jacky Rosen carried only Clark and Washoe counties, while Republican incumbent Dean Heller won every other county handily. In the more heavily unionized, redistribution-favoring and thus Democrat-leaning Clark and Washoe, Rosen gleaned 55 and 50 percent of the votes, respectively. Whereas, for example, in Elko County Heller netted 76 percent of the vote, 72 percent in White Pine, 79 percent in Lincoln, 75 percent in Esmeralda, 63 percent in Storey, 72 percent in Churchill, 79 percent in Lincoln and a whopping 84 percent in tiny Eureka. Quite a spectrum shift.

The state’s only Republican representative in Washington now will be Mark Amodei, whose 2nd Congressional District covers the northern half of the state and excludes Clark. Amodei won in every county and his Democratic opponent only came within spitting distance in Washoe and Carson City. Amodei took Elko with 80 percent of the vote, Humboldt with 79 percent and Lander with 82 percent, for example.

Republican Cresent Hardy won in every county in the 4th Congressional District in the southern half of the state except Clark, while the other two Congressional Districts are solely in Clark and were easily won by Democrats.

Democrat Steven Horsford won the 4th District seat by pulling 52 percent of the total vote by netting 56 percent in the more populous Clark. Hardy netted 73 percent of White Pine’s votes, 80 percent of Lincoln’s votes, 74 percent of Lyon’s, 57 percent of Mineral’s and 65 percent of Lyon’s.

In the statewide races for constitutional offices the numbers broke down largely the same.

In the race for governor, Democrat Steve Sisolak won handily in Clark and eked out a victory in Washoe, while Republican Adam Laxalt won almost every other county by at least 2-to-1. The results were similar in the race for lieutenant governor.

Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske edged out 30-year-old inexperienced Democrat Nelson Araujo by less than 1 percentage point, though she won handily in ever county except, you guessed it, Clark.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Wes Duncan won in every county, repeat after me, except Clark. Likewise for Republican treasurer candidate Bob Beers, while incumbent Republican Controller Ron Knecht lost only in Clark and Washoe. Again, in mosts cases the margins in rural counties exceeded 2-to-1 for the Republican.

The Democrats in the state Assembly are all from Clark and Washoe. The rest of the state picked Republicans. Due to the overwhelming population of Clark and Washoe, there is now a supermajority of Democrats — 29 out of 42.

The state Senate is also all red except for Clark and Washoe. The 13 Democrats to eight Republicans leaves the Democrats one seat short of a supermajority. That could happen if a planned recount changes the outcome in a district in Clark in which the Republican won by 28 ballots.

It takes a supermajority in both the Assembly and Senate to pass tax increases, thanks to an initiative pushed through by former Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Now, if the Democrats can wail about how unfair it is that the 2016 presidential election was determined by the Electoral College — in which each state gets a vote for each representative in Congress, which is determined by population, and each state gets two votes for each senator no matter population — and not by popular vote, which, yes, Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump won, it seems only fair that we be allowed to deign to suggest that Nevada could change its governing bodies to more closing match the federal system created by the Founders.

We could have an Assembly in which representatives are seated from districts of approximately equal population and a state Senate with a single representative from each county. The whole purpose of the U.S. Senate is to assure smaller states are not run over roughshod by more populous states.

So why should the smaller Nevada counties with differing philosophies and priorities and issues be virtually shut out of the decision making process?

Of course, the chances of that ever happening is almost certainly nil. So, consider this a wee Jeremiadic cry from the desert and a whisper in the ears of the near-supermajority to give some slack for the smaller rural counties. Seems only fair. And we know Democrats are sticklers for fairness.

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.

Historic update from Wikipedia:

In 1919 the Senate started a practice called “Little Federalism,” where each county received one member of the Nevada Senate regardless of population of said county. This set the Senate membership at seventeen which lasted until 1965-1967. The Supreme Court of the United States issued the opinion in Baker v. Carr in 1962 which found that the redistricting of state legislative districts are not a political questions, and thus is justiciable by the federal courts. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Reynolds v. Sims and struck down state senate inequality, basing their decision on the principle of “one person, one vote.” With those two cases being decided on a national level, Nevada Assemblywoman Flora Dungan and Las Vegas resident Clare W. Woodbury, M.D. filed suit in 1965 with the Nevada District Court arguing that Nevada’s Senate districts violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and lacked of fair representation and proportional districts. At the time, less than 8 percent of the population of the State of Nevada controlled more than 50 percent of the Senate. The District Court found that both the Senate and the Assembly apportionment laws were “invidiously discriminatory, being based upon no constitutionally valid policy.[7]” It was ordered that Governor Grant Sawyer call a Special Session to submit a constitutionally valid reapportionment plan.[8] The 11th Special Session lasted from October 25, 1965 through November 13, 1965 and a plan was adopted to increase the size of the Senate from 17 to 20.

Editorial: Nevada’s own sex scandal needs a full airing

The year 2017 will go down as the year sexual harassment claims erupted — from Hollywood to D.C., from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, from senate candidate Roy Moore to Sen. Al Franken.

Lest we forget, this year Nevada had its own sex scandal, but, unlike the others, this one was buried in secrecy and the accused allowed to resign and slink away.

State Sen. Mark Manendo, a Las Vegas Democrat, resigned in July after the taxpayers shelled out $67,125.12 to a law firm to investigate allegations of multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers and lobbyists over a number of years.

Former state Sen. Mark Manendo

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a Las Vegas Democrat now running for Nevada attorney general, hired the law firm during the legislative session earlier this year after learning of complaints.

The law firm — after interviewing 58 people, including Manendo — reported in July that Manendo violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy on 14 occasions during the 2017 session alone. It also said Manendo tried to interfere with the investigation by trying to get an accuser to recant and attempting to learn the names of other accusers.

In his resignation letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval, Manendo made no mention of the allegations against him. He wrote, “I am grateful for the support, trust, and confidence bestowed upon me over the years by my constituents and colleagues. As my senate term comes to an end, I feel now is the time to step aside and look for new opportunities to serve others.”

When Manendo resigned, the state Senate Democrats put out a press release saying, “Such behavior is not tolerable in any context, let alone by an elected member of the Nevada Senate. It is in the best interests of the institutions of the State Senate and the Nevada Legislature that Senator Manendo resigns from office.”

But the statement also declared, “In order to maintain the privacy and confidentiality promised to the victims and witnesses who spoke to the independent investigator, the investigative report will not be made public.”

Did the Democratic senators purposefully hide the severity of the misdeeds of one of their own that had been going on unaddressed for years?

After news media outlets filed requests for access to the investigative report under the state Public Records Law — which states that, unless exempted by statute, all public records are available for public scrutiny — the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) issued a 37-page document denying those requests.

The LCB explained, strangely enough, “The Public Records Law cannot be applied to the requested materials because the Legislature and its Houses, committees, agencies, caucuses, members, officers and staff do not come within the statutory definition of ‘governmental entity’ as that term is used in the Public Records Law.” The Legislature is not a government entity?

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, commented to the Las Vegas newspaper at the time, “Their lawyers have built a case for protecting legislators from public scrutiny on the argument that it’s not in the public interest and the Legislature is not a governmental entity. That’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of double-talk used by people to justify all kinds of nonsense.”

Concealing a government-contracted and taxpayer-funded report on the behavior of an elected official is tantamount to obstruction of justice. How are the citizens ever to be able to evaluate the seriousness of the allegations or even whether the the allegations might have risen to the level of warranting criminal prosecution?

How high or low is the bar set for future lawmakers and legislative staffers and lobbyists?

We believe the public deserves a full accounting and that someone running for attorney general should join us in demanding that accountability.

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.

State senator pushing bill to erase immunity for civil suits for self defense

Mark Twain may or may not have said of the Nevada Legislature, which he covered as a reporter in the mid-1800s, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

But the statement is true nonetheless.

Aaron Ford

Take Senate Bill 254 introduced by state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Aaron Ford. This bill would make any person who forcibly defends his or her property and family against a robber or attacker subject to being sued by the attacker in civil court for damages. Current law prohibits such a farce.

Ford’s bill specifically strikes this language from the law: “Force which is intended or likely to cause death or bodily  injury is immune from civil liability in an action to recover damages for personal injuries to or the wrongful death of a person against whom such force was used if the use of such force was justified under the applicable provisions of chapter 200 of NRS relating to the use of such force.”

This is a sop to trial lawyers and a blatant threat to law abiding citizens who use self defense.

And Ford, an attorney, is said to be contemplating a run for attorney general? Any future opponent for any office he seeks should pound him about the head and shoulders with this atrocity.