Newspaper column: Federal agencies stall oil and gas exploration

One of the major reasons the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 227 this year — setting up the Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the possible transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada — was the need for economic development.

Pump Jack in Nevada

In a recent interview, Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, chair of that task force, offered an example of the problems being encountered with federal land agencies that deter the creation of jobs and economic development. He said Noble Energy of Houston came into Elko County and did seismic exploration all over the area. They went before the County Commission said they had five hot spots in the world and Elko was one of them, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

“As they were trying to get ready, they figured out that 90 percent of everything north of the freeway in Elko County is off limits for oil and gas. Then they came in and were ready to start setting up a drill rig on the third week of August, but three weeks before that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) said, ‘Oops, we’re sorry but we forgot to consider the viewshed from the California Trail.’” Dahl recounted. “So they said it might take a year to a year and a half to do the EIS (Environmental Impact Study) on the viewshed. …

“You see how progress and development are held up by, for instance, them worrying about the wagon trains, I guess, that’ll be coming down the California Trail right along parallel to the interstate and the railroad. You can’t look off to the right and see a pump jack or something. Those are the kinds of things that are waking people up thinking maybe we really need to make a change.”

As if on cue, on Sept. 17 a professor of Energy Economics at the University of Wyoming, Timothy Considine, came out with a study called “The Economic Value of Energy Resources on Federal Lands in the Rocky Mountain Region.”

In Nevada alone, Considine estimates oil and gas projects on public land could generate tax revenues of as much as $218 million and create as many as 21,797 new jobs — as many as 200,000 jobs in the seven-state region.

Total oil production in Nevada has been declining since 1990.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko sites.

Newspaper column: Task force looking at how to take control of federal land

For decades Nevadans have been trying to wrest greater control of public lands within the state from federal hegemony.

This year the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 227, which created the Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the possible transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada. The 17-member task force is to identify what federal land should be transferred to the state and what the economic impact would be.

Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, chair of the task force, said in a recent interview the impetus for AB227 began in 2009 when the Forest Service announced it was working on a public lands travel plan, but indicated it did not anticipate closing any roads, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Demar Dahl

“It turned out that it was way different than they had represented,” Dahl explained. “They were actually going to close a lot of roads. They were doing the new map and then everything that wasn’t on the map was not considered a road. …

Dahl said he was told by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the legal advisers to the Legislature, that there might be some constitutional issues with simply demanding a takeover of federal land. It was state Sen. Pete Goicoechea who came up with the idea to put together a bill that would simply study the implications of a transfer rather than demand it.

“We started off to make the decision on whether we could or we couldn’t as a state manage our own public land,” he said.

Dahl anticipates participation from such diverse groups as the Sierra Club, Bighorns Unlimited, the Farm Bureau, miners and ranchers. “We want all the stakeholders out there on the public land to have an opportunity to make a case for or against transfer of the land.”

The task force probably will do as Utah has done and be selective about what land would be transferred, meaning monuments, wilderness, national parks and Department of Defense land are off the table, the chairman said.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko web sites.

News that’s worth opining on but not reporting

As my ol’ Pappy used to say: Great minds travel in the same plane, but fools just think alike.

Two opinion writers this week independently dipped into the well of knowledge and scooped up the same conclusion.

In this week’s newspaper column — carried by The Ely Times, Eureka Sentinel, Mineral County Independent-News, Lincoln County Record and the Elko Daily Free Press, to make a shameless plug — this inveterate scribbler remarks on how pitifully paltry the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program is for states that have vast acreage controlled by the federal government and conclude that it would be far more profitable for Nevada to use Assembly Bill 227 as a way to start taking control of some of that land.

40 cents an acre for Nevada federal lands

In today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, one of the two surviving editorial writers remarked, “In Nevada, Washington controls a staggering 86 percent of the acreage. Yet Congress gets no property tax bills for Washington’s holdings — it drops loose change on the locals, then boasts about its benevolence.”

The R-J editorialist and I both remarked on the fact that Sen. Harry Reid, the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, boasted about snagging PILT money for Nevada, though it amounts to about 40 cents an acre, far less than the funding for surrounding states.

And just as I concluded, the editorial concludes:

“Gov. Brian Sandoval recently signed Assembly Bill 227, which created the Nevada Land Management Task Force. The panel will make recommendations on the transfer of federal land to the state and push Congress to start doing so by 2015. This cause is vital to the state’s future.

“Give up your land, Uncle Sam.”

Of course, I dug a little bit deeper and pointed out that Reid said, “The Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.”

What he did not say is that the grand total of PILT dollars doled out nationwide is $400 million. That’s $35 sent to Washington for every $1 sent back as PILT. Hardly a fair shake.

The remarkable thing about the perspicacity on the part of the R-J writer is that the news side at the paper — so far as I can find, though its search engine is dreadfully inadequate — has never deigned to mention PILT or AB227. The only mention I could find of AB227 was in an editorial back in May in which it topped the list of bills the opinion page was recommending the Legislature pass:

“Assembly Bill 227: One of the state’s biggest economic liabilities is a lack of private land; the federal government controls more than 80 percent of Nevada’s acreage. AB227 would lay the groundwork for the transfer of more federal land to local control.”

The news side did not find it important enough to ever mention.

Land task force could provide a jackpot compared to paltry PILT

One new law that potentially could have the greatest economic impact on Nevada’s future got little coverage.

The Legislature passed and Gov. Brian Sandoval unceremoniously signed Assembly Bill 227, which creates a Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Elko Daily Free Press and the Lincoln County Record.

The 17-member Task Force is supposed to report its findings and recommendations by Sept. 1, 2014, to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands “in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015.”

As if on cue, Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator and the powerful majority leader of the Senate, this past week announced Nevada will be getting $23 million in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which is intended to compensate counties for non-taxable federal land in their jurisdictions.

Reid helpfully noted, “The Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting.” What he did not say is that the grand total of PILT dollars doled out nationwide is $400 million. That’s $35 sent to Washington for every $1 sent back as PILT.

What the most powerful man in the Senate also did not say is that Nevada, as in the past, gets a paltry 41 cents per acre while neighboring states get double and triple that amount. Nor did he point out that PILT amounts to only $8.50 per Nevadan, less than Montana’s $26.37, less than Idaho’s $16.50 or Utah’s $12.40.

Instead of sending all those grazing fees and royalties to Washington, Nevada could collect $805 million directly — assuming that 35-to-1 ratio — plus untold property taxes, instead of accepting a meager $23 million trickling down from Washington.

Read the entire column at the newspaper websites of ElyElko, and Lincoln.


It is long past time for Nevada to take control of federal land

Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Committee approved Rep. Mark Amodei’s H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, which requires federal agencies to expedite mining permits on federal land, setting a deadline of 30 months instead of the customary 10 years or more.

During debate on the bill a Utah congressman pointed out the bill would not be necessary if the states in the West controlled their public lands instead of far off federal agencies.

Meanwhile, in Carson City, Elko Republican Assemblyman John Ellison’s Assembly Bill 227 would create a task force to do just that, which is the topic of this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Since the mid-1990s Nevada has been trying to take control of the 85 percent of the state controlled by the federal government.

In 1956 the voters of Nevada amended the state Constitution to allow taxation of federal lands, should the Congress ever consent. In 1996 the voters again amended the Constitution to remove the so-called Disclaimer Clause that gave dominion over the land to the feds.

And then … nothing. To this day, the state Constitution contains a note saying these amendments are to take effect when Congress or the courts act. Neither has.

AB227 would establish a task force to prepare for taking over federal lands by June 30, 2015. The task force would identify which public lands should be transferred and propose a plan for the administration, management, use, sale or lease of those lands. It also would perform an economic analysis of the potential costs and revenues of such transfers. Ellison colorfully describes the federal government’s dominion over the vast majority of state land for 150 years as “feudalism.”

The bill passed out of the Assembly with all 15 Republicans voting “aye,” but with 18 of the 26 Democrats voting “nay.”

AB227 contains a resolution that begins: “WHEREAS, Unlike the eastern states that received dominion over their lands upon joining the Union, the western states have been placed in an inferior position as a result of the Federal Government withholding a significant portion of land from those states as a condition of admission to the Union …”

There is a bit of an historic flaw in that statement. Actually, some Western states have successfully petitioned to acquire for themselves tracts of federal land, arguing:

“It is of pressing moment that the public lands should become the property of their citizens, with the least delay compatible with the national interest. …

“If these lands are to be withheld from sale, which is the effect of the present system, in vain may the People of these States expect the advantages of well settled neighborhoods, so essential to the education of youth, and to the pleasures of social intercourse, and the advantages of religious instruction. Those States will, for many generations, without some change, be retarded in endeavors to increase their comfort and wealth …

“When these States stipulated not to tax the lands of the United States until they were sold, they rested upon the implied engagement of Congress to cause them to be sold, within a reasonable time. No just equivalent has been given those States for a surrender of an attribute of sovereignty so important to their welfare, and to an equal standing with the original States.”

Those “Western” states, as they were called at the time, were Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. The year was 1828. The argument became known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.

The petition apparently was successful. Today various federal agencies control the use of roughly half the 11 westernmost states in the lower 48 and Alaska, while only 4 percent of the rest of the states is under federal dominion.