Newspaper column: Selective dudgeon by environmentalists over use of national monument land

Vegas to Reno race

This is why they are called spoilsports.

A group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is raising a ruckus over plans by the Bureau of Land Management to route a portion of a desert race from Las Vegas to Reno through a short span of the newly minted 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument.

The race, called the General Tire Las Vegas to Reno race, is said to be the longest off-highway race in the country, about 640 miles, and usually has about 300 motorcycles, trucks, dune buggies and assorted all-terrain vehicles competing each year. It has been run annually for 20 years by the Best in the Desert Racing Association. It starts near Alamo, has an overnight stop in Tonopah and ends near Dayton.

“BLM’s race plan makes a mockery out of President Obama’s monument declaration,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “BLM is playing fast and loose with its legal obligations in order to let hundreds of vehicles roar through fragile desert before the monument’s protections can be solidified.”

President Obama created the national monument this past July by executive fiat under the authority given to him in the Antiquities Act of 1906, even though the Constitution only empowers Congress to make all rules regarding public land.

A complaint sent to the White House and the Secretary of the Interior by PEER accuses the BLM of flouting the presidential monument proclamation directive that “motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

The Las Vegas newspaper carried an Associated Press account of the objection, but added that it contacted Basin and Range National Monument manager Alicia Styles, who told the paper the proposed route for the race crosses about 40 miles of the monument — all of it on existing dirt roads.

According to the Federal Register account of the Basin and Range National Monument designation, “Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

So what’s the beef? The road exists now.

So far as we’ve heard, neither PEER nor any other self-styled environmentalists has raised any objections to the paragraph that precedes that statement about existing roads: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to limit the authority of the Secretary, under applicable law other than this proclamation, to undertake or authorize activities on public land in the vicinity of the sculpture City for the purpose of preventing harm to the artwork, including activities to improve drainage and to prevent erosion, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above. The management plan for the monument shall provide for reasonable use of existing roads within the monument to facilitate public access to City.”

Art is good? Sport is bad?

City is just a lot of bulldozed dirt, rocks and concrete that is supposed to be “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. Construction has been going on for nearly 50 years on private land inside what is now a national monument. Some mounds are 80 feet high on a tract more than a mile long and a quarter mile wide.

One of the reasons given by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid in recommending to Obama the creation of the national monument was to provide a buffer to this City “artwork.”

Reid gushed to the Washington Post about seeing the mounds of dirt: “I became a convert. … You have this magnificent work of art that this man spent half a century working on. And that’s quite a story.”

Both Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy opposed the monument designation, as have elected officials in Nye and Lincoln counties where the Basin and Range National Monument lies, fearing it would retard economic development.

Though the monument designation specifically requires public access to City, the art is not yet open to the public, just to VIPs like Reid, and its completion date, if ever, is unknown.

Apparently, all those holes and mounds in City do not damage the fragile desert, as PEER calls it, while driving a few bikes and trucks over an existing road for a couple of hours one day a year is devastating.

City “art” project inside Basin and Range National Monument. Photo via LA Times)

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.

Environmental group protest dirt road race route across corner of monument

This is why they are called spoilsports.

A group calling itself Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is raising a ruckus over plans by the Bureau of Land Management to route a short portion of a dirt road race from Las Vegas to Reno through a short span of the newly minted 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument.

Photo by Mark Kariya

The race, called the General Tire Las Vegas to Reno race, is said to be the longest off-highway race in the country, about 640 miles, and usually has about 300 motorcycles, trucks, dune buggies and assorted all-terrain vehicles competing each year. It has been run annually for 20 years by the Best in the Desert Racing Association. It starts near Alamo, has an overnight stop in Tonopah and ends near Dayton,

“BLM’s race plan makes a mockery out of President Obama’s monument declaration,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement. “BLM is playing fast and loose with its legal obligations in order to let hundreds of vehicles roar through fragile desert before the monument’s protections can be solidified.”

A complaint sent to the White House and the Secretary of the Interior by PEER accused the BLM of flouting the presidential monument proclamation directive that “motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

The Las Vegas newspaper carried an Associated Press account of the objection today, but added that it contacted Basin and Range National Monument manager Alicia Styles, who told the paper the proposed route for the race crosses about 40 miles of the monument, all of it on existing dirt roads.

According to the Federal Register, “Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized vehicle use in the monument shall be permitted only on roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.”

So what’s the beef?

Also, PEER nor any other self-styled environmentalists so far as we’ve heard have raised objections to the paragraph that precedes that statement about existing roads:

“Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to limit the authority of the Secretary, under applicable law other than this proclamation, to undertake or authorize activities on public land in the vicinity of the sculpture City for the purpose of preventing harm to the artwork, including activities to improve drainage and to prevent erosion, consistent with the care and management of the objects identified above. The management plan for the monument shall provide for reasonable use of existing roads within the monument to facilitate public access to City.”

Art is good? Sport is bad?

City is just a lot of bulldozed dirt that is supposed to look like ancient ruins, we’re told. Construction has been going on for more than 40 years inside what is now a national monument. But that is not damaging to the pristine desert, while driving a few bikes and trucks over an existing road one day a year is devastating.

City — art in the desert?

 

Newspaper column: The wishes of one man drown out the voices of an entire state

Basin and Range National Monument (R-J photo)

What do you call a country in which one person has the power to dictate to local elected officials how land within their jurisdiction may be used or not used?

Dictatorship?

This past week with the proverbial stroke of his oft-bragged-about pen President Obama singlehandedly created a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in the Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most local officials oppose it.

Congressman Cresent Hardy, whose district includes the new monument, complained about the arbitrary decision made as a sop to lame duck Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a statement. “Nevada’s rural county economies are particularly sensitive, and any decisions that affect ranching, recreation or other types of land use activities should have as much local input as possible … but at the moment, they do not. Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern rural Nevada, said in an interview, “One of the paybacks for Senator Reid being one of the administration’s backstops for six of their eight years is the monument thing. … Why the hell can’t you go through the public process?”

Sources confirmed Reid’s role to the Washington Post: “It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done.” When told it was controversial in Nevada, Obama replied, “I don’t care. I want this done.”

Amodei expressed a suspicion that the ulterior motive for the monument was not so much to protect petroglyphs and barren desert, but to block access to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository should Congress vote to revive it. Reid has been a vehement opponent of Yucca Mountain.

“I suspect that what it’s attempting to protect is any potential rail to Yucca Mountain,” Amodei said. “That’s just my speculation, but the irony of that is, if the Congress of the United States decides over the strenuous objection of Nevada’s governor and congressional delegation to crank that back up, it is a fact they can put as many rights-of-way across the monument area as they want.”

Obama’s proclamation specifically states “no new rights-of-way for electric transmission or transportation shall be authorized within the monument.”

But Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …” That surely could include a railroad from the Caliente Railroad Depot to Yucca Mountain, which the Department of Energy has already mapped out. Or perhaps they could route the nuke waste through Las Vegas, Harry?

Like Hardy, Amodei blanched at the lack of input from those who live in the area. “A lot of these issues is not one where you are taking meat off of somebody’s plate or money out of somebody else’s pocket. If people in Utah or Nevada want a little bit of transparency and engagement in federal land use decisions … now there’s a recurring theme. What the heck’s the harm in it?” he asked.

Amodei sarcastically remarked,“I guess I missed the Nevada delegation meeting to discuss the second largest conservation withdrawal in the history of the state. At least when Senator (Richard) Bryan was looking for a legacy, they processed it through something resembling regular order.”

In December, Congress, after years of lobbying by local officials, created the 22,000-acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Clark County.

“President Obama often says ‘we are stronger as a nation when we work together.’ Apparently that rule does not apply to public lands issues when it involves his political allies,” said Southern Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. “The Basin and Range Monument designation goes well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act which limits parcels reserved by the President to the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land.”

And you thought you lived in a democracy.

Does Congress have the power to abdicate its powers?

Mount Irish in the Basin and Range area

It was somewhat amusing to hear Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva argue against Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy’s amendment that would block funding in key counties in several states for presidentially designated national monuments because the law allowing it, the Antiquities Act, has been around since 1906. (At about 9:30 into the video.)

The Constitution has been around since 1789.

Article IV, Section 3 of that document reads: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …”

The question is whether Congress has the power to abdicate that power and turn it over to the president, as it did with the Antiquities Act of 1906.

A Heritage Foundation essay by a federal judge argues it may not:

Although the Constitution contains no explicit prohibition against Congress delegating its legislative powers (to the President or an administrative agency, for example), the principle of non-delegation is fundamental to the idea of a limited government accountable to the people. Indeed, the people, in whom sovereignty ultimately resides, carefully assign certain powers to each branch of government. The delegated powers are defined as placed in distinct branches of government for the “accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands,” writes James Madison in Federalist No. 47, “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” While the executive must exercise some discretion in the application of law, lawmaking remains the prerogative of Congress. Since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has unfortunately sanctioned ever greater delegations of legislative power to administrative agencies. That the courts have flouted this principle does not mean that Congress can or should ignore this element of constitutional construction.

Still the Supreme Court has upheld the act three times, but on arguments other than constitutionality.

Despite this questionable authority, on Friday the president is expected to sign a proclamation creating a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most of the state’s congressional delegation and local elected officials oppose it. All that matters is that Harry Reid wants it.

On Wednesday, the House backed Hardy’s amendment by a vote of 222-206. The only Nevada representative voting against it was Dina Titus.

But Hardy, in whose district the soon-to-be monument is located, told the Las Vegas newspaper’s Washington reporter the amendment will not stop the designation, but would serve as a message to President Obama that Congress is unhappy with such executive fiats.

“Here we have bureaucrats continuing to shove things down people’s throats in areas where people don’t even have a chance to address their issues,” Hardy was quoted as saying.

According to the draft of the proclamation, cattle could still graze on the land, if the BLM continues to allow it, but no new roads or rights of way would be allowed. It has been speculated that Reid wants the designation — not so much as to protect antiquities and the “art” project called “City” near Hiko — but to block a railroad line that could take nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. But what is to stop Congress — with its power to “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States” — from creating such a right of way?

 

 

 

Editorial: Nevada must challenge efforts to close off more land from productive uses

What do you call a system in which a person living in a far-away mansion dictates how vast swaths of land may or may not be used and the local peasants have no say in the matter whatsoever?

According to Nevada Republican Congressman Cresent Hardy, paperwork has already been prepared for President Obama’s signature that would declare 704,000 acres of federally controlled land in Hardy’s district a national monument, closing the land to most beneficial uses.

The so-called Basin and Range National Monument would cover the Garden and Coal valleys — larger than the state of Rhode Island — on either side of the Lincoln and Nye County border. Local elected officials oppose the designation, which is authorized by the 1906 Antiquities Act.

A year ago Nevada’s senior Democratic senator, Harry Reid, introduced a bill that would ban oil and gas drilling and mining on 805,100 acres of land in the same area. His effort has since been joined by Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, whose district is in the urban core of Las Vegas.

Purportedly Coal and/or Garden Valley

The draft proclamation prepared for Obama’s signature states, “All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of the monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws, from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing …”

In January, Nevada’s four Republican congressional representatives announced that they were introducing the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2015, which would prevent the president designating or expanding national monuments by executive action without Congressional approval.

Obama has designated eight monuments so far. This past year Obama designated as monuments, despite local opposition, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in California and the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks in New Mexico. Bill Clinton did the same in 1996 by creating the 1.8 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah with only 24 hours notice. The designation was so unpopular in Utah that he announced the decision at a ceremony in Arizona.

Upon learning of the president’s plan, Rep. Hardy said he was “appalled and deeply concerned about the national security implications” of the move, because the Air Force uses the area for training.

Hardy managed to attach an amendment to the Defense Department budget that protects national security-related activities on or above land associated with a Military Operations Area. He noted that training exercises often require deployment of troops on the ground to coordinate attack simulations.

“Yet the draft proclamation only included a provision for unimpeded operations in the air above the proposed monument. No language was included to protect the vital training that occurs on the land below. This is an unacceptable oversight. …” Hardy said in a statement. “We must protect America’s national security, and that means ensuring that our military has guaranteed access to land located beneath or associated with Military Operations Areas for essential training and readiness activities.”

That move by Hardy should correct a serious oversight, but the delegation needs to pursue with vigor efforts to give local residents a say in how the land in their region is used.

When the Nevada lands bill was introduced, Republican Sen. Dean Heller said, “Currently, with a quick stroke of the pen, the executive branch can lock up millions of acres of public land without consulting the public or their representation in Congress.”

And Republican Rep. Mark Amodei remarked, “There is no good reason for major land-use decisions in Nevada to be done in secret without input from the local community and their elected representatives.”

Just what the land needs to be protected from has never been stated. Besides, the federal bureaucrats already control the land and can deny permits for any use they deem inappropriate or disruptive.

Nevada’s delegation should move swiftly and attempt to block the monument designation and lead Congress in repealing the Antiquities Act entirely.

Oh, yes, that system mentioned above is called feudalism.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in most 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.

The Las Vegas newspaper has a story on this topic today.

A creek runs through Coal Valley. (R-J photo by Jeff Scheid)