Newspaper column: DACA rhetoric just muddies the waters

Pro-DACA gathering in Las Vegas earlier this month. (R-J pix)

The vitriol being spewed over President Trump’s suspension of Obama’s executive fiat to defer deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children is nothing more than pretentious and pointless political patronizing.

Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Washington was unmatched in its heated hyperbole.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called Trump a racist and a xenophobe, firing off a missive declaring the “decision to end DACA protections for DREAMers is not guided by sound policy, but by xenophobia and myths. DREAMers who benefit from DACA know no other country other than the U.S. Denying them DACA protection unjustly rips away their future, exposes them to job loss, and threatens them with deportation from the only country they have ever known.”

For the acronym deprived, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the name given by Obama to an executive order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. DREAMers is a derivation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has been pending in various forms in Congress since August of 2001 without passage.

When Congress failed to act, Obama took it on his own in June 2012 to do what Congress had not.

Even though Trump gave Congress six months to remedy his rescinding of DACA and pass the DREAM Act, Rep. Jacky Rosen declared it was wrong to invite “these young people to come out of the shadows, raise their hands, and make themselves known, the United States made a promise to those who came here as children. President Trump is now reneging on that promise …”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, making the obligatory observation that he was once an undocumented immigrant brought here by his parents, said in an email that the decision tramples this country’s values and shatters the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 who have signed up for DACA. He called the decision “heartless and cruel.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Ending DACA appeals to xenophobic beliefs and goes against the founding principles of our nation” — ignoring the fact it was Obama who made a promise he had no power to make.

In a statement announcing the DACA decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

In contrast to Nevada’s Democratic delegates, its Republicans reacted by saying it is now time for Congress to do its job.

Sen. Dean Heller issued a statement to the Reno newspaper saying, “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller noted that he is a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for so-called DREAMers while Congress works toward a permanent solution to immigration problems.

“Just as I have in the past, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to reform our broken immigration system and that must start with securing our borders …” Heller’s statement continued.

Rep. Mark Amodei put out a statement noting that he is a sponsor of a bill called Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide a way for childhood immigrants to earn legal residency.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve called on congressional leadership to act on immigration reform. I would always rather be criticized for attempting to move this issue toward a solution, than criticized for repeated inaction,” Amodei said in a statement. “Now, Congress has six months to do the job it’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. If we’re unable to do that job, then 800,000 immigrants will be affected.”

Amodei further noted that Congress has not passed any substantive immigration reform since Ronald Reagan was president, three decades ago, adding that if any blame is to be attached to this it is rightfully Congress’.

The Democrats’ rancorous rhetoric does nothing to move toward a compromise and might well jeopardize that goal, especially if they categorically reject border security as a part of the package.

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.

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Zinke recommendation to reduce Gold Butte Monument size met with usual blather

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending an unspecified reduction in size of several recently created national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — has sent the usual suspects into apoplexy.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen, whose district includes Gold Butte, screeched, “The latest leaks from this administration show that once again Secretary Zinke is ignoring the will of Nevadans by recommending that the size of Gold Butte National Monument be reduced. This decision will not only be detrimental to Nevada’s economy and shared cultural heritage, but it is further proof that the monument review process has been rigged from the start. Secretary Zinke promised that Nevadans’ voices would be heard. Instead, we got half-hearted attempts to meet with stakeholders and secret memos cooked up behind closed doors, all when the outcome was predetermined from the beginning. When it comes to altering our monuments and impacting our livelihood, Nevadans deserve more than unofficial leaks and uncorroborated reports. Secretary Zinke should look Nevadans in the eye and give it to us straight, rather than hide behind the administration’s continued shroud of secrecy.”

Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to media in Bunkerville during a visit to Gold Butte. (R-J pix)

Actually, the residents of Mesquite welcome the reduction, especially if the free land assures the town it will have access to springs in the region that will be needed to supply the growing community with drinking water in the future.

Zinke’s memo specifically noted that the water district has historic water rights to six springs and five of those are within the Obama-designated national monument boundaries.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus weighed in by proclaiming, “Secretary Zinke leaked a memo in the middle of the night because he knows his plan to hack away at monuments like Gold Butte is an overreach opposed by the majority of Americans. Gold Butte’s opponents have created a straw man argument about water rights without mentioning that the monument’s proclamation includes language to protect them. Now we must recommit our effort to protect these precious public lands in the courts and send a strong message to Zinke and Trump to keep their hands off our monuments.”

Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen claimed, “No President has unilateral power to revoke a national monument under the Antiquities Act and any decision to redefine protections for Nevada’s national monuments is a blatant overreach. This rash decision by the Trump Administration will not only endanger Nevada’s natural beauty and chip away at our cultural heritage, but it will also hurt our state’s outdoor recreation economy by eliminating jobs that have contributed significantly to our local tourism industry. I’ll continue to stand up to this administration, in every way I can, to protect Nevada’s public lands.”

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in the past has opposed reducing the footprint of any national monument.

But Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei had opposed the designation of Gold Butte and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Nye and Lincoln counties. Zike’s memo makes no mention of Basin and Range.

Heller said, “As a strong proponent of states’ rights, the Obama Administration’s decision to bypass Congress and designate two national monuments in Nevada despite widespread disagreement at the local level is an example of extreme overreach and the failed Washington-knows-best mentality. That is why I welcomed Secretary Zinke to Nevada to see first-hand the impact of monuments designated under the Antiquities Act with no local input. After talking to and meeting with the Secretary several times, I am pleased that he has taken my recommendation to ask the President to modify Gold Butte’s boundaries to allow the Virgin Valley Water District to access its water rights that were lost under the previous Administration. These actions recommended by me and Secretary Zinke prioritize local concerns over the opinion of Washington bureaucrats, and I hope that President Trump will agree with the Secretary.”

Frankly, the designations as national monuments did little more than create paperwork, because the all the land was under the jurisdiction of various federal land agencies, primarily the Bureau of Land Management. The monument designation does nothing to add actual protection for the few petroglyphs and other artifacts that are located on the sites.

Zinke noted this lack of protection and wrote that his agency “should work with Congress to secure funding for adequate infrastructure and management needs to protect objects effectively” in Gold Butte.

As we have already noted, these monuments need not be so large.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed in order to protect prehistoric and Indian ruins and artifacts on federal land in the West and the law limits such designations to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects.” While earlier monuments averaged 422 acres, several of Obama’s designations exceeded a million acres.

The Gold Butte portion of the Zinke memo:

ObamaCare will live on … until single-payer takes its place

Sen. Mitch McConnell today released ObamaCare repeal and replace legislation. (AP pix via WSJ)

You can’t drive a stake through its heart. It looks like ObamaCare will live on — or at least until the death spiral of premium and deductible hikes force Congress to pass single-payer, as was the plan all along.

Today the Senate Republicans released their revised repeal and replace legislation, according to The Wall Street Journal, and it would include steep Medicaid cuts. With only 52 Republicans in the Senate and no Democrat likely to get on board, that likely means Republicans like Dean Heller of Nevada will balk and the 50 needed votes can’t be found.

“If you want my support (on repealing Obamacare) … you better make sure that the Republican governors that have expanded Medicaid sign off on it,” Heller was quoted as saying by a morning newspaper columnist a few weeks ago. “I’ve been saying that for months. … Where is Governor (Brian) Sandoval? What does he think?”

Sandoval was one of 31 governors to expand Medicaid with the promise that the feds would pick up 90 percent of the cost. He was quoted as saying, “As a result of [expanding Medicaid] we’ve added 210,000 Nevadans and allowed them to access health care,” Sandoval said. “These are our friends. These are our families. These are our neighbors.”

In addition to Heller several moderate Republicans have voiced opposition to Medicaid cuts.

So, when the death spiral hits bottom, that’s when the Democrats’ plan will kick in. Nevada’s former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid admitted four years ago on public radio here that the country will eventually drop private health insurance for the single-payer government-run-and-funded medical coverage.

Reid said the country has to “work our way past” private health insurance.

“What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas Sun. “We had a real good run at the public option … don’t think we didn’t have a tremendous number of people who wanted a single-payer system,” but he could not get enough votes then.

That was then.

At a meeting with constituents in April in Las Vegas, Reid’s successor Catherine Cortez Masto was repeatedly asked about single-payer legislation.

At first she said, “We are fighting Republicans who want to take away health care. […] We have to be realistic.” But when asked again about single-payer, she replied, “I will take a look at it.”

 

No expansion of the role of government can ever be reversed

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth! — Ronald Reagan

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is pushing to keep spending federal tax dollars to keep the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, of course, is on board, along with all of the rest of the state’s delegation except Rep. Mark Amodei. Nevada lawmakers want to expand Medicaid. The governor is for keeping the Medicaid expansion.

Dean Heller

Thus far, according to the morning newspaper, the expansion has added 221,000 to Nevada’s Medicaid roles, although previous stories in the same paper put the number at 400,000. Most of those are able-bodied, childless adults earning above the poverty level.

Few seem willing to throttle back on the government largesse, even though the economy has picked up a bit since the depths of the recession and unemployment has fallen from October 2009’s 10 percent peak to 4.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Medicaid enrollment has grown by 47 percent since 2006 and spending by 75 percent — to $554 billion in 2015.

Trump’s budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and trim $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs — all of which have increased in recent years.

What goes up must never go down.

 

Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Yucca Mountain in Nye County

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

“Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”

Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

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.

 

Jim Day cartoon

Bill would revive licensing of Yucca Mountain for nuke waste storage

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This morning four of Nevada’s Washington delegation members testified during an hours-long hearing on draft legislation that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage spent nuclear fuel. They all testified against it.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on the environment took no vote on the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, but a number of subcommittee members from states with nuclear power plants seemed more than willing to ship nuke waste to Nevada.

Yucca Mountain entrance (AP pix)

Sen. Dean Heller testified, “Rather than attempting to force this project on the people of Nevada – a state that currently does not have any nuclear power plants of its own – it is clear taxpayers’ dollars would be better spent identifying viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in areas that are willing to house it.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who presents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism, even though the bill says every effort would be made to avoid shipping the waste through Las Vegas. He added, “Many of you may not know it, but the area around Yucca Mountain is seismically active, and an aquifer runs beneath the proposed repository site. Additionally, placing a large amount of nuclear waste in an unsuitable site like Yucca Mountain could lead to numerous potential health issues. Substandard care or the mere passage of time could lead to leaking and leaching of nuclear material into the aquifer.”

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Despite concerns about shipping, one of the expert witnesses said there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

A Texas representative said the amount waste — 70,000 metric tons — is not so large, just the size of a football field stacked 10 feet high or enough to fill two congressional hearing rooms.

But the Nye County Commission had entered into the record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain:

The legislation, which would strengthen the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, addresses many of the concerns brought forth by the state and Nevada’s federal lawmakers, including a provision that specifically says that the waste shall avoid moving through Las Vegas.

Another change for Nevada is the acceptance of benefits, including funding and participation in mitigation discussions, shall not be considered consent and the State can get benefits tied to hosting the nuclear repository. Under the existing law, when the State vetoed the repository it gave up its right to benefits.

The bill also allows Nevada to be the site of an interim storage facility, a change from the original Act.

Yucca Mountain, which is located in Nye County, was designated as the permanent nuclear waste disposal site by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982. Nuclear waste continues to be stored temporarily at various locations around the country while the promise of Yucca Mountain has been delayed too long by political science. To date, $15 billion has been spent to prepare the site to accept nuclear waste.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.

The bill includes a “benefits section” envisioning dollars that could flow to the state and the local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft. “The acceptance or use of any of the benefits provided under a benefits agreement under this section by the State of Nevada shall not be considered to be an expression of consent, express or implied, to the siting of a repository in such State,” the draft states.

One states’ rights concern is that it removes Nevada’s right to deny water for the project.

But Nevadans should remember that lying down in front of a train greatly increases the chances of getting run over. The bill appears to open paths for negotiation of benefits the state and Nye County.

 

 

 

Editorial: Will collaboration on sage grouse finally happen?

Nevada has every reason to feel like a slighted wallflower. We keep getting invited to the big sage grouse dance, but never get asked to dance.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney Adam Laxalt and others have complained bitterly that state and local input on how to protect the sage grouse population and still conduct economically productive endeavors on the land the birds occupy have been roundly and almost universally ignored by the federal land agencies.

A lawsuit filed by Laxalt on behalf of the state, several counties, a couple of mining firms and the owners of a ranch against the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and others used a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times to describe how state and local objections to land use plans were received. In fact a motion filed by the state in that suit points out that after dismissing local input three top Interior Department officials met privately, after the public comment period was closed, with environmental groups to obtain their “buy-in” on a land use plan.

Sage grouse workshop session.

Sage grouse workshop session.

So, pardon us if we scoff at the cheery BLM press release from this past week under the headline: “Collaboration the key to Sage Grouse success.”

The press release announced the creation of Nevada-based working groups comprised of federal and state agencies and key stakeholders “to identify regulatory flexibility and improve communication and outreach between themselves and the public.”

The working groups resulted from a two-and-a-half day workshop in Reno in early December.

“A key part of the workshop was the emphasis on establishing and improving relationships between the agencies and stakeholders, “ said John Ruhs, state director for the BLM in Nevada. “We also spent time getting to know people as individuals as opposed to just identifying them by their interest or agency.”

He was further quoted as saying, “In the case of the amendments for the Greater sage grouse plans in Nevada, a collaborative network of local, state and federal partners is essential for protecting the sagebrush ecosystem while ensuring multiple uses.”

Though Ruhs has a reputation for being a straight shooter — he brokered a deal that allowed Battle Mountain district ranchers to temporarily continue grazing after permits had been denied — he does answer to the federal land bosses in Washington, from whence just two weeks ago came a proposal to ban mining on 10 million acres in the West — a quarter of that in Nevada alone and most of that in Elko County — to protect sage grouse.

Sandoval fired off a retort saying, “Today’s announcement does nothing to protect the greater sage-grouse, but does cripple the mining and exploration industry. It is an unfortunate end to our collaborative efforts with this administration. I am hopeful the new administration will consider the limited ecological benefits of this withdrawal.”

Now senior Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller called the ban an 11th-hour attack on the West by a lame duck president.

“Federal land grabs are never popular in Nevada and the latest one by the BLM is no different. A mining ban does little to help sage grouse and will devastate northern Nevada’s future economic competitiveness,” Heller said in a press release. “I will partner with the next administration to reverse this decision and to ensure the BLM focuses on the real threats to sage grouse, like wildfires, instead of locking up Nevadans’ public lands. Those are the types of efforts, rather than these harmful mining bans, that will benefit our environment while also allowing our economy to grow,” Nevadans can only hope that with the changes coming in Washington these working groups might actually be listened to.

National BLM Director Neil Kornze — a former aide to Nevada Sen. Harry “Lock Up the Land and Throw Away the Key” Reid — has announced he is stepping down on Jan. 20, the day Donald Trump is inaugurated president.

Trump, meanwhile, has nominated Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who grew up in a logging town, to head the Interior Department.

That BLM press release announcing the working groups quotes JJ Goicoechea, chairman of the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, as saying, “While this process was just the beginning, there was a collective recognition of key issues to address and an overall feeling that if we don’t collaboratively work toward solutions, we will fail individually.”

Perhaps, with a different band in Washington playing a different tune, Nevada will finally get to dance.

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.