Newspaper column: Trump appointees may hold key to Nevada’s economic future

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

Trump interviewed by Field & Stream

What does a Donald Trump presidency forebode for Nevada?

It is hard to say, because Trump has never kept a firm grip on any political position for more than a few hours, seemingly changing stances depending on with whom he has spoken most recently.

On the topic of who should control the public lands in Nevada — where currently 87 percent of the state’s land mass is controlled by the various federal land agencies — President-elect Trump has straddled the fence so much he must have saddle sores.

In January during an interview with Field & Stream magazine in Las Vegas, candidate Trump was asked about the prospect of the federal government transferring some of those lands to the states if he were to be elected president.

Trump unequivocally replied, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?

And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”

Merely a week later in an op-ed piece printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal Trump did a 180-degree turn: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians. Far removed from the beautiful wide open spaces of Nevada, bureaucrats bend to the influence that is closest to them. Honest, hardworking citizens who seek freedom and economic independence must beg for deference from a federal government that is more intent on power and control than it is in serving the citizens of the nation.”

He went on to bemoan the fact local governments have to beg the Washington bureaucracy for land for schools, roads, parks and other public uses and pay a premium price for it. During the Republican convention this past summer the party platform included a call for the federal government to divest itself of a certain portion of public lands.

“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states …” the platform reads. “The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.”

But at the same time an aide to Trump told the Huffington Post that Trump did not oppose the platform plank, but did not really embrace it, saying, Trump “lives in Manhattan and he views the West as this giant federal wonderful ownership property.” The aide said Trump would prefer a middle ground, such as a federal-state management partnership.

In August, according to High Country News, Elko County Commissioner and Nevada Land Management Task Force Chairman Demar Dahl met privately with Trump at a fundraiser at Lake Tahoe and broached the subject of public lands being transferred to the states.

“He said, ‘I’m with you,’” recalls Dahl, an avowed advocate of granting Nevada greater control over public land. He spoke recently before a House subcommittee in favor of a bill that would do so.

Given Trump’s apparent fluidity on this matter, one might be advised to look to who Trump appoints to various cabinet posts in the coming weeks for hints for how Nevada and the West may fare. One good sign for Nevadans who would like to see federal land put to productive use is that Trump reportedly is seriously considering two oil company executives to be secretaries of Interior and/or Energy.

He also has the self-styled environmentalists in a tither over the possibility that he might appoint a so-called climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been pressing forward with its jobs strangling Clean Power Plan to restrict air emissions and its Waters of the U.S. proposal that would usurp control of every mud puddle west of the Rockies. The views of Trump’s appointees may be more important than the rhetoric out of the future president.

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: Whither the state’s effort to take control of public lands?

In March 2015 Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, introduced H.R. 1484, dubbed the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act, which, if passed, would require the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to convey to Nevada a portion of the federal public lands they now control and thus partly fulfill an implied promise do so when Nevada became a state 152 years ago.

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources finally got around to conducting a hearing on the bill this past week, though Amodei had been seeking such a hearing for more than a year. The subcommittee took no vote and Amodei is under no illusion the bill has a chance of passage in this session of Congress.

The bill calls for the federal government to transfer ownership of 7.2 million acres of public land to the state in its first phase and about 10 million acres in a subsequent phase. That would still leave the feds controlling about 70 percent of Nevada’s land mass, but down from the current 87 percent, the most of any state.

Testifying in favor of the bill was Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, who chaired a year-long study of the land transfer proposal by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

Demar Dahl testifies before House subcommittee.

“I had an opportunity to meet with President-elect (Donald) Trump in August,” Dahl said in his opening remarks. “I said, ‘If you had a hotel with 10 floors on it and eight of those floors were controlled by a bureaucracy that you had virtually no control over that was over 2,000 miles away, how would that work?’

“And he said, ‘I think that you’re actually closer to 90 percent owned and controlled in the state of Nevada by the federal government than you are to 80.’ And that’s true — 87 percent of the state of Nevada is owned and controlled by the federal government.”

The task force Dahl headed up was created by the state Legislature in 2013 and consisted of one member of every county commission in the state, 17 in all.

At their first meeting Dahl said he asked the members whether they thought at the time it was a good idea to transfer land to the state, and more than half said it was not a good idea or they were not sure.

Over the next year the task force met 13 times to hear testimony from state agencies, the Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, various sportsman groups and other stakeholders.

“As we went through the year I could see the lights come on of all of the members and by the time we finished every member was supporting the transfer of the public lands,” said Dahl, a rancher.

An economic analysis contracted by the task force found that the state could expect a net revenue of $350 million a year from controlling the land.

All 17 county commissions voted to support the land transfer effort and in 2015 the proposal passed both houses of the Legislature and resulted in H.R. 1484.

“On the issue of transferring the public lands we discovered that there is more among the residents of the state that unites us than divides us. For the sportsmen, the environmental community and resource users there’s much that we can agree on,” Dahl told the subcommittee. “For instance, 1484 calls for the transfer of all valid existing rights and uses. If you can hunt, fish, camp, graze or prospect on the public lands now, you will be able do it after the transfer.”

No parks, monuments, military or Indian land would be transferred.

Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn of Colorado said to Dahl that people in other parts of the country think residents of the West don’t care about the federal lands, that states would allow a few more barrels of oil to be tapped under a world-class trout stream and the people on either coast need to tell us what to do.

Dahl replied, “My question would be: Why would the people who live there and care for the land, who are able to use it more than anyone else, even though after the transfer people from all over the world will continue to be able to use it, but why would the people of Nevada care less about the land and care less about preserving it for their children, their children’s children and for generations to come?”

Two of the bill’s co-sponsors — Republican Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy — were defeated in the recent election. Where will their Democrat replacements stand on this bill?

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: Amodei expects big returns for Nevada from Congress

As the 114th Congress gets under way, Rep. Mark Amodei, whose district covers the northern half of the state, is optimistic the House can pass legislation to allow Nevada and other Western states to take control of some portion of federal lands within their borders, though he is not sure about how it will fare in the Senate.

This quest has been flaring up from time to time since the beginning of the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s.

Amodei noted that much of the press for states taking more control of federal land started in Utah, and it just so happens the chair the Natural Resources Committee is from Utah, Rob Bishop, who he expects will give lands bills favorable consideration.

“It’s something I think we need to address in Nevada,” Amodei said.

Rep. Mark Amodei

He also said he was impressed with documentation produced by the Nevada Public Lands Management Task Force, under the leadership of Elko County Commissioner and rancher Demar Dahl, which said that the state could generate millions in revenue by taking over even a small portion of the land now under the control of the Bureau of Land Management.

He said he expects some form of a lands bill will clear the committees and be approved on the floor of the House.

Amodei also noted that the delegation has reintroduced a bill that would stop the president from unilaterally creating National Monuments and other designations that block mining and oil and natural gas exploration and affect ranching.

In the middle of January Obama called for Congress to declare 13 million acres of Alaska a wilderness area, but he also instructed the Interior Department to treat the land as wilderness until Congress acts, making it a de facto wilderness now.

“I think the time that we operate in is unprecedented in terms of the efforts by an executive to basically do as he damned well pleases and to heck with what the people of both parties see as the sidelines and the end zones,” the congressman said. “This guy is like, ‘I don’t recognize any boundaries.’”

Asked about Sen. Harry Reid’s bill to bar development on more than a million acres of land in Gold Butte and Coal and Garden valleys in Cresent Hardy’s district, Amodei replied, “I’ll tell you what I learned from Harry Reid and the Yerington land bill … Senator Reid said, and he’ll acknowledge it, he said we need a, quote, conservation element in that bill, unquote.” Reid demanded the creation of the Wovoka Wilderness area.

Amodei said that in the future when someone proposes a land conservation measure he will reply: “I’ll look at that and, if it turns out it is meritorious, then I’ll support it, but that won’t be good enough. I want to know now if that’s just a conservation element, what’s the economic development element in that bill or what’s the transfer of lands to the county element in that bill?”

Congressional district map

As another example of Obama doing as he damned well pleases, Amodei pointed to his executive orders declaring amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants and said Congress may join the federal lawsuit filed by 26 states, including Nevada. “I think we’ll be voting on that within the next two weeks.”

Citing Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, Amodei noted that Congress is empowered with establishing a uniform rule for naturalization. His problem is not so much with what Obama did but how he did it.

He said the House should put forward some kind of immigration reform legislation and let everyone put their votes on record.

Amodei also thinks there will be a vote on Yucca Mountain this session and suggests the state’s leaders need to engage in a conversation instead of “just screaming, no.” He said he is willing to talk about funding for I-11 from Phoenix to Las Vegas, putting resources into reprocessing research at UNLV, economic development in rural Nevada and involving the Desert Research Institute in the monitoring of the site.

“We’re not looking for ‘Hey, how much can we hold you up for.’ If you think this is bound and determined where it needs to be, and 49 other states are in on that deal,” he said, “let’s leave a favorable footprint in Nevada. Nobody wants a nuclear landfill, so what can you do to make it not a nuclear landfill in the context of economic development.”

As if on cue, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the new Republican chair of a Senate energy subcommittee, told members of the Nuclear Energy Institute this week, “There is renewed hope under our Republican majority that we can solve the 25-year-old stalemate on what to do with waste from our nuclear reactors — and Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution.”

Amodei also expects the House to act on sage grouse protection and blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from grabbing control of all surface water.

A version of this column appears this week in 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: 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.