Are Nevada’s economic development efforts inconsistent and unfair?

Earlier this month, there was a big ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Las Vegas office of SolarCity, which was enticed to open here with a $1.2 million grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).

At about the same time, GOED announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Province of Alberta, Canada, to collaborate on developing unmanned aerial systems, commonly called drones. Tom Wilczek, aerospace and defense industry specialist for GOED, said the state is applying for an FAA site designation to research and develop drones and “place us squarely in the global market as the leader in this field.”

But you never hear about the ones that get away, as reported in this week’s column, available online at The Ely Times and Elko Daily Free Press.

World Surveillance Group Inc. (WSGI) — a company that designs and builds unmanned aerial vehicles, both drones and blimps, the very thing GOED claimed to be targeting — nibbled at the idea of relocating from Florida to Nevada, but never got hooked or reeled in.

Barry Plans, who handles government affairs and is project manager for WSGI, said the firm plans to open a manufacturing facility for one of its line of  blimps called Blimp in a Box, which would immediately hire 100 workers.

“It can actually see dirt that has been turned over within the past two weeks, looking for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) … is why the Army wanted it like now,” Plans said.

Image from WSGI website

Image from WSGI website

He said the blimps also could be used for border security, and the company is talking a couple of countries about using them to monitor territorial fishing waters to detect foreign trawlers.

“Some of the things that Nevada has that we liked is the fact that we were there before. We were there flying at Mercury, even though I was stepping over rattlesnake holes …” Plans said.

He called the GOED in May but it took a week to reach anyone. That person said he would send information, but Plans never got anything. He called back and left a message. Then the representative left Plans a message saying he was busy with the Legislature.

Finally, the company set up a conference call with GOED officials on June 14.  “Then nothing for two, three, four weeks …” Plans remarked.

No other state showed the lack of interest coming out of Nevada, Plans said.

“We were invited to Texas twice. Not only did they have their entire board at a meeting and we basically described who we were and what we did. They drove us all around the state and flew us to different places to say, ‘Look, these are the communities that we feel you would be best suited for and this is what we are going to do for you.” Houston, for example, has the Johnson Space Center.

Earlier this month, Plans sent an email saying, “WSGI is no longer interested in Nevada.”

Jennifer Cooper, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, conceded there may have been some missed connections by both parties. “GOED works very hard on every lead, big or small, to strengthen Nevada’s economic base and we will continue to do everything within our reach to create a positive and attractive environment for businesses to expand in Nevada.”

Frankly, this bidding war between the states has never been proven to show a positive return on investment and many economists call it a zero-sum game of corporate redistributionism — giving some taxpayers a tax break, or even cash, at the expense of other taxpayers.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko websites.

Newspaper column: How to save the sage grouse — or not

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2011, without any hearings or public notice, the Bureau of Land Management issued its “Greater Sage-Grouse Interim Management Policies and Procedures” with the stated goal of preventing the bird being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The 8,000-word “interim” document is a nearly impenetrable compendium of bureaucratese, as reported in this week’s column in The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Just three months after the guidelines were issued, using the sage grouse as its excuse, the BLM slashed the number of acres to be auctioned for lease for oil and natural gas exploration in the Ely and Elko districts from 133,000 acres to only 72,000 acres. (As if that weren’t bad enough, the BLM recently told an oil exploration company that its drilling rigs and pump jacks should not be visible from the California Trail in Elko County. This affects 22 of 33 well sites.)

It was pointed out at the time that the biggest threats to the grouse are wildfire and predators, not drillers and miners.

Meanwhile, county commissioners across the range of the sage grouse have been grousing about roads being closed and thousands of acres being removed from public economic use for the sake of the sage grouse.

Another front in the battle was opened recently by a liberal conservation group called the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which filed a federal lawsuit in Idaho claiming the BLM’s Ely district is not doing enough to protect the chicken-sized bird with the flashy mating rituals. The suit is one in a long series by this group.

WWP describes its mission on its website as “to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.”

The newest lawsuit accuses the BLM of allowing the construction or reconstruction of over 400 miles of fences, drilling of water wells and constructing reservoirs, pipelines and livestock watering facilities “in direct contradiction to BLM’s own management guidelines, policies and other provisions designed to protect and enhance sage-grouse populations and habitat.”

The suit claims that just about any use of the land is detrimental to the grouse.

A reduction in grazing on federal land in recent decades fueled a rapid increase in wildfires that destroy sage grouse habitat. Prior to 1980 fewer than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. Since then the BLM and Forest Service have cut cattle grazing in half and sheep grazing by 80 percent. It is not uncommon now to have three-quarters of a million acres of Nevada burn in a year.

Rather than killing economic activity on public lands, the BLM should be closely monitoring a sage grouse conservation experiment at the 15,000-acre Devils Gate Ranch in Elko County.

Whose method do you think will save sage grouse?

The entire column at the Ely or Elko sites.


Newspaper column: A funny thing happened on the way to Utopia

While the Nevada Legislature was passing a bill that would require NV Energy to prematurely close perfectly good, reliable, acceptably clean and inexpensive coal-fired power plants, the rest of the country was flocking to coal, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
In the first quarter of the year, electrical power generation with coal went up 13 percent, while power generated with natural gas dropped 8 percent. This was due to huge price price for natural gas, which went up 78 percent from March so12 to March of this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The iconic polar bear photo.

But in the wisdom of our lawmakers, no matter what the price, coal plants are being replaced with natural gas-fired and renewable energy plants.
Meanwhile, the price of coal dropped four cents per million Btus. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this year the price of fuel for power generation is $2.36 per million Btus from coal and $4.65 for the same generating capacity from natural gas. The cost of renewables is several times higher due to capital costs, though the price of fuel is nil.

Fuel costs in Nevada are passed on directly to the consumer.

At one point NV Energy officials predicted their plan to switch from coal to natural gas and renewables, cutely labeled NVision, would add no more than 4 percent to power bills over the next 20 years. Instead of rising by 32 percent under current plans, rates would climb 36 percent, plus inflation. It is unclear whether that figure took into account the 78 percent spike in gas prices.

Ostensibly the shuttering of coal-fired plants is so that Nevada power customers can do their part to save the planet from global warming or climate change or extreme weather or whatever it is called this week, but realistically power company executives probably believe President Obama will make good on his 2008 campaign promise: “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them. … Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

The administration is behind schedule in finishing EPA emissions rules that would effectively ban new coal-fired plants using current technology. In a speech on Tuesday, Obama said he is unilaterally pressing forward on those rules and existing coal plants would be affected, too.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse.

According to a New York Times article recently, the rise in the temperature of the planet has been markedly slower during the past 15 years than the 20 years before that, even though greenhouse gases have poured into the air at a record pace.

“The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists,” the Times conceded. Their models did not predict this and cannot explain it, but don’t dare question the models.

Can someone please explain why Nevadans must pay handsomely for decades to come to prevent something that isn’t happening?

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko websites.

Newspaper column: Under ‘equal protection of the laws’ no one is more equal than others

The Nevada Legislature has passed a bill making it a “hate crime” — subject to enhanced punishment of up to 20 years in prison — to commit a crime motivated by a victim’s “gender identity or expression,” commonly referred to in the vernacular as transgender. It passed the Senate with only a single nay vote and the Assembly with only 11 nays. Gov. Brian Sandoval promptly signed it into law.

It adds to current “hate crime” laws, which already allow enhanced penalties for crimes committed because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and physical or mental disability.

This is clearly disparate treatment under the law, and defies the 14th Amendment, which says no state may “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” as I point out in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason.

When a crime has been committed, what difference does it make whether the victim is a member of some favored group? Is a crime against a person excluded from these groups somehow less heinous, less important, less deserving of punishment?

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the singling out of special groups for special enforcement continued.

The House of Representatives passed the “Stolen Valor Act of 2013” by 390-3. The bill’s chief sponsor was Nevada’s Republican Rep. Joe Heck, but it had 127 co-sponsors. Democrats Dina Titus and Steven Horsford voted for the bill. Republican Mark Amodei did not vote.

It was approved in the Senate by unanimous consent.

The bill makes it a federal crime to lie about receiving a military decoration or medal in order to profit or benefit financially, such as government benefits, a job reserved for a veteran or a contract. Violators could be fined and/or imprisoned.

The Supreme Court this past year struck down the original “Stolen Valor Act” — which made it a crime for a person merely to claim to have won military honors he did not — as an unconstitutional restraint of free speech.

This original “Stolen Valor Act” was then changed to criminalize obtaining financial gain via such false claims, enhancing the penalty for what is already a crime.

Depictions of Lady Justice, since the 15th century, have shown her blindfolded, so she may objectively mete out justice without regard to station in life, group identity, wealth, poverty, power, weakness or prior victimization.

Read the full column at the Ely or Elko sites.

Nobody seems willing to address the one solution for making water available along the Colorado River

Settlers crossing the plains and mountains to get to the gold fields of Nevada had to find a way across the Colorado River, named for the thick red silt it carried from Wyoming to the Gulf of California.

Those early pioneers quipped that the Colorado was “too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” as noted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

According to Wade Davis’ recently published book, “River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado,” the region was then most inhospitable.

In 1857, Davis recounts, the War Department sent Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives up the Colorado from the Gulf of California in a stern-wheeler. He eventually ran aground in Black Canyon just south of where Hoover Dam is today.

Ives wrote of his experience: “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

Then came the dams, whose still waters gave the silt a chance to settle out and leave drinkable water. The question then was how to divvy up that water among the inhabitants of the booming West.

In 1922 the seven states along the Colorado formed the Colorado River Compact. Nevada was allowed only 300,000 acre-feet. Today the state has a population of 2.7 million with 2 million of those in Clark County alone, but the water allocation from the Colorado is still 300,000 acre-feet.

To create a safety net, the Southern Nevada Water Authority laid claim to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties, creating a controversy that is expected to play out for years to come.

Davis writes: “Farmers in the Imperial Valley pay for water only $17 an acre-foot, allowing them to grow cotton, alfalfa, and rice in a desert where temperatures hover for days above 120°F and less than three inches of rain falls in a year.”

Therein lies the rub. The total costs for the SNWA water grab could reach as high as $2,000 an acre-foot.

Lake Mead

A Bureau of Reclamation study released in December projects the demands on the Colorado will outstrip supply by 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060. The report looked at options for resolving the shortfall — including ocean and brackish water desalination, wastewater reuse and importation options. “Future planning will require careful consideration of the timing, location, and magnitude of anticipated future Basin resource needs,” the study breathlessly proclaims.

The Colorado has been named America’s Most Endangered River, reports Gary Wockner, director of the Save The Colorado River Campaign, breathlessly in an op-ed piece for the Las Vegas newspaper earlier this week. In some places the Colorado is drained dry, he claims, while in others its flows are so depleted fish and wildlife are endangered.

Building Hoover Dan

Wockner bemoans projects such as the Las Vegas water grab, as well as proposals for dams, reservoirs, pipelines and energy projects that he says will drain the last drops of the Colorado.

“The good news is the federal government has stepped up its efforts to address our endangered river,” Wockner cheers. “But now it’s time for Congress to get into the act, too.  Congress needs to provide more funding for water conservation programs throughout the basin, needs to support investments to increase the efficiency of water projects that are already built, and needs provide funding to promote and protect the Colorado River itself.”

Not once do the aforementioned government study, Davis’ book or Wockner’s op-ed even hint at the most obvious solution: The free market.

Allow the municipalities, industries, farmers and ranchers with existing water rights to buy, sell and trade in an open market. Why would a farmer continue to grow rice or cotton with his $17 an acre-foot water, when he can sell it to the water authority in Las Vegas for, say, $200? Instead of allowing that allotment to flow through the dams and canals to Yuma, Las Vegas could take that share from Lake Mead.

No need for a water grab. Problem solved.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko website.

All those wind turbines do more than ruffle a few feathers

This week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press, discusses one of the problems with wind turbines.

While making a presentation recently to a meeting of the Audubon Society in North Las Vegas, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Brian Novosak flashed on a screen in the darkened room a stark description of the fowl carnage taking place at the Altamont Pass Wind farm in the Diablo Range east of San Francisco — between 2005 and 2010, 55 to 94 golden eagles were killed each year, as well as upwards of 718 burrowing owls and up to 9,300 passerines (your basic songbirds).

Simulation of what windmills may look it east of Searchlight and near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagle.

“The Fish & Wildlife Service is getting more aggressive with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” Novosak said.

Closer to home is Pattern Energy’s Spring Valley Wind farm near Ely, where a golden eagle was recently killed.

A BLM spokesman said Spring Valley wind has a mortality threshold for golden eagles of one.

If another golden eagle is killed a Technical Advisory Committee will meet and recommend what mitigation to take, which could curtail operation of turbines or even shut down turbines.

The federal government’s disparate treatment of various industries whose operations have resulted in the deaths of eagles or migratory birds has become an issue of late. While an oil well driller was indicted for killing a single bird, owners wind turbines have been untouched.

This past week the Interior Department gave the go-ahead for a second utility-scale wind farm on public land in Nevada. This one is east of Searchlight, near Lake Mohave, home to bald and golden eagles.

Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in the state Legislature to increase the percent of electricity that must come from renewable generation by 2025 from 25 percent to 35 percent — with no regard for cost or consequence.

This video is from 2007:

Read the full column at the Ely or Elko websites.

Newspaper column: A tale of a land deal and not one but two wildernesses

Yerington’s past and current congressmen are putting their heads together to try and finally push through Congress a bill that would allow the city to purchase 10,400 acres of federal land adjacent to Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine.

The bill, after years of studies and planning, cleared the House this past summer while Yerington was in Mark Amodei’s 2nd Congressional District, but the town and the southern half of Lyon County have since been redistricted into Steven Horsford’s new 4th Congressional District.

Proposed Wovoka Wilerness area.

Horsford hopes to fast track the bill, which would pave the way for development that could lead to 800 jobs with annual salaries averaging $75,000, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

One new aspect of the bill is that the Senate version, at Sen. Harry Reid’s insistence, has a provision designating a 48,000-acre wilderness tract in southern Lyon County, called Wovoka by some.

Asked if he had heard of pushback against the wilderness proposal, Horsford said, “Obviously, Nevada Copper has a lot of financing at stake and a lot of risk if the bill isn’t moved quickly … So, no there was no pushback. It was more of a we need to get this done.”

But Amodei is frustrated that the Wovoka designation is on the front burner while a bill on the proposed 26,000-acre Pine Forest Range Wilderness Area in Humboldt County has languished. He wants the Pine Forest Range bill to be on a parallel track to, or even be attached to, the Yerington bill. Read the full column at the Ely or Elko site.

Flowers in a meadow in the Pine Forest Range (Photo by Jim Davis)

Newspaper column: Sales tax deduction won’t level playing field that is badly titled

Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller is pushing a bill that would make permanent the federal income tax deductions for state and local sales taxes.

Currently the state and local incomes taxes are deductible but sales taxes have been added as deductibles a year at a time, making it difficult to plan ahead, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. Heller argued his bill would help level an uneven playing field by ensuring states like Nevada are afforded the same treatment in the federal tax code as states with an income tax. Nevada is one of nine states with no state income tax.

Dean Heller

The bill addresses a very real problem, but with an inadequate solution.

It is a fairness issue, but not one about the kind of local taxes allowed to be deducted, but rather the amount. The deduction of state and local taxes of any kind amounts to a subsidy for high-wage, high-tax states, which happen to be mostly Democrat-controlled.

Seven states claim 90 percent of the deductions for state and local taxes — income, sales, property, etc. They are New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts, according to the Tax Policy Center. Because there is no cap on these deductions most of the tax savings goes to the highest wage earners.

Using 2010 statistical data from the IRS, I found Californians who filed for state and local income tax deductions claimed deductions of $10,700 per return, and almost half of those returns reported earnings in excess of $100,000. Nevadans who filed for the state and local sales tax deduction claimed only $1,430 per return.

Instead of permanently keeping the sales tax deduction, Heller would better serve his constituents by introducing a bill eliminating the deduction for all state and local taxes while lowering the federal income tax rate a commensurate point or two for everyone, including those who don’t qualify for itemized deductions. That would be fair — perhaps, next to impossible to pass, but fair.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko websites.

Newspaper column: Climate forecasts not any better than weather forecasts

Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration breathlessly reported that 2012 was the hottest year in a century of weather data for the 48 contiguous states of the United States. In fact, the temperature was a full 1 degree Fahrenheit hotter than the previously hottest year of 1998.

One of 86 large wildfires in Nevada in 2012, this one near Denio. (AP Photo/U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

Hard on the heels of this startling revelation came the National Resources Defense Council with its compilation of smashed heat records state by state, which lists Nevada as setting the sixth highest percentage of new heat records with busted heat records in 12 of 17 counties, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

A National Resources Defense Council senior scientist, Kim Knowlton, said, “2012’s unparalleled record-setting heat demonstrates what climate change looks like. This extreme weather has awoken communities across the country to the need for preparedness and protection. We know how to reduce local risks, improve our lives and create more resilient communities. Now our leaders must act.”

The NRDC also pointed out:

• The summer of 2012 was the worst drought in 50 years.
• Wildfires burned more than 9.2 million acres in the U.S., including 86 large wildfires in Nevada.
• Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge height, 13.88 feet, broke the all-time record in New York Harbor.

This week Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” addressed all three of these in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of wildfires worldwide reveals that since 1950 the frequency has decreased 15 percent, a study found that globally there has been little change in drought conditions in 60 years and the total energy of hurricanes is at the lowest ebb since the 1970s, Lomborg reports.

As for global warming, Patrick Michaels, Cato Institute’s director of the Center for the Study of Science and editor of the book “Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives,” says “we are now in our 17th year of flat temperatures.” He predicts there will be at least a quarter century of flat temperatures.

In fact, the United Kingdom’s Met Office, one of the sirens of the global warming stampede, reports global temperatures haven’t increased in 15 years. “Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s,” the Met concedes.

Therefore, the current story about records in the U.S. and Nevada isn’t about climate, but merely about weather.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko websites.

Water grab: The laws of economics trump the state and federal lawful approval

The state engineer and the BLM may have both given the Southern Nevada Water Authority a green light to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties, but that doesn’t make the project economically feasible — and it isn’t.

While various coalitions, alliances, do-gooders, sage huggers, animal lovers and assorted rural politicians greeted the approval news with apoplexy, Eureka Republican state Sen.-elect Pete Goicoechea explained why the pipeline probably never will be built: “Spending $15 billion for 84,000 acre-feet of water is not cost-effective,” he said. “The project is not economically feasible …”

Yes, you can give your grandson permission to fly from the roof of the barn, but the laws of physics dictate that, if he tries, he’ll crash. Likewise, economics dictate the rural water grab is a pipe dream, as explained in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Groundwater permits were first sought in 1989 to ensure a continued water supply for the rapidly growing Las Vegas metropolitan area and to supplement drought-prone Lake Mead, from which the valley now gets 90 percent of its water.

But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the spigot.

The housing market in Las Vegas incinerated. Property values plummeted by half and home foreclosures and business closures and unemployment rates were the highest in the nation as the recession hit.

In fact, according to water authority records, the system’s water use fell by more than 44,600 acre-feet between 2007 and 2012.

One study for the water authority projects costs for the rural water importation project would in most years over the next decade exceed $2,000 an acre-foot. This is while Colorado River water has in recent years been sold to farmers in California and Arizona for less than $20 an acre-foot. That same study estimates water rates in Las Vegas would triple if the groundwater is tapped and piped south. Imagine what would happen to water consumption if that happened. Some of the member districts of the authority are already trying to figure out how to increase rates because they aren’t selling enough water to cover expenses.

The 44,600 acre-feet already saved in five years is more than half way to the 84,000 acre-feet of rural groundwater. All that’s needed is a bit more conservation.

But the real solution is to allow water rights to be bought and sold in a free market like any other commodity.

Economist Thomas Sowell explains in his book “Basic Economics”: “There is no need for government officials to decide arbitrarily – and categorically – whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for particular crops to be grown in California with water artificially supplied below cost from federal irrigation projects. Such questions can be decided incrementally, by those directly confronting the alternatives, through price competition in a free market.”

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko website.