Western congressmen seek reduction in size of national monuments

Two weeks ago the 17 members of the Congressional Western Caucus — which includes Nevada’s Rep. Mark Amodei — took Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke up on his request for feedback on what to do about all the national monuments created in the past two decades, sending him a letter with specific recommendations about 27 of those monuments.

These recommendations called for vastly scaling back the size of two monuments created by President Obama in his last year in office at the urging of then Sen. Harry Reid — the 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Clark County and the 700,000-acre Basin and Range in Nye and Lincoln counties.

The letter repeatedly points out that the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create monuments, 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 letter notes.

Zinke’s review of the monuments comes at the behest of President Trump, who in April asked for the review in an executive order, giving Zinke till Aug. 26 to comply.

As for Basin and Range, the congressmen point out it is larger than Rhode Island and was created as “a personal favor to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. According to a former Obama adviser, ‘it is only due to Harry Reid that [Basin and Range] is getting done.'”

The letter quotes opposition to the monument from the Nevada Farm Bureau, as well as Lincoln and Nye County commissioners.

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman called the monument “an excellent example of hypocrisy,” noting that Reid insisted on local consent for the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Nye County at Yucca Mountain, which many in Nye favor, while ignoring the lack of local consent for Basin and Range, which many opposed because of its impact on recreation, grazing and mineral exploration.

The letter also points out that one of the motives for creating Basin and Range was to provide a buffer for an “art” project on a strip of private land, which has nothing to do with protecting antiquities.

A view of “City,” artist Michael Heizer’s monumental work of land art in the Nevada desert. (Tom Vinetz / Triple Aught Foundation / LACMA via LA Times)

According to a Washington Post article in 2015, Reid, who for two years could not get Congress to go along with his proposal to put the land off limits, asked Obama to create a national monument partly as a buffer for a giant earthen and concrete art project called “city” and described as “reminiscent of a ceremonial Mesoamerican city stretching across an expanse of desert nearly the size of the Mall” in Washington. The “artist” has been working on it for 50 years and allows only VIP visitors and journalists to view his work.

“Explain it to me,” the paper quoted Reid quoting Obama.

“I can’t,” Reid said he replied.

Though both Amodei and then-Rep. Cresent Hardy, in whose districts the monument is located, opposed it, Reid persuaded Obama, who owed him a favor or two for such things as ObamaCare and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations.

The WaPo story ends thusly:

“This was on nobody’s radar screen, and it certainly wasn’t part of the plan,” said one person close to the president who has been involved in the discussions. When the question of possible controversy was broached, Obama said: “I don’t care. I want this done.”

Reid visited (Michael) Heizer’s art installation and its remote environs in 2007. He said he went “to check off a box.” But the visit changed him. “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.”

The caucus letter recommends the monument be reduced to about 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As for Gold Butte, the letter notes the designation specifically bans grazing and suggests it was “political retribution” against the Bundy family, whose cattle have grazed in the area for more than a century. Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges growing out of an armed standoff in 2014 when BLM agents attempted to confiscate their cattle.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the monument designation bypassed Congress and the public.

In January, Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act, which intends to prevent the threat of executive action designating or expanding national monuments without Congressional approval or local support.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,”Amodei said at the time. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama Administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input.”

Heller said, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed.”

The caucus letter quotes former Rep. Hardy as stating: “If you want to protect the petroglyphs, and you want to designate that as the monument, that’s what the Antiquities Act was set up to do, is protect the minimum possible footprint of that of what you’re trying to designate. Not an extra 300,000 acres on top of the 50-100 acres that you could have protected.”

The letter itself did not state any specific size for Basin and Range.

In concluding remarks, the congressmen argue: “The Antiquities Act of 1906 is broken and in desperate need of reform. No one person should be able to unilaterally lock-up millions of acres of public land from multiple-use with the stroke of a pen. Local stakeholders deserve to have a voice on public land-use decisions that impact their livelihoods.”

BLM pix

Let’s play the blame game

(AP pix)

No matter what happens it is Trump’s fault.

Freshman Nevada Congresswoman and soon-to-be-announced candidate for the Senate Jacky Rosen put out the most mind boggling press release in recent memory after Anthem announced it was pulling out of the ObamaCare health insurance business in 14 Nevada counties, leaving about 8,000 residents in those counties with no ObamaCare option.

Her statement reads:

“These health insurers pulling out of Nevada is a direct result of President Trump and Republicans in Congress creating partisan chaos over health care. The rush to pass this reckless legislation has already caused so much instability on the exchange that thousands of rural families in Nevada will now have zero options. This exodus from Nevada’s health exchange creates a crisis for patients in rural communities who were already struggling with access to affordable health care as it is. All signs point to President Trump and Republicans in Congress continuing to sabotage the Affordable Care Act for political reasons, which means we can only expect to see additional health insurers exit the Silver State Health Exchange. It’s time for Republicans to give up on this obsession with tax breaks for the wealthy and instead work across the aisle to work on finding real, bipartisan solutions to improve our health care system.”

Of course, as The Wall Street Journal reported online Wednesday afternoon, the company is pulling out due not to something that might happen in the future, but due to the nature of ObamaCare.

The paper said Anthem’s decision was due to the volatile individual market, which is due to the ObamaCare rules and restrictions. The company said that “planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including cost-sharing reduction subsidies.”

As Forbes points out, the Senate health care bill keeps cost-sharing subsidies through 2020, and if they are reduced insurers could increase rates by 15 to 20 percent, shifting the cost the consumer instead of the taxpayers.

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents six of the counties affected, said:

“Sadly, this news isn’t shocking. It represents another symptom of the sickness that is killing America’s health care system. While there are plenty of arguments on how to fix this, regardless of your political views, it’s clear the status quo isn’t working and is in need of serious repair. Once again, I’m left wondering, when is Congress going to put the issue ahead of the politics? I will continue to focus on the facts and the policy options to be applied in Nevada. As always, my goal is to ensure that any reform package increases Americans’ access to quality and affordable care, while paying respect to rural communities like ours that are being hit the hardest.”

 

 

Democrats push to block Nevada entering statehood

The Democratic majority in the Nevada Legislature is doing everything they can to erase everything accomplished by the 2015 Republican-controlled session. First, labor reform and a minor prevailing wage reform are rolled back. Now, they want to keep Nevada a territory instead of barging ahead into some semblance of statehood.

In 2015 the Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which urged Congress to release about 7.2 million acres of federal public land to the state, which would have reduced the federal land control in the state from about 85 percent to about 75 percent.

In support of that resolution in March 2015 Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, introduced H.R. 1484, dubbed the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources finally got around to conducting a hearing on the bill in November but the bill lapsed with the session of Congress.

Amodei at a meeting in Reno in April. (RGJ pix)

On Tuesday the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining heard testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 12, which would rescind SJR1 as if it never happened and the results of a years-long public lands task force report was written in smoke. That task force found that, while the federal government loses 91 cents an acre on the land it manages, states with public land trusts make $28.59 acre, meaning Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

SJR12  has already passed the Senate on a 12-9 party-line vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Amodei appears to be throwing in the towel. He told the Reno newspaper editorial board this week that he won’t likely reintroduce a bill to transfer federal land to state control. “Transferring millions of acres of public lands … is not something I think the majority of people think is a good idea,” he was quoted as saying.

Janine Hansen, representing the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, was one of the few to testify against SJR12. She noted that the federal land bureaucracies are blocking economic development in rural Nevada.

 

 

 

Editorial: Give Nevadans a voice in land use

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Nevada’s two remaining Republican representatives in Washington have joined forces to introduce legislation that would prevent future presidents from usurping Nevada land without first consulting Nevadans.

This past week Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22). If passed, it would block executive fiats designating or expanding national monuments without congressional approval or local support, they say.

In just more than a year President Obama has unilaterally declared off-limits to productive economic uses 1 million acres of Nevada land — first the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Lincoln and Nye counties and in recent weeks the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in rural northeast Clark County. Basin and Range alone is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Obama used the authority granted him by the Antiquities Act of 1906. Though more recent legislation has required environmental reviews and public comments, none was undertaken.

The legislation introduced by Heller and Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” The current proposal would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,” Congressman Amodei was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the legislation. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input. I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Sen. Heller was quoted in that press release as saying, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations. This legislation prevents actions like last month’s Gold Butte land grab from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’d like to thank Congressman Amodei for his partnership on this bill.”

One hurdle for this proposal may be that all four of Nevada’s current Democratic members of the Washington delegation expressed support for Obama’s Gold Butte land grab.

Whatever one’s opinion on the end result, wouldn’t it be preferable for Nevadans to have a say in how the land here is used, instead of having it crammed down our throats?

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.

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.

 

Editorial: Rural Nevadans need to protect interest in Washington

Hardy, Amodei and Heck on floor of U.S. House (Lisa Helfert photo for R-J)

Hardy, Amodei and Heck on floor of U.S. House (Lisa Helfert photo for R-J)

We cannot emphasize this enough: It is vital for rural Nevadans to turn out next Tuesday and send three conservative Republicans back to Washington for the sake of our economy and our liberty.

Reps. Joe Heck, Cresent Hardy and Mark Amodei already have been fighting for rural Nevada in Congress this past session, working against efforts by the administration to limit agriculture, mining, oil and gas exploration and recreation over misguided efforts to protect sage grouse and wild horses, as well as take control of all water resources and impose draconian carbon emission limits.

Rep. Heck, who currently represents southern Clark County, is seeking to take over Harry Reid’s Senate seat, while Hardy and Amodei are seeking re-election in their House districts.

Heck will be on all ballots statewide, while Hardy will be on the ballots in part of northern Clark County, the southern part of Lyon County and all of White Pine, Nye, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties, and Amodei will appear on ballots in northern Lyon county and all of Douglas, Carson City, Storey, Washoe, Humboldt, Pershing, Churchill, Lander, Eureka and Elko counties.

All three face Democratic opponents who have expressed a disdain for rural Nevadans being able to better control our destinies by having a greater voice in the use of the land — 86 percent of which in Nevada is controlled by the various federal land agencies that treat locals like serfs.

Heck’s Senate race opponent is former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, handpicked by Reid to be his Democratic successor. She has been endorsed by the Sierra Club. Yes, the Sierra Club, which praised her for “protecting Nevada’s vast and unique public lands,” meaning protecting it from productive use by hardworking Nevadans.

”The Sierra Club shares my priorities of protecting and preserving Nevada’s public lands for future generations and I’m honored to have their support in my campaign to be Nevada’s next senator,” Cortez Masto said of the endorsement.

Hardy’s Democratic opponent is state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who said in a recent statement, “Overwhelmingly, Nevadans across party lines understand that keeping public lands in public hands grows our state’s economy, improves our quality of life and supports outdoor recreation opportunities.” Otherwise, the topic of public lands did not rise to the level of concern to even be addressed on Kihuen’s website as a campaign issue.

Amodei’s opponent is liberal Democrat Chip Evans, who states unequivocally on his campaign website: “I acknowledge that federal lands in Nevada are not and never have been the property of the state.” And, “The state of Nevada is incapable of undertaking the responsibilities and expenses associated with managing public lands.” And, “In general, I oppose the selling of public lands to private parties as this is a finite resource for the public and is virtually irreversible.”

He also supports the EPA’s effort to usurp control of every mud puddle in the country and also wants to heap further regulations and restrictions on the mining industry.

This newspaper unabashedly endorses the election of Heck, Hardy and Amodei.

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.

Newspaper column: Nevada taking lead in challenging new overtime rule

New labor rules being arbitrarily foisted on the private and public sectors by the Obama administration in his final year in office will cost the economy $80 billion — nearly half of that, $33 billion, due to a new rule raising the number of workers who must be paid overtime by 12.5 million — and eliminate 150,000 jobs over the next decade, according to the the National Association of Manufacturers.

Nevada is leading the way in challenging the overtime change that increases the wage floor for executive, administrative and professional (EAP) workers who must be paid time and half for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours from $455 per week to $913 per week, starting on Dec. 1.

Recently Nevada’s three Republican Congressmen Joe Heck, Cresent Hardy and Mark Amodei joined in a near-party-line vote in the House to delay the overtime rule change for six months. Democrat Dina Titus, of course, opposed it. On to the Senate.

But the challenge most likely to be effective is a legal challenge by 21 states in which Nevada is taking the lead — Nevada v. U.S. Department of Labor — which was filed recently in the Eastern District of Texas. In addition to Nevada and Texas, the challenging states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

The suit challenges the new overtime rule as a usurpation of the powers granted Congress by the Constitution and a violation of the Federalism principle embodied in the Tenth Amendment.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said in a press release announcing the litigation, “Longstanding federal law requires an overtime exemption for ‘bona fide executive, administrative, or professional’ employees. Ignoring this federal law, the Department of Labor by executive fiat is forcing state, local and private employers to pay overtime to any employee who earns under a certain amount, regardless of whether that employee is actually performing ‘executive, administrative, or professional’ duties.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 and required that workers engaged in interstate commerce be paid a federal minimum wage and overtime for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours a week. It included an exception for “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity …”

Later amendments applied the law to all state and local government employees, but in 1976, according to the lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled the Tenth Amendment limited Congress’s power to impose such rules on the states.

The court backed off that finding a decade later and said, “The political process ensures that laws that unduly burden the States will not be promulgated.”

Au contraire, says the lawsuit, “Subsequent Commerce Clause, Tenth Amendment, and Eleventh Amendment decisions call the continuing validity” of that decision into question.

In March Obama ordered the labor department to change the overtime rule. “Because these regulations are outdated, millions of Americans lack the protections of overtime and even the right to the minimum wage,” his memo said.

Nevada v. Labor spells out the especially onerous burden the overtime rule places on state and local governments, “Because the Plaintiff States cannot reasonably rely upon a corresponding increase in revenue, they will have to reduce or eliminate some essential government services and functions. For example, certain infrastructure and social programs may be reduced or cut. The Plaintiff States’ budgets will have less discretionary funds available because, as result of the new federal overtime rule, a greater percentage of their funds will be devoted to employment costs against the States’ will. These changes will have a substantial impact on the lives and well-being of the Citizens of the Plaintiff States,” adding that private employers will suffer the same ill effects.

The plaintiffs note that the Supreme Court tossed out as unconstitutional a provision in ObamaCare that required states to expand Medicaid coverage, calling that “economic dragooning” — an apt comparison.

The press release accompanying the lawsuit quoted the Nevada Resort Association, whose members employ nearly a third of Nevada workers and provide almost half the state’s tax revenue, as saying, “By nearly doubling the threshold amount for exempt employees, the regulation results in abrupt increases in taxes and labor costs. Such dramatic increases are particularly difficult to manage in an industry with tens of thousands of employees and in which labor costs are a significant percentage of total expenses.”

The courts and Congress can’t act quickly enough to fend off this job and economy killing move by Obama.

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.