Editorial: Goal of zero emissions on public land a futile gesture

Democrats in the House of Representatives this past week unleashed their latest pie-in-the-sky legislation intended to save the planet from frying like an egg due to catastrophic global warming due to carbon emissions.

The bill, if passed, which thankfully is highly unlikely, would require zero emissions from drilling, mining and other activities on federal public lands by 2040, and immediately halt oil and gas leasing for at least a year, according to a Reuters dispatch.

“To solve our climate crisis we need to solve this problem from two sides,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Democratic-controlled House Natural Resources Committee. He said the bill would slash emissions from energy production on federal land and preserve vegetation and forests so they may absorb carbon.

“Putting a stop to all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters is a vital first step in stopping the climate crisis, and it’s heartening to see Chairman Grijalva propose a framework that could ultimately achieve that,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “But much more is needed to undo the incredible damage the Trump administration has caused through its massive increase in fossil fuel leasing, to say nothing of the decades of reckless fossil fuel leasing that has already occurred.”

The same press release notes that the United Nations Environment Program issued a report this past month stating world governments plan to greatly increase fossil fuels production. So what good will cutting production on public lands do?

Never mind that the brunt of the burden of this foolish venture would fall on the Western states, where the majority of public lands lie and especially on Nevada, 85 percent of whose land is controlled by the federal bureaucracy. This would cost countless jobs and shrink the economies of rural areas of the West. While Nevada is not rich in oil and natural gas, its mining jobs are some of the best paid in the state and mining taxes support many communities.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is shrugging off its share of the emissions control effort. Of the nearly 200 countries that signed off on the Paris climate accord a couple of years ago, only two have actually met emissions reductions goals, Morocco and Gambia, according to a PBS report in September.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that China, the top carbon emitter in the world, is adding more coal-fired plants than the rest of the world combined and is building coal plants in other countries, too. The U.S., the world’s second-largest emitter, saw carbon emissions rise 3.4 percent in 2018.

Also, pay no attention to the fact there has been no significant global warming since 2005. Those hottest years on record claims are well within the margin of error.

The bill is a senseless and futile gesture, but Democrats are just the ones try it.

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.

Editorial: Nevada should control its land and not settle for paltry alms

Esmeralda County gets only 6 cents per acre in PILT money.

The silence is deafening.

Because so much of the West in general and Nevada in particular is controlled by the federal government and cannot be taxed, Congress four decades ago came up with a program called Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Each year about this time the U.S. government writes checks to counties to compensation for lost tax revenue.

A year ago Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid issued a press release bragging about all the money Nevada was getting, pointing out that “Nevada’s PILT payments rose roughly $2.1 million from $23.3 million to $25.4 million.”

“PILT funding has a remarkable impact for Nevada counties,” said Reid a year ago. “Over 85 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government, making it essential that Nevada receive its fair share. These funds support rural communities across Nevada in funding high-quality education, law enforcement, and healthcare systems. I have worked hard to make sure that these crucial programs are fully-funded, and I am grateful that Congress was able to extend these provisions this year. I will work to ensure PILT is again funded for this upcoming fiscal year.”

This year no press release. Perhaps that’s because the Nevada checks this year amount to only $23.26 million, less than two years ago. Nationally PILT payouts are off by $32 million, down to $405 million from $437 million a year ago.

In a press release Interior Secretary Sally Jewell proclaimed, “PILT payments are critical for maintaining essential public services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations.”

The very next paragraph of the press release, without a hint of awareness of its miserly scope, reports that the “Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting,” and shares some royalties with the states.

So, the agency collects $14 billion from land that could well be held by the states, counties or private citizens and then magnanimously doles out less than 3 percent in PILT.

The state Legislature this year passed a bill urging Congress to turn over some of the federal land to the state.

A report from the Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted that the BLM loses 91 cents an acre on land it controls, while the average income for the four states that have public trust land is $28.59 per acre. It also estimated the state could net $114 million by taking over just 4 million acres of BLM land, less than 10 percent. Taking over all 48 million acres could net the state more than $1.5 billion — nearly half the annual general fund budget.

Earlier this year Rep. Mark Amodei introduced H.R.1484 — Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where its co-sponsor, Rep. Cresent Hardy, sits. The bill calls for transferring federal land to the state in phases. The initial phase would authorize the state to select no less than 7.2 million acres of public land for conveyance to Nevada.

In addition to being paltry the PILT checks are high inequitable, varying wildly in payment per acre from state to state and county to county.

Remember, Reid said it was “essential that Nevada receive its fair share.”

While Nevada will get 41 cents per acre this year, California this year will rake in 96 cents per acre, Arizona gets $1.13, New Mexico fetches $1.54 and Utah’s share is $1.05.

The calculations also account for population, which probably explains why tiny Esmeralda County here in Nevada nets 6 cents an acre, while Lyon gets $2.20 per acre and Washoe $1.07. Other county payments will be: White Pine, 41 cents; Elko 40 cents; Eureka, 15 cents; Lincoln, 12 cents; Lander, 26 cents; Mineral, 33 cents.

Reid has had time to send out press releases praising the Supreme Court for upholding ObamaCare and overturning anti-gay marriage laws and praising Homeland Defense for not detaining illegal alien families, but not PILT.

We urge our congressional delegation to move forward with legislation to turn federal land over to Nevada so the state taxpayers can profit from it instead of settling for paltry handouts.

A version of this editorial appears this past 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.

Rural congressmen willing to consider state taking over federal public lands

Both of Nevada’s congressmen who represent everything north of Clark County in Washington say they are interested in finally pulling off the shelf and dusting off an amendment to the state’s Constitution that was twice approved by the state Legislature then approved by the voters in 1996 — a measure to allow the state to take control of at least some federal public lands, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The 1996 amendment removed the Disclaimer Clause from the Constitution that said the state “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Wild horses on BLM land

Rep. Mark Amodei sits on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, which is chaired by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, one of the leaders of his state’s efforts to gain control of federal land. “When I talked to Rob Bishop, I said, listen, Rob, we want to control it, but I want to do a little bit more homework,” noting the federal government has more money to spend on public land issues than the state.

Because of the expense, Amodei said for the immediate future he would like to cherry pick the areas over which the state would take control — those near urban areas or with minerals or can be used for agriculture.

Rep. Steven Horsford said he too was aware of the 1996 amendment and it is time to discuss what can be done.

Horsford, who represents the central part of the state, said that when he was in the state Senate the issue came up and he asked for a legal opinion and did some study on the matter. “Basically, as you know, when Nevada was brought in to the Union during slavery and the public lands were provided, the federal government’s role was really to serve as trust …” he said, “until such time as the state could handle the land, because it did not yet have the proper infrastructure in place.

“So I understand the history. I understand the intent behind how it was supposed to happen. What I don’t understand is why it never happened and there was never that cooperation between our state and federal officials to get control.”

He said discussions need to start anew.

Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko website.

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)

Nevada public lands: Patience is no virtue when your rights are being ignored

On Tuesday I emailed the office of Gov. Brian Sandoval and asked what he will do, if anything, to address a vote of the citizens of Nevada taken nearly 16 years ago, but roundly ignored ever since.

I’ve had no reply yet. Just like the voters. I wonder if I will still be waiting 16 years hence.

The federal government, not the state will decide whether windmills will be planted on Mount Wilson and the peaks north of it in the Wilson Creek Range. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)

In 1996 the voters amended the Nevada Constitution to delete the Disclaimer Clause in the Statehood Ordinance, in which the residents of the Territory of Nevada agreed to forswear forever any claim or sovereignty over unappropriated land in the future State of Nevada, ceding all rights to the federal government. That’s why to this day the federal government controls somewhere between 83 and 92 percent of the land in Nevada.

That vote is what is known in the parlance as a petition for redress of grievances. You might have heard of that somewhere. It is the fifth right listed in the First Amendment. It was first embodied in the Magna Carta in 1215.

This issue is the topic of today’s column in the Ely Times, in which I point out that on Oct. 31, 1864, the president proclaimed:

“Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

Which brings us to the Equal Footing Doctrine, which holds that every new state admitted to the union does so under the same conditions as the 13 original states. None of the original states was extorted under duress to surrender sovereignty over its lands.

Sound like grounds for a grievance.

Ballot Question 4 in 1996 read simply: “Shall the Territorial Ordinance of the Nevada Constitution be amended to remove the disclaimer of the state’s interest in the unappropriated public land?” Yes or no.

Today the state Constitution still contains a footnote explaining that the amendment was “proposed and passed by the 1993 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1995 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1996 general election, effective on the date Congress consents to amendment or a legal determination is made that such consent is not necessary.”

Congress has not consented. There has been no legal determination.

Will the governor ask the state attorney general to act? Will she?

Will any of our representatives in Washington put forward legislation to address this vote of the citizens of their state?

Don’t hold your breath.