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.
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?”
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.