As the days of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s power to set the agenda of the U.S. Senate wind down in this lame duck session of Congress, there is one bill the Democratic majority leader must bring to a vote and win passage.
That is a package of seven bills — collectively known as H.R. 5205 — which passed the House on a voice vote on Sept. 15. Passage of this package of bills would have a huge impact on jobs and economic development in rural Nevada.
Head frame at Pumpkin Hollow copper mine
If it fails to pass in the next month, the legislative package will have to start all over again in 2015 in the 114th Congress and could take another two years to complete — though some aspects of the bill have been pending since 1991.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Amodei in the north and Democrat Rep. Steven Horsford in the south, Amodei said of the bill as it was clearing the House, “These are community-driven lands measures that will create jobs without cost to the federal taxpayer. For the second time in two years, the eyes of Northern Nevada turn to the Senate.”
One part of the bill — the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act — would allow the town of Yerington to buy, at market value, 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.
It has languished in Congress for six years now.
Other parts of the bill would create a wilderness area in Humboldt County, clear up ownership of land in Virginia City, allow Carlin to buy federal land for economic development, transfer land in Fallon for Navy housing, allow Fernley to buy federal land for economic development and set aside land in Elko for a motocross track and for an Indian tribe.
If Reid dithers, Sen. Dean Heller should push this bill for Nevadans who need jobs.
Pardon us for not swooning in anticipation of the economic windfall about to be bestowed on rural Nevada by the seven public lands bills that have again been passed out of a House committee just before the August recess.
Both of Nevada’s congressmen who represent the rural areas — Mark Amodei in the north and Steven Horsford in the south — put out verbatim press releases heralding the passage out of theHouse Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent a package of seven bills that could have major economic impact on several communities if ever signed into law.
Pumpkin Hollow mine shaft
The same set of bills passed the same committee in January by a vote of 29-14, though there reportedly has been some tweaking of the bills since then.
The press releases said the bipartisan support clears the way for the legislation to be brought to the House floor in September as a non-controversial suspension bill.
“Working to create jobs and strengthen the middle class has been my number one priority in Congress,” said Horsford in both releases. “Today, Democrats and Republicans unanimously moved a legislative package forward that will grow Nevada’s economy. Thanks to Congressman Mark Amodei and others, we have been able to find common sense bipartisan solutions that bridge the partisan divide. When we work together and put Nevada first, political posturing fades into the background, and our constituents benefit.”
For his part Amodei was quoted as saying, “These are community-driven lands measures that will create jobs without cost to the federal taxpayer. For the second time in two years, the eyes of Northern Nevada turn to the Senate.”
While the congressman from northern Nevada was not so gauche as to spell out what he meant by that remark, allow us.
The Senate is under the leadership of Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid, who has not deigned it a priority to push various versions of these bills, including ones he and Sen. Dean Heller have sponsored over on the Senate side.
In fact, when last one of the bills in question progressed to the point of actually being voted on, Reid threw a monkey wrench in the works. What is now called H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, would allow the town of Yerington to buy, at market value, 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.
Reid demanded that the bill include the set aside of 48,000 acres of wilderness, to be called the Wovoka Wilderness Area, a proposal the local residences had previously rejected.
H.R. 696, now has a section that states “the area designated as the Wovoka Wilderness by this section contains unique and spectacular natural resources, including — (A) priceless habitat for numerous species of plants and wildlife; (B) thousands of acres of land that remain in a natural state; and (C) habitat important to the continued survival of the population of the greater sage grouse of western Nevada and eastern California …”
The Yerington bill now has languished in Congress for six years.
H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, which also has been sought by Humboldt County officials for years, would create a 26,000-acre wilderness area.
H.R. 1167, the Restoring Storey County Act would transfer the surface rights to 1,750 acres of federal land in Virginia City to Storey County to resolve conflicting ownership and title claims.
H.R. 1168, the Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act would let Carlin buy federal land surrounding the city at fair market value for multi-use development.
H.R. 1169, the Naval Air Station Fallon Housing and Safety Development Act would transfer 400 acres to the Navy, allowing it to build 200 new military family homes. The transfer was first requested in 1991.
H.R. 1170, the Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.
H.R. 2455, the Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act would provide 275 acres for the Te-moak Tribe of Western Shoshone to construct a motocross recreation area.
Harry Reid should take a little time between rants about the Koch brothers to put these bills to a Senate vote.
A package of seven Nevada public lands bills — collectively known as the Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act — recently cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on a 29-14 bipartisan vote.
The package is expected to be approved by the full House, but its fate in Harry Reid’s Senate, where House bills go to die, is murky, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Among the seven bills in the package is the long-awaited Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, which would allow the town of Yerington to buy 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.
“I would say there is a trifecta of good news out of the Natural Resources Committee in the House this week,” said Rep. Steven Horsford in an interview. “Obviously, I’m very pleased the effort by the local community in Yerington to move forward the land exchange legislation that will create more than a thousand jobs in Yerington and the southern Lyon community. I’m happy that we were able to get a bipartisan vote out of the Natural Resources Committee and I’m looking forward to an expeditious vote by the full House.”
There have been objections from a few Democrats to a section of the legislation that says the Blue Lakes and Alder Creek wilderness study areas will no longer be candidates for wilderness designation.
One of the seven measures actually has already been approved by the full House in H.R. 2954 — the Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act, which would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.
And Democrats are complaining about that bill, too, because it would fast-track logging in the area burned by the Rim fire in California this past year. It also would shorten environmental reviews for grazing permits and stop any further acquisition of land by the Bureau of Land Management until it creates a database showing tracts that are available for sale, according to E&E News. The White House came out against the lands bill, but did not issue a veto threat.
Other Nevada land bills would transfer land to the Naval Air Station in Fallon for housing, transfer mineral rights in Virginia City to clear up title claims, allow Carlin to buy federal land, create the Pine Forest Range Wilderness area and transfer land to an Elko tribe for a motocross track.
“Call me irresponsible. Call me unreliable. Throw in undependable, too. Do my foolish alibis bore you?” Frank Sinatra used to croon.
Perhaps congressional committees should play this tune before Bureau of Land Management executives are allowed to speak, as I suggest in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Head frame at Pumpkin Hollow copper mine
On April 18, Ned Farquhar, a deputy assistant secretary for the BLM, testified before the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations about H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, which would allow the city of Yerington to purchase at market value 10,400 acres of federal land so it can annex and provide city services to Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine. The bill also sets aside 48,000 acres for a Wovoka Wilderness Area in Lyon County.
After submitting written testimony on the bill, Farquhar admitted under questioning from Rep. Steven Horsford, who now represents the Yerington area in his newly created 4th Congressional District, that some “technical errors” had been discovered “last night” and those would be corrected before a hearing this week on a companion bill in the Senate. And that was done (S159 Lyon CountyDOI).
But there was a problem with that statement about “last night.”
On April 17, 2012, Michael Nedd, an assistant director of the BLM, testified before the same subcommittee about the same bill, except for the addition of the wilderness area at the insistence of Sen. Harry Reid.
Farquhar’s written testimony and Nedd’s are almost verbatim, even though during the 2012 hearing Rep. Mark Amodei, who then represented the Yerington area, grilled Nedd over myriad inaccuracies in his testimony.
After firing numerous unanswered questions at Nedd, a clearly frustrated Amodei concluded, “I would suggest to you that you would be well served if the folks that are supporting you in your testimony tune you up more on what we are doing in Nevada about abandoned mine sites and specifically with this site.”
Core samples from Pumpkin Hollow showing copper ore
At the recent hearing, Amodei aimed virtually the same questions at Farquhar with nearly the same outcome.
“Did you talk to anybody at the Nevada Division of Minerals about abandoned mines?” Amodei asked. Farquhar admitted he had not.
“Did you talk to anybody at the state Historic Preservation officer’s office in Nevada about historic cultural affairs?” Same reply.
“So, did you talk to anybody in the Carson City district office of the Bureau of Land Management regarding the time to process this?”
One of the few differences between the testimony of the two BLM executives was that Nedd argued a 90-day deadline was too short, while Farquhar argued the amended 180-day deadline is still too short.
“Your testimony was provided last night,” Amodei said to Farquhar. “This bill for the Yerington portion was heard a year ago in this committee. Can you tell me if this statement differs in any material way except for the wilderness area from what was provided by the bureau a year ago in front of this committee?”
Farquhar replied, “I can’t, but I’ll be glad to compare them.”
They are nearly identical. None of the errors pointed out by Amodei a year ago had been fixed, including the claims that the property contains 147 abandoned mines and mineral rights must be appraised.
24-foot diameter mineshaft at Pumpkin Hollow
Yerington Mayor George Dini testified, “The timely passage of this legislation cannot be over-stated. We are operating on a tight timeline.” The conveyance effort began five years ago.
“Both the city and Lyon County will be able to share in property, sales, utility and net proceeds of mines taxes from mine operations. If this legislation is not successful, the mine will proceed, but as in the past, Yerington will simply have to deal with the impacts with no real benefits to the city other than some jobs for citizens,” Dini explained.
A considerable number of jobs at that; there are expected to be 500 construction jobs and up to 900 mine jobs. With a multiplier effect, there could be as many as 3,000 new jobs for a community with a current population of only 3,000.
The mine is expected to produce 4 billion pounds of copper, as well as some gold and silver, over the next 18 years. On a recent visit to the mine, I saw a head frame is being erected atop a 24-foot diameter mineshaft that eventually will sink 2,200 feet deep. There will also be some open pit mining. The company has posted a bond to assure full reclamation of the land.
Since more than 85 percent of Nevada is controlled by one federal agency or another, the fact that the BLM is irresponsible, unreliable and undependable, too, should be a bit disconcerting to all Nevadans.
Senate Bill 159 was heard in a Senate committee Thursday afternoon, and, as he is so often inclined to do, Sen. Reid had to meddle.
Not that anyone would compare Amodei to a red-headed stepchild, at least not a stepchild, but here is the exchange between Amodei and the guy from the BLM over the duplicate testimony:
Amodei: Am I to understand the technical issues are limited to boundary irregularities and utility rights of way? We’re not going to hear about mineral rights? We’re not going to hear about abandoned mines? We’re not going to hear about time to process? We’re not going to hear about competing mining claims? All that other stuff in the first two pages of your statement is going to go away and we’re going to talk about boundary lines and utility corridors?
Farquhar: Congressman, we’re going to look at the information received last night, we’re going make sure that it is accurate.
Amodei: So the answer to my question is: We may have technical matters which will include some of this stuff in the first two pages?
Faquhar: “I hope we don’t and we’re going to check on the accuracy of what we received last night.
A: So the answer is: You don’t know as you sit here today in the meeting.
F: That’s right.
A: Would you describe for me how you prepared for today’s meeting? Did you talk to anybody at the Nevada Division of Minerals about abandoned mines?
F: I did not Mr. …
A: Did you talk to anybody at the state Historic Preservation officer’s office in Nevada about historic cultural affairs?
F: No, I did not.
A: So, did you talk to anybody in the Carson City district office of the Bureau of Land Management regarding the time to process this? Have you talked to anybody … in terms of how long it takes to do an appraisal?
F: Mr. Amodei, we did receive significant information from the district office.
A: And when did you receive that information?
F: Probably, I guess …
A: Do you know when you received that information? Just sometime before today’s hearing? And let me tell you why I’m being this way. Your testimony was provided last night. This bill for the Yerington portion was heard a year ago in this committee. Can you tell me if this statement differs in any material way except for the wilderness area from what was provided by the bureau a year ago in front of this committee?
F: Mr. Chairman, I can’t but I’ll be glad to compare them.
A: OK, because here’s my frustration, the bill has been out there a long time. You’ve heard the testimony that this needs to move. Now if there is an environmental problem or a legal problem and identified, it either gets fixed or the bill goes away. But to have the bureau come here a year later and say, ‘Well, you know, it’s pretty good, and we’re looking forward to working with you but I can’t take these off the table.’
You’re going to testify or somebody’s going to testify in front of the Senate I understand next week. Is your testimony going to be identical over there? Do you know what it is going to be on this bill next week?
F: It will not be identical, I can tell you that. We have new information.
A: Thank you for that.
Footnote: After the column appeared in the Elko paper Wednesday, on Thursday I received this email:
Mr. Mitchell –
Saw your column yesterday. The congressmen’s criticisms are fair. The BLM provided outdated information in the written testimony on the Yerington bill, which is a good, important piece of legislation, as I noted at the hearing.
The BLM has obtained the correct, current information and has corrected the testimony. We look forward to the bill’s progress. Thanks.
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Land and Minerals Management
US Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW Room 6614
Washington, DC 20240
Later in the afternoon I received updated testimony (HR 696_Lyon County_DOI), but it still insists 180 days is too little to make the conveyance of the land and asks for a year.
An Amodei staffer replied, “The bill that passed last Congress included a 90-day deadline. BLM objected, so it was doubled to 180 days for this Congress. Apparently, half a year is still not enough time for the BLM. An amendment by House Democrats to eliminate the time frame last Congress was defeated because the absence of a deadline would effectively kill the legislation. Nevada Copper has been conducting baseline studies for more than four years. Hundreds of jobs are on the line. There needs to be a deadline in the legislation to ensure this doesn’t get bogged down in a bureaucratic morass.”
About five years along in the process — the Senate actually passed a budget in less time than that — a Senate subcommittee is finally scheduled to hear arguments on a bill that would allow the town of Yerington to buy at market value 12,500 acres of federal public land adjacent to Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine so it can create an industrial park and recreation facilities.
The project could mean 500 construction jobs and as many as 800 permanent jobs for Lyon County, which has the highest unemployment rate in high unemployment Nevada. Those jobs are expected to pay on average $75,000 a year.
Pumpkin Hollow copper mine. (Photo by Rob Sabo)
The bill — known as the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act or S. 159 — also sets aside, to satisfy Sen. Harry Reid’s “green” buddies, the Wovoka Wilderness area. There is a companion bill coursing its way through the House.
Sen. Dean Heller, who requested the hearing, remarked, “I am pleased that the Energy Committee has recognized the significance of this legislation. This bill would create hundreds of jobs in Lyon County, which continues to struggle with record unemployment rates. I and the other members of the delegation have been working hard on this collaborative process on the local, state, and federal level to balance jobs and conservation. No doubt, Congress should be focusing on measures such as this, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this legislation a reality.”
Rep. Mark Amodei has noted that the bill will not cost the taxpayers a dime and Yerington will pay the appraised value for the land. He pointed out that Reid’s renewable energy “investments” in Nevada alone cost taxpayers more than $1 billion and resulted in 136 jobs.
The hearing by the Public Lands Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be Thursday, April 25, at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) in room SD-366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
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)
Perhaps you’ve heard by now how Harry Reid is holding 800 Yerington area jobs hostage so he can placate his environmentalist buddies who would like to wipe every trace of human habitation off the face of the planet.
Rep. Mark Amodei managed to get a bill through the House that would allow Yerington to buy 10,000 acres of BLM land at market value to facilitate development of the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine, but Harry is holding it up in the Senate because he wants to hang a wilderness ornament on the tree.
Harry Reid wants 80,000 acres of wilderness designation in exchange for bill to allow Yerington to buy land and create jobs.
“It is not a lot of wilderness area but it is something that is important,” Reid was quoted as saying by the Reno Gazette-Journal. “They cannot think they are going to get this thing and do nothing for the environment.”
It apparently turns out that “not a lot of wilderness area” to Harry is 125 square miles, about the size of the entire city of Las Vegas or about 6 percent of all of Lyon County.
According to an article in the Mason Valley News — “The Only Newspaper In The World That Gives A Damn About Yerington,” but not enough to use its name for its flag — Harry recently suggested (though it is not stated where or to whom) 80,000 acres of what has been called the “Wovoka” area, which the paper says is on the south and east side of the Pine Grove mountain range, should be designated as wilderness as a part of the Yerington bill.
The area seems to be appropriately named for the Northern Paiute who in 1889 claimed God had shown him the Ghost Dance, which would remove all the white people and return the land to the Paiutes. The Ghost Dance soon spread from Mason Valley to Paiutes in Oregon, California and Utah, as well as to the Shoshone, Utes, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota.
The land in question is doubtlessly already under the control of the BLM or one the federal bureaucracies that control 85 percent of Nevada and its use is subject to rules, regulations and whims of federal agents. But wilderness designation would make the land off-limits for the average Nevadan.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines a wilderness area as one “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man … retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions … has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation …”
No vehicles, no roads, no trails, no outhouses, no park benches, no trash cans, no power tools, no bicycles, no cutting firewood. Hunting is allowed in season under state law, but if you bag anything bigger than a squirrel be prepared to haul it out on your back.
The Mason Valley paper quoted Amodei as saying, “I don’t know how you can hold up (the bill) when it is ready to move on its own merits.” He said any wilderness bill should be separate, backed by the local community and “stand on its own merits.”
But give Harry a place to stand in the Senate with a lever as long as the Senate calendar and a fulcrum of job-desperate Lyon County residents, where the unemployment rate is 15 percent, he can move (or block) mountains of legislation. With no apologies to Archimedes.
Or maybe its just Harry’s version of the Ghost Dance.
Who’d’ve taken soft-spoken, polite-to-a-fault, in Congress-only-nine-months Rep. Mark Amodei for a triple-play threat.
In one simple declarative statement released via email Wednesday, Amodei wove in just-beneath-the-surface nuances that stabbed fellow Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in the back, stroked fellow Republican Sen. Dean Heller and tweaked the upturned, imperious nose of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The topic at hand was the passage of H.R. 4039, the Yerington Land Conveyance and Sustainable Development Act, which was bundled with more than a dozen other water and land use bills as the Conservation and Economic Growth Act. The Yerington bill would allow the city of Yerington to buy 10,400 acres of federal land to facilitate development of the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine and potentially create 800 well paying jobs. The package passed on a vote of 232-188 with Berkley voting nay and saying the legislative package has no chance of passing in the Senate and “faces strong opposition in Nevada,” which she failed to explain in any manner whatsoever.
In his statement, Amodei goes through the routine of thanking various bill supporters, pledging to work with the Democrats who voted for the bill and touting various aspects of the bill that include grazing improvements, border security and recreational shooting.
Amodei, without ever mentioning Berkley, who is trying to unseat Heller with the unabashed backing of Reid, concludes his statement thusly:
“Having sat on the jurisdictional committee that passed the bills in this package, the allegation of ‘strong opposition in Nevada’ is a statement whose foundation is unknown to me.
“I look forward to well-deserved support and leadership in moving the Yerington bill forward in the U.S. Senate. As the junior member of the House Republican Conference, I am sure the Senate Majority Leader will have no problem advancing Senator Heller’s Yerington legislation in much less than 120 days.”
So Berkley doesn’t think her puppet master Reid has the clout to pass a bill that would create a significant amount of jobs and have a major economic impact on an economically hard-hit part of the state. With one swing of the gauntlet, he slaps down Berkley and calls out Reid with a duel-like challenge: Can you — the great and powerful Oz of the U.S. Senate — manage to pass a Nevada-centric bill in less than 120 days, which is all the time the aforementioned junior congressman from Nevada, who took office in September, needed to pass his first sponsored bill?