Black Rock Desert bill won't pass this year

Sen. Harry Reid says fellow Nevada Sen. Richard Bryan's plan to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of the Black Rock Desert is a good one but there is no chance it will win congressional approval this year.

''The legislation is not going to pass this year. There is not time to do it,'' Reid, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told The Associated Press.

Congress took eight years to pass the California Desert Protection Act, Reid said Friday.

''The Great Basin National Park in Nevada took 45 years to establish,'' he said.

''The wilderness that we already have in Nevada took from 1974 to 1998 or 1999. It just takes a long time,'' he said.

With week-long breaks scheduled in April and July, and all of August off, only about 30 working legislative days remain on this year's calendar, he said.

Reid drafted his own bill six years ago to protect the Black Rock Desert and ''remains supportive of the concept.''

He is reviewing specifics of Bryan's bill and wants to be sure it won't preclude development of geothermal energy from beneath the desert floor.

Bryan's proposal introduced in the Senate this week would protect 600,000 acres of the desert and neighboring High Rock Canyon, and consider protection for up to an additional 1 million acres of wilderness study areas.

Bryan, a former governor nearing the end of his second Senate term, is retiring at the end of this year and had hoped to get the bill passed before he leaves.

''Richard wants this as part of his legacy. He deserves that. He's been a great senator and a great governor for the environment,'' Reid said.

''He was very supportive of my Great Basin National Park bill and I want to be supportive of him. But as supportive of him as I am, realistically it is just not going to happen this year,'' Reid said.

Bryan was on a plane headed back to Nevada Friday and could not be reached directly for comment. But his spokesman Dave Lemmon said, ''We are adamant about moving forward on this.

''It is one of the senator's top priorities to see this passed in his final year,'' Lemmon said from Washington.

Home to golden eagles, wild horses, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, the vast desert and neighboring High Rock Canyon remain much the way they did when pioneers made their way across the Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail to the California Gold Rush 150 years ago.

Conservation and historic trail preservationists are rallying around Bryan's bill while several hunting and off-road vehicle groups oppose it despite Bryan's assurances they would feel little if any impact.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., has concerns about the bill and hasn't decided whether to support it. He said he hopes a number of public hearings are held around the state.

''I'm concerned about some things in the bill - the number of acres this thing will incorporate and some of the restrictions that will be placed on access,'' Gibbons said.

One potential hurdle is that Bryan's proposal has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Murkowski has been a leader of the effort to ship nuclear waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain and has clashed often with Nevada lawmakers on that topic.

Murkowski's spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte said this week that the ongoing rift over nuclear waste should not hamper Bryan's ability to pass the bill through committee.

Bryan said earlier he didn't foresee any trouble.

''I don't anticipate the fact that he and I are in mortal combat on the nuclear waste issue to affect our ability to work on this issue,'' Bryan said.

''I think Chairman Murkowski has always been fair. We've worked with him in areas and I've gotten a number of things through his committee over the years with his support,'' he said.

Reid was less sure. Told that Murkowski's staff was offering assurances the bill would get a fair hearing, Reid declined specific comment.

''I'll just laugh,'' Reid said. ''Ha.''


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