Nevada's delegation in Washington declares a major victory of the nuclear waste dump legislation when we get the minimum number of votes to sustain a promised presidential veto. Give us a break, no margin if one vote changes and a president who routinely lies and flip-flops.
Sen. Richard Bryan wants to lock up thousands more acres of Nevada in the Black Rock Desert despite strong objections from every local government in the surrounding area. His bill would block existing road access to millions of acres beyond his designated area. Are the local elected officials closer to what's best for Nevada, or has living in Washington for nearly 12 years made Richard Bryan smarter than the people who live here and were elected locally?
Former U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Gloria Flora is declared a national hero by an environmental group for thumbing her nose at the concerns of local citizens and elected officials. She isolated a small Nevada community and restricted access to residents and visitors in an action that looks like a military siege of the community of Jarbidge. Should a federal bureaucrat be able to do that to the people who live in a free state?
When Flora complains that the U.S. Attorney wasn't helpful with legal action, the sloppy USFS investigations are pointed out that make their cases too weak to act on.
Lincoln County has more than 98.2 percent federal land ownership and is effectively not fiscally viable in our current tax structure. Nevada's land is nearly 90 percent owned and controlled by the federal government. The federal land ownership of Nevada has grown over 3 million acres since 1964, and they want more. Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Jim Gibbons have bills that would allow the federal government to sell up to 1 million acres in Nevada to the private sector.
The Reid version implies the federal bureaucrats decide what they want to allow for purchase. Nevada has over 70 million acres, but around 8.5 million of those are usable and taxable by our economy. Another million acres is a start at best and not a good start if the federal bureaucrats get to pick what they will let us have. Ten other rural counties are in little better shape than Lincoln and sustained by sales tax distribution. The other counties and residents support those counties; that is unlikely to change without a significant change in land ownership.
By any reasonable definition, Nevada is not a state, but still a territory of the federal government. In rural Nevada, the description is perhaps better described as a fiefdom in the medieval feudal system.
The federal government knows they can own us and treat us with constant disdain. They attack our gaming industry. They created Indian gaming and now attack sportsbook operations. They increase grazing fees or reduce the number of animals per acre and cut deals on water that thwart our farming and ranching businesses.
Those impact sales tax revenue in rural counties and may increase the fire danger. They take years of delay when processing anything except checks. They acquire constantly more land for military training. What they already have they restricted by declaring more areas as "roadless." They are poised to declare our rural areas a clean air corridor to have our clean air sweep out the dirty air from California to "save the Grand Canyon," but doing so would require zero growth in most of rural Nevada.
We are tied to puppet strings and we don't have control over the sticks. We are a sovereign state in name only; they know they own us. Many Nevadans are convinced that our federal elected officials are pawns of the bureaucracy.
Here is a truly drastic thought from an interested observer of our situation. This should aggravate everyone, but there is some logic and common (or uncommon) sense behind it. The conditions mentioned above are interconnected. We are going to get the nuclear waste; it is just a matter of when rather than if. Most Nevadans except political leaders figured that out years ago.
The equation is simple - two votes or even three out of 435 and two votes out of 100 in Washington and nearly 90 percent land ownership means they will win. If nothing else, someday they will declare their property right to put "their stuff on their land" and use the highways they partially funded to get it there. Remember they fund their property rights and our highways with our tax money, but they consider it their money.
Consider this as the basics of a deal:
1. Nevada agrees to take the nuclear waste.
2. The federal law is changed to require investment in reprocessing technology to eventually lead to reprocessing of nuclear waste.
3. The nuclear waste comes to Nevada for above-ground storage pending development of reprocessing technology and facilities. The federal government builds the above ground facilities needed for 100-year storage.
4. The federal government agrees to abandon the silly idea of the hole in the ground for storage. Maybe they can make it a linear accelerator or something quasi-useful.
5. The federal government finally starts investing in our buying reprocessing technology, which is common in other parts of the world. The United Kingdom is claiming over 90 percent recovery on their reprocessing and the French are close to that. If we can't at least match their results in 20 years, we should be globally embarrassed.
6. As part of the deal for taking the waste, Nevada gets 25 years to select the land and parcels it wants to get Nevada to 60 percent or less federal land ownership. The federal government would be assured of retaining their military bases, national park, federal buildings, Hoover Dam and other stuff they actually use rather than just control. The federal bureaucracy would have a couple of years to designate their "protected parcels."
The Nevada process to acquire the existing federal land to get us to only 60 percent federal land ownership would be simple and very public. The governor would recommend parcels or tracts of land, and the Legislature would approve them during a legislative session. The land would be sold at market value with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the federal government and the balance to the general fund of Nevada. That would make it in the best interest of both to get the best deal rather than the "sweetheart deals" as in the past.
The process should take less than a year after each legislative session. The 60 percent or lower federal land ownership should be a maximum amount in a treaty between Nevada and the federal government, so a two-thirds vote would be required to go above the number - ever.
7. Nevada would need terms or agreements that the federal government would not immediately engage in "takings" actions using military expansions or endangered species act provisions to reacquire that which is sold to Nevada. The land transferred under this program would have to become taxable property or roads and rights of way properties. No county should end up with greater than 90 percent federal ownership.
8. The federal government should fund the building of a few new bypass roads to reduce the passage of the transported waste through Nevada cities. A road would be needed for Interstate 15 someplace near Apex to the storage site to eliminate any waste going through the Las Vegas urban areas. An access road from Highway 6 would probably be needed as well. Nevada would get to designate the routes of travel inside the state and others would have to comply with our travel plans and terms for security, route, times and other requirements. If California tried to play hardball on some future issue, we could force their waste to come in from Utah or maybe over Tioga Pass during the winter months. When dealing with the giant to the west, a little leverage is needed at times.
9. The research into reprocessing of nuclear fuel should be federally funded and at least part of it done at Nevada institutions of higher education.
If Nevada is a "waste land" as so many in Washington think, then this should be a reasonable deal. It gives Nevada a chance to become a real state with a reasonable ability to control our destiny and adequate time to figure out which 20 million acres we need to do that. It recognizes that we are going to get the waste, but forces the end to the stupid idea of burying it while the rest of the world is successfully reprocessing their waste.
It takes the 10,000 years consideration to a manageable 100-year window for technology to help us determine the next logical steps. Most of rural Nevada could become fiscally viable and stop or slow the subsidy from the urban areas to them. Nevada counties could own their roads and rights of way. Grazing land could be improved, fires prevented, utilities installed in reasonable time frames, towns could grow and maybe we could balance the power between our elected officials and the federal bureaucrats.
The idea is not perfect, but should make everyone unhappy. We need to break the deadlock in a way that actually solves problems for Nevada. The dominate federal ownership is a fundamental problem that manifests itself in many skirmishes whether on waste, grazing, roads, cattle prices, wild fires, wilderness areas or a host of other issues.
Even people in urban Nevada should like that, because they pay for the current insane situation. The federal employees in Nevada are not bad people, but the directions and rules they work under are not always in the best interest of the majority who live in and love this state. It is time we became a state rather than a territory!
If those in Washington really think of Nevada as a vast wasteland, then let us own it in exchange for taking their waste. Economically, we are the fastest growing state in manufacturing, population, retail growth, total state growth rate and many more categories.
We have been the fastest for more than a decade with only about 10-13 percent of our land. If we can get an extra 20-plus million acres of our state wrested from federal control, then we can really make the others look bad. It is time for deal; hold your nose for a few years, so we can bury them with our economic vitality in future decades.
Ray Bacon is executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association.