An activist environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, has sued former state Sen. James Settelmeyer, challenging his appointment by Gov. Joe Lombardo as director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The lawsuit also names Lombardo and the DCNR as defendants.
“Lombardo broke the law in making this appointment, and we’re taking him to court to hold him accountable,” proclaimed Patrick Donnelly, the director of the Las Vegas-based center.
The seven-page complaint argues Nevada’s state constitution bars legislators from being appointed to any state position if the Legislature voted to increase the salary of that position during their term.
Settelmeyer served in the Legislature when lawmakers voted to increase the pay of the conservation agency’s director in 2021. The lawsuit seeks to have him removed as director.
However, the state’s Democratic attorney general is defending the Republican governor’s appointment. Attorney General Aaron Ford refuses to institute any legal action to remove Settelmeyer from his new position.
Notably, the pay increase in question was the result of a 1% cost-of-living adjustment for hundreds of state employees, a measure Settelmeyer voted against during his time in the Nevada Senate.
The purpose of the salary provision in the Nevada Constitution is to prevent legislators from benefiting from their own legislative actions.
“There can be little dispute that the 1% COLA – below the rate of inflation – did not enrich Director Settelmeyer such that he is precluded from service,” the AG’s office says.
It would be “bizarre” if the state constitution’s prohibition would be applied to disqualify Settelmeyer in this case where the 1% across-the-board increase came on a bill that he voted against, Ford’s office concluded.
Donnelly vows to continue the Center’s challenge to Settelmeyer’s “unconstitutional” appointment, but his opposition to Settelmeyer is fundamentally rooted in wide differences over environmental policy.
Born in Carson City, Settelmeyer, 51, is a fourth-generation Nevada rancher. He lives and works on his family ranch in Douglas County. His great-grandfather migrated to Gardnerville from Germany in 1880.
A Cal Poly State University graduate and an “agriculturalist.” Settelmeyer has over 25 years of public policy experience spanning all aspects of natural resources and agriculture at the state and local level.
Prior to elective office, Settelmeyer served as chair of the Carson Valley Conservation District as well as chair of the Nevada State Conservation District.
He was a Nevada legislator for 16 years.
First elected to the Nevada State Assembly in 2006, Settelmeyer served two terms.
In 2010, he was elected to the Nevada Senate representing the 17th District (all of Churchill, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties).
Re -elected to the Senate in 2014 (unopposed) and again in 2018 (winning 72% of the vote), Settelmeyer became Senate Republican leader in 2019. He retired in 2022 as a result of term limits.
Settelmeyer compiled a strongly conservative legislative voting record and was a champion for rural Nevada, including support for mining.
He served on the Senate Natural Resources Committee in the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions. His lifetime rating by the Nevada Conservation League was 61%.
On issues concerning natural resources and environmental protection, Settelmeyer balanced them with other public policy concerns, including economic growth, affordable energy and the rights of businesses and individuals.
Those seeking to derail his appointment are zealous environmental purists. Donnelly, a UC Berkeley grad in environmental science, professes to be an ardent “full-time activist.”
The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is one of Nevada’s larger and more multifaceted state agencies. It has over 900 employees.
The department has divisions dealing with environmental protection, water resources, state parks, forestry, state lands, natural heritage and outdoor recreation.
By background, education, experience and temperament, Settelmeyer is highly qualified to serve as director of the DCNR. Lombardo made a solid choice.
E-mail Jim Hartman at email@example.com.
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