Committee: No oil, gas drilling in Ruby Mountains | NevadaAppeal.com

Committee: No oil, gas drilling in Ruby Mountains

A committee of the Nevada Legislature voted Friday to oppose a plan to allow oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains of Elko.

The legislative committee on Public Lands voted Friday to send federal officials a letter opposing the plan to allow oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains of Elko.

The plan was strongly opposed by a dozen sportsmen's and environmental groups as well as a majority of the committee.

But four Republican members led by Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said they couldn't support a blanket ban on leases in the Rubys they said would result in drilling rigs all over the private lands that are within that area. Goicoechea said while he opposed the blanket ban, he fully supports adding a statement to that letter insisting on a much more open and public process before approving any leases. He along with Sen. Don Gustavson and Assemblymen John Ellison and Al Kramer also said they would oppose leases allowing drilling in the high wilderness areas of the Ruby Mountains while taking a look at applications for leases on the flat land areas on a case by case basis.

"We're not talking about drilling the Ruby crest," said Goicoechea.

But he said the process must be much more open with extensive public input.

Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, agreed they must include language in the letter, "to make a strong statement that you have to include us in the process."

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The committee also voted for a bill draft to create a study of issues surrounding the growing wildfire danger in Nevada. Goicoechea said two Northern Nevada fires this summer decimated three-quarters of a million acres of grass and sage. He said only three miles of the stretch from Winnemucca to the Idaho border isn't burned.

Goicoechea, a rancher, said the state and federal government have to remove the cheat grass that will come back in force in the burned areas.

"The most economical way to remove that fuel is to graze them," he said.

He and Committee Chairman Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, also agreed to get the study bill drafted and introduced early in the 2019 Legislature so it can be passed as early as March and begin work immediately.

Swank called for legislation that would change water law so if the state engineer had to curtail domestic well pumping, the owner would still get up to a half acre foot of water. Under current rules, many domestic well owners would get no water at all if pumping in a basin had to be curtailed.

The committee called for mandatory full funding for the Payments In Lieu of Taxes program. PILT provides money to counties with large percentages of non-taxable federal land to compensate them for that lost tax revenue. The money provides public safety, education and other support in Nevada counties that, in some cases, are more than 90 percent federal property but it has never been fully funded.

The committee also voted to support continued and expanded funding for the cloud seeding program operated by the Desert Research Institute to increase rainfall along the western Sierra.

The committee also expressed support for continued funding for competitive "Drought Initiative" grants through the state Agriculture Department to pay for water efficiency projects for agricultural and livestock production.