Heller joins fight to protect county geothermal funding
Rep. Dean Heller has asked the Interior Department to back off from its plan to take back the geothermal royalty money distributed to Nevada counties earlier this year.
“Reclaiming royalties paid to local counties will only create additional hardships for our local communities,” he said. “As we work to remedy this problem, Interior should back off its attempts to claw back these funds.”
He said taking back the money could be devastating.
The federal government has been sharing royalty revenue for several years. Originally, Interior kept half the money and turned the other half over to the states to distribute to the counties.
That changed in Nevada’s December 2008 special legislative session when the state decided to keep the money, a move that cost counties a total of $12 million.
Churchill County Commissioner Norm Frey said it cost Churchill alone $6 million.
He said Nevada wasn’t alone, that the other states receiving geothermal royalty money have also kept it instead of passing it on to the counties.
He said the state used the money it kept to offset General Fund money going to K-12 education.
“So if you go after it, you’re against children,” he said.
He said the federal government then decided to split its piece of the pie with counties.
The Obama Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2010 eliminated the royalty revenue sharing for local governments. However, some royalties were paid out after enactment. The Department of Interior is seeking the return of those royalties.
Frey said the county recently received a letter saying it will have to pay back $182,000 received this year.
He said he is hoping Heller and the rest of Nevada’s congressional delegation can get legislation passed to fix the situation.
“What we would like to see is have the federal government consider splitting rent royalties one third to the federal government, one third to the state and one third to the counties where the resource is developed,” he said. “That’s an equitable way to get around the irresponsibility states have shown in keeping the money.”
Frey said it’s fair to give the counties some of the money because they have to provide services to the geothermal companies which develop the resources including fire and public safety protections as well as schools for their employees’ children.
“I don’t want another nickel from the industry,” he said. “I’d just like to have an equitable sharing.”
He said it’s especially important to Churchill County which already has six geothermal plants capable of providing electricity to a half-million people and is planning to license three new geothermal plants this year.
Heller said he is working with the rest of Nevada’s delegation as well as House members in both parties in the other affected states on legislation to reinstate the royalty sharing system.
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