What do you call a country in which one person has the power to dictate to local elected officials how land within their jurisdiction may be used or not used?
This past week with the proverbial stroke of his oft-bragged-about pen President Obama singlehandedly created a 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in the Coal and Garden valleys in Lincoln and Nye counties, even though most local officials oppose it.
Congressman Cresent Hardy, whose district includes the new monument, complained about the arbitrary decision made as a sop to lame duck Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.
“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a statement. “Nevada’s rural county economies are particularly sensitive, and any decisions that affect ranching, recreation or other types of land use activities should have as much local input as possible … but at the moment, they do not. Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”
Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern rural Nevada, said in an interview, “One of the paybacks for Senator Reid being one of the administration’s backstops for six of their eight years is the monument thing. … Why the hell can’t you go through the public process?”
Sources confirmed Reid’s role to the Washington Post: “It is only due to Harry Reid that this is getting done.” When told it was controversial in Nevada, Obama replied, “I don’t care. I want this done.”
Amodei expressed a suspicion that the ulterior motive for the monument was not so much to protect petroglyphs and barren desert, but to block access to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository should Congress vote to revive it. Reid has been a vehement opponent of Yucca Mountain.
“I suspect that what it’s attempting to protect is any potential rail to Yucca Mountain,” Amodei said. “That’s just my speculation, but the irony of that is, if the Congress of the United States decides over the strenuous objection of Nevada’s governor and congressional delegation to crank that back up, it is a fact they can put as many rights-of-way across the monument area as they want.”
Obama’s proclamation specifically states “no new rights-of-way for electric transmission or transportation shall be authorized within the monument.”
But Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …” That surely could include a railroad from the Caliente Railroad Depot to Yucca Mountain, which the Department of Energy has already mapped out. Or perhaps they could route the nuke waste through Las Vegas, Harry?
Like Hardy, Amodei blanched at the lack of input from those who live in the area. “A lot of these issues is not one where you are taking meat off of somebody’s plate or money out of somebody else’s pocket. If people in Utah or Nevada want a little bit of transparency and engagement in federal land use decisions … now there’s a recurring theme. What the heck’s the harm in it?” he asked.
Amodei sarcastically remarked,“I guess I missed the Nevada delegation meeting to discuss the second largest conservation withdrawal in the history of the state. At least when Senator (Richard) Bryan was looking for a legacy, they processed it through something resembling regular order.”
In December, Congress, after years of lobbying by local officials, created the 22,000-acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Clark County.
“President Obama often says ‘we are stronger as a nation when we work together.’ Apparently that rule does not apply to public lands issues when it involves his political allies,” said Southern Nevada Rep. Joe Heck. “The Basin and Range Monument designation goes well beyond the intention of the Antiquities Act which limits parcels reserved by the President to the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’ It is beyond belief that an area larger than the state of Rhode Island is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of this land.”
And you thought you lived in a democracy.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.