Indy Environment: The climate and the caucus. The BLM and the whistleblower. A Yucca Mountain tweet.

It is a busy time over here at The Nevada Independent. We are days from the Nevada caucus, and there might be an election-related tidbit or two in this newsletter. If you haven’t already, please check out the interactive policy guide my colleagues have put together in English and Spanish. It compares the candidates on a wide range of issues, including on their climate change plans. 

As a housekeeping note, I will be changing the format of my newsletter slightly in the coming weeks, mainly making an adjustment to the introduction section and how topics are categorized. 

The goal is to make the newsletter easier — and faster — to read. It’s been nearly a year since we launched this newsletter, and I thought now would be a good time to shake it up. So please send me your feedback. What would you like to see more of? What would you like me to axe?

As always, please send any ideas or story tips to daniel@thenvindy.com.

And if you want to receive this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here. 


ENERGY TRANSITION

Climate change on the ticket in Iowa and in New Hampshire. Let me start with this caveat: I leave the political analysis to others on staff (insert plug: follow my colleague Megan Messerly on Twitter). That said, it was interesting to see the polls of Democratic caucus/primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire over the past two weeks. In both states, climate change was listed as the second most important issue behind health care, according to CNN (Iowa Poll/New Hampshire Poll). This seems to match, anecdotally, what I’ve been hearing about Nevada for much of the campaign. And I’m curious to see if results are similar on Nevada’s Caucus Day.

  • The Nevada Conservation League offered a sneak peak (Gizmodo)

In Congress, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen introduced legislation last month to extend the Investment Tax Credit for solar and geothermal developments.  

Three consumer groups sent a letter to Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday to sign onto a boycott on automakers that are supporting the Trump administration’s fuel standards rollback.

“Everybody’s trying to use the desert for something.” That’s a quote from a recent story looking at the challenges of siting large-scale solar projects in the desert. The story looks at what the Gemini Solar Project — a massive solar field, one of the largest to be approved on public land by the Trump administration — would mean for tortoise habitat and biodiversity.

A new year, a new oil and gas sale. Federal land managers announced the latest auction for leases to develop oil on public land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it wanted to offer about 73,500 acres of public land in Lander County and Nye County for potential oil development. The 45 parcels would go up for auction in late March. The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project said the move violated a recent judicial order that required the agency to extend a protest period when auctions included sage-grouse habitat.

Nevada sends geothermal to Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the University of Utah is now sourcing the majority of its energy from renewables. Why? Look to a geothermal plant in Nevada. The newspaper reported this week that the university entered into a contract with a for 20 megawatts from a Nevada geothermal plant, pushing its renewable portfolio beyond 50 percent.


PUBLIC LAND

The Battle Mountain BLM complaint: My colleague John L. Smith and POLITICO Magazine published stories on Sunday detailing a whistleblower complaint from an employee at the BLM’s Battle Mountain District Office. The complaint alleges “illegalities and wrongdoing” by leadership in enforcing environmental laws to the benefit of mining companies. It said leaders looked the other way when officials or companies violated rules. Here are the 10 violations that the complaint alleges:

  • A failure to consider an option in an environmental analysis to backfill a mine pit near Goldfield. The complaint says that District Manager Doug Furtado “ultimately pressed for the company’s preferred analysis to be selected, which it was over internal objection.”
  • Violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA.
  • “Substantial roadbuilding in bighorn essential habitat.”
  • The complaint alleges that BLM leadership ignored issues with how exploration occurred for a lithium mine near Dyer, Nevada. For the same project known as Rhyolite Ridge, the complaint recounts how BLM employees acted with “disregard for threat to endemic species” (the Tiehm’s buckwheat). A lawyer for the BLM whistleblower, Dan Patterson, presumes that the cause of his administrative leave was the belief that Patterson had provided information about the plant to the Center for Biological Diversity. 
  • Instructions by management to avoid written record-keeping. The complaint alleges that BLM managers asked staff to “avoid the creation of written records in violation of the Federal Records Act.” Patterson alleges his field office manager “aggressively” refused “to memorialize potentially retaliatory personnel decisions” with his work.
  • “Use of ‘courtesy letters’ to indefinitely delay reclamation of expired mining exploration”
  • Inaction in enforcing federal public land violations against Nye County. 
  • Shortcutting inspections of mines and not assigning qualified inspectors.
  • Ignoring “five politically and economically influential persons” who “have established vacation homes on federal property in the mountains” where there is a mining claim.
  • Construction on public land that is not covered by a mining permit. 

In response, a BLM spokesperson said the “BLM cannot comment on the truth or accuracy of the whistleblower complaint’s allegations while the complaint is before the Office of Special Counsel and the DOI Office of the Inspector General. We stand ready to assist and provide information…” There is some important context here: This is not the Battle Mountain district’s first rodeo. In 2015, Furtado found himself at the center of another conflict with ranchers. 

All eyes on the Washoe bill. The public has an opportunity next Thursday to weigh in on a proposed federal lands bill in Washoe County. For information on the bill, local governments have been referring to a website (landsbill.org). The public comment forum was scheduled after criticism that the process for negotiating the proposed legislation did not adequately involve the public. Although discussions about the proposal began as early as 2016, they stopped after the 2018 election until they began again in earnest at the end of last year. More to come on this… 

On Wednesday in Washington D.C., a House Armed Services subcommittee convened a hearing on the Air Force’s proposed expansion of the Fallon Naval Air Station. I’ll have more information on that and the opposition to the plan later this week. The proposal creates conflicts with several uses of public land (conservation, ranching, mining) in central Nevada.


MINING INDUSTRY

A union that has represented Newmont workers for decades is taking aim at Nevada Gold Mines, the joint venture that formed between Newmont and Barrick last year, as it continues to streamline the operations of the two companies. The Elko Daily Free Press has been covering the story for several weeks. Nevada Gold Mines is pushing for a vote of all of its employees (including those at Barrick not covered by the union). The union has questioned whether a vote would be fair, and it filed an Unfair Labor Practices claim. Despite the union’s representation of Newmont employees, the Elko Daily Free Press reported that Nevada Gold Mines will no longer recognize the union after Dec. 23 when Newmont and Barrick employees become Nevada Gold Mines employees. That is, without a vote. The union is concerned about it and is speaking out. 

Nevada Gold Mines and Coeur Rochester, two mining companies in Nevada, sued the Energy Department over what they allege was a rushed process in finding a place to store mercury, a byproduct of gold mining. With the passage of federal legislation in 2008, the Energy Department was mandated by Congress to find a storage site for mercury. But it failed to do so for years.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and legislative leaders are looking to reconstitute a mining oversight commission that withered after it lost a quorum in 2015 and a subsequent attempt to dissolve it. We recently looked at why the commission stopped meeting and if it was ever effective.


OUTDOOR RECREATION

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appointed Colin Robertson to lead the state’s newly created outdoor recreation office. The Reno Gazette Journal has more. 

The Reno Gazette Journal also reported on a gondola connecting two Tahoe ski areas. 

And from the press release on that:Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows (Squaw Alpine) and Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League (the League) are pleased to announce that they have reached a comprehensive agreement to dismiss the League’s lawsuit against the approval of the Squaw Alpine Base-to-Base Gondola. The agreement details protection measures for Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog habitat and for the nearby Granite Chief Wilderness Area.”

Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall talks outdoor recreation with the Elko Daily Free Press.


WATER IS FOR…

The Supreme Court has set oral arguments for March 3 on a closely watched case involving whether the public trust doctrine applies to the state’s appropriation of water rights in Nevada. At question is whether the doctrine (roughly, the responsibility a government has to protect natural resources) applies to bringing more water to Walker Lake. But it is about much more than that. Whatever the court decides could have far-reaching consequences for water users and restoration projects across the state. Many of them have filed amicus briefs. It will be interesting to watch what the court does.

An update on Lake Mead from the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, per the RJ. 

The Desert Research Institute is one of 19 grantees from the Bureau of Reclamation. 


YUCCA MOUNTAIN

ICYMI: President Trump sent a tweet about Yucca. My colleague Humberto Sanchez wrote about it. And he also wrote about the president’s budget proposal. The budget says that the administration “is initiating processes to develop alternative solutions and engaging states in developing an actionable path forward.” But is the Yucca political battle really ever over?

  • House Yucca Mountain backer says Trump tweet can’t halt effort, per KNPR.