Dean Heller launches bid for governor, attempts political comeback three years after Senate loss

Republican former Sen. Dean Heller officially launched a bid for governor on Monday, attempting to re-enter the political sphere he inhabited for decades before he was defeated in a 2018 re-election bid that found him struggling to navigate a fraught relationship with then-President Donald Trump.

At a launch event in a cramped and low-slung building in the town he grew up in, Carson City, he staked out firmly conservative positions on abortion and suggested a top Clark County election official should have been removed for his decisions in the 2020 election. Heller said he was OK with being done with politics after his loss three years ago but was inspired to return to the fray.

“Something happened, something changed. It was called 2020. 2020 happened, bad politicians started making bad decisions,” he said. “And I said to my family, ‘Enough is enough. We have to do something about this.’ So we're here today because I believe it's time to fire Steve Sisolak.”

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller launches his gubernatorial campaign on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 at the Carson City Republican Party office. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

His debut raises the stakes in a race considered a referendum on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s handling of the pandemic. Heller has already centered the lightning rod issue of COVID mitigation measures in his campaign, releasing a video over the weekend denouncing business shutdowns and rules that had his grandchildren playing soccer in masks.

In his announcement speech, he blamed Sisolak for putting Nevada “at the top of every bad list in America,” including for unemployment rates, crime rates, graduation rates and suicide rates, adding that “under this governor, families are being crushed.”

While not directly saying the 2020 election was invalid (he said “I know who the president of the United States is, we're not arguing that. What I am arguing is the process and how we got there), Heller criticized recent voting legislation and said “we made it easier to cheat in future elections.” He vowed that if he’s elected governor, “you're not going to wonder if elections are fair” and that his first order of business would be enacting voter ID by executive order.

“After the 2020 election, most Republicans believe President Trump had won that election. This is chaos and this chaos continues over and over,” Heller said. 

He noted that as secretary of state, he removed a registrar who he thought was doing a poor job, and suggested he would have done the same with Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria, accusing Gloria of saying “I am going to manipulate our machines” to accept a high number of signatures on ballots as valid.

“I would have been tempted to do that, yes. I would have petitioned the county commissioners to remove this guy," Heller said.  

He said he wouldn’t mandate the vaccine against COVID, but noted that he was vaccinated himself, and said “I will emphasize and I will impress upon my fellow Nevadans that I think it's very important.”

Asked if he would support a law like Texas’ that allows private citizens to sue people who facilitate an abortion after six weeks of gestation, Heller said “I like what Texas did.” Polls consistently show Nevadans support abortion rights by significant margins, and voters in 1990 reaffirmed the legality of abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation.

“As governor, I'll get the most conservative abortion laws that we can have in this state, regardless with who's controlling the Legislature at the time,” he said. 

Heller’s position on abortion has evolved over the years. In 2006, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “I do back a woman's right to choose abortion. It is the conservative position."

At an event in Las Vegas later on Monday, Heller sought to clarify his comments about the Texas legislation, adding that he would want a ban on abortions past six weeks to include exceptions for rape or incest. 

“I probably should clarify — I don't really know everything that was in that law,” he said. “I like the concept of it, but I know that they're going to have some problems, some issues, and frankly, it's going to be challenged, so let's see where it goes from there.”

From left, Assemblyman P.K. O'Neil, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler and former Assemblyman Al Kramer at the launch of Heller's gubernatorial campaign on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 at the Carson City Republican Party office. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Heller’s campaign materials cultivate an image of rural masculinity, with the video showing him racing in a stock car, touting his welding skills and hoisting bales of hay on his farm. A narrator describes him as “kind” and with “a smile that never quits,” but also “tough as nails,” and ends with the words, “That’s a governor.”

But to have that title, he’ll first have to triumph in a crowded primary, and without the campaign consultant team that has guided his previous campaigns — that firm, November Inc., was enlisted by Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who is also trying to chart a more mainstream Republican course through the race. Heller’s video subtly took aim at Lombardo’s complicated position on guns, featuring the former senator target shooting.

Heller’s campaign launch video also suggested that “defunding the police” was happening “right now in Nevada.” Asked about what that was referring to, Heller said, “I'm gonna have more information on that in the next couple of days. So I’d rather wait on that answer.”

Lombardo is focusing his campaign around promises to veto any new taxes, including an income tax. While an income tax has not been a discussion point in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, Lombardo said that he incorporated the argument into his campaign because “the governor could advise the public to vote for it.”

Similar to Heller, Lombardo is pushing for election integrity measures, which he said is important even though election officials have said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“There's a perception, and if there's a perception there's maybe some truth to it,” Lombardo told The Nevada Independent on Saturday during an event celebrating a new campaign office in Las Vegas. “Why not fix it going forward? Why not remove the rumors and the perception and even the ability to commit fraud into the future, if you have the ability to do that.”

Better Nevada PAC, a pro-Lombardo entity, has already started targeting Heller over abortion, including by disseminating a video clip of a 2017 town hall when Heller said “I will protect Planned Parenthood.”

Others in the contest include Joey Gilbert, a firebrand lawyer and former boxer whose face and fists greet motorists from billboards along Reno freeways and in the airport. He was in Washington D.C. the day of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, has challenged the validity of the election and has been trying to persuade rural county commissions to retain him to sue the governor over the ongoing state of emergency.

Heller, for his part, told reporters about the incidents of Jan. 6 that he did not have a problem with people protesting, “but they crossed the line when they broke into that Capitol and did what they did … don't put me in that category of being in favor of what occurred on that day.”

Heller, 61, began his political career in 1990 as a state assemblyman, then served three terms as secretary of state and two terms in Congress before he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2011 after then-Sen. John Ensign resigned.

He notched moderate bona fides in an increasingly purple Nevada in 2013, when he supported an immigration reform bill and voted in 2015 not to pursue a bill to unravel the DACA program, which gives legal status to people brought to the country illegally as children.

But he stumbled when navigating the era of Donald Trump, and didn’t acknowledge voting for him until nine months after the 2016 election. Two years later, he appeared alongside Trump at a campaign event in Elko and told the president “I think everything you touch turns to gold.”

A protester dressed as an “inflatable tube man” outside of former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s gubernatorial campaign launch on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 at the Carson City Republican Party office. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Acknowledging that it was fair to say he had a tenuous relationship with Trump at times, Heller said in Las Vegas on Monday that “I would love to have President Trump’s endorsement” in the governor’s race.

As a senator, he also struggled to navigate the issue of health care, voting to support a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act but also holding a press conference with then-Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2017 saying he could not support a bill that would take insurance away from tens of millions of Americans.

Following a 2018 campaign in which he was mocked for his fluid policy positions, he lost to Democratic political newcomer Jacky Rosen by a five percentage point margin.

Michael Fletcher, a small business owner and family friend of Heller’s, said he’s worried Sisolak’s connections to unions will lead to increased taxes that will raise prices on consumers and hurt small businesses. 

“Sisolak’s not somebody I trust,” Fletcher said. “I think he’s too bought in by the unions. He’s at their will and I think that’s not good for Nevada.”

Josh Groth, a pilot who flies cargo internationally, came to the campaign kickoff with some friends. Heller’s announcement and stance on voter identification laws struck Groth.

“I think those are powerful things to be able to protect ... the right to maintain a democratically representative government, and be able to vote with integrity and ensure that we don't even leave any leeway for people to have skepticism about the integrity of that election system,” Groth said.

Groth said he is also worried about his two children’s education. During the pandemic, he watched as his children who are in elementary school sat in front of a computer screen for six hours a day — a learning method that he described as “not viable.” 

“I think [Heller] will try and get to the point where he allows people to make individual choices and decisions for themselves, for their communities, for their families, and for the state,” Groth said. “I hope that we'll be able to get some policies that are enacted that enable us to be able to live the life that Nevada has always represented.”

Tim Lenard contributed to this report.

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto unsure of House-proposed mining royalty in Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending bill

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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) pushed back on a House proposal to include a new hard rock mining royalty in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package. 

In a brief interview, she said that she was still reviewing the House version of the so-called Build Back Better Act, including the tax, environmental and mining proposals. She will help draft the Senate tax and mining policy sections of the Senate version as a member of the Finance Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

When asked about the proposed royalty included by the House Natural Resources Committee in its part of the $3.5 trillion package, Cortez Masto said she does not oppose the idea, but that the industry and other “stakeholders” should be allowed to weigh in.

“I have talked to Senator Manchin about this.” Cortez Masto said, adding that Manchin is open to adding a royalty under the General Mining Act of 1872, which currently applies no royalty to mines on federal lands.

“I think it is fair to, if we were going to open the door to royalties and the mining act—which I know Senator Manchin wants to do, and I'm not opposed to—that we should have a hearing on it. And so that's what I've asked Senator Manchin” to do, she continued. 

“Let's just be transparent, be fair, and have a hearing in committee on it and bring all the stakeholders so we can hear from everyone and not do something like this, that there's no input from all the key stakeholders,” she said.

Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray said recently he does not support the royalty. 

The House panel included the mining royalty as a way to offset the cost of the bill. The royalty on hard rock mining could raise around $2 billion over 10 years, according to the House Committee.  

The House bill would also establish a hard rock mineral reclamation fee, raising around $200 million over 10 years.

Her comments came as the House Ways and Means Committee finished its part of the $3.5 trillion measure. But the House held no roll call votes as it wrapped up its recess. The lower chamber will be back next week. 

The Senate was back from its recess and confirmed three of President Joe Biden's nominees, including James Kvaal, undersecretary of education. Both Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for Kvaal, whose nomination was approved 58 to 37.

A former official in President Barack Obama’s administration, Kvaal saw his nomination held up by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) over her push to crackdown on student loan servicers. She then signaled her support for Kvaal last month after talks with the Department of Education. 

Still deciding

Cortez Masto stressed that she hasn’t decided on the specifics of either the House or Senate bills. 

“So this is my challenge,” Cortez Masto said. “There's so much out there and so I'm trying to make sure I understand everybody's proposals, including the” White House’s. 

She added that she would judge the provisions of the package on whether they help Nevada. 

“Here's what I know, at the end of the day...does what we do benefit our state?” she said. 

Cortez Masto said that the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax, Medicare and Medicaid policy, is exploring how it plans to offset the package costs and whether they will follow the House or use other revenue-raising provisions. 

“I think it should be paid for,” she said when asked about the package, but she declined to say that the cost would need to be entirely offset in order to win her vote. 

She stressed that the package was far from done and that it remained to be seen what could pass the Senate—especially as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have said they would not support a $3.5 trillion measure. 

It's unlikely that a hearing could be held before the reconciliation package reaches the House and Senate floors. But it will be up to Manchin to decide whether to include the mining revenue raiser in the resources committee’s section of the reconciliation bill. If not, the royalty provision will need to be worked out between the House and Senate since both chambers need to pass identical bills.

The negotiation will be delicate. Democrats are using reconciliation, a budget process that allows spending and tax legislation to pass on a simple majority rather than needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But with the Senate split between the parties 50 to 50, every vote will be needed to pass the package. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can only lose three votes in the House if all Republicans oppose the package, as expected.

Timing on when the House and Senate vote on the package will be determined by when Democratic leaders line up the votes to pass it. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that he expects a vote before the end of September. 

House tax plan

Individuals earning more than $400,000 a year would pay a 39.6 percent tax rate and those making more than $5 million would be subject to a 3 percent surcharge under the tax portion of the $3.5 trillion social spending package approved by the Ways and Means Committee this week.

The new top individual tax rate, the new surcharge, raising the corporate tax rate to 26.5 percent for companies with more than $5 million in revenue and other revenue-raising provisions would offset about $2.2 trillion of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a Ways and Means Committee member, underscored the spending in the bill that he argued would help middle-class taxpayers in the state, including two housing-related tax credits.

“It is no secret that our nation is facing a housing crisis, and we must expand tax credits that increases affordable housing for individuals of every race and income level and prevents homelessness and evictions,” Horsford said during the panel’s bill drafting session.

Nevada has a shortage of affordable housing. The state had a deficit of about 79,620 affordable units available to extremely low-income renters — people earning 30 percent or less of area median income — the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association said earlier this year.

The bill eased limits on the low-Income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The LIHTC is the primary federal program for encouraging private investment in the development of affordable rental housing for low-income households.

The measure also created a new credit, the neighborhood homes tax credit, to encourage private-sector investment to rehabilitate deteriorated single-family homes in distressed neighborhoods.

Horsford said the credits were “critical for my constituents in Nevada, as we continue to close the development gaps in low-income and multifamily rental housing communities.”

During the debate, Horsford also tangled with Republicans on amendments that failed to attach a means test to the enhanced child tax credit, extended through 2025 under the bill. He also spoke out against an amendment to strike language to allow union members to deduct dues from their federal taxes.

On the union dues proposal, Horsford said that the bill, as written, gives workers the same tax treatment as that of management, which is permitted to "deduct management and legal costs such as those involved in resisting unionization campaigns and negotiating with unions." 

House transportation

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its $60 billion reconciliation measure on Wednesday. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV),  a panel member, voted in favor of the measure. 

Titus, in a release, called the reconciliation package “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” which will “spur economic development, address the escalating climate crisis, and provide a sustainable long-term recovery for working families.” 

The bill included $10 billion for a grant program to improve access to affordable housing and enhance the mobility of residents in low-income communities, $9.5 billion for economic development in distressed communities and $6 billion to advance local surface transportation projects.

Much of the Democrats' transportation-related priorities are included in the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate approved the measure last month and the House could take it up as soon as next week.

Titus also voted to approve the House Homeland Security Committees portion of the package, which consisted of $865 million in for cybersecurity enhancements. 

Miscellany

Cortez Masto and Rosen signed on to a letter with six other Democrats from western states to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to raise the pay for federal wildland firefighters. 

“The disparity in pay between federal and non-federal wildland firefighters has led to a shortage of federal firefighting personnel and limits our nation’s ability to respond to these increasingly devastating natural disasters,” the letter said.

The Senate's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill provided $600 million to raise pay for federal wildland firefighters. The letter said that the senators want the agencies to be ready to implement the measure once it becomes law.

The letter comes as the western part of the country has suffered from drought and wildfires.

Rep. Susie Lee failed to report personal stock trades on time, according to The Insider

“Across seven certified reports to the US House between February 2020 and May, Lee did not disclose many of her trades until several days after deadlines mandated by the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, also known as the STOCK Act,” the news website said.

“She also disclosed a few trades a couple of weeks or more late.” 

Lee's office told the website that the trades were made by a third-party money manager, which can take time to report transactions, and Lee also said she had no input on the trades herself. 

Under the STOCK Act, government officials must report financial transactions totaling more than $1,000 no later than 30 days after receiving notification of the transaction and no later than 45 after the transaction date. Violations are subject to a $200 fine.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2748 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the rules for postponing certain deadlines by reason of disaster.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2754 – A bill to provide funding for the deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1, and for other purposes.

S.2752 – A bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to protect civil rights and otherwise prevent meaningful harm to third parties, and for other purposes.

S.2726 – Public Transportation Expansion Act

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2756 – A bill to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal, in commemoration of the service members who perished as a result of the attack in Afghanistan on August 26, 2021, during the evacuation of citizens of the United States and Afghan allies at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and for other purposes.

S.2752 – A bill to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to protect civil rights and otherwise prevent meaningful harm to third parties, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5243 – To modernize the Fallon Range Training Complex in Churchill County, Nevada, through the withdrawal and reservation of additional public lands for military use, to provide for transfer of ownership of certain Federal lands in northern Nevada, to authorize the disposal of certain Federal lands in northern Nevada for economic development, to promote conservation in northern Nevada, and for other purposes.

Indy DC Download: Congressional delegation pushes to extend sunsetting downwinders law

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Nevada’s congressional delegation is looking at ways to extend an expiring law that provides compensation to those exposed to radiation from nuclear tests in Nevada.  

The Radiation Compensation Exposure Act (RECA) expires on July 11, 2022. The law, enacted in 1990, provides $50,000 to persons who developed certain cancers and were in parts of Nevada near the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site, during nuclear testing.

Those areas include Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine Counties. It also covers specific areas of northern Clark County. 

“It’s not a mission accomplished thing,” said Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who is optimistic the law can be extended before it expires. 

In an interview, he suggested that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual military policy bill, is the likeliest vehicle to continue the compensation program.

Amodei's comments came as the House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the NDAA, including adding $24 billion to President Joe Biden's $415 billion budget request. 

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a member of the military policy panel, backed the Republican amendment to add the funding because it would benefit Nevada’s military posts. 

“In total, the fiscal year 2022 defense budget will make our military stronger, safer, and more responsive to the needs of our servicemembers,” Horsford said in a release following the passage of the NDAA.

The House panel's debate saw several amendments critical of Biden for the nation's tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Congressional Democrats with tough re-election races next year, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), have sought to take a harder line with the administration as Republicans have ramped up the criticism of Biden and, by extension, Democrats. 

With both the full House and Senate in recess, no votes floor votes were taken.

RECA

Amodei said he is looking at supporting legislation that would expand the areas covered by the law. 

“It’s a statewide issue,” Amodei said, adding that the fallout from nuclear tests likely contaminated the food supply.

A bill introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) would include Mohave County, just to the east of the state's southern tip and all of Clark County. The legislation also would extend the RECA trust fund for five more years. 

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) has a similar bill that is cosponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV). The two were the only cosponsors listed for the measure.

Horsford’s office said he is planning to cosponsor legislation that has yet to be introduced. 

In the Senate, Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also support extending the law.

According to her office, Cortez Masto sees the NDAA and the budget reconciliation package as two possible vehicles. The reconciliation bill is currently being drafted and would carry parts of the Democratic agenda, such as providing family and medical leave, that Republicans would not support.

Rosen is a cosponsor of legislation introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to extend the benefits to those in Mohave and Clark Counties. 

The bill would “take an important step to extend the geographic boundaries of areas eligible for compensation,” Rosen said in a statement provided by her office. 

Benefits under RECA are also available to certain uranium miners, mill workers and ore transporters who worked in the uranium industry between 1942 and 1971, when the federal government stopped its uranium procurement for the atomic weapons program, according to Amodei's office.

Along with the $50,000 one-time payment for individuals residing or working "downwind" of the Nevada Test Site, workers participating in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests that developed certain cancers are eligible for a single $75,000 payment and uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who develop particular cancers can receive a one-time $100,000 payment. 

RECA has awarded over $2.4 billion in benefits to more than 37,000 claimants since its inception in 1990.

According to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, the federal government conducted 1,021 nuclear tests at the test site between 1951 and 1992. Of the tests, 100 were atmospheric, and 921 were underground. Test facilities for nuclear rocket and ramjet engines were also constructed and used from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.

NDAA

The committee approved the NDAA on a 57-to-two vote after a roughly 16-hour markup that began Wednesday morning.

Horsford touted provisions in the measure for Nevada, including $20 million for the planning and design of a dormitory at Nellis Air Force Base.

“This dormitory is badly needed to address the housing shortfall currently faced by young Airmen, who are often forced to live off base,” Horsford said. 

Cortez Masto and Rosen have sought $7.2 million for the project in the annual  military construction appropriations bill. 

The MQ-9 Reapers program, which manages remotely piloted drone aircraft, many stationed at and operated from Creech Air Force Base, received $158 million for procurement, $129.7 million for modernization and $103 million for research and development. The program got another $53 million for maintenance.

Horsford was among the 14 Democrats on the committee to back the Republican amendment adding the $24 billion to the Pentagon budget. The amendment passed 42 to 17. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar provision in its version of the bill in July.

“The $23.9 billion funding increase in the FY 2022 defense budget will help us keep pace with China and maintain our counterterrorism efforts around the world,” he said, adding that it would  provide direct benefits to his district, including beefing up the MQ-9 program.

Horsford voted for an amendment seeking a report on why the military closed Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which could have aided with evacuation.

He also voted for an amendment requiring an interagency report detailing that the withdrawal will not impede the nation's counterterrorism mission or endanger national security. 

Horsford also delivered a speech that reflected a tough stance on how the administration handled the withdrawal but that praised the administration for ending the war.

“I wholeheartedly supported President Biden's courageous decision to end our mission in Afghanistan,” Horsford said. “In doing so he pulled thousands of our troops out of harm's way and did what previous administrations failed to do.”

“However, like many I was horrified by the tragic displays of desperation we witnessed in the final weeks of our mission,” he continued. “There is no question that in the final stages of this conflict we failed to fully uphold our moral obligations to our citizens and allies still stranded in Afghanistan.” 

Democrats seek distance

Horsford’s comments came as Cortez Masto marked the nation’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year presence in the Middle Eastern country by calling on Biden’s administration to work with Congress to “get Americans and our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan and out of harm's way.”

Her comments reflect a position that congressional Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns are increasingly taking to try to distance themselves from Biden and his sagging poll numbers, according to Axios

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Thursday, Biden’s approval rating fell to 46 percent, the lowest since he took office and six points below a July poll

Thursday’s poll also showed that Biden is losing independents. The share of independents that approve of the job Biden is doing fell to 36 percent from 46 percent in July.

That could be unwelcome news for Cortez Masto, as Nevada voter registration is trending more nonpartisan. Recently, the share of non-major party voters, 34.8 percent, overtook Democrats and Republicans in the state, at 34.78 percent and 30.4 percent, respectively.

Representing a state former President Donald Trump lost by two percentage points, Cortez Masto is a target for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, who are seeking to win back the majority. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between the parties.

The NRSC has called on Cortez Masto to take a harder position against Biden for the withdrawal, which saw 13 American soldiers killed on a suicide attack outside Kabul airport.

Her opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, an Iraq war veteran, wrote an op-ed Friday in The Washington Examiner that argued for a change in the makeup of Congress to hold Biden accountable.  

“It's time for investigations, resignations, and real change,” Laxalt wrote. “It's time to fire Democratic leadership in Congress so we can hold this administration accountable for its failure.” 

Cortez Masto’s campaign pointed to comments she’s made that have been critical of the administration for the chaotic withdrawal.

“I’ve never seen a plan,” Cortez Masto told KSNV in Las Vegas in August. “I asked the Trump administration for a plan — never got anything. I asked this administration — never received anything. And so, yeah, I do have questions. What happened?” 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto and Rosen seek $205 million for 71 projects, including $31.6 million to pave a 24-mile Nye County road

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Interactive tables and charts breaking down all delegation earmark requests can be found at the bottom of this page after the vote tracker.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) requested more than $205 million for 71 projects across Nevada under Congress’ revived earmarking system, which allows members to direct spending to specific projects from the 12 annual appropriations bills. 

Earmarks were banned beginning in 2011, when Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) first became House speaker following a few high-profile scandals, including the construction of a bridge in Alaska that was dubbed “the bridge to nowhere.” 

But the practice has long had its proponents, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). He argued that, with the ban, Congress relinquished part of its power of the purse to the White House, which would make those spending decisions at the agency level. 

Reid even crossed President Barack Obama on the issue when the former president sided with newly elected Tea Party-backed House Republicans, who called for an end to earmarks.

“I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day. Keep in mind that’s what the country has done for more than 200 years, except for the brief period of time in recent years that we haven’t done these,” Reid told reporters in 2014, adding of Obama: “He’s wrong.” 

Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee renamed the practice “Community Project Funding.” They also instituted a series of reforms, including requiring public disclosure of each member’s request and barring for-profit companies from receiving funds.

Republicans have mostly embraced the return of the practice. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) had all of the $9.5 million he requested for 10 projects in his district funded in the nine spending bills approved by the House late last month. He voted against the bills over concern with Democratic priorities included in the measures.

He separately requested and secured $21 million for five other projects in the House transportation infrastructure bill passed by the House in early July. It’s unclear what the fate of those will be. The Senate’s recently approved $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure did not include member-directed funding for specific projects. 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), who secured $17.3 million for four transportation projects in the House bill, has raised concerns about the funding for her projects as the House moves to take a procedural vote on the bipartisan Senate measure next week. 

While the House has passed nine of the 12 annual spending bills, the Senate spending panel is still working on getting the bills to the floor. 

The Capitol is bracing for a spending fight next month when Congress will have to pass a short-term spending extension before the end of September, or the federal government would shut down due to a lack of authority to access funds.

Top $ earmarks

Cortez Masto’s and Rosen’s fiscal year 2022 earmarks lists were identical. 

Both sought $31.6 million—the largest sought of the 71 projects—to pave a 24-mile road from the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe's reservation to the Eureka County line. The tribe is located in the Railroad Valley in the northern tip of Nye County. 

Ely would receive the second-highest amount requested. The Ely Downtown Upgrade Project would receive $26 million. The project, led by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), includes improving most storm drains to NDOT design standards and installing a major storm drain from the Courthouse Park to where Murry Creek crosses the railroad. The project would help mitigate flooding.

Another $14 million would go to the County Road 34 Rehabilitation in Washoe. The project would rehabilitate 14 total miles of roadway in the rural portion of northern Washoe County to support economic growth in the region, local communities and the annual Burning Man festival. 

The two senators called for $7.2 million to design a 240-room dormitory at Nellis Air Force Base. Future appropriations would fund construction. The additional housing will help with a housing shortage for junior enlisted airmen at Nellis.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office was also in line to get $6 million to design and equip a new infirmary to provide medical and mental health treatment. 

Churchill County would receive $5 million to construct a new rural road with water and sewer infrastructure that would connect the commercial center of Fallon to the Coleman Road Development project.

DRI, UNR, UNLV

The Desert Research Institute (DRI), the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, would receive $8 million from three separate requests. 

One request seeks $5 million for research to protect Lake Tahoe. The Sustaining Recreation and Healthy Ecosystems at Lake Tahoe Project is a joint project between the DRI and UNR to fund research to create a long-term sustainable recreation program that can guide future management decisions and reduce the anthropogenic impacts in and around Lake Tahoe.

Another $2 million is sought for the DRI Geoengineering Project. It would allow the DRI to expand its research in climate geoengineering-a field focused on applying engineering to seek solutions to climate change. 

The third request would provide $1 million for DRI's Leeside Risks Initiative. The project would assess extreme winter storm risks to mountain and leeside communities, which sit on the east side of major mountain ranges. The research would be used to develop a common set of tools, models and modes of engagement to help emergency planners assess extreme storm risks and implement mitigation actions in leeside rural and urban communities in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the Pacific Northwest.

UNR would receive $4.5 million for two projects, including $3.1 for the school of medicine to establish a state toxicological laboratory that would provide drug testing, confirmation and consultation to public health and public safety agencies.

The senators are seeking another $1.37 million to create an agricultural center in Fallon, which would increase research and food production capabilities in the region. The facility would allow for research activities related to developing new varietals and growing techniques to improve food production and processing under changing climatic conditions.

UNLV was poised to receive $4.6 million for four projects, including $2 million for the dental school to create an outpatient dental clinic devoted to patients with advanced care needs.

Another $1.56 would go to the medical school to acquire two mobile clinics to expand care to the medically underserved in the community. UNLV is also seeking $550,000 to obtain a scanning electron microscope to provide high-resolution images for rapid assessment of the characters and phases in a material.

Half a million was requested for UNLV to purchase a Micro-CT scanner, which uses a 3D imaging technique to allow researchers to see the inside of an object. The technology is critical to researchers studying tissue and organs, composite materials, batteries, and other related items.

Miscellany

Along with $7.2 million to design a 240 room dormitory at Nellis, Creech Air Force Base would receive $4.1 million for two projects. 

Creech would get $2.2 million to design a 44,035 square foot indoor fitness center. The center would provide “a key quality of life improvement from the stressors of the Creech mission, ensure Airmen maintain physical fitness, and positively impact retention and readiness,” the request said.

The senators requested $3.06 million for erosion control of the lower Wash. The Las Vegas Wash is a 12-mile channel that connects the Colorado River to Lake Mead. Erosion control structures will protect existing infrastructure, restore surrounding wetlands and improve drinking water quality for the Southern Nevada region. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) also made the same request. 

The two also requested $4 million for North Las Vegas to replace all street lights with LED bulbs, about 26,500 bulbs. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) requested and secured $12 million for the LED conversion in the House-approved transportation infrastructure bill.

The Nevada System of Higher Education would get $2.66 million for a mental health care pilot project. The pilot will focus on three service areas: crisis hotlines/online resources, additional and targeted personnel and training, workshop development, and information. The funds would also be used to conduct a systemwide assessment of mental health services.

Nevada State College in Henderson would receive $4.1 million for three projects. Nearly $2 million would expand mental health and wellness services and $1.6 million would go to establish an inclusive preschool program for three to five-year-olds. Another $648,000 would allow the college's Nursing Technology Enhancement Project to fund technology enhancements, including training models that use simulation scenarios and virtual reality and give students real-time feedback. 

The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) was tapped to receive $315,000, including $223,000 to equip CSN's Advanced Manufacturing Lab and an eLearning Library. Another $92,000 would be used to purchase lab equipment for a new training facility at the CSN's Sahara West Center campus.

.For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

At annual Tahoe summit, lawmakers offer dire warning, hope about lake’s future

The growing threat of catastrophic wildfires blazing across the West and the resulting detrimental effects, such as hazardous air quality, were top of mind for Nevada and California leaders gathered on a slightly hazy shore Thursday morning for the 25th annual Lake Tahoe Summit. 

Before speakers launched into remarks on climate change, wildfires, infrastructure and legislation aimed at preserving the popular year-round tourist destination, Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California Chairman Serrell Smokey began with a prayer. 

“We’re in a changing world right now,” he said. “The waters are low. We pray for snow. We pray for better weather, we pray for better change to come … We have a lot of fires going on around right now, a lot of areas being wiped out. We pray for restoration, we pray for regrowth and new beginnings.” 

The air quality across the Tahoe region was labeled as “moderate” on Thursday as the Caldor Fire, which is zero percent contained and has scorched more than 65,000 acres, burns less than 100 miles from the southern shore of the lake. While favorable winds provided some relief during the event, a huge plume of smoke from the fire caused the region’s air quality to plummet to hazardous levels earlier this week. 

“We know that fires and drought and sky-high temperatures are already taking a toll on Lake Tahoe’s people and their plants and their animals,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). 

Elected officials offered solutions against the backdrop of discouraging trends for the lake during the annual event that brings together bistate leadership to collaborate on preservation efforts. 

According to the 2021 State of the Lake report published by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the region’s annual average temperature increased by more than 3 degrees last year to 58 degrees. The area saw diminished snowpack and increased rain, with annual precipitation below average at 20 inches. Snow made up less than 50 percent of the precipitation average last year. 

The precipitation data shows a break in a prior four-year trend of average or above-average levels. 

As a result, the lake’s water levels fell by two feet last year. In the report, researchers said it’s likely that the lake will fall below its natural rim for the first time in a decade by October, at which point the water will stop flowing to the Truckee River. The river delivers 80 percent of all drinking water to Reno and Sparks residents and is the main water source for Pyramid Lake. 

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the evidence of climate change all around us,” Cortez Masto said, “but standing here today, we can also see clear reasons for hope.” 

UNR President Brian Sandoval, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto(D-NV), Sen. Jacky Rosen(D-NV), Gov. Steve Sisolak, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) gathered at the annual Lake Tahoe Summit on August 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto/The Nevada Independent).

Tahoe preservation efforts in legislation  

Sisolak, Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) highlighted the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, recently approved by the Senate and awaiting a vote in the House, focused on roads, transit, airports and broadband, plus other legislation that provides funding for programs aimed at preserving the Tahoe region. 

Cortez Masto said the infrastructure bill includes millions of dollars for environmental protection, habitat restoration programs and wildfire management. She’s also spearheading efforts to extend the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, saying the coming 2024 expiration could be “devastating” to the lake.

Rosen said the funding from the infrastructure bill will help address road and trail repairs, “making [Tahoe] more accessible for everybody.” 

In addition to the environmental protection programs, the measure requires coordination between federal, state, local and private groups, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. 

The original bill was approved in 2000, authorizing $300 million in federal funds for a decade-long effort to clean up the lake. The legislation expired in 2010 and wasn’t reauthorized until 2016. 

The effort to extend the legislation is widely supported by public and private Tahoe groups, such as the regional planning agency and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, and all six members of Nevada’s congressional delegation. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the keynote speaker at the summit, pointed to the Biden administration’s “30 by 30” goal to restore and conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and ocean by 2030. 

“It’s a vision that recognizes that nature offers some of the most cost-effective ways to address the climate crisis that we need to do to stem the steep loss of nature and wildlife,” said Haaland, who is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe in New Mexico. “And that we need to address the inequitable access to the outdoors for communities of color.” 

Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and the first to serve as a U.S. cabinet secretary, said the initiative supports ranchers, farmers and private landowners while honoring the sovereignty of tribes and elevating Indigenous-led conservation efforts. 

Nevada lawmakers also approved a “30 by 30” resolution during this year’s legislative session. 

The cabinet secretary added that the Department of Interior is taking steps to hire more firefighters and convert more than 500 seasonal firefighters into permanent career positions this year. The Biden administration also announced earlier this week that federal firefighters will receive a pay raise starting next week. 

Members of a crew from the East Fork Fire Protection District during a press event with Governor Steve Sisolak and California Governor Gavin Newsom on Penrod Court in Douglas County on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The next 25 years 

Many of the state leaders who spoke during the summit pointed to the future, prompting listeners to think about the state of the Tahoe region in 25 years. 

Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) compared the lake to a scrapbook that keeps records of human and geological activity. 

“What will the lake record of us?” he said. “Failure is an option. This lake will record the highest temperatures … and then literally the destruction of this lake … if we fail to have the courage to step forward.” 

While all-time high tourism levels boost the $5 billion Tahoe economy, it also increases trash, pollution and at times overwhelms local infrastructure. A 2018 study for the Tahoe Prosperity Center reported that the region sees as many as 24 million visitors each year. 

Lake clarity, which is used as a factor to determine the health of the lake, decreases during the peak tourism months, according to researchers. 

Measured by the depth at which a white disk can be seen, clarity levels were best in February 2020 at 80 feet and least clear in May at 50 feet. When researchers from UC Davis first began monitoring clarity levels in 1968, the white disk could be seen at 102 feet deep. The clarity restoration target is 97.4 feet. 

As Tahoe continues to face abundant environmental threats caused by climate change and increased tourism, leaders at the summit urged one another to do more to protect the lake. 

Summit host Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) said he visited the region with his children in 2017, emphasizing the opportunity and obligation to ensure visiting the region will be possible for the next 25 years and beyond. 

“But scientists and environmental experts continue to remind us that our window to do so is closing,” Padilla said. “Time is of the essence.”

How NV Energy pushed Sisolak, other Nevada leaders to back union leader’s candidacy for federal energy regulator

In early June, a top lobbyist for NV Energy reached out to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office with a request.

The ask was straightforward: Would the governor be willing to send a letter in support of longtime International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers attorney Tom Dalzell, one of the finalists for a soon-to-open spot on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission board?

The request had resonance beyond Nevada. President Joe Biden’s pending appointment to FERC — the top federal regulator of electric and natural gas transmission and sales — is hotly anticipated among many energy and environmental groups because it will break the current 3-2 Republican majority on the regulatory agency. (The nominee will replace Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee).

A report in Politico from last month indicated that Dalzell, along with two-time Washington state lawmaker Maria Duaime Robinson and Washington D.C. utilities regulator Willie Phillips, are on Biden’s shortlist for the position. The vacancy has drawn intense interest from environmental groups, as slim Democratic majorities in Congress likely mean that FERC may end up paying a “pivotal role” in implementing Biden’s climate change policies.

Union groups, including the AFL-CIO and IBEW, have rallied around Dalzell as their preferred pick — even as progressive groups and environmental advocacy groups have questioned his support for renewable policies and his ties to large electric companies including PG&E and NV Energy. Dalzell spent 15 years as business manager of IBEW 1245, which is based in California and represents about 600 NV Energy employees in Northern Nevada.

According to emails obtained through a public records request by The Nevada Independent, longtime NV Energy lobbyist Tony Sanchez emailed a top Sisolak advisor, Scott Gilles, on June 9 noting that Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen had sent letters in support of Dalzell to the White House in recent weeks and wondered if the governor “would consider doing the same.” 

Cortez Masto’s office confirmed that the senator had sent a letter in support of Dalzell to the White House; Rosen’s office did not return a request for comment. Sanchez also forwarded a similar letter of support from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After some back and forth, Gilles forwarded a letter of support from Sisolak to Sanchez — touting Dalzell as having “exceptional leadership, an innovative approach to making decisions about our energy future and a steadfast commitment to diversity and empowering the next generation.”

A spokeswoman for Sisolak did not return a request for comment on the letter. NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in an email on Friday that the company believes it would be a “natural fit” for the governor to support Dalzell, given his past support for Nevada’s de-carbonization goals and his “innovative and collaborative leadership” that has “transformed the union/company relationship at NV Energy and his contributions have improved workplace safety, business efficiencies and worker interests.”

“Given Tom’s contributions to help re-shape Nevada’s energy future and his strong support of Governor Sisolak’s vision for a clean energy economy, NV Energy believed it would be a natural fit for Governor Sisolak to provide a letter of support for Tom,” she said in an email on Friday. “NV Energy is proud to support Tom.”

Despite being based in California, Dalzell has ties in the Nevada political world. He was listed as a co-chair of the Coalition to Defeat Question 3, the political action committee largely funded by NV Energy that opposed a 2018 ballot question opening up the state’s electric market to retail choice. He was also pictured with Sisolak at a union-hosted event for candidates ahead of the 2018 election.

Several environmental groups — who take interest in FERC because the agency oversees natural gas pipeline permitting — have opposed Dalzell’s candidacy. The left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research criticized Dalzell’s connections with PG&E and efforts opposing municipalization efforts in San Francisco and West Sacramento. 

The group also highlighted his and IBEW’s opposition to a California bill that would have required a halt to fossil fuel use by 2017 — saying “We have a parochial self-interest in this” — and a 2017 op-ed Dalzell penned in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting the importance of natural gas during periods of peak demand.

“Those trusted to make crucial decisions throughout the federal government must have proven independence from the corporate entities they are tasked with regulating,” the group wrote in a blog post.

Last week, a group of more than 460 environmental and energy justice groups issued a public letter to the Biden administration urgining the administration to appoint a FERC commissioner who is “concerned about FERC’s legacy of prioritizing projects over people, has the courage to apply an equity and justice lens to their work, and will be accountable to the people and communities that are disproportionately harmed by the energy industry.” It named three possible candidates; the list did not include Dalzell.

Dalzell stepped down from IBEW leadership in December 2020, ending a four-decade career as one of the union’s lead negotiators, representing the union in more than 300 arbitrations and leading all negotiations with PG&E since 2001. He lives in Berkeley, and has written at least three books on American slang.

Reporter Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

Indy DC Download: Senate Democrats lay the groundwork to pass $3.5 trillion soft infrastructure spending package

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The U.S. Senate approved a budget plan that called for drafting a $3.5 trillion package mainly focused on social safety net programs after the chamber passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill targeting roads, transit, airports and broadband. 

The so-called budget resolution passed on a party-line 50 to 49 vote Wednesday morning and directed congressional committees to turn the spending framework into legislation by mid-September. The bipartisan package was approved Tuesday, 69 to 30. 

The Senate spending blueprint calls for $3.5 trillion legislation to include provisions for universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; free community college for two years; funding for drought, wildfire, and Interior Department investments; green cards for millions of immigrant workers and families and border security technology.

The resolution also calls on the Senate Finance Committee to write its section to raise taxes on corporations and high-income individuals while cutting taxes for those earning less than $400,000 a year. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), a member of the tax panel, said she believes the legislation could be historic and help boost] middle class as the economy recovers from the pandemic.  

“It will be, if we get it right...the biggest tax cut in a generation,” Cortez Masto said in a brief interview Tuesday.  

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also highlighted tax benefits in the spending blueprint, including extending enhancements to the child tax credit, the earned income tax credits and the child and dependent care tax credit enacted in March.

“The legislation also outlines plans to support hard-working families in Nevada and across our nation by cutting taxes for working families, by extending the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and also by establishing a first-ever federal paid family and medical leave benefit,” Rosen said in a release.

Rosen, chair of a congressional panel focused on boosting travel and tourism, also recently said that she is eyeing the $3.5 trillion package as a vehicle to help the industry.

“There isn't a state in this nation that doesn't have somewhere beautiful and wonderful to go visit,” Rosen said in a brief interview, adding that it is likely among the top five economic drivers in every state “in some form or fashion.”

“It's important to all of us...and I hope to play a big role,” Rosen said.

Their comments came as former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, said Wednesday that he does not intend to announce a run for Senate against Cortez Masto at his Basque Fry on Saturday.

“No plans to announce anything at the Basque Fry,” Laxalt told Las Vegas-based radio host Kevin Wall. “It's a state PAC event, and it’s focused on these great speakers and what they’ve got to tell our great voters across the state.” 

But he also did not rule out announcing a run for higher office at some point.

"You know, it's so humbling to have people come up every day and ask me to get back in the arena and represent them," Laxalt said when asked about his plans. "People feel like there's no one representing them either in the state or in the country, frankly. There are so few leaders that are standing up and so that means a lot to me." 

“But I've got a young family, an eight-year-old, a five-year-old and a three-year-old and, you know, we've just got a lot on our plate so these are not easy decisions,” he continued. “I don't take them lightly, but I'm certainly very concerned about the direction our country's headed.”

The House to return

Following the Senate action on the budget bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will bring the U.S. House back from the recess the week of Aug. 23 to vote on the Senate budget and on voting rights legislation. 

The House needs to pass the same budget resolution as the Senate to invoke reconciliation, a budget process that allows the Senate to pass revenue and spending legislation on a simple majority. That would allow Senate Democrats to avoid a filibuster of the $3.5 trillion social safety net package.

Pelosi now faces the challenge of winning over enough Democrats to pass the Senate budget measure. She can lose no more than three Democrats and still pass the legislation if all Republicans vote no.  

The speaker has said she would not hold a vote on the bipartisan bill until the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is passed, a strategy progressives and some other Democrats have urged her to employ.

Pelosi reiterated that plan on a call with Democrats Wednesday, noting that support for both bills is intertwined. 

“The votes in the House and Senate depend on us having both bills,” Pelosi said on the call, according to reports.

But Friday, a group of nine House Democrats, moderates mostly from swing congressional districts, wrote to Pelosi threatening to vote against the budget unless the House first votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. They are all members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of 28 Democrats and 28 Republicans who look to work across party lines. 

There is a similar split between Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), but it’s unclear whether either would be willing to vote against the bipartisan bill or the budget.  

Titus is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and she helped draft and pass the $760 billion infrastructure bill approved by the House in July.

She’s raised concerns that the bipartisan bill does not do enough to address climate change and over the $20 million in funding for specific projects in her district that she secured in the House bill.

“This bill does fall short of addressing some of the most pressing issues facing us at this moment,” Titus said in a release. 

On Monday, she signed a letter that took issue with $7.5 billion for electric vehicle (EV) charging in the bipartisan infrastructure package and instead called for $85 billion. The letter argued that the move would create jobs and help reduce carbon pollution.

Lee, on the other hand, also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, signed a letter Tuesday calling on the speaker to hold an immediate vote on the bipartisan bill, which is similar to legislation introduced by the Problem Solvers in June. 

But Lee notably did not sign onto the Friday letter threatening not to support the budget resolution.

Divisions are also emerging among Senate Democrats over the $3.5 trillion package.

After the budget was approved, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he is not comfortable with the reconciliation bill's $3.5 trillion price tag.

“Given the current state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession — not an economy that is on the verge of overheating,” Manchin said in a release

Vote-a-rama

With consideration of the budget, the Senate launched into its vote-a-rama beginning Tuesday afternoon and ending about 4:00 a.m. Wednesday. 

The vote-a-rama comes when the budget gets considered on the Senate floor and members are permitted to offer an unlimited number of amendments to the spending blueprint. The amendments are non-binding as the budget is a spending guide and does not become law.

It’s typically used by the parties to generate fodder for political attack ads. 

Senate Republicans, who have targeted Cortez Masto in her 2022 re-election bid, forced votes on amendments relating to defunding the police, the green new deal, critical race theory and a host of other issues.

But first, she had dueling amendments with Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the minority whip, over a White House proposal to repeal a tax break on inherited assets that have appreciated, including property. 

The break allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains on the appreciation. The rule is known as stepped-up basis, as the cost basis of an inherited asset is “stepped up” to its value at the time of the owner’s death instead of at the time of purchase by the original owner. 

Cortez Masto offered an amendment that called for an exemption for family farms, ranches, and small businesses from losing the exemption if it’s repealed. It failed 50 to 49. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was the only Democrat to join with all Republicans to vote against the amendment. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are committed to protecting these family-owned businesses while ensuring that the top one percent of corporations pay their fair share,” Cortez Masto said on the floor.

Thune’s amendment called for preserving the inheritance tax policy as is. It passed 99 to 0. 

Her office said she backed the amendment because she doesn’t want small ranches and the like to be adversely affected by a blanket repeal.

Cortez Masto voted with all other 98 senators in favor of an amendment calling for reducing federal funding for local jurisdictions that defund the police. (Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) missed the vote-a-rama to be with his wife, who is undergoing cancer treatment.)

She voted with all other 98 senators calling for the prohibition of enacting the Green New Deal.

She joined all but one Democrat opposing an amendment that called for prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in pre-kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools.

Miscellany

Laxalt was also critical of the Democratic agenda, which includes the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and the broader $3.5 trillion safety net measure.

“Here there was an opportunity to legitimately pass a very narrow, pure infrastructure bill,” Laxalt said. “Americans aren't stupid. They can't change these definitions. They're trying to, and the media, of course, is helping them by not pointing out that the infrastructure bill is anything but infrastructure.” 

“I hope that people are seeing and I hope that people understand that they simply do partisan politics, they push their agenda,” Laxalt continued.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will likely be touted by Senate Democrats and Republicans on the campaign trail. Nineteen Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), backed the bill. 

“I’ve never felt that we ought to be perceived as being opposed to everything,” McConnell told The Washington Post after the measure passed.

The Senate GOP support came despite calls from former President Donald Trump for Republicans to oppose the bill. It’s unclear how many, if any, House Republicans will back the measure.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the Census Bureau released data to kick out the decennial redrawing of congressional districts. 

The data showed an increase in the Latinos population in Clark and Washoe Counties, which reflected the trend nationally.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2702 A bill to protect the voting rights of Native American and Alaska Native voters.

S.2688 A bill to require consultations on reuniting Korean Americans with family members in North Korea.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2700 A bill to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to improve the detection, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues among public safety officers, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2702 A bill to protect the voting rights of Native American and Alaska Native voters.

Senate sends bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to House

Photo of the U.S Capitol

Nevada would receive $2.5 billion for highways, $225 million to repair and replace bridges and $462 million for transit under the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the U.S. Senate Tuesday, according to a White House analysis of the spending

The bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed 69 to 30, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats. 

That vote echoed the tally of the vote Sunday night to limit debate, which was approved 68 to 29, easily clearing the 60 vote threshold to bring the measure to a final vote.

Both Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), one of the 22 senators—11 Democrats and 11 Republicans—who drafted the bill, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) praised the measure.

“I’m proud to see that our bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has passed the United States Senate,” Rosen said in a release. “This comprehensive and critical legislation will allow us to make historic investments in our communities through infrastructure."

Cortez Masto said that the measure "will create good union jobs all across Nevada by making historic investments in Nevada’s economy - from transportation and infrastructure to broadband."

But the bill is getting mixed reviews in the U.S. House, which underscores the challenge for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She can lose no more than three Democrats and still pass the legislation if all Republicans vote no.  

For example, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) signed a letter Monday that took issue with $7.5 billion for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in the package and instead called for $85 billion. The letter argued that the move would create jobs and help reduce carbon pollution.

“By making an $85 billion investment in zero-emission charging infrastructure that will last decades, we can employ tens of thousands of Americans, all while supporting the massive adoption of clean transportation options,” the letter said.

Progressives—including Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee—have also raised concerns about the policies in the bill, including that they don’t do enough to address climate change. DeFazio also signed the letter.

Meanwhile, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), a member of the bipartisan group known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, has praised the measure because it follows the contours of a proposal the Problem Solvers released in June.

“We were ground zero for the pandemic,” Lee said at a press conference earlier this month in support of the bill. “We are ground zero for the effects of climate change dealing with the megadrought in the West. But most importantly we are ground zero for the economic opportunity in this bill.”

Other funding for the state includes $38 million over five years to expand Nevada’s EV charging network. The state could also apply for up to $2.5 billion in EV charging grant funds provided in the bill.

For broadband, Nevada would receive at least $100 million to help improve and expand broadband coverage for the roughly 123,822 residents who lack internet access at broadband speed, according to the White House’s count.

The measure also includes the Affordability Connectivity Benefit provision to help low-income families afford internet access. The White House estimates that 825,000 people,  or 26 percent of Nevadans, will be eligible for the benefit. 

Overall, the legislation would provide $$550 billion in new funds, with the remainder coming from previously appropriated pandemic relief. The $550 billion includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $39 billion for transit and $25 billion for airports. The plan would also provide $65 billion for broadband and $7.5 billion for electric EV infrastructure.

Following passage of the bill, the Senate will take up the budget resolution, which will require relevant congressional committees to draft a $3.5 trillion measure full of Democratic priorities that Republicans oppose. 

The draft of the Senate resolution, released Monday, includes provisions for universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; free community college for two years; funding for drought, wildfire, and Interior Department investments; green cards for millions of immigrant workers and families and border security technology.

The budget process, known as reconciliation, allows the Senate to pass the package on a simple majority vote. 

Pelosi has said she would not vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate approves the reconciliation measure. Making the bills contingent on one another could help her win the requisite votes to pass both packages. 

Indy DC Download: The U.S. Senate is close to approving a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill

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The U.S. Senate is on the verge of passing a massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and will soon begin working on a budget blueprint that will trigger a process to allow Senate Democrats to pass a filibuster-proof $3.5 trillion bill to beef up the social safety net. 

In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), one of the 22 Democratic and GOP senators who negotiated and drafted the measure, praised the group's work. 

 "It's not hyperbole to say that our bipartisan bill will be the most significant investment in American infrastructure since we built the interstate highway system," Rosen said.

The legislation, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, would provide $$550 billion in new funds, with the remainder coming from money already appropriated for pandemic relief. The $550 billion includes $110 for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $39 billion for transit and $25 billion for airports. The plan would also provide $65 billion for broadband and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure.

For Nevada, the measure would provide $2.5 billion for highways and $225 million for bridge repair and replacement over five years, according to a breakdown of the spending from the White House. For transit, the state would receive $462 million over five years. 

The state would also receive $38 million over five years to expand Nevada’s EV charging network and could apply for up to $2.5 billion in EV charging grant funds provided in the bill.

With regard to broadband, Nevada is poised to receive at least $100 million to help improve and expand broadband coverage.

According to the White House, the state currently has at least 123,822 residents who lack internet access at broadband speed. Under the bill, 825,000 or 26 percent of Nevadas will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. 

Despite the Senate closing in on passing the infrastructure bill—final passage could come as soon as Saturday—the U.S. House will not likely come back from its August recess to consider the bill. 

At a press conference Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) underscored her plan to wait for the Senate to pass the larger $3.5 trillion package before taking up the bipartisan measure. The larger bill would fund an extension of the child tax credit, child care, affordable housing and other Democratic priorities Republicans oppose. 

“Whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way, bravo, we salute it, we applaud it, we hope that it will pass soon,” Pelosi said. “But, at the same time, we’re not going forward with leaving people behind.” 

But first, the Senate and House must pass a budget resolution that would provide instructions to congressional committees to draft the $3.5 trillion package. The resolution would also allow the Senate to pass that measure on a simple majority, a process known as reconciliation. The Senate will take up the budget as soon as it passes the infrastructure bill.

More infrastructure

Asked about whether she believed Pelosi should act as soon as possible on the bipartisan bill, Rosen, who served one term in the House, said she’d leave the decision to the speaker.

“I've never been one to second-guess Speaker Pelosi,” Rosen said off the Senate floor Thursday. “All I can say is we're going to do our job here. We're going to send it over there and then she's going to do what she thinks is appropriate, but we need to take care of the business we have to do here first.”

Rosen Thursday also touted provisions she included in the bipartisan bill, such as the Cyber Sense Act. That's legislation she introduced to create a voluntary program at the Department of Energy to test the cybersecurity of products and technologies intended for use in the nation's primary generation and transmission infrastructure, known as the bulk power system.

Another Rosen-introduced measure added to the bipartisan package would update the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan with both immediate-term and long-term strategies. Those strategies would guide the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies on infrastructure investments to revive the travel and tourism industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also helped add language to the bill that would require DOT to consider “increasing travel and tourism” as a criterion when selecting grant fund recipients. 

As a member of the 22 drafters of the infrastructure bill, Rosen served on the working groups that drafted the broadband and airports sections and it was on those that she had the most influence, according to her office. 

Of the $65 billion for broadband, $42.45 billion would go to state broadband deployment grants to help them connect unserved and underserved communities. That provision includes a Rosen-drafted provision prioritizing contractors with a record of compliance with labor and employment laws.

Another $14.2 billion would provide a $30 a month benefit for households up to 200 percent of the poverty line and $1 billion would be used to create so-called middle-mile infrastructure to facilitate last-mile connections between the backbone of the internet and a local connection site. Rosen recently introduced an identical middle-mile bill. 

The $25 billion for airports includes $15 billion in flexible spending to allow airports to fund their key construction, expansion, upgrade, and repair projects.

Her office said that funding with few strings attached was a priority for the airports in Nevada, which will help as tourists increasingly begin to return following the pandemic. 

“This is something that she spent a lot of time on and making sure that this worked for Nevada, for our large airports,” her office noted.

Another $5 billion is designated for larger airports to help finance higher-cost terminal projects and another $5 billion would go to upgrades to the air traffic control system.

The package also included a bill Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) helped unveil in the House and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced in the Senate to address drought in western states. The bill, known as the Large Scale Water Recycling and Drought Resiliency Investment Act, would provide $750 million for a new competitive grant program within the Department of the Interior for large-scale water recycling projects.

“Southern Nevada – and the entire desert southwest – is facing an unprecedented drought that will require innovative solutions,” Lee said in a release. “This bill will pave the way for increased investment in such regional water recycling projects that will create reliable, virtually drought-proof water supplies.”

Rep Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) are co-sponsors of the measure in the House and Rosen is a co-sponsor in the Senate. 

The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote on the bill Saturday, which needs 60 votes to pass. That means that 10 Republicans would need to join with all 50 Democrats to vote to end debate on the measure. If the bill is advanced, passage could come the same day if all senators agree to expedite the process.

But it’s unclear if all would agree. Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee appeared to be the main squeaky wheel holding up an agreement on a series of amendment votes and passage of the bill Thursday night.

“I could not in good conscience allow that to happen at this hour, especially when the objective of the majority is to hurry up and pass this bill so they can move quickly to their $3.5 trillion tax-and-spend spree,” Hagerty said Thursday. 

He also cited a concern about an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that said it would add $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years. 

Not invisible 

The Department of Justice and the Department of Interior are calling for nominations to a commission to reduce crime against Native Americans and Native Alaskans. The panel was established under the Not Invisible Act, a bill introduced by Cortez Masto and signed into law in October 2020.

“The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women deserves a serious response from our government, and I’m eager to see this commission get to work to protect Natives in Nevada and across the country,” Cortez Masto said in a release. “These nominations and conversations are critical to implementing our bipartisan legislation.”

The law, also spearheaded by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), mandates the creation of a commission that includes: representatives of tribal, state, and local law enforcement; Tribal judges; health care and mental health practitioners with experience working with Indian survivors of trafficking and sexual assault; urban Indian organizations focused on violence against women and children; Indian survivors of human trafficking; and family members of missing and murdered Indian people. 

Native Americans and Alaskans are more likely to experience violence than the broader population. According to the National Institute of Justice, more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. The situation has resulted in many Native women missing, though precisely how many are unclear since most go unreported to authorities.  

The commission will hold hearings, take testimony and receive evidence in order to develop recommendations for the federal government to combat violent crime against Indians and within Indian lands. 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.2665 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to establish a grant program to incentivize small business participation in demand side management programs, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2634 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile justice questions from their application for admissions process.

S.2616 – A bill to create livable communities through coordinated public investment and streamlined requirements, and for other purposes.

S.2606 – A bill to require an unclassified interagency report on the political influence operations of the Government of the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party with respect to the United States, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2668 – A bill to require the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to provide assistance relating to broadband access, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2639 – A bill to establish a State public option through Medicaid to provide Americans with the choice of a high-quality, low-cost health insurance plan.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4922 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand the residential energy efficient property credit and energy credit, and for other purposes.

Large-scale fires, fueled by drought, have scorched thousands of acres this year, and the impacts are regional

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.

Programming note: I’m taking a few weeks off from the newsletter to focus on some reporting in the field. But don’t fear, the newsletter will be returning after Labor Day, and I will be continuing to tweet out relevant news, links and analysis. My Twitter handle is @danielrothberg.

As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at daniel@thenvindy.com

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Lisa Tobe moved to Plumas County, California in the 1990s. She stayed for about a decade, left and moved back. After she returned to the area in 2018, Tobe noticed a major change. She and her neighbors “started talking differently.” Differently when it came to extreme wildfire. 

“In the past, it would be an anomaly for us to think that much about smoke or wonder what long stretch of period [a fire] would [last] and how we'd modify how we would live,” Tobe recalled.

In July, Tobe evacuated from her home in Meadow Valley, outside the town of Quincy, nestled between forested land about 80 miles from Reno. Over the past few weeks, the Dixie Fire and Fly Fire have torn through the area, burning about 278,000 acres to date, destroying homes,  and threatening rural towns throughout the area — with only about 35 percent containment. 

Tobe had been home for one hour when she got a knock on the door from her neighbor. Just from the look on his face, she knew that county officials had put evacuation orders into effect.

“I just started kind of running around, trying to figure out what I was pulling off the walls and what I was leaving,” Tobe, who wrote an essay about the fire, said in an interview this week.

It was not the first time she had to evacuate. Nearly one year ago, Tobe evacuated for the North Complex Fire, which burned nearly 319,000 acres. As residents in the area evacuated, Tobe has thought about not only what would happen if she couldn’t return home, but also the way fire leaves a mark, how it splinters a community’s resources and energy.

 “Everyone is really trying to help each other while they're trying to help themselves,” she said.

Over the past month, fast-moving wildfires, fueled by high temperatures and drought, have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in northern California and Nevada. Fires have threatened communities, burned structures and strained resources.

Park Williams, a climate scientist at UCLA, said we are experiencing the most severe drought since at least 1895 (tree rings suggest it may be the worst drought since 1580). He said that areas with high fire activity have coincided with areas where drought and dry soils are the most severe. But increasing thirst in the atmosphere plays a role too, drying out brush and fueling wildfires. 

“During a drought everything is drier,” he said. “That makes everything more likely to burn.”

Wildfire can be a natural feature and contribute to ecosystem health. But in recent decades, climate change and forest management have contributed to a regime that is notable for extreme behavior and fast-moving megafires. In addition, many communities are situated in areas near wildlands that are at risk of burning. And each fire leaves an imprint on people and the land.

In some cases, the impacts are cumulative and cascading. When fires burn in the same place, communities feel the fatigue of evacuating, year after year, or living with intense wildfire smoke through the summer and fall. Firefighters face fatigue, too. In some cases, the destruction of entire landscapes can mean the loss of critical habitat for wildlife. The loss of habitat and changes to the soil, in turn, can lead to changes to a watershed, increasing risks of flooding and mudslides.

In the case of the Tamarack Fire, which burned into Nevada, the Carson Water Subconservancy District is closely monitoring how changes to the landscape could damage watershed health. 

The fire started in California, at the upper watershed of the Carson River, which flows through western Nevada into Fallon. Right now, everyone is in a wait-and-see mode as a Burned Area Emergency Response team assesses the post-fire landscape. Shane Fryer, a watershed program specialist, said there are concerns ranging from landslides and mudslides to sediment plumes.

“The condition and health of the watershed up there at the top is critical for Dayton, for Carson City, for Fallon, for all the communities that live below,” Fryer said. “It's not just the landscape right there. It's going to affect the entire watershed and the people that rely on that source." 

Lightning storms on July 4th ignited the Tamarack Fire, what began as a quarter-acre burn south of Lake Tahoe and quickly developed into a 68,696-acre blaze that prompted evacuation orders for communities across California, Nevada and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. The Tamarack Fire is now about 82 percent contained, but it destroyed 25 structures in Nevada and California.

For residents forced to evacuate in Nevada, fire in the area is nothing new. Communities around the U.S. 395, near Topaz Ranch Estates and Holbrook Junction, “have been impacted quite heavily by fire in the last five years,” Nevada’s state forester, Kacey KC, said in an interview this week. “They’ve been evacuated  at least three times, so they are no stranger to these fires coming over. But I’m sure that was on them mentally.”

David Fogerson, Nevada’s chief of emergency management, said the state is focusing on short and long-term recovery efforts. He said officials were first working to make sure residents could get back into their homes and that power was restored to the area. But he said an inter-agency team is also focused on landscape restoration and guarding against flooding or debris flow. 

As was the case with the Tamarack Fire, impacts from a large-scale blaze are not always limited to one county or one state. Firefighting and response is often a regional effort. 

This year, the Reno Fire Department has sent resources to the Dixie Fire, the Tamarack Fire and the Beckwourth Compex, which burned about 105,670 near the California-Nevada border.

David Cochran, the fire department’s chief, stressed the need to view the issue regionally. He said it’s important to view firefighting as a system. If a large fire ignited on land near Reno, the city would rely on help from others, as agencies elsewhere have relied on support from Reno crews this summer. 

“We have an obligation to play our role in that system,” he said. “But when the overall system is lacking in resources and needs, it just gets more challenging every year, with every fire.”

Firefighting resources are being stretched thin right now across the country. Federal fire officials have put the country at Preparedness Level 5, meaning most wildland firefighting resources are being deployed. Cochran, who was recently in Washington D.C., said that he told policymakers that firefighters need more resources, especially when it comes to personnel.

“Everything that’s available is being utilized,” Cochran said.

It’s an indicator, he said, that the “system is getting taxed earlier and longer as we go along.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak echoed these concerns last week while visiting homes damaged by the Tamarack Fire, the Associated Press reported. Sisolak called for more resources from the federal government, including “more boots on the ground.” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto recently introduced legislation aimed at wildfire prevention, suppression and recovery. 

Cortez Masto’s office said elements of that legislation, including $3.4 billion for prevention, are expected to be included in the infrastructure bill, which is going through Congress this week. 

Over the past few days, the Dixie Fire has spread rapidly north, and on Tuesday, officials on the fire had issued new evacuation orders for the area. Nearly 5,000 people are fighting the blaze. 

At a briefing Tuesday night, U.S. Forest Service Unified Incident Commander Shannon Prather said the conditions and fire characteristics would make the next few days challenging. 

“Today has been a rough day out there — no getting around that,” Prather said, “I wish I had some good news for you today, but I definitely think we have a few hard days ahead of us.”

On Wednesday, the Dixie Fire burned through the town of Greenville, California, with a population of about 800 people. The Associated Press reported that multiple structures in the town's downtown burned to the ground. 

David Fogerson, Chief of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management and Office of Homeland Security, Gov. Steve Sisolak and California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference on the Tamarack Fire in Douglas County on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Related reporting on the wildfires:

  • Dixie Fire swells in northern California, forcing residents to flee — some for a second time. (Washington Post)
  • Forest Service chief says wildfires will be suppressed, rather than ‘managed,’ for now (Wildfire Today)
  • Alpine County residents sued the feds in ‘87. Today, the Tamarack fire feels like deja vu (Reno Gazette Journal)
  • California says federal ‘let it burn’ policy is reckless as wildfires rage out of control (L.A. Times)
  • Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler asks for investigation into Tamarack Fire response (Reno Gazette Journal)
  • ‘This isn’t how we’re supposed to live:’ Residents flee as Dixie Fire surges (The New York Times)
  • Western wildfire smoke is contributing to New York City's worst air quality in 15 years (CNN)
Slide Mountain and Rifle Peak hand crews battle the Tamarack Fire in Douglas County, on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Here’s what else I’m watching this week:

A dwindling Lake Powell supply: The Review-Journal’s Blake Apgar and Chase Stevens document the immediate economic impact of low water elevations in Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir on the Colorado River system. 

Bringing water to the Colorado River delta: KUNC’s Luke Runyon produced an excellent story on ongoing efforts to reconnect the Colorado River with its delta, a partnership between Mexico, the United States and environmental groups in both countries. 

“Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country:” Powerful drought reporting from the Los Angeles Times’ Jaweed Kaleem with striking photos. 

Disclosing forever chemicals: Sen. Jacky Rosen introduced a bill, with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), requiring the Pentagon reveal testing results for PFAS, a class of compounds known as “forever chemicals.” Last year, Rosen and Cortez Masto called on the Department of Defense to share information about its research into contamination at Nellis Air Force Base. PFAS has been used by the military for firefighting foam.

Legislator receives leadership award: Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) received a “Rising Environmental Leader Award” from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. 

Something to watch: As we reported a few weeks ago, NASA is going through the process to use 22,995 acres of federal public land in Nye County (Railroad Valley). In the past few weeks, both Nye County and White Pine County have sent concerned letters to NASA and the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for overseeing federal public land. 

“U.S. land managers have begun efforts to capture about 50% more wild horses than originally planned this year because of severe drought across the U.S. West — about 6,000 additional animals primarily in Nevada, Oregon and Colorado,” the AP’s Scott Sonner reports.

San Francisco is considering rules to electrify appliances, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

A third Indigenous community seeks to join the Thacker Pass case: Last week, lawyers for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu, or The People of Red Mountain, filed a motion to halt archeological digging in the area around the planned Thacker Pass lithium mine. On Monday, a third Indigenous community, the Burns Paiute Tribe, filed a motion asking a federal court judge to join the lawsuit challenging the mine.

An environmental group said it intends to sue if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not extend Endangered Species Act protections to populations of the speckled dace that live in the Death Valley area, the Desert Sun’s Janet Wilson reports. 

An Arizona mine with wide-ranging implications: The Arizona Daily Star’s Tony Davis has closely watched the permitting of the Rosemont copper mine, and an important lawsuit for how to interpret the 1872 General Mining Law. But the mine is also consequential for how the federal government regulates ephemeral streams under the Clean Water Act. From a recent story: “The battle over Rosemont’s status under the Clean Water Act is a miniature version of a dispute over regulation of ephemeral streams that has lasted nationwide for more than 15 years.”

A former state water official filed a federal lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Clark County district attorney’s office, This is Reno’s Bob Conrad reports. The former water official, Robert Coache, went to prison on charges that involved a Southern Nevada water sale, but the Supreme Court dismissed the charges in 2019, saying there was not enough evidence. This is Reno published an in-depth piece on Coache’s case last year.