E&E news published this article today showing our Nevada representatives are stepping up to protect the Desert Refuge against this sudden betrayal.
The three Democrats in Nevada's four-member House delegation are pleading with committee chairs to reverse a controversial amendment they say would threaten 840,000 acres of federally protected land in their state.
Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford want to undo the adoption of an amendment from last week's markup of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act in the House Armed Services Committee, H.R. 6395, relating to control of Nevada's Desert National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to desert bighorn sheep and endangered Mojave desert tortoises (E&E Daily, July 2).
If they can't compel leaders to remove the offending language before the bill is set for debate on the House floor later this month, they are prepared to offer their own amendment and insist on a vote by the full legislative body — a move that would spill a parochial argument out into the public eye.
"If this matter is not addressed prior to the legislation coming to the House floor, we will file an amendment to strike these provisions," Titus, Lee and Horsford wrote in a letter yesterday to the two Democratic chairmen who have jurisdiction over the amendment: Washington Rep. Adam Smith of the Armed Services Committee and Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva of the National Resources Committee.
"We ask for your support in the Committee on Rules to ensure this amendment is made in order," they added.
The Rules Committee has set July 13 as the deadline for accepting amendments to be considered on the floor in relation to the House's version of the NDAA.
The amendment in question, offered by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, would effectively hand over control of the existing wildlife refuge to the Air Force, which operates the 2.9-million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR).
The site, located northeast of Las Vegas, is largely comprised of public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. The NTTR uses portions of the adjacent Desert National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The Bishop Amendment dictates the terms of a new memorandum of understanding that provides the Air Force with nearly limitless authority to adjudicate any disputes and relegates the Department of the Interior to merely a consultatory role," Titus, Lee and Horsford wrote in their July 8 letter.
"Should this anti-conservationist amendment become law," they continued, "in effect hundreds of thousands of acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge would no longer be a refuge at all."
In a statement to E&E News, Monica Matoush, a House Armed Services Committee spokeswoman, said that "Chairman Smith is aware of the Nevada delegation's concerns regarding the Desert Wildlife refuge, and will continue to work with stakeholders and the House Natural Resource Committee during the NDAA process to identify or make any technical edits to clarify the intent of the amendment and ensure that the Department of the Interior continues to have a lead role in managing the refuge."
The Air Force has been pushing aggressively to take control of nearly the entire 1.6-million-acre wildlife refuge, arguing that it needs the additional lands for modern warfare training (Greenwire, Nov. 4, 2019).
But the Nevada delegation publicly rejected those demands last December when it rolled out legislation that would have allowed the Air Force just an additional 100,000 acres of refuge lands and proposed to establish a 1.3-million-acre wilderness area in the state (Greenwire, Dec. 20, 2019).
Despite bicameral, bipartisan support, that legislation appeared to be put on ice last month when the Senate failed to include the measure in its own version of the fiscal 2021 NDAA.
However, the Senate Armed Service Committee's report accompanying its recently passed defense bill explicitly outlined its "disappointment" with "the lack of engagement conducted to date by the Air Force" on this issue, recommending the Air Force work with local leaders and stakeholders, including Native American tribes, to find common ground on use of the wildlife refuge.
In addition, the Senate NDAA included an amendment from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) to create "intergovernmental executive committees" at both the NTTR and a similar facility at Naval Air Station Fallon near Reno.
"These committees would allow local, state and tribal governments to publicly discuss the management of natural and cultural resources within lands withdrawn for military purposes," Cortez Masto's spokeswoman Lauren Wodarski told E&E News.
So when Bishop's proposal was adopted in the House committee as part of a bloc of other unrelated amendments, the Nevada congressional delegation and environmental activists in the state were stunned — and furious. They were completely caught off guard.
"We weren't consulted at all," Titus told The Nevada Independent. "It was a surprise to us."
The Silver State's sole Republican member agreed. "We weren't involved in it at all," Rep. Mark Amodei told the publication.
A source who participated in a discussion with members of the Nevada delegation this week told E&E News that the state's Democratic House members were "hopping mad" over the amendment's adoption.
"The decision to allow this amendment to be included in this legislation, without consulting the members of Nevada's Congressional Delegation, is particularly concerning," Titus, Lee and Horsford wrote to Smith and Grijalva.
A spokesman for Grijalva did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Bishop's spokesman declined to comment.
A House congressional aide told E&E News that Bishop's amendment "ensures that tribes and refuge personnel who currently cannot access the parts of the refuge that overlap the Nevada Test and Training Range, will be able to enter into an agreement with the Air Force to access it for the purposes of refuge and cultural resource management. "
In addition, the amendment develops a new management framework that gives stakeholders a mechanism for all parties to work through issues of mutual interest related to the range.
"This structure has been successful in other locations where natural resources and military training ranges are co-located," the aide continued, while adding that "the FY21 NDAA amendment continues the applicability of the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act of the Military Land Withdrawals Act of 1999 to the Desert Wildlife Refuge and Nevada Test and Training Range."
On the Senate side, Wodarski said Cortez Masto "will continue to do all she can in the Senate to protect the important mission of the Nevada Test and Training Range while also ensuring that the voices of all Nevadans are consulted in the process."