Since he took office last year, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., has championed a simple bill to create hundreds of high-paying jobs in Nevada at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. It would allow the city of Yerington to purchase about 19 square miles of property controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
That land surrounds a mine being developed by Nevada Copper, an enterprise that, once fully operational, will employ up to 500 workers making an average annual salary of about $80,000. The purchase would give supporting businesses the ability to open in close proximity to the mine. Other development plans include a BMX track, an outdoor amphitheater, a solar farm and a manufacturing district.
This isn't a politically juiced land giveaway. A city is willing to pay for it, even though it shouldn't have to. There are no endangered bugs or weeds. It's a net gain to the federal treasury and a game-changer for Yerington, which eventually would see a dramatic increase in tax collections. It's a perfect example of how turning over federal land to local control can provide an economic boost.
It took an unnecessary amount of wrangling to get the bill through the Republican-controlled House. But now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is laying down his own conditions to pass a bill that would revitalize part of his own state, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 12 percent. Sen. Reid wants the creation of a nearby wilderness area as part of the deal.
"It is not a lot of wilderness area, but it is something that is important," Sen. Reid told the Reno Gazette-Journal last week after President Obama's campaign stop at Truckee Meadows Community College. "They cannot think they are going to get this thing and do nothing for the environment.
"I've been pretty good to mining and will continue to be. I have fought their battles for 30 years in Washington. And they are going to get their mining law passed, but they are going to have something environmentally in it."
Building a nearby solar farm isn't enough? Jobs and investment aren't enough? The proposed wilderness area, between Smith Valley and Bridgeport, Calif., covers about 80,000 acres - nearly eight times the size of Yerington's proposed land purchase. So in exchange for cash, jobs and economic growth, a federal government that already controls too much Western land - including more than 86 percent of Nevada - would get even more acreage. Worse, the public's ability to use and access that land would be more tightly restricted.
"We were told at the beginning that there would be some trade-off with environmentalists and conservationists," Yerington Mayor George Dini told the Gazette-Journal. "But this is not a deal that has been made. We have requested to properly research the area and see if this is workable. Nobody is committed to anything yet."
This country needs less federal land, not more. Any trade-off that worsens the current land-ownership imbalance while curtailing public access to it is a bad one. Sen. Reid needs to put Nevadans before his special-interest political allies and donors and put struggling citizens back to work. Free our public lands.