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Feds want to save sage grouse with conditions, Interior secretary says

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a meeting of Western governors Saturday in Las Vegas that the U.S. government’s goal is to find a way to save the sage grouse without having to list it as an endangered species.

Jewell was meeting with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and other state leaders who object to listing the sage grouse, arguing it would lock up hundreds of thousands of acres and harm the mining, ranching and cattle industries while changing the way of life in the Silver State.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies have been working with environmentalists and local authorities in 11 Western states to find a way to protect sage grouse habitat and preserve the species without a formal listing, Jewell said, speaking at a news conference.

She said there’s a September 2015 deadline for Fish and Wildlife to make a decision on whether to list the bird as an endangered species and set aside protected habitat for it.

“We want to create an environment where a listing is not warranted,” Jewell said. “So we’re all working with that common objective. … It truly is epic collaboration. It’s not just the sage grouse that’s at stake. It’s the Western way of life that’s at stake.”

Jewell’s comments came during a luncheon speech to a two-day winter meeting of the Western Governors Association. Sandoval, who is chairman of the association, hosted the conference at the Four Seasons.

In welcoming six fellows governors to the conference, Sandoval said the West remains a place of great opportunity and growth in the United States. As a result, he said the states are facing greater problems in providing adequate resources, from water to energy. But he said he’s confident solutions will be found if state leaders work together and with federal agencies to come up with regional fixes.

“Across the West, we continue to face growing communities and new challenges,” Sandoval said in his opening remarks. “The challenges of these new populations must be met head-on.”

Saturday’s meeting focused on energy needs, including fossil fuels and renewable resources such as wind, solar and geothermal. The governors discussed the challenge of replacing an old infrastructure with new technologies to transport energy across state lines and the country.

The governors also discussed managing lands and species in the West and how to balance the competing needs of citizens and wildlife.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz touted the Obama administration’s “all of the above energy policy,” which promotes both fossil fuel development as well as clean energy. Moniz said the goal is to have cleaner burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil to cut down on carbon emissions and to develop cheaper renewable energy sources. As costs for clean energy decrease, more Americans will turn to those sources as the world worries about greenhouse gases and climate change, he said.

“We clearly want to work with the states in all the ways that we can to keep minimizing the environmental footprints,” Moniz said.

Moniz called Nevada a leader in developing renewable energy sources but said the entire country needs to get onboard so that the United States can one day become energy independent.

Now, he said, the United States imports 7.5 million barrels of oil a day while exporting 2.5 million barrels a day in oil products.

The U.S. is investing some $6 billion and offering another $8 billion in loan guarantees to drive technologies for cleaner burning coal, he said. At the same time, the administration is investing $5 billion a year in research and development for renewable energy sources. He said an outside group of business leaders has recommended the U.S. invest three times that amount, or $15 billion, in order to spur faster clean-energy development.

On a touchy issue, Moniz said the administration still wants to develop clean nuclear energy as well, although the U.S. government hasn’t figured out a long-term solution for storing high-level nuclear waste.

Nevada has long been targeted for storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, but state officials have all but killed the plan. Sandoval, who sat next to Moniz at the meeting, has strongly opposed the proposed nuclear repository, for example.

Moniz said the administration is working on programs to recycle nuclear fuels, which is the best long-term solution, but he said the government will not force a waste site on any state, including Nevada.

Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming asked Moniz what the government planned to do about nuclear waste storage.

Moniz said a blue ribbon commission he sat on several years ago determined that it would not build a nuclear repository unless a state agreed to host such a site.

“The No. 1 thing they said is, look, we’re not going to really solve this problem on anything but a consensus-based approach,” Moniz said. “We don’t think Yucca Mountain is workable, plain and simple.”

Sandoval didn’t comment but nodded at Moniz’ conclusion.

Moniz said the solution likely would be in building a centralized dry-cast storage facility to house spent fuel reactors from plants that already have been shut down. He called it “an abomination” that spent fuel still remains around nuclear reactors that have been shuttered.

Later, after their private talk, Sandoval and Moniz issued a joint statement to emphasize agreement on Yucca.

“Secretary Moniz also reaffirmed to Governor Sandoval that the position of the Department under this Administration has been unwavering — Yucca Mountain is not a workable solution,” the joint statement said. “That has not, and will not change. The Department firmly believes in a consent-based process as a prerequisite for long-term success.”

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said she had the same concerns regarding used batteries as the electric car industry takes off.

She asked how spent batteries would be disposed of in the future.

Moniz said the administration has put a strong focus on developing recycling technologies to avoid excessive hazardous waste. He also said there’s a lab in Iowa that has $25 million in funding to study what to do about recycling items from lithium to rare Earth materials.

“We are funding R and D … to look forward to recycling these materials and diminishing waste requirements,” Moniz said.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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