U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s Friday announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2016 left many Nevadans wondering what the future holds for the Silver State after its most powerful voice at home and in Washington passes from the scene.
In ways big and small, Reid was known to bring home the bacon for Nevada projects he liked — and to work tirelessly to kill those he did not.
Here’s a look at Reid’s role in key Nevada issues, and what the future may hold without him:
Reid’s announcement sets off a 22-month race between those who hope he can drive the final nails into the coffin of Yucca Mountain before he leaves, and those who see an opportunity to revive the mothballed nuclear waste project after his departure, or even before.
Making use of his seniority and clout, Reid almost singlehandedly relegated the proposed industrial site and underground disposal system for radioactive material to the dustbin of history. On Friday, he repeated that “Yucca Mountain is dead,” a disposal plan now outdated and too expensive to revive.
The emergence of Republican majorities on both sides of Congress has sparked talk of a Yucca comeback but it remains to be seen whether that has legs or is merely a dead-cat bounce.
“I can well imagine somebody deciding that money should be spent for the license to go forward,” opening years of new technical battles and litigation, said Mary Olson, Southeast director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an environmental advocacy group.
“We are ready, willing and able to go more rounds on this,” Olson said.
But without Reid, she said, “We’ll have to go to 10,000 hammers instead of one.”
David Blee, executive director of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, said Reid may be tested anew on Yucca Mountain before he leaves office.
“He’s been a polarizing force on the nuclear energy front,” Blee said. “The way he has operated was by sheer power. The fact he is a lame-duck leader is going to have a bearing.”
Bob Halstead, director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the state will maintain a vigorous fight against a project it views as unsafe and threatening to the Nevada economy.
“Sen. Reid’s announcement does not change the state’s strategy on legal and regulatory matters and it does not change our chances of winning on the safety issues” in any license proceeding, Halstead said.
WATER AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Reid used his clout in Washington to help keep water flowing to constituents and money flowing to water agencies back home.
“Sen. Reid has been a champion for water issues not only in Southern Nevada but across the state,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Entsminger said Reid’s “seminal” achievement for water and the environment in the state was the 1998 passage of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. The legislation, since attacked by critics as classic pork-barrel politics, freed federal land for sale to developers and directed the proceeds to state-level conservation and other initiatives.
Ten percent of that money was earmarked for new water infrastructure to serve the growing community. To date, the authority’s share of SNPLMA totals roughly $288 million.
Reid has also pushed legislation to protect Lake Tahoe, settle disputes on the Walker and Truckee rivers, untangle lawsuits blocking conservation work on the Colorado River, and, most recently, pump federal money into a pilot project aimed at keeping more water in Lake Mead.
Entsminger doesn’t expect Reid’s focus on water to change over the next 22 months.
“I think we can count on the senator to continue to call attention to the drought on the river and in California,” he said.
As for life after Reid, the valley’s top water manager remains hopeful that Nevada’s loss of political clout won’t hurt its standing on the Colorado River.
Conservationists had a strong ally in Reid.
The 22,650-acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument became a reality in December, when President Barack Obama signed legislation protecting the fossil-rich area that Reid had championed.
He also had a hand in designating millions of acres as wilderness.
Reid’s role extended well beyond Nevada. He also took a strong stance against efforts to weaken or scrap the federal Antiquities Act, which allows the president to declare an area a national monument without congressional approval.
“I am certain that after the announcement phones were ringing among conservationists about Sen. Reid’s announcement of retirement,” said Lynn Davis, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association’s Nevada field office. “There is no question this reverberated not only among Nevadans, but also among conservationists around the country.”
Conservationists hope Reid’s successor will inherit his approach of getting all parties at the table on public lands issues.
Reid may also leave some unfinished business, including legislation to designate 350,000 acres in Gold Butte northeast of Las Vegas as a national conservation area. The vast swath of land has petroglyphs, sandstone ridges and shuttered mine sites. Republicans in Congress oppose the designation, but longtime conservationist John Hiatt said he wouldn’t be surprised if Reid uses the coming 22 months to end-run his opposition.
“It could happen,” Hiatt said. “It could be designated as a national monument by the president. I’m sure that’s still in his bag of tricks.”
The American Gaming Association told its members Friday the casino industry can’t wait until Reid’s last day in Washington to find a “new champion.”
A few hours after Reid’s announcement, AGA CEO Geoff Freeman sent a missive touting Reid’s leadership, but also addressed key imperatives with the pending retirement.
Freeman said one person can’t replicate Reid’s efforts.
“This is going to take 30 people to protect and promote the industry,” Freeman said. “We can always count on the Nevada delegation, but it’s also time for champions to emerge from other gaming states, such as Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and Illinois. There are 1.7 million jobs tied to gaming and we need to protect those jobs.”
During Reid’s 2010 re-election campaign, MGM Resorts International executives credited him with saving the financially troubled CityCenter development and the 22,000 construction and resort jobs associated with the project. Reid used his influence as Senate majority leader to help keep the CityCenter’s financial backers from walking away from the Strip development during the financial industry’s meltdown.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Abboud agreed with Freeman’s assessment.
“I think it spreads out among several people,” Abboud said. “He was the most respected member in either the House or the Senate on gaming issues. In that regards, he’s irreplaceable.”
Freeman said Reid helped “transform gaming” into today’s industry. But with casinos in 40 states, the stakeholders have grown.
“Sen. Reid has been an instrumental champion of gaming and it will require a much larger group of casino proponents to rival his passion and effectiveness,” Freeman said.
On Friday, Reid indicated during an interview on KNPR’s State of Nevada that he “wouldn’t stand in the way” of the Senate considering legislation that would ban online gaming during his final months in office.
Luz Marina Mosquera, director at Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional in Las Vegas, said Reid’s retirement could have an impact on immigration reform.
Mosquera credits Reid with playing a role President Barack Obama’s actions on immigration, such as his November executive action that would prevent millions of people in the country illegally from being deported. In 2012, Obama also used his executive power to allow young people in the country illegally, known as DREAMers, to stay and work in the country without fear of deportation.
Reid was always pressing for immigration reform, Mosquera said.
“He was someone who aside from representing us as Nevada, he was advocating for immigrants,” she said Friday. “We all got very sad. Now who is going to help us? We are no longer going to have him there for our state and for our immigrant community.”
And the work on immigration is not done.
“The battle continues,” she said. “The battle isn’t done.”
Southern Nevada transportation leaders say they’ll continue to enjoy the relationship they’ve had with other members of Nevada’s congressional delegation, but the loss of Reid and his seniority will make securing infrastructure funding a little harder.
Tom Skancke, a member of the Nevada Transportation board and an advocate for a high-speed rail network, said state officials probably won’t realize until he’s gone how valuable Reid has been as an advocate for state projects.
“His influence will be substantially missed,” Skancke said. “He’s been an advocate for infrastructure of all kinds throughout his career and he’s been a supporter of high-speed rail for more than 30 years. It’s not going to be easy to fill those shoes.”
In an interview aired by Nevada Public Radio on Friday, Reid said he’s still hopeful that he could help secure a Federal Railroad Administration loan for construction of a high-speed line between Southern California and Las Vegas. But if it doesn’t happen by September, he said, “I’m afraid we’ve lost it.”
Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, said Reid has been an example for other members of the state’s congressional delegation on how to advocate on behalf of a constituency on transportation matters.
“It’s going to be a big loss,” Quigley said. “But regardless of your politics, you can’t deny that Harry Reid brought millions of transportation dollars to Southern Nevada throughout his career.”
Quigley said Reid and four other members of the delegation will be speakers at next month’s groundbreaking for the I-11 Boulder City Bypass project. Noting the support and help from other members of the delegation, Quigley said, “We’ll be in good hands.”
Nevada’s clean energy industry has had no stronger supporter than Reid, who often said the Silver State’s rich solar, geothermal and wind resources could make it the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.”
But it’s taken the senator’s own brand of power to push the state toward green energy.
Most notably, Reid challenged NV Energy’s plans to build or buy as much as 4,500 megawatts of coal generation in 2006, said Lydia Ball, a Las Vegas-based consultant to the Clean Energy Project and a former Reid aide. That included fighting NV Energy’s $5 billion, 1,500-megawatt Ely Energy Center, which the utility put on indefinite hold in 2009.
“Sen. Reid was the one who was willing to lead that conversation and say, ‘This isn’t the direction Nevada should be going,’ ” Ball said. “He really opened it up to allow solar in particular to develop.”
Reid’s efforts didn’t always work out.
After claiming in 2012 that NV Energy hadn’t “done enough to allow renewable energy to thrive,” Reid pressed the utility to buy power from a proposed $5 billion solar project that Chinese company ENN planned near Laughlin. But the utility already exceeded the state’s requirements on its renewable portfolio, and there was no guarantee the Public Utilities Commission would allow a purchase agreement. The ENN plant never materialized.
Still, Nevada’s solar-industry jobs more than doubled in 2014, making it the country’s fastest-growing state for solar employment, the Solar Foundation reported in February. Nevada ranked No. 7 for solar jobs, with 5,900 positions, and No. 1 for jobs per capita.
What’s more, NV Energy got 18 percent of its generation from renewables in 2013, up from less than 5 percent in 2003, and is on track to receive at least 25 percent of its power from green energy by 2025.
“We’re all feeling bittersweet. We owe Sen. Reid a debt of gratitude for his leadership,” Ball said. “You can’t help but think about how we’re losing our strongest, biggest, oldest champion.”
Ball and NV Energy officials agreed the sector is now strong enough to support itself after Reid retires.
“Sen. Reid has been a champion of Nevada’s energy independence. He’s been an advocate for Nevada’s investments in renewable energy and efficient natural gas generation,” said Paul Caudill, NV Energy’s president and CEO. “His leadership was instrumental in bringing the One Nevada transmission line to fruition, which is yielding daily benefits to our customers. These projects are among his legacies, and will ensure that our state continues to pursue a thriving sustainable energy future for all Nevadans.”
Reid will use his remaining months in office to advocate for clean energy. He’s scheduled to speak on the topic at an April luncheon of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.
Review-Journal reporters Yesenia Amaro, Ben Botkin, Henry Brean, Jennifer Robison, Howard Stutz, Steve Tetreault and Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.