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Lands bill might be key for Nevada

WASHINGTON — A broad Senate environment and public lands bill taking shape in the final days of Congress could be the last chance for a handful of Nevada initiatives to become law this year.

Among them is a gravel mining ban at Sloan Hills outside Henderson on which local residents have pressed for action.

Another is a 2,085-acre transfer of federal land in North Las Vegas to the Nevada university system that someday might be developed into a new University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

Both those bills have been passed out of Senate committee but are stalled and probably would be rolled into the broader bill for the final push, according to congressional officials.

Other bills primed for action in a year-end package are a $415 million authorization for further restoration of Lake Tahoe, and a 50-year extension of contracts for electricity from Hoover Dam, officials indicated.

Less certain are two Southern Nevada bills that have not been considered in the Senate. One is a proposed 115-acre land sale for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to expand its parking lot.

The other would transfer 1,150 acres to Clark County for an off-road vehicle park at Nellis Dunes northeast of Las Vegas.

Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader from Nevada, declined through aides to comment on the year-end bill, which is being pieced together for his review by leaders of at least three committees:

■ Energy and Natural Resources.

■ Commerce.

■ Environment and Public Works.

“The lands bill is still on the list of possible items” to be considered during the lame-duck session, Reid spokesman Tom Brede said. Reid is eyeing Dec. 17 as a possible final day.

Bill Wicker, spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said there could be roughly 60 bills in the package; a report Monday said the latest count is more than 100 counting contributions from other committees.

It is almost standard procedure for Congress to wrap unfinished natural resource bills into a year-ender, Wicker said.

“We are in the 11th hour right now, and there is always an effort to combine similar legislation and to funnel them into larger packages because there is not floor time available any longer,” Wicker said. “We are keeping our fingers and toes crossed we will be able to get this done before this Congress gavels to a close. That decision is exclusively Senator Reid’s.”

No draft of the latest legislation has been made public, but at the least, senators have said, bills that have had hearings and have passed out of committee with bipartisan support are likely candidates.

But like much legislation during the lame-duck session, it could be uncertain up until the final gavel whether this one might pass. Republicans have said they would block action on all bills until an agreement is reached on tax and budget issues.

Further, Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are protesting the omnibus land and water bill as overly broad. Murkowski is the lead Republican on the Energy Committee, while Inhofe is the top GOP senator on the environment panel.

Inhofe supports some of the individual projects that Democrats have floated but believes they are trying to sneak through some controversial ones as well, according to spokesman Matt Dempsey.

Among them is a Chesapeake Bay restoration bill that Inhofe said would give the federal Environmental Protection Agency “unprecedented scope of authority” over state permits.

“I am perfectly willing to work with my colleagues to advance some of these bills individually,” Inhofe said. “If, however, Senator Reid insists on moving these bills as an omnibus package, then I will place a hold on it.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or
202-783-1760.

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