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House bill blocks Navy, Air Force from getting more public land

WASHINGTON — A $740 billion defense bill passed by the House on Tuesday includes Nevada measures prohibiting the resumption of explosive nuclear weapons tests and blocks the Air Force from using portions of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge for military training.

The absence of public land transfers to the Air Force and another in Northern Nevada for Naval Air Station Fallon were two of many items in the bill that drew a veto threat from the White House in a memo to Congress from the Office of Management and Budget.

The bill contains a 3 percent pay raise for military personnel. Nevada is home to four military installations with more than 10,000 active-duty troops and airmen.

House lawmakers passed the bill on a 295-125 vote. Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee voted for passage. The state’s lone Republican, Mark Amodei, voted against it.

Horsford, whose congressional district includes military installations and the desert wildlife refuge, called passage of the bill “a victory for Nevada.”

Amodei said the presidential veto threat provides leverage for the expansion of the Fallon training range if local officials agree to the transfer of public, state and private lands and that provision is included in a final bill.

A Senate bill to authorize defense spending is expected to pass later this week. Differences in the two pieces of legislation will go to a House-Senate conference committee to iron out.

“Everyone is playing for the conference on this, including me,” Amodei said.

The Air Force and Navy are seeking more training space in Nevada to accommodate developing technology and tactics.

President Donald Trump also threatened to veto the House-passed defense bill over language to remove the names of Confederate leaders from military installations.

The White House also listed the language blocking 840,000 acres of the desert refuge to the Air Force for training as a reason to veto the legislation.

Still, passage of the bill with the Nevada provisions was hailed by Democrats who sought protection of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Las Vegas.

Horsford offered the amendment to block the Air Force from expanding training missions into the refuge, adjacent to the Nevada Test and Training Range. The amendment passed on a voice vote.

Conservation and environmental groups lobbied Congress to stop the expansion into the refuge, home to bighorn sheep and areas of cultural significance to Native Americans.

“It’s a thrilling incremental victory,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The amendment would keep control of the refuge under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Also included in the bill is an amendment by Titus that would prohibit the Trump administration from resuming explosive nuclear weapons testing. The last underground test occurred at the Nevada National Security Site in 1992.

Titus called a resumption of explosive tests “dangerous and unnecessary,” and warned it could lead to a global arms race. Republicans opposed the amendment, arguing that it limited resumption of future testing by the United States in response to tests by other countries.

The National Nuclear Security Administration maintains the weapons stockpile and has no immediate plans to resume explosive testing, a spokeswoman said.

House lawmakers voted largely along party lines on the Titus amendment, which passed 227-179. Nevada Democrats Titus, Horsford and Lee, supported the amendment. Amodei voted with Republicans against the measure.

Amodei said the language sends “the wrong message to our competitors.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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