The return of Yucca Mountain should be the clarion call that unites Nevada in demanding that the federal government give us back our land.
As the Nevada Land Management Task Force noted in 2014, the federal government owns 87 percent of the land in Nevada. That’s by far the highest of any state. Since Nevadans are less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, politicians in Washington D.C. face little electoral risk for putting nuclear waste in our basement. After all, they own it and most of the rest of Nevada.
Federal land ownership isn’t just a Nevada problem. In the 12 Western states, the federal government owns an average of 50 percent of the land. Average federal land ownership in states east of the Rockies is less than 5 percent.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In the 1820s, the federal government owned up to 90 percent of the lands in the “Western” states of the time, places like Illinois and Missouri. After years of political fighting, those states now average 5 percent federal ownership.
Proponents of federal land ownership, like Sen. Majority Leader Aaron Ford, say that Nevada has no claim to our lands, because Nevada’s Enabling Act said the people “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands.” But that’s only half the story. The federal government required Nevada to disclaim title so it could sell the lands. No one was interested in buying a property that someone else could legitimately claim to own.
My former Nevada Policy Research Institute colleague Steve Miller uncovered an 1828 congressional report that said, “When these States stipulated not to tax the lands of the United States until they were sold, they rested upon the implied engagement of Congress to cause them to be sold, within a reasonable time.”
Nevada’s still waiting.
Variations on Nevada’s disclaimer clause weren’t unique to Nevada either. States ranging from North Dakota to Nebraska to Missouri all gave the federal government title to unclaimed lands. In those states, the federal government kept its end of the bargain by selling off the lands.
They got their land. We get nuclear waste.
It gets worse. The Nevada Land Management Task Force found that Nevada would net $56 million to $205 million a year if we received back just 7.2 million acres of the over 60 million acres owned by the feds.
Instead, liberals like David von Seggern, chair of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, support federal land ownership because “the large expanses of federal land in Nevada are owned by all of us.”
When Nevada is owned by “all of us,” don’t feign horror when the 99 percent of “us” outside of Nevada decide to dump their waste on those of “us” who actually live here.
Yucca’s what happens when the feds own your state.