Reid extolls solar power, early caucus and Glass-Steagall

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said marijuana shouldn’t be a Schedule I controlled substance, derided NV Energy for its approach to rooftop solar power generation and said he wouldn’t ask President Barack Obama to designate Gold Butte as federally protected land – but allowed that he may still make that request in the future.


In a wide-ranging interview with Review-Journal staffers, Reid also said he’s undergone 11 hours of surgery on his right eye, injured in a New Year’s Day exercise accident at his Henderson home. He said his retina is damaged, and other than seeing a bit of light, he’s almost entirely blind in that eye.


Reid said the exercise band he was using had slipped out of his hand. (Reid initially thought the band had broken, but later acknowledged that it slipped from his grasp, sending the 74-year-old senator flying into a cabinet, breaking bones and leaving him with a scar on the right side of his face. Reid wore the same dark sunglasses during his appearance at the R-J that he’s worn since sustaining his injury.)


Reid spent about an hour answering questions. Some of the highlights:


• Asked if marijuana should remain on the federal government’s list of controlled substances under Schedule I, Reid immediately replied, “probably.” (Schedule I drugs are those the government deems to be without medical value, including LSD and so-called “club drugs.”) Because medical marijuana is legal in so many places, Reid said, revising the government’s classification may be necessary. “It’s something we should take a look at,” he said.


• Reid embraced the idea of restoring banking protections in the Great Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which were repealed in 1999 with his support. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and John McCain, R-Ariz. have introduced a bill to restore those protections to prevent another financial crisis.


“It sounds good to me,” Reid said, acknowledging he’s not familiar with the details of the bill. “I think we all made a mistake rushing to repeal Glass-Steagall.”


• Reid attacked NV Energy for its proposal to pay far less for solar energy generated by customers from rooftop panels than it does currently (5.5 cents per kilowatt hour versus 11.6 cents). The electricity utility – a monopoly with a government-authorized and overseen franchise agreement – is interested primarily in making money, Reid said.


“People should be able to generate their own electricity if they want to,” Reid said. And NV Energy should be required to buy it. (At issue, however, is the rate at which the company purchases that electricity, not whether they will continue to do so. NV Energy contends the value of the energy it purchases from home solar power systems is closer to 5 cents than 12 cents, and that residential customers without solar systems subsidize the difference. Solar power equipment makers argue the more customers who are allowed to generate their own power, the less the utility has to spend on building new power plants.)


The controversy is a separate issue from solar power generation in general; as a company, NV Energy has 525 megawatts of solar power either online or in development currently.


Asked if he was doing anything to pressure the company to change its rooftop solar proposal, which is currently pending before the Public Utilities Commission, Reid played coy. “Let’s say I’ve been involved,” he said. “Whether it will do any good remains to be seen.”


• Reid said he wouldn’t ask Obama to use his executive powers to designate Gold Butte as a national monument, national park or national conservation area. “I think I’ve asked the president enough for a little while,” Reid said, referring to Obama’s recent designation of the 704,000-acre Basin & Range National Monument. That decision was controversial, as local lawmakers and Republican members of Nevada’s congressional delegation disagreed with the designation. Reid, however, said he was glad he’d been able to convince Obama to sign the order creating the monument.


Still, Reid would not foreclose the option of asking Obama for such a designation in the future. (The president is empowered under the Antiquities Act to designate national parks and monuments, protecting them from development.) Gold Butte is home to Native American petroglyphs and other historical points of interest that conservationists have urged the government to protect.


• Asked if Nevada would continue to enjoy its early state status in the presidential nominating calendar after he’s out of office, Reid smiled and said, “we’ll see.” Reid was instrumental in securing Nevada’s February presidential nominating caucus, which has increased visits by candidates to the state as well as election spending.


“It’s been good for Nevada. It’s been good for the electoral process,” Reid said. The Western caucus in a state with a large Hispanic and organized labor population is seen as balancing the Eastern bias of the early calendar, with caucuses in Iowa and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. It’s also helped the Nevada Democratic Party organize and register new voters.


Reid added that he was glad to see a Republican-led bid to change Nevada’s caucus system – in which voters gather in their precincts to discuss candidates and issues – into a regular go-to-the-polls primary had failed. That could have led party leaders to take away Nevada’s early date, at least on the Democratic side.


• Asked about real estate developer Donald Trump, now a Republican candidate for president with a penchant for brash, sometimes crude remarks, Reid said Trump was representative of the Republican Party. “I think Donald Trump speaks for the Republican Party,” he said. Trump has hit a nerve with people who believe politicians don’t speak their minds, and the political system needs more people like Trump who speak their minds, Reid said.


Then again, if Trump has demonstrated anything, it’s that candor is a morally neutral virtue, and that speaking one’s mind isn’t always a good thing. At some point, the content of what a person says should also matter. Reid surely disagrees with virtually every word that proceeds from the mouth of Trump, but undoubtedly wants to encourage those words to keep flowing for the help they’re giving to his party in its quest to take back the Senate and keep the White House.

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