(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 4039, the Yerington Land Conveyance and Sustainable Development Act, the first piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., since taking office after a special election in September 2011.
The measure, as title IX of the Conservation and Economic Growth Act, a larger jobs and public lands package, passed with some limited Democratic support in a 232 to 188 vote. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would mandate the fair market sale of approximately 10,400 acres of public lands to the City of Yerington and Lyon County for economic, recreational and cultural development.
Sixteen Democrats supported the bill in the House vote.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., a co-sponsor of the Yerington bill, supported the omnibus bill. But Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., another co-sponsor of the land transfer proposal, voted against the act, which rolled 14 different bills into one.
Berkley said in a statement that she is a strong supporter of the land transfer measure and that it was unfortunate it could not be voted on as a single bill.
“It is extremely unfortunate the House did not have the opportunity to vote on this important job-creating measure except as part of a larger legislative package that has no chance of passing in the Senate and faces strong opposition in Nevada,” she said. “I am eager to continue working closely with Congressman Amodei and other members of the Nevada delegation to pass this crucial legislation in the near future.”
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who sponsored companion legislation for Amodei’s bill, criticized Berkley’s no vote. Heller and Berkley are locked in a tough race for the Senate in the 2012 general election.
“Shelley Berkley needs to explain why she sided with environmental groups over northern Nevada,” Heller said. “Instead of supporting legislation that would have created jobs in Yerington, she chose to side with the League of Conservation Voters. This is typical Shelley Berkley, saying one thing and then doing another. Today she cast another vote in a long string of votes where she stubbornly refused to acknowledge that people in Nevada are actually hurting.”
In remarks on the floor, Amodei said the land transfer is expected to assist in the creation of 800 high-paying mining jobs in Lyon County, which leads Nevada in unemployment at 16.3 percent. Nevada leads the nation among states in unemployment.
“Eight hundred jobs, no cost to the federal government,” he said. “This is a state where there are loan guarantees for renewable energy to the tune of $1.5 billion and we’ve got 136 jobs to show for it. Eight hundred jobs, no cost to the government.”
Amodei responded to criticisms by House members who opposed the bill on various grounds, including a requirement that the transfer of the land by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to Yerington be accomplished within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.
“So you want to change the bill to ‘if you feel like doing it go ahead, and by the way, take as much time as you want’,” he said. “No thank you. No thank you to ‘if you feel like it and take as much time as you want’.”
Heller also issued a statement welcoming the favorable House vote.
“This legislation is an example of how Congress can act to encourage job growth, and I am pleased the House passed this measure,” he said. “Mining is the backbone of Nevada’s rural economy and we are fortunate to have resources in our own backyard for economic development. Nevada has led the country in unemployment for the past 32 months, and Congress should focus on every opportunity available to create jobs.”
The City of Yerington and Lyon County are seeking the transfer to leverage the substantial infrastructure investments being made by Nevada Copper at its nearby Pumpkin Hollow project.
Nevada Copper, which broke ground on the Pumpkin Hollow project in February, invested nearly $50 million in exploration to justify the $1 billion investment necessary to fully develop the mine. The mine will produce 250 to 300 million pounds of copper per year.
The initial shaft sinking is already producing economic benefits with the creation of 30 to 40 jobs. An additional 250 to 500 construction jobs could start in 2013 if the land transfer is successful. At full operation in 2015-2016, Pumpkin Hollow is projected to employ 750 to 800 people directly.