(Thomas Mitchell) – The day after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the greater sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but would instead be protected by a voluminous and sweeping land use plan covering 10 Western states, Elko and Eureka counties and two mining companies filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against the plan.
Today the state of Nevada and seven more counties joined the effort, filing a suit that closely mirrors the arguments in the earlier suit.
Today’s suit: Nevada vs. Department of Interior complaint
Earlier suit: Land Use suit
A hearing had been scheduled on the original lawsuit for the middle of February.
The suits accused the Interior Department of violating the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the General Mining Laws, the Taylor Grazing Act and numerous other federal laws and agreements. The mining companies point out the restrictions jeopardize millions of dollars already invested in mining claims.
In a press release, announcing the litigation, Attorney General Adam Laxalt noted that the federal plan bars mineral exploration and development on 3 million acres within Nevada alone and creates restrictions on grazing and public access on more than 16 million acres in the state.
“The federal government’s one-size-fits-all sage-grouse plan will greatly hinder Nevada’s growth and success, and have an adverse impact on Nevada’s economy, affecting ranchers, mining exploration, new energy source development, recreation and everyone who works in these industries,” said Laxalt. “While I appreciate and applaud all of the efforts that have been made to negotiate a favorable outcome for Nevada, and continue to hope that ongoing negotiations may result in a better plan for Nevada, my office, after careful legal analysis, has concluded that this suit is necessary to fully protect the interest of the state.”
That decision to sue was applauded by Sen. Dean Heller, the state’s three Republic representatives and numerous local elected officials, as well as business leaders.
But apparently the governor does not agree. According to a statement posted on the governor’s website, Brian Sandoval says, “The Governor believes that joining a lawsuit now will chill ongoing discussions between the state and Department of Interior, divert resources from the current strategy of engagement and could actually undermine the ‘not warranted’ decision nearly every stakeholder has been working toward for over a decade. Once this collaborative phase of engagement is complete, further action will be considered.”
Laxalt’s press statement did not mention the governor, but shortly after his statement was posted online, the attorney general’s office issued this comment: “The governor’s statement seeking to undermine this sage-grouse litigation is troubling. His statement that the attorney general is acting in his personal capacity is wrong. The state of Nevada has joined this lawsuit. Pursuant to Nevada Revised Statute 228.190, the attorney general is the only constitutional officer authorized by Nevada law to intervene or to appear in litigation about public lands “in the name of the state.” The Attorney General’s Office has done so. Moreover, because of the importance of this suit, numerous Nevada counties have stepped forward to fund it.”
Heller is quoted by Laxalt as saying, “I support efforts to stop these unnecessary regulations in their tracks and allow rural Nevada to thrive economically.”
Rep. Mark Amodei declared, “The result is a nearly three million acre exclusion zone because the Interior officials in D.C. do not have to live with their rulings the way Northern Nevadans do. When the Department of the Interior completely ignores input from Nevada’s Environmental Impact Statement, I believe no tool should be left in the shed, and one of those tools is litigation.”
Rep. Cresent Hardy agreed, saying, “Those who live closest to the land are the best stewards of it. This has been proven particularly true in Nevada, where locally driven conservation efforts helped keep the sage-grouse off of the endangered species list. But the federal government is actively choosing to ignore that reality. Washington should leave land management to those who need it most and who know it best.”
Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for the Senate seat now held by Harry Reid, commented, “Nevadans came together and developed a plan to protect the sage-grouse and its habitat while still allowing lands to be used for economic development opportunities and recreation. Unfortunately that plan was rejected by bureaucrats at the Department of the Interior who have no connection to the land and won’t have to deal with the consequences of their land-use plan. Nevada should pursue this litigation to protect our state from the negative impacts of yet another example of federal overreach.”
Those statements echoed the comments made in Reno Wednesday by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who called for moving the Interior Department headquarters to the West.
“People in their own communities actually care about their communities more than someone that is removed … 3,000 miles away,” Bush was quoted as saying. “That process is going to yield a better result than sitting up on Mt. Washington and throwing down lightning bolts at you all.”
The governor can continue his negotiations, which so far have proved for naught, while Laxalt and the counties hold a big legal stick that might get Sally Jewell’s attention.
Laxalt’s press release concludes: “Nevada counties who have joined the lawsuit include: Churchill, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Pershing, Washoe and White Pine. Other community leaders and associations that support this action include: Senator James Settelmeyer, Senator Pete Goicoechea, Senator Don Gustavson, Assemblyman John Ellison, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, Assemblyman Ira Hansen, County Commissioners, the Nevada Association of Counties, the National Federation of Independent Business/Nevada representing more than 2,200 small businesses throughout the state, the Nevada Petroleum Marketers Association, the Western Exploration, LLC, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, the Nevada Cattleman’s Association and the Ninety-Six Ranch.”
Mr. Mitchell publishes the 4TH ST8 Blog at www.4thst8.wordpress.com.
The column was originally published in Mr. Mitchell’s blog.