By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Although the national defense spending bill for 2023 has passed the U.S. House without the proposed expansion of the Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada’s 2nd U.S. House District Rep. Mark Amodei said on Nevada Newsmakers Tuesday that he hopes the Senate will ride to the Navy’s rescue, eventually.
“I think it has to start in the Senate and because the Senate is the Senate, they start late with everything,” Amodei told host Sam Shad. “So in the Senate, the (National) Defense Authorization Act is still to be baked, if you will.”
Amodei’s amendment to the House version of the NDAA would have tripled the size of the bombing range at the Northern Nevada naval base and made concessions to Native American tribes of the area.
Yet it was shelved by the House Rules Committee, which said the 186-page amendment was better suited for the House Committee on Natural Resources. Amodei’s amendment could have potentially designated an additional 400,000 acres of federal land across the state for military use and local county development, according to the Nevada Current.
“If you look at it objectively and transparently, there is good stuff in there for a lot of folks,” he said, adding that the proposal is needed to train “war fighters,” recognizes Native American “cultural resources” and is a responsible plan “in terms of stewardship of all of our natural resources.”
The proposed Fallon land transfer has been pushed by the Navy since 2018 and Amodei’s amendment is very similar to an unsuccessful bill championed by Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nv, in 2020.
“There is over one million acres in wilderness created in that bill and special areas,” Amodei, R-Carson City, said. “(It includes) a lot of land transfers to the three major tribes out there, and I’m not going to speak for them but two of them are (saying) ‘Alright and OK ‘ and the Fallon Paiute Shoshones are still skeptical, and I would say they have every right to be.
“But this is pretty strong work in what would be the largest lands bill in the history of the state,” said Amodei, a former Army JAG officer.
Amodei’s joke about the slow pace in the Senate may have some merit. The Senate is not expected to vote on the NDAA for 2023 until after the midterm elections, according to reports. Yet bipartisan work among Nevada’s delegation is being carried out behind the scenes, Amodei said.
“We have had meetings with the folks from the Navy, with Sen. Cortez-Masto’s office, and Sen. Rosen’s office,” he said.
Nevada lands bills are having a tough time in Congress during its 117th session.
In July, Cortez-Masto withdrew her bill that would have swapped federal land for private development in the Las Vegas Valley after Clark County officials objected to a reduction in acreage. The reduction of acreage was part of a compromise Cortez-Masto said she negotiated to gain bipartisan support, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“You know, they haven’t passed a (Nevada) lands bill since Harry Reid was in the Senate,” Amodei said. “So timing is everything but you’ve got a zillion moving parts in an lands bill and so I’m not going to criticize them.
“If it doesn’t get done this time, which it doesn’t looks like it is going to down there … it is still something that needs to be done,” he said.
Amodei pointed out just how difficult it is to get anything passed in Congress.
“If you are going to legislate, usually that means you don’t get all that you want, especially when it’s not like you are the final say,” he said. “And so, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel strongly about the issues of the day. But at the end of the day, getting nothing done … I’ll tell you about getting nothing done, the last time we did immigration was when Ronald Reagan was the president. And it is our job and we haven’t done anything and look what is going on at the border now.”
Mining lithium in Nevada
President Biden has set an ambitious target of having 50 percent of all new auto sales be electric cars by 2030. Yet that will require more electric-car batteries in which lithium is an important component.
And there’s the rub, Amodei said.
Environmentalist want to reduce carbon emissions of gas-powered vehicles but some also oppose lithium mining at Nevada’s Thacker Pass and Rhyolite Ridge because of the threat to endangered species and rare plants, plus concerns about scarring the land.
“When you’ve got an (presidential) administration saying, ‘We’re all in,’ on this electric stuff and we want to make it easier and all of that,’ don’t you believe that for a minute,” Amodei said. “I mean, talk to those folks at Thacker pass, talk to those folks at Rhyolite Ridge.”
If these precious minerals are not mined in the U.S., Americans will be in an international dilemma, Amodei said.
“What that gets you is more dependence on China and more dependence on other producers of it, when you’ve got it here,” he said.
Amodei, a former president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the mining industry does not get credit for the advances it has made in protection of the environment.
“Here’s the premise: Mining for lithium, or in some people’s mind, for anything, is bad,” he said. “There has been no acknowledgment of how the mining industry has changed over the years in terms of its environmental responsibility, it’s social responsibility and all that.
“It is not the mining industry of even 50 years ago,” Amodei continued. “It is possible for folks to extract minerals in a responsible manner. But in some people’s mind, if it is the ‘M word,’ then we’ve gotta stop it, no matter what.”