Unelected staffer on powerful U.S. Senate committee is blocking land transfers in Nevada, Rep. Amodei says
By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Developers and community leaders at both ends of Nevada need a federal-lands bill — or at least an updated version of one already on the books — to proceed with expansion plans, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei said recently on Nevada Newsmakers.
Yet Amodei said his efforts to transfer federal lands for local and municipal development is being thwarted by an unelected staffer on a powerful committee in the U.S. Senate who does not like transfers of federal land.
“The problem is that on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, you’ve got an individual who has decided that lands bills are evil, back to the Harry Reid days,” Amodei told host Sam Shad. “And so that’s what I’ve been told by other members of the delegation.”
Amodei is setting up a meeting with the staffer’s boss, Sen Joe Manchin, D- W.Va, to try and resolve the issue.
“We’ve got a request in, through (U.S. Rep. of California) John Garamendi’s office to meet with Sen. Manchin and ask that he (staffer) be there,” Amodei said.
Since the federal government owns more than 80 percent of land in Nevada, towns, cities and developers need federally-approved land transfers to expand or grow, Amodei said.
“Every community in Nevada is surrounded by federal land,” Amodei said. “I’m not saying that is good (or) bad. That’s just a plain fact … “So if your community wants to grow, you need to go meet with federal lands (officials) and (work through) that process.”
(Note: Amodei named the staffer during the interview but the name is not published in this story to protect the individual from potential verbal and written harassment).
This is not the first time Amodei has blamed a staff member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee for scuttling Nevada land transfers.
In 2019, Amodei blamed a “maverick” Natural Resources staffer for killing his Pershing County Land Bill because the staffer was seeking revenge against former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, even though Reid, a Democrat, had retired in 2017.
He declined to name the staffer then, saying on Nevada Newsmakers, the “name is not important. He knows who he is.”
Two major developments that hinge of transfers of federal land in Nevada include plans for a second airport in the Las Vegas area, in the Ivanpah Valley south of Las Vegas near I-15. Gaming executives are expected to present an outline for the new airport to the 2023 Legislature because they are concerned that Harry Reid International Airport will soon reach its limit on the number of flights it can handle.
In Northern Nevada, plans for a second Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex — near Fernley, about 30 miles east of the Reno/Sparks area — also need transfers of federal land since the area designated for the industrial park has a checkerboard pattern of private and federal land, said developer Lance Gilman.
The Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act needs to be undated to aid land transfers in Nevada after its initial passage in Congress during the 1990s, Amodei said.
“You need to update SNPLMA after 20 some-odd years,” he said. “It is not an unreasonable thing.
He then veered back to the Senate committee staffer.
“And the cap (for land transfers) coming out of some staffer — not members of the Senate or House — but staff to say, ‘I don’t like where the money goes …
“‘You look at where SNPLMA money has gone, it’s totally transparent, totally about federal lands,” Amodei said.
“You look at the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. It is a federal law that SNPLMA money goes to,” Amodei said, referring to the fact that some money from Southern Nevada land sales goes to help Lake Tahoe’s environment, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
“So what’s the problem?” Amodei continued, mimicking excuses he’s heard:
“Oh, we don’t want to get rid of any more federal lands,'” he said.
“Oh really?” he said. “Owning 83 percent or 85 percent of Nevada is just the minimum we can get by with?”
Nevada communities and developers have reached fair deals with the federal government in the past to buy parcels of its land in Nevada, Amodei said.
“We in Nevada think it is pretty good and it is not irresponsible,” Amodei said. “And it isn’t hosing the federal government, you have to buy this stuff.”
Amodei was recently appointed as the chairman of the House Appropriations’ Legislative Subcommittee.
The Appropriations subcommittee chairs are call the “12 cardinals” since they are considered major influencers on the spending of Congress.
“There are 12 subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee which handle all the discretionary spending,” Amodei explained.
Amodei said his subcommittee oversees spending for the “Congressional Budget Office, the government account of the GAO, Government Accountability Office, the Capitol Police, architect of the Capitol, government printing and the Library of Congress.”
Although that doesn’t necessarily fund projects in Nevada, there’s a way to work the system to bring more federal dollars to Nevada, he said.
“Well, what it means is, is that when you sit down in those meetings with those 12 folks on the discretionary budget, you now have a seat at the table in terms of, ‘Oh, by the way, I need some help on this or help on that, or whatever.”
Watch this episode of Nevada Newsmakers.