What does a Donald Trump presidency forebode for Nevada?
It is hard to say, because Trump has never kept a firm grip on any political position for more than a few hours, seemingly changing stances depending on with whom he has spoken most recently.
On the topic of who should control the public lands in Nevada — where currently 87 percent of the state’s land mass is controlled by the various federal land agencies — President-elect Trump has straddled the fence so much he must have saddle sores.
In January during an interview with Field & Stream magazine in Las Vegas, candidate Trump was asked about the prospect of the federal government transferring some of those lands to the states if he were to be elected president.
Trump unequivocally replied, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”
Merely a week later in an op-ed piece printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal Trump did a 180-degree turn: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians. Far removed from the beautiful wide open spaces of Nevada, bureaucrats bend to the influence that is closest to them. Honest, hardworking citizens who seek freedom and economic independence must beg for deference from a federal government that is more intent on power and control than it is in serving the citizens of the nation.”
He went on to bemoan the fact local governments have to beg the Washington bureaucracy for land for schools, roads, parks and other public uses and pay a premium price for it.
During the Republican convention this past summer the party platform included a call for the federal government to divest itself of a certain portion of public lands.
“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states …” the platform reads. “The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.
But at the same time an aide to Trump told the Huffington Post that Trump did not oppose the platform plank, but did not really embrace it, saying, Trump “lives in Manhattan and he views the West as this giant federal wonderful ownership property.” The aide said Trump would prefer a middle ground, such as a federal-state management partnership.
In August, according to High Country News, Elko County Commissioner and Nevada Land Management Task Force Chairman Demar Dahl met privately with Trump at a fundraiser at Lake Tahoe and broached the subject of public lands being transferred to the states.
“He said, ‘I’m with you,’” recalls Dahl, an avowed advocate of granting Nevada greater control over public land. He spoke recently before a House subcommittee in favor of a bill that would do so.
Given Trump’s apparent fluidity on this matter, one might be advised to look to who Trump appoints to various cabinet posts in the coming weeks for hints for how Nevada and the West may fare.
One good sign for Nevadans who would like to see federal land put to productive use is that Trump reportedly is seriously considering two oil company executives to be secretaries of Interior and/or Energy.
He also has the self-styled environmentalists in a tither over the possibility that he might appoint a so-called climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been pressing forward with its jobs strangling Clean Power Plan to restrict air emissions and its Waters of the U.S. proposal that would usurp control of every mud puddle west of the Rockies.
The views of Trump’s appointees may be more important than the rhetoric out of the future president.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.