Three years ago, I wrote in this publication about how important the Ruby Mountains are to the communities of Elko County. The Rubies have served as the setting of so many fond memories for me and my family, and I’m sure the same can be said for many families in the area.
That’s why I was so shocked when anonymous speculators asked for federal leases to drill wells and cut new roads across this special place. That disturbance would affect wildlife like mountain goats and Himalayan snowcock that can’t be found anywhere else in the state, and limit our ability to get away from it all and enjoy nature through hiking, fishing, camping, or hunting.
The Forest Service agreed, and refused to offer the land for lease – twice! But the ordeal raised awareness about just how outdated the system for federal oil and gas leasing on our public lands has become. Our state has very little potential for fossil fuel development, but that hasn’t stopped companies from leasing massive amounts of Nevada’s public lands for pennies on the dollar. The BLM has leased almost 7 million acres of public lands in Nevada over the last 15 years, but only 39 wells were drilled during that time, with the vast majority sitting unusable by the public or for any other purpose.
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Thankfully, Nevada’s US Senators took notice, and have taken action to modernize this program. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto introduced, and Senator Jacky Rosen cosponsored, the Ruby Mountains Protection Act to ensure that this area would be permanently preserved for the benefit of future generations. Senator Cortez Masto introduced an additional piece of legislation to put an end to speculative leasing nationwide, while Senator Rosen introduced policy to update 100-year-old rates that companies pay to use our public lands.
More oil and gas leasing or drilling in Nevada doesn’t line up with our state’s plans to reduce our contribution to a warmer and drier climate, and it limits our ability to lead in providing clean energy for every community in Nevada and even exporting that power to neighboring states. That will create more jobs and economic opportunities, including for drillers that can develop geothermal power instead of oil wells.
That’s why I was excited to see a pause on oil and gas leasing while the new federal administration evaluated the program and developed recommendations to improve it. However, a court challenge recently caused leasing activity to restart, and a new set of parcels were nominated here in Nevada.
To get the best return for taxpayers, local residents, and the places we love, we need to fix oil and gas leasing in our state. The time for change is now. I hope that the Build Back Better budget includes some of these common sense fixes that Nevada’s Senators have proposed, and ask the Department of Interior to support them in these efforts.
Daniel Corona is mayor of West Wendover.