Bombing range expansion stalls in House but not dead yet, Amodei says

By: - July 18, 2022 5:08 am
planes, bombs, etc.

Fighters flying over the Fallon Range Training Complex in 2015. (U.S. Navy photo)

Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei hasen’t given up on efforts to triple the size of a Naval air station bombing range near Fallon, and he would prefer it sooner rather than later.

Last week, Amodei submitted a 186-page amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual appropriations bill that must pass in order to fund the military, to grant the Navy’s request for more than 600,000 acres of Nevada public land Navy officials say are needed to train using modern aircraft and newer weapons systems with more range.

The amendment was one of 1,200 submitted to the House Rules Committee— the most amendments ever submitted to the committee for a single bill, according to the committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

“We’ve seen a record number of amendments submitted for this bill this year, almost 50% more than last year,” said McGovern during the committee hearing.  “Actually we’ve received the most of any legislation before the rules committee ever.”

“This is going to be a long day,” McGovern added.

The preferred expansion as mapped in the Navy’s 2020 Final Environmental Impact Statement. Proposed expansion areas are in blue.

Amodei’s amendment ultimately failed along with nearly every other amendment submitted. If passed the amendment could have potentially designated additional 400,000 acres of federal land across the state for military use and local county development.

Committee members said they would toss all amendments unrelated to the military spending, ruling that Amodei’s amendment — which is essentially a 186-page federal lands bill — would need to go through the House Committee on Natural Resources if it hoped to get a vote in the House.

The Conservation Lands Foundation, which supported Amodie’s amendment, noted afterward that several public lands amendments were ultimately included in the legislation, pointing to amendments dealing with Colorado and California.

In an interview Friday, Amodei argued that historically the National Defense Authorization Act is the appropriate legislation to grant military base expansions. 

He did, however, concede that his amendment “is a little different because it’s got lands bill stuff in it.”

“But there isn’t a ‘gotta pass every year’ Natural Resources equivalent,” Amodei said. “If you’re going to take a shot once a year on the expansion and the stuff that goes with it then this is the bill to do it.” 

In the next couple weeks, the National Defense Authorization Act will go through the Senate before making it to President Joe Biden’s desk for signing. Amodei said he suspects the bill will get a similar amendment on the Senate side.

Under the Biden administration the Navy’s expansion request in Nevada “has been shown an equal amount of respect,” Amodei said, as it did under the Trump administration — that is to say it has failed to move forward since it was proposed in 2018.

The White House did, however, signal support for the Fallon bombing range expansion last week in a policy statement addressed to the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, the committee responsible for shaping the bill.

Two competing versions of the bill have failed to pass in Congress, one proposed by Amodei and another later proposed by Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

Tribal nations in Nevada and conservationists uniformly panned Amodei’s original bill to expand the Navy’s training range.

However, the bill Amodei attempted to pass as an amendment last week was nearly identical to— not his own original proposal—but to Cortez Masto’s.

Under Amodei’s amendment, the Walker River Paiute Tribe would receive a $20 million settlement as compensation for thousands of acres of tribal land contaminated and polluted by military testing and training exercises, as well as about 6,890 acres of land to replace those lost. Cortez Masto’s bill included the same provision.

But Amodei’s version also included several additional provisions for tribes in Nevada not found in Cortez Masto’s 2020 bill.

Amodei’s bill includes more provisions for the Fallon Pauite Shoshone Tribe—who have consistently rejected the bombing range expansion— than previous iterations.

His amendment calls for the establishment of a $20 million Numu Newe Cultural Heritage Center on the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe reservation, meant to preserve traditional knowledge, culture, and language.  The bill would also expand the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe’s reservation by about 5,000 acres and create a 160,000 acre Numu Newe national conservation area.

Since the expansion was proposed by the Navy, rural communities, conservationists, recreationists, and tribal nations in Nevada have protested against each proposal.

Leaders with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe say expanding the bombing range would cut them off from ancestral lands that are essential to its culture and way of life. Years of bombing practice by the Navy have destroyed the tribe’s origin site at Fox Peak, a significant sacred site, say tribal officials. 

“The Navy has already destroyed our origin site at Fox Peak with its target practice, and bombed our most important medicine rock, which is now in the Bravo-20 range. The expansion proposal deepens these wounds and threatens similar harms over hundreds of thousands of acres,”wrote the tribe in comments to Cortez Masto’s proposal.

In recent months, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, along with the Walker River Paiute Tribe, the Lovelock Paiute Tribe and the Yomba Shoshone Tribe have been pushing for the creation of three million acres national monument surrounding the Navy bombing range to permanently protect the area’s cultural and natural resources.

“We can’t do three million acres,” Amodei said, adding that the 160,000 acre Numu Newe national conservation area is a response to those concerns.

“None of the Native nations are going to hug it, but they stand to gain multiple thousands of acres of economic development land if it passes,” Amodei said of strong tribal opposition to the expansion.

Echoing Cortez Masto’s earlier legislation, Amodie’s proposal would have designated another 200,000 acres in Northern Nevada as wilderness areas, and roughly 300,000 acres would be removed from oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains, a major goal for environmental groups.

Many environmental groups in Nevada,  including the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and The Conservation Lands Foundation, believe the the bombing range expansion is inevitable, and have supported both Cortez Masto’s and Amodei’s legislation as a compromise.

However, other  environmental groups— the Center for Biological Diversity, the Great Basin Water Network, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada— have remained critical of the expansion despite compromises.

Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director of the Center of Biological Diversity, called the conservation provisions in Amodei’s amendment “trinkets for the environmentalists.”

“There’s this idea that if everyone gets something out of it then it’s okay,” Donnelly said. “For us, we oppose the military taking public land so we’re going to push back on that.”

Conservation groups say they are concerned Amodei’s version of the bill would authorize the Dixie Valley Water Project, a plan by Churchill County to pump 16.5 billion gallons of water a year and pipe it to Fallon to meet growing water demands. Donnelly argued the project would likely imperil the Dixie Valley toad, a recently discovered species of toad unique to Nevada that was recently listed as an endangered species.

Donnelly also criticized the lack of public discussion from the Nevada delegation about the Navy base expansion.

“I think the idea of getting behind a military land grab is pretty unpopular, there’s no one out there rallying the public around this issue except the people opposed to this land grab,” Donnelly said. “If Mark Amodei, and Catherine Cortez Masto, and Churchill County and all of these people want to see this happen they should be out there making their case in a public, transparent fashion.” 

Note: This story was updated to reflect approval of public lands amendments in California and Colorado.

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.