EDITORIAL:

House committee’s vote to bomb Nevada is a stunning betrayal

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Steve Marcus

A view of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge from Pine Nut Road May 27, 2019. The Refuge, north of Las Vegas, is the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states encompassing 1.6 million acres.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee slapped Nevada hard in the face last week by voting to allow the Air Force to take a huge chunk of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to use as a bombing range.

Now, it’s up to the state’s House members to slap back and keep this deeply troublesome proposal from being rammed down our throat.

The expansion would allow bombing on 850,000 acres — 468 square miles, if you prefer — of one of Nevada’s most precious natural treasures. The refuge, the second-largest in the United States outside of Alaska, supports a remarkable array of wildlife and flora spread over six mountain ranges. It’s a rich habitat for bighorn sheep, and offers some of the state’s best recreation areas.

Nevadans don’t want it to be blown up. We’ve been loud and clear on that, whether it was the state Senate and Assembly passing resolutions opposing the expansion, or coalitions of tribal groups, environmentalists and outdoor-recreation enthusiasts forming to fight it. Nevadans also spearheaded a national campaign, #DontBombTheBighorn, that led to 32,000 people submitting comments to the Air Force opposing the incursion.

But the committee, which contains no members from Nevada, steamrolled us last week when it voted unanimously to approve a version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — the military budget — that included the expansion.

It’s especially shocking that not one of the panel’s 30 Democrats came to the defense of Nevadans and our environment. The budget passed on a 56-0 voice vote, with one Republican member absent. Keep in mind too that the Republican-led Senate Armed Forces Committee approved a version of the NDAA that didn’t include the Nellis Air Force Base expansion or a similar one at Naval Air Station Fallon. That’s right, Senate Republicans were more protective of Nevada than House Democrats.

For Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., whose district includes the Nellis expansion area, this is an SOS situation and a massive betrayal by his party. We trust he’ll lead the Southern Nevada delegation in doing whatever they can to get the project out of the final NDAA.

Surely, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will back the local delegation. In this critical election year, why would any Democratic Party leader antagonize supporters of the desert refuge — many of whom are progressives and moderate Republicans — by forcing the bombing range on us?

The Air Force says it needs the extra space because of technological advancements that allow planes to fly higher and launch ordnance from farther distances than ever. Without knowing all the alternatives, we assume the need is legitimate, but the Desert National Wildlife Refuge isn’t the place for it. The area is too environmentally fragile, and the space that would be overtaken is too large. Plus, as has become particularly evident in these past few months, the ability to get out and enjoy natural areas is vital to our health and well-being. It also is a growing source of tourism for our state. As such, it’s important to protect our outdoor recreation industry as we recover from the economic tsunami triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Let’s be clear: Nevadans fully support Nellis and are proud that the installation is part of our community. But there’s got to be a better way to meet the Air Force’s training needs without bombing a natural jewel. The desert refuge must be protected for the sake of the wild things living there, for our own enjoyment and for future generations.