It just didn't work out that way
Reid's Grand Canyon Plan
Seen as Pro-Industry Ploy

  by Steve Miller
  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

When U.S. Senator Harry Reid came up with the idea for the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission back in 1990, he was just probably trying to protect Nevada industry, sources tell Electric Nevada. [previous story]
Harsher environmental legislation was then moving through the U.S. House of Representatives and sources say Reid's strategy apparently was to get out in front with a politically-correct alternative -- the old "appoint-a-commission" ploy, in a new guise.
With his first U.S. Senate re-election contest looming in 1992, the strategy would allow Reid to both look "green" in the eyes of environmentalists and at the same time please big contributors in Nevada mining and other industries. Both houses of Congress eventually accepted the Reid plan as part of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.
Six years later however, Nevadans are learning that the actual result of Reid's plan, in practice, could easily turn out to be just as harsh as the House plan it was supposed to block. Permanent, stringent EPA controls could be imposed on virtually the entire state, costing private Nevadans billions of dollars over the next two decades.
The reason, says a spokesman for the Nevada Manufacturers Association, is the provision in the legislation requiring study of "clean air corridors."
"If the clean air corridors provision had been left out of this bill, it would have been a 1000 percent better," says the NMA's Ray Bacon.
Should a "clean air corridor" be established over most of Nevada, he says, "then the federal EPA can impose 'non-attainment' status on" virtually the entire state -- a legal move which then would allow very stringent EPA controls.
Paradoxically, the very cleanliness of Nevada air would mean those controls would never be removed, says Bacon. For although the air over most of the state is already some of the purest in the country, it could never become pure enough to significantly affect haze on various sites downwind which the plan was intended to help.
"The environmentalists get an absolute 'A' here, for taking Catch-22 to the limit," he said.
Virtually all of Nevada would be under the "clean air corridor" defined in a draft report by the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission's appointed public advisory committee. And because the report is a political compromise worked out between commission appointees, the commission is expected to largely accept the report and submit it, as a basis for regulation, to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Sources in Nevada's state environmental division told Electric Nevada that the clean air corridor defined in the draft report was selected arbitrarily.
"In actuality, a clean air corridor is any path that clean air moves through," sources said. "When there are storms in the L.A. area, even southern California and Arizona make up a clean air corridor."
Nevertheless, under the draft report, haze in the Grand Canyon or other federal parks would cost Nevadans at least 5.8 billion dollars during the next 20 years, says the NMA's Bacon.
Under an earlier draft, the plan prepared would have cost Nevada $900 million each year, about $611 million of it being the annual cost of paving all the dirt roads in Nevada. That was idea was removed from the draft, said Bacon, "when it became clear how stupid it was," and when data showed how expensive the scheme would be.
Not only government and business representatives on the committee were against it, but Sierra Club representatives too hated the idea of paving all the roads into the back country.
With the pave-all-roads idea removed, that left a cost of roughly $290 million a year for the 20 years, or $5.8 billion.
But there are many other recommendations in the current draft plan, says Bacon, where no price tag has been specified.
With the federal government's record of cost overruns and entitlement spending, he says, it would be asking for disaster to send anything with costs this undefined to Washington.
While some of the costs would be levied on state government, and thus indirectly to citizens, the biggest would be passed along as direct costs to private citizens.
Ideas being talked about for recommendation in the commission's working committees include a clean fuels program like California's, year-round emission monitoring programs, higher fees for permits, high-cost emission scrubbers, and fleets of water trucks to water down construction sites and dirt roads.
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"The potential goes on and on and on. And since it is not defined, no one can put a price tag on it," he says.
The NMA spokesman also questioned the scientific foundations of the draft report.
"So far as I can see, it makes absolutely no environmental, economic or logical sense to go ahead and forward these recommendations when it has been acknowledged that the science the report is based on has major flaws in it.
"If the science is bad, you should first fix the science," said Bacon.
Electric Nevada obtained the public advisory committee's latest draft report, dated April 9, and found the report acknowledges that the technical foundation for its recommendations "is not yet complete," and is "characterized by varying degrees of uncertainty."
"The large size and complex terrain of the Transport Region, the time and other resources available for work, significant data gaps, and the amount of information that could be modeled with current technology were important limiting factors," says the draft. The resulting computer modeling "has to date given a limited picture of the regional, and particularly sub-regional, dynamics of both emissions and economics."
"Nevertheless," continues the draft report, "the Commission has sufficient confidence in its overall understanding of the causes of regional haze and its effects on visibility" to support its recommendations.
Under those recommendations, says Bacon, all Nevadans would pay higher utility fees, while Nevada businesses would have to pay costs for extensive studies required for preparation of the EPA permit applications.
Even then, "it's going to make no difference," he said, citing current backlogs and the lack of action by EPA that Nevada businesses already face in seeking permits.
"Las Vegas is going to suffer the most," said Bacon, but added that northern Nevada customers of Sierra Pacific Power and other utilities will also have to pay higher rates.
While the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission originated in legislation conceived and sponsored by Nevada's senior U.S. Senator, Harry Reid, Nevada's other senator, Richard Bryan, also supported the legislation. It was signed into law by President George Bush.
Two years later, with Reid up for reelection, Reid and Bryan both began distancing themselves from the resulting commission. With six other western Senators, they signed a 1992 letter to Arizona Governor Fife Symington, commission chairman, protesting the wide jurisdiction envisioned in the commission's draft work plan and the large role set forth for federal agencies.
"At no time was it envisioned that the jurisdiction of your Commission should be expanded beyond the Grand Canyon to include the 'Golden Circle of Class I areas on the Colorado Plateau.'" said the letter.
"The ... Commission was to be an independent Governors' Commission which would result in a consensus recommendation to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Services, not to be developed by those agencies,"
However, the actual legislation setting up the commission nowhere called it a "Governors' Commission" and instead explicitly identified its purpose as the protection of "Class I areas" -- those already identified in 1977 by Congress as 248 national parks, wilderness areas, international parks and other areas that were to receive the most stringent protection from increases in air pollution.
The same legislation also delegated authority to the EPA to select the states for the commission, and thus determine its scope.
Nevada Manufacturers Association spokesman Bacon says that, while the Commission has been represented as merely an effort to stop pollution from degrading air in western parks, other political agendas are active behind the scenes.
One major motivation behind the push to institute new environmental controls on Nevada, Utah and other western states is, he says, an effort to end the competitive advantage these states now have vis-a-vis California. Many California environmental regulations are even more stringent than Federal rules and have led businesses to relocate out of the state.


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