Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | 1:29 p.m.
A sweeping lands bill for Northern Nevada that had a bleak outlook in Congress just a few months ago suddenly has new life.
Legislation to create up to 71,500 acres of wilderness and set up 23,000 more for economic development passed a key House panel with unanimous consent today.
“It’s not hyperbole to say this is a historic package for lands bills for Northern Nevada,” said Brian Baluta, a spokesperson for Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican representing Northern Nevada.
The successful committee vote sets up the potential for the bills to pass the House as soon as Congress comes back from its five-week break.
“It really is an example that when we get together in a bipartisan way, we can actually accomplish something,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, a North Las Vegas Democrat who represents part of Lyon County.
The residents in the county, one of the most economically depressed in the state, could benefit from as many as 1,000 jobs from a new copper mine if Congress approves the lands package. In exchange for selling 10,000 acres of federal land to the city of Yerington for the mine, the bill creates wilderness in the Wokova Forest.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. The lands packages were held up in the House Natural Resources Committee in January when Republicans, who lead the committee, changed the bills so much that Democrats — especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — couldn’t support it.
They altered language that would, in effect, prevent Congress from creating anymore wilderness in the future.
Lands bills have been tricky in the Republican-controlled House, in part because some conservatives oppose the transferring of or creation of federal land.
But Nevada lawmakers were determined to find a compromise. Amodei, Horsford and Nevada’s senators negotiated behind the scenes to find a deal.
Today’s vote in committee was evidence they had found one — but in the unpredictable world that is Congress, no one in Nevada’s delegation is exhaling yet.
“I’m not happy until I see it passed by both chambers and signed by the president,” Horsford said.