Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The conspiracy theory about Sen. Harry Reid started soon after the Cliven Bundy story went national.
The theory: The Senate majority leader masterminded the takeover of Bundy’s cattle in Gold Butte to clear land for a solar facility that Chinese company ENN hoped to build in Southern Nevada. That thought appears to have originated at the blog Godfather Politics and was picked up by writers in more mainstream conservative media outlets, such as NewsMax and the Washington Times. The story also suggested that Reid had his former aide, Neil Kornze, do his dirty work as the week-old Bureau of Land Management director.
Reid’s spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, said any connection between Bundy and the solar project is “bogus.” She added: “People find anything to label him as, or to connect things to that aren’t connectable. … If it wasn’t this, they would be talking about something else.”
It’s true that Reid had been working on a solar project in Nevada. But based on the facts, the rest of the theory doesn’t pass the smell test. Here’s why:
Geography: Bundy’s ranch is in Bunkerville, about 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The land that Reid identified for the solar plant was about 90 miles south of Las Vegas in Laughlin. That puts the Bundy ranch and the solar plant site about a three-hour drive apart. They’re simply not in the same part of the state.
Another project comes close. But not that close: Bundy’s home in the Mojave desert is closer to the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, a corridor that has been slated for renewable energy development. The BLM is planning a mitigation strategy that may stretch toward the area where Bundy has been grazing his cows. But even there, the maps don’t match up closely enough to suggest that Bundy’s specific grazing land was the intended site of a solar facility. Also, the Chinese company ENN had not been planning a facility in the Dry Lake area.
Where Reid’s agenda and Bundy’s cattle grazing do overlap: Bundy’s cattle have been grazing on land that Reid and Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., have targeted for future wilderness protections. Both Reid and Horsford have filed legislation to turn the Gold Butte area into a national conservation area. But this is entirely separate from the solar project. A conservation status discourages development, and it’s near impossible to greenlight a solar project on conservation land.
The start of the Chinese solar project: Reid went to China in 2011 to lock down the deal. The ENN Mojave Energy project was supposed to help yank Southern Nevada’s flailing economy out of the recession and into the foreground of renewable energy development in America. Clark County fast-tracked the required reviews and approvals. But construction never started.
Where it got stuck: In June 2013, ENN said it was dumping the project because the “market will not support a project of this scale and nature at this time.” So right now, there is no massive Chinese-backed solar project in the works and certainly not one that requires the removal of Bundy’s cows.
The timelines don’t line up: Bundy’s battle with the BLM started in 1993 when he stopped paying his grazing fees, 18 years before anyone talked about putting Chinese money into the Nevada desert for renewable energy. Talk about the Chinese solar project started in 2011 and ended in 2013. And the Bundy-BLM confrontation came this month, long after the solar project died.
More on Kornze: It’s not exactly true that this was the first move of Reid’s former aide as BLM director. The roundup started April 5, and Kornze wasn’t confirmed by the Senate as BLM director until April 8.