Friday, April 6, 2018 | 1:15 p.m.
Vernon Lee said U.S. Sen. Dean Heller made a good impression on him when Heller spoke at a March 2017 dedication ceremony for a solar array on Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal land.
“He was saying really good thing, and I thought, ‘Well, this guy isn’t so bad,’” said Lee, a member of the tribe’s environmental committee.
But Lee said that in the months since, his positive feelings about Heller have vanished. In either supporting regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration or staying quiet about them, Lee said, Heller had shown that he’s no protector of the environment.
“Now that action needs to be taken, he does nothing,” Lee said. “He’s got his head in the sand and his eyes shut, and he’s afraid to make a move.”
Today, Lee joined a small group of environmental activists urging Heller to push back on the administration’s rollbacks.
The group staged a demonstration outside of Heller’s Las Vegas office, where they dropped off more than 280 letters from individuals and groups calling for him to help stop Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt from finalizing repeals on various environmental safeguards.
Among Pruitt’s targets are the Clean Power Plan, which placed limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and Obama-era fuel mileage standards aimed at raising the average fuel economy of autos to 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
Lee and others said that relaxing those and other safeguards would increase air and water pollution, speed the effects of climate change and lead to heightened health risks.
“We’re not at critical mass, but we’re going there now,” Lee said. “We’re on a course to undo all of the good things that have been done for the environment.”
The group’s package of letters included one signed by a number of elected officials, UNLV faculty members and environmentalists calling for Pruitt’s ouster for wasteful spending and for prioritizing the needs of industries over protecting the environment.
“Pruitt’s violations of that trust include a trip to Italy costing taxpayers more than $40,000, and a single-day of chartered flights in Oklahoma totaling $14,000, bringing the known amount of taxpayer money spent on lavish travel during his first few months at the EPA to more than $100,000,” the letter said.
Heller was not in his office, but one of his staff members spoke with representatives from the group.
Lee said he felt Heller was in an unwinnable position politically on regulations. If he were to appear moderate, Lee said, he would risk alienating Republican voters and losing his seat in this year’s midterm elections. But taking a pro-Trump stance will cost him support from moderate Republicans.
“I think he’s going to lose regardless,” Lee said. “But in this case, he needs to do the morally correct thing. He’s elected to represent the people and to help protect us. He’s not doing his basic duty.”