The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

D.C. Download: Cortez Masto backs water pipeline through conservation area; Dems reveal staff diversity

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) during a tour at Desert Winds Hospital, a new mental health care facility in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 6 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent).

Congress is back in session and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) convened her subcommittee to hear testimony on pending lands legislation, including three of her bills for Nevada. 

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats released their diversity report, and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) unveiled legislation to provide benefits for Nevada Test Site veterans. (This week’s D.C. Download will also not include a vote tracker, given that the House is voting on dozens of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act — the implications of which will be discussed in a future DCD!)

Cortez Masto takes testimony on lands priorities

Seventeen pieces of pending legislation regarding land management in the West were up for discussion Wednesday in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee. That gave Cortez Masto — the subcommittee’s chair — an opportunity to discuss three of her lands priorities for this Congress.

Cortez Masto put three of her own bills before the subcommittee for testimony:

  • A bill to end speculative oil and gas leasing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands
  • A bill making technical corrections to streamline permitting at North Las Vegas’ Apex Industrial Park
  • A bill expanding the boundaries of Southern Nevada’s Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, as well as permitting the construction of a new water pipeline that would run through part of the area.

Firstly, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger testified in support of Cortez Masto’s pipeline bill, which would authorize the construction of the proposed Horizon Lateral pipeline that he said would increase reliability and redundancy in the SNWA’s ability to deliver water to Henderson. 

The pipeline needs congressional approval because it goes through the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. In 2021, the BLM denied SNWA’s application to build the pipeline, saying it did not have the authority to grant the agency the right-of-way.

Entsminger said the South Valley Lateral Pipeline, which is the agency’s primary Southern Nevada pipeline and which serves 40 percent of residents and businesses in the Las Vegas Valley, is estimated to require maintenance by 2030.

“Even though 25 years isn’t that old for water infrastructure, water infrastructure needs to be taken down for weeks [or] months at a time for maintenance, even in the absence of an emergency situation,” Entsminger said. “We really have an urgency to get going with the project.”

Entsminger said SNWA had identified two potential routes for the pipeline — the preferred one through Sloan Canyon, and a northern option that would go through the city of Henderson, which he said would involve digging 50-foot trenches down major roadways, closing businesses for years on end and disrupting traffic for nearly a decade. He added that the Henderson route would cost $200 million more than the Sloan Canyon route.

To mitigate the conservation costs, Cortez Masto’s bill proposes adding 9,000 acres to the Sloan Canyon’s boundaries — a move that garnered the support of groups ike the Conservation Lands Foundation.

Entsminger added that the pipeline’s entrance and exit would be outside the park, and that the only surface disruptions would be the drilling of six-inch boreholes, which would then be restored.

But some conservationists say their opposition is over the implications of a new water pipeline — rather than disruptions to public lands. Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that coupled with another Clark County lands bill proposal to enable more development in the valley, the new pipeline would exist to feed the sprawl created by opening up more lands for residential communities.

“The Colorado River is in free fall, but Sen. Cortez Masto wants to build another straw to suck water out of it to fuel more unsustainable development,” Donnelly said in a statement. 

During the hearing, Entsminger maintained that the pipeline exists to provide redundancy to the population already served in Henderson, and that it would not affect Nevada’s allotment of water from the Colorado River.

He added that SNWA’s existing pumping station at Lake Mead is capable of pumping 900 million gallons per day — an amount that would not be expanded through the construction of the pipeline.

“All this pipeline does is give us better redundancy within that distribution system,” he said. “It does not increase the pumping capacity from Lake Mead. So it will have zero impact on the Colorado River as a resource.”

BLM Assistant Director Thomas Heinlein testified on all three bills, saying the BLM strongly supports ending speculative oil and gas leasing, and the bill aligns with the agency’s broader mandate under the Biden administration and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

Even though there is little to no oil or gas in Nevada, the agency leases land to developers for the purpose of oil and gas exploration, precluding that land from other uses such as conservation or grazing, even if the parcels are never developed. Cortez Masto’s bill dovetails with the IRA’s provisions instituting greater transparency and adding a fee to oil and gas speculation, and new BLM guidance expanding the criteria for rejection. 

It would instruct the BLM to assess a parcel’s oil and gas development potential before approving lease and then prohibit the BLM from offering leases on parcels deemed to have low or no development potential. It would only apply to future leasing decisions.

For the technical corrections to Apex bill, Cortez Masto, who visited the industrial park this month, said the existing permitting system limits business opportunities.

“The way the law is currently written, every individual business has to seek a permit for the same right-of-way, whether they are laying pipe or putting fiber down there,” she said. 

Heinlein said the agency wants to work with Cortez Masto to ensure the legislation is specific enough to Apex to enable the BLM to retain discretion for future right-of-ways.

Senate diversity report

Senate Democrats released their seventh annual staff diversity report, with both Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen ranking among the top half of offices for racial diversity.

The average Senate Democrat’s staff is 41 percent non-white, a figure that both Cortez Masto and Rosen bested easily. Cortez Masto tied for eighth-most racially diverse office among the 51 Senate Democrats, with 56 percent of her staffers identifying as non-white. This is largely due to her office’s significant Latino population — 44 percent of her staffers identify as Latino. Additionally, 9 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, 5 percent are Black or African American, and 2 percent are Native American.

Cortez Masto, one of four Latino Senate Democrats and the Senate’s first and only Latina, has the second-highest percentage of Latino staffers, behind only Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

Rosen’s office is 47 percent non-white. When broken down, 33 percent of her staffers are Latino, 9 percent are Black/African American, and 5 percent each are Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates, Nevada is 30 percent Hispanic/Latino, about 11 percent Black, and 9 percent Asian.

Both senators also have majority-female offices. Fifty-four percent of Cortez Masto’s staff identify as female, while 63 percent of Rosen employees are women. This is pretty standard among Senate Democrats — only 10 of the 51 had majority-male offices.

Cortez Masto also has one of the highest rates (26 percent of her staff) of LGBTQ+ representation in the Senate. That percentage tied for fourth among Senate Democrats, behind only Pennsylvania’s Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Rosen’s staff is 14 percent LGBTQ+. The Senate Democrat average is just under 17 percent. Estimates place Nevada’s LGBTQ+ population at 5.5%.

Diversity in race and sexuality among Rosen’s staff has decreased slightly since her first year participating in the survey in 2019, when her office was 53 percent non-white and 16 percent LGBTQ+.

Cortez Masto, meanwhile, has significantly increased the diversity among her staff since she first started participating in the survey in 2017. She started with a 49 percent non-white staff, gaining 7 percentage points on the basis of Latino hiring, which increased from an initial 31 percent of her staff to today’s 44 percent. 

But the percentage of Native American staffers, which stood at 15 percent in her first year in the Senate, has decreased over her tenure. Her Black staffer figure has remained static as well.

Senate Republicans do not release a similar diversity report.

Streamlining assistance for Nevada Test Site veterans

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced legislation this week to streamline the delivery of benefits to veterans who have been exposed to toxic radiation, intended to help people who worked on atomic projects at the Nevada Test Site.

Titus’ Providing Radiation Exposed Servicemembers Undisputed Medical Eligibility (PRESUME) Act would build on the work done in the bipartisan PACT Act, which was passed last year on a bipartisan basis to make it easier to extend benefits to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. 

Addressing an issue in which the Department of Veterans’ Affairs routinely denied disability benefits to these veterans, the PACT Act removed the burden of proof for veterans to show that their medical issues were caused by exposure to these burn pits.

Titus’ act would use that same principle for veterans exposed to atomic radiation, removing the requirement that veterans meet a certain radiation dose threshold to qualify for the VA’s presumptive benefits. That burden, which can be difficult to prove given the historical struggle to measure radiation doses, has kept veterans from receiving compensation.

This is an important issue in Nevada, where the Department of Energy conducted nuclear weapons testing. The Nevada Test Site was the government’s primary nuclear testing ground from 1951 to 1992, a time when mushroom clouds could be seen from Las Vegas, and has remained an occasional testing site for subcritical testing, in which chemicals are detonated to mimic a nuclear explosion. 

The more than 1,000 nuclear explosions caused cratering throughout the area northwest of Las Vegas, contributed to increases in cancers and other health problems throughout the region, and drew numerous protests, including from notable public figures such as singer Kris Kristofferson and astronomer Carl Sagan.  

“In the course of their service, like anyone on the battlefield, veterans at the Nevada Test Site put themselves in harm’s way in service to our country,” Titus said in a statement. “We cannot continue to leave any of them behind. The bureaucratic barriers to care could be easily fixed through my legislation.”

The legislation was commended by many veterans’ advocacy groups.

“Service members did not measure the level of sacrifice they made while executing their duties in service to this country and this country should not measure the level of radiation exposure they endured while serving to determine their eligibility for benefit awards,” said Quandrea Patterson, an associate director at Foreign Wars’ National Legislative Service. 

Around the Capitol

  • Cortez Masto introduced bipartisan legislation to address prescription drug costs for seniors. Her bill would permit Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) and require greater transparency from PBMs in price-setting. The bill will get a markup, which is an opportunity to amend and advance the bill out of committee, next week.
  • Rosen and Cortez Masto honored Marine Corps veteran Col. Susan Malone, from Reno, who was sworn in as civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army.
  • Rosen continued her criticism in the Armed Services committee of Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who is holding up military promotions over his opposition to a Department of Defense policy permitting servicemembers to go out of state for reproductive care, including abortions. Tuberville’s actions have left the Marine Corps without a Senate-approved leader.
  • I previously reported on Cortez Masto’s efforts to procure a Nevada-specific affordable housing fund from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. The bank has awarded $4.8 million in grant funding to six projects: lease-to-own homes for the Washoe Tribe near Carson City; senior apartments in Reno; senior apartments in Las Vegas; apartments in Pioche; senior apartments in North Las Vegas; and rehabilitation for Las Vegas’ Hullum Homes public housing development.
  • Continuing her pro-wheels agenda, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) donned a leather vest to meet with the Motorcycle Riders’ Foundation.
  • Titus says Las Vegas is ready for its own NBA team after Summer League. Current odds have Outlaws as the top pick for a name. 

Notable and Quotable

“This extreme anti-choice agenda [is] jeopardizing our national security … Enough is enough.”

  • Sen. Jacky Rosen, on Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s holdup of military promotions


Legislation sponsored:

S.2254 — A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to establish pharmacy benefit manager reporting requirements with respect to prescription drug plans and MA-PD plans under Medicare part D.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2217 — A bill to amend part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide full Federal funding of such part.

S.2221 — A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to clarify that all provisions shall apply to legally married same-sex couples in the same manner as other married couples, and for other purposes.

S.2227 — A bill to require the Comptroller General of the United States to carry out a study on the trafficking into the United States of synthetic drugs, and related illicit finance, and for other purposes.

S.2253 — A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide increased labor law protections for agricultural workers, and for other purposes.

S.2257 — A bill to amend the Federal Reserve Act to add additional demographic reporting requirements, to modify the goals of the Federal Reserve System, and for other purposes.


Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2221 — A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to clarify that all provisions shall apply to legally married same-sex couples in the same manner as other married couples, and for other purposes.

S.Res.293 — A resolution designating June 12, 2023, as "Women Veterans Appreciation Day".


Legislation sponsored:

H.R.4566— To amend title 38, United States Code, to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from requiring evidence of a certain dose of radiation to determine that a veteran is a radiation-exposed veteran, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.Res.580 — Expressing support for the designation of Journeyman Lineworkers Recognition Day.

H.R.4538 — To establish a comprehensive, long-term United States strategy and policy for the Pacific Islands, and for other purposes.

H.R.4550 — To direct the Secretary of Education to carry out a grant program to support the recruitment and retention of paraprofessionals in public elementary schools, secondary schools, and preschool programs, and for other purposes.

H.R.4561 — To encourage reduction of disposable plastic products in units of the National Park System, and for other purposes.

H.R.4570 — To authorize assistance to support activities relating to the clearance of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other explosive remnants of war in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and to recognize the refugee and immigrant communities who supported and defended the Armed Forces during the conflict in Southeast Asia, including Hmong, Cham, Cambodian, Iu-Mien, Khmu, Lao, Montagnard, and Vietnamese Americans, and for other purposes.

H.R.4579 — To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide increased labor law protections for agricultural workers, and for other purposes.

H.R.4583 — To protect our Social Security system and improve benefits for current and future generations.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.Res.580 — Expressing support for the designation of Journeyman Lineworkers Recognition Day.

H.R.4563 — To promote election integrity, voter confidence, and faith in elections by removing Federal impediments to, equipping States with tools for, and establishing voluntary considerations to support effective State administration of Federal elections, improving election administration in the District of Columbia, improving the effectiveness of military voting programs, enhancing election security, and protecting political speech, and for other purposes.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.Res.580 — Expressing support for the designation of Journeyman Lineworkers Recognition Day.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.Res.580 — Expressing support for the designation of Journeyman Lineworkers Recognition Day.

H.R.4583 — To protect our Social Security system and improve benefits for current and future generations.


Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716