Amodei starts sounding green

Rep. Mark Amodei (right) is seen here at a Carson City gathering during a visit to Nevada.

Rep. Mark Amodei (right) is seen here at a Carson City gathering during a visit to Nevada.


Dennis Myers

Forty-six Republicans joined with Democrats on July 13 to shield a climate study on military security from interference. U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei was in the majority. This is all the more remarkable because he has previously voted the other way—to prevent the Pentagon from even reporting its findings on the topic.

It is the latest sign that the Nevada Republican’s views on climate may be evolving.

It is not the only alteration in Amodei’s environmental stances. In May he said he was dropping his legislation to transfer seven million acres of federally managed public lands to state control. “Transferring millions of acres of public lands … is not something I think the majority of people think is a good idea,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. A recent Public Opinion Strategies survey indicated that Nevadans supported leaving public lands in federal management by 51 to 42 percent.

Recently, Amodei attracted favorable attention from the Ripon Advance, a publication of the Ripon Society, which supports a more moderate GOP:

“Amodei worked to include a number of provisions in the [Interior Department] bill, including a $4 million increase in administrative funding for specific Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) programs, a $1.5 million increase in administrative funding for detentions and corrections to ensure local facilities are paid for tribal partnerships, and $3.4 million to help promote Native American tourism. ’Specifically, the bill encourages the responsible use of our natural resources by providing critical funding to combat devastating wildfires, improve forest health and promote clean air and water,’ Amodei said. ’It also supports our Native communities and preserves funding for important arts and humanities programs that add culture and value to our local communities.’”

Amodei has said nothing publicly to suggest his views may be shifting. He still has posted on his website this statement: “I do not believe it is appropriate for the federal government to advocate one position over another in discussions of climate change. I do think that we should promote unbiased scientific research funded by both the government and the private sector to help answer climate change questions and bring effective solutions to any human causes.”

The statement has become well known among Nevada environmentalists because it commits Amodei to nothing. Who decides what “unbiased” scientific research is? What are the benefits of research funded jointly by the government and, say, corporate polluters David and Charles Koch or Exxon Mobil—which had internal research showing the dangers of climate change while it funded millions in denial propaganda?

The climate change statement for which Amodei is best known is this one, from a letter Amodei wrote to a constituent in 2013: “The issue of climate change is very controversial and many scientists disagree as to its causes and how to handle it. I recognize that some scientists believe that global warming is caused by failed environmental practices; however, others argue that these temperature increases would incur regardless due to the warming of the center of the Earth. I do not believe it is appropriate for the federal government to advocate one position over the other. Since we do not know much about long-term climate change, I do agree we must have an unbiased research effort funded by both the government and the private sector to answer the essential questions about climate change. Since 1990, the U.S. has spent at least $50 billion on climate research.”

That helped get him named “Public lands enemy #11” by the Center for Biological Diversity.


But, in addition to the Pentagon study vote, Amodei recently joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus. That alone has not convinced some of his critics of anything, because the new caucus is regarded with suspicion by some environmentalists. They are waiting to see if it turns out to be like anti-environmental groups with nice-sounding names such as People for the West and the National Wetlands Coalition. In the case of the July 13 vote, rejecting an amendment blocking study of the impact of climate change on national security, there was plenty of cover to go around. The vote supported the Pentagon, which has an array of research underway on how to protect against climate change, and few congressional districts punish support of the Pentagon.

There are times Amodei becomes impatient with some spokespeople on land issues, and he does not hesitate to disagree with them sharply.

“You think you’re being kind to horses?” he said to critics of federal wild horse policies at a July 18 hearing. “You’re not. Letting them starve out on the range? Nobody’s adopting these things, these horses. Not very many people, anyway.”

Amodei’s transition, if such it is, is aided by the fact that many environmental issues are fronted by hunters and anglers. It’s akin to the way the National Wildlife Federation—originally “an organization of fish and gun clubs,” in the words of former national president Cliff Young of Nevada—became an environmental group. Amodei is not the only Western Republican who has felt similar pressure. In Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz dropped his own public lands transfer bill more as a result of pressure from conservationists than from environmentalists.

Public lands may be the most dicey issue for Amodei to navigate between his urban and rural constituencies, which made his decision to halt seeking more public lands for the state all the more politically risky. Community leaders in the small counties tend to see public lands as a threat to their ability to bring in economic development, though that has sometimes been a flawed equation. Localities for years opposed the creation of Great Basin National Park, but the little towns in eastern Nevada have benefited from the tourism attracted to the park.

One key to Amodei’s future views may be a bill he introduced. On July 10, 2015, President Obama designated 704,000 acres of federally managed land in Lincoln and Nye counties to be Basin and Range National Monument On Dec. 28, 2016, he made 297,000 acres in northeastern Clark County into Gold Butte National Monument.

Amodei and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller offered legislation limiting the authority of presidents to create monuments without advance consultation with localities. That legislation is still pending but has shown little movement.