Follow the money and you’ll inevitably find out what’s really going on.
In the case of Clark County, Nevada, rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management, the leading explanation has been that he hasn’t paid grazing fees and his cattle threaten endangered desert tortoises in the Gold Butte area.
But the fact of the BLM bringing in hundreds of armed rangers with trucks and helicopters seemed over the top for protection of a tortoise that has clearly survived despite more than a century of ranching by the Bundy family, and which the BLM had previously been slaughtering with the excuse that it lacked funding to care for the animals.
As reported by the Associated Press in August, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Southern Las Vegas, funded by the BLM, was looking at killing half of its 1,400 tortoises because it could not afford to keep its doors open since the housing collapse resulted in less income from developers.
So why does the BLM profess to care so much about the fate of tortoises, who seem to be doing fine, in the Gold Butte area?
Certainly it’s not all of the answer because the BLM dispute with Bundy goes back to 1993, but part of the answer may be that Gold Butte also lies inside what the BLM has called the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, part of the federal government’s plan to put solar power plants and factories on BLM-controlled lands in six Southwestern states.
As part of the plan for the Dry Lake solar zone, any solar developers are expected to pay into a fund to “mitigate” the Gold Butte area. However, the “mitigation” activities can’t take place with cattle grazing in the area. If the mitigation doesn’t take place, no money for the BLM.
One of the companies interested in building a solar plant on BLM-controlled land is the Chinese firm ENN Energy Group, which wants to build a $5 billion solar facility in the Nevada desert near Laughlin. ENN is represented by lawyer Rory Reid, Sen. Harry Reid’s son. The Chinese firm also wants to build on a 9,000-acre plot in Clark County, where rancher Cliven Bundy is holding off the BLM, and where Rory Reid used to be the chairman of the County Commission.
According to Reuters, the County Commission voted to sell ENN the public plot of land for $4.5 million, a fraction of its appraised value of $38.6 million.
Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid has been one of ENN’s most prominent supporters. According to Reuters, he recruited the company for the project during a trip to China in 2011. Reuters also reports that Reid has tried to pressure the state’s largest power company, NV Energy, to become ENN’s first customer.
Sen. Reid has had other links to dubious power projects, including Amonix, a company with no record of success that received huge tax breaks then collapsed. There was also Nevada Geothermal, which received $98 million in federal loan guarantees but in a recent filing with the SEC revealed that it is undergoing substantial problems that threaten its ability to continue as a company.
Both Reids have denied ever discussing the ENN project or working together in any way on it, but the paper trails suggest otherwise.
A Clark County commissioner recently said that supporters of Cliven Bundy “better have funeral plans,” and the situation seems primed and ready for violence, with hundreds of federal rangers on one side, and ranchers and militia members on the other.
If blood ends up being shed over a desert tortoise, the trail of gore may lead straight to Harry Reid’s desk in the Senate chambers.