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In Nevada, the Name to Know is Reid

Members of one lawmaker's family represent nearly every major industry in their home state. And their clients rely on his goodwill.

June 23, 2003|Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper | Times Staff Writers

So far, no skeletal steel towers march across the landscape, but proposals to erect them keep cropping up. And it's difficult to envision buyers flocking to luxury homes whose neighborhood features hulking transmission structures. The right-of-way made the 11,000 acres in the corridor essentially worthless, the development company told county tax officials in recent years.

Section 709 of Reid's bill had offered a solution: Simply move the transmission corridor across U.S. 93 and plunk it down in the "wilderness study" area. Power lines are not permitted on such land without congressional approval. In a flurry of technical language, Reid's land bill changed the classification.

The provision's narrow purpose was "hidden by obfuscatory language in a large land bill," said Janine Blaeloch, director of the Western Land Exchange Project, an independent group that monitors federal-land policy.

Reid, however, considers moving the corridor a win-win proposition. "That property sat out there with nothing on it for many, many years," he said. "Who gets hurt in the movement?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Lobbyists -- A graphic accompanying an article in Monday's Section A on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's lobbyist relatives incorrectly said that the University of Nevada at Reno paid $10,000 a month to the Lionel Sawyer & Collins law firm. In fact, the university paid the firm $40,000 in the last half of 2002, according to federal lobbyist reports.

Whittemore did not return phone calls from The Times.

As originally drafted, Reid's bill would have removed the power-line corridor from the land owned by Whittemore and his partners, at no cost to them. After Interior Department officials objected, Reid agreed that the developers should pay the government something. Reid then withdrew the right-of-way provision altogether, after questions were raised by The Times and the staff at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

However, the provision removing wilderness-study protection from the federal land was approved and signed into law, meaning relocation can be revived easily.


Nevada Gold Mines

While the Clark County bill focused on real estate, Reid has not neglected the state's other economic engines, also among his children's broad base of clients.

The mining industry is second only to gaming in Nevada. The state is the third-largest gold producer in the world.

Reid, a native son, grew up in the down-at-the-heel mining camp of Searchlight, in a family so poor they lived in a tin-roofed shack with no plumbing. The town's water supply was almost undrinkable, but there was a swimming pool -- built for the brothels that helped keep the community alive -- which opened to local children one day a week, he wrote in a book about his hometown titled "Searchlight: The Camp That Didn't Fail."

His father worked in the mines. After Reid put himself through law school and got into politics, he became one of the industry's foremost defenders.

Hard-rock mining needed such a champion. In recent years, it has been under almost constant siege because of its environmental destructiveness, as well as what critics see as its almost-free exploitation of federal land.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded that "mining in the Western United States has contaminated stream reaches in the headwaters of more than 40% of the watersheds in the West."

Even with modern improvements, the industry still relies on chemicals and mining techniques that have contaminated thousands of acres of public land with cyanide, heavy metals and other toxic substances.

For five years beginning in 1997, Reid helped beat back or stall a series of reforms that he considered excessive, using his position on the Appropriations Committee to attach delaying riders to must-pass bills -- including an emergency-aid bill for Kosovo.

Though some reforms eventually passed, several of those the industry considered unacceptable have been weakened or eliminated under the Bush administration.

During much of that time, his son-in-law and sons represented mining interests in Washington and Nevada.

Mining companies paid $200,000 in lobbying fees to the law firm where Barringer worked from 1999 to 2000, and he worked on their accounts during that period, records show.

Barringer joined his current firm, whose specialties include mining, in 2001. The National Mining Assn. and mining companies active in Nevada have paid that firm $780,000 in fees since his arrival, lobbyist reports show. Barringer has been one of the partners assigned to the mining accounts, the reports show.

Doug Hock, a spokesman for Newmont Mining Corp., said the company used Barringer "based on his expertise in mining and environmental law" and not because of his family ties.

The mining firm Placer Dome Inc. began paying the Lionel Sawyer law firm $5,000 a month in 2001 to be its "eyes and ears" in Nevada and sought out Rory Reid's services, said Placer Dome Vice President Joe Danni. Placer also works with Barringer on federal issues, he said.

He said neither Reid nor Barringer would improperly take advantage of their family ties to the senator.

"My view of Rory and Steve is they are both very principled individuals," he said. "I have never lost sleep over it."

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