The furor over Cliven Bundy’s cows in Nevada has churned up some powerful speculation about the murky forces at play. A long-running effort by the federal Bureau of Land Management to stop Bundy from letting his cattle forage without paying any grazing fees (on land that was off-limits to grazing in any event) turned into a standoff between federal agents and Bundy’s supporters, both well armed.
Out of that drama came the assertion that Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid was behind it all and the goal was personal gain. Reid publicly endorsed federal action against Bundy.
A tea party website Republic Broadcasting Network out of Texas put it succinctly.
"It’s very simple. Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, is using federal violence to take people’s land in his state so he can package it to re-sell it to the Chinese. That’s what the Bundy Ranch deal is all about."
This claim and its cousins have been debunked before (a tip of the hat to Snopes). Here’s the gist of its flaws:
The government had no interest in Bundy’s property. It wanted his cattle off government land.
Reid’s son had represented a Chinese firm that had been interested in developing a solar energy array, but the deal involved land far from the Bundy property and collapsed a year ago.
The Bureau of Land Management has identified a desert area for solar power development, but it is about 50 miles away from both the Bundy ranch and the federal land where he likes to graze his cattle.
The habitat protections on the land Bundy wants to use were put in place in 1994, long before there was any hint of Chinese interest.
Reid's accusers posted an interview with Fabian Calvo, a Los Angeles real estate agent, as evidence to back up their inaccurate claim. Calvo connected the dots between Reid, his son Rory and the Bureau of Land Management.
"Reid’s son is involved with BLM customers, putting together deals right where Clive Bundy’s ranch is," Calvo said. "The federal government is ready to send armed guards in to take peoples land, unconstitutionally, illegally, over what I believe is making sweetheart deals to the Chinese."
An editorial in Investors Business Daily hinted darkly that on March 14, the BLM announced support for the Western Solar Energy Plan.
"Coincidentally, part of that solar energy expansion includes a plan by China's ENN Energy Group to build what would be America's largest solar energy complex," the editorial said. "The site chosen with the guidance of Reid's son, Rory, is in Laughlin, Nev. Laughlin is in Clark County, where Bundy's ranch is."
Clark County covers more than 8,000 square miles. Laughlin is about 100 miles as the crow flies from Bundy’s ranch.
As for the ENN Energy Group, there had been a plan to turn 9,000 acres into the nation’s largest solar array. According to press reports, Reid’s son Rory did represent the company, and Reid himself helped recruit the company during a trip to China in 2011. But the deal hinged on nailing down long-term contracts to sell the power the massive facility would generate. When the developers were unable to get those agreements, they backed out. That was in July 2013.
Looking at the BLM’s efforts to use federal lands as sites for solar energy, the agency released a list of 17 designated areas in 2012. The Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone is closest to Bundy’s ranch, but that doesn’t make it his neighbor. It is about 5,700 acres large but its closest border is at least 50 miles to the west of Bundy’s property.
The BLM did invite energy companies to submit proposals in mid March. This was the final step in a two-year process aimed at managing the environmental impacts of any development that might take place in these zones.
That environmental assessment provides one possible link to Bundy and his cows. In order to offset the loss of natural habitat in the development zone, the government typically preserves or restores the same kind of habitat someplace else. The Dry Lake area is home to the desert tortoise, a threatened species.
Mike Connor is with the Western Watersheds Project, an environmental conservation group. Connor said Nevada has four areas designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) to protect the desert tortoise. One of those is Gold Butte. That’s the federal land where Bundy has been grazing his cattle.
Some of Bundy’s defenders have said that blocking him from Gold Butte would make it easier to build at Dry Lake.
"That really wouldn’t make any sense," Connor said. "Gold Butte was set aside as an ACEC in 1994. You can’t use the same land twice to protect the same habitat. There really is no connection between what’s going on at Dry Lake and what’s going on at Gold Butte."
The Republic Broadcasting Network said Sen. Reid was behind the use of force to take away Bundy’s land and sell it to the Chinese. There is nothing accurate about this claim. The dispute involved Bundy’s long use of federal land without a permit. The land gained protected status long before solar energy projects were on the table. The Chinese solar energy proposal no longer exists. The land where such projects might be developed are far from Bundy’s property.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.