By Debbie Coffey 

Copyright 2010   All Rights Reserved. 

“Scientists warned that as the Great Basin’s groundwater is drained, desert springs and seeps will dry up, farms and ranches will wither away, and plants and wildlife will die off.  The aquifer, which took millennia to fill, will run out.”


If you read the article “The Mining of Our Aquifers” you may have wondered how the Mining Law of 1872 could be the most current law to regulate the mining industry and its disastrous effects on our aquifers and land. 

According to the article “Harry Reid, Gold Member: Is our Senator in bed with America’s worst polluter?” by Josh Harkinson, “Reid has been instrumental in blocking efforts to reform the archaic General Mining Law of 1872, a legal blank check that has allowed miners to take an estimated $408 billion worth of gold and other hard rock minerals from public lands without paying a single cent in royalties – ever.  those mines are tapped out or go bust – as they inescapably do – taxpayers are often stuck with the cleanup bill…But Reid…has vigorously fought off efforts to make the industry pay its way…

But that’s not all, under the 1872 law, mining companies have been able to buy mineral rich federal land for $5 an acre or less.  Before Congress banned the practice in 1994, Toronto-based Barrick Gold paid just $9,765 for 1,950 acres in Nevada that held an estimated $10 billion in gold.”

There are over 500,000 abandoned mines across the country, and cleaning them up could cost an estimated $32 to $72 billion.”

The Conde Nast article “When Harry Met Vegas” by Peter Waldman, stated that Sen. Reid, who is supposedly the “darling of environmentalists” is actually “the Godfather” of the casino-real estate-development nexus and hard rock mining, which are Nevada’s leading despoilers and polluters.   

The article explains that Sen. Reid’s high-profile wilderness protection plans were bundled with federal land sales that gave developers vast acreage once off-limits to building.  Sen. Reid co-sponsored laws pushed through by Nevada’s congressional delegation that enlarged the Bureau of Land Management’s “disposal boundary” in the Las Vegas Valley.

All four of Sen. Reid’s sons (Rory, Josh, Leif and Key) have worked for Lionel, Sawyer & Collins, Nevada’s biggest law firm, which represents many of Nevada’s biggest mining companies, developers and casinos.  Sen. Reid’s oldest son, Rory, was also vice-chairman of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Senator Reid sponsored a law granting the Southern California Water Authority a free right-of-way on federal land to pipe groundwater from the Great Basin aquifer (which runs from Death Valley, California across Nevada and into western Utah) into Las Vegas (hundreds of miles away at a cost of $3 billion).  The water pipeline was routed through Coyote Springs, the site of a new development about 50 miles north of Las Vegas, controlled by one of Sen. Reid’s closest friends, Harvey Whittemore, a senior partner at Lionel, Sawyer & Collins. 

Harvey Whittemore was once rated Nevada’s most powerful lobbyist by the Reno Gazette-Journal.  Whittemore planned this metropolis with 15 golf courses, 159,000 homes, and 5,700 acres of commercial development, even though Las Vegas was running out of water.  With Reid’s intervention in Washington, and help from Reid’s son Leif in Nevada, Whittemore reached agreements with two federal agencies to overcome environmental objections. 

A Los Angeles Times article, “Desert Connections” by Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper, stated about Whittemore and his Coyote Springs development, “In 2004, the Bureau of Land Management agreed to give him title to nearly 10,000 acres of tortoise land in the middle of his site in exchange for equal acreage along the fringes. They called the swap a “minor” boundary adjustment…No federal appraisal was made to determine whether the land the government got was equal in value to the land it gave up, and some public land experts say the exchange may have been illegal.”

In 2005, when the EPA objected to issuing a permit, “Senators Reid and Ensign called to meet with EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.  The senators said Nevada developers were complaining about undue delays in permits…At some point in the process, Leif Reid called his father about the permit issue.  Sen. Reid’s office says the call had no effect on the senator’s actions.”

Scientists warned that as the Great Basin’s groundwater is drained, desert springs and seeps will dry up, farms and ranches will wither away, and plants and wildlife will die off.  The aquifer, which took millennia to fill, will run out.

George Knapp, a popular TV investigative reporter in Nevada, asked “Pumping rural groundwater in the teeth of a drought for golf courses?”

Peter Gleick, Pres. of the Pacific Institute, found that Las Vegas, through more conservation, could save nearly as much water as it planned to take from central Nevada.  He asked “How fair is it to look for more and more water, farther and farther afield, when we’re using the water we have improperly?”

In “Harry Reid, the New Public Lands Enemy No. 1” by Bill Schneider, he states that Senator Reid “is

the son of a miner and owns 14 abandoned mines himself.  His two brothers are lawyers representing mining companies…and miners shovel money into his campaign war chest…”

Janine Blaeloch of the Western Lands Project, in commenting on this article, wrote:

 “Between 2002 and 2006,” (Sen. Reid) “sponsored and gained passage of several pieces of legislation that:

• privatized more than 320,000 acres of public land in Nevada, just in three of his many bills;

• laid down 1/2 mile wide, 448-mile free right-of-way on public land for a pipeline project that would suck northern Nevada dry and transport the water to Las Vegas fountains and golf courses;

• earmarked some proceeds from mandated sales of public land to local governments and projects, including multi-million-dollar city parks, sidewalks (“urban trails”), and vast water infrastructure.

…Now much of the land Reid ordered to be auctioned off by the BLM is paved over and covered with subdivisions, and many of those consist of empty homes abandoned under foreclosure.”  (the rest of Janine Blaeloch’s list can be read here:

In The Los Angeles Times article “In Nevada, Reid is the Name to Know” by Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper, we learn more about Harry Reid’s family, including sons Rory, Leif, Josh and Key.  “Reid’s son-in-law, Steven Barringer (married to the Senator’s daughter Lana) earned about $3.7 million lobbying for mining interests, including Barrick Gold.  Howard Hughes Corporation alone paid $300,000 to his tiny Washington consulting firm.  (Senator) Reid’s “The Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002” allowed the company to acquire 998 acres of federal land for development in the Las Vegas area.”

Leif Reid has been Harvey Whittemore’s personal attorney.  He’s a litigator and has represented mining and resort industries in Nevada.  He’s now a partner at Lewis & Roca LLP.  He has had appeals heard

at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which regulates development in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

 Josh Reid is a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck’s Natural Resources Group.  Josh “defends projects against permit appeals, enforcement actions and lawsuits involving claims under NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water and Air Acts, the public land laws, city and county municipal codes, and other environmental laws.”  What is Josh defending corporations against?  Sounds like he’s defending them against the laws.  In 2009, Josh was appointed by President Obama as a non-voting member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board.  The Tahoe Bonanza quoted Josh as saying “Even though I’m not voting, I plan on being a big part of the discussions.”  

Key Reid helped lead federal lobbying efforts for Lionel Sawyer & Collins’ Washington office.  He is now Sr. Vice President and General Council for the Greenspun Corp., which owns American Nevada Company (a real estate developer), Greenspun Media Group (which includes the Las Vegas Sun newspaper),, and Greenspun Gaming Group. 

Rory Reid is running for Governor of Nevada.  (Interestingly, he’s not using his last name on his campaign logo.)  Besides being vice-chairman on the Southern Nevada Water Authority, he was Chairman of the powerful Clark County Board of Commissioners, which had wide discretion over land-use decisions.  Clark county includes Las Vegas and a portion of Coyote Springs.   

After finding out about water from an aquifer being pipelined to Whittemore’s golf courses and the BLM’s land swaps, I thought how the BLM is currently removing our wild horses from their federally protected lands in Nevada, supposedly because there’s not enough water for them.  Has Senator Reid made one phone call to save our wild horses?  Has he set up a meeting with Bob Abbey, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, since so many members of the public are complaining?  Why hasn’t he moved heaven and earth to push through a bill to stop the roundups?  Maybe we should ask Leif to call him.


Harry Reid, Gold Member: Is Our Senator in bed with America’s worst polluter?” by Josh Harkinson (2/24/09) Mother Jones 

When Harry Met Vegas” by Peter Waldman (1/14/08)

“In Nevada, Reid Is the Name to Know” by Chuck Neubauer and Richard T. Cooper

“Desert Connections” by Chuck Neibauer and Richard T. Cooper

“Harry Reid, the Public Lands Enemy No. 1” by Bill Schneider (3/12/10)

Janine Blaeloch:  “Carving Up the Commons: Congress and Our Public Lands,” a book published by the Western Lands Project, (several pages on Reid’s public land deals).  You can contact her to download the book for free.