Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, one among the most important Senate leaders in modern U.S history, has passed away last week. His legacy is a lasting legacy in energy and environmental policy.
Following complications from pancreatic carcinoma, Reid passed away at his Henderson, Nev. home. He was 82.
President Biden, in a lengthy statement, noted Reid’s leading role in creating the Great Basin National Park. Reid was a House member in the 1980s, and authored legislation for this park.
Biden stated that Harry, his Senate Majority Leader had helped pass the Recovery Act, which would have prevented another Great Depression. He was referring to the 2009 stimulus law, which was passed after the financial meltdown. He saved the American auto industry. He was instrumental in passing Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform as well as the Affordable Care Act. He also ended Dont Ask Dont Tell and ratified New Start Treaty.
The League of Conservation Voters, which gave Reid a lifetime achievement award in 2015, released a statement pointing to the senator’s “incredible legacy” on energy and environment issues.
Gene Karpinski, LCV President, stated that “we are so thankful that he brought to the fight time again throughout his distinguished career to climate solutions and clean energy and protecting public land in his beloved Nevada and across this country.”
Although Reid was opposed to the coal industry, he also supported natural gas as an alternative energy source. He supported legislation to promote gasoline-powered cars, which would be in direct contradiction to the current green drive for electrification.
Reid kept nuclear waste from being stored in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain repository but was a supporter of his state’s mining industry. He was often blamed by environmental advocates for the failure to reform the mining law.
Reid defended himself by saying, “I’m willing to consider any proposal for mining reform that protects the mining industry, doesn’t kill jobs and shares revenues with the state.”
Reid is also famous for launching a public battle against Charles Koch and David Koch in 2014. They were Republican megadonors that funded libertarian causes.
Reid said that he did things that no one else would, during a 2019 interview with Jon Ralston, a Nevada political writer.
‘A place of my dreams’
Reid was part in a documentary last year called “The Politics of the Environment: The New West and the Politics of the Environment,” from Los Angeles-based PBS station KCET, which explored Reid’s role in a Nevada-California water war, protecting public lands, opposing coal and killing Yucca Mountain.
Reid said his passion for environmental causes began with a trip to Piute Springs in California’s Mojave Desert about 40 miles to the south and west of his hometown of Searchlight, Nev.
Reid said, “Oh it was the place of my dreams.” It was beautiful for a young boy. They had huge, tall cottonwood trees. There was also a fort. It’s called Fort Piute. It was constructed of rock and may have been built in 1864 as a protection for the mail routes. You could still see the windows from the gun emplacements. There were ponds. You had cattails, lily pads.
Reid stated, “Searchlight itself had not trees, nor grass, it was a place without water. I’d wanted to go back to Piute Spring because as a boy, my youthful mind, it was like paradise. And so I went back. Someone had burned the big cottonwood trees and the fort was down. The lily pads were gone. The ponds had disappeared. It was so horrible. If we couldn’t protect that gem of the desert, then we’re in big trouble as a country.”
Reid said creating Great Basin National Park involved negotiating with then-GOP Sen. Paul Laxalt and working with then-National Park Service Director William Penn Mott so President Reagan wouldn’t veto the bill (E&E Daily, Oct. 1, 2020).
Reid said, “I wanted to do something to preserve wilderness because Nevada was growing so quickly.” “I knew people would destroy the environment unintentionally,” Reid said.
Reid said efforts to add more than 4 million acres of wilderness to the state weren’t always popular.
He said, “I worked in wilderness, which damaged my popularity among rural Nevadans.” “Once people were in place, they were happy.”
Reid claimed that he received similar criticisms for his efforts to end a lingering water conflict between California and his state. Reid claimed that he brought together warring parties to reach a deal.
Reid, in the documentary, discussed his opposition to expanding the Reid Gardner Generating Station near Moapa, which provided nearly 40 percent of Las Vegas’ power.
Reid stated, “I decided that I was going to get rid coal in Nevada.” “And that’s what I did. I called a hedge fund. I told the guy, ‘Look, you back away from that coal plant or I will get even with you. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I will figure something out.’”
Pressure from Reid, coupled with activism from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and other interests, helped secure the plant’s closure. It was demolished in the meantime.
Reid also worked to promote renewables. Reid was instrumental in securing a buyer for energy produced by a solar plant being constructed by the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians.
“So I call mayor of [Los Angeles], and I said, ‘I know you’re trying to go to renewable energy. I can get you six to seven hundred megawatts in a year. Can you use it?’ He said, ‘You bet,’” Reid recalled.
Reid said Bill Clinton’s election gave Yucca Mountain opponents an opening. He then collaborated with the Obama government to end the project. He convinced President Obama to create Basin and Range National Monument near Yucca.
Reid said, “It prevents that land forever being spoilt.” “There’ll be no railroads going through that land. Right now, all of the drilling equipment that they had up there has been removed and ground up for scrap steel. There’s nothing there. They would have a new start. We don’t have nuclear waste, and I don’t see it in the future.”
Senate and political legacy
Reid was born in Searchlight to a miner father and a laundress mother. Reid committed suicide at 32.
Reid attended Henderson High School, 40 miles from Searchlight. There he was a football player and an amateur boxer.
At Utah State University, Reid studied history and economics. To make ends meet, Reid earned a law degree at George Washington University in Washington.
Reid was Nevada lieutenant governor in the 1970s and chaired the state’s Gaming Commission between 1977 an 1981, where he worked to root out corruption.
He pursued Jack Gordon, an entertainment promoter for trying to bribe Reid. In 1981, Reid’s wife, Landra, found a bomb attached to the family car.
Landra, a breast cancer survivor, was Reid’s high school girlfriend. They had four sons, and one daughter.
Reid served in Congress from 1983 to 1987. After running to replace Laxalt (who retired), Reid joined the Senate.
Reid is best known for invoking what was called the nuclear option in 2013. He led a change in Senate rules to allow judicial nominations to pass by simple majority, except for Supreme Court.
Ralston was told by Reid in 2019 that it was “one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.”
Asked whether he regrets paving the road for Republicans to scrap the 60-vote majority for Supreme Court nominees too, Reid said he wasn’t surprised.
“It didn’t take a genius to understand that it would be used, but that’s OK,” Reid told Ralston.
After an exercise accident that left Reid blind in one eye, Reid declared that he would not be running for reelection in 2015.
After years of fighting the Republican caucus, and its leader, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, Reid decided to end his war.
But he wanted his influence to continue. Reid supported Senator Chuck Schumer from New York and was a force in Nevada politics and national politics.
Reid has been a kingmaker for a long time. Obama, who released a letter he wrote Reid, said he would not have been president without the senator’s encouragement. Reid also made sure that Catherine Cortez Masto (an ally) would succeed him in the Senate.
Doctors diagnosed Reid, who was a senator for over 30 years and majority leader between 2007 and 2015, with pancreatic carcinoma in 2018.
During an interview with The New York TimesReid spoke out about his cancer diagnosis in 2019.
Reid survived to see Democrats retake the White House and the Senate, even though it was by a narrow margin. He also lived to see the Capitol in riot.
Donald Trump will go down … as the worst president in the history of the country. Reid stated that this is a big deal because we have had some very bad presidents. The Salt Lake TribuneIn one of his last interviews. So good riddance.
Reid’s funeral will be Saturday at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. Obama is expected to deliver his eulogy. Next week, Reid will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda.
Said Schumer Harry Reid was one the most remarkable people I have ever met. He was strong and tough, but he was also caring and compassionate and would go out of his way to help anyone who needed it. Although he was a boxer from humble beginnings, he never forgot his roots and used his boxing instincts to fight anyone who was hurting the poor or the middle class.