State of Nevada, NOI Comments -- Nellis Air Force Range Renewal

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Legislative Environmental Impact Statement for Nellis Air Force Range Renewal.

State Comments Submitted August 5, 1996


This page contains the full text of the State of Nevada's comments on the U. S. Air Force Notice of Intent (NOI) for the Nellis Range (See Federal Register Notice) The Comments were prepared by the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects in cooperation with the Departments of Administration, Conservation and Natural Resources, the State Commission on Wild Horses, and the State Division of Minerals.


The subject NOI formally initiates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process [as required under Public Law 99-606] to renew the three million acre public land withdrawal for the Nellis Air Force Range in southern Nevada.. Under current statutes footnote 1 these lands can only be renewed for military use by the Congress, thus prompting the need for a legislative EIS. Of note, the Nellis range is jointly managed by the Air Force, the BLM, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Department of Energy also conducts numerous testing and research activities on the ranges. In addition, a portion of Yucca Mountain is located on the southwestern border of the Nellis Range. Yucca Mountain is located in southern Nevada about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Yucca Mountain is currently being studied as a potential repository for disposal of civilian spent fuel and defense high level waste and legislation has been proposed that would stipulate transport of spent fuel and high-level waste across the Nellis Range.


The NOI proposed three alternatives:

Under the No Action Alternative, the NAFR complex would revert back to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdiction, and existing airspace restrictions over the ranges would be replaced by Military Operations Areas, thus precluding any further air-to-ground bombing activities. This alternative would limit the Air Force to air-to-air combat training only, pending airspace reclassification and approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Since the NAFR complex and associated facilities at the Nellis Air Force Base are an essential component of the Las Vegas community and regional economy in southern Nevada, State officials believe that enactment of the No Action Alternative is unrealistic. More importantly, the NAFR complex represents an estimated 30 percent of all lands held under Air Force jurisdiction in the continental United States. Accordingly, loss of the range complex could jeopardize national security since its replacement could take years if not decades to accomplish.

For More Information Contact -- State of Nevada, Nuclear Waste Projects Office, Capitol Complex, Carson City NV 89710 (702-687-3744, FAX 702-687-5277) or the Department of Administration, 702-687-6367


In an effort to assist the Air Force to prepare an adequate legislative EIS, State officials have defined the following list of significant scoping issues. The list is followed by a detailed discussion to clarify how these issues should be described and evaluated through the Environmental Impact Analysis Process and subsequently documented in the EIS.


1. Alternative Withdrawal Time Periods

2. Site Operations

3. Legislative Approval Process

4. Potential Legislative Initiatives

5. Aircraft Overflight Impacts

6. Cooperative Environmental Stewardship

7. Public Safety and Program Policies

8. Mitigation Measures

9. Summary Remarks

Significant Issues


1. Alternative Withdrawal Time Periods

The Proposed Action depicted in the NOI calls for the renewal of the NAFR complex "for an indefinite period of time with Congressional review every 15 years." State officials agree that the NAFR withdrawal must continue to be reviewed by Congress, yet we strongly object to the concept of implementing an "indefinite withdrawal." The State's objection is based on the following major factors:

  • Protection of the natural resources encompassing the NAFR complex cannot be assured, and in fact may be neglected, if the Air Force is granted in perpetuity control of the range complex.
  • This is evidenced by a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report, footnote 2 which focused on the experiences of Department of Defense (DOD) and federal resource agencies in jointly managing public lands withdrawn for military use. In Nevada, the report found that BLM officials had conducted very few resource management activities on the NAFR complex and that progress had been slow due to limited funding as well as access restrictions imposed by the Air Force.

  • The Air Force does not have the authority or resources to maintain a comprehensive program for managing natural resources on the NAFR complex over the next 15 years, much less in perpetuity.
  • Only a small portion of the range complex (about 16 percent) footnote 3 is actually used by the Air Force for training activities. Most of the withdrawn lands are under the administrative jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). In addition, large portions of the range remain under the de facto jurisdiction of the Department of Energy. footnote 4

    As a "landlord", the Air Force has very little authority, let alone the resources and/or experience, to command strict management controls over these other federal entities. One example would be setting environmental cleanup standards for contaminated soils on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) and Pahute Mesa. Yet if Congress grants exclusive (in perpetuity) control of the NAFR complex to the Air Force, the State of Nevada will have no option but to hold the Air Force responsible for the interim and long-term management of natural resources as well as historic and future contamination sites across the NAFR complex. There are thousands of acres of contaminated soils [plutonium, beryllium and uranium] located on the TTR and the NAFR complex that must be addressed.

  • The Air Force cannot predict how overall range operations, training requirements, new technologies, and federal missions might change over the foreseeable future. Such changes could drastically alter existing uses of the NAFR complex.
  • Since the proposed action would withdraw the range complex for a minimum of 15 years, State officials contend that it is simply not possible to fully describe all activities, tests, and military training programs that might be conducted on the NAFR complex in a single EIS document, especially for the envisioned 15 year time period. As the Air Force is aware, when national defense requirements change, programs will be modified, deleted, and added to respond to evolving threats and world conditions. Thus, there is ongoing need to continue to reevaluate the uses and impacts of military training on the NAFR through the formal legislative procedures established for land withdrawals.

    The concept of an in perpetuity military withdrawal calls into question congressional oversight and approval authority as mandated by the Engle Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Passage of these laws stopped the uncontrolled transfer of public domain lands between the Department of Interior and DOD agencies, as well as instituted a process of legislative oversight and review to insure the withdrawals were being managed properly and used for their intended purposes. Appropriately, the existing NEPA process, in association with the mandated legislative review and approval requirements, provides elected officials and the public an opportunity to participate in and affect matters involving the ongoing and future use of public lands by military agencies.

    Consequently, State officials in Nevada strongly contend that the Proposed Action should be defined in the draft EIS to reflect these principles. This means the Proposed Action should limit the NAFR withdrawal to a 15-year time period and should require a legislative EIS for conditions of renewal for any period thereafter.

    State officials would not necessarily object to the "indefinite withdrawal" of certain limited and specific areas on the NAFR that are significantly contaminated such as bombing impact zones and/or hazardous and radioactive contamination and burial sites. It may be prudent to place permanent restrictions on these areas, thereby limiting future developments and future liabilities. Such indefinite withdrawals might also serve to simultaneously confine high-hazard training activities to previously contaminated sites. However, we cannot support the wholesale withdrawal of all NAFR lands in perpetuity.

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    2. Site Operations

    The EIS should address existing conditions and planned operations, as well as reasonably foreseeable actions that are expected to occur over the duration of the withdrawal period. In reference to existing operations, the EIS should provide a complete description of each air-to-air and air-to-ground bombing range. Each range (both active and inactive) should be described in terms of use, existing range facilities and condition, type of ordnance expended or in use, size of impacted area, munitions management and cleanup activities, as well as size of range buffer zones. A brief discussion and status of existing Air Force Range Air Installation Compatible Use Zones (RAICUZ) documents for each range should also be addressed in the EIS. In reference to inactive ranges and other contamination areas, footnote 5 the EIS should provide documentation (directly or by reference) of all known contaminated sites, including current and future plans for individual site remediation activities. For areas on the NAFR complex that may have been contaminated with munitions before actual ranges and targets were constructed (i.e., bombing of naturally occurring features), the EIS should document historical contamination including past, current, and planned cleanup activities with special emphasis on subsurface identification and ordnance removal programs. In a related matter, the EIS should also discuss the use, management, and disposition of depleted uranium munitions.

    In reference to existing and future use of special use airspace and air-to-ground electronic and live fire ranges, the EIS should provide current and projected use of each range by aircraft type, including the number of sorties flown. This information should also be classified by major range operational activity such as "red flag exercises" and other similar events. The EIS should document this information to assess the maximum potential use of airspace and range resources. In recent years State officials have encouraged the Air Force to expand shared use of military airspace and range resources at Nellis to other military agencies -- most notably the U.S. Navy at Fallon. Sharing these resources is seen as one way to reduce the need for duplicating existing military training facilities in Nevada, thus limiting the need to withdraw additional public airspace and lands for military use. Thus, the EIS should document past, current, and projected use of NAFR special use airspace and range resources by other branches of the military not directly involved in Air Force training exercises. Likewise, the EIS should define and clarify efforts being undertaken to make electronic warfare training more compatible between Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) and the Naval Air Station at Fallon.footnote 6

    In describing existing operations, site conditions, and future development plans for the NAFR complex, consideration should also be given to separating the discussions for those areas being utilized for non-military (excluding airspace) training activities, specifically, the TTR, Pahute Mesa, classified research and development areas (e.g., Area 51), and other areas such as the Desert National Wildlife Range, the Wild Horse Range, and the Timber Mountain Caldera. Each of these areas has certain historical, current, and planned uses that should be discussed and evaluated separately in the EIS. Key examples include past and future uses of the TTR and Pahute Mesa. The TTR is operated by one of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) national laboratories for various research activities involving arming, fusing, and firing systems and other defense testing activities for both conventional and nuclear ordnance. The EIS should describe past, present, and planned testing activities at the TTR and discuss any future actions that could individually or cumulatively affect the environment.

    Issues concerning the future uses of Pahute Mesa should also be specifically addressed in the EIS. According to DOE, a significant portion of the proposed Nuclear Test Zone held in reserve at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) is located on Pahute Mesa. Yet DOE's recently published Site-Wide EIS for the NTS footnote 7 failed to clarify that such a designation is, in fact, needed. Historically, Pahute Mesa was used to detonate large underground nuclear devices, yet nuclear testing, which is under a moratorium, has been limited for some time to yields no greater than 150 kilotons. footnote 8 However, under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Air Force and DOE, footnote 9 Pahute Mesa is still being reserved for underground testing. Given the ongoing moratorium on nuclear testing and the existing threshold test limits imposed by treaty along with DOE's failure to justify a clear need for any future use of the area, the Air Force should evaluate alternative management strategies, uses, and institutional controls for Pahute Mesa over the period of the anticipated withdrawal. In effect, Pahute Mesa constitutes public lands that have been temporarily withdrawn for military use, and then subsequently "loaned" to DOE for nuclear testing activities - activities that no longer appear viable. This is an issue the EIS must address.

    Finally, under the general category of existing operations, site conditions, and future developments, there are other activities that may individually or cumulatively cause impacts to the environment that must be evaluated in the EIS. Examples include: anticipated base relocation and closure actions; planned range improvements and expansions such as enlarged and/or new electronic warfare and communication sites; ongoing range cleanup activities; and any special use airspace adjustments and expansions.

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    3. Legislative Approval Process

    Documentation of the Legislative Approval Process: The EIS should discuss the legislative review and approval process that will be followed to comply with the requirements of the Council on Environmental Quality, footnote 10 the Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1986, as well as the applicable provisions of the Engle Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. In other words, the EIS should specifically discuss the process and procedures the Air Force and the Department of Interior will follow to obtain an Act of Congress and/or a joint resolution required for reauthorization of the withdrawal for the NAFR complex [See PL 99-606 Section 5(c)]. In a related matter, CEQ regulation 40 CFR 1506.8(c) requires the comments on legislative statements to be forwarded by the lead agency to the Congressional committee(s) of jurisdiction. These committees should be identified in the EIS.

    4. Potential Legislative Initiatives

    There are at least two congressional bills that could significantly affect military training operations conducted on the NAFR complex. Foremost of these is Senate Bill S-1936, titled the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1996. This bill contains specific language directing the Secretary of Energy to acquire certain lands in Nevada to facilitate transport of civilian spent nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste to an interim storage site on the Nevada Test Site. The NTS is located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas and is contiguous to the NAFR complex. Title II, Section 201 of the bill directs the Secretary to utilize heavy-haul truck transport to move spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from the main rail line at Caliente, Nevada, to an interim storage facility at the NTS. The legislation further directs the Secretary to "develop the capability to commence rail to truck intermodal transfer at Caliente, Nevada, no later than November 30, 1999." In addition, various earlier versions of S-1936 require the Secretary to acquire lands and rights-of-way along the "Chalk Mountain Heavy Haul Route," located in the northeastern section of the NAFR complex. A companion bill, HR 1020, in the House of Representatives would authorize construction of a high-level nuclear waste rail spur in the same general area.

    Although correspondence from Air Force Secretary Widnall footnote 11 clearly indicates that the Air Force is strongly opposed to any actions that might impose route overflight restrictions or otherwise affect classified programs and training activities conducted on the NAFR complex, if such legislation is indeed enacted, a subsequent analysis of potential environmental impacts footnote 12 must be prepared. Depending on the timing of any such legislation, consideration of these impacts must be either directly incorporated in the Nellis legislative EIS or otherwise assessed independently footnote 13 . In the latter case, State officials strongly suggest that the EIS specifically acknowledge the potential for incremental impacts of any actions that are reasonably foreseeable that would result from the development of either a rail or heavy-haul transportation route for high-level nuclear waste across the NAFR, regardless of what entity or federal agency would undertake such an action. footnote 14

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    5. Aircraft Overflight Impacts

    The Special Use Airspace (SUA) authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for use by the Air Force in association with the NAFR withdrawal is extensive. There are several SUA areas and designations overlying the NAFR complex which together support a variety of training and weapons testing activities. These airspace areas consist of four (4) restricted areas: the Desert Military Operations Area; two low altitude tactical navigational areas; and more than 30 military training routes (MTRs). The MTRs generally transit most SUA airspace providing low-level entry and exit to the range complex. Overall, the SUA airspace assigned to Nellis Air Force Base overlies more than 10 million acres in southern Nevada, which is more than three times the size of the existing NAFR withdrawal.

    Hence, for NEPA analysis purposes, footnote 15 the existing NAFR land withdrawal is explicitly linked to training activities conducted in SUA airspace overlying the range complex and other public and private lands in southern Nevada. Outside of direct air-to-ground weapons delivery, these airspace training activities have caused and will continue to cause numerous indirect effects on the human and natural environments. According to CEQ regulations (40 CFR 1508.8(b)) these "indirect" effects may include effects related to "induced changes in the pattern of land use, population density or growth rates, and related effects on air and water and other natural systems, including ecosystems." Accordingly, the EIS should assess past, present, and reasonably foreseeable impacts associated with military overflight activities conducted in all areas covered by the SUA airspace assigned to the Nellis AFB.

    The significant issues that should be described and assessed in the draft EIS include the effects of the dispersal of chaff and flares on the natural environment, impacts and hazards associated with electromagnetic radiation, the effects of high-speed jet overflight noise and sonic booms on both the human and natural environment, and the effects of gaseous emissions from aircraft operations along with safety hazards associated with unexpected losses of unexploded ordnance and aircraft fuels.

    In reference to aircraft noise, the EIS should present past, present, and forecasted data concerning aircraft operations in and out of Nellis AFB, as well as flight operations conducted in SUA airspace associated with the NAFR complex. Past impact studies and noise measurements (i.e., AICUZ & RAICUZ and Sonic Boom Studies ) should be discussed and summarized in the draft EIS. Likewise, where foreseeable actions might cause significant noise impacts in the future, new revised noise studies should be prepared, incorporated into the environmental impact analysis process, and summarized in the draft EIS.

    At a minimum, the EIS should detail past, current, and projected urban growth patterns in the "noise" vicinity of the Nellis AFB and assess noise-impacted populations resulting from changes in land use (population density) around the base. Such analyses should be developed at the census track level and evaluated against day-night sound levels for separate noise contours over the period of the withdrawal; such an evaluation should also consider current and projected changes in the mix of aircraft type (fleet-mix) at Nellis AFB. Correspondingly, the EIS should also provide a similar analysis of sonic boom effects over those portions of the NAFR airspace that are inhabited and/or contain public-use recreational areas and wilderness study areas. The analysis of sonic booms should include an assessment of average day-night sound levels as well as single event levels at specific inhabited areas and recreational use locations. Since there is long history of supersonic flight activity within SUA airspace assigned to Nellis AFB, the EIS should further present a cumulative analysis of damages to private property caused by these high-speed overflight activities.

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    6. Cooperative Environmental Stewardship

    The timing of the proposed EIS for the NAFR complex is fortuitous for several reasons. One is that the DOE currently is preparing two EISs relevant to NAFR: one for the Yucca Mountain Project that is partially on NAFR and the other for the adjacent Nevada Test Site. Additionally, in southern Nevada, the BLM is revising the rangelands management program that applies to the Mojave-Southern Great Basin, within which NAFR and NTS lie.

    Both the DOE and the BLM, as well as the DOD, the USFWS, and the United States Forest Service (USFS), are in the midst of developing environmental resource stewardship programs based on (1) the principles and practices of ecosystem management, and (2) an acknowledgment that long-term use and values of natural resources are important to future generations (see footnote 16 below.)

    In addition to the list of references, another noteworthy report is The Ecosystem Approach: Healthy Ecosystems and Sustainable Economies prepared by the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (1995). This report sets forth the concept of ecosystem management developed by the Federal Ecosystem Management Initiative and adopted by all federal land management agencies through the Memorandum of Understanding to Foster the Ecosystem Approach (1996). There are also other important Department of Defense, Air Force, and related documents that should be drawn upon for the draft EIS regarding environmental stewardship. footnote 17

    The referenced documents reflect how widespread ecosystem management, natural resource stewardship, and interagency coordination and cooperation occurs throughout federal land managing agencies. These concepts are critical to the State of Nevada's interests for public lands in the southern part of the state. Accordingly, it is important that whenever an EIS is prepared (1) the document involves all relevant federal agencies as cooperating agencies, and (2) that the document includes a commitment to developing a Resource Management Plan (RMP) that embraces ecosystem management and sustainable development.

    A matter related to interagency cooperation and coordination that needs attention in the NAFR EIS is the Five Party Cooperative Agreement that has lain idle since May 1994. The parties involved: DOD, DOE, BLM, FWS, and the Nevada Division of Wildlife, should be brought together by the Air Force as part of its EIS scoping process to review the commitments necessary to manage the resources of the greater NAFR/NTS/DNWR ecosystem. Clearly, the federal initiative on resource stewardship through ecosystem management is justification for renewed interest in the Five Party Cooperative Agreement process.

    The EIS should also clarify the roles of other agencies in relation to that of the Air Force itself with respect to all aspects of environmental protection and resource management (e.g., the Five Party Cooperative Agreement process). Included should be an evaluation of the need for the Air Force to have its own resource management personnel and program. Consideration should be given to eliminating redundancies with similar activities of others, such as BLM and USFWS. In other words, the EIS process should be used to provide an opportunity for the Air Force to emphasize and "operationalize" coordination and cooperation among all resource management agencies and program efforts regarding the management of the greater ecosystem surrounding NAFR and the NTS.

    Air Force Instruction (AFI) 32-7064 stipulates that an integrated natural resources management plan (INRMP) be prepared for Air Force lands such as the NAFR. The plan is to be based on an interdisciplinary approach to ecosystem management. It is important that an INRMP for NAFR be incorporated as part of the draft EIS for two reasons. It will constitute the baseline for environmental information for the EIS to analyze, and the document will serve as a focal point for the Air Force to coordinate and cooperate with other agencies in managing the greater ecosystem represented by NAFR and the NTS.

    An example of how the draft EIS for NAFR can include an INRMP is the DOE's draft EIS for NTS and the document's Volume 2 regarding a Resource Management Plan for NTS. As with NAFR, there is a deficit of environmental baseline information at NTS, and DOE has found it necessary to respond to this in the course of implementing its resource stewardship program, (i.e., managing the nation's resources for future generations). The Air Force should follow suit in coordination and cooperation with other land management agencies in the vicinity of NAFR.

    A template for the INRMP is provided by AFI 32-7064. Attachment six of the Instruction presents a thorough outline that should be followed by the Air Force for developing an INRMP for the NAFR. Information specified in the attachment should appear either in the EIS or the INRMP to be made a part of the EIS. Additional guidance that should be followed by the draft EIS and the INRMP is contained in the Keystone Center's 1996 report on a DOD management strategy concerning biodiversity (see the list of referenced documents in footnote 17). Section IV of the document presents a sound model process for biodiversity conservation that consists of six steps. The model process is based on ecosystem management and emphasizes the regional context. Additionally, the Keystone Center report identifies measures of success on which natural resource monitoring activities should be based.

    Opportunities are presented by the EIS process for the Air Force to assess the potential for making unused lands at NAFR accessible to the public. Particular instances of this are the Nevada Wild Horse Range, the Timber Mountain National Natural Landmark, and the western portion of the Desert National Wildlife Range. For the landmark, DOE's draft EIS for NTS considers opening the area to public access. The Air Force should follow suit by designating and managing the national natural landmark as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in accordance with BLM policy.

    The Air Force should also follow others by establishing a citizen's advisory council for integrating the concerns and interests of the public and stakeholders associated with NAFR. (Such action is clearly warranted given the federal track record in managing natural resources contained within the NAFR complex -- see the referenced GAO report cited in these comments.) Last year, for example, the BLM appointed a Resource Advisory Council for the Mohave-Southern Great Basin Region, which includes NAFR, NTS, the Yucca Mountain site, the Desert National Wildlife Range, and contiguous BLM lands. The council reflects the multiple use concept for natural resources and is a major component of the BLM's public outreach activities implementing ecosystem management. Likewise, the DOE recently established a Community Advisory Board (CAB) for NTS programs. Like the BLM Resource Advisory Council, DOE's CAB is a federally constituted advisory board under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.footnote 18 Clearly, steps must be taken that move toward addressing the issues and difficulties that BLM and the USFWS have encountered in obtaining access to the NAFR complex for purposes of resource management. In other words, establishing a federal advisory board to assist the Air Force and the designated resource agencies to manage the NAFR complex is in the best interests of all concerned.

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    7. Public Safety and Program Policies

    The number of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities conducted on the NAFR complex such as military training, conventional and nuclear weapons testing, classified research and development programs, along with a variety of site maintenance and resource management activities have traditionally and collectively involved several major and largely distinct federal agencies.footnote 19 In addition, many of these agencies such as the Department of Energy and the national labs continue to employ numerous public and private subcontractors such as Bechtel, the TRW corporation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Desert Research Institute, and others. All of these diverse organizations continue to conduct a myriad of unique testing, training, infrastructure development, and resource management activities that, for the most part, function independently.

    While there are several "institutional arrangements" footnote 20 to promote coordination of some of these activities, only recently has the federal government committed to a program for managing infrastructure developments and natural resources in a way that acknowledges the long-term use and value of natural resources for future generations. This effort, however, is primarily limited to DOE "controlled" lands that only partially affect the NAFR complex.footnote 21 Appropriately then, and as stated previously, the EIS process should be used to provide an opportunity for the Air Force to "operationalize" coordination among all resource management agencies and program efforts regarding the management of the greater ecosystem surrounding the NAFR complex.

    Operationalizing such an activity through the development of a comprehensive natural resource management plan also would be greatly enhanced if the Air Force established a citizens advisory council for incorporating the concerns and interests of the public and stakeholders associated with the NAFR complex. While this point has been stated previously, there are specific resource concerns, public safety issues, and program policies that should be assessed through a comprehensive integrated natural resource management plan and/or assessed and summarized in the EIS. Such a process must involve the interested public and stakeholders. Foremost of these issues and concerns are:

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    8. Mitigation Measures

    The EIS should document the status of the mitigation measures initiated as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Groom Mountain Range Withdrawal (November 4, 1986), and the Special Nevada Report (September 23, 1991). The Groom EIS and the Special Nevada Report were congressionally mandated studies that focused on mitigating Nevadans for the loss of public lands and airspace to military training activities. An estimated 40 percent of the State's airspace has been allocated by the FAA for military training. In terms of public land, DOD currently controls over 3.3 million acres in Nevada.

    In addition, the EIS should evaluate the possible relinquishment of certain areas of the NAFR complex such as sections of Stonewall Mountain and the Tolicha Mining District. Stonewall Mountain is a potential recreational-use and hunting area, whereas the Tolicha Mining District is an area considered extremely attractive for exploration of gold and silver. Both of these areas are located on the western edge of the existing withdrawal. Finally, the EIS should evaluate low-level jet overflights over Goldfield, Nevada and consider implementing a "no-fly zone" over this community. This may include relocation of any military training routes (e.g., VR 208) in the local vicinity.

    9. Summary Remarks


    Without question, State officials believe the Proposed Action depicted in this Notice of Intent for the EIS is inappropriate and cannot be supported. Withdrawing three million acres of public lands for an indefinite period of time, even with periodic congressional review, cannot assure protection of the natural resources of the area. As previously stated, the Air Force simply does not have the authority or resources to maintain a comprehensive program for managing natural resources on the NAFR complex for an indefinite period. Moreover, State officials contend that the Air Force is incapable of predicting long-term range operations and impacts, given the complexity of military training programs, conventional weapons testings, scientific and nuclear research, along with classified research and development activities conducted by the many independent federal entities that use the NAFR complex. This is particularly important, given emerging technologies and changing federal missions for the entities involved. The existing NEPA process along with a scheduled legislative approval mechanism offers elected officials and the public a voice in the ongoing use of the NAFR complex. Simply put, the State of Nevada strongly asserts that the Proposed Action must be limited to a withdrawal of 15 years and that the withdrawal be subject to review and approval of a legislative EIS and subsequently authorized by an act or resolution of Congress. However, State officials do not object to an analysis in the EIS of areas known to be permanently contaminated for consideration as potential candidate sites that might be withdrawn indefinitely.

    Significant Issues:

    Shared use of SUA airspace and range resources are issues the EIS should carefully evaluate. Assessing the capability of sharing these resources is needed to evaluate future proposals that may duplicate existing military training facilities in Nevada. This is an issue the State has long considered important for assessing the need for additional withdrawals of public lands and airspace for military use.

    Issues concerning the use of certain lands on the NAFR, such as Pahute Mesa and portions of TTR must also be assessed in the EIS. Justification for continued use of certain areas by DOE is debatable, given the moratorium on nuclear testing and other limitations mentioned above. The EIS should assess the need for any future uses of these areas and evaluate alternative management strategies including long-term institutional controls appropriate for managing radioactive contamination at selected sites into the future.

    In these comments, a discussion is presented about the need to disclose the procedures the Air Force and the Department of Interior will follow to renew the NAFR withdrawal. While this may not seem a significant issue for federal officials, the development of a legislative EIS for the renewal of the withdrawal of three million acres of public lands is clearly a unique federal action. Disclosure of the procedures needed to implement this action will help local officials and affected stakeholders participate in the EIS and legislative decision making process.

    The scope of the EIS must include an assessment of the effects of jet overflights and their direct and indirect impacts on all lands beneath SUA airspace assigned to Nellis AFB. While State officials support the continued withdrawal of the NAFR complex, its renewal cannot be "disconnected" in the NEPA analysis from military training activities conducted in the region.

    In a related matter, the description of the No Action Alternative presented in the NOI unfairly portrays a true "No Action Alternative" since all training activities conducted from Nellis AFB are indisputably linked to the availability of the Congressionally withdrawn lands, as well as to the SUA airspace that has been administratively or by rule set aside by the FAA for military use. The No Action Alternative should be stated as requiring relocation of the air-to-air, air-to-ground, and DOE activities to other locations. While this may not be possible, for the NEPA analysis purpose, it reflects a true No Action Alternative, even though such an action would not permit the return of portions of the NAFR complex to public use. As presently written, the No Action Alternative pre-judges FAA decisions concerning re-authorization of SUA airspace for air-to-air training activities over the range complex.

    These comments contain a detailed section about the need to address cooperative environmental stewardship for managing the NAFR complex into the future. It is noted that the timing of the Nellis withdrawal EIS is fortuitous, given several parallel NEPA actions in the region, as well as emerging federal initiatives for managing natural resources using concepts of sustainability through ecosystems management. Obviously, State officials are concerned that the respective federal agencies work together along with interested parties and stakeholders in the EIS process to meet these new emerging resource management challenges. Yet past evidence indicates the Air Force has not embraced these challenges in a forthright manner. In 1993, Governor Bob Miller of Nevada advised officials at the Nellis AFB that "efforts to expand formal coordination among all federal entities and the State of Nevada, including public involvement activities, must be implemented during the preparation of these [emerging] environmental documents." footnote 22 The State's position on this issue has not changed, which provides even more impetus for the establishment of a federal advisory board to help address these new emerging environmental issues and resource management challenges.

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    This comment document was jointly prepared by John B. Walker and Dr. Charles Malone, State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. It was reviewed by Paul Liebendorfer and Julie Butler, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and the Department of Administration, respectively. Copies of this document were sent to the following individuals:


    Governor Bob Miller
    Nevada Congressional Delegation
    Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General
    Leo Penne, State of Nevada, Washington Office
    Robert R. Loux, NWPO
    Lew Dodgion, NDEP


    Sheila E Widnall, Secretary of the Air Force
    Sherri W. Goodman, DOD
    Ann Morgan, State Director (Nevada) BLM
    Joint Military Affairs Committee (SNR- JMAC)
    Carlos Mendoza, USFWS
    Terry Vaeth, DOE/NV
    Carol M. Borgstrom, DOE/HQ


    See Engle Act, 1958 (PL 85-337), and the Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1986 (PL 99-606).


    2 See United States General Accounting Office, April 1994. Natural Resources, Defense, and Interior Can Better Manage Land Withdrawn for Military Use. (GAO/NSIAD-94-87). BACK

    3 See Department of the Interior, 1981. Final Environmental Impact Statement, Proposed Public Land Withdrawal, Nellis Air Force Bombing Range, Nye, Clark, and Lincoln Counties, Nevada, (page 1-32). BACK

    4 The Air Force, through separate MOUs, permits DOE to use the Tonopah Test Range (TTR), an area referred to as Pahute Mesa, and the Yucca Mountain site. The TTR encompasses over 350,000 acres and is primarily used as a fully instrumented ballistic test range. Until 1992, Pahute Mesa was used for deep underground nuclear testing. Yucca Mountain remains under investigation by DOE as a potential federal repository for disposal of civilian spent reactor fuel and defense high-level waste. BACK

    5 Radioactive contamination areas and munition burial sites on the Tonopah Test Range, Pahute Mesa, the northern ranges, etc. (e.g., Double Tracks, Clean Slates, etc.). BACK

    6 See Reno Gazette-Journal, Thursday, July 11, 1996. "Navy Combines Elite Air Units in Fallon." Remarks by Rear Adm. Bernard J. Smith. BACK

    7 See DOE/EIS 0243, January 1996

    8 See Nuclear Threshold Test Ban Treaty BACK

    9 See Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between DOE and the Department of the Air Force (Tactical Air Command -- Nellis). The MOU grants operational control of Pahute Mesa to DOE for "execution of the nation's underground nuclear weapons test mission." (MOU E-AIO8-82NV10283).

    10 See CEQ 40 CFR 1506.8 BACK

    11 See letters from Secretary Sheila E.Widnall to the Honorable Don Young, House of Representatives, dated September 20, 1995, and to the Honorable Strom Thurmond, United States Senate dated May 31, 1996. BACK

    12 See 32 CFR Part 989.7 and 40 CFR 1500.3 BACK

    13 Although CEQ implementing regulations 40 CFR 1502.9 exempt federal agencies from the requirement to prepare a supplemental NEPA analysis for legislative proposals (i.e., renewal of the NAFR withdrawal), the regulations do not exempt the Air Force from complying with Section 102 (c); of the National Environmental Policy Act. BACK

    14 See 40 CFR 1508.7 BACK

    15 CEQ regulations 40 CFR 1508.25(1) require the scope of an environmental impact statement to include "connected actions, which mean [actions] that are closely related and therefore should be discussed in the same impact statement." According to these regulations, actions are considered connected if they automatically trigger other actions which may require environmental impact analysis or are actions that have cumulatively significant impacts and should therefore be discussed in the same impact statement. BACK



    18 See P.L. 92-463, Sec.1, Oct. 6, 1972 BACK

    19 Examples include: U.S. Department of Air Force; the Department of Energy; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Bureau of Land Management; Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; the Defense Nuclear Agency; etc. BACK

    20 Five Party Agreement between USAF, DOE, FWS and BLM; JMAC (Joint Military Affairs Committee -- Military Agencies, BLM, and State agencies); Community Advisory Board for NTS programs (CAB -- limited to DOE Environmental Management activities on the NTS); Restoration Advisory Board (limited to Nellis AFB Institutional Restoration Program, i.e., corrective action, cleanup and closure activities of hazardous waste sites); and BLM's Resource Advisory "Council for the Mohave-Southern Great Basin Region. BACK

    21 See U.S. Department of Energy, 1996. Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Nevada Test Site and Off-site Locations in the State of Nevada, Volume 2, Framework for Resource Management Plan. BACK

    22 Letter from Governor Bob Miller, Nevada, July 21, 1993 to Major General Thomas Griffith, Nellis Air Force Base. BACK


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