As an Arizonan, John McCain was already familiar with issues facing Nevada and the West, such as water rights and mining.

Our questionnaire on Nevada issues was sent to the eight major Republican candidates for president. Two of them, Mitt Romney and John McCain, responded.

The Nevada caucuses, which began as a Democratic Party project, were supposed to elevate Western issues in the debates over who should win the presidential nomination. Nevada Republicans joined the Democrats in moving their caucuses to Jan. 19. In November, we ran the Democratic responses, (see Cover Story, Nov. 29). On Jan. 3, we will run a cover story, “How to caucus,” which will tell party members where to go and how to participate in the new earlier caucuses, which will probably bring the national spotlight to focus on the Silver State—for a few hours anyway.

Both the Clinton and second Bush administrations have had to approve or disapprove transfers of water in Nevada from rural to urban areas. What guidelines would you want your administration to apply in deciding whether to approve such transfers?

John McCain: Water is a precious commodity in the West. Ensuring an ample and clean supply for municipal, agricultural, industrial, tribal, and conservation purposes is one of our most essential but difficult tasks. John McCain has several principles he would apply. First, existing water rights should be respected and protected. Second, any modifications to the allocation of water supply should be negotiated among the affected stakeholders to ensure just and proper outcomes. Third, to the maximum extent possible, water rights disputes should be resolved in state and local courts that can recognize and protect all legitimate claims, rights and authorities. Fourth, any necessary mediation of water rights disputes must recognize applicable law, involve all affected local communities, and ensure that water is used responsibly, sustainably, and for maximum public benefit.

Mitt Romney: Adjudication of water rights is generally a state issue. If the federal government is involved, however, I believe it should look to what the state has decided is the best allocation of water resources as a guide, and should take into account each state’s unique circumstances and local needs.

Would you recommend changes in federal policy on grazing fees, and if so, what would they be?

McCain: John McCain believes strongly in the “multiple-use, sustained yield” ethic of public land management. When public lands are used for economic purposes—such as timber, mining and cattle grazing—these activities must be conducted in a manner that is respectful of the land, adheres to responsible environmental protection standards, and ensures there is a fair return to taxpayers for the economic benefits gained from the land, and for the cost of administering these uses. He also believes that policies must recognize the important role that ranching families play in rural economies and in managing the land. John McCain strongly opposes drastic hikes in such fees that would bankrupt hard-working ranching families. Changes to the rules must involve the participation of all stakeholders, ensure that the use of public lands is responsible and sustainable, and that we continue to properly balance the multiple-uses for which public lands have been set aside.

Romney: Nevada is in a unique position because close to 90 percent of its land is owned by the federal government. The people who are using the land and know it best should have a say in how it should be used. Those implementing federal policy should take local and state interests and local and state issues into account when making decisions.

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Mitt Romney discusses his stance on grazing, mining and Yucca mountain.

Would you recommend changes in the Mining Law of 1872 and if so, what would they be?

McCain: Mining is an important use of public lands and must be maintained. Mining and the establishment of hard rock minerals claims must adhere to several key principles—(1) patented claims should be used for the purpose of mining, not transferred for other purposes, (2) mining activities should be conducted in accordance with responsible environmental standards, (3) mining rules and patent procedures should ensure that taxpayers and mining concerns are treated fairly and, (4) any changes in the mining law or its regulations should be developed in accordance with the existing rights of all affected stakeholders, and ensure that they are economically, environmentally, and fiscally responsible.

Romney: Our country, and Nevada, needs a robust and thriving domestic mining industry. At this point, the U.S. cannot afford a decline in mineral exploration and production. We cannot become dependent on other countries for minerals that are critical to our economy and our national security. I would be very wary of unnecessarily jeopardizing our domestic mining industry and the Silver State’s economy. The industry has proposed some reasonable reforms that should be explored.

Describe your position on Yucca Mountain.

McCain: First, John McCain believes that nuclear power is essential to the energy security of the nation and to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that it must continue to play a significant role in America’s energy mix. The proper storage of spent nuclear fuel is an important component of achieving that objective. Senator McCain has voted in support of establishing a safe, secure and properly licensed facility at Yucca Mountain. He believes that such a facility must meet all applicable safety and security standards, and that all affected parties must work together to resolve issues associated with moving forward fairly and expeditiously. In a speech on energy security, Senator McCain announced his interest in ensuring that local communities where spent nuclear fuel is stored receive a proprietary interest in that material, so that when technology allows for the recycling of waste into a valuable commodity, local residents will benefit directly.

Romney: I believe we must become independent from foreign sources of oil. Therefore, I am committed to developing and expanding the use of alternative sources of energy. Although nuclear power is one of our most promising alternative sources, one obstacle is how we dispose of spent nuclear fuel. Part of my energy independence initiative will be to continue to explore spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies, and how best to safely store the inevitable remaining waste. If we are going to have a repository for spent nuclear waste, priority number one must be the safety of the American people, and as President, I will work to make sure that the process is driven by safety. As president, I will make sure that this process is transparent and straightforward—the people of Nevada and surrounding states deserve to know what the Department of Energy is doing and why. Before making significant decisions regarding Yucca Mountain that have a direct and specific impact on Nevada, I will consult with Nevada leaders like Jim Gibbons, Brian Krolicki, John Ensign, Jon Porter and Dean Heller. I will foster a dialogue between Washington and local and state interests so that the views of those most affected by Washington policies are heard.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...