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Reid Attaches Earmark to Continuing Resolution

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Sunday inserted language into a short-term continuing resolution ensuring that a handful of counties in Nevada and other states receive royalties from geothermal development projects.

The Nevada Democrat included the provision despite the fact that Republicans defeated a yearlong omnibus spending bill because it was packed with more than $8.5 billion in earmarks like the geothermal language.

Reid’s office acknowledged that the language is in the CR. Reid moved Sunday night to set up a procedural vote on the bill this week.

The earmark appears similar to provisions sought by Reid, Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that would provide royalties and rent payments for geothermal projects on federal property in 31 counties across the country, including several in Nevada.

For instance, according to the Lahontan Valley News, Churchill County in Nevada received almost $3 million in royalties in 2010.

According to a Democratic aide, the earmark would continue legislation that Reid secured to “fix” the Interior Department’s fiscal 2010 funding legislation, which stopped historic payments to counties for geothermal projects and sent those funds to the federal government instead.

“These payments are critical to rural county governments, especially those with a high percentage of public land,” the aide said, adding that the money is used for public safety and general budgetary needs in most cases.

The aide said that the earmark has broad bipartisan support and that Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have all backed the provision in the past.

On Sunday, Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to a two-and-a-half-month CR, but the details are still being worked out, including a number of earmarks and other provisions in the bill dubbed “new anomalies” and existing “anomalies” by the Appropriations Committee.

It includes President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze pay for federal workers in 2011, as well as $23 million for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for oil rig inspections in the Gulf Coast region.

Republicans defeated Democrats’ omnibus bill last week in large part because it was loaded with earmarks, including hundreds of millions in earmarks requested by Republicans like McConnell.

It is unclear whether McConnell will mount the same concerted opposition to the CR that he did to the omnibus. When the omnibus bill was introduced, Democrats expected GOP support, but the controversy over its earmarks ultimately doomed the bill.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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