Fifth Street

February 18, 2021

In this issue: Taco the Town | 'Not an Oil and Gas State' | Media Sommelier

LAS VEGAS HAS a lot of things worth loving, but few measure up to our taco scene. From the transcontinental mashups at KoMex to the hardcore traditional flavors of Tacos el Gordo, we run the gamut of delicious small tortillas filled with joy. I’m not foolhardy enough to attempt an in-depth list, since a new place pops up every other month. Instead, here some small gems old and new that this valley has come to rely on. 

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Los Tacos
As an East Coast transplant, I found Los Tacos to be my entry point into the valley’s Mexican cuisine, welcoming me with open arms and two convenient drive-throughs. I could not have asked for a better introduction to West Coast-style tacos: plump and stuffed with crema, beans, cheese, and meat. (This was in 1999, when the East Coast's idea of Mexican food was Taco Bell.) The quality and flavors haven’t diminished. I recommend the buche, but if you can't stomach meat, get the veggie taco, which is packed with bean-and-cheesy goodness. 1710 E. Charleston Blvd. and 4001 W. Sahara Ave.,

Durango Taco Shop
Everyone knows that if you want good tacos, head to East Las Vegas. This spot way out west is an exception. The folks at Durango Taco Shop put taste to tortillas like no one’s business. While the lengua will have your tongue wagging, and the chicken is nothing to cluck at, for my money the queso birria tacos bring a level of deep, rich flavor I usually experience standing beside food carts in tire-shop parking lots. 7785 N. Durango Drive #105 (additional locations at 9360 W. Flamingo Road #1 and 1380 E. Flamingo Road);

Birria de Res
Speaking of carts in parking lots, please, dear reader, make your way to this spot at East Charleston and 15th. I know the market for birria (a kind of meat stew) is oversaturated, but I can't complain about such a delicious trend. Birria De Res not only serves the beautiful, dippable consommé carafes that constitute a birria taco, it also offers birria ramen (right). Spindly fried noodles straight out the packet, soaking up clean, deep, beef broth flavors, topped with cilantro salsa to lighten things up. Make it your next act of self-care. (No formal contact info; just show up!)

Garden Grill
Though not strictly a taco spot, this plant-based hole-in-the-wall serves up some of the more commendable vegan tacos in the city. The beer-battered avocado tacos deliver spicy, crunchy, and creamy as well as any animal-based version. And the “beef” taco leaves nothing wanting in the flavor department. Pair these with one of the shakes, and you may forget that this food is good for you. 7550 W. Lake Mead Blvd. #8,

Tacos El Compita
For quality tacoing, I find few in the valley equal to this little grease spot tucked away on West Charleston. While I can't say Tacos El Compita does anything very different in the kitchen or on the plate, on the tongue it’s a winner. The asada (right) is intensely seasoned and melts in your mouth. The al pastor rivals any served citywide. If you are weary of tacos, treat yourself to a plate of chile verde for some refreshing heat. 6118 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-878-0008 (additional locations: 7622 Westcliff Drive and 4455 E. Tropicana Ave.)

The Taco Stand
This California transplant, with its clean, minimal interior and rapid-fire service, feels like what would happen if In-N-Out ran a taco stand. Inauthentic as that sounds, the flavors are anything but. The fried fish taco (right) is a great place to start, the fish crunchy and light on plump corn tortillas and drizzled with a creamy hot sauce. If pescado is too far upstream for you, grab a nopales — the sliced, grilled cactus atop fried cheese offers a lush contrast of textures and flavors. Finish with the fried churros prepared fresh when you order. 3616 Spring Mountain Road, 702-268-8762

Famous Chicago Style Taco Shop
It would take a great deal of text to explain the historic Mexican migration to the Windy City and its effect on the cuisine there. But simple changes like grilled instead of griddled tortillas, and variations in spices and cuts of meat (right) show the subtle differences in style. This chile relleno taco — a little chile stuffed with cheese, then fried — is one of the most enjoyable interpretations of this dish I've come across; it has an explosive effect on the palate. The barbacoa is pretty great, too, whether in a taco or on the aptly named Windy City fries. 3415 W Craig Road, 702-823-2315

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ABOUT A WEEK after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order pausing oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. He touted the move as part of his strategy for tackling the climate crisis and said the pause would give federal officials time to examine the disproportionate impacts of fossil fuel extraction on low-income communities and people of color. The American Petroleum Institute immediately responded that the move would destroy a million jobs and cost the U.S. billions in revenue. In Nevada, reaction fell along similarly opposing sides, with one partial exception: that of the Nevada Wildlife Federation. The group’s executive director, Russell Kuhlman (pictured below), says it’s not against fossil fuel development in the U.S. … but it doesn’t make sense in Nevada. He explains here.

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Why did the Nevada Wildlife Federation weigh in on this issue?
Because we’re a strong advocate for public lands and the multiple-use mission. We’re concerned about oil and gas leasing on federal lands that we feel could be better used for increased recreational access and other opportunities that average Nevadans can partake in. We support use that isn’t so one-sided and doesn’t have such low potential for both producing energy and giving back to the taxpayer through royalties.

To clarify, are you saying, basically, you want to keep these public lands open for hunting, rather than closing them off for drilling?
Yes, for hunting, bird-watching, hiking, camping — any recreational opportunities that are free and open for all public land users, whether citizens or tourists.

Is it a big problem in Nevada, losing access to public lands due to oil and gas development?
On the actual landscape, it’s less of an access issue and more about the amount of work that federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management have to put in just to lease those areas that, for the large part, don’t have any activity happening on them. The Nevada Wildlife Federation’s thinking is that BLM time and staff could be better spent on improving habitat, fence removal for wildlife, and a number of other jobs outlined in their mission. Instead, they have to focus on oil and gas lease sales that ultimately don’t produce anything.

Can you quantify that? How little — or how much — do they produce?
Nevada’s oil production is just enough to repave Nevada’s roads every year. Most if not all the oil extracted here goes to asphalt.

How much land are we talking about, when we talk about oil and gas leases?
At the end of fiscal year 2019, there were 935,000 acres of authorized leases. But more than 97 percent of that total acreage is idle. There’s no production, no oil derricks. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s an actual lease.

So, does that mean people can still go on it — say, to hunt or hike?
That would depend on the lessee. You could, potentially, recreate on it, but the BLM is prioritizing that lease acreage for energy development. They have final say.

Why is the land idle?
Nevada is not an oil-producing state. There are varying theories on why oil and gas companies and individuals are purchasing these leases, but few have to do with extracting any oil or gas from them. One common theory is that they’re padding their books to make it seem like they have a lot of leases, when those leases in Nevada actually have low production potential. By 2019, only 69 of the 22,000 federal oil and gas leases issued in NV since 1953 were recorded to have entered production.

How much does the federal government make off Nevada’s federal lands in these leases?
The lease sales are done in auction format, so if there are multiple bidders they’re competitive. During President Trump’s administration, out of 2.6 million federal acres offered for oil and gas leasing, only 9 percent were competitive. The rest were single bidders, which meant they went for the minimum rate of $1.50 per acre. Between 2014 and 2018, about 85 percent of all acreage sold was at that rate.

Does the state benefit, in taxes or royalties?
There are two types of fossil fuel energy development: on-shore and off-shore. For off-shore, the royalties are as high as 18.75 percent of the profit. Oil companies put that in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On-shore, it’s only about 12.5 percent, and those royalties go back to the state’s residents. But with the limited amount of energy production here in Nevada, we really don’t see any of that money going back to the taxpayer. If we had increased the on-shore royalty to the off-shore rate, we could have gotten an additional $50 million last year. Compared to gaming industry or recreational community economy, that isn’t huge, but it could go a long way right now.

If I’m hearing you correctly, we’re not making anything on the front end, through sales, and we’re losing millions on the back end, in the form of low royalties. Is that correct?
Yes. The taxpayers are not winners in this program.

Who is?
In the current process, all the advantage is for the development companies and everyone else gets left holding the bag.

What do you suggest for fixing this?
I would say we throw in the towel on chasing oil and gas production in Nevada and focus on energy development that benefits both the company and the taxpayers and federal agencies that manage the land.

Does the Biden order kind of do that?
That’s a common misconception. The answer technically is no. He put a stop to any future leasing opportunities, but if an oil company won an option and had a lease before the executive order was signed, they could still file permits, and the day-to-day operations for them are not affected whatsoever. Any oil or energy production on state land, private land, or tribal land is not affected.

Do you agree with the order?
I feel that it was a necessary step because of the gold-rush mentality of oil and gas companies during the last four years. There needed to be a stop, long enough to review what happened over last four years and how to better manage it moving forward. I think this would be a great time — and it’s my hope that it happens — to highlight the fact that Nevada is not an oil and gas-producing state and won’t ever be one; however, we’re in a prime time to start seeing what renewable energy looks like in our state.

But wouldn’t renewable development kick recreational users off the land just like oil and gas development?|
There are studies and reports that say renewable energy, like solar, can be done on reclaimed mining site areas that are already connected to the electrical grid and would be an example of what responsible renewable energy would look like. We want to make this point: We are for responsible energy development, whether it’s fossil fuels or renewable energy. There’s a misconception that organizations like ours won’t oversee renewable energy companies and their effects on public recreation and wildlife. We want to make sure any energy production in our state is done responsibly. That means balancing public use, wildlife and habitat protection, and development; it doesn’t matter whether it’s fossil fuel or renewable energy.

Does the state of Nevada have a role to play? I mean, we’re talking about federal land.
Well, state agencies don’t have a lot of say. However, we as Nevadan citizens have plenty of say to change the way energy production happens in our state and how we’re reimbursed for those activities. If change is going to happen, it will need to happen through support from Nevadans to change the course in how we produce energy in our state.

By voting?
Yeah, voting for federal officials, working with them to let them know what you’re thinking. A recent poll said more than 75 percent of Nevadans support renewable energy on federal lands. More than 70 percent support recreation on public lands. So, that ties into responsible energy production; not the one-sidedness we saw with the last admin that prioritized oil and gas extraction over everything else.

Could a change in the approach to oil and gas have a larger impact on the way the state and federal governments see resource extraction on public lands?
Absolutely, this could signal a larger shift. There is some state legislation currently happening that would increase or create a royalty tax for the mining industry. That’s another indication that change is needed.

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1. ‘Black Moses’ Lives On: How Marcus Garvey’s Vision Still Resonates,” the most recent episode of NPR’s Throughline podcast, is organized around the real experience of Josie Gatlin. She was one of many Black Oklahomans who, in 1921, received threats to leave the state or perish. Gatlin sought escape on Garvey’s Black Star Line, a fleet of ships promising passage to a Black utopia in Liberia, West Africa. Thousands of people bought into the venture — both figuratively, by embracing Garvey’s Pan-Africanist vision, and literally, by purchasing shares in the Black Star Line. Throughline producer Rund Abdelfatah follows Gatlin’s journey as documented by Garvey biographers, using it as a metaphor for the complicated legacy of the Jim Crow-era civil rights icon. Gatlin may never have gotten where she intended to go, but did the act of embracing her Black identity and defying racist terrorists, in itself, constitute liberation? Or did Garvey swindle unsuspecting followers and leave them holding the bag? “If I've learned anything while making a history show for the past two years, it's that these questions never have simple answers,” Abdelfatah writes. What her search for the truth does offer is a captivating case study in establishment-versus-radical approaches to resisting oppression — one that’s as relevant today as ever.

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2. Snownado, anyone? Okay, look, I know I’ve linked to Emily Atkin’s HEATED before, but the image of a drunk climate staggering home to the arctic via a circuitous romp down South justifies doing it again. Also, the Tuesday, February 16, edition of the newsletter is a tutorial in taking down climate-deniers who use freakishly cold conditions to yuck-yuck about Where’s your global warming now? and share memes of frozen wind turbines blaming renewables for Texas’ current woes (the coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants failed too, numbskulls). Atkin goes beyond the headline that climate change affects cold weather and looks at research showing how, and why, it does that. Bonus: Snownado!

3. For those in need of a rage rush, here’s a nice bit of investigative reporting that should do the trick: Emails show Tyson's sway over Arkansas mayor during COVID surge in plants. The headline encapsulates an old-as-dirt tale — unscrupulous mega-employer has local elected officials in its pocket — but the PR firms and communications consultants appearing in this version take it to a new height of skeeziness. For example, the company arranges tours with public officials, the public officials post photos of the tours on their social media, and then the company uses the public officials’ social media posts as evidence they’re on the up-and-up. Meanwhile, company workers are getting sick and dying at extraordinarily high rates. It almost gives one hope that in a post-insurrection world, conservative and liberal readers can once again unite in their shared hatred of corporate corruption. Almost. Certain to be of interest to all media wonks, however, is the news outlet doing the reporting: Facing South, one of those newfangled nonprofit research and reporting outfits that some believe may yet save journalism.

4. Was the impeachment of Donald Trump constitutional? Was there ever any chance he’d be convicted? Has the practice of impeachment outlived its usefulness? Turns out, these questions were answered in Britain in the late 1700s, writes University of New Hampshire history professor Eliga Gould in The Conversation’s “Why the British abandoned impeachment, and what the U.S. Congress might do next.” Leave it to the pubescent colonies to be four centuries behind their royal older sibling, which finally admitted impeachment was ineffective after two subsequent trials (one lasting seven years!) ended in the acquittal of guilty officials. So, what did the Brits start doing to hold their prime ministers accountable? Having regular Q&As in the House of Commons, which can call for a vote of no confidence and, if the PM loses the vote, force them to resign. Sounds tempting. Of course, for this to work to work, the president would have to abide by the rules of decorum — something that’s decidedly not a given in a post-Trump U.S.

5. Trigger alert: This story is about an attempted suicide. Maybe you, like I, didn’t expect ESPN to deliver the tear-jerker of the decade. Or maybe I just need to read more sports writing. In any case, grab a box of tissues, warm blanket, and comfortable seat for this ESPN long read:  San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson’s remarkable second act. The story of Las Vegas-raised Robinson’s attempted suicide and subsequent redemption is a deep dive into the complexities of depression and recovery, its greatest virtue being that it avoids making survival sound easy or glamorous. This is a very tough read. Still, the gifted baseball player’s brush with death does seem to have given his life new purpose. That — along with abundant local references, a fascinating digression into eye anatomy, and a supporting role for dogs in daily survival — make it well worth the effort. Heidi Kyser

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Photos and art: Tacos: Brent Holmes; Oil pumps: AP photo; Russell Kulhman: courtesy Russell Kuhlman

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