Attorneys for the states of New Mexico and Texas learned yesterday that a lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande will head to the U.S. Supreme Court. For New Mexico, a lot is at stake. Though Texas also named Colorado in the suit, its real target is New Mexico. Texas alleges that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater connected to the river, the state is unfairly taking water from the Rio Grande that, under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, should be flowing to Texas. When Texas filed a similar suit against New Mexico about the Pecos River, the case dragged on for almost two decades, and cost both states millions of dollars.
New Mexico U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced today they’ve joined 25 of their colleagues to cosponsor a bill that would allow government scientists to share information without political interference. Both senators are Democrats, as are all the co-sponsors of the bill. Passage of the Scientific Integrity Bill would ensure scientists can share information with Congress, the public and the press without suppression, said Udall. The bill would also require federal agencies to develop scientific integrity policies, including whistleblower protections. “Scientists and their research play a key role in public safety—from relaying information about the real and detrimental effects of climate change to the dangers of toxic chemicals in our household items—and the disturbing efforts by the Trump administration to silence the facts and prevent our federal agencies from communicating with the public must be stopped,” Udall said.
A newly released federal audit points to continued problems in how the federal government manages oil and gas leases and payments for some Navajo families, including in New Mexico. In the 19th century, the federal government deeded some lands within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation to individual families. Families can choose whether or not to allow oil and gas companies to drill on those lands, called “allotments,” which are not overseen by tribal government. Instead, the leases and permits for those wells are handled by the Federal Indian Minerals Office. Based in Farmington, FIMO also oversees royalty payments.
The New Mexico Environment Department and its partners released their 2017 strategic plan for the Kirtland Air Force Base fuel leak in January. Over the course of decades, an estimated 24 million gallons of jet fuel leaked from storage tanks at the base. The leak was first detected in 1999. The strategic plan is only a “reference and planning document” and is not enforceable under any regulatory agencies. But it does include information that the public could find helpful, including conceptual diagrams of the leak, a map showing the locations of monitoring wells and drinking water wells and a timeline for cleanup.
Friday, we reported officials with the Village of Santa Clara were breathing a sigh of relief after the state deposited grant money into its bank account. That deposit occurred about a week after the New Mexico Environment Department said it would no longer accept invoices or reimbursement requests for a grant the village used to build a park. Santa Clara had received a grant under the state’s Recycling and Illegal Dumping Fund (RAID) program. The total reimbursement from NMED was $231,000, more than a third of the village’s annual budget. While NMED still hadn’t explained the letter to the press or officials, in a Silver City Daily Press story Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, is quoted saying NMED pulled the grant funding because of cuts in SB 113.
As the White House’s anti-immigration stance stokes fears along the border, it’s also highlighting the relationship between Mexico and New Mexico—and exposing how vulnerable the rest of the United States may be to increased security and surveillance. Earlier this week, a coalition of state legislators introduced a bill to prevent the federal government from constructing a new border wall or fence across New Mexico state lands. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Javier Martínez, a Democrat, today represents Albuquerque. But he was born in El Paso and grew up in Ciudad Juárez. When President Donald Trump talks about building walls and criminalizing immigration, that speaks to Martínez’s personal experience of growing up along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Last week, Santa Clara Village Clerk Sheila Hudman had a scare. She had submitted reimbursement requests to the New Mexico Environment Department for a grant the village had received last year. But instead of depositing money into the village’s bank account, the agency sent a troubling letter. In its letter, NMED said it would no longer accept invoices or requests for reimbursement for the grant. According to a story in the Silver City Daily Press on Monday, that Jan.
In Santa Fe yesterday, hundreds of people gathered at the Roundhouse to support protecting the state’s public lands. Public lands can refer to those administered by federal agencies such as the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lands protected as state parks or areas overseen by the New Mexico State Land Office. The rally started at the capitol, and then protesters marched to the steps of the State Land Office, looped down Alameda and back to the rotunda. The crowd included a mix of people including sportsmen, students, retirees and conservationists from around New Mexico. It also featured dancing and drumming from students in the Pueblo Pathways Project at the Santa Fe Indian School.
As political winds blow and funding for research ebbs and flows, communities still have to prepare for wildfires. Like the kind of devastating fires New Mexicans have seen erupt in recent years: Las Conchas in the Jemez Mountains in 2011, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso in 2012 and that same summer, the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest. By studying fire history, scientists can help land managers protect vulnerable areas today—before catastrophic fires occur and threaten communities or watersheds. One useful tool is tree ring data. Each year they grow, trees add rings.
Last week, NM Political Report covered the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary freeze on contracts and grants. When word hit the streets that the EPA was freezing new grants and contracts, the news sowed confusion among employees of the agency as well as those who receive the grants and contracts. Almost half the agency’s $8.6 billion budget in 2016 went to grants for states and nonprofits. On Monday, we followed up with EPA Region 6 director of external affairs David Gray. As of Monday, he wrote in an email, the EPA has completed its review of grant programs.
He added that all grants are “proceeding normally and nothing has been delayed.”
That includes environmental program grants and state revolving loan fund grants for states and tribes.