Park Service group to feds: ‘Pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development’

Retired National Park Service employees spoke with reporters today about the impacts of oil and gas development on some national parks—particularly from adjacent lands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Coalition to Protect America’s Parks sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing concern over the “alarming” number of oil and gas proposals near parks and what they see as overall efforts by the department to reduce protections for national parks in order to encourage oil and gas drilling. “As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities,” the former NPS employees wrote. “But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development.”

The coalition represents 1,400 retired, former and current National Park Service employees. The letter to Zinke cites concerns about six parks in particular, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the energy-rich San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico.

Mum’s still the word on national monuments

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had 120 days to review 27 national monuments and recommend to the White House whether they should be left alone, eliminated or reduced in size. Thursday, Zinke submitted his review to the White House. But the Interior Department has yet to make his specific recommendations public. During the four month review, Zinke visited eight national monuments in six states, including New Mexico. His office said the review included more than 60 meetings, “tours of monuments conducted over air, foot, car and horseback” and a “thorough review” of more than 2.4 million public comments that had been submitted to the department.

Clouds don’t deter eclipse-watchers in downtown Albuquerque

We knew that all the other Albuquerque news outlets would be out and about as the eclipse began, but we still wanted to see how people reacted to the celestial event today. (Also, neither of us had glasses, so watching people, as opposed to the sky, was our only real option to join the excitement.)

We took a stroll through downtown Albuquerque to check out how people were reacting to the solar eclipse. And even though the skies were mostly cloudy, there was something heartening about seeing people streaming out of buildings, laughing, sharing glasses and taking a break from work and school to be outside, together, staring at the sky.

Trump administration decides to disband climate committee

Last week, we published a story about the Climate Science Special Report, which 13 federal agencies wrote under a mandate from Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts in the United States. Since the last assessment was released in 2014, “stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean,” according to the report. On Sunday, The Washington Post and Nature both reported that the Trump administration has decided to “disband” the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. The charter for the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment has expired, and will not be renewed. According to the Washington Post story:
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) said in an interview Saturday that the move to dissolve the climate advisory committee represents “an example of the president not leading, and the president stepping away from reality.” An official from Seattle Public Utilities has been serving on the panel; with its disbanding, Murray said it would now be “more difficult” for cities to participate in the climate assessment.

New Mexico’s environment news + getting out for the eclipse

Recently we relaunched our weekly environment wrap-up as an email you can receive once a week. To subscribe, click here. What follows is only an abbreviated version of yesterday’s email. In 2004, Congress gave New Mexico 10 years to decide how to spend federal money on water projects in southwestern New Mexico. The state could pursue efficiency and restoration projects or build a diversion on the Gila River.

Climate report paints dry picture of U.S. Southwest

July was the second warmest on record, just behind July 2016. And it marked the 391st consecutive month with warmer-than-average temperatures, according to NOAA’s most recent global climate report. Globally, the most “notable” warm temperatures occurred in Australia, southern South America, Mongolia, China—and the western United States. Those new numbers underscore the urgency of a new report on climate change and its impacts in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the New York Times posted a report on climate change that 13 federal agencies had worked on under a mandate from Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts every four years. Many people, including some of the report’s authors, worry the Trump administration will quash or alter the findings.

Augustin Plains Ranch order released, meetings scheduled on controversial water project

A few weeks ago, we reported on a proposal by Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC to build a pipeline and pump 54,000 acre-feet of water each year from the aquifer to the Albuquerque area. The 37 wells would all be in Catron County near the town of Datil. Now in its third iteration, the application is pending before the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, which administers the state’s water resources. In July, the state agency canceled a pre-hearing meeting. But last week, it released the application’s scheduling order, which includes information about the project and the process, as well as upcoming public meetings.

New numbers from the state on revenue, reserves

Earlier today, we reported about New Mexico’s dipping reserves. In Fiscal Year 2016, the reserve fund was at $146 million, and in Fiscal Year 2017, New Mexico was $67 million in the red. Now, the Legislative Finance Committee has released its revenue forecast for the state. Among the report’s highlights:

Preliminary FY 2017 ending reserve balances are $329 million. Projected FY 2018 ending reserve balances are $206 million.

By not answering media questions, PED leaves public in the dark

As reporters, we have a lot of questions about the state of education here in New Mexico. Most people have strong opinions, and sometimes fiery debates can obscure the deeper issue of why New Mexico’s students aren’t faring as well as they should. Last week we published stories about education in New Mexico leading up to the start of the school year. We wanted to cut through the rhetoric and understand where schools and students are succeeding and where more work is needed. Unfortunately, those stories about education were missing one significant voice—the state’s Public Education Department (PED).

Albuquerque responds to violence at Virginia white supremacist rally

Sunday night in Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza, the high staccato murmur of a toddler walking circles around the plaza hardly broke the silence of the approximately 200 people sitting in the grass and on the low walls around elm and cottonwood trees. People gathered to spend an hour in silence, in response to the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia during a white supremacist rally. Occasionally, a dog yapped or a motorcyclist gunned his motor. Some people closed their eyes, while others looked toward the sky or watched the two people meditating silently in the plaza’s gazebo. There were sniffles and coughs and the muted clink of glasses being cleared from the patio at a restaurant on the edge of the plaza.