News flash: 2017 has been hot + news around NM

Early Wednesday morning, a pipeline owned by Enterprise Products, a natural gas company, exploded south of Carlsbad, near Loving. Homes were evacuated and details are still scarce. The Carlsbad Current Argus has continuing coverage. Elizabeth Miller’s story about work being done in Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter offers a reminder that while locals sometimes grumble when it’s done near their backyards, the chainsaw-and-herbicide work of restoration is important. Thanks to a state grant, the Santa Fe-Pojoaque Soil and Water Conservation District removed 6.5 acres of invasive Russian olive trees from around the preserve.

Interior Department mired in investigations

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has brushed off criticism over his expensive use of private and military planes for travel, telling conservative supporters that the whole issue is just “a little B.S.”

But several watchdog agencies, congressional Democrats and legal experts believe it’s more than that. After only eight months in office, Zinke’s taxpayer-funded travel, meetings with political donors and other actions have led to several official probes. “We’ve been tracking Zinke and what he’s been doing at the Department of Interior,” says Daniel Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability. “It led us to look into whether he’s violated any rules or laws.”

This story originally appeared at High Country News. In August, Interior’s Office of Inspector General — which investigates reports of government corruption — opened a preliminary investigation into phone calls Zinke made to Alaskan Republican Sens.

Gold King Mine meeting scheduled for Monday

The New Mexico Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet Monday evening in Farmington. According to the New Mexico Environment Department, the committee includes 11 citizen volunteers from northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, and works with New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team to monitor and understand the long-term impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine accident. While conducting exploratory cleanup work of an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, federal contractors hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caused 3 million gallons of wastewater to spill from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River. That river, which flows into the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico, was contaminated with lead, arsenic and cadmium. The mine, like about 400 others in the area, was owned by a private company before being abandoned.

Pre-turkey environment news from around the state

Before you break into the turkey and mashed potatoes tomorrow, I just wanted to mention a few important environment stories from the past week. Last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported that the U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Texas v. New Mexico for January 8, 2018. Texas sued New Mexico four years ago, alleging that New Mexico is using more than our fair share of water from the Rio Grande. Here’s a short post from Southwest FarmPress, too. To read some of our earlier coverage of the lawsuit, visit here.

This Black Friday, lots of options to #OptOutside in New Mexico

On Black Friday, you can line up outside a big box store hours before sunrise, shove your way through the crowd and perhaps, victoriously snap a selfie with the discounted flat screen television you scored. But if you’re lucky enough to have the day off on Friday and want to disentangle from the stress of bills, work, school, social media and politics, you have other options. There’s a movement afoot to wrest the day after Thanksgiving from the clutches of consumerism. And New Mexico is the perfect place to join the revolution. Even though the #OptOutside campaign itself emerged from the retail world—REI decided not to open its stores on the post-Thanksgiving retail day and instead give employees the day off—it’s entirely possible to have fun outside without buying any recreational equipment at all.

NM mom-and-pop businesses say monuments mean money

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Before merchants ready their wares for “Small Business Saturday” on November 25, they want the Trump administration to know that proposed changes to America’s national monuments could hurt their future profits. A letter from chambers of commerce and 600 rural businesses has been sent to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, asking him to help protect their livelihoods by keeping the monuments intact. Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce president Carrie Hamblen says rural communities located near monuments benefit from dollars spent on tourism and outdoor recreation. “When you mess with one monument, you mess with all of them,” she says. “There are people who are traveling all over our great country to go to these national monuments and national parks.

Powell dropping out of State Land Office race

Ray Powell announced today that he is leaving the race for New Mexico State Land Commissioner due to health issues. The Democrat, who previously served in that position from 1993-2002 and 2011-2014, said he made the difficult decision after being diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease. He explained that after complications from dental work he had a hard time speaking, and knew he should see a doctor. Unable to get an appointment with a neurologist within the next few months, he went to the emergency room instead. “You just can’t run a statewide campaign, or I can’t, with this condition,” Powell told NM Political Report.

Neighborhood Refuge: Valle de Oro strives to be an ‘asset’ to its community

From downtown Albuquerque, it’s a straight shot south down Second Street to Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. Along the way, drivers will pass railyards and baseball fields, salvage yards and irrigated fields. Jets taking off from the Sunport rumble low and loud, and plumes of contamination, from military and industrial activities, lurk in the waters belowground. Pulling into the parking lot at Valle de Oro, near the southern edge of the Mountain View Neighborhood, first-time visitors might pause and wonder why they’re there, exactly. Squint, and they’ll see cottonwoods of the bosque in the distance, and an old dairy barn painted with images of dancers.

Around NM: Ranching, drilling, mining news + climate change

Susan Montoya Bryan wrote that a federal court sided with the Goss family in Otero County in a lawsuit over their claims that the federal government violated its constitutional rights. The U.S. Forest Service fenced off areas where the family had grazed cattle to protect an endangered species within sensitive stream habitat. This is our weekly environmental email that goes out on Thursdays before publication on the site on Fridays. If you want it on Thursdays, sign up! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Sabinoso Wilderness set to open today

At noon today, hikers, hunters and horseback riders will finally be able to enter the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent out a Tweet last night announcing that his office had finalized the transfer of private land to the federal government. “Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.”

Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area. pic.twitter.com/THeFjHBMbr— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 10, 2017

Congress designated the wilderness area in 2009, but people were not able to actually access the federally-administered lands because they were “landlocked” by private lands. At that time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management contacted the Wilderness Land Trust and asked the nonprofit to buy a neighboring ranch and donate it to the federal government.