Happy Birthday to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Last Saturday, the 242,000-acre monument near Taos turned four. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the monument includes the Rio Grande Gorge, protecting that stretch of the Rio Grande as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as lands that stretch all the way to the Colorado border. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, monuments like this one help the local economy: Designation of Río Grande del Norte bolstered that economic advance. After the monument’s first year, the Bureau of Land Management’s Taos Field Office reported a 40 percent increase in visitors to the area.
A coalition of healthcare advocacy and poverty rights organizations wants Congress to dump the Republican-backed replacement for the federal Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, Parents Reaching Out held a press conference in Albuquerque encouraging people to call their representatives and senators to urge them to oppose the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the federal House of Representatives may vote on as early as this Thursday. “We are concerned about upcoming Medicaid cuts and the potential devastation to our community,” said Lisa Rossignol, the healthcare liaison at Parents Reaching Out, which organized the Wednesday press conference. The bill, backed by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, would end the Medicaid expansion under the ACA by 2020. It would also cut money to Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor, by $370 billion over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Spurred by a Four Corners-area water company that for months provided phony information to state regulators, the state House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for owners or operators of public water systems to knowingly give false reports to the Environment Department. House Bill 511, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, passed on a 66-0 vote Monday night and now goes to the Senate. There was virtually no discussion about the reason for the bill during a brief floor hearing. Complaints last year from customers of the Animas Valley Water Co. eventually prompted the state to order thousands of households to boil their water.
A bill related to the proposed diversion on the Gila River has effectively died. The Senate Finance Committee tabled the bill Monday night and asked the bill’s supporters and opponents to resolve the issues on their own, without changing the law. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would have required additional oversight of the federal money New Mexico receives to plan and build the diversion. Had the bill passed, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) would have been required to answer specific questions before paying out more money for attorneys, engineers and consultants.
Monday night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to restore the state Oil Conservation Division’s ability to penalize oil and gas companies that pollute water. If passed by the Legislature, Senate Bill 307 would also increase those penalties, which haven’t been updated since the Oil and Gas Act of 1935. Related story: Bill to bring back oil and gas pollution penalty moves forward
The committee passed the bill by a vote of 6-3, with Republican Sen. Ron Griggs, Alamogordo, joining Democrats in voting to advance the bill. Like when the bill moved through the Senate Conservation Committee earlier in the session, during last night’s meeting, environmental groups stood in support of the bill while energy lobbyists opposed it. This time, however, representatives from the Oil Conservation Division attended the meeting, answering a question raised by a committee member and speaking in support of the bill.
On Ryan Zinke’s first day as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, he overturned an 11th-hour Obama-era directive that would have expanded the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on public lands. Rep. Steve Pearce publicly thanked Zinke on Twitter for his “quick action to scrap a last-minute Obama Administration regulation that banned lead ammo.” The social media message included a shot of Zinke signing the order while flanked by clapping fans, including the National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox, and a picture of lead ammunition. NM Political Report followed up with the Republican representative’s office, asking why the congressman supported the use of lead, a metal known to harm humans and wildlife, on public lands. Related: Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders
“Use of lead ammunition and tackle has occurred since the beginning of our nation and there is no scientific evidence that links the use of lead to decreasing population levels of wildlife,” Press Secretary Keeley Christensen said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, lead based ammunition and tackle is widely used by sportsmen and fishermen.
Today, the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor released information about unspent funds in various state accounts. A quick read of the report shows that New Mexico isn’t spending all it has available on environment and water projects. According to the report, New Mexico has $512 million in unspent water-related infrastructure funding. The office points out that despite increasing needs around the state, “water-related infrastructure funds continue to accumulate faster than they can get out the door.”
The state also has $43 million in “stagnant funds” that haven’t been used the last two years according to the State Auditor. Among the largest of those 39 funds?
Democrat Ray Powell is announcing his candidacy for New Mexico Commissioner of State Lands. Powell previously served in that position from 1993-2002 and 2011-2014. The State Land Office is responsible for administering 9 million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. Those lands are managed for beneficiaries of the state land trust, which include schools, universities and hospitals. Powell plans to formally announce his candidacy on March 13, at the New Mexico State Legislature’s Environmental Justice Day.
Even as temperatures rise in the southwestern United States and across the globe, climate change doesn’t often grab the interest of many New Mexico’s state legislators. But during the Senate’s confirmation of Ken McQueen as secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department the issue came up repeatedly, both in the Senate Rules Committee and later in the day on the Senate floor. Nominated in December by Gov. Susana Martinez, McQueen retired last year as San Juan vice president from WPX Energy. McQueen spent nearly four decades in the oil and gas business and worked taught Petroleum Engineering at the University of Tulsa. Related story: Over objections, New Mexico energy chief confirmed
His former employer, WPX Energy, has the rights to lease about 100,000 acres of federal, state and Navajo allottee lands in the San Juan Basin for oil and gas production and has drilled more than 100 oil wells in recent years along the Highway 550 corridor.
After his confirmation hearing turned to discussion of climate change and the Four Corners methane hotspot on Wednesday, environmental groups lambasted Mew Mexico’s top oil and gas regulator as echoing politically conservative talking points while one legislator described the conversation as “very troubling.” But despite opposition from conservationists and a small group of Democratic lawmakers, the state Senate voted 32-4 to confirm former oil and gas industry executive Kenley McQueen as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. While McQueen won praise from some lawmakers as having an expert grasp on the sector he is now in charge of policing, environmental groups have likened his appointment to picking a fox to guard a hen house, prompting some of the harshest opposition that any of Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointees have met so far in the current legislative session. Related: Climate change part of debate over energy head’s confirmation
The secretary’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday only seemed to enflame criticism from liberal senators. “What I heard today was very troubling,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said later on the Senate floor.
There isn’t enough community interest in the cleanup of the massive Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill to merit the creation of a Restoration Advisory Board. That’s according to a memo sent out by the U.S. Air Force this Monday. Restoration Advisory Boards, or RABs, allow local governments and citizens to become more involved in environmental restoration issues at U.S. Department of Defense facilities. In the memo, Kirtland Commander Col. Eric Froehlich wrote that last year the executive director of Citizen Action, Dave McCoy, delivered a petition with 80 signatures, asking that the federal government create a RAB related to the jet fuel leak and cleanup.