Up in smoke: Opportunities on climate, renewables shunned during Martinez administration

Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.

Local leaders await answers from visiting Interior Secretary

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke is visiting New Mexico this week as part of his review of national monuments throughout the country, including New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments. Zinke will visit northern New Mexico—but not Rio Grande del Norte itself— Saturday with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall. The Interior head’s schedule primarily focuses on southern New Mexico and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. That has led to speculation the secretary will not order a review of Rio Grande del Norte near Taos, but will call for changes to the 496,000-acre monument in southern New Mexico. President Barack Obama designated the monument near Las Cruces in 2014 after a decade of planning and public meetings.

Has the moment for environmental justice been lost?

Given how President Donald Trump has taken aim at the Environmental Protection Agency with regulatory rollbacks and deep proposed budget cuts, it may come as no surprise that the Office of Environmental Justice is on the chopping block. This tiny corner of the EPA was established 24 years ago to advocate for minorities and the poor, populations most likely to face the consequences of pollution and least able to advocate for themselves. It does so by acting as a middleman, connecting vulnerable communities with those who can help them. It heads a group that advises EPA officials about injustices and another that brings together representatives from other federal agencies and the White House to swap proposals. When it works, all the talk leads to grants, policies and programs that change lives.

What Zuckerberg could have learned at Glacier National Park

The Washington Post reported yesterday that top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior prevented climate change experts from showing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg impacts of warming at Glacier National Park. According to the story:
The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana from 2,232 miles east in Washington, made by top officials at the Interior Department, the National Park Service’s parent agency, was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit. It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg, who with the broader tech community in Silicon Valley has positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Trump, particularly of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Those experts included the park’s superintendent Jeff Mow and Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is stationed at the park. Earlier this week, Fagre told the Post’s reporter he didn’t know what had happened:
Three days before the tech leader’s July 15 visit to Glacier, research ecologist Daniel Fagre said he was told that his scheduled tour with Zuckerberg of Logan Pass on the Continental Divide was off.

NM national monuments remain under threat from DOI

TAOS, N.M. — New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments could shrink dramatically if their protected status is removed or their size is reduced, and the decisions could come by late August. A report from Democrats on the U.S. Joint Economic Committee warns that could mean a loss of millions of tourism dollars in New Mexico. Stuart Wilde guides tourists on llama treks through the Rio Grande monument near Taos. He said he agrees that the economic impact would be significant. “People come to hike and bike, and fish and hunt, and camp and experience these national monuments,” Wilde said.

After the wildfire

This month, I started working on a new project with New Mexico in Focus. Each month, we’ll explore a different issue on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future.” The first show aired last night on New Mexico PBS/KNME-TV and was loosely based around reporting I had done earlier this year in partnership with NM Political Report and the Santa Fe Reporter. Related story: The Heart of Darkness

In the first episode of “Our Land,” we visited with Jeremy Sweat, the Chief of Resource Management at Bandelier National Monument and Collin Haffey, a resource ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey to learn about how forests are, and are not, recovering six years after Las Conchas Fire burned 156,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains. You can watch the full video of the segment below. Haffey brought the crew out to a 30,000 acre area where Las Conchas burned so intensely that in many places, there are essentially no living trees left, and no seed sources for regeneration.

Beyond the concepts of ‘land management’ are real people, sacrifice

On the edge of the Valle Grande in northern New Mexico stands a grove of towering ponderosa pines. The trees, many of them between 250 and 400 years old, comprise what’s called the History Grove, and they offer a snapshot into what the forests of the Jemez Mountains looked like centuries ago—before widespread grazing in the late 19th century and decades of fire suppression by the federal government. During a recent trip there, I was reminded of what goes into protecting and maintaining our forests and landscapes. Land management, as it’s called, is made of up of meetings and programs, line-item budgets and public comment periods. And sometimes, expensive lawsuits and bitter battles.

BP pulling jobs, but not wells, from New Mexico

The oil company BP announced it will close its Farmington, New Mexico office by the end of the year and reduce its in-state workforce by about 40 employees. Other current New Mexico employees will be relocated to the company’s office in Durango, Colorado. In a statement, the company said that move will “help improve the efficiency and competitiveness of its operations in the San Juan Basin.”

The company emphasized in its emailed statement it “has no plans to decrease its overall investment in New Mexico.” Currently, the company operates 2,600 wells in the state and will “seek to drill new wells in New Mexico when feasible.”

Earlier this year, BP announced it will open its new headquarters in Denver next year. In recent years, Colorado has increased regulations for oil and gas drilling within state boundaries. Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced the state’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fracking boom leads to tension in Navajo communities

On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Herbert-Chavez introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents.

NM groups urge EPA to enforce methane waste rule

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday. The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place. Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.