Federal moves on wildfires, shortening environmental studies + upcoming public meetings

On Tuesday, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed his agency to “adopt more aggressive practices” to prevent and combat wildfires. We’ll keep you posted on what that actually means, and what it will mean for New Mexico. E&E news reported this week that Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order restricting the length of environmental studies to 150 pages or less, or less than 300 pages for “unusually complex projects.” According to the story, “More broadly, the memo gives Bernhardt the potentially far-reaching responsibility for overseeing the department’s efforts to clear away ‘potential impediments’ and ‘streamline’ the environmental review process.” Before claiming the Number Two position at Interior, Bernhardt was a lobbyist whose clients included mining and energy companies and the nation’s largest irrigation district, California’s Westlands Water District. He represented Westlands in four different lawsuits against the department where he now works. The Associated Press reports that the New Mexico Department of Transportation is putting up warning signs along the stretch of Interstate-10 near the border with New Mexico that’s become increasingly prone to dust storms, putting drivers at risk.

Homeland Insecurity: How ready is New Mexico for when disaster strikes?

David Silver thinks about the bad things: floods, fires, nuclear meltdowns, zombie apocalypses. As the city of Santa Fe’s emergency management director, it’s his job and, though that last one might sound goofy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few years ago created a graphic novel about a zombie pandemic moving across the country. Silver chuckles at the campaign. It was a great way to get people thinking about emergency preparedness, he says. Whether preparing for roving bands of the recently reanimated or a natural or human-caused disaster, the steps are the same: have a communication plan, keep an emergency pack on hand and know who to trust.

As sportsmen watch Zinke, disillusionment replaces hope

At the beginning of Ryan Zinke’s tenure as Interior Secretary, the sporting community was hopeful: He’s from Montana. He’s a sportsman himself. And his first public meeting was with hook-and-bullet groups. as many sportsmen have begun to feel that the Interior Department is giving short shrift to conservation. Chief among sportsmen’s concerns are the Trump administration’s push for energy development on public lands, the loosening of sage grouse protections and other regulatory rollbacks, and Zinke’s recommendations to shrink national monuments.

With an eye to the future, the Pueblo of Santa Ana restores lands, wildlife

Peering through binoculars, Glenn Harper tries to spot the white rumps of pronghorn. The hooved mammals, sometimes mistakenly called “antelope,” are speedy—and hard to spot on an August afternoon atop Santa Ana Mesa. Harper is the range and wildlife division manager with the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s Department of Natural Resources. After a few minutes, he and Dan Ginter, the pueblo’s range program manager, try an easier way to locate the herd. They pull out telemetry equipment, which picks up a signal from one of the animal’s radio collars. There’s a clump of pronghorn lazing near the tree line a few hundred yards away.

Court says feds broke the law when delaying new royalty rule

A federal judge said Wednesday that the United States government broke the law when it delayed a rule updating how royalties are calculated when companies drill and mine offshore and on federal and tribal lands. Those royalties are paid out to states, tribes and the United States government. After five years of analysis, meetings with stakeholders and public comment, in 2016 the Office of Natural Resource Revenue (ONRR) issued a rule updating valuation rules, which had been set in the 1980s. ONRR estimated the changes would increase royalty collections by $71.9 to $84.9 million annually. The rule took effect on January 1, 2017 and initial reports were due in February.

State board rejects petition to regulate greenhouse gases

Last week, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, asked the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to establish regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. That board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is responsible for rules related to public health issues like air quality, food safety and hazardous waste. By a four-to-one vote, the EIB denied the petition Ruscavage-Barz brought on behalf of 28 New Mexico children and teens. But she’s hopeful that there’s room for a conversation with the New Mexico Environment Department, the agency that was moving forward with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change just six years ago. Ruscavage-Barz said the board encouraged the group to work with the state agency and other stakeholders and come up with an enforceable plan.

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.

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.