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.
By 11 a.m. Central Time on Jan. 20—Inauguration Day—Ron Curry had cleared out of his Dallas office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “You know when you walk in the door that if you serve the full term, you’re expected to walk out the door when the new president is inaugurated,” said Curry, who served as EPA’s Region 6 administrator for just over four years. “I’ve known all along that would be the case.”
Before his time with the EPA, Curry served as secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) under Gov. Bill Richardson. A political appointee, Curry left his positions knowing, in both cases, the incoming administrations had a bone to pick with environmental regulators.
Irrigation season is kicking off on the Rio Grande. On March 1, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District started getting its laterals and canals ready. According to a story in the Valencia County News-Bulletin, the district is preparing for a normal season: “So far, the snow pack and winter moisture has been very promising for this time of year and we hope this will continue well into late spring. “There is above-average snow pack in the northern mountains, around 40,000 acre-feet of water in storage at El Vado Reservoir, and the district plans to store more during the spring runoff. It look like a good runoff is in the forecast where high river flows may persist through early June a condition we have not seen since 2005,” added [Water Operations Manager David] Gensler.
To the delight of some reporters and Washington, D.C. tourists, the nation’s brand-new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, rode a horse into work today. Zinke, who had represented Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2014, also signed two new orders. One directs agencies to identify areas where hunting and fishing can be expanded. With a reference to the legacy of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt—a hunter and conservationist and frequent touchstone for environmentalists—Order 3347 will “facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and management of game species and their habitat.”
It applies to lands overseen by agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. “Over the past eight years however, hunting, and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump brought a relatively obscure but important water rule to national attention. Trump signed an executive order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule. Trump’s order does not overturn the rule, which was already under a court injunction thanks to a lawsuit from 13 states, including New Mexico. Instead, it orders a final review of the rule, which will likely take years. The Clean Water Rule was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.
A dust storm closed parts of Interstate-10 near the border of New Mexico and Arizona Tuesday for the third day in a row. By 11:00 a.m., weather forecasters reported gusts of 50 miles per hour and that a “wall of dust was approaching the Las Cruces area from the west.” At the same time, wind advisories for the lower and middle Rio Grande Valley and the Estancia Valley were upgraded to “High Wind Warning.” That means people should expect sustained winds of 40-50 mph and gusts of up to 60-70 mph. High winds cause damage and raise the danger of wildfire. They also affect air quality, reduce visibility for drivers, aggravate allergies and in some parts of New Mexico, spread the spores that cause Valley Fever. With its playas—dry lake beds—the area near Lordsburg is notorious for dust storms, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kerry Jones.
A bill to increase spending oversight on a proposed diversion on the Gila River passed the Senate Conservation Committee this morning—and will head next to the Senate floor. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would require the Interstate Stream Commission’s spending on the Gila River diversion to go through the normal legislative budget process. Before putting more money toward the project, officials would need to show the project is technically feasible, explain how much water is available from the river and who would use it, estimate the project’s price tag and determine how New Mexico will cover the difference between the federal subsidy and the project’s actual cost. The bill passed the committee, though four objected to the pass including Republican Sens.
The Trump administration is blocking a new rule that would have changed how royalties from private coal mines on federal and tribal lands are calculated. When announcing the new rules in 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior officials said they would provide greater consistency to private companies and higher royalty payments to taxpayers and tribal governments. Mining companies opposed the changes and sued in federal court. As reported last week by the Associated Press: Rules in place since the 1980s have allowed companies to sell their fuel to affiliates and pay royalties to the government on that price, then turn around and sell the coal at higher prices, often overseas. Under the suspended rule change, the royalty rate would be determined at the time the coal is leased, and revenue will be based on the price paid by an outside entity, rather than an interim sale to an affiliated company.
When it comes to New Mexico’s proposed diversion on the Gila River, even discussions about routine financial reporting elicit passionate disagreements. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced a bill that would increase oversight of spending by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission on the diversion. During his presentation to the Senate Conservation Committee Thursday, Rue explained that the bill focuses on the process of how ISC spends federal money. “We are not here to make a judgement about the diversion,” he said.