U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland opened her speech at the recent Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Corridors Summit with a story about passenger pigeons. Once considered the most abundant bird in North America, passenger pigeon migrations were a sight to see. Potawatomi tribal leader Simon Pokagon famously described “an unbroken front millions of pigeons” during a migration in 1850. “Never have my astonishment, wonder, and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven,” he wrote. “And now they’re extinct,” Haaland told audience members at the summit, held last month.
A group of organizations filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court this week that alleges the Energy Transition Act is a deregulation law for PNM, and are challenging provisions in the law as unconstitutional. The suit from New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based advocacy nonprofit, and six other groups claims the ETA removes some of the authority given to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to regulate the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and its proposed rate increases associated with its fossil fuel assets. PNM is an investor-owned utility that operates as a monopoly in parts of New Mexico. As a utility, the company has an obligation to serve its customers—the ratepayers—in the most efficient manner and at the lowest possible cost. But as a publicly-traded company, PNM also has an obligation to its shareholders to generate profit.
In the years between 1956 and 1972, thousands of kilograms of chemical called hexavalent chromium was released into a canyon near Los Alamos. Some of the contaminant filtered through the soils of the area and was consequently converted to trivalent chromium, a far less dangerous iteration of the chemical. But at least 2,000 kg of hexavalent chromium has remained in the environment, moving through the canyonlands that surround Los Alamos for decades. Today, the contamination is settled atop an aquifer in a plume, and the chemical is now present within the first 100 feet of the water table in the area of the plume. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have been working to contain the plume since 2005, while officials decide on how best to clean up the contamination.
The State Land Office will expand efforts to include wildlife protections in future infrastructure projects. The office made a series of announcements at the recent Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Corridors Summit related to conservation in future State Land Office projects. “I’m here to recommit not only myself, but the state land office, to being a partner in ensuring that wildlife corridors, wildlife crossings, are part of all of our infrastructure plans, our land management plans, our animal management plans,” State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said at the summit. Howard Gross, assistant commissioner for surface resources at the State Land Office, said during a panel discussion at the summit that the agency’s mission is to optimize revenue generated from state trust lands, but the office also has a responsibility to protect “long-term health of those lands for future generations.”
“You might recognize a dichotomy in that mission between revenue generation and conservation. But I prefer to look at it as a yin and yang,” Gross said.
As the divisions of the United States have grown more complex over the years, lawmakers, regulators and landowners have been busy dividing up land. Railroads, highways, fencing and pipelines now stretch across thousands of miles of landscape; and borders have been established at every opportunity: national borders, state borders, jurisdictional borders and property lines. While these boundaries — both the physical boundaries and the more-or-less imaginary ones — have helped us organize and manage the resources of the land, they have severely impacted the wildlife we share space with. Decades of research has shown wildlife corridors, which refer to the routes animals take when moving across a landscape, are an important part of species survival. But large contiguous plots of land are becoming increasingly rare as development pushes into new areas, and there’s a need to protect those corridors if we want to limit impacts to those species.
Conservation organization WildEarth Guardians and six other environmental and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over changes it made to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States. “Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period,” said EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, in a statement. “Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable.”
The lawsuit alleges the administration “failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules,” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It argues the administration inserted changes into the final rules that “were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.”
The groups also argue the administration violated the ESA by “unreasonably changing requirements” for compliance with Section 7, a provision of the ESA that requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species.
On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler withdrew the agency’s interim decision to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, a pesticide that’s used to make lethal M-44 devices used in predator control. The agency released its interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June, after a period of public comment. The EPA received some 20,000 comments by March 2019, the “overwhelming majority” of which “did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide,” the agency said.
“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals.”
RELATED: EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry
M-44s, also called sodium cyanide bombs, are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill predators that threaten livestock. Sodium cyanide is a restricted-use pesticide, meaning that entities need to be registered to use M-44 devices.
Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”
Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.
The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision
This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.
No one knows exactly how much methane is released into the atmosphere each year in New Mexico. And with record production in oil and gas for the state of New Mexico, and a governor that wants to transition to clean energy, that’s a big problem. According to EPA data, methane makes up just 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—but it is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, with eighty times the warming power of carbon dioxide. In 2014, the NOAA documented an alarming methane “hotspot” hovering above the Four Corners area. Subsequent research indicated the methane cloud was in fact due to oil and gas production in the region.