The New Mexico State Land Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior are working out the details on a land trade involving more than 120,000 acres in the state, including some lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced this week that the federal government approved an agreement to transfer 43,000 acres of state-owned lands and mineral leases within the monument and the wilderness to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In return, New Mexico will gain about 78,000 acres in 13 counties from the BLM. Of the state trust lands “locked” within the national monument, Dunn said 25 percent of those aren’t currently leased for grazing. That means New Mexico isn’t earning all the income it could, he said, adding that “because of the way it’s checkerboarded with BLM, it’s hard to develop other things, like gravel or any other uses.”
The State Land Office administers nine million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.
A report examining possible “pay-to-play” over state pension investments is drawing sharp reactions and a call for an investigation into whether donations by investment firms broke state laws. The International Business Times and the money-in-politics watchdog nonprofit Maplight released an investigative report earlier this week on donations given directly to Susana Martinez’s campaign and to organizations that backed Martinez and later received state investment money from a public pension fund. A spokesman for Martinez essentially called the report clickbait and said “these accusations are shameless and dishonest” in a statement to NM Political Report. The spokesman, Joseph Cueto, continued, “It’s a shame that the dark-money liberal political group behind this is getting their way with clicks and smear headlines without a shred of evidence. The Governor remains open to further strengthening of our disclosure laws – despite Democrats’ previously killing her proposals to do just that.”
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New Mexico’s commissioner of public lands announced he’s giving Houston-based oil and gas companies a break as the city struggles with the impacts of Hurricane Harvey. Aubrey Dunn said his office is offering a grace period to the 25 Houston companies and subsidiaries with state leases. The extension moves the Sept. 25 due date for royalties and interest on oil, gas and carbon dioxide extracted from leases on state trust lands to Oct. 25.
Rifts within political parties are nothing new. The Democratic National Committee is still reeling from infighting that was exposed during the lead-up to the election it lost to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Even here in New Mexico, while the Democratic divide is less pronounced, there is already a long list of Democrats vying for nominations for state and federal elections. Now, a contentious meeting last week to discuss state investments may have shown how New Mexico Republicans are divided, too. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn believes the State Investment Council’s punitive action against him has at least something to do with his run for Congress—and he says that Gov. Susana Martinez and one of her prominent advisors are to blame.
Aubrey Dunn announced he will not run for reelection as state land commissioner and will instead run for congress in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Dunn, a Republican, made the announcement Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, also a Republican, announced earlier he will forego a run for an eighth term in office and instead run for governor. Dunn is so far the second Republican to announce candidacy for the seat, following state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo. Other Republicans have said they are considering a run, including state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell.
A federal court has thwarted plans by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend an Obama-era rule tracking and cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suspended his agency’s implementation of the rule, which was opposed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with six environmental groups and granted an emergency stay of Pruitt’s suspension. In their opinion, the appeals court judges wrote that Pruitt’s suspension of the rule was both “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.” They overturned it, calling it arbitrary, capricious and in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the court decision could have a big effect on New Mexico, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.
New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn wants the U.S. Department of the Interior to expedite its review of two national monuments in New Mexico. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump directed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the designations previous presidents had made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Two New Mexico monuments are on that list: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in the southern part of the state. According to Dunn, the Rio Grande del Norte designation landlocked more than 41,000 acres of state trust lands and 3,468 acres of mineral rights. He wrote 12,000 acres are now “unleasable” because “prior lessees aren’t interested in leasing lands within that area.”
He also wrote that 67,547 acres of state trust lands are landlocked within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
As promised, State Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn filed a defamation lawsuit against land commissioner candidate Garrett VeneKlasen Monday evening. Dunn also filed a request for a temporary restraining order to stop VeneKlasen from running a campaign radio ad. The campaign ad features VeneKlasen raising questions about a ranch owned by Dunn and the commissioner’s involvement in allowing a major electrical transmission line to run through his property. Related story: Land commissioner files ‘cease and desist’ order against contender
Dunn maintains he only learned the line was set to run through his land after he purchased the ranch. Blair Dunn, who is acting as attorney for his father, said his father has not allowed access to his property and may get paid easement royalties.
One week after announcing his candidacy for New Mexico State Land Commissioner, Garrett VeneKlasen received a “cease and desist order” from the current commissioner, Republican Aubrey Dunn. The order came from Dunn’s son, Blair, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Republican last fall and helped run Gary Johnson’s last gubernatorial campaign. Blair Dunn sent the order to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, of which VeneKlasen is the executive director, and eight media outlets including NM Political Report. The order called political statements made by VeneKlasen, a Democrat, untrue and misleading. It references a radio ad from VeneKlasen’s campaign accusing Aubrey Dunn of using the office for personal gain.
The political reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order on national monuments has been largely predictable. Republicans praised the move to review monument designations made by presidents since 1996. Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers, like Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have condemned the order. Related story: Trump review of national monuments includes two in NM
Meanwhile, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, himself a Republican, said the order could “hinder” a proposed land exchange between the State Land Office and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.