On a sunny, brisk Saturday morning in October, a group of 10 people gathered along the newest portion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, built east of Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico. Construction has halted for the weekend, and the morning air is filled with the sound of birds. “This is one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.,” said Kevin Bixby, the executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center and self-described “border tourism” guide for the group. Behind him, the newly constructed steel wall rose up out of the low brush that makes up the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, which stretches from the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque southward across northern and central Mexico. Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwestern Environmental Center, stands before a section of border wall in southern New Mexico.
The Trump administration announced Thursday it transferred 560 acres of land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to the U.S. Army to pave the way for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico—including some land in New Mexico. The land in New Mexico includes a 170 acre parcel that includes parts of Luna and Hidalgo counties for “replacement of existing vehicle barrier with pedestrian barrier.” An additional 43 acres in Hidalgo County is slated for “construction of new primary and secondary pedestrian barriers.”
The announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said the transfer would allow the construction of about 70 miles of border barriers.
The move comes after the Trump administration diverted $3.6 billion in funding for military projects to fund the controversial border wall. “Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost,” Bernhardt said. “The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures.”
Of the $3.6 billion in diverted military funds, $125 million comes from projects slated for New Mexico, at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Thursday’s move drew immediate condemnation from members of New Mexico’s federal delegation.
New Mexico’s U.S. Senators said an internal government watchdog will provide answers about how the Trump administration seized land to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked an amendment one of those Senators, Tom Udall, introduced to the defense funding bill that would bar Trump from diverting money from military projects to fund the wall. In August, Udall and New Mexico’s other Senator, Martin Heinrich, signed onto a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois asking for an investigation into the use of eminent domain to take land for the border wall. All four senators are Democrats. GAO wrote to the four Senators last week saying they would begin the review the Trump administration’s eminent domain efforts.
“At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months,” the GAO official wrote.
Two projects at military bases will see their funding sent to fund the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In all, the federal government is diverting the funds from 127 military projects totaling $3.6 billion toward the construction of the wall. The U.S. Department of Defense says the diversion will be temporary. The projects in New Mexico that saw their funding eliminated, at least temporarily, are $85 million for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) training facility for at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million originally slated for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range. U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the area and sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said she was “appalled at the Administration’s decision to divert military construction funds allocated for projects essential to our national defense to build a fiscally irresponsible border wall.”
The U.S. Department of Defense listed military construction projects from across the world that could lose funding under a national emergency declaration by President Donald Trump. Included among those are projects at military facilities in New Mexico. Trump’s national emergency declaration would draw funds from the DOD to construct a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Both the U.S. House and Senate—led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall—voted to disapprove Trump’s national emergency declaration. Trump vetoed Congress’ effort.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham does her own stunts. In high heels, no less. As President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Lujan Grisham released a never-before-seen political ad on Twitter that shows the diminutive Democrat smashing through walls in high heels while talking about breaking barriers to improve New Mexico. In the ad, the president took a hit, too. “And here’s what I think of Trump’s wall,” Lujan Grisham says at the end of the ad before she shatters drywall that held the president’s portrait.
The race for New Mexico governor is tight, while the incumbent Democratic U.S. senator holds a sizeable lead over his two challengers, according to a new poll from Emerson College. The poll, conducted last week, via calls to landlines and online surveys and released Monday morning, shows Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham with a two point lead over Republican nominee Steve Pearce, 42 percent to 40 percent. The poll shows 18 percent of voters polled are still undecided. The poll is of registered voters. Both candidates are leaving their respective congressional seats to run for governor.
Another brick in the wall: Gov. Susana Martinez has clashed with President Donald Trump, but she is not going to stand between her fellow Republican and the “big, beautiful” wall he has promised to build on the border with Mexico. Several Democrats filed a bill to prohibit selling state land to the federal government for the purpose of constructing a wall along New Mexico’s 180-mile southern border. The state owns property along a 22-mile sliver of that boundary. But, except for financial matters, it is up to the governor to place bills on the agenda for this year’s 30-day session. Martinez on Wednesday told El Paso-based KVIA-TV that the Democrats’ bill will not be heard.
This weekend, as people across the country marched in support of stronger climate change policy in America, the Trump administration got busy wiping the words “climate change” from more of its websites. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the EPA had altered and redirected pages related to climate change, the Clean Power Plan and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the story:
The change was approved by Pruitt, according to an individual familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, to avoid a conflict between the site’s content and the policies the administration is now pursuing. The staffer described the process of reviewing the site as “a work in progress, but we can’t have information which contradicts the actions we have taken in the last two months,” adding that Pruitt’s aides had “found a number of instances of that so far” while surveying the site. This year NM Political Report has repeatedly linked to the EPA’s own resources when covering changes under Pruitt.
I’ve been reporting on environment issues for almost 15 years, and during most of that time, it hasn’t exactly been a breaking news beat. There are disasters like wildfires or the Gold King Mine spill. But for the most part, covering issues like drought, climate change and energy policy doesn’t usually involve a race to deadline. It seems like that’s been changing lately, however. Part of that change is due to the Trump administration.