Beleaguered BLM office faces decisions on oil leases near national park

In September, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will hold a sale on almost 200 drilling leases for 89,000 acres in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties. About a dozen of those leases are within a mile of the boundary of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The National Parks Conservation Association hopes the BLM will defer the parcels nearest to the park, in critical cave and karst areas and in other places with environmental concerns or wilderness characteristics, said Ernie Atencio, the nonprofit’s New Mexico Program Manager. “They heard our request to that effect, and they might even agree and prepare the paperwork for it, but that’s another decision that has to come down from D.C. and no longer in the hands of local managers,” he said. Since 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge signed the executive order creating what was then called Carlsbad Cave National Monument, the region has been transformed, largely due to oil drilling in the Permian Basin.

NM Environment Review: Draft state water plan, Gila meetings, LANL transition and more

One of the biggest environment stories this week is the release of an updated New Mexico State Water Plan. Susan Montoya Bryan covered that for the Associated Press, noting a few of the plan’s recommendations, including:
New Mexico’s supply of groundwater should be reserved for periods of drought, communities should have sharing agreements in place when supplies are short and alternatives such as desalination should be explored regardless of the cost. She interviewed Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat who has worked on water issues for years. Wirth noted that the state hasn’t spent enough money on water planning in recent years and that “the plan has become more a reaction to the evolving conditions.”

NM Political Report reached out to the public information officer for the state’s two water agencies, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission to interview State Engineer Tom Blaine or other state officials about the plan and its implementation. We received no response.

Large chunk of Carlsbad—and tax dollars—may get swallowed by sinkhole

A sinkhole is threatening to swallow part of Carlsbad. In the meantime, it is poised to consume tens of millions of tax dollars. The state House of Representatives voted 70-0 on Monday to send a bill to Gov. Susana Martinez that would take part of the taxes on car sales to pay for the remediation of a brine well that is at risk of collapsing. “This is an absolutely critical bill for averting a disaster in [the] southern part of the state,” said Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. The 350-foot-wide, 750-foot-long cavern sits beneath two major highways, a railroad, a mobile home park, an irrigation canal and businesses, she said.

Around NM: Science education, nuclear waste, mineral royalties and more

As we reported on Friday, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the Next Generation Science Standards Act. In her message, she wrote that “the Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.” The governor also argued the standards don’t belong in statute because it would “make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”

As Matt Grubs wrote in the Santa Fe Reporter, that bill would have required the state to adopt updated, nationally-vetted benchmarks for teaching science in public schools. As Grubs wrote last week:
Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it’s better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state’s education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place. In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution.

Carlsbad city councilor on Facebook: Women ‘have a right to get slapped’

When a local politician makes statewide news, it rarely is good news. Such is the case for J.R. Doporto, a city councilor from Carlsbad who landed himself in a firestorm after writing a misogynistic Facebook post telling women they “have a right to get slapped.”

He wrote the comment on his personal Facebook page, which is now marked private or deleted. But, on the internet, such posts are forever. Screenshots show Doporto, in apparent response to the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C. and across the country, wrote:
Just want to give a heads up to the women! You have rights!

Around NM: WIPP’s official reopening, Four Corners news, public lands and more

WIPP’S reopening

Today, Gov. Susana Martinez presided over a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. The underground nuclear waste repository is officially back in action, nearly three years after two fires shut down operations. According to a story in last week’s Carlsbad Current-Argus, the facility’s employees started moving waste into the salt caverns last Wednesday:
Rick Fuentes, president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers Union and waste handler at the site, confirmed that two pallets of low-level radioactive waste were emplaced near Room 5 in Panel 7 at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. “It went great,” Fuentes, who did not assist in the waste emplacement, said. “We’re excited to be back to work.”

Carlsbad site of Confederate flag gathering

A group of self-described Confederate flag enthusiasts cruised through Carlsbad streets last Friday according to the Carlsbad Current-Argus. The enthusiasts say it wasn’t about hate, but rather about heritage. New Mexico was on the periphery of the Civil War and while the Confederate government claimed control of the southern part of the territory, including current day Carlsbad, that control was broken after the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The Confederacy fought to keep slavery intact during the Civil War and many view flying the flag as an offensive act. The NAACP chapter in New Mexico is urging calm and saying that the display of the Confederate flag could create conversation.

Affordable housing hard to come in Hobbs

As part of Margaret Wright’s two-part series on the rise in oil and gas drilling and its effects on southeast New Mexico, (here’s part one and part two) Wright mentioned that housing is hard to come by in the area. From Far From Heaven, part two in her series:State Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, tells stories from his district that reflect repercussions from the industry’s highs and lows. Times have been flush, but rents are up around $1,200 a month for a small family home. With schools and emergency rooms at capacity, local officials have been working with home developers to create incentive agreements so that badly needed teachers, firefighters, police and nurses can afford to move into the area.This wasn’t just idle rhetoric from Gallegos; people really are having trouble finding places to live, as a Facebook post from the Hobbs Police Department last week reveals. (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));
Post by Hobbs Police Department.