Homeland Insecurity: How ready is New Mexico for when disaster strikes?

David Silver thinks about the bad things: floods, fires, nuclear meltdowns, zombie apocalypses. As the city of Santa Fe’s emergency management director, it’s his job and, though that last one might sound goofy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few years ago created a graphic novel about a zombie pandemic moving across the country. Silver chuckles at the campaign. It was a great way to get people thinking about emergency preparedness, he says. Whether preparing for roving bands of the recently reanimated or a natural or human-caused disaster, the steps are the same: have a communication plan, keep an emergency pack on hand and know who to trust.

New Mexico adapts to decades of drought caused by climate change

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many in the U.S. are dealing with flooding from massive hurricanes while New Mexico is celebrating moderate relief from a drought that has lasted 18 years. For the first time since the federal Drought Monitor began operations in January 2000, New Mexico is completely free of drought or unusually dry conditions. University of New Mexico Director of Water Resources John Fleck said it’s good news short-term, but the reprieve is mostly due to a generous monsoon season and may not last. “It’s a lot warmer, and so for a given amount of rain and snow that falls, less of that ends up in the river,” Fleck explained. “We’re clearly seeing a decline in the water supply as a result of climate change in New Mexico – there’s no question about that.”

State board rejects petition to regulate greenhouse gases

Last week, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, asked the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to establish regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. That board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is responsible for rules related to public health issues like air quality, food safety and hazardous waste. By a four-to-one vote, the EIB denied the petition Ruscavage-Barz brought on behalf of 28 New Mexico children and teens. But she’s hopeful that there’s room for a conversation with the New Mexico Environment Department, the agency that was moving forward with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change just six years ago. Ruscavage-Barz said the board encouraged the group to work with the state agency and other stakeholders and come up with an enforceable plan.

Failure to set cost of carbon hampers Trump’s effort to expand use of fossil fuels

President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost fossil fuel extraction face a courtroom hurdle of his own making. His March 28 executive order “promoting energy independence and economic growth” rescinded the Obama administration’s calculation of the “social cost of carbon” — a metric that had been central to the process of crafting and justifying government rules addressing human-driven climate change. All government regulations are subject to cost/benefit analysis. The “social cost of carbon” was developed in large part to compare long-term costs from coastal flooding and other impacts of emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide with upfront costs to the economy from curbing the burning of fossil fuels, the main source of such emissions. The value at the end of the Obama presidency was set at roughly $40 for each ton of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, or equivalent amounts of other gases such as methane.

Trump administration decides to disband climate committee

Last week, we published a story about the Climate Science Special Report, which 13 federal agencies wrote under a mandate from Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts in the United States. Since the last assessment was released in 2014, “stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean,” according to the report. On Sunday, The Washington Post and Nature both reported that the Trump administration has decided to “disband” the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. The charter for the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment has expired, and will not be renewed. According to the Washington Post story:
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) said in an interview Saturday that the move to dissolve the climate advisory committee represents “an example of the president not leading, and the president stepping away from reality.” An official from Seattle Public Utilities has been serving on the panel; with its disbanding, Murray said it would now be “more difficult” for cities to participate in the climate assessment.

Trump has broad power to block climate change report

Earlier this month, someone involved in the government’s latest report on climate change provided The New York Times with a copy of the version submitted to the Trump administration for final approval. The main intent of the leak, according to several people tracking the report, was to complicate any attempt to suppress the study or water down its findings. Publication of the document inflamed an already-fraught debate about climate change. Administration officials and Republican lawmakers accused the leaker and journalists of manufacturing a dispute. They said the report, which was required by law, was moving through a normal process of White House review.

Climate report paints dry picture of U.S. Southwest

July was the second warmest on record, just behind July 2016. And it marked the 391st consecutive month with warmer-than-average temperatures, according to NOAA’s most recent global climate report. Globally, the most “notable” warm temperatures occurred in Australia, southern South America, Mongolia, China—and the western United States. Those new numbers underscore the urgency of a new report on climate change and its impacts in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the New York Times posted a report on climate change that 13 federal agencies had worked on under a mandate from Congress to assess climate science and climate change impacts every four years. Many people, including some of the report’s authors, worry the Trump administration will quash or alter the findings.

Re-introducing our statewide environment wrap-up

With summertime in the rearview mirror, we’re shifting gears at NM Political Report. Every Thursday, I’ll be sending out a review of environmental news around the state to a new email list. Subscribe below to receive the full email each Thursday! It’s just one email a week, with a New Mexico photo-of-the-week and information about upcoming public meetings and comment periods. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;} /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.

State needs to enact changes to take advantage of STEM opportunities, interest

Giving New Mexico’s students better opportunities to understand science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and preparing them to lead the way in STEM-related careers, from physics and hydrology to video game design and civil engineering—will require real change in classrooms, beginning in the earliest grades. But in the last few years, Gov. Susana Martinez has been sending mixed messages. In 2015, Martinez announced that the state would bump spending on STEM programs by $2.4 million, or 20 percent. That money would go toward hiring more STEM teachers and providing a $5,000 stipend for math and science teachers in rural or underserved areas. At the time, Martinez said that the “future of the state’s economy depends on having an educated workforce that can meet the needs of employers in the years to come.”

But earlier this year, Martinez vetoed a bill that would have required the state’s teachers to follow the Next Generation Science Standards.

Up in smoke: Opportunities on climate, renewables shunned during Martinez administration

Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.