The Navajo Generating Station is on the Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona. But the plant’s closure in 2019, announced last week by Salt River Project, will have implications across the West. The coal-fired power plant is among the region’s largest polluters, contributing to smog at National Parks like the Grand Canyon and emitting 44,000 tons of carbon each day. It also employs nearly 1,000 people, most of whom are from the Navajo Nation or the Hopi Tribe. The Associated Press covered the announcement from SRP and how it might affect local economies and the Kayenta Mine, which is owned by Peabody Energy and has supplied coal to the plant for decades.
New Mexico U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced today they’ve joined 25 of their colleagues to cosponsor a bill that would allow government scientists to share information without political interference. Both senators are Democrats, as are all the co-sponsors of the bill. Passage of the Scientific Integrity Bill would ensure scientists can share information with Congress, the public and the press without suppression, said Udall. The bill would also require federal agencies to develop scientific integrity policies, including whistleblower protections. “Scientists and their research play a key role in public safety—from relaying information about the real and detrimental effects of climate change to the dangers of toxic chemicals in our household items—and the disturbing efforts by the Trump administration to silence the facts and prevent our federal agencies from communicating with the public must be stopped,” Udall said.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on 843 acres in northwestern New Mexico. The sale of these particular leases, in the Chaco Canyon region, had been postponed due to opposition from environmental and indigenous groups. The leases are in Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties. According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the rights sold for $3 million and at least 15 companies bid during the online auction run by Energy Net, an online oil and gas marketplace. The BLM’s next auction for New Mexico oil and gas leases is planned for July.
It’s been a rough few days for people concerned about climate change and the environment. By the time Trump gave his inaugural address, mentions of climate change already disappeared from the White House website. As the New York Times reported, the purge was part of the routine “full digital turnover” of whitehouse.gov. But it did place into “sharp relief some of the starkest differences” between presidents Obama and Trump. On Friday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also issued a freeze on new or pending regulations—which included four U.S. Department of Energy efficiency standards. That same day, after a National Park Service employee retweeted two news reports—about the disappearance of the White House climate pages (among others, like those related to civil rights) and the administration’s smaller inaugural crowd—government Twitter accounts were temporarily shut down.
The numbers from around the globe are in, and it’s official: 2016 was the hottest year on record, again. According to independent analysis from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 was the third year in a row to break temperature records. The New York Times collected AccuWeather data for more than 5,000 cities, including Albuquerque, to illustrate temperature and precipitation changes. Albuquerque’s average temperature last year was 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, while precipitation fell 2.8 inches short of normal. Globally, the average temperature has risen by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s.
Sen. Tom Udall questioned two of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees about climate change and the president-elect’s financial conflicts during Senate hearings Wednesday. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Wilbur Ross is the nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. During Haley’s confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, Udall questioned her position on climate change. Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and vowed to withdraw funding for United Nations climate programs. He has also said his administration would withdraw the U.S. from commitments made last year in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Udall asked if Haley thinks the U.S. should “maintain its leadership in the Paris Agreement in order to ensure that countries abide by their climate obligations?”
In Congress on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Udall questioned Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of State. Tillerson just resigned from his position as CEO of ExxonMobil. Udall questioned Tillerson about his position on climate change, asking: “While you were CEO of Exxon, the company website stated, ‘The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.’
On Monday, climate change protesters in downtown Albuquerque spoke out against four of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. Rallying outside the offices of Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, protesters called on the two lawmakers to oppose the confirmations of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, former Governor of Texas Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy and Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Organized by 350.org, a nonprofit organization focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change, the rally in Albuquerque was related to national protests organized across the United States. Udall’s State Director Greg Bloom delivered a message to the crowd from the senator.
I’ll admit I took a break from the news over the holiday—a break from writing it and a break from reading it. Now that I’m catching up on what happened around New Mexico, I thought I’d share some of the most important environment news from the past couple of weeks. Because maybe some of these things slipped through your news feed, too. Jobs, jobs, jobs
The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported that Halliburton announced that it’s looking for 200 workers in the Permian Basin as it anticipates ramping up production. According to the story, the energy industry is planning to expand drilling in southern New Mexico and Texas, thanks to a rise in oil prices and increased political support.
Each announcement by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team about his picks for cabinet positions flares public interest. Whether it’s ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department or former Texas Governor Rick Perry as secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, the appointments provide insight into what the businessman’s presidency might mean for America and the rest of the world. Those appointments will have significant impacts here in New Mexico, which has 23 sovereign Native American tribes, millions of acres of federal lands and an abundance of natural resources like oil, gas, coal, copper and uranium. Not only that, but in the past five years, the state’s environmental regulations and agencies—which might have been able to hold the line against some of the incoming president’s policies—have been weakened during the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez. When it comes to issues like science and environmental regulations, high-level staff picks have long-term impacts on everything from pollution trends and energy policy to the rate at which the Earth’s atmosphere is warming.