Interior’s plan for ‘American energy dominance’ revealed

In this week’s environment review, we’re catching up on national news that affects New Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

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What Zuckerberg could have learned at Glacier National Park

The Washington Post reported yesterday that top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior prevented climate change experts from showing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg impacts of warming at Glacier National Park. According to the story:
The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana from 2,232 miles east in Washington, made by top officials at the Interior Department, the National Park Service’s parent agency, was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit. It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg, who with the broader tech community in Silicon Valley has positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Trump, particularly of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Those experts included the park’s superintendent Jeff Mow and Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is stationed at the park. Earlier this week, Fagre told the Post’s reporter he didn’t know what had happened:
Three days before the tech leader’s July 15 visit to Glacier, research ecologist Daniel Fagre said he was told that his scheduled tour with Zuckerberg of Logan Pass on the Continental Divide was off.

In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.

Around NM: How national policies land here, plus the other Nixon connection

National policies always affect New Mexico’s lands and natural resources, especially during times of uncertainty. In the 1940s, for example, military and nuclear interests honed in on the state’s lands and natural resources. The U.S. government established what became Los Alamos National Laboratory on Pajarito Plateau in 1943, and detonated the first atomic bomb two years later near Alamogordo. White Sands Missile Range, which encompasses 3,200 square miles, was created in the 1940s, as were the military bases in Albuquerque and Clovis, now called Kirtland and Cannon. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the news right now.

Trump appointments, policies will have long-term impacts on NM

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.

Probe finds multiple wrongdoings by ex-Farmington BLM head

A recently-released report by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General looked into the actions of Steve Henke from when he was in charge of the Bureau of Land Management office in Farmington. The report says the investigation initially looked into the former Farmington district manager’s move from manager of BLM’s field office to being in charge of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. NMOGA represents the oil and gas industry in the state and lobbies BLM and state authorities on behalf of the industry. The OIG, however, expanded the investigation into other areas, including “inappropriate acceptance of meals and other gifts from oil and gas industry representatives,” “authorization of a commercial shooting range illegally construction on BLM land” and alleged misrepresentations and misuse of BLM resources in a land sale. Greenwire, a trade publication, first obtained and wrote about the report by the Interior Department OIG.

Post Gold King Mine spill, NM delegation wants mining reform

Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced the introduction of legislation to reform federal mining laws that have been on the books, and largely unchanged, since just after the Civil War. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined with three of their Democratic colleagues in the Senate to introduce the legislation, while Rep. Ben Ray Luján is doing the same in the House. The legislators note that the 1872 mining law allows companies to mine for gold, silver, copper, uranium and other minerals on federal land without paying royalties for extracting the resources. The legislators compare this to oil and gas where companies that drill for the resources must pay royalties to do so on public land. This legislation would require a 2 percent to 5 percent royalty rate for all new mining operations.