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?”
Last week, House Republicans announced members of the House Committee on Natural Resources for the 115th Congress. That list included Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico who had previously served on the committee from 2003 through 2009. In a statement from his office, Pearce said he plans to work on “restoring the health of our national forests, ensuring multiple use on appropriate federal lands, allowing Native American communities to grow and prosper, fighting for New Mexico water, preserving our national treasures and landmarks to safeguard them for future generations and more.”
NM Political Report asked Pearce’s chief of staff Todd Willens for more details about the congressman’s plans. Willens declined to provide additional information, but wrote in an email that “as the agenda for the committee reveals itself, the Congressman will update the public.”
This session, the committee is chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a proponent of private property and states’ rights and an opponent of any new national monument designations. Bishop announced last week the Republican members of the committee will “strengthen an aggressive agenda that we will pursue in partnership with a new administration.”
The committee, which includes 26 Republicans and 18 Democrats, considers legislation on a wide range of issues important to New Mexico, including public lands management, energy and mining, American Indians, fisheries, wildlife and irrigation.
The big environment story last week was an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying that it can’t pay claims of more than a billion dollars in economic damages caused by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. As the AP reported on Friday: A total of 73 claims were filed, some by farmers who lost crops or had to haul water because rivers polluted by the spill were temporarily unusable for irrigation and livestock. Rafting companies and their employees sought lost income and wages because they couldn’t take visitors on river trips. Some homeowners sought damages because, they said, their wells were affected. Tribes, including the Navajo Nation, were also affected.
An overdue audit from a troubled state agency has finally been released to the public. But it raises nearly as many questions as it was supposed to answer. The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) submitted its 2015 audit to the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) nearly a year after it was due. The audit, conducted by an independent contractor, was reviewed and then posted on OSA’s website earlier this week. In a letter to DHSEM Secretary M. Jay Mitchell, State Auditor Tim Keller noted that the accountants identified 19 problems, most of which are related to grant management and financial controls.
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.
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.”
A one-sentence provision in state law is emboldening at least one agency to keep public information from seeing the light of day. All officials have to do is accuse someone of having a political agenda. For more than a year, retired Interstate Stream Commission director Norman Gaume has wanted to know how much water farmers and others currently draw from the Gila River. That’s where the state plans to build a controversial new project that would divert more water from the river. Specifically, he wondered if water users are using the maximum amount of water they’re already allotted from the river.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says efforts to help a rare bat species were so successful the bat no longer needs federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. The lesser long-nosed bat is migratory, spending summers in southern Arizona and New Mexico and winters in central and southern Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bat for federal protection in 1988. At the time, scientists knew of only 1,000 individual bats and 14 roosts across their entire range in both the U.S. and Mexico. Today, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest study, there are about 200,000 bats and 75 roosts.