If you saw this week’s wrap up of New Mexico’s most important environment news (which you definitely should read) you’ll have noticed a picture of the Four Corners Power Plant from the 1970s. That photo and thousands more are from the Documerica Project. In the 1970s, the brand-new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired freelance photographers to document pollution, everyday life and the agency’s activities. The U.S. National Archives digitized more than 15,000 photographs from the series and included them in their online catalog. Many of the images show how air pollution was affecting cities and illustrate the unhealthy environmental conditions that low-income and communities of color live with on a daily basis. There are photos of coal miners and a discouragingly-contaminated Baltimore Harbor in 1973 and from Louisville in 1972, when thousands of people had to be evacuated after a barge carrying liquid chlorine threatened to spill.
We’re excited to announce our second News and Brews Summer Series panel. This time, NM Political Report will speak to three experts about the environment on June 8. Like our last event, tickets are free which you can get from here. Readers who are subscribed to our daily emails are first to hear about these events. NM Political Report’s Laura Paskus will again moderate the discussion. Paskus leads our environmental project, which includes in-depth stories on water, regulatory agencies, public lands, climate change and wildlife that no one else in the state is covering.
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.
This Sunday, people gathered at a spot along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico to nurture a small habitat restoration project and remember three Silver City teens who died in a plane crash three years ago. The mission of the Butterfly Way, located at The Nature Conservancy’s Gila River Farm, is to enhance the river corridor with native flowers, trees and milkweed that will benefit pollinators, including monarch butterflies. “It’s sort of a community effort to beautify a piece of the floodplain that had been highly hammered and damaged over time by different agricultural land uses,” said Patrice Mutchnick, mother of Ella Jaz Kirk. “We started planting pretty quickly after the kids passed. We drew up a five-year plan how to restore this area, and are using the monarch as the cornerstone of the project.”
At first, it was just family members, but over time, Mutchnick said they’ve invited more neighbors and friends, student groups and community members, to come to the farm.
First there’s a spark, and then the fire. We all stare at the sky, smell the smoke. After the trees and brush and roots are gone, floods roar through arroyos and down hillsides. Weeds invade as soon as the ground has cooled. Often, the long-term changes aren’t that obvious, especially when compared with flames and floods.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that the Rio Grande is swelling over its channel, spreading water into the bosque and nurturing the next generation of cottonwood trees. That overbanking is good for endangered species like the Rio Grande silvery minnow and other more prominent species like cottonwood, said David Gensler, the hydrologist for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), which delivers water to farmers and the six pueblos in the valley. “On the other hand, it makes us nervous about the levees,” he said. For more than 40 miles in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the river is up against its levees. And the Rio Grande is still rising.
It’s not clear if the state of New Mexico is worried about a potential loss of federal funds, even as other states voice concern over a review ordered by Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. Last month, the Missoulian reported that officials at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were worried about how a memo signed by U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will affect the department. The memo required a review of all grants more than $100,000. According to the story: The Department of Interior annually distributes $5.5 billion in grants and cooperative agreements, according to the memorandum Zinke signed on April 12 and which took effect on April 19. Zinke, a Montana resident and former congressman, said in the memo that he was issuing the directive to help him “ … understand the immense impact grants and cooperative agreements have on the mission delivery of the Department.” Although the memo says the “procedures are temporary” and that business as usual would return “as soon as possible,” no end date is given.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, is expected to announce today whether he’ll try overturning a rule that would cut methane waste from the oil and gas industry. This is the last week that the Senate can overturn the methane rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). That law, passed in 1996, allows Congress to overturn federal regulations they disapprove of within 60 days of having received the rule. If the rule is “disapproved,” the agency isn’t allowed to issue a similar rule in the future without statutory authorization. Nor is the CRA subject to judicial review.
On Monday, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) voted to amend an engineering contract for the proposed Gila River diversion. The change was necessary because the company’s earlier work, done at the direction of the state and the entity planning the diversion, didn’t take into account crucial information. The ISC and the New Mexico Central Arizona (CAP) Entity has been moving diversions plans forward, even though the proposed infrastructure would cross lands owned by The Nature Conservancy and the state of New Mexico. Last week, the CAP Entity’s board of directors confirmed their latest plans weren’t going to work, and voted on a new scope of work for the engineering company, AECOM. According to a presentation by ISC Gila Basin Manager Ali Effati, the cost of the revised tasks and deletion of former tasks will offset each other.
Last Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its official list of national monuments under review, after President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the designations previous presidents had made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Two New Mexico monuments are on that list: near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in the southern part of the state. Related story: Trump review of national monuments includes two in NM
The Interior Department is soliciting public comment on the review, which was spurred by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s opposition to national monuments, including President Barack Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears and President Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. To submit comments on the review requires more than a Facebook click. You’re going to have to navigate a bit, but here are the details on how to do it: Comments may be submitted online after May 12 at http://www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.