Saturday night, freshman state Rep. Derrick Lente watched one of his first initiatives turn into a showdown on the House floor. Earlier in the session, Lente’s memorial to protect cultural and historical sites near Chaco Canyon received bipartisan support and passed through the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously. Something changed, though. By the time it reached the House floor, the Democrat’s memorial had triggered uncertainty and skepticism from Republicans. That’s because there was an elephant lurking in the room, said Lente, who is from the Pueblo of Sandia.
The Trump administration is blocking a new rule that would have changed how royalties from private coal mines on federal and tribal lands are calculated. When announcing the new rules in 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior officials said they would provide greater consistency to private companies and higher royalty payments to taxpayers and tribal governments. Mining companies opposed the changes and sued in federal court. As reported last week by the Associated Press: Rules in place since the 1980s have allowed companies to sell their fuel to affiliates and pay royalties to the government on that price, then turn around and sell the coal at higher prices, often overseas. Under the suspended rule change, the royalty rate would be determined at the time the coal is leased, and revenue will be based on the price paid by an outside entity, rather than an interim sale to an affiliated company.
A newly released federal audit points to continued problems in how the federal government manages oil and gas leases and payments for some Navajo families, including in New Mexico. In the 19th century, the federal government deeded some lands within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation to individual families. Families can choose whether or not to allow oil and gas companies to drill on those lands, called “allotments,” which are not overseen by tribal government. Instead, the leases and permits for those wells are handled by the Federal Indian Minerals Office. Based in Farmington, FIMO also oversees royalty payments.
The Dakota Access Pipeline may be 1,000 miles away from the southwest, but issues raised at Standing Rock—related to energy development and Indian lands and rights—resonate here in New Mexico. “In the case of Standing Rock, I think it sent a very strong message about what we can do, what being involved in a community can do, and the pressure it can put on an agency,” said Theresa Pasqual, an archaeologist and former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office who now works as a consultant. “I hope that here in New Mexico, especially for people that have been following the Standing Rock tribe’s movement to protect its water and to protect its cultural resources, that they will take an interest in what happens here, but also say, ‘What can I do? What can I do to be engaged locally?’” Doing so, she said, can change the “course of conversation” around many of the energy issues that affect New Mexico’s tribes. Related: The launch of our new environmental beat
Indeed, New Mexico’s tribes have struggled with issues not unlike those raised in Standing Rock for a long time.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall weighed in on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, joining his fellow U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Martin Heinrich. The incoming vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the president to consider re-routing the pipeline and also said he was “disturbed by the increasingly aggressive and violent tactics that have been used against” protesters. Udall noted that he condemned the use of violence against protesters in a letter to Obama three months ago and said he appreciated Obama temporarily halting the project. Related: Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters
“[T]he violence at the protest site has continued, with law enforcement and private security forces using inexcusable means against peaceful demonstrators, including rubber bullets, attack dogs and even water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures,” Udall wrote. “Many of the protesters are from New Mexico Tribes, and one of those seriously injured was a Navajo woman from Arizona who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.”
The Navajo Nation spans across large portions of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as part of Utah.
Several lawmakers groused about losing projects in their districts, but the House approved a bill Monday slashing 119 stalled infrastructure projects at a cost of $12.5 million. This piece originally appeared on New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Senate Bill 8 moves on to Gov. Susana Martinez for her signature. The legislation essentially moves nearly $90 million in unspent state dollars to New Mexico’s general fund as lawmakers try to backfill a deficit of nearly $600 million. SB8 also cuts earmarks for water, tribal and colonias by 1 percent. But the 119 projects, virtually all of them earmarked by individual lawmakers, drew the most debate as the bill moved through the House and Senate.
New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the United States, with average annual temperatures expected to rise 3.5 to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, according to a report released by the Cambridge, MA.-based nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. The report lays out many of the impacts New Mexicans may already be familiar with, including temperature rises, decreasing wateravailability, changes in snowpack, wildfire, conifer dieoff from insects and drought, and impacts to tribal communities from post-Los Conchas fire flooding. And it discusses the describes challenges posed to New Mexico culture, communities, and economic sectors–particularly the state’s agricultural sector.
Union of Concerned Scientists report: http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/Climate-Change-New-Mexico-fact-sheet.pdf Summer temperatures in New Mexico vary from year to year, but a careful analysis shows a consistent warming trend—a trend that is projected to continue into the future. Since 1970, the trend has steepened to an increase of about 0.6°F per decade.
SANTA FE, N.M. – The Navajo Nation is going green by building its first utility-scale solar farm on tribal property. The facility, to be located on 300 acres near Monument Valley, is expected to generate enough power for 7,700 homes in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah after it is completed in late 2016. Deenise Biscenti, public affairs director for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said building the solar plant is part of a long-term strategy to change the way the tribes deliver power. “For the past several years, NTUA has explored renewable-energy resource possibilities,” she said. “This solar farm is our move into that field, to establish a green economy for the Navajo Nation.”
A short-form documentary from Navajo Nation highlighted the problem with lack of clean water for many residents. Vice News traveled to the Navajo Nation, where at least 40 percent of residents lack clean running water. As a whole, 99 percent of Americans have access to clean running water. Reporter Neha Shastry spoke to residents as well as George McGraw, the founder of DIGDEEP Water. The non-profit seeks access to clean water for those in underdeveloped parts of the world—the project on the Navajo Nation was the first in the United States for the non-profit.
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the Gold King Mine spill that dumped waste from a mine into the Animas River. The spill ended up impacting three states as well as the Navajo Nation. U.S. Senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., and John McCain, R-Ariz., requested the hearing by the committee. Both sit on the committee and reached out to chairman John Barasso, R-Wyo., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., through a letter. The letter that Udall and McCain sent to the committee leadership is available at the bottom of this post, courtesy the Udall office.