Court says feds broke the law when delaying new royalty rule

A federal judge said Wednesday that the United States government broke the law when it delayed a rule updating how royalties are calculated when companies drill and mine offshore and on federal and tribal lands. Those royalties are paid out to states, tribes and the United States government. After five years of analysis, meetings with stakeholders and public comment, in 2016 the Office of Natural Resource Revenue (ONRR) issued a rule updating valuation rules, which had been set in the 1980s. ONRR estimated the changes would increase royalty collections by $71.9 to $84.9 million annually. The rule took effect on January 1, 2017 and initial reports were due in February.

What does Utah have to do with NM’s national monuments?

During U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent visit to New Mexico, most of his attention focused on Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The secretary spent two days in southern New Mexico, viewing the monument by helicopter and on foot and meeting with people and groups in closed settings. That monument, designated in 2014 by President Barack Obama, lies within Rep. Steve Pearce’s congressional district, and the Republican has long opposed the monument’s size. It’s possible, if not likely, that Zinke will recommend changes to the monument, despite widespread support from southern New Mexico’s elected leaders, businesses and residents. For now, many think the boundaries of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument may be safe.

U.S. steps off international stage, ‘getting out’ of climate accord

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced he was taking the United States out of the international agreement on combating climate change. Globally, the average temperature has risen by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Last year was the third consecutive year to break global temperature records, and nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord,” Trump said during his announcement in the White House Rose Garden. He added that his administration might re-enter the agreement later or negotiate an “entirely new transaction with terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.”

Trump continued, “So we’re getting out.”

The new negotiations, he said, would be toward a deal that’s “fair” to the United States.

Around NM: Life, liberty and the pursuit of comments, revenues and beer

Earlier this year, we covered a lawsuit against the federal government from a group of young people who allege their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property were violated by taking actions that cause climate change and increase its dangers. The plaintiffs, including Albuquerque-born Aji Piper, want the government to align carbon emissions reductions with what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic and irreversible warming. Piper came to Albuquerque in April and talked about the case: “Going to rallies is great, speaking up is great,” the 16-year old said at that time of climate activism. “But we need to get our government in on this.”

In 2016, the court allowed three industry trade groups to join as defendants. Together, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufactures, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufactures represent thousands of companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton, BP and ConocoPhillips.

Around NM: Science education, nuclear waste, mineral royalties and more

As we reported on Friday, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the Next Generation Science Standards Act. In her message, she wrote that “the Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.” The governor also argued the standards don’t belong in statute because it would “make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”

As Matt Grubs wrote in the Santa Fe Reporter, that bill would have required the state to adopt updated, nationally-vetted benchmarks for teaching science in public schools. As Grubs wrote last week:
Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it’s better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state’s education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place. In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution.

Around NM: Gold King Mine, science for students, Downwinders and more

After the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 contaminated the Animas River, farmers, local residents, businesses and the Navajo Nation filed claims against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Contractors with the agency caused the spill of mining waste into the river. At the time, claimants pegged their economic losses at $1.2 billion. According to the AP, which filed Freedom of Information Act requests to view the claims, the total is now $420 million, not $1.2 billion:
A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million. It’s still uncertain whether the White House and Congress — both now controlled by the GOP — are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, even though Republicans were among the most vocal in demanding the EPA make good on the harm.

Orders from Trump, Zinke reverse nation’s climate and energy policy

As carbon dioxide levels hit levels unseen in 650,000 years and global temperatures continue to rise, the United States government is rolling back climate change policies. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking and rescinding all Obama-era orders and reports addressing climate and clean energy. He also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review and revoke the Clean Power Plan, which would have required states to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of that plan, pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the EPA by utilities, the coal industry and 24 states. New Mexico, through Attorney General Hector Balderas, was one of 25 states, cities and counties to file a motion to intervene in support of the plan.

Vulnerable to climate change, New Mexicans understand its risks

Most New Mexicans know climate change is happening and understand it is human-caused. According to recently-released data, New Mexicans are also more likely than people in about half the country to talk not just about the weather, but climate. This week, The New York Times published six maps showing how adult Americans think about climate change and regulations on carbon emissions. The maps were based on data from researchers at Yale University. According to their nationwide survey, 70 percent of Americans think global warming is happening.

Digging into Zinke’s public lands lead ammo ban reversal

On Ryan Zinke’s first day as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, he overturned an 11th-hour Obama-era directive that would have expanded the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on public lands. Rep. Steve Pearce publicly thanked Zinke on Twitter for his “quick action to scrap a last-minute Obama Administration regulation that banned lead ammo.” The social media message included a shot of Zinke signing the order while flanked by clapping fans, including the National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox, and a picture of lead ammunition. NM Political Report followed up with the Republican representative’s office, asking why the congressman supported the use of lead, a metal known to harm humans and wildlife, on public lands. Related: Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders

“Use of lead ammunition and tackle has occurred since the beginning of our nation and there is no scientific evidence that links the use of lead to decreasing population levels of wildlife,” Press Secretary Keeley Christensen said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, lead based ammunition and tackle is widely used by sportsmen and fishermen.

Trump orders review of Clean Water Rule

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump brought a relatively obscure but important water rule to national attention. Trump signed an executive order directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule. Trump’s order does not overturn the rule, which was already under a court injunction thanks to a lawsuit from 13 states, including New Mexico. Instead, it orders a final review of the rule, which will likely take years. The Clean Water Rule was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.