May 24, 2017

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

Terry Eiler, National Archives,

The Four Corners Power Plant, photographed by Terry Eiler in 1972 as part of the EPA's Documerica project.

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.

But resist the temptation to duck and cover. Especially when it comes to issues involving New Mexico’s lands, natural resources, health—and long-term sustainability.

NMPR’s recent environment stories:
On third anniversary of teens’ deaths, restoration project flourishing
The Heart of Darkness
Rio Grande still running high, officials keep an eye on levees
Read all of our environment coverage:

Interior shuts down local input on public lands

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior suspended activity on 200 natural resource advisory councils and national park committees. Those groups provide local input into the management of federal public lands.

According to a story from the Deming Headlight, republished in the Las Cruces Sun-News:

Across the American west, Resource Advisory Councils (or “RACs”) have included ranchers, recreationists, conservationists and elected officials to advise land managers at the Bureau of Land Management. The Las Cruces District RAC represents all of southwestern New Mexico and encompasses the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak monument, which is among the monuments President Donald Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review in April. In the executive order calling for that review, the president cited “egregious use of government power” in the protection of public land, and vowed to “end these abuses and return control to the people.”

Reporter Algernon D’Ammassa wrote about how some locals learned the councils were shut down:

Randy Gray of Hillsboro, vice chairman of the Las Cruces District RAC, said he was informed in an email from the district BLM office only that the May meeting was canceled, but learned of the suspension through media reports. “We were just building up our membership,” he said. “A lot of our previous meetings had been spent on getting to know the resource area of the Las Cruces district. We were just getting steam for making good recommendations, and now there is this hiatus. That was disappointing to me. Our forward progress has been delayed for several months, at least.”

EPA budget swings burden onto states, local governments

The president still wants the EPA’s budget reduced, by more than 30 percent.

Among the programs on the hit list are regional restoration projects like the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, certain grants for states and local governments and money for Superfund cleanup.

The Washington Post wrote a number of programs would be “zeroed out entirely” including funding for radon detection, lead risk reduction, U.S.-Mexico border projects and environmental justice initiatives.

According to the story:

The budget proposal would maintain funding for “high priority” infrastructure investments such as grants and low-cost financing to states and municipalities for drinking water and wastewater projects. But in the broadest sense, the White House wish list would undoubtedly hobble the EPA, leaving the work of safeguarding the nation’s water and air primarily up to local officials.

EPA: stays methane rule, “war on coal is over” + the Nixon connection

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a 90-day stay on implementation of a rule designed to cut methane releases from landfills.

The National Waste & Recycling Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, Republic Services, Inc., Waste Management, Inc. and Waste Management Disposal Services of Pennsylvania, Inc. had requested the agency reconsider the rule, which would have required landfills to monitor methane emissions and install and operate gas collection systems.


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with members of the Congressional Coal Caucus this week

This week, Pruitt met with the Congressional Coal Caucus, a bipartisan group formed in 2015.

Of his visit, the headline of the agency’s press release reads, “Carries message from the President that the war on coal is over and highlights pro-environment, pro-energy independence agenda at EPA.”

The EPA was established in 1970, via an executive order signed by President Richard Nixon. Its mission is to “protect human health and the environment.”

Nixon’s executive order reads:

Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action.

The agency’s origin story used to be on its website. Now, those documents are in its web archive—the content of which “is not maintained and may no longer apply”—and curious scholars will have to go searching for them.

NM tribes, communities: hands off Rio Grande del Norte

According to a story in The Guardian, New Mexico tribes are pushing back against the Trump administration’s “review” of national monuments, including Rio Grande del Norte near Taos and southern New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks:

There is broad agreement among the tribal councils representing the reservations and pueblos in the Rio Grande valley, among them Zuni, Navajo, Santo Domingo and Mescalero Apache, that the Del Norte and Organ Mountain monument designations must be maintained. To do otherwise would be to gut a rare advance in trust and co-operation.

“The government still owes the tribal peoples,” [Pueblo of Taos War Chief Curtis] Sandoval said. “They have responsibilities they haven’t fulfilled. No matter what they say, it’s our responsibility to protect Del Norte and we have to tell President Trump he has a responsibility to protect it too.”

Local low-down  

New Mexico’s local reporters are also tracking environment stories you won’t want to miss, including Rebecca Moss’s continued coverage of Los Alamos. Last week she wrote about a fire of radioactive and chemically contaminated materials, an incident that “highlighted, once again, a pattern of consistent mismanagement in the maintenance and cleanup of some of the most dangerous materials on Earth.”

Maddy Hayden at the Carlsbad Current-Argus tracks what’s happening at WIPP and earlier this month wrote that the contractor was awarded more than $11 million in performance awards in 2016.

KUNM’s Anna Lande covered wolf recovery recently and even KOB-TV got in on the excitement over the Rio Grande’s high flows this spring.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has announced that the tribe and Salt River Project, one of the owners of the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant slated for shutdown, have reached a temporary lease-extension agreement. According to news reports, the deal will keep the plant open until 2020, and perhaps nearly a decade beyond that.

And about those forests…

If you’re interested in learning more about changing forests in the Jemez Mountains, which we covered last week, there’s a newly published paper about drought, climate and wildfire in northern New Mexico. You can check that out here.