ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Opponents of rollbacks to the Trump-era Clean Water Act say 90% of New Mexico’s waters were left unprotected and hope a recent court decision will be a turning point. A federal judge ruled the Trump administration’s 2020 “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” was too flawed to keep in place. That means for now, instead of falling under federal jurisdiction, the status of ephemeral or intermittent streams will be subject to case-by-case determinations. Rachel Conn, deputy director of the water advocacy group Amigos Bravos in Taos, said arid states such as New Mexico need their own rules. “We are a very dry state, as we all know, and we have many waters that don’t flow year-round, and it is all of those waters that had been left unprotected,” Conn observed.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Administrators at New Mexico State University know they’re headed into a fall semester this week facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, but they still hope to make campus life as normal as possible. NMSU Vice Chancellor and Chief COVID-19 Officer Ruth Johnston said they’ve tightened protocols, meaning students and system employees at all five campuses will need to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis, beginning September 30. “And the reason for that was not because we wanted to delay things or make our community less safe,” said Johnston. “In fact, we wanted to give people the opportunity to be able to get the vaccine if they hadn’t already.” The University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College have both issued similar policies, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A newly-released map identifies portions of the U.S.-Mexico border wall built by the Trump administration, and for conservation groups and wildlife advocates, it is alarming. The Biden administration halted construction, and said it will use federal funds to assess damage caused by the new, higher walls. Myles Traphagen, borderlands program coordinator for the Wildlands Network who created the map, said in addition to environmental damage, the project identified several areas in border states where restoration to benefit wildlife is needed. “There’s very high biodiversity in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico,” Traphagen explained. “It’s a meeting ground of the neotropics and the temperate zones.
ByCody Nelson, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Emily Holden, for Floodlight |
Antoinette Sedillo Lopez quickly learned the harsh reality of New Mexico politics after she was appointed to fill an empty seat in the state senate two years ago. One of the first bills she pushed sought a four-year pause on new fracking permits on state lands, taking that time to study the environmental, health and safety impacts of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique. Sedillo Lopez believed it was a sensible piece of legislation, one that was tempered and looked out for New Mexicans. But almost right away, the bill died,never getting out of committee. The same thing happened to a similar measure she pushed earlier this year, with support from dozens of environmental and Indigenous organizations.
ALBUQUERQUE — The Bureau of Land Management says it will challenge a judge’s ruling that ousted William Perry Pendley as director of the agency last week. In the meantime, Pendley is still at the agency, and influencing BLM policies. For the past few years, the Trump administration has avoided confirmation hearings by putting acting officials in charge of top agencies and departments. The judge found Pendley had been on the job illegally for more than 400 days without a Senate confirmation. Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, said the administration has used shortcuts to advance controversial policies.
Aubrey Dunn and his wife Robin run a cattle operation north of Carrizozo, NM, and the couple, now grandparents, own roughly 250 head of cattle. Like other cattle ranchers, Dunn, who was formerly the New Mexico State Land Commissioner, is part of an industry that faces high prices for cattle upkeep and low sale prices per head of cattle at market.
Because it costs an average of $300 to $400 annually to maintain a cow and cattle prices have been trending downward, Dunn said the cattle business has not been profitable in recent years. In the past, drought or finding affordable feed or space to accommodate livestock were typical problems for a cattle rancher—but that was before the COVID-19 coronavirus forced the shutdown of meat processing facilities across the country. Dunn said this could create long-term hardships ahead for New Mexico cattle producers. Hardships ahead for New Mexico cattle ranchers
Sid Gordon, New Mexico State University Extension Office agent in Otero County, said some producers have part-time businesses or jobs because it can take hundreds of head of cattle for a single family to be successful at cattle production alone, Gordon said.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tribal communities now will begin receiving federal coronavirus relief funding, a week after the government missed a congressional deadline for distribution, and only after being sued over who is eligible for the money. In a phone call with reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., noted that the Navajo Nation — located in portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah — is reporting one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the country. “Yet the $8 billion Tribal Relief Fund we fought was stuck in the Trump Treasury Department for six weeks,” he said, “but this announcement comes weeks too late and billions of dollars short.” On reservations, the rate of COVID-19 infections per 1,000 people is four times higher than in other parts of the country. Based on population, payments totaling about $5 billion will go out to tribes over the next several days.
SANTA FE, N.M. – If you’re headed out to use New Mexico’s trails or open space this weekend, outdoor experts say you should make the health of others your number one priority during the current health crisis. Terry Owen leads outings as the chairman of the Outings and Military Outdoors Program for the Rio Grande Chapter of the New Mexico Sierra Club. Owen says if you can, it’s a good idea to find a trail off the beaten path. At the same time, he says you shouldn’t travel so far that it requires a stop – which could possibly mean interacting with others who may have been exposed to the new coronavirus. “This pandemic that we’re seeing is life and death for a lot of people,” says Owen.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Federal Civil Rights Act applies to gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans. It currently bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for employment and housing. However, President Trump argues that they should not be protected and a decision is expected before year’s end. New Mexicans should know, however, that state law is crystal clear. Our Human Rights Act specifically makes it illegal to use sexual orientation and gender identity to discriminate.
It should come as no surprise that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s Tuesday visit to Santa Fe is as a featured guest at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s Annual Meeting. As the head of the agency in charge of protecting our nation’s public lands, managing our natural resources and honoring our responsibilities to indigenous peoples, Bernhardt’s fossil fuel-first agenda is at odds with New Mexico’s goal of diversifying its economy and protecting our health, treasured public lands, and cultural values that New Mexicans hold dear. In New Mexico, Bernhardt oversees 13 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands as well as National Parks and Monuments such as Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. These natural and cultural wonders are an essential part of our health, our heritage, and our outdoor recreation and tourism economies. Under Bernhardt, the Interior Department has joined with the Environmental Protection Agency in rolling back air, land and water protections at an alarming rate.