As the divisions of the United States have grown more complex over the years, lawmakers, regulators and landowners have been busy dividing up land. Railroads, highways, fencing and pipelines now stretch across thousands of miles of landscape; and borders have been established at every opportunity: national borders, state borders, jurisdictional borders and property lines. While these boundaries — both the physical boundaries and the more-or-less imaginary ones — have helped us organize and manage the resources of the land, they have severely impacted the wildlife we share space with. Decades of research has shown wildlife corridors, which refer to the routes animals take when moving across a landscape, are an important part of species survival. But large contiguous plots of land are becoming increasingly rare as development pushes into new areas, and there’s a need to protect those corridors if we want to limit impacts to those species.
Conservation organization WildEarth Guardians and six other environmental and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over changes it made to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States. “Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period,” said EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, in a statement. “Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable.”
The lawsuit alleges the administration “failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules,” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It argues the administration inserted changes into the final rules that “were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.”
The groups also argue the administration violated the ESA by “unreasonably changing requirements” for compliance with Section 7, a provision of the ESA that requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species.
On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler withdrew the agency’s interim decision to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, a pesticide that’s used to make lethal M-44 devices used in predator control. The agency released its interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June, after a period of public comment. The EPA received some 20,000 comments by March 2019, the “overwhelming majority” of which “did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide,” the agency said.
“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals.”
RELATED: EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry
M-44s, also called sodium cyanide bombs, are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill predators that threaten livestock. Sodium cyanide is a restricted-use pesticide, meaning that entities need to be registered to use M-44 devices.
Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”
Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.
The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision
This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.
On a hot summer morning at the Friedman Recycling plant in Albuquerque’s North Valley, the city’s pungent recycling mix streams past on a series of conveyor belts, with an array of discards like cardboard, water bottles and soda cans first sorted by thrumming machines and human hands into bins, then compressed into giant bales bound for markets across the country. Workers pick through dense paper bales in search of errant plastic bags, aiming to reduce contamination to three percent, a drop from rates of eight percent accepted just two years ago. Grimy plastic bags, pizza boxes, garden hoses, and even more plastic bags—unrecyclable waste mixed in by residents, adding up to nearly a third of the city’s recycling stream—is sorted into a massive pile destined for the landfill.
Despite processing costs that have increased over the last three years by about 150 percent to nearly $1 million, Albuquerque’s Director of Solid Waste Management Matthew Whelan says the city is committed to working through recent challenges to their recycling program.
A 2018 Chinese government ban on plastic waste imports led to a worldwide recycling crisis. Recycling programs across the U.S. have struggled to respond to an oversupply of materials, stricter contamination standards and higher processing costs as the glut of recyclables crashed commodity prices and led buyers worldwide to become far more choosy about quality.
“This isn’t a bump in the road. We’re not going to be able to go back to business as usual like it was three or four years ago,” emphasizes Patrick Peck, Director of South Central Solid Waste Authority in Las Cruces.
Enchant Energy, the company that plans to turn the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington into the world’s largest carbon capture system, responded to criticisms made in a recent report, blasting the proposal. NM Political Report spoke with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) report author Karl Cates about his concerns for the proposal last month. RELATED: Energy think tank blasts carbon capture proposal for San Juan coal plant
Enchant Energy addressed a number of issues raised by the IEEFA report in a document posted to the company’s website in late July. The company reiterated its belief that the proposed carbon capture system offers a cost-effective, low-emission solution to keep the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station open. “Contrary to the IEEFA assertion, Enchant Energy is not making hard and fast ‘presumptions,’” the company said, pointing to a pre-feasibility study the company commissioned earlier this summer from global engineering firm Sargent & Lundry.
The EPA has added a New Mexico uranium mining basin to a list of sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.” The agency added the San Mateo Creek Basin site, part of the Grants Mining District, to the Administrator’s “Superfund Emphasis List” in mid-July, though the area is not a Superfund site. The agency said sites selected for the Administrator’s Superfund Emphasis List are those that “can benefit from Administrator Wheeler’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment,” and require “timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts.”
The San Mateo Creek Basin stretches across 300 square miles of land within the Rio San Jose drainage basin, across McKinley and Cibola counties in Northwestern New Mexico. The area is known for its uranium production during the Cold War. Uranium mining in the area halted in the mid-1980s, leaving a legacy of waste and environmental impacts that the nearby communities continue to struggle with over thirty years later. Today, there are 85 legacy uranium mines and 4 legacy uranium mill sites within the San Mateo Creek Basin.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently appointed a new director and seven new members to the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). The body, which is tasked with overseeing interstate water agreements and water planning for the state, has a total of nine commissioners, including a director, a chairperson and the state engineer. The new commission members are Bidtak Becker, former executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources in Window Rock, Arizona; New Mexico Acequia Association executive director Paula Garcia, who also serves as chair of the Mora County Commission; Mike Hamman, chief engineer and CEO at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District; Aron Balok, superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District and secretary and treasurer of the New Mexico chapter of the National Water Resource Association; Gregory Carrasco,a farmer and rancher in Las Cruces who served with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association; hydrogeologist Stacy Timmons, who is program manager at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech in Socorro; and Tanya Trujillo, lower basin project director at the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. The Governor’s office said the new members represent a diverse set of interests and backgrounds. Carrasco was appointed to bring “an important agricultural perspective to water issues,” according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.
An energy market think tank has dubbed the carbon capture proposal for the San Juan Generating Station, the Northwestern New Mexico coal-fired power plant which is closing soon, a “false hope.”
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), an Ohio-based energy think tank, recently published a scathingly critical report about Enchant Energy’s proposal to use carbon capture technology to keep the coal-fired power plant open and operating. PNM, the majority stakeholder in the San Juan plant, plans to shutter the facility by 2022 as part of the utility’s wider goal of ending all coal-fired power generation in its portfolio by 2031. That strategy aligns with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Energy Transition Act (ETA) law, which would see the state generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. The City of Farmington announced in February that it reached an agreement with Enchant Energy to keep the plant open. The company is an unknown firm in the energy sector and a newcomer to the state.
Environmental groups and Navajo government officials are criticizing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the bureau’s handling of oil and gas leases approved in the Greater Chaco area. Navajo leaders and 16 tribal and environmental organizations addressed their concerns in a letter sent to BLM’s New Mexico state director Tim Spisak last week calling for more public hearings on the issue. “We urge you to reject the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Findings of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessments,” the letter reads. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved environmental assessments for five sets of oil and gas wells that did not address the cumulative water impacts of nearly 4,000 horizontal Mancos Shale wells in the Greater Chaco region. The ruling covered environmental assessments approved by BLM for 25 applications to drill in the area.