On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
Are New Mexico’s two national monuments safe from a reduction in size or elimination by President Donald Trump? That’s the question U.S. Sen. Tom Udall had for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Wednesday during a Senate subcommittee hearing. The Democratic senator is a staunch supporter of the designations of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments, each of which are part of a review of national monuments ordered by the Trump administration earlier this year. “Will you commit to me today that you will respect the wishes of the vast majority of New Mexicans and maintain the existing boundaries of these two monuments?” Udall asked the former Montana congressman. Zinke said he would seek local input, referring to the process in the Bears Ears National Monument.
Santa Fe is the hometown of the state’s two most powerful legislators, and they are using their collective might to try to restrict what can be developed on the downtown parcel that’s now home to Garrett’s Desert Inn and Santa Fe Bite restaurant. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth grew up in and around Santa Fe’s Historic District, so they have written Senate Bill 409 to protect it. The measure would shape redevelopment at 311 Old Santa Fe Trail. The New Mexico State Land Office acquired the 2.7 acres in a land swap. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said there is interest from developers across the country in a 60-year lease with the state to bring in retail, residential and commercial tenants.
The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells. The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology. “Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.
The Bernalillo County Commission passed a resolution supporting the federal government’s push to create stricter rules on methane leaks and emissions. The proposal passed on a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, with all three Democrats on the commission voting for it and Commissioner Wayne Johnson voting against. Commissioner Lonnie Talbert was not present for the vote. The resolution shows the support of the Bernalillo County Commission for proposed rules from the Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency on methane emissions and leaks from oil and gas drilling. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins sponsored the resolution and said the proposed federal rules would have a positive impact on health for residents of Bernalillo County, plus help slow down the effects of climate change.
It’s just one sentence – 19 words – but its disappearance from a proposed 100-year plan to manage the Albuquerque Metro area’s water supply has critics saying its omission could dramatically draw down the aquifer in future years. The critics also charge it’s part of a plan by water insiders and consultants to flip Bernalillo County’s water strategy without any real public input and that it will work to the benefit of the proposed Santolina master-planned community on Albuquerque’s far West Side. This piece originally appeared in ABQ Free Press. The change is to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s Water Resources Management Strategy, which was last updated in 2007. The current version of the strategy’s Policy B says, “The Authority shall limit the use of ground water except to meet peak demands or during times of drought.”
But that sentence is missing from the water authority’s proposed revised strategy, which could be approved by the utility’s board of directors later this summer.
A hard-fought, close three-way race that will determine the ideological balance of the Bernalillo County Commission ended with a winner late Tuesday—Steven Michael Quezada. Quezada, a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education and an actor best known for his supporting role in “Breaking Bad,” now goes into the fall general election race a clear favorite over Republican Patricia Paiz. Quezada said he isn’t ruling Paiz’s challenge out, despite his district’s Democratic leanings. “We still got to move forward,” he said. “We still got to fight.”
Quezada narrowly edged out opponents Adrián Pedroza and Robert Chavez by winning just over 35 percent of the vote for the district, which covers Albuquerque’s South Valley and Southwest Mesa.
Legislation to increase the funding for early childhood education received good and bad news on Monday morning. The bad news came from the House, Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, where a proposal to ask voters to approve a 0.7 percent increase in distribution from the land grant permanent fund failed, with the Republican majority voting against it. The legislation, brought by Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martinez, both Albuquerque Democrats, would increase the distribution from 5 percent to 5.7 percent, with a 10 year sunset. Maestas explained that it is really a 0.2 percent increase, because a previous constitutional amendment has the amount at 5.5 percent, but it will drop back to 5 percent.
A rancher from New Mexico made headlines because of his involvement in the Oregon occupation of a federal wildlife facility by militia members who oppose federal ownership of lands. The Associated Press reported that he was the only rancher to renounce his federal grazing permit at an event held on Saturday. The man is Adrian Sewell, a rancher who is from Grant County in southwest New Mexico. The group occupying the Oregon facility is led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Cliven Bundy became a national figure after an armed stand-off with federal agents over their efforts to collect on fines for grazing on federal lands
A peaceful protest over the imprisonment of a father and son on arson charges on federal land led to Ammon Bundy and others taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early January.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich weighed in on the situation where “armed extremists” took over a federal bird sanctuary in rural Oregon earlier this month, saying that those responsible should be prosecuted. I find the latest Bundy land-grab scheme deeply disturbing. When you use armed intimidation to take over lands and property that belong to the American people, that’s not ‘taking back’ anything. It’s just stealing,” Heinrich said in a statement. Heinrich sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to prosecute those involved and tied them to the movement to give federal lands in the West to the states. “Unfortunately, the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is only the latest effort in a growing campaign by anti-government interests to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands,” Heinrich wrote in the short letter.
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.”