Around NM: federal fallout, wolves, methane and more

It’s been a rough few days for people concerned about climate change and the environment. By the time Trump gave his inaugural address, mentions of climate change already disappeared from the White House website. As the New York Times reported, the purge was part of the routine “full digital turnover” of whitehouse.gov. But it did […]

Around NM: federal fallout, wolves, methane and more

It’s been a rough few days for people concerned about climate change and the environment.

By the time Trump gave his inaugural address, mentions of climate change already disappeared from the White House website.

As the New York Times reported, the purge was part of the routine “full digital turnover” of whitehouse.gov. But it did place into “sharp relief some of the starkest differences” between presidents Obama and Trump.

On Friday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also issued a freeze on new or pending regulations—which included four U.S. Department of Energy efficiency standards.

That same day, after a National Park Service employee retweeted two news reports—about the disappearance of the White House climate pages (among others, like those related to civil rights) and the administration’s smaller inaugural crowd—government Twitter accounts were temporarily shut down.

On Saturday, the accounts were reopened, the two Tweets had been deleted, and NPS issued an apology.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said the incident was reminiscent of George W. Bush’s administration:

The Bush circle issued “talking points” from which park superintendents could not deviate, fired the Chief of the U.S. Park Police for admitting to a reporter that she lacked adequate staff to cover all responsibilities and even tried to rewrite national park historic exhibits to remove anti-war, pro-choice and gay rights marches and to feature Republican figures and themes.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has canceled a climate change summit planned for February.

It’s hard to look away from immediate changes to environmental policy on a federal level, but there are still local environmental issues that merit attention in New Mexico right now.

Lobo news

Last week, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver heard oral arguments on a battle between states and the federal government over the Endangered Species Act.

Release of Mexican wolf into Apache National Forest
Release of Mexican wolf into Apache National Forest

The case came after the U.S. Department of the Interior asked the court to overturn a preliminary injunction that prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state and tribal partners from releasing captive-bred Mexican gray wolves into the wild without the state of New Mexico’s approval.

Since 1998, the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program has been releasing wolves in an effort to reintroduce the canine, which was extinct in the United States by the mid-20th century.

The program has been a political lightning rod since its inception.

During the administration of George W. Bush, for example, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish under Gov. Bill Richardson favored the program. Then, as the biologists gained more support under President Barack Obama’s administration, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s Game Commission started erecting roadblocks to the recovery plan.

In 2011, the commission ended New Mexico’s participation in the program. And in 2015, it voted to block the federal government  from releasing any new captive-raised wolves in the state.

Legally, the federal agency could still release wolves, which it did.

But New Mexico sued, and last year a federal judge blocked any new releases.

Environmental groups, like Defenders of Wildlife, support the federal government’s appeal.  According to court documents filed by the nonprofit, New Mexico hasn’t shown how releases harm its ability to manage elk herds nor proven how the releases harm state sovereignty.

Nearly 20 states filed a brief siding with New Mexico. Representing Spur Ranch Cattle Company, the Mountain States Legal Foundation also filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

There’s no deadline for the court to make a decision, but environmental advocates hope the court decides—in their favor—before spring, when biologists typically release captive-raised wolves into the wild.

Project personnel attempt to dart and capture a Mexican wolf during the helicopter operation
Project personnel attempt to dart and capture a Mexican wolf during the helicopter operation

“The Mexican gray wolf is racing extinction in the wild and the state of New Mexico is paving the way,” Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife Bryan Bird told NM Political Report. “It will be critical that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release new wolves into the wild population this spring and we hope that the appeals court will reach a favorable decision lifting the injunction in time.”

Meanwhile, biologists with the program are currently conducting annual wolf population surveys within the recovery area, which includes parts of southern New Mexico and Arizona.

Along with the aerial surveys, biologists will also capture wolves that need new or replacement radio telemetry collars and wolves that appear sick or injured.

According to a press release from the Fish and Wildlife Service:

Captures are made with an anesthetizing dart operated by a biologist or veterinarian aboard the helicopter. The wolf is immobilized and brought by air to a staging area for processing and any necessary veterinary care. It is then returned to the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area and released.

Weather permitting, the survey flights will continue through Feb. 4.

Court decides on methane waste rule

In Wyoming last week, a judge rejected efforts to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from implementing a 2016 rule designed to cut methane emissions from oil and gas wells and pipelines on federal and tribal lands.

The rule is aimed specifically at reducing waste from venting, flaring and leaks.

During a call with reporters last year announcing the new rule, top Department of the Interior officials said it would help cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop wasting a product that could be sold.

“The monetary and social costs of releasing natural gas into the atmosphere are clear, significant, and dangerous,” said then-Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider.

She added that 375 billion cubic feet of natural gas—or enough to power more than 5 million households for a year—were lost to venting and flaring between 2009 and 2014.

The rule is opposed by the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which both say the BLM doesn’t have the authority to regulate air pollution. Some states, including Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota sided with industry.

Environmental groups like Earthworks and the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the states of New Mexico and California intervened in support of the BLM’s rule.

In its conclusion, the court ruled that since Congress gave BLM the authority to make rules that prevent “undue waste of mineral resources,” an injunction would not be granted.

Snowpack’s up

Even people living in Albuquerque can see that recent storms have been good to the mountains.

As former newspaperman John Fleck, in his new position as director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, pointed out on Twitter, San Juan River snowpack is 71 percent above average.

Earlier in the month, he also shared a water forecast graph showing that storms in December and early January had added 500,000 acre feet to the 2017 runoff forecast for the Rio Grande.

That’s all great news for now, since cities and rural irrigators alike largely rely on spring snowmelt for water supplies.

Over the next few months, everyone will keep paying close attention. In recent years, New Mexico’s warmer-than-normal spring temperatures have thrown off snowmelt predictions. Dense snowpack now doesn’t always translate into reliable runoff at the time when farmers and water managers need it the most.

And speaking of water managers, it’s worth paying attention to what happens with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s climate programs in the coming weeks and months.

During the Obama administration, the water management agency was actively studying water and climate issues in the western United States, including New Mexico.

Now is probably a good time to download the agency’s Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment report and Santa Fe Basin Study.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report