Sen. Heinrich wants to protect the Pecos watershed from future mining

The Pecos watershed is home to some of the state’s most pristine riparian habitat, but Lela McFerrin, vice president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, is worried that a proposal to drill new mines in the area will threaten the creeks, streams and drainages that make up the headwaters of the Pecos river. 

“What we’re well known for is crystal clear, pure water. That’s what keeps us alive up here,” McFerrin told NM Political Report. 

In 2019, Comexico, a subsidiary of the Australia-based mining firm New World Resources, submitted a proposal to acquire rights to 20 federal mining claims in the area. The company hopes to dig multiple mines to extract zinc, copper and gold. 

McFerrin and other community members banded together to fight the proposal at the local level. The Stop Tererro Mine coalition includes area residents, members of the Pecos, Tesuque and Jemez pueblos, and environmental and conservation groups. 

But the mineral rights beneath the ground in the National Forest are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and there was little action that local leaders could take to prevent future mining in the watershed. So the coalition turned to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

“The proposal by Comexico is what really brought that community together, and they started communicating with my office,” Heinrich told NM Political Report. 

“That conversation with people who live in that valley, people who fish in that valley, people who farm in that valley, is what led to this legislation,” he said. 

The Pecos Watershed Protection Act would remove mineral rights from future leasing on roughly 170,000 acres of National Forest land of the watershed.

Heinrich defends stream access as issue heads to NM Supreme Court

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich weighed in on an ongoing and complicated dispute between the state Game Commission and environmental groups about accessing streams in New Mexico. Heinrich told NM Political Report that New Mexico’s leadership needs to step up efforts to protect stream access rights. 

At issue is a rule adopted by the Game Commission in 2017 that enables landowners to apply through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to certify portions of waterways that run through private property as “non-navigable.” By obtaining the non-navigable designation, those landowners are able to block off portions of waterways from public access. The rule was generally supported by landowners, and NMDGF approved several applications before it imposed a moratorium in July 2019 on issuing the certificates over legal questions. 

Critics of the rule argue that restricting public access to waterways — including those that flow through private property — is unconstitutional. The New Mexico Constitution states that waterways belong to the public, and critics argue trespassing was never allowed under state law to access a public waterway. Water recreationalists have also argued that the rule has impeded recreation on some of the state’s most popular waterways, including the Chama, Pecos, Alamosa, Mimbres and Peñasco rivers. 

Controversy around the issue swelled in early 2020, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declined to reappoint commission chair Joanna Prukop, whom she had appointed to the position in June 2019, after Prukop led a majority vote at the commission to ask the NMDGF to review and possibly amend the rule.

Shutdown is over, but federal workers remain uncertain

On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.

U.S. action toward migrants along border ignites moral showdown across the nation

Tornillo, Texas, is a desert town east of El Paso, just 89 miles from Las Cruces. Fewer than 2,000 residents were recorded living there in the 2010 Census. But it hosts a port of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border—one that exposes the increasingly urgent moral battle over migration and human rights. Last week, the Trump administration announced a new facility at the port of entry to temporarily hold immigrant children separated from their parents. According to a story in the Texas Tribune, HHS is erecting tents in Tornillo for the children and teens.

Dems choose Garcia Richard in close Land Commissioner race; Colón, Morales clinch State Auditor and Lt. Gov nominations

“It’s going to be a nail-biter,” Garrett VeneKlasen said, early in the night as he and fellow Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard were neck-and-neck in the race for New Mexico State Land Commissioner. And indeed it was, as the two traded the lead throughout the night, with Garcia Richard, a state representative, pulling ahead as the final results from Bernalillo County came in late Tuesday night, giving her a two percentage point lead over VeneKlasen. Despite a last-minute ad campaign, state Sen. George Muñoz finished almost 15 percentage points behind the two front-runners. “I feel very gratified the voters responded to my cause,” Garcia Richard said. “I was outspent, I didn’t have the institutional support my opponents had and I didn’t have the endorsements they had.”

In November’s general election, she will face Republican Pat Lyons, who previously held the office for two terms, from 2003 until 2010. A rancher, Lyons currently represents District 2 on the Public Regulation Commission.

As Trump delivers blow to solar industry nationally, NM tax credit could ‘zero out’ cost increases

This week, the Trump administration announced it was imposing new tariffs on imported solar panels and modules—a move that will hit installation companies and consumers alike. But in the New Mexico State Legislature a trio of Democratic state representatives wants to give solar development in New Mexico a boost. House Bill 87 would give people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. If passed, the bill would authorize the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to pay out up to $5 million in tax credits for the year. The bill is sponsored by Reps.

2017 Top Stories #5: National monuments under fire

About 739,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico became a big news story this year. At the end of April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a number of national monument designations, including two in New Mexico, made under the Antiquities Act since 1996. See all of our year-end stories

The two New Mexico monuments were the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces

The executive order was a gift to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who had been seeking a way to diminish protections of two monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. At the signing ceremony for the order, Trump recognized Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and in particular, Hatch. “Believe me, he’s tough.

Zinke decides against shrinking NM monuments

The Trump administration announced big changes to some national monuments, but U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the boundaries of two monuments under review in New Mexico will be left intact. A day after President Donald Trump visited Utah and announced he would drastically reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Zinke released his recommendations for the other monuments under review. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Trump signed an executive order earlier this year directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres. That included two in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. During a press call on Tuesday, Zinke said he based his decision not to alter boundaries of the two New Mexico monuments on conversations with the governor, the state’s congressional delegation, ranchers, conservationists, and city officials.

Sabinoso Wilderness set to open today

At noon today, hikers, hunters and horseback riders will finally be able to enter the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent out a Tweet last night announcing that his office had finalized the transfer of private land to the federal government. “Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.”

Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area. pic.twitter.com/THeFjHBMbr— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 10, 2017

Congress designated the wilderness area in 2009, but people were not able to actually access the federally-administered lands because they were “landlocked” by private lands. At that time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management contacted the Wilderness Land Trust and asked the nonprofit to buy a neighboring ranch and donate it to the federal government.

Land swap receives bipartisan support

The New Mexico State Land Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior are working out the details on a land trade involving more than 120,000 acres in the state, including some lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced this week that the federal government approved an agreement to transfer 43,000 acres of state-owned lands and mineral leases within the monument and the wilderness to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In return, New Mexico will gain about 78,000 acres in 13 counties from the BLM. Of the state trust lands “locked” within the national monument, Dunn said 25 percent of those aren’t currently leased for grazing. That means New Mexico isn’t earning all the income it could, he said, adding that “because of the way it’s checkerboarded with BLM, it’s hard to develop other things, like gravel or any other uses.”

The State Land Office administers nine million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.