Is Desert Rock Dead?

Is the Desert Rock power plant proposal near death? Though the Navajo Nation insists the coal-fired plant proposed for tribal land is still on track, a number of recent developments indicate otherwise.

Today, High Country News published an excerpt of Albuquerque-based environmental writer Laura Paskus’ in-depth look at the rise and fall of Desert Rock.

The link below is just a taste – the site will publish her full report in the coming days.

SHOCKED JOCK: KKOB Radio’s Jim Villanucci and his wingnut demographic

Jim Villanucci, KKOB-AM’s afternoon talk show host, outdid himself yesterday.  His topic for the show was the recent Harris Poll that says 24% of Republicans believe that President Obama may be the Antichrist.

The fact that throughout the show Villanucci kept stating incorrectly that 24% of “Americans” believe the Antichrist thing is not of concern here. (Although, come to think of it, perhaps his understanding is that only Republicans are Americans? Whatever.)

No, what was interesting was the listener reaction Villanucci unleashed. It was truly amazing – in the way that disconcerting and deeply disturbing can be amazing.  It was so over the top, even by KKOB standards, that the jaded talk jock himself seemed a bit shocked.

Based on the crush of callers who declared they would have answered the Obama=Antichrist question in the affirmative, it does seem that a good 85% of KKOB’s listener demographic would qualify as sufferers of ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome).

One of the few callers to dissent from the overwhelming Obama-is-Antichrist consensus took great pains to demonstrate serious expertise on the subject.  “No, Obama simply could not be the Antichrist.” According to the relevant texts, he explained, the evil one will be a European male with a mark on his head and have only one eye. Plus Obama isn’t popular enough. (Apparently a 51% job approval is a disqualifier for the Antichrist sweepstakes.)

So there! Slam dunk!

Any researcher hunting for a good focus group sample that is representative of wingnut nation should look no further.

Here in the Duke City, KKOB is their magnet. It’s home base for birthers and the whole healthcare-reform-is Armageddon demo.

Of course, that’s why KKOB devotes most of its schedule to filling New Mexico’s airwaves with political venom and incitement. After all, it’s the self-proclaimed “talk monster”, proudly featuring a lineup of the superstars of hate radio — Rush, Sean, Bill Cunningham and Michael Savage of “die you gay pig” infamy.

Egging on the crazies for a living

The funny thing is that from time to time Villanucci slips.

Continue reading

Health Care Reform Act A Welcome Step Toward Worthy Goal

It’s not universal healthcare, but it is in fact a pretty big fucking deal.

With the health care reform bill that President Obama signed yesterday, 32 million of this country’s poorest people will now receive health care coverage for the first time and millions more will get help with paying for the health care they have. The practical effects of the bill go beyond health care – The New York Times called the bill “the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.”

In New Mexico – one of the nation’s poorest states with one of the highest rate of uninsured people – at least 100,000 people will likely become eligible for Medicaid, and many more with moderate incomes will get help buying insurance.

Far from being a step toward socialism, as its hysterical detractors claim, what happened yesterday was historic and hard-fought and every bit as American as baseball and apple pie.

Students of history know that the health care act has echoes in the human rights campaign of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When he was murdered, King was in act of transitioning the civil rights movement against segregation into the broader “Poor People’s Campaign.” That movement called for an “economic bill of rights” for the poor that included governmental commitments to employment, housing and health care.

Movement marcher John Lewis was central to MLK’s movement then as an organizer and he was central again 40 years later, as a senior congressman from Georgia overseeing the campaign for health care coverage in Congress.

Last week, in an outrageous twist of events, Lewis was targeted on Capitol Hill by anti health care protestors who spit on him and called him a “nigger.” Some things haven’t moved very far in 40 years, I guess.

(You know what they say about those who ignore history.)

Inevitably, the “Party of No” continues to portray the health care reform bill in ridiculous and overblown terms. Horriffically ugly and inaccurate demonstrations marked the discussion of the bill, with protesters likening Obama to Hitler and Stalin – and Republican officeholders not doing much to tamp them down.

Ironically, the odd bedfellows who oppose health care include both those within the insurance industry who have benefitted hugely from the current, bloated American corporate system – and those with virtually nothing who have been victimized by the same system but fail to see the connection.

At Clearly New Mexico, we believe that universal health care for all is a basic human right deeply rooted in the history and promise of America – and we are gratified to see the bill yesterday as being a huge step toward that worthy goal.

We Can All Learn A Lot From Stewart Udall

My colleague Matt Brix was lucky enough to work with and get to know the great statesman Stewart Udall, and he wrote a heartfelt essay about him for Clearly New Mexico on Sunday.

Udall, a former U.S. Interior Secretary, an ardent conservationist and the last surviving member of the Kennedy Cabinet, died Saturday at his home in Santa Fe at age 90.

I was not lucky enough to ever meet Udall, but I was struck by what a great loss the American public has suffered after I read this New York Times piece about his lifelong dedication to preserving epic American landscapes and priceless historical sites.

From the story:

Though he was a liberal Democrat from the increasingly conservative and Republican West, Stewart Udall said in a 2003 public television interview that he found in Washington “a big tent on the environment.”

The result was the addition of vast tracts to the nation’s land holdings and — through his strong ties with lawmakers, conservationists, writers and others — work that led to landmark statutes on air, water and land conservation.

Udall’s words, methods and accomplishments seem so remarkable now, as we see every effort to develop or even discuss responsible energy and conservation policies rent by ugly partisan arguments.

More on Udall from the NYT story:

Few corners of the nation escaped Mr. Udall’s touch. As interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he presided over the acquisition of 3.85 million acres of new holdings, including 4 national parks — Canyonlands in Utah, Redwood in California, North Cascades in Washington State and Guadalupe Mountains in Texas — 6 national monuments, 9 national recreation areas, 20 historic sites, 50 wildlife refuges and 8 national seashores. He also had an interest in preserving historic sites, and helped saved Carnegie Hall from destruction.

“Republicans and Democrats, we all worked together,” Mr. Udall said in a television interview with Bill Moyers. But by the time of that interview, Mr. Udall added that Washington had been overtaken by money and that people seeking public office fought for contributions from business interests that viewed environmental protection as a detriment to profit at best.

In his years in Washington, he won high regard from many quarters for his efforts to preserve the American landscape and to educate his fellow Americans on the value of natural beauty, points he made in his 1963 book “The Quiet Crisis.” The book, whose aim, he wrote at the time, was to “outline the land and people story of our continent,” sold widely.

Stewart Udall is gone now, but he leaves behind a legacy of such remarkable and admirable statesmanship and stewardship of the land. It would honor his memory – and only benefit us all – if we could take a look back to emulate his words and deeds as we wrestle with the important environment decisions facing us now.

Stewart Udall: A Personal Reflection

By Matt Brix

Stewart Udall, Air Force veteran, lawyer, Congressman, Interior Secretary, author, outdoor adventurer.  Each of these titles alone could easily define a lifetime of accomplishment and public service.

I believe Stewart Udall was not defined by what he did, but by who he was – a caring human being and a gentleman.  The immeasurable effect he had on regular people is what made Stewart a hero.  My good fortune in knowing him is but one of thousands of stories that could likely fill volumes.

I first met Stewart Udall four years ago when he and I served on Governor Bill Richardson’s Ethics and Campaign Reform Task Force.  By that time, Stewart was 86 years old.  On first glance, it would have appeared that he was well past his days of fighting for land conservation, or working to protect victims of uranium mining and nuclear testing.

But, I would soon realize that Stewart Udall still had the ability, and the will, to say what needed to be said.

Continue reading

For Communities Living with Uranium Mining Contamination, Court Decision is “Slap in the Face”

Earlier this month a decision was made by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals over a license issued by the NRC for four uranium mines on the Navajo reservation. The four proposed in-situ leach (ISL) mines would purposefully and irreversibly contaminate the sole source of water for Navajo communities in Churchrock and Crownpoint.

The decision of 2-1 in favor of upholding the NRC’s authority to issue the permit follows a 15 year long battle in front of administrative law judges and Federal courts.  The proposed mines by Hydro-Resources, Inc. (HRI) would use a method of mining known as in-situ leach (ISL) mining which injects chemicals into aquifers to mobilize uranium and pump it out of the ground.

No ISL mine in the country has ever been restored to its pre-mining condition.  Two of the proposed HRI mines are less than a half mile away from Crownpoint’s municipal water wells.  The decision by the court supports HRI and the NRC even though all available data show that the sole source of water for more than 15,000 Navajo community members will be irreversibly contaminated.

In addition to water contamination, communities are dealing with problems of airborne radiation caused by mine waste from previous mining during the last uranium boom.  At the proposed Section 17 mine site in Churchrock, abandoned mine waste emits levels of radon beyond even what the NRC’s own regulations consider safe.  To permit new mines will only add to this problem.

The NRC argued that they only had to consider new emissions of radioactivity from the new mines, rather than either existing conditions or cumulative impacts.  The cumulative impacts would leave communities exposed to radiation levels anywhere from 9 to 15 times NRC regulations.

This decision is a slap in the face to communities that are still living with contamination left after companies left town and refused to clean their mess, leaving hundreds of abandoned mines and radioactive waste. This devastating legacy of continues to haunt our communities, resulting in sky-high rates of various cancers, kidney disease, autoimmune disease, birth defects, and miscarriages.

It has been more than thirty years since mining companies left and state and federal agencies that are responsible for protecting the environment and human health are only now beginning to take steps towards reclamating these areas.

As more uranium companies come into our area, our communities stand united against any new uranium mining.  There are an estimated 300 million pounds of uranium in the Grants Mineral Belt, with more than a third on Indian lands and protected under both the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Laguna’s bans on uranium mining.

Another lawsuit over the proposed mines is still pending and community groups continue to work to secure federal and state funding for cleanup.

This is a guest post by Nadine Padilla of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE), a coalition of grassroots organizations working to address the uranium legacy that still plagues many communities.

Climate Change: On the Frontlines at the EIB

Robby Rodriguez

Climate control is too important to leave in the hands of the U.S. Congress…or in the hands of the highly-paid lobbyists who speak for the energy companies and huge corporations.

That’s why it’s so important now for states to take the lead – and New Mexico has emerged as one of the boldest, says social justice activist Robby Rodriguez in a new essay just published in High Country News.

Rodriguez, who is executive director of the Albuquerque-based SouthWest Organizing Project, says New Mexicans should be proud that SWOP, New Energy Economy and more than a dozen groups are currently petitioning to make New Mexico a leader in the nation when it comes to regulating greenhouse gases.

The groups are asking the state’s Environmental Protection Board to place a science-based cap on the amount on global warming emissions in the state to 25 percent below 1990 levels. This is the minimum action recommended by the global scientific community to mitigate the impact of global change.  If approved, New Mexico’s plan could be used as a national model for other states.

Rodriguez writes that he was moved when he heard faith leaders, doctors, scientists, advocates, renewable energy producers and more testify at a March 1 public hearing on the petition.

From the HCN piece:

Those who spoke in favor of the petition in front of the EIB represented lifelong residents of the Four Corners area in northwestern New Mexico—one of the most heavily polluted areas in the country–who spoke of noxious fumes and the devastating impacts of the oil, gas and coal industries on their health, land and animals.  Young people talked about their future.  A pregnant mother talked about her soon-to-be-born son.  Faith leaders, renewable energy producers, advocacy organizations, doctors, scientists and local government officials all came forward in favor of capping greenhouse emissions.  The room was packed—standing room only!

It was beautiful.

Then  Rodriguez spoke of the parade of corporate CEOs, lobbyists and even some tea partiers, all of whom spoke against the petition.

From the HCN essay:

And then came the parade of polluters.  PNM, the major electric utility company in New Mexico led the way as grand marshal.  They were followed by suits representing the energy, mining, oil, gas, coal, agribusiness and other manufacturing industries, and of course, their shareholders.  Also in the parade were the various chambers of commerce and of course the new kids on the block, the ‘teabaggers.’ They cited all the usual “if we do this the sky will fall” arguments.  They argued the matter should be decided by our state legislature or by the congress at the national level or at the international level—as though the long political process necessary to overcome the massive propaganda campaigns they wage is time we can afford. .  We’ve heard it all before.

It got ugly.

And that was just the beginning. The EIB will continue to hold hearings throughout the summer and is scheduled to rule on the petition sometime in the fall.

As this battle plays out, we at Clearly New Mexico hope New Mexico continues to stand firm on the front lines of the battle over climate control.

Tax Un-Truthiness: What the Journal didn’t tell you

There has been a lot of coverage about the negotiated tax package passed by the Legislature during the special session to shore up the state budget, including this ridiculous claim in an Albuquerque Journal editorial from March 11:

“There is a big state income tax hike ($193 on average per filer, raising an estimated $66 million) brought about by elimination of the deduction for sales tax. It is, in fact, a tax on a tax.”

Presumably this is a reference to the measure that would disallow individuals who itemize from deducting their state and local taxes on their state income tax forms. What the Journal doesn’t  tell you is that this will affect only about 20% of NM tax filers. The other 80% of the state’s tax filers use a standard deduction that doesn’t allow them to deduct these same taxes, so they would not be subject to what the Journal calls “a tax on the tax.”

The phrase “a tax on a tax” makes no sense in reference to this measure.  What the Legislature did was  remove a deduction that never should have been there in the first place.

New Mexico is only one of only a handful of states that currently allows this deduction, probably because most other states have figured out that allowing it doesn’t make any reasonable fiscal sense. Indeed, the only real effect of allowing the deduction has been to reduce state tax liabilities for wealthy individuals — that is, those most likely to itemize on their state tax forms.

New Mexico Voices for Children developed this table to clearly show who benefits the most from this policy (click on the chart to view):

According to the Taxation and Revenue Department’s analysis about 70% of the increased liability would come from households with an ADJUSTED gross income of $100,000 or more. Only 4% would come from households making less than $50,000.

Therefore, the Journal’s claim that removing this deduction would raise taxes “$193 on average per filer” is misleading at best.

A look at the facts serves to underscore the progressive nature of this policy. In fact, it is the only revenue enhancement in the tax package that actually makes the rich pay their fair share.

It is clear that whomever wrote the editorial didn’t do their homework on the actual policy but instead  merely inserted some boilerplate talking points courtesy of corporate lobbyists who opposed the measure during the legislative session.

Restaurant Gun Bill Now Law

There was unpleasant news today as Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill that will allow people who have permits to carry concealed weapons to take them into restaurants that serve beer and wine.

You know, like the places you and I take our children to.

The legislation was introduced during the most recent regular session by Sen. George Munoz, a Democrat, who had complained in the press that his gun was stolen from a locked car while in the possession of his sister – in the state of Nevada. If people were allowed to take their guns with them while they ate, they wouldn’t be stolen from their cars, Sen. Munoz argued.

Never mind that the incident that prompted Sen. Munoz to sponsor this bill took place in another state. Never mind that none of the bill’s supporters could produce any statistics showing that this is an actual problem in New Mexico.

The whole premise – that people should be able to bring concealed guns into places where alcohol is served – goes against common sense, not to mention specific studies done by non-partisan think tanks like the Virginia Center for Public Safety.

“I just think it’s a terrible idea,” said Sen. Eric Griego, a Democrat who opposed the bill and spoke out against it. “Families who go to restaurants now have to worry about whether someone may or may not be carrying a weapon.”

Griego acknowledged that permitted gun carriers may have great intentions to use their guns only for protection, but said he worries that accidents can happen whenever a dangerous weapon is present.

Griego said the new law puts restaurant owners – many of whom opposed the bill – in an unenviable position of enforcing the new law.

Griego said he tried to amend the bill to include a measure that would require restaurants to post a notice indicating whether they allow concealed guns or not – forcing the issue so customers would know. That amendment failed, he said. Now, if a restaurant doesn’t post a notice, it can be assumed that they allow concealed carry guns.

In my opinion, Gov. Richardson played awfully coy with this gun bill. He put it on the call for a session that was supposed to focus on the budget. Then the Governor had a spokesman say that in no way should be taken as a sign that he supports the bill. Immediately after the session, Richardson declined to say whether he’d approve the bill, saying “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Today in his announcement, he said, “My decision to sign this bill came after much contemplation and thought. I heard strong opinions from both those for and against the bill. As the Governor of a western state, I know well the deep feelings that come with such a measure, but I also understand those feelings and beliefs must be tempered by the enactment of certain safeguards.”

Richardson also said today that he was directing the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to revise a regulation that would make it clear that those with concealed weapons could not consume alcohol.

Sorry, that’s not good enough.

Thank God that restaurants who reject this new law can opt out by posting a conspicuous notice telling patrons that concealed weapons are not permitted in their restaurant.

Let’s hope they all do.

I won’t take my family to the ones that don’t.