Youth Leading Sustainability Efforts in Jemez Pueblo Invited to the White House

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Emmet stands with current Walatowa Governor Michael Toledo in Washington D.C.

Service work often rewards with intangible benefits: meeting great people, satisfaction in knowing that you are working for a better world.

However, Emmet Yepa, a local youth leader received a very tangible reward for his service last week when he was invited to meet President Obama at the White House because of the work he has done to protect Mother Earth.

Emmet, who comes from the Walatowa (Jemez) Pueblo, was one of eleven American Indian youth nationwide to be selected by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his work to create a recycling program in the Walatowa Pueblo. The program asked youth to tell the President about their service and leadership work they are doing in their communities.

“I am really honored to be accepted for this trip, and want to learn from this so that I can bring information back to our youth in New Mexico,” said Emmet as he headed to the nation’s capitol. He talked about the other founding members – Tianie and Lindsay Toya and Mark Panana – of the Walatowa Green Stars, his family, and the Walatowa community who he would be representing in his trip.

The Champions of Change ceremony took place December 1st at the White House, and each youth was given a chance to speak about the work they are doing. (click here to see video of the event). The following day, the eleven youth attended the Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior, meeting with Obama privately before he spoke to the assembled leaders.

 

“He is such an amazing, powerful and humble individual,” commented Emmet from that meeting.

In fact, Emmet says that the most powerful part of the trip for him was the Tribal Nations Conference. “It was a great feeling being with the leaders of the Indigenous Nations of this country…It made me think that I want to have the Green Stars further into the process of getting a recycling center. I want to be able to say that I accomplished more than I expected before I head off to college, for our Pueblo and for Mother Earth.”

Continue reading

Protests and dissent as EIB looks at rolling back environmental protections

By Matthew Reichbach

As the Environmental Improvement Board looks at rolling back environmental rules instituted under former Governor Bill Richardson, protesters from the Occupy Movement and environmental groups have made their voices heard opposing the changes.

The existing environmental rules that the Martinez-appointed board is considering repealing relate to carbon dioxide emissions. Industry groups including Public Service Company of New Mexico (also known as PNM) and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, back the repeal of the rules.

Occupy Santa Fe attended the hearing and used a “mic check” to have their voices heard.

During the “mic check,” which involves a large group repeating what one person says to amplify the speech without using megaphones, the Occupy protesters talked about concerns with coal-fired power plants.

“Coal burning electricity causes cancer, asthma, neurological disorders and lung disease,” the protesters said. “Elders and children are most at risk.”

David Van Winkle, Energy Chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, testified at the meeting and urged the EIB to not to roll back the environmental protections.

“The existing fleet of fossil fuel based electricity energy sources, specifically coal-fired power plants like the San Juan Generating Station produce significant air pollution,” Van Winkle told the EIB according to a transcript sent by the Sierra Club. “While pollution reduction improvements have been realized at San Juan due to the 2005 Consent Decree actions, carbon and nitrogen oxide pollution continue at high levels.”

Van Winkle urged renewable resources, including solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency as better ways to “serve [the] energy needs” of New Mexico.

A study by New Energy Economy, an environmental organization, found that, “Far from being costly for consumers and the New Mexico economy, we find that the compliance scenario creates jobs and saves money for electricity consumers while reducing greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in New Mexico. In our estimation, implementing such a compliance scenario would help to mitigate future increases in electricity bills in New Mexico.”

Industry groups say that complying with the new environmental rules would significantly increase the cost of electricity in New Mexico and that cost would be passed on to consumers.

Interim Watch: Uranium Industry Makes Big Pitch to Resume NM Mining Operations

By Charlotte Chinana

As state officials look for ways to stimulate New Mexico’s economy and create more jobs, supporters of efforts to restart uranium mining operations in the state were handed a stage to make their pitch to legislators at this week’s meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee in Grants.

And according to a panel devoted to the subject, prospects for the industry couldn’t be rosier as their key following talking points did attest:

  • New Mexico’s uranium reserves are among the richest in the nation – 2nd only to Wyoming;
  • The nuclear energy industry’s safety record is the “Best of any industry in the history of the world;” and
  • “The future is fairly optimistic for uranium (mining) in New Mexico”

New Mexico’s uranium rich reserves

According to the industry speakers, New Mexico has one of the richest uranium deposits in the United States, which “creates a lucrative opportunity to resume mining operations,” projected to “create thousands of jobs.”

“The world demand for uranium would double if the proposed nuclear reactors are built,” said Barbara Brazil, Deputy Secretary of the state’s Economic Development Department. According to estimates from the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are currently 440 operational reactors in the world – 104 of which are located across the United States.

“The U.S. consumes 20% of the world’s energy,” added John Bemis, Secretary-designee of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. “This is the world as we know it today…everybody needs to remember that we need uranium to fuel those nuclear plants.”

Not addressed in any detail were a couple of none too rosy “economic opportunity caveats”:

  • Industry estimates that the state’s uranium reserves will be worth approximately $31 billion dollars are based on economic assumptions that the price per pound of uranium would hold steady at $90 to $100 per pound over a 30 year period. However, a more likely scenario is that the price will fluctuate.  The laws of supply and demand can be a pesky critters. For example, in 2000 the price per pound of uranium was $6 – and as of July 25 of this year, the uranium price per pound was $51.50.
  • Metal mining in the state doesn’t have the best track record in terms of economic stability. According to a 2008 report prepared for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, the state has been through many copper mining boom and bust cycles, as well as one previous uranium boom and bust cycle (circa 1948 – early 1980s).

Also, another hardly insignificant issue touched on with regard to NM’s uranium reserves was the potential jurisdictional issues that can arise. Some of “the state’s” uranium deposits are located on Indigenous lands.

Continue reading

Groups to take Martinez administration to court over building code rollback

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center announced Monday that a group including small businesses and energy efficiency groups are challenging the rollback of energy conservation building codes.

The action comes a month after the State Construction Industries Commission voted 7-1 to roll back the energy efficiency building codes.

Clearly New Mexico reported on the June 10 vote to roll back the energy efficiency building codes to the levels that they were at in 2009, the lowest possible to still receive funding from the Department of Energy.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said NMELC attorney and Executive Director Douglas Meiklejohn in a statement Monday. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

One bone of contention is the process used to vote on the building codes.

Shrayas Jatkar of the Sierra Club New Mexico said in the public comment portion of the Construction Industries Commission meeting last month that there was a “stark difference” between the process used to roll back the building codes and the process that led to the building codes changes in December of 2010.

“It took 14 months to develop the code last time around and there were open meetings,” Jatkar told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview. The decision to roll back the energy efficiency building codes happened six months after Susana Martinez took office and replaced members of the commission.

The appeals were, according to a press release by NMELC, filed by NMELC “for Environment New Mexico, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Sundancer Creations Custom Builders, LLC, eSolved, Inc., and several individuals who supported the adoption of the codes promulgated in 2010.”

The codes would reduce energy use by about 20 percent.

Martinez’s administration said the codes were too costly for builders to implement and that would be passed on to property owners. The lawsuit says there is no evidence supporting the action that the Construction Industries Commission took.

“The Construction Industries Commission and the Construction Industries Division appear to have taken this action despite the absence of evidence supporting repeal of the energy conservation codes” said Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC attorney and Executive Director, in a statement. “We hope that the Court of Appeals will determine that decisions such as these must be supported by evidence in the record.”

Interim Leg Watch: Energy Industry Wants Less Regulations, More Incentives

By Charlotte Chinana

“You’re preaching to the choir…we need to put people back to work – we need to put people back in [the] uranium mines.”

~ Sen. David Ulibarri (D – Grants) commenting on (while simultaneously commending) presentations from representatives from the mining, oil and gas industries in NM.

The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee recently held their July meetings (in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa), and I had the opportunity to take a little “legislative road trip” to sit in on a couple of agenda items – namely the “Energy Panel: Update on Projects, Tax Incentives and Laws and Regulations That Are Helping or Hurting Industry,” and the “Oil and Gas Energy Report.”

During the committee hearing, industry panelists took a moment to mention what their companies have done and/or will do for New Mexico – with regards to the number of jobs created and payments made to the state (by way of taxes, fees and royalties); they also spent the bulk of their presentations outlining what the state can (additionally) do for industry – specifically related to relaxing (if not entirely eliminating) regulations, while providing more incentives to do business in the state.

The Energy Panel Updates

Representatives from two of the state’s utility providers, Xcel Energy (an electric and natural gas company that operates in eight states – including NM), and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (a wholesale electric power producer/supplier that serves 44 rural electric cooperatives and public power districts in four states – with 12 in NM), spoke extensively about the reliability of service provided by their companies, as well as the importance of cost containment measures.

While each highlighted the need to keep and utilize a diverse energy portfolio, it was stressed that the companies pretty much only added solar and wind, because they were mandated to do it.

Sonia Phillips, the NM State Affairs Manager from Xcel Energy, noted the cost difference in terms of solar production, using the example that it costs her company about 13 cents to generate a kilowatt of solar, vs. 2 or 3 cents to generate that same kilowatt – using coal. Phillips also said that some “basic, good incentives” would be nice which, according to a handout from her company, would include:

  • Expedited permitting;
  • Transmission cost recovery riders;
  • Clean energy improvement riders; and
  • Less regulatory lag (as regulatory lag increases investment risk)

Sen. Clinton Harden (R – Clovis) asked if NM’s current electricity demands were being met, to which Phillips replied “yes,” and elaborated that utility companies in the state are meeting the demand “92% of the time.”

Phillips then when on to mention that her company has “customers who want power when they want it” – as part of a pitch for an investment in infrastructure modifications to the power grid/s that the state uses (which were built in the 70s), and that “customers have been able to enjoy low rates for over 35 years” – related to possible, future rate increases.

Rhonda Mitchell, from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, added that her company was doing what it can to educate their co-op members about the rising cost of energy production and transmission (i.e. why customers can expect to pay more), though it was unclear as to whether or not said education equally emphasizes energy conservation.

As for the reliability factor, she added that:  “Sometimes, we do too good of a job in being reliable … people [can] take it for granted.”

Continue reading

Commission votes to roll back energy efficiency building codes

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Construction Industries Commission voted to roll back energy efficiency standards in building codes Friday afternoon. The 7-1 vote came after a lengthy executive session.

The vote rolls back energy efficient building codes after a short process. There were four options for public comment on the new changes in four cities on one day throughout the state. The vote was in the first meeting of the commission since it was largely replaced by members selected by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The codes that the commission voted to end were the result of more than a year of work, including public comment, under the Bill Richardson administration.

Builders were split on the idea of whether or not to back the changes to the building codes, the Associated Press reported earlier this month.

New Mexico Home Builders Association CEO Jack Milarch said he supported a repeal of the codes.

Meanwhile, Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, said changing the rules now would only require more stringent measures as a catch-up down the road

Commissioner Patrick Casey of Silver City was the lone commissioner to vote against the codes.

The code rolls back building codes to the lowest possible for New Mexico to receive stimulus funds from the Department of Energy. These are the codes that were in place in 2009.

The decision to roll back the energy efficiency codes came from Gov. Susana Martinez’s Small Business Task Force which Clearly New Mexico found “dominated by long-time lobbyists for large corporations” and not small business owners.

This seemingly comes from a recommendation in the midpoint of the Small Business Task Force to “bring compliance back down to the levels of international code.”

The energy efficiency code rollback was introduced by Kevin Yearout who sat on the task force. Yearout and his wife each donated $5,000 to Martinez’s campaign and Yearout Mechanical donated an additional $10,000 to her successful gubernatorial campaign.

The commission is filled with almost completely different members from when Richardson was in office. Dale Dekker, an Albuquerque architect, was the only member of the commission who is a holdover from Richardson’s administration. Dekker donated $500 to Martinez’s campaign.

Public comment was limited to two minutes per person and five minutes per commenter.

J. Dee Dennis Jr., Regulation and Licensing Department Superintendent appointed by Martinez, supported the change. He also served on Martinez’s Small Business Task Froce

Shrayas Jatkar of the Sierra Club New Mexico said there was a “stark difference” from the process last year to this year. He criticized the commission for not discussing the changes before voting.

“It took 14 months to develop the code last time around and there were open meetings,” Jatkar told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview.

“This time there was no reading of the number of public comments registered,” Jatkar said, whereas last time the codes were changed they read out loud how many people supported the changes to the codes and how many opposed the changes.

“This is how public policy in New Mexico is being developed at this point in the new administration,” he said, “without any actual thoughtful consideration of public input.”

Chairman Baker briefly made comments before the vote on how difficult the decision was for the commission.

“We’ve had some discussion of trying to figure out exactly what the best decision is for the New Mexico code,” Baker said and noted that the changes will “long outlast us.”

When Richardson moved to strengthen the energy efficiency codes it took 14 months and involved a committee that had a number of builders, including representatives for the New Mexico Home Builders Association.

Executive sessions are used when discussing sensitive matters and the public is cleared from the room. The executive session lasted more than two hours during Friday’s meeting and caused about one-third of the 60 or so attendees to leave.

company towns in good company

By Walker Boyd

Rio Rancho real estate map

Rio Rancho, New Mexico’s third-largest city has been an easy target for environmentalists and critics of development-oriented growth. It relies completely upon the aquifer for its water supply; its municipal government is small (it didn’t incorporate until 1981) and arguably beholden to the interests of corporations like HP and Intel who have moved to Rio Rancho to take advantage of property tax abatement and other government-provided incentives.

But if ahistorical (and unchecked) growth is Rio Rancho’s signature, then  it is really a reflection of the same growth that Albuquerque has undergone. The City of Albuquerque’s population in 1980 was only 3/5 of what it is today.

Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s stupendous growth underlies many problems they face going into the 21st century.

The other day I was poking around Zimmerman library’s scant collection of books and theses about Rio Rancho. A 1998 thesis by Patricia Pollock argued that “AMREP [American Real Estate and Petroleum, Rio Rancho’s developer]’s sole motive in purchasing land in New Mexico was to tap into the profit potential of land speculation.

Likewise, the growing residential market enhanced the investment potential for individual owners.” Another 1994 article talks about how Rio Rancho is a new template  for 21st-century company towns; in this light Rio Rancho is McDonald, Ohio, and Intel is this century’s Carnegie Steel.

But these arguments cast Rio Rancho as anomalous; despite isolated fears about groundwater and air pollution in Corrales, Intel’s presence has been generally well-received. Despite some frustrations about lost tax revenue, it’s hard to imagine anyone in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho city halls complaining about Intel and the overall boast it has supplied to the regional economy.

And when compared to SunCal, Eclipse Aviation, and any number of other failed developments, Intel comes across as both a model and an exemplar of successful development.

As Clearly New Mexico pointed out, the most recent SunCal bid for TIDD tax-breaks didn’t fail because of organized opposition to the development of the West Mesa, but because their proposal was transparently untenable; politicians know that tax breaks are only worth it so long as gross receipts tax from the actual construction of houses makes up for their losses.

We weren’t so lucky with Eclipse Aviation, but like other failed developments, Eclipse failed not because it was a bad idea but because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time: demand for private jets fell because of the recession, and beleaguered Albuquerque tax payers were no longer willing to subsidize their construction for non-existent customers.

Questions about water and the environment take the back seat to development and growth in cities like Albuquerque. But what if development is permanently stalled, and subsistence, let alone sustainability, becomes a priority?

Here, critics of growth for growth’s sake have more ground to stand on. A critical view of Intel and Rio Rancho yields a different insight on growth. The United States has enshrined freedom of trade in its Constitution, and as long as the status quo prevents New Mexico from assuming a more regional, self-sustaining outlook, national and international trends will determine the arc of development.

But critical uneasiness is well-founded. So long as our economy grew at a rapid pace, projects like the Hoover and Imperial Dams made sense to satisfy a growing population. But as population growth stagnates and housing prices fall, the wisdom of planning for more growth appears more circumspect.

India and China, two economies that are still rapidly growing, can afford audacious projects to mitigate the effects of drought. But the wisdom of such autocratic, growth-at-all-costs government, authoritarian by nature and with annual growth rates as the only clause in the social contract doesn’t fit New Mexico very well.

At the river’s bend: water and the future of urban New Mexico

By Walker Boyd

What are the politics of water? It is an element that fundamentally defines New Mexican notions of ‘the common good’. How does the law, political debate, the economy, and the historical elements of New Mexico’s diverse population influence the debate and its outcomes? This is the first part of an ongoing investigation into politics of water in New Mexico.

I lived on a farm for 6 months in Jaipur, a city in Rajasthan, just off India’s famous Thar desert. The family that owned the farm had built a clothing mill on their property in the 1960’s. Their mill used water drawn from wells beneath the farm to wash dye off the clothing during the manufacturing process. When I arrived, Only two of the farm’s nine wells were drawing water, and with the summer yet to come, the choice was clear: either the mill stops running, or the plants are no longer watered.

Across the road, a government official had an estate. If you walked to the northern edge of the farm, you could peer into his yard. There was a fountain, and some of the peacocks from the farm had already made their way on to the man’s estate. Sprinklers watered an expansive lawn and polo ground.

In 1919, the San Mateo Land Company purchased most of the old Alameda land grant for 19 cents an acre after a court ordered its sale to pay for taxes the community owed the state. In 1948, SMLC sold the 55,000 acres (fully half the size of modern-day Albuquerque) to the land-speculation company Brownfield & Koontz. The same acreage was sold again in 1959 for $10 million to AMREP, otherwise known as Rio Rancho Estates. AMREP sold half- and one-acre tracts of land to retirees and small-time investors, ultimately collecting about $200 million dollars from the sale of nearly 77,000 lots while retaining ownership of 25% of the land for future development.

Continue reading

Sin of Emission on Earth Day – Good Friday Edition

In celebration of Earth Day 2011, here’s a story courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

For Earth Day, Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute posted this shocker:  “Energy Fact of the Week: Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Coal Have Declined 54 Percent.”  He includes some nice government charts…

But from Hayward’s blog, you’d think this happened by itself!

The chief causes of this decline are technology—cost-effective “scrubbers” to remove sulfur dioxide from the waste stream—and resource substitution: we started using much more low-sulfur coal from the western United States.

No mention of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain program – the limits on sulfur dioxide emissions established in the 1990 Clean Air Act.  Without the Clean Air Act’s pollution limits, this scrubber technology and switch to lower-sulfur coal would never have happened.  Why install pollution controls or use cleaner fuels if you can dump all your pollution in the atmosphere for free?

Sounds like the corporate hacks at AEI are more adept at scrubbing history than scrubbing emissions. Wouldn’t want to let actual facts get in the way of the prime narrative denying government’s necessary role in protecting public health and enforcing the rules of the road for free market capitalism in all its majesty.

It’s about “promoting the general welfare” for those of us with a constitutional bent.

All of which reminds us of a light bulb joke, free market fundamentalist edition.

Question:  “How many free market economists does it take to change a light bulb?”

Answer:  “None. They wait for the invisible hand to do it.”

And in related news, check out today’s excellent post on DFNM:

Four Corners Power Plan Leads Nation in Smog-forming Pollution

Happy Earth Day, y’all.