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Environmental Rollback, Gov. Martinez Style

By Tracy Dingmann

“But you knew she was comin’!”

That’s one of my favorite lines from an otherwise forgettable movie by Spike Lee, uttered by a character played by Ruby Dee to her husband when he expresses surprise and walks out after being offended by a dinner guest he invited to his table.

I thought about this line when I heard about the swift actions of new Governor Susana Martinez, who – as promised – has spent her first couple of days in office dismantling or putting on hold a number of key environmental decisions made during the Richardson administration.

Those of us New Mexicans who care about the environment and who know we need to regulate corporations to keep them from befouling our state all knew this was gonna happen, but it still doesn’t ease the offense.

The series of events started on Jan. 1, hours after Martinez was sworn in, when she issued an executive order establishing a small-business task for to “identify all red tape regulations that are harmful to business growth and job creation in New Mexico…” and to freeze all proposed and pending regulations for 90 days, until such a review can be conducted.

Capping Carbon

This executive order will affect a number of decisions, most notably two recent decisions by the state’s Environmental Improvement Board to implement caps on carbon emissions produced both in the state and regionally to improve air quality and reduce harmful global warming.

As a candidate, Martinez had said that reversing the EIB’s decisions on capping carbon would be one of her first priorities if elected governor. That was despite the fact that the EIB’s decisions were based on hours of public hearings and expert testimony – and it is not at all clear whether any governor can simply obliterate all that with the stroke of a pen. But it looks like she’s doing it.

Yesterday (Jan. 4), Martinez made her disdain for environmental progress in New Mexico even more clear by abruptly removing all of the current EIB members.

As environmental writer Laura Paskus notes in a Jan. 5 post,  Martinez’s decision to trash the EIB and its recommendations was not made based on scientific evidence.

From her post, “Politics Trumps Science Again:”

The two proposals were by no means perfect–and the state still had a long way to go in terms of realistically cutting emissions. But it was a step forward. A step forward urged by people who care about the state, and passed by people who understood that the climate is already changing and those changes are going to impact the future of the state. Members of the EIB made a decision based not only on the environmental impacts of climate change, but on the economic impacts of not doing anything about the problem.

Now, just in case you’re one of those folks who think the EIB members (and anyone who cares about dealing with climate change) are just a bunch of enviro-crazies running around kissing rabbits and hugging trees–and hell-bent on destroying the state’s economy–check out this report from Sandia National Laboratories (one of the state’s two nuclear labs and a place not necessarily known for its radical or liberal tendencies): “Executive Summary for Assessing the Near-Term Risks of Climate Uncertainty: Interdependencies among the US States.”

In that report, released in May, Sandia estimated the economic impacts of climate change on a national and state-by-state level—and found that policy makers are taking economic risks by not addressing climate change.
We determine the industry-level contribution to the gross domestic product and employment impacts at the state level, as well as interstate population migration, effects on personal income, and consequences for the U.S. trade balance. We show that the mean or average risk of damage to the U.S. economy from climate change, at the national level, is on the order of $1 trillion over the next 40 years, with losses in employment equivalent to nearly 7 million full-time jobs.

You can find the New Mexico stats on page 20. Go read ‘em for yourself. And then decide if the new governor’s move was a smart one.

Nor was Martinez’s decision based on credible economic data. In the official “Order and Statement of Reasons for Adoption of Regulation” issued by the EIB on the statewide carbon cap petition, the EIB cited the “incredible range of impacts estimated by one economist, who assumed no positive benefits from the rule, was an unbelievable $0.0 to $1.7 billion.” And the order notes that the economist testifying against the cap “provided no documentation of the output or assumptions of his simple Excel model.”

First-Ever Dairy Waste Regulations

The executive order will also affect recent decisions made by the New Mexico Environment Department to protect New Mexico groundwater from dairy farm waste – specifically, a widely heralded Dec. 15 decision requiring New Mexico’s dairy farmers to regulate the amount of waste that reaches the state’s precious groundwater.

New Mexico has nearly 350,000 cows concentrated in large farms across the state, and they produce enormous amounts of waste, which seeps into the groundwater. The waste contains nitrogen, which converts to nitrates and is a human health contaminant.

The new regulations would require dairy farmers to use plastic liners in waste lagoons, to impose minimum setbacks from drinking wells and to notify the nearby public when a proposed dairy is to be built.

Now those regulations – New Mexico’s first ever effort to regulate harmful dairy waste – are up in the air.

Ruch Dairy

The executive order will also stop a decision made Dec. 22 by outgoing Environment Department secretary Ron Curry denying Ruch Dairy of Hobbs, N.M. (formerly K & B Dairy) permission to operate and directing it to remove cows from the property within 60 days. The dairy had been operating without an authorized permit from the state despite being directed a number of times to do so. According to the state, the dairy has been a repeated and flagrant violator of groundwater regulations.

(In the press release announcing his decision, Curry boldly noted that the attorney representing the dairy in its struggle against regulations from the state Environment Department is none other that Pete Domenici, Jr. – who leads the transition team that’s helping Martinez choose her incoming environmental staffers, including whoever is named as the new secretary of the Environment Department. Should be interesting to see that shake out. Can you say “conflict of interest?”)

It should be noted that the dairy industry has made itself a major player in the state’s political game during the latest election. Local dairies and national dairy associations gave big to gubernational candidates Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish during the last election – Martinez got over $50,000 and Denish got $5,000. Gov. Bill Richardson received no money from the dairy industry during his 8 years as governor.

Check out this story from KUNM-FM for more on the dairy industry’s high environmental cost and growing political influence in New Mexico.

Helena Air Quality Permit

The executive order will also likely halt the Environmental Improvement Board’s Dec. 6 decision to require Helena Chemical Company to obtain an air quality permit to operate its fertilizer blending plant in Mesquite, N.M.

Helena Chemical has long been one of the state’s biggest polluters, paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for violating air and ground regulations.
For years, the citizens of Mesquite have fought for better regulation of operations of Helena’s operations in order to protect the health of people in their community. Now that long-fought order – obtained after hours of public input and expert testimony – is on hold.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Jan. 1 that Helena manager Jeff Elmore, a top manager at Helena in Mesquite who has been outspoken at state hearings in saying Helena is not a major polluter in the town,  gave at least $25,000 to Martinez to pay for her inaugural celebration. Not all of the names of the private donors have been released, but Elmore and his wife were listed on the inauguration program as “Silver Sponsors” who gave at least $25,000 wrote reporter Steve Terrell.

Camino Real Landfill

One decision that’s not been made yet but that will likely be affected is state approval for a 10-year extension of an operating permit for the Camino Real landfill in Sunland Park, N.M.

The Camino Real landfill takes 90 percent of its waste from Texas and from maquiladoras across the border in Mexico. Residents of the tiny community of Sunland Park have tried for years to get credible studies done on the health impacts of the landfill.

The landfill is currently asking the state for a 10-year extension. Outgoing Secretary Curry was supposed to decide on the permit extension many months ago, but instead left it on the table for the Martinez administration to decide.

For more background on the landfill and the years-long struggle over its operation, read this recent guest opinion piece in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Pit Rule?

Even more murky is the fate of the much-debated pit rule, which requires the oil and gas industry to prevent and or take responsibility for their pollution of land and water. The local oil and gas industry – another HUGE donor to the Martinez campaign – has long complained that the rule cost them too much money and would cause oil producers to leave the state. That despite the fact that economic observers (and many in the industry) know it’s the low price of oil worldwide – not regulations designed to protect people in New Mexico, that are the cause of the oil and gas industry’s woe.

For a recent perspective about the pit rule and why it is not to blame for the oil and gas industry’s revenue declines, read this guest opinion from the Jan. 4 Albuquerque Journal by former New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Secretary Joanna Prukop.

What IS Clear?

The fate of these decisions is unknown, but what is clear is that, as promised, our brand new Governor is methodically dismantling every significant environmental gain New Mexico has made in the last 10 years.

And she’s not making her decisions based on science, nor is she basing them on credible economic figures. The swiftness of them alone shows she is certainly is not making them after any kind of long, informed deliberation on the merits of each.

So what is she basing them on?

It doesn’t take a genius to simply follow the money and see that big industry – oil and gas, dairy and multi-national corporations like Helena – all paid their way to Martinez’s door.

Is New Mexico now “open for business,” as our new Governor is so fond of saying?
Or is it open to the highest bidder?

Yeah, we may have known this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.



3 thoughts on “Environmental Rollback, Gov. Martinez Style

  1. Excellent roundup of Martinez’ determination to wrestle the biosphere to the ground and kill it. Of course, she’s simply trotting along after new House Speaker John Boehner,who stopped boo-hooing on camera long enough to sent letters to about 150 corporations basically asked them if they knew of any little ‘ole way that Republican legislators could prostitute themselves further to corporate profits.

  2. Suzanna Martinez, what a “maroon,” as Bugs Bunny would say. Hearings and deliberations with agency, industry, and citizen input have been underway for years for these regulations to have made the light of day, and now comes a paid minion to try to put it all to ruin. So now all those folks that can’t drink their own water and breathe their own air are put down again. There is a lot of that in New Mexico. We’re thinking this is probably not legal and the great prostitute (somewhat like the great pumpkin, same mentality) will realize that when she comes down from her “campaign money induced” high.

    The dairies complain that they can’t afford to be regulated, but they cried that same verse in 2007 when milk was at a historic high. We’ll also agree that they’re in a loss but it’s not even milk prices, it’s the money making organizations between the dairy farmer and the grocery store shelves that gets this profit.

    Northeastern dairy farmers filed a class action lawsuit in October 2009 against Dean Foods and industry co-op Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), and some of that needs to happen in New Mexico. The defendants have leveraged their market power to depress prices for farmers while reaping an inflated profit, and it’s that, not regulations of any sort, that have this industry in trouble.

    All these quick “executive orders” to derail the legally voted regulations remind us of George Bush when he skewed the facts for cause to invade Iraq. Beware seeds of destruction being sewed as we speak.