Only Yesterday: Jeff Bingaman vs. Harrison Schmitt 1982

by John Daniel

Back in the day: Senator Jeff Bingaman

Today’s retirement announcement by five-term Senator Jeff Bingaman recalls to mind the election back in 1982 that launched his remarkable career. That was the year Bingaman challenged a sitting Senator, a one-term incumbent whose name just recently popped back into the news —  Harrison Schmitt.  (link link link)

Bingaman’s 1982 campaign was particularly noteworthy in that it really represented the emergence of the state’s environmental community as a major player in New Mexico politics.

After winning a tough primary against former Governor Jerry Apodaca, Bingaman went into the general election as the underdog, trailing Schmitt in the polls until catching him in the final days. The pivotal event in that race were negative TV ads aired by Schmitt that backfired.

Here’s is how Time magazine described that race:

NEW MEXICO. Harrison Schmitt, 47, first rocketed to fame in 1972 when he landed on the moon as an Apollo astronaut. That feat helped propel him into the U.S. Senate in 1976. But in a state with an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, Reagan’s economic programs hurt Schmitt badly. State Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, 39, constantly linked Schmitt to the White House and called attention to his lackluster six years of service. But Schmitt may have largely engineered his own defeat. The Senator attacked his opponent with a pair of ads blasting Bingaman’s record as attorney general, a post he has held since 1978. One spot attacked Bingaman’s handling of a 1980 prison riot inquiry, while the other accused him of requesting a pardon for a prisoner who had once been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Both commercials turned out to be based on inaccurate information. So incensed was Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez that he publicly denounced the prison inquiry ad, an invaluable boost for Bingaman in a state that is one-third Hispanic and largely Catholic. At the polls, Bingaman brought Schmitt back to earth, 54% to 46%.

And that’s the way it was, 29 years ago.

Imagine That: Environmentalists on an Environmental Board

By Tracy Dingmann

Could we finally just put to rest the astounding notion that being an “environmentalist” should somehow disqualify you from being a member of the Environmental Improvement Board?

I ask this in wake of the Oct. 2 Journal story titled “ GOP wants `Green’ Partisans Off EIB.”  The story details efforts by some Republican legislators to force any EIB members with “known green agendas” to recuse themselves from deliberations on two proposals to cap carbon emissions that are currently before the EIB.

According to the story, the legislators want the Attorney General Gary King to investigate possible conflicts of interests that specific EIB members might have regarding the two proposals.

This is just the latest salvo in the epic battle over the makeup of the Environmental Improvement Board, an advisory board whose members are appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

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The Demise of Desert Rock

This is a must read by Laura Paskus at the High Country News:

This March, after seven years of planning and with millions of dollars poured into attorneys, consultants and travel junkets, Sithe Global not only delayed the (Desert Rock) project once again — beyond 2015 this time — but said it is considering changing it extensively. In June, the company gave up the only funding it had secured for construction of the project, when it allowed a $3.2 billion industrial revenue bond and tax break from San Juan County, N.M., to expire. And now, with its champion (Navajo Nation President) Shirley stepping down because of term limits this fall, Desert Rock’s days are likely numbered.

The life and death of Desert Rock

How ‘Bout Some Manure With That Drinking Water?

Cows are nice, aren’t they? I mean, they’re a little stinky sometimes, but what’s more American than a good, old dairy farm and some happy, milk-producing cows?

Here’s the problem – modern dairy in New Mexico is big, and it’s anything but bucolic.

Just like in every other state, super-sized New Mexico dairies cram cows into high-density feedlots so as to maximize milk production. These cows have no access to grass and are milked several times a day.

In New Mexico, those industrialized dairies produce 5.6 million gallons of manure each day – enough to fill nearly 8.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools daily. The waste below these dairies seeps into the groundwater, contaminating the water that you and I drink.

The bottom line: According to the New Mexico Environment Department, more than 65 percent of New Mexico’s drinking water underneath or near the dairies is contaminated by nitrates alone. If other contaminants are considered, the number could be closer to 90 percent.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

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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.

New Mexico Green Jobs Training in Action

I recently attended a pretty cool climate symposium last Friday that was held at UNM and hosted by the NM League of Women Voters and the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

One of the best presentations I saw that day was a panel composed of staff and members of Santa Fe “¡YouthWorks! and some City of Santa Fe representatives who have been helping to sustain the program.

¡YouthWorks! is a tremendous organization with a green jobs training model for youth that has a long track record of success.  It was a great feeling to listen to participants talk about their experiences and hear about the college degrees they’re currently pursuing.

But that’s enough of me talking about them.  Take a look at this video of the symposium panel and see for yourself why Youthworks’ work is so important.

Here’s the video:

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Putting the Brakes on New Mexico’s Solar Energy Industry?

solarpanelMany in our state have been working to uplift the solar industry so that many more New Mexicans can have access to the clean energy that is so plentiful and easy to harness here.  There is a growing awareness  of our state’s of the enormous potential for solar energy production, and of the fact that we have the scientific infrastructure, along with the public and business support, to maximize this opportunity.

Local advocacy groups, like the NM Solar Energy Association, are doing superb work in educating  the public about the benefits of solar energy  (make sure to check out their Solar Fiesta next month).  The Renewable Energy Industry Association, composed of renewable energy businesses, is enlisting ever increasing public and governmental support to help expand the solar industry.

Several state and federal incentives have been enacted in the past few years to assist in financing residential solar installation. And the Albuquerque city government is looking at yet another helpful financing mechanism to put into the mix.

We proudly recall the day when Governor Richardson  proclaimed  New Mexico the “clean energy state.” This year he took a bold step toward fulfilling this vision by helping to create the Green Jobs Cabinet. It’s mission:  “Enhance clean energy and clean technology economic development and job creation in New Mexico.”

So it would seem that we have all the right players in place, all partnering together to ensure that the solar industry grows to achieve this great vision and meet the demand in our state.

Unfortunately, there may be a hitch.

Recently PNM, our local electric utility, announced plans to discontinue its solar energy incentive program for residential and commercial users.

According to this NM Business Weekly article, PNM wants to drop the program because the “market is growing too fast”.

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Revealing Images

Satellite photos, Point Barrow Alaska (U.S. Geological Survey)

Satellite photos, Barrow, Alaska (U.S. Geological Survey)

It’s funny to see climate deniers quoting cherry-picked articles about climate change that hardly take scientific models into account. With my minor having been in climate science , I find it ironic to see data and reports presented from the EPA, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other science-based groups that rely heavily on good data and research deemed as worthless and biased by many people who have never studied climate science, but suddenly are experts. These groups’ studies were exactly what my climate teachers had us students reading in class.

Yet, we all know the IPCC, which consists of thousands of scientists from around the world and has been doing climate studies for 21 years now, obviously has been doing this great work all these years in order to propagate a huge tax (a whopping $175 per year increase) on Americans and destroy our economy. They definitely don’t have the health of all the ecosystems we humans rely upon in mind when talking about the effects of climate change.

But it becomes slightly easier to understand why climate deniers are so adamant when you note that for the past eight years, the Bush administration was either denying, covering up or doing absolutely nothing about climate change despite recommendations from longstanding, science-based organizations.

So it’s not surprising (at least to me) when very revealing satellite images of arctic ice from a few years ago were just released a couple of weeks ago. These images date back as far as 1996 and were never released by the Bush administration for public viewing.

I’m assuming that putting out images showing how huge tracts of Arctic ice have retreated in very short time frames of 1-2 years is not your best move when trying to argue a change in climate is not happening.

Just take a look for yourself at a few of these recently released images, and you’ll understand what they were trying to hide these past few years. I look forward to seeing photo-shopped copies of these images from climate deniers that show the ice suddenly growing back.

Mt. Taylor Protected After Years of Struggle


Guest Post by Nadine Padilla. She is an organizer for the Sacred Alliance for Grassroots Equality (SAGE) Council.

The New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee has unanimously decided to place Mt. Taylor permanently on the State Register of Traditional Cultural Properties.  This designation follows a year-long battle between private landowners, who say the designation will affect development that may occur on their lands, and Native American tribes, who honor Mt. Taylor as a sacred place central to the cultures and livelihoods of Native Americans.

The permanent designation of Mt. Taylor as a Traditional Cultural Property is the culmination of hard work for five tribes acting on behalf of all tribes in the southwest and the residents of New Mexico.  The five nominating tribes, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Zuni Pueblo, and the Hopi and Navajo Nations began the application process over a year ago in order to protect Mt. Taylor from renewed uranium mining interests.  This designation will ensure that the public has the opportunity to give proper comment on any new mining proposals that are within the TCP boundary.

The Cultural Properties Review Committee was under great pressure and received over 6,000 letters and emails concerning the nomination.  The letters were 4 to 1 in favor of the nomination.  The CPRC should be commended for their continued service in protecting New Mexico’s greatest treasures.

Mount Taylor is a stratovolcano in northwest New Mexico, northeast of the town of Grants.  It is the high point of the San Mateo Mountains and the highest point in the Cibola National Forest.

Editor’s Note:  SAGE Council’s Nadine Padilla, who is of Navajo descent and grew up near Grants, remembers that being close to the sacred mountain was integral to every important moment of her childhood, including her coming-of-age ceremony at age 13.

Is it PNM’s turn for a bailout?

If you pay enough attention to what’s been going on as of late, you’d figure that PNM is about to be swimming in money. Not money from profits based on their energy production (in fact, PNM posted losing quarters all of last year), but in “help” from state and federal sources.

First off, PNM has been given free rein when it comes to rate increases.  Last year the state Public Regulation Commission approved PNM for a 4.4% ($24 million) rate increase. That was big, but not quite the $82 million PNM originally wanted. PNM also requested a fuel clause, which would have given them the ability to adjust their rates to adjust to fuel costs. Many spoke out against this rate clause, saying it was simply a thinly-veiled rate hike designed to help PNM make up some of the $58 million that they didn’t get in the rate increase. It was determined that there wasn’t a need for the fuel clause and PNM’s request was rejected.

Now there’s word of another rate increase at the beginning of this year. PNM recently announced they will impose a 9.7% or $77 million rate increase starting in July. According to PNM’s CEO Jeff Sterba, the increase “is the latest step in our ongoing efforts to ensure adequate recovery of PNM’s costs and restoring shareholder value.”

Funny, I thought the reason PNM sold their gas holdings and got a credit line increase (increased to $300 million) last spring from the PRC was to improve PNM’s profits (and thus decrease how much they pass on to consumers) and help improve PNM’s credit rating.

One has to wonder whether last year’s profit losses, the large costs paid out to upgrade PNM’s San Juan Generating Plant, and the recent $7 million fine for emissions from the San Juan plant have anything to do with PNM’s recent request for a rate increase.

But now PNM is taking it to the federal level.

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