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.

Santa Fe Occupies the Railyard

By Matthew Reichbach

The Occupy Santa Fe members are settled in at the Railyard Park near Cerrillos Road and next to the train tracks that carry riders from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Nearly two dozen tents dot the Railyard Park around a circular grass field. No tents, the rules at the north end of the encampment say, can be erected on the grass.

On the grass, a family plays soccer while others gather in groups. Some gather near a fire pit that puts off more smoke than heat as the wood burns down, discussing what role the banks had in the economic downturn that still envelops the country. A young man walks around, offering the last piece of pizza (green chile pizza) to anyone before he can dispose of the box in the “cardboard” recycle bin located near the kitchen tent.

Some of the tents are big enough to house a family, others barely big enough for a man to sleep in. All signal that some protesters are willing to stay as long as they believe necessary to get the word out.

There is a sense of permanence and rhythm to the camp that comes from the protesters camping together.

The group is organized; Judy Welte sends out emails to a list with some articles to read that would be relevant to the movement (which includes at least one Clearly New Mexico piece).

The difference between Occupy Santa Fe and (Un)Occupy Albuquerque is immediately evident. While the Albuquerque part of the worldwide Occupy movement has spent nearly a week fighting for its right to demonstrate at the University of New Meixco, the Santa Fe branch of the movement secured a permanent home at Railyard Park.

The Albuquerque protesters were told that they can use city parks, but only during regular park hours.

Other efforts at outreach

One similarity between the Tea Party movement that has had a massive effect on politics, especially within the Republican Party, and the Occupy movement is a distrust of the traditional and mainstream media. With the rise of the internet, however, the movements can bypass the traditional media gatekeepers and get the news out on their own.

One example is what Welte is doing with her regular emails pointing out news that may be relevant to the cause. The Occupy Santa Fe movement also posts all of their meetings’ minutes on its website, OccupySantaFeNM.org. A Twitter account, @OccupySantaFe, and Occupy Santa Fe Facebook page are also set up to get the word out.

Welte told Clearly New Mexico that before getting involved in the movement, she had never used Facebook. Now the Occupy Santa Fe Facebook page has nearly 3,000 “likes” — a little more than their counterparts in Albuquerque.

Brad Laughlin is doing his own thing to get the word out. As the executive director of Corelight, a “spiritually-based non-profit” based in Santa Fe, he is providing a camera and microphone to let the protesters tell their own stories to the world.

“We want to just hear from people, hear why they’re here, learn from people, what they’re thinking and feeling and why they came,” Laughlin told Clearly New Mexico. Laughlin says that they will be putting the videos up on YouTube.

“We’re really just trying to document people’s authentic experiences and what’s happened to them,” Laughlin said.

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