Eight years of Susana Martinez’s version of the GOP big nada left New Mexico’s environment as threatened as it’s ever been in modern times. For many voters, numbed by nothingness for so many years, it seems almost impossible that in less than three months the Democratic-controlled NM House and Senate, and Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, started our state moving once again in the direction of environmental sanity with the promise of the start of a full recovery down the road.
What a contrast to the world of Donald Trump. He’s such a notorious collaborator with Big Pollution that the New York Times reports that a Russian asbestos mining company is using The Donald’s image to sell its toxic product. The Times piece reads almost like a satire written by a flak for the mesothelioma industry. The Russian company, based in a town called “Asbest,” applauded the Trump EPA for lifting restrictions on asbestos mining, a thoroughly plausible accusation that the EPA strenuously denies. In fact, the Trump EPA has lifted a restriction on distributing products with asbestos on a “case by case” basis and is looking to take off asbestos and nine other hazardous chemicals from a list of product ingredients banned under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Asbestos is directly linked to lung cancer and other fatal pulmonary diseases, causing some 40,000 deaths a year. But Trump has long defended asbestos and has written in his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback” that anti-asbestos forces were controlled by “the mob.” This is way too much like the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
But in the midst of this lethal nuttiness, New Mexico rises once again as an island of environmental wisdom and inspired common sense. Not only did one of Governor Lujan Grisham’s 28 vetoes (she signed more than 280 bills) defund, by the tune of $1,689 million, the Interstate Stream Commission’s request for money to dam and divert the last wild river in the state, the Gila, she also signed into law what Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM) called top priorities, three “holistic approaches to environmental protection.” “This was the first (legislative) session in recent memory,” CVNM said, “that New Mexico was represented by a majority of pro-conservation legislators in the House and Senate, and a pro-environment Governor.”
Lujan-Grisham signed the Energy Transition Act, which includes “a nation-leading” move to make New Mexico 80% carbon-free by 2040 and 100% free by 2045. The legislature allocated some $40 million to compensate San Juan county workers and coal miners when the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, which supplies Albuquerque and much of northern New Mexico with power, is eventually shut down. The ability of the Oil Conservation Division to fine oil and gas companies that violate provisions of the Oil and Gas Act was restored after it had been removed by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2009. And the governor signed into law the creation of the Division of Outdoor Recreation, which the CVNM describes as an agency that “can work with local communities to leverage our public lands to better tap into the billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.”
But, of course, there is so much more to do. Eventually, the state will have to forcefully address the terrible toxic messes under its Air Force bases (AFB), including the largest jet fuel spill in the nation at Kirtland AFB.
The legislature and the governor will need to explore means to transmit electricity from renewable sources in New Mexico to other parts of the west.
The governor, legislature, attorney general, state engineer, and commissioner of public lands will have to create a unified, interdisciplinary effort to clean up pollution from multiple sources in our state and protect urban and rural aquifers from further befoulment. State officials need to create stringent conservation protocols to prevent the despoliation of grasslands and other open lands by oil and gas fracking and rare earth extraction, clean up uranium mines in the Grants Mineral Belt and find ways to more vigorously protect riparian environments in rural and urban areas. State officials need to take the lead in creating a legitimate, comprehensive, up-to-date State Water Plan for New Mexico to see us through the rough years ahead as we try to adapt to climate change-intensified drought and flooding.
State government, the attorney general and other water officials need to create a workable plan to adjudicate senior water rights around the state, especially in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, once and for all. It will take a monumental effort, but it must be done if the letter and spirit of “prior appropriation” codified in the New Mexico Constitution is to be honored. Prior appropriation simply means those who used the water first (senior users) will get it first in times of scarcity. It is the central concept in water law across the Southwest, ruling everything from distribution in the Colorado Compact of 1922 to relations between Native American and Hispanic farmers from Taos to Pojoaque.
Urban agriculture needs to be supported through incentives to promote water conservation technologies and create marketing and distribution strategies. New Mexico will never be food self-sufficient, nor will anywhere else in the west, but it must move in that direction as transportation costs rise with anti-climate change restrictions.
The state also needs to subsidize not only community solar projects, but also local efforts to desalinate brackish groundwater, store the hazardous wastes that it produces and help towns and cities build pilot projects to create “toilet to tap” recycling systems for the arid times ahead.
Unhappily, all this and more, must move ahead in an atmosphere of extreme hostility to environmental health and conservation in the nation’s capital. As the New York Times points out, citing studies by Harvard and Columbia Law schools, “78 environmental rules are on the way out under Trump.” These “rules,” the Times says have to do with such vital matters as air pollution and emissions, drilling and mining, infrastructure and planning, endangered species, toxic substances and safety and water pollution.
The GOP and the Trump Administration are not only environmental law and science debunkers, they are also, one has to say, advocates of environmental poisoning. How have we come to be governed by such people? Whatever New Mexico does over the next four to eight years will have to be done in the wake of the Trump disaster. But, it seems to me, the law of equal and opposite reaction is at play, and the harder they push, the harder we’ll push back, as long as we don’t join their ranks again and vote in another bunch of Trumps. A Trump by any other name smells as bad, no matter how rich or poor they look.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it
(Image by Pedro Szekely)