The Environmental Disaster Known as Susana Martinez


Martinez on the campaign trail. Source: OK, I admit it. This is my parody of Susana Martinez on the campaign trail.

We’re nearly halfway through Susana Martinez’s four-year term as Governor of New Mexico. Last month Martinez was asked to speak in Tampa at the Republican Convention than nominated Mitt Romney for president. If you watched the speech hoping to hear her describe her accomplishments in her first two years of office, you were disappointed. It was the familiar “up by the bootstraps” and “anything is possible in America” rhetoric of the Republican (and for that matter Democratic) party. And it made perfect sense for Martinez. Better to stick to biography, after all, when her policies are as bad as they are. And how bad are her policies? A partial review of Martinez’s anti-environmental record:

Ground Water Quality

Martinez came into office at the tail end of the long fight to regulate dairy industry waste pits in New Mexico. In 2010, the New Mexico Water Quality Commission finally addressed the fact that the vast majority of dairy industry manure lagoons in New Mexico contaminated ground water. A new rule required, among other improvements, synthetic liners in all manure lagoons. When Martinez took office she ordered that the new rule not be published, thus preventing the Water Quality Commission from enforcing the rule. A negotiated agreement watered down the more stringent standards.

Wait there’s more. As we reported last month, Martinez also has been at the center of industry efforts to gut the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division’s 2008 oil and gas waste pit rule. (Martinez must really like waste pits) Thousands of oil and gas wastes pits leach contaminants into the soil and ground water. Martinez backs industry efforts to return to unlined pits.

Air Quality

In 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally ordered that Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) install pollution control units at the San Juan Generating Station outside Farmington, units that if installed could clean up the dirtiest coal plant in the U.S. Southwest. PNM, of course, balked at making improvements at a cost of more than $750 million. At a July meeting in Farmington, residents on and adjacent to the Navajo Nation explained the impacts of the plant. “From my classroom you can see two coal plants polluting the air on a daily basis,” said Laura Comer, a teacher at Atsa Biyaazh Community School in Shiprock. Abby Wear, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, explained to the EPA and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) officials that coal particulates are linked to cardiac and respiratory disease. Anna Rondo, a Diné woman from Chi Chil Tah, south of Gallup, testified that haze from the power plant obscures more than a view of the tribe’s sacred sites. “We cannot eat the fish we catch,” she said, “because it contains too much mercury and other toxins.” But these people are not Martinez’s constituency. She is more interested in protecting PNM’s profit margin than protecting clean air and sacred sites. Martinez ordered the NMED to request a stay from EPA. Meanwhile, according to one study, San Juan continues to kill dozens each year and cause hundreds more cases of asthma.

Climate Change

In November and December of 2010, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board approved two climate change mitigation rules that included new requirements for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Electric generating facilities with annual emissions greater than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), for example, would now be required to reduce those emissions by a specified percentage every year for eight years. In January 2011, Martinez fired the entire Environmental Improvement Board. The board she appointed quickly withdrew both rules.

In January of 2011, the New Mexico Supreme Court chastised Susana Martinez for her scorched earth approach to environmental policy. “No one is above the law,” declared chief justice Charles W. Daniels in a decision requiring that the Governor publish the dairy rule and the Environmental Improvement Board’s climate change standards requiring annual three percent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by large polluters.

Despite the decision of New Mexico’s highest court, Martinez watered down the dairy rule, repealed the climate change mitigation plan, and currently works to make New Mexico safe for oil and gas polluters.

Martinez began her speech at the Republican convention in Tampa by narrating her humble roots. “[E]n America,” she told the delegates in Spanish, “todo es posible.” After two years in office, it’s clear she does indeed believe that anything is possible, particularly when it means the rolling back of environmental regulation in defense of corporate profit.


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