Governor Susana Martínez’s War on the Environment: An Update

By DAVID CORREIA

Over the past six months, we at La Jicarita have closely monitored, and frequently reported on, the unfolding and unprecedented war on environmental regulation waged by Governor Susana Martínez. She fired members of the Environmental Improvement Board who approved climate change mitigation plans and replaced them with industry lackeys who quickly repealed those rules. She filled key positions at the New Mexico Environment Department (including former mining attorney Ryan Flynn as chief counsel) with anti-environmental loyalists. She refused to publish the new and more stringent dairy pit rule, undermined important new oil and gas regulations and, most recently, began an attack on regulations that would more tightly govern the mining industry in New Mexico. It has been, as New Mexico Environmental Law Center attorney Eric Jantz put it, “a blitzkrieg on all New Mexico’s laws that protect” the environment.

We are by now familiar with anti-environmental record of Republicans (and many Democrats) who depict any concern for the environment as wholly inconsistent with the needs of the economy. To them nature exists merely as a suite of industrial inputs necessary for the maintenance of productive capacity. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, believed in the careful regulation and management of forest resources as a means to guarantee a secure and sufficient supply of timber for industry. Nature to Pinchot and the conservationists had no intrinsic value, only instrumental value defined by its service to industrial activity. For all its obvious problems, at least this was, and is, a logical position. We can attack, and persuasively, the absurd premise on which such an argument is constructed.

Other anti-environmental positions are just insane. Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt subscribed to a crazy kind of ecotheology in which protecting the environment just didn’t matter, what with the Rapture so close at hand.

Governor Martínez’s anti-environmentalism doesn’t appear to have its origins in Watt’s goofy religious zealotry, but it also doesn’t share much with Pinchot’s brand of conservationism either. Pinchot had no faith in the ability of industry to use nature without abusing it. When industry had its way with nature, it clear cut forests, silted up streams, and destroyed local economies with its boom and bust patterns.

Martínez’s anti-environmentalism, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with these concerns of traditional conservationism. First, it’s not as though industry in New Mexico suffers from any resource shortage that they need government to manage for them. Even before Martínez became Governor, the oil and gas industry regularly posted windfall profits. She claims that environmental regulation costs New Mexico jobs, but in truth all it costs is windfall profits. Martínez’s regulatory rollback has not been necessary in order to make resource extractive industry profitable.

Second, and it seems the real reason Martínez opposes all efforts to protect nature from industry abuse: Martinez_Money1 she’s been bought and sold by oil and gas. During her campaign for Governor she received $1,039,660 in donations from oil and gas related donors, a figure that amounts to more than twenty-five percent of all money donated to Martínez from industry interests.

And so the assault on the environment continues, with new fronts in that battle appearing nearly every day.

Last week the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission concluded a public hearing on proposed amendments to the oil and gas waste pit regulation by refusing to allow conservation groups to testify. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) was barred from making comment during the hearing. What the commission didn’t want to hear from the NMELC was their testimony that the new rule would allow industry to bury toxic waste from oil and gas drilling directly in the ground, threatening groundwater supplies and public health—the very possibility of which the commission was originally established to stop.

In a press release, NMELC’s lead attorney noted the irony of a commission created to hear all relevant testimony and then suddenly, under Governor Susana Martínez, refusing to hear any testimony that didn’t come directly from or in support of the industries it regulates. “The Commission is supposed to hear relevant testimony from experts and the public in order to make an educated decision on the rules and regulations it chooses to adopt,“ said NMELC’s Jantz, who represented Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP). “The Commission chose to afford industry every leniency, and in doing so, pushed the public’s welfare aside.“

Meanwhile on Friday of last week the New Mexico Mining Association came out in favor of a proposed new copper pit rule promulgated by a New Mexico Environment Department advisory panel. New copper pit rules became necessary after the 2009 state legislature required that standards, rather negotiations, should determine mining practices in New Mexico. The Water Quality Commission of the New Mexico Environment Department established an advisory panel of state officials, industry representatives and environmental groups and charged it with recommending new rules to govern mining activity.

We previously reported that mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, whose representatives participated in the crafting of the proposed new rule, worked behind the scenes to scuttle that plan in favor of a more favorable one written by its own lawyers.

Ryan Flynn, chief counsel for the New Mexico Environment Department and formerly an attorney at the Santa Fe firm Modrall Sperling, which then and now represents Freeport-McMoRan, ignored the advisory panel plan and instead recommended the Freeport-McMoRan-written scheme.

It’s not clear if the NMMA’s support for the advisory committee’s plan will scuttle Flynn’s efforts to ignore the advisory panel, but it seems unlikely. After all Martínez is not motivated by conservative ideology or religious dogma, for her it’s all about the money.

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