Over 500 New Mexicans rallied around the Capital in support of Public Lands on Wednesday, brought together by the threats of Trump administration supporters who are calling for federal lands to be sold off to the highest bidder.
The overwhelming response from those in attendance and the legislators who spoke in the rotunda: Not in New Mexico.
After weeks of speculation over which pro-fossil fuel leader Trump would place in charge of our national parks, public lands and oil/gas/coal resources, the President-elect today named Montana’s Congressman Ryan Zinke his Secretary-designate of the US Dept. of Interior. Who is he and what does that mean for our country and New Mexico? Here’s a quick primer:
Zinke’s homestate newspaper, The Billings Gazette, has said that Congressman Zinke’s efforts are clearly intended to “rob Montanans (and all citizens) of money that’s rightfully theirs.”
After first campaigning on support for President Obama’s climate action plans, he suddenly became a science denier. Not coincidentally, he took in almost $350,000 in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry since his overnight change.
In August, Republican Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced his plan to ask the federal government to turn over “upwards of 6.5 millions acres” of “unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage” (ie, federal public lands) and federal mining leases to him. “Any and all unleased land… would then be leased out by the State Land Office” for new oil and gas permits, Dunn said. At the time, he had a big problem: a Democratic president who favors more public lands. But with Donald Trump in the White House, Tea Party leaders in Congress see a new opportunity to transfer our public lands to private hands – and apparently so does Aubrey Dunn.
New Mexico’s lone Tea Party congressman just joined a very special club. In recognition of his work to sell off New Mexico (and our country’s) national parks and public lands, the Center for American Progress named Steve Pearce to the new Anti-Parks caucus along with 19 other federal representatives and senators who have filed at least 44 different bills to sell off or otherwise exploit our national parks and public spaces for profit since 2013. Much like the dad in “A Christmas Story,” this recognition must make Pearce very proud. In recognition of his work to sell off New Mexico (and our country’s) national parks and public lands, the Center for American Progress named Steve Pearce to the new Anti-Parks caucus along with 19 other federal representatives and senators who have filed at least 44 different bills to sell off or otherwise exploit our national parks and public spaces for profit since 2013. From our friends at CAP:
A Center for American Progress analysis found that between January 2013 and March 2016 members of Congress filed at least 44 bills or amendments that attempted to remove or undercut protections for parks and public lands—making the 114th Congress the most anti-conservation Congress in recent history…
Did you miss US Senator Martin Heinrich’s address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature yesterday? We won’t fault you if you did — after all, the other addresses from our federal delegation came much earlier during the session. And a lot has happened since then. Heinrich’s speech touched on early childhood education, STEM jobs, poverty in New Mexico, economic development, federal lands transfers, and a host of other issues. But if you missed Sen. Heinrich’s speech, have no fear. Here it is in its entirety:
Distinguished members of the New Mexico Senate, the House of Representatives, Governor Martinez, Lieutenant Governor Sanchez, President Pro-Tem Papen, Speaker Tripp, tribal leaders, and honored guests: it is an honor to join you today.
One member of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation voted against funding the Defense Department and pay raises for our military, and it’s probably not the one you think. Fresh off of a successful re-election bid, Southern New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce proceeded back to DC to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA), a bill containing fiscal authorization for all of our country’s defense efforts and pay raises for our military. Pearce’s vote apparently came in opposition to provisions in the bill that would have also protected 250,000 in (already) public lands in New Mexico from exploitation by special interests angling to log and drill our public lands. In a statement before the vote, Senators Udall and Heinrich proudly noted, “[the Senators] successfully fought to include provisions to designate the Columbine-Hondo as wilderness, transition the Valles Caldera National Preserve to new management to increase public access, and establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.”
Pearce, a self-made oil and gas millionaire, on the other hand, has made it his mission to “reverse this trend of public ownership of lands.” A video from CPAC, the nation’s largest conservative conference, features Pearce explaining to other conservatives how Utah Congressman Rob Bishop and himself were lobbying Mitt Romney to sell drilling and mining rights on federal public lands to states if elected president. courtesy ThinkProgress.org
Just before the election in 2012, The Nation reported that Romney’s energy platform, which included the Pearce-Bishop proposal, would open oil and gas drilling permiting on federal lands to state regulators.
In March of last year, President Obama created the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, near Taos, using his executive authority under the Antiquities Act. Past presidents have used the Act to create New Mexico’s treasured national monuments which contribute over $54 million in annual tourist spending and which support over 1,000 New Mexico jobs. Now the President is poised to protect more historically, geographically, and culturally significant land in Southern New Mexico.
New Mexico’s legislature is tuning into ALEC as evidenced by the state’s first-ever discussion on ALEC footprint in New Mexico during this morning’s House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee. Rep. Yvette Herrell (ALEC member) introduced HB102 to establish a task force to suggest ways to turn federal lands over to state entities that don’t want it. ProgressNowNM’s ALEC Watch project identified the bill’s language as model language lifted from ALEC’s “Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act.” (read the full analysis here). Our Executive Director, Patrick Davis, spoke against the bill outing the model language and the bill’s sponsor for their ALEC ties. Davis:
“Mr. Chairman, I rise today in opposition to HB102 for all the reasons our friends have already mentioned but also because this bill is an ALEC model bill. We encourage members of the committee to ask the sponsor about her bill’s ALEC connections and the corporations and other entities that contributed to the creation of this model legislation.”
The discussion prompted committee member and House Appropriations Chairman “Lucky” Varela to ask Davis to explain more about ALEC to the committee.
The US Department of Interior is inviting the public to join Senators Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for a public meeting this Friday in Las Cruces. In 2012, ProgressNowNM joined cohorts in Colorado and Nevada with the “Monumental West” campaign to engage more New Mexicans in the long-standing efforts by national and in-state groups to designate the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains wilderness areas as national monuments. At least 175 local organizations have joined in support of a national monument designation for the Organ Mountains area. A number of proposals for monument designation have been introduced in Congress. Tea Party Rep. Steve Pearce introduced a measure to designate a small portion of the area as a monument, but also includes large, and many say unnecessary, carve-outs for continued use of the land. Senators Udall and Heinrich have jointly sponsored (read story here) legislation that would designate about a half-million acres of land around the Organ, Doña Ana, Potrillo, Robledo and Uvas mountains as a national monument. DOI’s event Friday is co-hosted with the senators.