To The Point

In The Cross Hairs . . .

Admittedly, a fairly politically incorrect statement given the events in the nation over the past year however about the only way to describe where some within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) are putting New Mexico’s Congressman Steve Pearce. Pearce has led the charge against the listing of the sand dune lizard in southeastern New Mexico and enlisted his fellow congressmen from west Texas. While some of this is new to the Texans, New Mexicans and those in other western states have long lived, and continued to live, with the negative economic impacts of endangered species listing.

In New Mexico it has been the spikedace and loach minnow, the Mexican spotted owl, the Mexican wolf and more. In other states the list is just as long or longer. Just look at what has happened to California’s San Juaquin Valley. The vegetable basket of our nation has been shut down.
Yet FWS spokesmen continue to have the gall to state that there is no data supporting Pearce’s comments that a listing will cause economic harm. HELLO!!! NOBODY has ANY data — including the FWS — on the sand dune lizard, that’s why it shouldn’t even be considered for listing!

The FWS goes on to say that ranchers and the oil and gas industry have entered into conservation agreements with the federal government on the lizard (as well as the lesser prairie chicken). True. The agency has got that part right. What they are not telling is what will happen to those agreements with a listing. If past history is an indication, they are down the tubes. The collaborative work that the range livestock and oil and gas industries have will become virtually meaningless. The stewardship of ranchers is repeatedly ignored by those who claim to be the protectors the earth. It looks like there are those within FWS that are among them.

I won’t waste much time on the assertion of the New Mexico Forestry Division who claims that they know nothing about the demise of the timber industry in New Mexico. These are the same people who are requiring private landowners to get a permit from the Division to clear pinon and juniper on their own land. Never mind the water that these trees are soaking up on a daily basis and the fire hazard they present.

It has never been more clear that there are those outside and within the government who are using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as nothing more than a sword to cut at the heart of natural resource use and the wealth producing part of our nation. The pre-decisional nature of the comments made by the FWS doom the agency to ongoing litigation and the increasing disgust of an American public that is trying of a government whose goal is to put people out of work.

Federal Water Grab

We were all quite pleased when the 111th Congress adjourned last Christmas without passing many of the bills that would have put us in an even worse position. Among those in the dust were the Clean Water Restoration Act measures that would have put the federal government in charge of every prairie pot hole, playa, mud puddle and any standing water anywhere.

Although the joy was short lived because we knew it was only a matter of time before some enterprising federal employee or appointee would figure out some way to do the same thing through regulation. Unfortunately we were wrong. Apparently there were none within the bureaucracy who could come up with a regulatory strategy to do that.

But don’t start rejoicing yet. The current administration is so arrogant that they have decided that they can take control of the nation’s surface water resources through “guidance.” In late April the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they have developed “draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would replace previous guidance to reaffirm protection for critical waters. It also will provide clearer, more predictable guidelines for determining which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act. The draft guidance will be open for 60 days of public comment to allow all stakeholders to provide input and feedback before it is finalized.
“The draft guidance will reaffirm protections for small streams that feed into larger streams, rivers, bays and coastal waters. It will also reaffirm protection for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding. Discharging pollution into protected waters (e.g., dumping sewage, contaminants, or industrial pollution) or filling protected waters and wetlands (e.g., building a housing development or a parking lot) require permits. This guidance will keep safe the streams and wetlands that affect the quality of the water used for drinking, swimming, fishing, farming, manufacturing, tourism and other activities essential to the American economy and quality of life. It also will provide regulatory clarity, predictability, consistency and transparency.” And, oh by the way, the EPA and the Corps will follow up the final guidance with rulemaking to provide further opportunity for comment and to clarify Clean Water Act regulations.

The proposed guidance will help restore protections for waters by providing:

  • Clarification that small streams and streams that flow part of the year are protected under the Clean Water Act if they have a physical, chemical or biological connection to larger bodies of water downstream and could affect the integrity of those downstream waters. Agencies would be able to evaluate groups of waters holistically rather than the current, piecemeal, stream-by-stream analysis.
  • Acknowledgment that when a water body does not have a surface connection to an interstate water or a traditional navigable water, but there is a significant physical, chemical or biological connection between the two, both water bodies should be protected under the Clean Water Act.
  • Recognition that water bodies may be “traditional navigable waters,” and subject to Clean Water Act protections, under a wider range of circumstances than identified in previous guidance.
  • Clarification that interstate waters (crossing state borders) are protected.
  • Stay tuned as we develop comments to combat this latest attempt to nationally grab property rights.

Road Rage

While I am on the subject, while driving in Santa Fe recently I ended up behind a beat-up almost belching car that carried two bumper stickers. One side “I get my electricity from the sun.” The other said “Treehugging Dirt Eater.” I wondered if the driver had any idea what he/she was promoting. That car certainly wasn’t running on the sun or wind and likely didn’t even meet air quality standards. I hope the driver does spend his/her time hugging trees and eating dirt. They won’t be on this earth long on that diet.

On the topic of bumper stickers, as an Albuquerque driver cut me off the other day in a mini-pickup that carried one of those “Wolves Belong” bumper stickers, I decided that might be some fun to be had with stickers to place beneath that Wolves Belong that say “In The Zoo” or “In MY Backyard.” Just some food for thought.

A Wrap

The final day for bills that made it through the 2011 Legislature came in early April and we can now look back and see what got done… and what didn’t. Probably the biggest disappointment of the Session was the fact that no legislation made it to the Governor’s desk to roll back any of the economically devastating regulations that were rammed into place at the end of the last administration.

That is not the Governor’s fault. We need to do a better job of educating our own individual legislators and those of our city cousins so that they understand that this lack action is costly to each and every individual living in New Mexico. The state and the nation are up in arms about the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel which in turn driving up the cost of everything including food and fiber. Just imagine what costs are going to be when, or if, greenhouse gas regulations kick in at either the state or federal level.

New Mexico utility companies are already asking for substantial rate increases which are drawing the ire of consumers. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The current rate increase requests are based on today’s regulatory scheme. In the case of PNM Clean Air Act requirements call for greater air quality management at one or more of their plants — at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The company doesn’t see the return on that investment so rather; they will simply cut back on production and reduce supply. Basic economics has taught up that a reduction in supply will result in an increase in demand and thus higher prices.

At the very least there continues to be a lot of job security for those working to protect natural resource protection — which most people do not realize is the source of all life and wealth.
Of the six issues that the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) and other livestock groups were following, there was one that was signed by Governor Susana Martinez. HB 391 sponsored by Representative Dona Irwin (D-Deming), updated the 1897 statute in New Mexico that can fine individuals for leaving gates open. The old fee ranged from $5 to $10. The new fee ranges from $250 to $1,000. There will be some issues with enforcement, but hopefully the new fee will cause at least some people decided it is worth the time to stop and close the gate after entering a property.

NMCGA will soon have available signs for range livestock producers to post on their gates about the new fines.

Among those issues that didn’t receive the Governor’s find penmanship was SB 58, sponsor by Senator Clint Harden (R-Clovis) that would have allowed the New Mexico Livestock (NMLB) to charge the nominal fee of not more than $125 for the required registration of livestock veterinary pharmaceuticals. Some viewed this fee as a tax. Others see it as a fee for service that is being provided and that at some point users are going to have to pay for. While the bill had lively debate as it moved through the House and Senate, in reality there were only two misguided individuals who opposed the measure.

Another bill that didn’t make it past the big desk on the Fourth Floor was SB 40, sponsored by Senator Phil Griego (D-San Jose) that would have created a crime stoppers program within the NMLB. It sure might have come in handy as the NMLB investigates the theft of 14 calves, between two- and six-weeks old, were stolen over the past month from three ranches along Riley Road that runs from Bernardo to Magdalena.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Session was the line item veto out of the budget that would have provided $200,000 annually for New Mexico youth to attend veterinary school at Kansas State University. The program would have emphasis on large animal practices in rural New Mexico, where there is a critical need for these practitioners. Senator Howie Morales (D-Silver City) got the funding into the budget and with the help of Senate leaders Tim Jennings and John Arthur Smith, it stayed there until it reached the Governor.

HB 316, sponsored by Representative Andy Nunez (DTS-Hatch, initially would have made the railroads leaving their fences in disrepair a fourth degree felony. Although the measure was tempered some as it moved through two House committees, it has gotten the attention of railroads and their responsibility to keep their right-of-ways fenced. This will be a bill that will be worked on during the interim.

SB 13, sponsored by Senator Vernon Asbill (R-Carlsbad) took a strange turn of events. This measure had been introduced at least twice before and timed out in the final moments of the 2010 Session after passing through the Senate and two committees in the House. The bill has never received opposition, but this year drew the attention of a small, but vocal group who might have been helped most by the measure. SB 13 passed the Senate and one house committee.

Finally, freshman Representative Bob Wooley (R-Roswell) carried a sweet little House Memorial that requested that the government look to the economic costs of federal programs like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the new Wildlands Policy and pay those who are harmed by the consequences of these measures. It was his first bill and passed the House, but not without some spirited, but perhaps misguided, debate regarding the ESA.

Every Legislature is different than any other, but it seemed that this year was the strangest yet. Some of that is explained by a new Administration and many freshmen in the House. However, it seemed like things became acidic pretty fast and rhetoric was venomous to a new level.

I was struck by the words of Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez at the beginning of one Senate Floor Session about the need for civility, admitting that the problems were coming from all sides. He noted that everyone from the Legislators to the Administration were trying to do the best job possible and that it might be best if people understood that and worked for the common good. While these may not be his exact words, the sentiment is worth remembering.