Dark Skies Ahead

Santa Fe Reporter | November 10, 2004
With Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress, a number of anti-environmental bills may be on their way to becoming law. "We’re not only concerned with what the Bush administration might do, but what they may not do," says Eric Jantz, staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. Here’s a quick look at the bills at the top of the list.

The Energy Bill

US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once called the proposed US Energy Bill the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Act of 2003," but Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), have announced they want to get the contentious bill passed. "We are very optimistic," says Domenici spokesman Matt Letourneau. "We were two votes short last time, it would appear the election put us over the top. It’s safe to say it would be near the top [of the GOP agenda]."

A comprehensive Energy Bill—which has not passed Congress since 1992—is designed to define national energy policy. The bill before Congress now will benefit many corporations that have made investments in New Mexico.

Louisiana Energy Services—a group of mostly foreign-owned energy companies—would receive up to $1 billion from the government to help it build a uranium enrichment plant in southern New Mexico. The bill also reduces the amount of red tape required to license such a plant. Additionally, the bill reclassifies any nuclear waste generated by the plant so that disposal becomes the US Department of Energy’s responsibility. "The bill is tailor-made for LES," says Lindsey Lovejoy, a lawyer representing the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who has fought LES coming to New Mexico. "LES will get waste disposal from the government at a very good price."

Another subsidy in the Energy Bill is for

uranium mining. As the bill’s wording stands now, subsidies can’t be given to a New Mexican uranium mining company. However, Hydro Resources, a company based in New Mexico that has fought to begin uranium mining in Churchrock and Crownpoint, NM, is owned by a larger Texas company, Uranium Resources, INC. "I think it is ridiculous to think that if the parent company is receiving subsidies that the smaller company isn’t," says Jantz.


Increased nuclear activity doesn’t stop with uranium

enrichment and drilling, it may advance to nuclear testing, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2005 budget. There is an outline for a plan to bring the US back to testing nuclear weapons underground. In 2005, the goal is to make a list of possible tests. In 2006, it’s to prepare the equivalent of an environmental impact statement for nuclear weapons testing. "First, I think you can just forget about broadening the mission," says Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. "The

evidence from the budget indicates a serious chance for full-scale nuclear testing by 2007." As for the proposed broader mission, Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) spokeswoman says, "Sen. Bingaman’s view was that Kerry would have done a better job at broadening [Los Alamos National Laboratory’s] agenda."

Clear Skies

The Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico, a poor and sparsely populated area, may bare the brunt of the so-called Clear Skies Act, which was introduced into the Senate and the House in 2003. The act proposes to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants by using a credit system. Older plants with more pollution must buy "credits" from newer, more environmentally safe plants to keep operating. Eventually, the idea is that newer plants will be more successful financially. Some of the largest coal-fired power plants in the US exist on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and if the Clear Skies Act is passed, those plants will be able to buy pollution credits instead of upgrading pollution control equipment.

The concern for New Mexicans is mercury. "It’s free-market pollution control," says Jantz. "They look at total mercury release across the US, but this will create mercury hotspots on Navajo land. It becomes an environmental justice concern. These old plants tend to be near low income or minority communities. If implemented, it’s going to settle in those type areas as a neurotoxin. I’d expect to see health effects in these communities."

Oil and Gas/Wilderness

After the House passed the Ojito Wilderness Act this year, there was a sense that New Mexico could build momentum in passing more wilderness bills. The growing Republican majority has called that into question. Activists like Steven Capra of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and Gov. Bill Richardson have fought against the US Bureau of Land Management allowing extensive oil and gas drilling on Otero Mesa. The future of that area has become grim. "Our experience thus far in our state with the [Bush] administration is that the federal agenda coming out of DC is having a great deal of influence on these federal agencies," says Joanna Prukop, the secretary of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Richardson offered a different drilling plan to the BLM, but it was rejected, and now the state is awaiting a final decision. Capra says that voters in the West sent a message to Bush that they cared about the environment with Kerry’s wins in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as his close numbers (so far) in New Mexico. "You’ll see a major fight in this state and throughout the West," he says. "What we really need to watch is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Opening that to drilling would be opening the floodgates on domestic drilling. One act destroying the wildest place in America means that no place is safe."

Santa Fe Reporter

When it was founded in 1974, the Santa Fe Reporter's mission was to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press. That tradition continues today. The Reporter investigates beneath the surface, presenting in-depth stories often overlooked or uninvestigated...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 132 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, NM 87501
  • Phone: (505) 988-5541