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Environmental Heroes

By August 7, 2014April 26th, 2022Legislature

By V.B. Price | Provincial Matters | New Mexico Mercury
In a state like ours which has hardly ever met a polluter it didn’t want to coddle and spoil beyond redemption, I’m always heartened when the Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM) comes out with its annual Conservation Scorecard. CVNM is a group that pulls no punches. The good guys and the bad guys are seen for who they really are.
The history of New Mexico’s environment is a depressing mess of botched pollution regulations often written by the polluters themselves who work in everything from mining and oil and gas extraction and conveyance to various forms of manufacturing and the military. Our state is literally riddled with contamination sites and events and truly horrific amounts and kinds of pollution.
The nation’s largest radioactive release, for instance, happened on the Navajo Reservation at a United Nuclear Corporation milling pond site near Church Rock NM, on July 16, 1979 when a holding dam broke releasing 93,000 million gallons of highly toxic radioactive waste that included the deadly poisonous polonium, and radioactive uranium and radium, as well as a thousand plus tons of solid radioactive waste. The whole thing flowed into the Puerco River and through Gallup, popping up manhole covers, and went all the way into Chandler, AZ some 80 miles distant.
And there had been a similar dam failure at the same site three years earlier with about half as much material released into the Puerco. When I was researching the spill for my book The Orphaned Land in 2010, there was hardly any mention of it on the internet. Now it has its own Wiki page. And it’s about time.
People I’ve talked to off the record say the Navajo Nation never had a Special Olympics competition before the Church Rock spill. The birth defects and developmental disabilities that followed the breech in the dam was devastating to many Navajo families and children. Navajo miners, as well as Acoma and Laguna Pueblo mine workers, suffered greatly, as have families from uranium mining regions in the Grants Mineral Belt west of Albuquerque since the first uranium boom in the l950s.
And now it’s almost common knowledge that we have a 24 million gallon jet fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base, that Los Alamos National Laboratories has some 2100 contamination sites, that Sandia Labs has some 400 such sites, and that sections of Albuquerque’s South Valley are the most polluted places in the city. Now we hear unconfirmed reports of some 50 million gallons of crude oil sitting on top of the aquifer around Hobbs. And that’s just a tiny sampling.
We also know that New Mexico has many thousands of devoted environmentalists and green organizations that have fought the good fight against polluters and desecraters of the land for decades, the CVNM being prominent among them. In its 2013-2014 Conservation Scorecard it lists the environmental records of every member of the New Mexico Legislature. It’s a fascinating list. There are only five senators with a 100% environmentally sound voting record – Cisco McSorley, Bill O’Neill, Nancy Rodriguez, Michael Sanchez, and Peter Wirth.
Members of the House with a 100% conservation voting record are Gail Chasey, Nate Cote, the late Stephen Easley, Brian Egolf, Miguel Garcia, Georgene Louis, Patricia Roybal Caballero, Jeff Steinborn, and Mimi Stewart.
These are names to remember and to be held in high esteem.
If you go to the CVNM website you’ll learn more about these environmental champions and about CVNM. You’ll also get a rundown on their analysis of voting records. In a section called “lowlight,” CVNM observes:

Although protecting the health of our communities and environment is important to New Mexicans across the entire political spectrum, that same commitment is not reflected by our elected officials in the Roundhouse. All too often votes are cast along predictably partisan lines. To the extent that there is crossover in partisan support for, or opposition to, environmental safeguards, the crossover generally consists of more conservative Democrats siding with Republicans against common sense protections.

CVNM goes on to comment that in other highly conservative states not all Republicans are against environmental protections and sound regulations, harkening back to the environmental ethic of Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.
CVNM then asks “When will Republican legislators embrace their party’s conservation heritage” in New Mexico? “When will clean air and water stop being fodder for partisan squabbles? For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we hope it will be soon.”
CVNM also gives Governor Martinez a “Grade: F” in a piece called “Foul Legacy: Susana Martinez and the Politics of Pollution.” It’s good to read other people saying what you’ve felt for so long – the present governor is the puppet of profit, profit made by neglecting and destroying the land, befouling water, and disregarding the labor value of others.
CVNM says it like it is. “Governor Martinez has repeatedly and aggressively championed polluting industries at the expense of the health and safety of New Mexicans.” The “Grade F” analysis concludes, “When it comes to safeguarding our air and water, it is difficult to imagine a governor with a more atrocious record than Susana Martinez.” Be sure to go to the CVA website and read this piece in its entirety.
Many of us searching for environmental sanity in public policy in our state have looked to the CVNW and its earlier avatars for a reasonable, data rich and effective way to lobby the legislature, a job the CVNM has always done with remarkable success. I’m not usually a joiner, but I’ve been a member of the CVA almost since it started. And if you aren’t one yet, give them look and see what you think.
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