The major environmental issues facing New Mexico in the short term include water supply, wildfire policy, and resource extraction. Because New Mexico’s lands are simultaneously recreational, economic, and cultural resources, we must navigate competing ideas from different political sectors when establishing policies so we can derive economic benefit from natural resources while minimizing damage to the environment.
Some impacts to the environment have relatively easy legislative fixes. For example, most acequias are negatively affected when water rights are transferred to other locations, even for short times. The water leasing statute allows a company to use water for fracking immediately when it applies for a lease, but other types of water transfer require the public to receive notice and have an opportunity to object. I would support legislation to end the easy transfer of water without hearings to provide communities a chance to defend their resources. A more difficult problem is that state water law and the State Engineer who enforces it often present barriers to solutions rather than enabling them. Given the importance of water to New Mexico and the increasing competition for supplies within the state and with our neighbors, I would support a study that looks at the whole water problem including the role of the State Engineer.
Our forests, grasslands, and other wild areas must be managed to benefit the public, to protect watersheds and wildlife, and to avoid the ravages caused by wildfires and erosion. We must balance logging and grazing uses with recreation and conservation and work to avoid extreme destructive wildfires through a careful policy of controlled burns and thinning. The state legislature must carefully regulate mining and the extraction of oil and gas to protect aquifers and surface water, while the corporations who profited from resources must take responsibility for thoughtfully shutting down and restoring the land around abandoned mines and wells.
New Mexico is already feeling the impact of global climate change, most noticeably in reduced precipitation and increased wildfires, insect infestations, and changing patterns of vegetation. We must continue to encourage the development of carbon-free, renewable power sources such as wind and solar while minimizing the environmental impact of wind turbines, solar arrays, and power transmission lines. We must better regulate the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, including methane from coal, gas, and oil extraction; refrigerants; and carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. There is a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, now being marketed as a source of carbon-free energy. For example, my own community of Los Alamos is considering participating in a new concept nuclear plant based in Idaho. One downside of returning to nuclear power is renewed pressure to allow uranium mining and storage of reactor waste products in New Mexico, with their attendant environmental (bad) and economic (good) impacts.
Climate change is inevitable and underway. Even if the recent changes to global protocols are enforced, it will take decades--possibly centuries--to reverse the course of greenhouse-gas generated global warming, so we must be prepared to adjust our lifestyles, infrastructure, and agriculture to deal with its effects.
Like most issues, environmental problems do not have black and white solutions. In order to craft a path of sustainable development, it is crucial to seek out new information and understand the details of each challenge. In the coming years, we must develop policy that allows us to derive the economic benefits of our resources to support the state’s economy while protecting the natural environment and cultural values that make living in New Mexico such a joy.