Month: February 2017

Forced Resettlement of Rural New Mexicans

New Mexico’s two Senators have introduced legislation to transfer more than 330 square miles of ‘mixed use’ federal lands to ‘sole use’ for recreation. This use is defined as recreation if you can walk in – vehicles of any type are not allowed. This transfer is in addition to the approximately 750,000 acres that were transferred by the Obama Administration from mixed use to sole use.

New Mexico has one of the highest unemployment rates (6.2%) and one of the lowest rates of workforce participation (59%) in the country. New Mexico’s hard-working taxpayers are struggling to support their families. Rural New Mexicans are moving away to find employment.

When people are asked, “Do you want to protect our federal lands?” the answer is overwhelmingly “Yes.” But a more accurate question would be, “Do you want to end the centuries-old practice of ranchers and environmental protectionists working side by side regarding New Mexico’s federal lands?” I think the answer would be quite different.

When our Senators, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, live and work in Washington and visit New Mexico only when required, they forget how many New Mexicans are integrally connected the land – not just by earning a living for their families, but also by serving as good stewards of the land. The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association says that Martin Heinrich declined a request for a meeting to discuss public land matters.

“This continues to put layer after layer of federal discretion over land that doesn’t do any more to protect it but places more constrains on the people who have been living off the land for generations,” said Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

Our Senators claim that recreational use only for our federal lands will create jobs in tourism and recreation. But if this claim were true, rural New Mexico would be thriving and growing. Reality is the opposite. Homes, churches, schools, stores and restaurants are being closed and abandoned. Our Senators have provided no help to resettle the hard-working rural New Mexicans who are now prevented from earning a living on our federal lands.

Write our Senators and tell them to return our land to the people of New Mexico.

Drug Cartels on the New Mexico Border

This week, the Albuquerque Journal is publishing a six-part investigative series called “The Cartels Next Door.” The series outlines how Mexican drug cartels use Southwest New Mexico as a pathway for transporting illegal drugs into the United States. This was not surprising – it’s been occurring for years.

Last year, I traveled to Southwest New Mexico, to meet and hear from New Mexicans that are in the drug import corridor. I met Judy and Maurice at the end of the paved county road and start of the dirt road that leads to their ranch, 25 miles from the Mexican border. A few miles in, we met Levi, who was repairing his fences and water tank. Our conversation started the same way as it does in every part of the state: the weather, the drought, the economy. But here, our talk ended on quite a different note.

“You see the surrounding mountains,” Levi said. “The drug cartels maintain spotters on those mountains who watch what goes on, to ensure their drug mules avoid the border patrol agents and us.”

It is unsettling to be watched, even if it is to avoid a chance encounter with the drug cartel. But more powerful than the unsettling feeling is anger: we are losing part of our state and nation’s territory to the drug cartels – just as Mexico has.

We left Levi and drove the last five miles to Maurice and Judy’s ranch house. I expected to see a ranch house similar to “The High Chaparral.” What I found was a simple, no nonsense stone home, similar to Henry David Thoreau’s home on Walden Pond, nestled in a small ravine with a few trees and barn. We were greeted outside by a couple of Australian Blue Healers (for the cattle), and inside by their Chihuahua (for rattlers).

We sat down with a pot of coffee. I asked a few questions. Mostly, I listened. Turns out their Chihuahua wasn’t for rattlers; his job was to hear rattles after the lights go out. The rattling comes from drug mules passing by their home, checking to see if anyone is home and awake. I can attest that their Chihuahua is stands ready to start yipping.

Over the next couple of hours, I learned that even though the Border Patrol has a forward operating base, they do not patrol the last 25 miles of our state and our country. The Border Patrol stays on county paved roads. The county roads are being damaged by the heavy border patrol traffic. The county is unable to maintain the county paved roads because of the high traffic. The Border Patrol has neither the manpower nor the desire to check when the electronic sensors on the surrounding hilltops are tripped.

It did not need to be said: “If trouble comes, you are on your own. Because help is too far away.”

I was planning to drive to Las Cruces to stay the night. It came time for me to head out. Judy and Maurice asked if I would like to stay for dinner. It was getting dark, there was no cell service for 25 miles, and I had no sidearm. (That has changed.) I thanked them for their offer, headed out, and kept moving until I was way clear of the border. When I finally was able to get cell service, I called my wife and told her how our country has failed Judy and Maurice and folks like them. Marion responded that no one in our country should live like that. I agreed, and pledged to do whatever it takes to take back our country and provide relief to those who live near the border.

A month later, I saw a photo of Martin Heinrich as he leaned over a map unfolded across a kitchen table with Judy and Levi. It was a typical political photograph, with Martin Heinrich surveying the situation and looking concerned. According to the email chain that sprung from the published photo, Martin Heinrich witnessed firsthand the challenges New Mexico ranchers faced near the border, but told them there was not much he could do for them. Martin Heinrich made it clear: as long as he is the U.S. Senator from New Mexico, help is not on the way.

“Leave It in the Ground” Movement Buries New Mexican Jobs

On the front page of the Albuquerque Journal was a bright white sticker advertising “Samsung Austin Semiconductor will be in Albuquerque…. conducting interviews for experienced Engineers and Technicians!”

So it appears Texans understand that the future of the semiconductor industry in Albuquerque is facing challenges. Which begs the question, “How did we go from a thriving semiconductor industry to one gasping for air?”

This past summer in Portland, I had the good fortune to sit down with Intel Corporation’s past Director of U.S. Corporate Affairs Group. I asked her about Intel’s status in New Mexico, and why Intel is not investing in New Mexico as in other states.

Her answer was simple and unsurprising. In the 1990s, New Mexico had a very loud Intel opposition group that made its opinions heard all the way up to the top tier of Intel management. Like people, corporations don’t tend to stay where they are not wanted.

Was New Mexico taken off their list of desirable places to do business? The evidence appears clear: Intel invested billions of dollars into Arizona at the expense of New Mexico. But is this evidence true?

A Google search “Intel Protests, Albuquerque” yields the chronological history of “All Eyes on Intel.” This group’s Facebook page lists their efforts from beginning to end. Example: how a few folks in Corrales were able to gain the support of Sandoval County’s government, Sandia Pueblo, and the state of New Mexico’s government to force Intel to enact environmental protection measures exceeding federally required mandates.

The evidence of their success is the slow demise of the last Intel semiconductor plant in New Mexico, with its good-paying jobs.

So here we are today: Samsung Austin Semiconductor is interviewing experienced semiconductor workers who are out of work or will soon be out of work, and who have no hope of finding new semiconductor jobs in New Mexico. Those workers who are hired, and their families, will be leaving Albuquerque for Austin. With them will go retail jobs, restaurant jobs, school jobs, medical jobs, church jobs – in short, the entire community supported by those semiconductor jobs.

When my company loses a contract for a construction project to a competitor, we review what went wrong and what went right. Our community leaders need to perform the same review. How did we lose our semiconductor industry that so many states seek?

The answer is obvious: weak government leaders more interested in protecting their own jobs than ensuring jobs for the future of New Mexico. That may not be a crime, but it’s a crying shame.

“Don’t Leave It in the Ground” Series: Coal

Last week, the front page of the Albuquerque Journal described a new technology called Memzyme that was a developed right here in Albuquerque, at Sandia National Laboratory and UNM. Not only was the technology developed here, it has the potential to be a game changer for all New Mexicans.

Memzyme removes carbon dioxide from exhaust stacks. It eliminates greenhouse gases from coal-fired electrical power plants.

Why is Memzyme a game changer? The EPA has enacted new regulations on carbon dioxide emissions that has closed coal-fired power plants. Closing these power plants drives electrical rates higher; the recent PNM rate increase traces directly to EPA regulations. High electrical rates will chase away industries that are already in New Mexico and those that consider moving here.

And that means more job losses, especially in rural New Mexico. When coal-fired power plants close, so do the mines that provide the coal. A few years ago, I visited a coal mine in Northeast Arizona. A reclamation project employed more than 100 members of the Navajo Nation at close to $40 per hour. When the mine closes, those high-paying jobs will be gone forever. Not only have the coal miners lost their jobs – their pensions are at risk, which is why the Obama Administration has said that the federal government will have to provide billions of dollars to fund United Mine Workers pensions.

Of course, energy royalties and tax receipts help to fund New Mexico’s government, its public schools, and local and tribal governments. The loss of energy tax revenues has contributed to our current budget deficit, which sends a shock wave of misery rolling through our entire state economy.

The federal government should fund a pilot plant to determine if Memzymes can eliminate greenhouse gases from coal and natural gas power plants. It would be a small price to pay to keep great-paying jobs in rural New Mexico, create a steady stream of energy tax revenues to fund our governments and schools, lower all New Mexicans’ electrical rates, and help New Mexico become more competitive in attracting and keeping companies that create good-paying jobs.

Why is our federal government not issuing a grant for a pilot project? Why are our federal elected officials not advocates for Memzyme technology that has the potential to save jobs, lower our electrical rates, and reduce America’s greenhouse gasses by 40 percent? It appears New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation agrees with Hillary Clinton when she said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” That is not good for New Mexico.

Write your Congressman, Congresswoman and Senators. Demand they support Memzyme technology to remove greenhouse gases from our coal fired power plants, instead of shutting down our power plants and coal mines. Tell them you will not accept the trade of good-paying jobs for no jobs, and low electrical rates for high electrical rates.

“Don’t Leave It in the Ground” Series: Timber

This past year, the environmental movement has clearly stated its goal: “Leave it in the ground.” Its goal is not responsible activity on the land, but removing all human activity from the land.

When I moved here in 1980, New Mexico had thriving industries in coal, uranium, copper, molybdenum, timber, and semi-conductors. Surrounding these industries were thriving communities.

This past Saturday, I had coffee with several community leaders in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I mentioned that Las Vegas was one of the few towns in the state in which I had not constructed a building – not because I hadn’t tried.

Our first Las Vegas proposal was back in 1981, for the Ponderosa Products particleboard plant. That memory was a painful reminder of the timber jobs lost when Ponderosa’s plant closed. But the timber jobs lost weren’t limited to Las Vegas. When environmental groups decided that they no longer would tolerate the harvesting of our forests, we lost all the timber jobs in New Mexico.

“Save the spotted owl” was the publicity gimmick used to end New Mexico’s timber industry, and all the jobs that went with it.  When I travel through our forests today, and see miles and miles of burnt forest with charred standing trees, I wonder:

“Where is the spotted owl now?”

“Isn’t this worse than harvesting our forests?”

“How many greenhouse gasses are captured when our forests are harvested to build homes, and are burned away in forest fires?”

What of Ponderosa Product’s plant in Las Vegas? All that remains is an empty field with a huge concrete foundation. I helped build sections of Ponderosa Products Plant in Albuquerque’s Saw Mill District. The Saw Mill is now a nice residential neighborhood just north of Old Town. But the jobs that gave the area its name are gone, as are the families that were supported by those jobs.

That’s one of the reasons New Mexico is the only state in the Sunbelt to be losing more residents than it gains.

Many of New Mexico’s environmental lawsuits are funded by elite California environmentalists. Why don’t they focus on environmental issues in their own state? They have plenty. We have all seen photographs of the waterfalls and granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. But we do not see the waterfalls and granite cliffs of Hetch-Hetchy Valley. Why? The citizens of San Francisco dammed the Hetch-Hetchy Valley for cheap water. San Francisco refuses to remove the dam.

Let the elite West Coast environmentalists protest in their own back yard, not ours. New Mexico doesn’t have a Silicon Valley. We need every decent-paying job we can get – including those that rely on responsible use of our extensive federal lands.

Senators: Approve the Keystone Pipeline

I appreciate New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich supporting clean energy. It is important to maintain a low carbon footprint, and for each of us to contribute our share to protecting our environment. The Senators claim that their vote against the Keystone Pipeline was a vote for a clean environment.

But I visited the heart of the tar sands country in Canada, and witnessed oil naturally seeping from the ground, resulting in oil sheens on nearby streams. The tar sands are removed from the ground, the oil is removed, and pure white sand is returned to the ground. I think most people would consider keeping oil out of our streams environmental remediation.

Despite our Senators’ votes, the oil recovered from the Canadian tar sands will make it to the marketplace, but not via the Keystone Pipeline. Rather, it will travel via rail tank cars – which are safe, but not nearly as safe as a pipeline. Our Senators did not stop the flow of oil. They merely increased the cost and decreased the safety of transporting the oil from Canada.

Closer to home, my travels have taken me from Northwest to Southeast New Mexico, to the one bright spot in New Mexico’s economy. I have seen first hand how the oil and gas industry has helped these communities. Help wanted signs are in abundance, indicating low unemployment and high wages. Our state’s coffers are fuller thanks to revenues from oil and gas leases on public lands.

Understandably, some people are concerned that low gasoline prices will increase the rate of global warming. But for those who worry how they will support their families, lower gasoline prices help them make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck.

And for those of us who worry about another Mideast war or cold war with Russia, low crude oil prices decrease revenues to terrorists and countries that want to harm America. New oil production technology has made America the world’s #1 oil and gas producer, and has presented us with huge geopolitical opportunities:

  • Reduce the odds of Russia re-invading former Eastern Bloc countries
  • Prevent more Mideast nations from building nuclear weapons
  • Strip Islamic jihadists of funds to wage war against non-believers
  • Avoid again sending American soldiers into harms way in the Mideast

We could realize all these geopolitical benefits, just from opening a spigot to North American oil.

Please join me in urging New Mexico’s U.S. Senators to sponsor legislation to once again allow the United States to export oil, and to support the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

(This was sent as a Letter to the Editor of the Albuquerque Journal on Dec. 12, 2014)