The series of stories recently published in The New Mexican concerning Gov. Susana Martinez, and her list of the areas in which she believes she has made progress fail completely to address two critical issues. The first is protection of communities and the environment against pollution, and the second is transparency in government.
The Martinez administration has worked hard to undermine the State Environment Department, which is charged with protecting New Mexico’s environment and communities from environmental degradation. The administration’s first effort was the systematic removal of effective department bureau chiefs from their positions. As an example, the chief of the bureau that oversees the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, who had performed well, was put in charge of inspections of food in restaurants. As another example, the knowledgeable chief of the Air Quality Bureau was moved to head the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau. These and similar changes provoked concern even among industry advocates, with one pointing out that it is helpful to deal with a regulator who has expertise in the area he or she oversees.
Santa Fe New Mexican
In addition, the Martinez administration has made clear to Environment Department technical and legal staff that they will not be able to continue the enforcement and other measures that they have been engaged in to protect New Mexico’s communities and natural resources, and that those staff members will have to reverse positions that they have held for years. This has occurred most recently in the context of regulations protecting groundwater from the impacts of copper mining, where the department upper management has changed a policy that the department staff has enforced essentially since the adoption of the State Water Quality Act in 1967.
The Martinez administration also has worked hard to promote industry at the expense of communities and the environment by eliminating regulations designed to protect them and the planet. These include the regulations to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, the pit rule designed to protect groundwater from the impacts of oil and gas drilling wastes, and the green building codes that would save energy by making buildings more energy efficient. In these situations, the Martinez administration has changed the positions taken by the staffs of the state agencies involved, even though that has meant overriding the technical expertise of those staffs in some situations. The Martinez administration is continuing this effort by seeking to weaken groundwater protection regulations in the context of copper mining and operation of dairies.
Moreover, despite the administration’s claim that all of these activities are necessary to make New Mexico more friendly to businesses, the state remains dead last in the nation in the creation of new jobs.
The second major issue that your series overlooked was transparency in government. When she was campaigning for office, Gov. Martinez promised an open administration in which the public would be able to see all that the government was doing. Despite that commitment, Martinez’s employees have made numerous efforts to hide their conduct of official business. This has included withholding documents requested pursuant to the State Inspection of Public Records Act and conducting official state business through private email.
It is not surprising that Martinez would fail to address these two areas in her list of what she regards as accomplishments of her administration, but it is disappointing that the New Mexico In Depth series, published in The New Mexican, did not even raise them as issues.
—Douglas Meiklejohn is executive director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Originally printed in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Sunday, January 27, 2013