By Joe Bonfiglio and Jon Goldstein
The attacks on climate and health protections from the Trump administration have been relentless. It seems every week there is a new safeguard EPA Administrator Pruitt or Interior Secretary Zinke try to undermine. Yet there is good news; many of these attacks have been reversed, slowed, or weakened with the help of leadership from the states. In particular, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has been key to a series of wins for public health in recent months.
Success in holding the line
The oil and gas industry has expanded substantially in New Mexico in recent years, especially on public lands. Unfortunately, with this boom has come more wasted taxpayer energy and more pollution including a Delaware-sized cloud of methane pollution over the Four Corners region that is visible from space. With New Mexico being the top state in the country when it comes to methane emissions from public lands (leading to more than $100 million worth in wasted taxpayer-owned natural gas per year), the state is lucky to have Attorney General Balderas leading the charge to defend rules designed to cut this waste and pollution.
Balderas’ efforts to defend these standards, which reduce leaks, and unnecessary flaring and purposeful releases of natural gas, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and outside groups, led to the rule staying in effect even as the Trump administration and their allies in Congress have mounted multiple, nearly constant attacks. In defending the rule, Balderas noted he was acting with strong public backing: “Quite frankly, Secretary [of the Interior Ryan] Zinke’s action to suspend the BLM methane rule is not only short sighted, but ignores strong local and national support for curbing methane waste.” A fact borne out by polling that shows fully 75% of Western voters support these waste reduction standards.
Balderas is also one of 16 Attorneys General that threatened to sue EPA administrator Pruitt for not enacting the recently updated smog standards, a move that led Pruitt to announce he would comply. In doing so Balderas said he “filed suit against President Trump’s EPA to protect the citizens and economy of Doña Ana County and all of New Mexico,” referencing a country in the state that received an F for smog pollution.
As Attorney General Balderas has also stood up to Trump by defending the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce climate pollution and save lives, in court.
A "street fight for justice"
Balderas has a record of standing up for the environment. As a new state representative in 2005 he won the Conservation Voters New Mexico “rookie of the year” award. But he is quick to note that he represents a different, more grassroots based form of environmentalism – important in a rural, diverse state like New Mexico. "I'm what I call a Wagon Mound environmentalist, which means we literally live in the environment as opposed to practice it or advocate for it,” Balderas recently told E&E News referring to his hometown in Northern New Mexico’s rural Mora County.
Balderas has said his primary motivation is not to be an environmentalist, but rather to do what is right. "If fighting for justice and getting in a street fight has led me into some environmental fights, then I guess you can call me an environmentalist, but that wasn't my motivation. My motivation was to primarily get into a street fight using power on behalf of the public interest."
We need more state leaders like Attorney General Balderas. With their help, we can weather the storm that is the Trump administration and continue to move forward to protect our communities.
This is the second post in a series from EDF Action profiling elected officials who demonstrate environmental leadership in the Trump Era. You can read the first post here.