Tracy Hughes was a career employee in the New Mexico Environment Department who was just three months away from being eligible for retirement when she was fired by an appointee of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.
“It was clear from the campaign [of right-wing Tea Party Gov. Martinez] I was going to be gone,” Hughes told Truthout. “The environment agency was clearly going to be targeted to clear out employees and prepare a new agenda for the Martinez administration.”
The Martinez administration calls itself “business friendly,” but Hughes, along with environmental lawyers, activists, authors, renewable energy advocates, and current and former state employees told Truthout that Gov. Martinez is little more than a lobbyist for big oil and gas, the copper and dairy industries, and other environmentally destructive industries that decide to set up shop in New Mexico.
“The Martinez administration will make sure that environmental protection does not get in the way of industry being able to do business in New Mexico,” Hughes, who now works for an energy and environmental law firm, added. As an example, she pointed to the “copper rule,” legislation the Martinez administration passed that allows copper mines to pollute the groundwater on their property. “I worked on [opposing] the copper rule, and what I saw happen on the copper rule was that it was wholesale disregard of the law by the Martinez administration,” Hughes said.
These strong words from a long-term former state employee might sound alarmist, yet they are but the tip of a giant iceberg of discontent towards a radically industry-friendly state governor with national political ambitions who has a reputation for slander, hypocrisy and trying to rewrite laws in her favor.
Despite that reputation, however, Martinez is being groomed as a possible Republican presidential candidate. Later this month a lavish fundraiser is being held for her re-election campaign in New Mexico, the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and John McCain attending.
Martinez, according to the sources Truthout has interviewed, actively promulgates rules, issues permits and makes decisions that allow the mining, oil and gas, and dairy industries to destroy the environment with their myriad forms of pollution.
“An Environmental Demon”
“There is nowhere else like this where industry just writes the rules,” Patrick Davis, the Executive Director of ProgressNow, a nonprofit progressive advocacy group that works to hold elected officials and corporations accountable in New Mexico, told Truthout of Martinez, who took office in January 2011. “What the Martinez administration is doing is so far out there that many people in the state just can’t believe it. They don’t see that Martinez is an environmental demon with this huge industrial agenda.”
William Olson is a hydrologist and geologist who worked for 25 years for the state of New Mexico, including as the Environment Department’s chief of the Ground Water Quality Bureau as well as with the Water Quality Control Commission for 13 years.
“The Martinez administration has overturned the application of groundwater-quality laws from how they’d always been,” Olson, who retired just after Martinez took power but continues to work as a contractor, told Truthout. “They allowed industry to pollute their property, as long as it doesn’t leave their property, and this sets the precedent for all other industry in the state to do the same thing.”
New Mexico, one of the poorest and most drought-stricken states in the US, is already being dramatically impacted by climate change. Author and northern New Mexico resident William deBuys, who has written about the Southwest’s environment for more than 30 years, is deeply troubled by Martinez’s actions.
“The Martinez administration behaves like a corporation focused on quarterly numbers,” deBuys, author of seven books, including A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, told Truthout. “Given the state’s long-term prospects under the warming and drying influence of climate change, New Mexico should be placing high priority on building its water resilience, including protection of its groundwater. Unfortunately, the Martinez gang doesn’t understand this, or doesn’t care. Susanna’s national aspirations and the hunger of her cronies for immediate profits trump everything.”
The group Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM) keeps a nonpartisan environmental scorecard about the conservation voting records of the governor and legislature of the state.
“The 2013 session was yet another mile marker in the Martinez administration’s ongoing assault on the laws that preserve the air, land, and water on which all New Mexicans depend,” the group’s website states. “Despite another year of severe drought and catastrophic wildfires, these issues didn’t warrant a single mention in the Governor’s State of the State Address on the opening day of the session. Instead, her attention was focused on tax breaks for corporations – big incentives for some of the very companies whose pollution comes at a distressing cost to New Mexican families.”
The Martinez administration has an abysmal record when it comes to protecting the environment, and has not supported one measure to protect clean air and water. According to CVNM:
Members of her administration routinely – and quite aggressively – opposed measures designed to protect our water supply. One example is Rep. Emily Kane‘s HB 259, which would have ensured that New Mexico could recover damages from polluters who contaminate the state’s groundwater. Another example is HB 429, sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, which would have helped individuals being harmed by unlawful pollution, such as hazardous waste threatening the water supply of their domestic wells. Yet another was Rep. Gail Chasey‘s HB 286, which would have toughened the penalties for oil and gas companies who pollute our water – increasing fines from the current levels, which were set way back in 1935. None of these bills passed the House of Representatives. Had Gov. Martinez decided to make clean water a priority, there is little doubt that any of these bills could have passed with her support. Instead, she chose to oppose them all – denying New Mexicans crucial water protections in a time of crisis.