January 19, 2021

Public pressure is a gift to economic growth

Posted on 11. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

For years the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been used to block development and economic growth. But on December 1, 2011, people and jobs were given a small victory.

Midday, Thursday, December 1, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a 6-month extension for the final determination for the proposed listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard (also known as the sand dune lizard). This may sound insignificant to those not impacted by previous ESA listing decisions or those not engaged in this fight, but it is surely something to cheer about in an era of bad economic news. (In this case, the proposed ESA listing of the dunes sagebursh lizard has the potential to “decimate” a large percentage of America’s oil and gas production.) Additionally, it represents a rare instance of bipartisan action and Congress doing the right thing.

One year ago, the FWS published their intention to consider the proposed listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species under the ESA. This set into place a year-long process of public hearings, data gathering, and citizen rallies.

The ESA only allows three options in response to a proposed listing. One of the three actions must be taken within one year of the proposed listing date—which would have been December 14, 2011:

(1) Finalize the proposed listing; (2) Withdraw the proposed listing; or (3) Extend the final determination by not more than 6 months, if there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination, for the purposes of soliciting additional data.

The citizens who would be directly impacted if the lizard is listed have written comments and made phone calls, stepped out of their comfort zones to speak up at hearings, and waved signs at rallies—all in hopes of saving their communities’ economy. Though history told them it was unlikely, the desired outcome was option #2, the withdrawal of the proposed listing.

On December 1, they didn’t get an early Christmas present, but they did get a gift: option #3, as there is “substantial disagreement” about the “science” in the actual proposed listing. This gift buys time to draw more attention to the issue—and it puts the lizard and the listings’ job killing potential smack dab in the middle of the campaign season in a swing state.

With the history of ESA listings, such as the spotted owl and delta smelt, that ultimately destroyed jobs, communities, and industries, the people of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas were unwilling to simply let the listing proceed. In a scientific roundtable held August 15, 2011, and organized by New Mexico State Representative Dennis Kintigh, a panel of scientists from a variety of disciplines carefully reviewed the science behind the listing and found numerous contradictions and inconsistencies (which should have been found by the FWS) chronicled in the resulting report. Their work is referenced in the FWS release: “The Service has received new survey information for the lizard in New Mexico and Texas and an unsolicited peer-reviewed study on our proposed rule.”

In justifying their decision, the FWS said “Public comments received since the publication of the proposed rule have expressed concerns regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the data related to the dune sagebrush lizard’s status and trends in New Mexico and Texas. Therefore, in consideration of the disagreements surrounding the lizard’s status, the Service is extending the final determination for 6 months in order to solicit scientific information that will help to clarify these issues.”

Perhaps the scrutiny the proposed listing has received made the FWS realize that the listing would not hold up under the inevitable court battle that would come with a finalization of the proposed listing and that they’d end up looking foolish.

The FWS has reopened the public comment period for an additional 45 days—from December 5-January 18. Concerned citizens who have not previously commented, those with survey information, and/or population estimates are invited to submit the information. All of the accumulated data will become the official record that will be part of a likely legal appeal.

On November 22, a letter, signed by 18 Congressmen from both parties, was sent to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asking him to direct the FWS not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard—or at least delay the decision because “considerable new scientific research has been collected about this species since the initial listing proposal supporting the view that the lizard is not, in fact, endangered.”

New Mexico’s two Democratic Senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, sent a similar letter to the FWS Director, Daniel Ashe, on November 10. They asked him to exercise his authority to delay the decision “if there is a dispute between the scientific data relating to the merits of a listing.”

Without the Congressmen’s action, the public involvement, and the scientists donating their time to go over the science with a fine toothed comb, this listing would have likely sailed through as many before it have done. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the organization that first petitioned for the lizard’s listing in 2002, blames “mounting pressure” for the delay.

While the CBD accuses Congressman Steve Pearce of grossly overblowing the claims that the lizard’s protections will “decimate jobs,” their own press release regarding the FWS delay announcement states: “The lizard declines or disappears in the face of oil and gas development or herbicide spraying, both of which are rampant in the species’ habitat.” Clearly their intent in petitioning for the lizards’ protection involves stopping or blocking oil and gas development—which is the economic driver of the region. They call talk of lost jobs “hysterics.”

If the people of the Permian Basin (Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas) lose their jobs and their communities crumble because of the listing, is that hysterics? They don’t think so.

If the lizard is not listed, we know the outcome: people have jobs, certainty is restored to communities inviting investment and growth. If the lizard is listed, we do not know the outcome—uncertainty prevails. Maybe it will not be as bad as Congressman Peace claims, but any jobs lost; any growth curtailed is not a good thing—especially when it is rushed through and based on bad science; especially when, for example, the spotted owl has continued to decline despite it ESA protection.

So, we have a small gift in this “delay” decision. But the battle continues. Not just over the dunes sagebrush lizard, but over the “spring-run” Upper Klamath Chinook salmon in Oregon, and the Santa Ana Sucker in Southern California. There are hundreds of critters, most you’ve never heard of, groups like CBD are petitioning FWS for protection. They can be listed without any consideration regarding the economic impact it may have on the people of the region or America. Good people will have to keep showing up, standing up, and speaking up to fight this misuse of the ESA—unless the ESA is repealed or amended.

The battle continues. Hopefully, the troops are emboldened by this small victory. America is in a war—an economic war. We need a government that is fighting for us, not against us. In a tough election year, can President Obama afford to tick off the people in a swing state by once again appeasing the environmentalists instead of encouraging jobs? Remember, public pressure works.

This article was submitted by Marita Noon who is the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy. Marita’s twentieth book, Energy Freedom, is now available.



The Magic Spell of the Rails

Posted on 08. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural

The undercarriage of the locomotive spewed steam from its loins as if a whale had stowed away there and was releasing its spray as it neared the surface. The clang of the bell and toot of the whistle high above the engineer’s cabin, heralded the departure of the 10:15 to Madison, Wisconsin as the conductor bellowed, “All a booooard!” These are some of the images that are reminiscent of one of America’s most romantic modes of transportation.

While most people are aware of the 100 + year history of the railroad in New Mexico, too few have ridden a steam-powered (or diesel) train or experienced first-hand the sights, sounds and smells of America’s iron horse as it barreled down the tracks at a breathtaking 45 mph!

Whether steam, diesel or electric, trains are the bridge connecting America’s past with its present. My first excursion was in 1953. From a small one-story wooden train station in rural Wisconsin, my grandmother and I stepped up the retractable wrought-iron steps into a world of leather seats and pull-down shades that looked like they had come from someone’s living room. So impressive was the deep blue of the conductor’s wool uniform that he could have been a Civil War General for all I knew.  The idling of the train made me think of a bull in a rodeo chute, waiting for the gate to be flung open so that it could attack the space beyond with all of its pent-up energy.

At once we were underway. The staccato sound of the wheels groaning out a cadence made all of us want to get into step as if we were a slightly out of sync marching band trying to follow its leader. Like a jet reaching cruising altitude, the engine soon found its stride and eventually evened out its rhythm when the conductor appeared from the head of the car, saying, “Tickets Please, Tickets.”

With a careful eye on the tickets presented him, he clipped them neatly with his punch. I imagined the passenger was relieved at seeing them punched so that he could stay on the train and not be thrown off (there was no gray area for a young boy like me brought up to believe in the no-nonsense observance of right and the absolute punishment of wrongdoing).

Occasionally referring to his scheduling book, he would answer questions about timetables and destinations as if he had graduated with a degree in railroading from Harvard. Then, with a touch to his cap to indicate he was done with the answer, he moved on ever closer to my grandmother and me.

The sweat began to form tiny droplets on my brow as I was sure he would find something wrong with our tickets. With a smile to my grandmother, he looked in my direction and then back to her and said, “Looks like this might be his first ride. We’ll have to see what we can do to get the engineer to blow the whistle for him.”

And sure enough, as we slowed down to go into the station at the state’s capital, Madison, the conductor ambled down to our row and leaned over and said, “Any second now, you’ll hear the engineer blow his whistle. He told me that you should listen because he was doing it just for you.” No sooner had the conductor sat himself down at his post at the head of the car, did the unmistakable sound of a train whistle pierce the air. I turned to my grandmother and said, “Did you hear it? Did you hear it? That was MY whistle!”

Departing the train was like getting off a roller coaster. My small legs were tingling with excitement, and all I can remember from the rest of that day was me begging my grandmother to buy me a railroad hat at the 5 and 10¢ store. It was a magic time, one I’ll never forget.

- Editor

Our Middle is Missing

Posted on 07. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural, Uncategorized

Who made off with America’s middle? I’m not talking about our collective mid-section (Heaven knows that most of us could stand to lose a bit of that this time of the year). I mean the great middle of our political corpus where compromises are made. I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t seem to locate it.

Those on the right say they have it (somewhere in their party platform), and those on the left say they are the new middle! Me, I’m confused. Let’s try to sort this out. If you believe in big government that acts like our guardian angel, the nanny of our entitlement programs, the protector of our civil rights and the arbiter of wealth (who should be allowed to earn what), then that middle is one I don’t recognize.

If, on the other hand, you want less government, fewer entitlement programs (or less in the entitlement pot) for the needy and don’t mind giving up some of our civil liberties – under the Patriot Act, for example – then that one is equally unfamiliar to me.

Combining the two and then splitting it down the middle doesn’t appear to give us a middle either; it just gives us a government that is underfunded and can’t keep the checks coming for the unemployed and welfare, medicaid and food stamps recipients, and it can’t protect our civil liberties because it doesn’t have the resources or inclination to do so.

It’s a little like a retailer that must reduce its store hours due to  dwindling sales and chooses to stay open when people cannot shop. Yes, they’ve compromised, but they did it in a vacuum without polling the customers. Thankfully, most companies are run by businesspeople and not politicians, and while I’m at it, we must stop demonizing them as if they were vampires at the blood bank. That will only give us a shortcut to the poorhouse.

I don’t understand groups that claim theirs is the true middle and insist that that is the place to start compromising, even though their views only reflect the middle of their ideology and not that of their opposite number on the other side of the bargaining table.

No one can compromise from that position, because neither side can agree on the definitions or the boundary lines. If there ever were a time for a King Solomon to step in and adjudicate the dispute it’s now, because our leaders can’t even agree on the severity of our problems let alone the solutions. Turning in front of a speeding oncoming car because you’re in the right only to get T-boned in the intersection doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Each one of us drives defensively because we know that while rules are made to be obeyed not everybody does so. That’s logic 101.

Enough of the analogies. When you’re poor you can’t afford to act like you’re rich. You make tough decisions and cut back on the luxuries to survive and preserve your basic way of life. Most of us aren’t going to send a letter to the electric company or the gas company and say we’re only going to send them half of what we owe them and not a penny more because our ideology dictates it.

America has some tough choices to make right now, and that goes for the well-heeled among us as well as those with worn heels or none at all. We had better get on with America’s business and start deciding what we can live with and what we can live without before circumstances take that decision away from us. I just hope it’s not too late. Half a loaf is better than no bread at all to a hungry man.

- Editor

The Stealth Birthday Party

Posted on 06. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in NM, Social/Cultural

Our State of New Mexico magazine has run an amusing column on its back page for many years, entitled, “One of our fifty is missing.” The column speaks humorously about our state’s lack of identity or confusion with Mexico.

If it weren’t so embarrassing that so many people don’t know who we are let alone where we are, I’d be laughing at it, but today, I’m fed up with being the ‘invisible man.’ My dander is up, because on the eve of celebrating our state’s 100th birthday, even WE don’t seem to care about who we are, or am I missing some statewide centennial extravaganza that has slipped under my radar?

Hundredth birthdays are supposed to be a pretty big deal. Even Willard Scott and the Smuckers Company that sponsor him, go out of their way to recognize the contributions of America’s centenarians by putting their photos up on national television and wishing them a ‘Happy Birthday.’

What has New Mexico done?

We have a website (nmcentennial.org). That’s a good start, but Billy Bob’s Plumbing and 24-Hour Taxidermy Service in the valley has a website, too. Months ago I checked out the site and found it attractive but with little in the way of substance and with very few events listed (though, in fairness, there are more listed today), so I wrote an article saying that a birthday this big deserved a little more promotion than it was getting, which was nearly zero outside of the website.

Drum roll, please.

With thinking cap firmly in place, my mind wondered like a coyote in search of prey. We could construct a giant chili like the huge apple in NYC’s Times Square and mount it on top of the Roundhouse (like the Farolitos/Luminarias). It could change color from red to green and then back again and then explode like a big pinata on January 1st spewing forth free tickets to ride the Rail Runner.

Another one of my brilliant ideas was an essay contest for school children on why the atomic bomb is such a good thing and why we should be proud of giving ‘birth’ to it here. (Admittedly, that one might be a little controversial, but it could have set a dialogue in motion about nuclear power.)

I also suggested a massive involvement by our schools, our private sector and the non-profits (who seem to be heavily represented on the steering committee) and encouraged the Governor’s Office to take the lead by throwing out a 100-year challenge to all New Mexicans to write her and tell her administration what kind of New Mexico they’d like to see in the year 2112.

As often happens here in our wonderful state, ideas get blown off and away like tumbleweeds in a wind storm. My article got a very predictable response, zero, so that got me to thinking that maybe the ‘powers that be’ don’t know where we are either or maybe they’re embarrassed by ‘things New Mexican’ (like our numerous scandals, bad national ratings, etc.) and would rather keep a low profile.

But no, that couldn’t be the reason. They love New Mexico as much as I do, so there had to be another. Then it came to me – the CLASSICAL REASON – for keeping mum…we don’t want any more of those pesky out-of-staters here to spoil our pristine environment.

I think I have the answer that will satisfy everybody and do it on the cheap (which seems to be the way we prefer things these days). We hold a stealth centennial party, and we don’t tell anybody about it. No promotional press releases, no TV coverage, no Twitter or You Tube or In-your-face book. We just pass the invitation around personally from door to door, from community to community.

That way, maybe New Mexicans will start thinking about wonderful the Land of Enchantment truly is and how much we owe the brave men and women who came before us for leaving us with a ‘work in progress.’

- Editor

Wishing can make it so

Posted on 05. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural

I’m deeply invested in the wishing business now that winter is approaching and that a whole new year is staring us in the face, and it takes me back to my childhood which was chock full of wishing opportunities.

There was candle-blowing on birthdays, wishing on a shooting star, wishbone tug-of-war and, of course, Christmas, and the preparation of our gift list to Santa. Thinking back, wishing was a pretty ordinary pastime. Later, I got wiser to the tricks of the wishing trade as practiced by my parents and adopted them when I had children. That didn’t mean I gave up wishing. They just  shared space with my actions.

Wishing is dreaming’s cousin. It relies on innocence to thrive and is best done in the new bloom of youth when things are fresh and uncluttered. I think it’s deeply imbedded in our DNA, and when wishing is combined with curiosity, amazing things happen. Wishing there were better trade routes to India or if man could fly to the moon pushed Columbus and NASA beyond their comfort zones.As an adult, I don’t think wishing is childish.

I think of it as mental gymnastics, prep work for ideas or a mini-vacation from the things that stand between us and our goals. These days, my wishes are more profound and cover more ground and people. That makes them more difficult to realize, but it doesn’t diminish their importance. Here are a few of my wishes for 2012.

Wish Number One: World peace. Trite but right. We must not allow this wish to be moved lower on the list just because people poke fun at anyone who utters it. We must never concede its possibility and keep it squarely on our ‘radar.’

Wish number Two: That we would better understand the value of our money and the impact of how we spend it. We’re in a learning laboratory right now, and those who’ve never budgeted or pinched their pennies before are learning how important it is to do so. That’s the good news. Globalization has created a circle of dominoes, and we’re learning how truly dependent we are on each other’s economies. Unfortunately, we in America have forgotten (or still not learned) how important it is to communicate with our companies and tell them with our purchases how much we agree or disagree with their manufacturing or investment policies. Until we do, this wish will never come true.

Wish Number Three: A dollop more humor in our daily lives. I’m not talking about a yuck or two watching a TV show; I mean something much more substantial and long-lasting. Humor’s like a healthcare co-pay. We must contribute something to get the full benefit of the treatment. It all starts  with our family. If we can lessen some of the prevailing tension in our families with humor we have a chance to extend its reach to neighbors, friends and co-workers. God knows we all need to laugh, smile and be a little silly from time to time.

Wish number Four: That we would all agree on a few more things. The obvious area is politics. I don’t know when America starting putting ideology before common sense, but it has to stop. All this inane class warfare is pushing us firmly into two opposing camps and wasting precious time and money, something that’s in very short supply.  We could start by respecting each other and listening to each other’s point of view instead of immediately attacking it because of its owner’s political affiliation. That seems more in keeping with true American values to me.

There are many more wishes on my list for 2012, but I will leave you with the most important of all. It is: that you will cherish your time on this earth by finding someone special to share your wishes with and then work together to make them come true.

- Editor

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