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 V.15 No.31 | August 3 - 9, 2006 

The Real Side

The Dirt on the Dirty Dozen

Environmentalists shoot at Heather Wilson, and miss

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the Coalition for Valle Vidal and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have run big ads in the Albuquerque Journal to thank Rep. Heather Wilson for protecting New Mexico’s environment. Not long ago she won headlines for wrestling with the Department of Defense to maintain access for hikers and mountain bikers in Otero Canyon in the East Mountains.

So what’s with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) branding Heather Wilson one of their “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 worst members of Congress on environmental issues?

LCV operates out of Washington, D.C. Nearly half of its board of directors are East Coast millionaires. The sole “Westerner” resides in an exclusive gated community abutting Santa Fe’s Las Campanas golf resort. LCV's political committee is run by enviros pulling down serious six-figure salaries from other D.C. environmental advocacy corporations. The political chairman is the CEO of The Wilderness Society.

Wilson’s 22 percent on LCV’s scorecard doesn’t explain her Dirty Dozen award. That score ranked her above 13 entire state delegations. Many representatives certainly scored higher. On the other hand, 87 representatives, including New Mexico’s Steve Pearce, scored a goose egg across the board.

Neither do the subjects of her votes explain LCV’s action. For instance, LCV’s scoring focused sharply on energy. But Sen. Jeff Bingaman voted much like Wilson on last year’s energy legislation. Rep. Tom Udall, in no danger of making anyone’s Dirty Dozen list, voted exactly the same as Wilson on the House energy conference report.

Environment, Inc.’s beef with Wilson is that she hasn’t put their agenda above the interests of the state she was elected to represent.

Votes concerning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are the biggest single factor in LCV’s scorecard. Apparently, LCV doesn’t know you can’t find ANWR on any New Mexico map. But if they looked, they would find Valle Vidal. Wilson’s early opposition to gas production in Valle Vidal lit a fire under Udall, in whose district the area lies. The House of Representatives just passed his bill, cosponsored by Wilson, to permanently prohibit drilling in the Yellowstone of the Southwest. Wilson told the Washington Post she wanted drilling halted because the road-building it requires would be “incompatible with the wilderness experience.”

If LCV raised its eyes above the Potomac, they might find Valles Caldera National Preserve, 89,000 gorgeous acres an hour from Albuquerque. Those acres would today be “Jemez Mountains Trophy Homes and Ranchettes” if Wilson had not helped convince a Republican Congress to allocate over $100 million to buy the land.

I am absolutely positive ANWR is not in Sandoval County. But the new Ojito Wilderness is. Wilson was the first member of our delegation to commit to the first wilderness legislation for New Mexico in nearly 20 years. The Wilderness Society CEO took his board of directors hiking in Ojito, shortly before throwing Wilson on the Dirty Dozen list. Perhaps that’s how professional environmentalists show their gratitude.

And it’s not ANWR where Hawkwatch sets up every migration season. It’s Tres Pistolas in the Sandia Mountains, which remains untouched because Wilson secured federal money to keep it off the market.

She also got us $15 million for bosque restoration, and worked with our senators to obtain $50 million for endangered species work along the Middle Rio Grande.

LCV’s website swipes at Wilson for resisting stricter arsenic drinking water standards. They might have her there. Consider these pronouncements I turned up: “It would cost us $150 million a year and double the water rate for the citizens of the city.” And, “What we would like is some definitive scientific evidence that this would be worth doing.”

Putting money before health, and summoning the bogey of “sound science” to obstruct clean water improvements. Just what you’d expect of an anti-environment Republican! Except that’s Jim Baca talking when he was mayor of Albuquerque. “I’m a pretty strong environmentalist,” he told the New York Times, “but I was convinced that the data didn’t justify the [stricter] levels.”

Oops.

LCV threatens to spend $500,000 to defeat Wilson. A few years back they spent around $300,000 on very attractive but very ineffectual attack ads. That kind of money could buy conservation easements to protect wildlife habitat. We could introduce a lot of kids to nature, and grow them into life-long conservationists, with a little help from the dough LCV prefers spending on consultants and media buys no one will ever remember.

Elections are stressful, particularly when you burn lots of money and still lose. After the dust settles, LCV’s high-paid staff might need a break from their Beltway swamp. They could try horseback riding in Valles Caldera, fishing in Valle Vidal, hiking in Ojito, or gawking at golden eagles soaring above the Sandias. If it doesn’t hurt too much, they might even pause to thank Heather Wilson.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jims@alibi.com.

 
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