The Thin Green Line

Hooray For New Mexico’s Enviro Heroes

Jim Scarantino
5 min read
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I have a thing about huge, national environmental groups. I take offense at Big Green’s ritzy digs in Washington, D.C. and the lavish compensation they pay their staff to ask the rest of us to make sacrifices for the environment.

I am willing to pay to save the planet. I’ve donated lots of money for wilderness and clean air and spend extra for energy-efficient appliances and green power. But when it comes to big national enviro groups, who don’t seem to make much difference in my life, I’ve drawn the line. I won’t give them a dime.

Instead, I put my faith in state and local environmental organizations. That’s where you find tens of thousands of hours of volunteer time being donated. That’s where you encounter dedicated environmentalists enduring economic hardship to actually get something done. We can disagree with them occasionally on policies and tactics. But we are blessed to have in New Mexico very able environmentalists holding the Thin Green Line on our behalf. They deserve our thanks and support and a little recognition now and then.

I couldn’t possibly cover all of them in this column. I asked just a few New Mexico organizations for the best things they’ve done since last year’s Earth Day. What they shared made me feel good, even optimistic, about the environmental movement in this state.

Because I have a love affair with trees, the Forest Guardians’ response is my favorite. “Forest Guardians and hundreds of our volunteers planted 1,500 native cottonwood and willow trees along nearly two miles of New Mexico’s rivers,” says the Guardians’ Rosie Brandenberger. “These trees will not only improve water quality, they also become restored streamside habitat for wildlife such as the endangered Southwest willow flycatcher and beavers.”

Forest Guardians also points to its contributions in defending the Endangered Species Act, “our nation’s most powerful environmental law,” says Brandenberger. “Now off the Congressional chopping block but still in the crosshairs of the Bush administration, this visionary law continues to protect the habitats of hundreds of species that otherwise might have vanished from the planet.”

The Central Group of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, which is sustained by tireless volunteers, points to its "Albuquerque Cool Cities" campaign. They’ve been working with the city and other groups to reduce Albuquerque’s energy use and help curb global warming. Their first big project has been getting energy-saving lightbulbs into lots of households. Through neighborhood walks, tabling and school assemblies, they’re encouraging citizens to swap out their old-fashioned incandescent bulbs for new compact fluorescents, which use one-fourth the energy to produce the same amount of light. The city has donated the first 4,000 bulbs being distributed for free.

Jeanne Bassett has been a name on New Mexico’s environmental scene for decades. She’s headed up NMPIRG as long as I can remember. But nothing lasts forever. She and her husband Abe Guttman are moving at the end of this month to Peru, and NMPIRG has spun off a new entity called Environment New Mexico. Not skipping a beat as she makes a major change in her life, Bassett’s new group accomplished a lot in the past 12 months.

“Over the past year, Gov. Richardson’s Climate Change Advisory Group developed 69 policy solutions to cut the state’s emissions of greenhouse gases,” says Lauren Ketcham, who is taking over for Bassett. “Of those 69 policies, 67 were voted on unanimously. This … is a major victory since New Mexico is an extraction state and there were representatives from really diverse constituencies, including the utilities and industry, at the table.”

“During the Legislative Session,” continues Ketcham, “more than a dozen clean energy bills passed that will combat global warming in New Mexico. An Environment New Mexico-backed bill passed that will double to 20 percent by 2020 the state’s Renewable Energy Standard, the amount of energy utilities provide from renewable sources like solar and wind. Environment New Mexico is working to adopt a Clean Cars program that will cut emissions from new cars by 34 percent and new trucks by 25 percent by 2016. The governor has backed the program and directed the New Mexico Environment Department to pass the program administratively by the end of the year.”

We certainly can’t overlook the Coalition for Valle Vidal. They won the year’s most impressive victory, preventing more than 100,000 acres of heaven from becoming a coal-bed methane production field. They did it with tons of skill and relatively little money, though the giant El Paso Energy Corporation and the Bush administration stood against them. They showed what New Mexicans are capable of. With all the good work being done by these and other environmentalists in New Mexico, we have reason to hope for even more good news by next year’s Earth Day.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail

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