High Country News: How New Mexico is letting industry rewrite its once-strict clean water regs
We called them DBIs back in the day when newspapers were king and I was a cog in the kingdom's gears. DBI means dull but important. A reporter had to beg to do the story (or plead desperately to get OFF the story if it was an editor's idea). A DBI could be made into a gripping read but to whip up the drama and pathos took a lot of work and time to find the personal anecdotes to breathe life into it. My old paper, the SF Chronicle, recently undertook a classic, extended multipart DBI by documenting in numbing detail the struggles by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to convince regulators and itself that its natural gas pipelines are safe, even if one did erupt in flames and destroy a whole neighborhood a few years ago. Ditto with stories on government waste, police kickbacks, or lagging scores in public schools. DBI. Gimme an earthquake or weird new species any day.
Well, here's a pretty good DBI and a sterling example of public service reporting:
- High Country News - Sara Jane Keller: New Mexico's groundwater protections may take a hit ; Hmm. I did read it all the way through and do have good things to say about this, but the headline surely could have been punchier. An important tip to successful DBIs is, right off the bat, don't write a headline that screams [yawn here] at the reader. Practical note to tracker readers: There is a subscriber gate, but if you noodle around you'll find the subscriptions page that includes a free trial subscription that raises the barrier.
It has a hero fighting to maintain the old rules, a political shift in state politics to the right, industry reps eager to 'streamline' regulations and get rid of rules that do little except to complicate the lives of private business executives, and a hammer song of relentless evisceration of every environmental regulation that state and private interests working together could gather into their newly created authority to clean up the state's water clean-up and protection rules.
It has some switchbacks to it, and stops well short of mere green polemic. The new Republican governor, of course, is Republican but she is, apparently, no Tea Party troglodyte. She is portrayed as a crafty, independent pol with a wide streak of independence of political cant. She also has soaring popularity numbers. But, if this story has it correct, the governor and her appointees also have a peculiarly high regard for the judgment of the state's extraction industries when it comes to properly disposing of their waste when nobody is looking.
This is good in-depth reporting, and yet it doesn't take up all that much room. I'd have appreciated more detail on the extent to which mining pollution has already caused serious public health threat. But there is enough here to provide illustration of the old maxim about foxes and henhouses.
Of some note is that High Country News, itself a non-profit 501(c)(3) , credits funding of this story to the McCune Charitable Foundation. The donor has, a web trawl reveals, been giving gratns to HCN for some years now for coverage of issues in New Mexico. The donor organization has, by the way and as I also just figured out, no connection to the McCune Foundation, based in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties with Sara Miller McCune at its top. She is behind the fine, former Miller-McCune magazine recently renamed Pacific Standard.
The general topic continues to simmer, as seen in the state's news agencies. For example:
- Albuquerque Journal (Oct 11) Deborah Baker: AG appeals copper mine water rule ;
- Albuquerque Journal (Apr 9) Michael Hartranft: Hearings to craft groundwater protection for mining; With an opening slant just about 180 degrees opposite to the piece in the current HCN.
While we're on HCN and the McCune Charitable Trust, but straying from science and enviro journalism, another piece in the current magazine issue well worth a read, and stunningly detailed in tracing a very complicated issue, is its cover story:
- High Country News - M. John Fayhee: A new Apache homeland in New Mexico? An Okie Apache fights his kin to build a casino and bring his people home; An eye opening excursion through Indian Country and the intra and inter-tribal battles that can and do erupt. It could have used tighter editing. Underplayed in its description of who-is-an-Apache is the corrosive influence of casino money on anything it touches. But the history of the various tribal groups lumped in "Apache," their diaspora following the US conquest of their raiding, warrior cultures, and the efforts of their remnants to cohere in a new, distinct culture are all illuminating. Anyway, who doesn't want to read about Geronimo and Cochise? Fayhee knows how to use plain language, as when he describes the embryo of a new piece of Apache land, in New Mexico, this way "No matter the real estate value, no one in his right mind is going to reconnect to his ancestral homeland via this crappy patch of dirt." He also calls it, twice, an armpit. The story ought to have mentioned that in Arizona is a well-forested reservation of nearly 3000 square miles specifically for one wing of Apache people. I also can't see from this why, exactly, the man from Oklahoma with his mixed ancestry and his designs on a New Mexico gambling house or two is entitled to be considered more Nde than anything else.