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Friday, January 07, 2011
Schmitt Named Energy Secretary
By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE — Former U.S. Sen. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, a geologist and Apollo astronaut who bucks conventional theory on human-caused global warming, was named Thursday by Gov. Susana Martinez to head the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
Schmitt, a Silver City native who was elected to the Senate in 1976 and defeated after one term by current officeholder Jeff Bingaman, is one of the last people to walk on the moon.
His appointment drew immediate fire from environmentalists.
"We are disheartened to see the selection of a climate change denier," said Sandy Buffett, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Conservation Voters New Mexico.
Schmitt said he plans to balance management of the state's natural resources between economic growth and preservation.
"I think New Mexico's been ill-served in the past few years and it's time to put us back on a track that not only creates jobs but makes sure that that legacy endowment of natural resources is preserved," Schmitt said.
Schmitt's outspoken stance on global warming — that the phenomenon is natural and not caused by human greenhouse gas emissions — could cause controversy.
In a 2009 Journal interview, Schmitt said that global warming fears are a "political issue," not a scientific one.
Buffett cited a recent report by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories concluding that climate change could cost the nation $1 trillion in the next 40 years due to higher temperatures and less fresh water.
The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department oversees the State Parks and Oil Conservation divisions, among other duties.
Martinez said reviewing the state's controversial "pit rule," which requires measures to dispose of liquids and debris brought to the surface in oil and natural gas operations, will be among Schmitt's responsibilities.
Asked about development of renewable energy sources, Martinez said, "We have to make sure that it is cost-effective instead of constantly subsidizing the development of that resource."
Martinez also named Las Cruces pediatrician Catherine Torres as her nominee to serve as Health Department secretary.
Torres, 48, a graduate of the University of New Mexico, has served on the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission. Martinez said Thursday that Torres has "firsthand" knowledge of the health needs facing the state's families and children.
The Health Department runs the state's medical marijuana program, which Martinez has said she opposes.
However, the first-term governor said repealing the state's medical marijuana law won't be a top priority during the legislative session that begins Jan. 18.
"I am very confident that we have bigger issues that we have to deal with," said Martinez, adding that she was focusing her attention on the state's economy and budget situation.
Both Schmitt and Torres are subject to Senate confirmation. Their appointments bring the number of Cabinet positions filled by Martinez to 15 of the state's 23 Cabinet-level departments.
Schmitt, 75, who recently served as chairman of the NASA Advisory Council and has advocated the idea of mining a helium isotope from the moon, will earn an annual salary of $105,000 in his new position. Torres will pull in a salary of $122,500 per year as Health Department secretary.
Martinez said Wednesday that salaries of her Cabinet members will be trimmed from levels established under her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson. No Cabinet secretary will earn more than $125,000 per year, Martinez said.
She said Thursday that the decision to cap salaries hasn't made it more difficult to lure candidates away from potentially higher-paying private sector jobs.
"We're being very methodical about recruiting and reviewing all of the applicants," Martinez said. "We have found that those that are accepting our offers are wanting to serve New Mexicans and not personal interests."