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Sen. Udall’s environmental work not done

When Sen. (Tom) Udall announced on Medium on March 25 he was not seeking re-election in the Senate in 2020, he did not reflect on (his) political career. Instead, he stated he was “going right back to work” and saw the next two years as “an incredible opportunity” to fight for New Mexico.

As usual, Udall was a man of his word. Just two weeks later, he spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to David Bernhardt’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Interior and then voted against his confirmation.

“The American public deserves an Interior Secretary who they can trust to look out for their interests – protecting public land, species, the air and the water. But, Mr. Bernhardt has not demonstrated he has the necessary independence from his former clients,” Udall said.

Unfortunately, the Senate confirmed the conflict-of-interest-prone … Bernhardt by a vote of 56-41. Regardless, we are grateful for Udall’s leadership and commitment to protecting New Mexicans and our public lands. …

In his Medium post, protecting public lands was one of three key priorities mentioned. That’s important because there is much to defend and much to advance. As leaders who represent businesses across our state, we recognize how important protecting our public lands is for sustaining local communities, business owners and our economy. Our public lands are a huge driver behind New Mexico’s multibillion-dollar tourism and outdoor recreation industries. The locally owned businesses prospering in these industries are invested in the health and wellness of their communities and are the key to developing strong, resilient local economies that build true community wealth in New Mexico. …

The Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected outdoor access in New Mexico for over 50 years. It’s protected iconic landscapes like Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Bandelier National Monument, and it’s provided funds for our local ball fields and playgrounds. Udall helped permanently re-authorize the LWCF at the beginning of this year, but he is not done. Earlier this month, he introduced a bill to permanently fund this critical program so it may continue to benefit communities for generations to come.

Speaking of Chaco, Udall, along with the rest of the N.M. delegation, recently introduced legislation to withdraw the federal lands around Chaco Canyon from further mineral development so this sacred and beloved landscape can remain a New Mexico treasure unmarred by expanding energy development by big oil companies. Chaco is a UNESCO world heritage site and major tourist attraction that deserves permanent protection.

Another fundamental conservation law that must be protected is the Antiquities Act, which has protected our most iconic landscapes, like Organ Mountains Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte national monuments. Udall introduced the ANTIQUITIES Act update last year to fight for our monuments, which are a source of huge economic benefits to local communities.

Of course, there are foes of New Mexico’s public lands that must be held accountable. Bernhardt, our new Secretary of Interior, has so many conflicts of interest he carries around a list of former clients to keep track of them all. He is a fossil fuel lobbyist and likely to keep pushing former Secretary Ryan Zinke’s agenda of favoring special interests over protected public lands. The Senate was wrong to confirm him and Udall was right to stand against his nomination. We must look forward to the public lands fights that we can still win. We’re glad we still have Udall to lead them.