Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.


© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    10/4/21
State mismanagement, neglect threaten state’s biggest historic sites
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            There’s trouble in Billy the Kid country.       
            Two of New Mexico’s biggest tourist draws are its worst managed properties. Old Lincoln and nearby Fort Stanton are deteriorating out of mismanagement and bureaucratic neglect.
            Desperate employees (the few left), distraught (former) volunteers, and Lincoln residents have reported for months: Peeling paint, missing shingles, ceiling damage, cracked windows, dirty restrooms, dusty exhibits, knee-high weeds, unkempt grounds, and broken equipment.
            They’ve called, emailed and written to the state Department of Cultural Affairs, which is responsible for historic sites, along with elected officials. They get nowhere, says Lynda Sanchez, author, historian, retired educator and Lincoln resident.
            It’s a tale of bureaucratic buck passing, neglect, crony hiring, incompetence, and conflicts of interest. 
            In July 2016 DCA hired Patrick Moore as director of its Historic Sites Division. He and a fellow history faculty member at the University of West Florida had developed an app that gives mobile-device users background information on historical sites around the world. With Florida research historian Tim Roberts, they formed two related companies.
            In November 2016 Moore hired Roberts as regional manager for the Lincoln and Fort Stanton Sites. A year later, Roberts and three partners started Bonito Valley Brewing in Lincoln. It quickly became a popular watering hole. Roberts described it as “a great side gig.” He was also still involved in one of the app companies.
            In January 2020, Moore appointed Wesley Meiss, another Florida historian involved in the app, as site manager for Lincoln and Fort Stanton. Unlike Roberts, Meiss had some experience managing historic buildings in Florida and was even mayor of his small town. However, New Mexico’s two sites are large and complex with multiple buildings and thousands of tourists. Meiss was in over his head, Sanchez said, and left in July.
            Roberts apparently resumed the position, but then Moore made him the division’s deputy director for facilities and interpretation. This position is normally based in Santa Fe, but Moore left Roberts in Lincoln.
            Less than two weeks before Old Lincoln Days, the village’s signature event in early August, Tiffanie Owen wrote Moore with employee concerns. The staff of five was less than half its strength from 2019. They couldn’t keep buildings open or lead tours. They were cancelling or postponing days off because it was too hard on co-workers to have anyone out.
            Roberts was MIA. “We haven’t seen him in weeks, don’t know where he is or when he’ll be back,” Owen wrote.
            Nobody was responding to questions and emails. They didn’t know if they’d have help promised from other sites or money for entertainment and talks. She said it was “hard to keep the panic in check.”
            That wasn’t all. In June the department saddled them with a register system they despised. “I’ve worked in retail for 25 years and I’ve never seen a POS system that is so non-user friendly, has so many unnecessary steps to slow down a transaction, and is so unbelievably unreliable,” Owen wrote. “It crashes constantly, usually when the lobby is packed with people.”
            The only maintenance man quit in frustration (no tools, no guidance) in February, so Lincoln and the fort had been unkempt for months.
            Beverly Strauser, a business owner and Lincoln resident, wrote legislators and the governor, “Many very good employees who loved Lincoln and Fort Stanton have left because they were bullied and could no longer take the abuse.” Only five employees were left to run two big, busy sites and put on Old Lincoln Days. “How can five people do that?”
            Strauser wrote to the Historic Sites Division: “The people who are currently in charge do not have any personnel or management skills… Thousands of people visit these sites each year and what do they see? Sites that are deteriorating, employees with bad attitudes because they are under stress with no communication or help from management.”
            Sanchez warned the division that three of five remaining staffers were “sending out resumes as we speak.”
            Old Lincoln Days took place in a disheveled Old Lincoln. Experienced volunteers declined to return. By 3 p.m. on the last day Moore, Roberts and staff from other sites disappeared. Porta Potties were left “stinking up the town,” to the disgust of residents.
            Roberts remained scarce, although he told the Friends of Historic Lincoln they had 5,000 visitors (“not even close,” said a staffer), everything went smoothly (“not from what we saw”), and the new register system worked well (“down for hours as usual and we just waved people in for free.”)
            This month more than 50 historians, residents and former volunteers signed a petition sent to DCA and elected officials citing loss of key staff and volunteers from mistreatment, lack of living history and educational programs, and serious deterioration of infrastructure, among other things.
            A weary Sanchez wonders if anybody in Santa Fe cares about these places.
            At this writing, DCA Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego finally responded to months of letters and emails to say her department is “working to address these issues and develop a targeted plan of corrective action in each area.”
            The sites’ advocates want action, not words, and warn that a band-aid won’t work.


© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES  10/11/21
Bush’s ‘hydrogen economy’ still possible in New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            Could hydrogen be the next big thing in New Mexico? The governor and the state’s energy secretary think so. Farmington is already promoting itself as a hydrogen hub. And a handful of companies are active.
            We’ve been here before. In 2003 President George Bush promoted the “hydrogen economy” and passed $1.2 billion for research and development of the hydrogen car, a clean alternative to the combustion engine.
            New Mexico rushed to get on board. The Hydrogen Technology Partnership organized that year to promote lab, private and state partnerships, and the Hydrogen Business Council organized to support the partnership. Both national labs were already doing work.          In 2004 the Legislature earmarked $200,000 to market and promote New Mexico’s hydrogen assets to attract businesses involved in the work.
            Everyone expected the state to enter a new industry.
            At the time, supporters touted hydrogen’s abundance and noted that it stored energy more efficiently than conventional batteries, burned twice as efficiently in a fuel cell as gasoline in an engine, and released energy without emissions. But it had technological challenges. Critics said hydrogen would never replace fossil fuels.
            President Obama ended Bush’s hydrogen initiative in 2009 in the belief that hydrogen still had too many hurdles to overcome and wouldn’t be practical for years to come. The Department of Energy slashed funding and emphasized instead fuel cells of all kinds. Major car manufacturers then reduced their hydrogen work and moved forward with electric cars and hybrids.
            Some experts still believed that with continued funding they could have solved problems.
            Now hydrogen is back, but the emphasis is different. More electric vehicles are in use, and now hydrogen is seen as a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Hydrogen, which doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, could be used in transportation (planes, trains, and long-haul trucks), heavy manufacturing, and to produce electricity.
            Hydrogen could be an option when solar and wind sources fall short.
            With bipartisan support, hydrogen earned a place in President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which proposes $8 billion to build four hydrogen hubs, with more for research and development. The governor aims to make New Mexico one of those hubs.
            We have natural gas, pipelines, and a trained workforce. Natural gas can be used to make blue hydrogen by stripping hydrogen molecules from methane. This process emits carbon, so it would also require carbon capture and sequestration; the state has geological formations that could store the carbon underground.
            Environmentalists have no confidence in this process and prefer electrolysis, which removes hydrogen molecules from water and has no carbon emissions. But this green hydrogen process is costly.
            Two companies are already at work in Farmington. Process Equipment Servicing Company and BayoTech, using technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories, expect to make mobile, blue hydrogen generators. Carbon capture and sequestration is already under study in efforts to keep the San Juan Generating Station alive.
            Los Alamos Laboratory never stopped studying hydrogen and fuel cells. Recently program manager Rod Borup wrote in an op-ed that DOE-funded research is on track to solve technical challenges, such as the limited number of fueling stations and the need for more durable fuel cells. Long-haul trucks produce about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, but converting fleets to hydrogen would reduce carbon emissions by 40%. And because trucks run on regular routes, building hydrogen fuel stations would be less expensive. LANL is also developing new materials for fuel cells.
            There’s wrangling over blue vs. green hydrogen, but Borup sees a place for both.
            “New Mexico is in a great position to benefit from a hydrogen economy,” he concludes. “Nothing short of our future is at stake.”





Sherry Robinson photo




© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES      10/11/21
Leaders and followers in methane solutions
By Diane Denish

Corner to Corner
          “In the west mid dark oil derricks, friendly flares to view.”
          So began the Hobbs High School Song when I attended. Those words call up the image of the oil camp lit up by a flare. It signaled the entrance to Hobbs on the Carlsbad highway. Little did we know then that flares, venting and leaks from drilling were creating dangerous levels of air pollutants and threatening public health, wildlife and our big blue skies. 
          This past week concluded 10 days of daily eight-hour hearings before the state Environment Improvement Board. The subject: proposed regulations needed to control harmful pollution by oil and gas drilling. The state Environment Department (NMED) proposed new rules for regulating VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and methane. The Environment Improvement Board gets to decide what is included or excluded.
          Today 62% of all VOCs and methane emissions are produced by the oil and gas industry. Regulating these toxic, deadly chemicals, along with methane emitted by leaks, vents and flares is within reach. That is NMED’s job – to protect communities from harmful, even toxic gases – in our air and water.
          Independent oil producers, big corporate producers, individuals, and environmental coalitions testified throughout the hearings. From the testimony, rays of hope emerged to face the devastating impacts of VOCs and methane and the invisible enemy it has become for communities. 
          One source of  hope is Occidental Petroleum, which is the second largest producer in the Permian Basin and one of the largest producers in New Mexico. Oxy showed true leadership in joining with environmental and community groups in a call for stronger NMED rules. 
          Some of the more powerful testimony came from members of Interfaith Power and Light. One  member, Kayley Shoup, an organizer of Citizens Caring for Our Future in Carlsbad, testified in strong support of the new regulations. 
          Like me, Kayley grew up in the Permian Basin, and she knows and loves her hometown. I can only imagine the courage it took to step up and talk about the dangers of an industry in which her friends and neighbors work. But her goal is to secure the future of her community – improve health outcomes for her friends and neighbors, create jobs through innovative solutions to the problem, and protect the unique and beautiful surroundings in southeastern New Mexico. Amen!
          This is a challenge in northwestern New Mexico as well. In the San Juan Basin (where I lived for seven years) leaky gas wells and intentional venting have created the largest methane hotspot in North America. Methane is invisible and dangerous. Hilcorp, a Houston- based private company and the largest gas producer in New Mexico is the number one methane polluter in the entire country. Instead of stepping up to lead like Oxy, Hilcorp’s out-of-state attorneys and local lobbyists continued to use false data about low pollution levels and manufactured safety concerns related to monitoring wells and completion techniques. 
          There were multiple calls for the Environmental Improvement Board and NMED to adopt regulations that mirror those in Colorado. Colorado has successfully implemented strong well completion rules (completions are a massive source of the deadly chemicals) with no industry objections. Direct expert testimony verified that completion rules are safe, and methane could be captured and sold to help mitigate any costs incurred.
          Therein lies the key to industry support for stronger and more effective rules and monitoring – money. Convince operators, large and small, that there is something in it for them. Let’s stop trying to persuade them with the egalitarian notion that they will protect the community, drive down cancer and asthma rates, regenerate wildlife, and fight climate change.
          Just remind them that recapturing rather than leaking and venting of these harmful gasses, can put money in their pockets – and once they pay for the cost of controls and effective monitoring – it’s all theirs. 

 © 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES   10-4-21
In memory of Jerry Stuyvesant
By Merilee Dannemann

Triple Spaced Again
            Jerry Stuyvesant died in March. He has not been sufficiently eulogized, and his contribution to New Mexico has not been adequately recognized – partly due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. Here’s a piece of the story of this very distinguished man.
            Jerry (officially Gerald) Stuyvesant was director of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration when I started there in 1991. His presence was essential to the workers’ compensation reform that saved the state’s economy in 1990.
            He was appointed in 1989 by Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers and retained by Democratic Gov. Bruce King. As a consummate professional of international stature, he should have stayed through succeeding administrations, which would have enabled the agency to maintain its nonpolitical character. The failure to support his reappointment in 1995 was a bad decision by Republican Gov. Gary Johnson.
            In the mid-1980s, the workers’ compensation system was strangling the economy of New Mexico. Insurance premiums were so high that businesses couldn’t pay them. Almost all insurance companies had deserted the state. The economic climate and costs of litigation had become too hostile and unpredictable.
            The WCA was created by statute in 1986, in part to be a special purpose court for workers’ comp claims, to be decided by a small group of specialized expert judges. The law was amended repeatedly in attempts to get costs under control until the reform of 1990, which finally succeeded.
            As director, Stuyvesant guided the 1990 task force that developed the historic compromise between business and labor, creating the law that saved the economy, the same law that is now in danger of being chipped away, year after year. No director since Stuyvesant has understood the intricacies of the system as thoroughly or had the commanding presence to keep the system stable as he did.
            The thing about workers’ comp, you see, is that if you don’t understand it, you probably dislike it. You think it’s unjust and illogical because it appears to be unfair to your side. Only people who understand it see the brilliance in the way it balances competing interests and limits the influence of the various professions that want get a bigger share at the expense of injured workers and small employers.
            The reform led to foaming-at-the-mouth fury on the part of a few professions whose members had been making a comfortable living from this system for decades. The lawyers now had limits on how much they could charge; and the new system made it easier for injured workers to get benefits without needing a lawyer at all. The doctors now had to live with a fee schedule and limitations on the number of extra services that they could order and bill for. And so on.
            Suddenly this Wild West had – gulp – accountability. Stuyvesant had not written the law, but he was the sheriff in charge of enforcing it. He was up to the task and not intimidated by anyone, even the politicians who were permanently enraged that King had trusted this agency to a Republican holdover.
            He told me years later that his tenure at the WCA was a minor phase of his adventurous professional life. But he was a major contributor in overcoming the crisis of that time.
            He died after a prolonged battle with Plasma Cell Leukemia, which he told me was the result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
            Stuyvesant was a United States Air Force veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, having served with distinction for 23 years and retired at the rank of major. He received numerous commendations, medals, and awards including the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal, which he was awarded six times.
            I am forever grateful to have worked for him.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.