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Newsbites – June 2015
Food Entrepreneur Grants Available
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making $30 million in Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funding available to farmers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs. The grants can be used to develop new product lines from raw agricultural products or additional uses for already developed product lines.
Special priority for VAPG funding is given to several categories of applicants: military veterans, socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers; operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches; farmer and rancher cooperatives; and applicants that propose mid-tier value-chain projects.
During the 2013-2014 funding cycle, nearly half of VAPG awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local food sector. VAPGs are a key element of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the department’s work on local and regional food systems.
The deadline to submit paper applications is July 7. Electronic applications submitted through www.grants.gov are due July 2. Information can be obtained by calling the New Mexico Rural Development Business Program: 505.761.4956.
GMO-Free Foods to Get New USDA Certification
In the typical American grocery store, it is not easy to purchase items that are free of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). Companies in the food and biotechnology industries have been fighting to keep consumers in the dark.
Last month, the USDA, which is currently considering fast-track approvals for genetically altered crops, said that non-GMO foods will get a new, voluntary certification. That would, in the near future, make it possible to scan the grocery aisles and determine which products truly have no GMOs. Similar to what was proposed in a GOP-backed House bill introduced earlier this year, the certification will apparently override any state laws that require the labeling.
Consumer advocates argue that labels on some foods but not others could create more confusion. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign (www.justlabelit.org) and co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, said the USDA label will be a small step in the right direction but that “mandatory labeling of GMOs would allow consumers to vote with their dollars and have a say in the type of agriculture they would like to see in this country.”
New Mexico’s Economy Supported by National Park Visitors
According to a National Park Service report, in 2014, visitors to New Mexico’s national parks and monuments spent an estimated $88.8 million in local communities while visiting NPS lands. According to the Park Service, that spending supported 1,400 jobs paying $36.9 million in wages and salaries to local workers and generated $107.7 million worth of economic activity.
Of the 10 national monuments and one national park in New Mexico (not including the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which is managed by the BLM), White Sands logged the largest number of visits in 2014, with 503,660 visitors, adding $25.6 million to the local economy. Carlsbad Caverns was next, with 397,309 visitors. Although there were 106,351 fewer visitors to the caverns, they spent just $21,500 less in total than the more numerous White Sands visitors, perhaps because of higher lodging costs in the Carlsbad area.
Fort Union National Monument was the least visited of the National Park sites in New Mexico, with just 10,934 people, who spent an estimated $707,600 to support nine jobs and a $300,000 local payroll. Gila Cliff Dwellings was the second-least-visited spot, with 31,136 visitors contributing $1.7 million to the local economy.
At Petroglyph National Monument on the outskirts of Albuquerque, the Park Service estimates that 18,537 people, or about 16 percent of the 115,860 visitors last year, were locals, accounting for about $288,000 of the $6.5 million in visitor spending and supporting four of the 108 monument-associated jobs.
The full report is available online at www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/
Northern NM Wilderness Bill Gains Momentum
A bill introduced by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to establish two wilderness areas, the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and Río San Antonio Wilderness, within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, northwest of Taos, received a positive hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining late last month.
The proposed wilderness areas would comprise 21,420 acres within the 242,500-acre monument. The area boasts incredible wildlands and waters that sustain the surrounding communities and is home to elk, deer, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, sandhill cranes and other wildlife. It is one of the most stunning and ecologically significant areas in the state.
Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said that the bill “helps further the community’s vision for this landscape.” During the hearing, Sen. Heinrich highlighted the bill’s support from northern New Mexico small business owners. Since the monument’s 2013 designation, reflecting the regional outdoor recreation economic impact, there has been a 40 percent increase in Taos area visitation and 30 percent increase in lodging taxes.
“Designating the Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio areas of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument as wilderness will help permanently protect a critical watershed, boost tourism and create jobs throughout northern New Mexico, and ensure this incredible part of our state is protected for New Mexicans and visitors alike,” said Sen. Udall.
Public Input Sought for Geothermal Development
The Bureau of Land Management wants to lease about 46,000 acres of the 195,000 acres that have been identified as having significant geothermal potential in the Santa Fe National Forest. The Forest Service is soliciting public input about the geothermal development. Written comments, due by June 12, will be included in the environmental impact statement for the project. They may be emailed to email@example.com, faxed to 505.438.5390 or sent to Geothermal EIS Project, Santa Fe National Forest, 11 Forest Lane, Santa Fe, NM 87508.
Senators Unveil New Renewable Electricity Standard
National RES would pump nearly $300 billion into the economy, create tens of thousands of jobs, and help combat climate change
On May 17, seven U.S. senators introduced a bill to create a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). The legislation, which would help the United States diversify its energy sources while establishing leadership in clean energy production, would require utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The bill would create the first national threshold for utilities to provide a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources including wind, solar, biomass and others. It would set an 8 percent requirement by 2016, followed by gradual increases thereafter to meet the goal of 30 percent by 2030. More than half of the states—including New Mexico—already have renewable generation standards with specific timelines and target standards. The legislation would not preempt stronger standards already implemented by states.
“A national Renewable Electricity Standard will help slow utility-rate increases and boost private investments in states like New Mexico—all while combating climate change,” said Tom Udall (D-N.M.), one of the bill’s sponsors.
“Becoming a nation that relies more on clean sources of energy is critical if we want to create a healthier environment for future generations,” Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), another of the bill’s sponsors, said. “We’ve seen how successful RES policies are across the country, especially in New Mexico.”
“Our analysis shows a 30 percent by 2030 national RES is achievable and would provide substantial consumer, economic, and climate benefits,” said Jeff Deyette, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Udall/Markey proposal builds on the success of existing state policies to accelerate the innovation and investments needed for the U.S. to transition to a clean-energy economy.”
N.Y. Times Cites Santa Fe’s Tiered Water Rates as Conservation Model
An article in last month’s New York Times credits Santa Fe’s tiered water pricing as an “audacious” response to drought that parched California cities can learn from. The Times recalls the drought of 15 years ago that left Santa Fe without enough water to fight fires: “Santa Fe, in addition to raising the basic cost of water, decided to make the heaviest users pay more for the water they consumed. Known as tiered pricing, the system wasn’t unique to Santa Fe, but in no major city today are the tiers so steep, with water guzzlers paying three to four times more per gallon than more efficient consumers,” the article says. According to the nonprofit news agency Circle of Blue, for those in the second tier, Santa Fe has the most expensive water out of 30 cities surveyed.
Recent academic research suggests that because of the huge gap between tiers, the system is similar to market pricing to encourage conservation in that much of the burden is borne by those most able to afford it.
Since 2001, Santa Fe’s total water consumption has dropped by a fifth, even as the population has increased by 10 percent. The city’s residents are among the thriftiest when it comes to turning on the tap. Per-capita water usage has plunged from nearly 140 gallons a day in 2001 to about 100 now.
Santa Fe has also revamped its water system to rely less on its over-stressed aquifer. The city’s higher water rates, along with a major bond offering, helped fund a $220-million water-treatment project, which gets more than 75 percent of its water from surface sources like rivers and reservoirs.
Santa Fe Moving Toward Single-Stream Recycling
The joint city-county Solid Waste Management Agency, in the hope of boosting Santa Fe’s 56 percent participation rate and reducing costs may, by mid-2016, be moving to a single-stream recycling system. That would expand the recyclable materials collected to include plastics No. 1 through No. 7, which includes bottles, jars and deli clamshells, as well as rigid plastics such as laundry baskets and buckets. However, glass collection may be reduced to every other week or replaced by glass drop-off centers. Glass is harder to process, and there aren’t many buyers for it in New Mexico.
Eight new trucks equipped with long, side-mounted arms for lifting and dumping bins would be purchased at an estimated cost of $3.86 million, which includes the cost of 30,000 roll-away bins to be distributed to homes and businesses. Residential rates for the service may go up 12.8 percent, or about $1.50 a month, to help finance the program, which has been endorsed by the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The agency, after seeking bids from private contractors, has decided it would be cheaper to keep the recycling operation in-house. The new changes may include revamped green-waste services and an expanded public education program.
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