Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Global warming a political issue in NM

51713 TASSC

SANTA FE – I was a little too brief as I ended a column on Bill Richardson last week. I mentioned former Govs. Richardson and Garrey Carruthers, along with two companies – APCO and Phillip Morris all in the last paragraph.
I shouldn't have done it but, frankly, I was running out of room and felt I just had to get those tidbits in. I heard about it from readers so here's the rest of the story.
Arnold & Porter Company is a huge Washington, D.C. law firm. Years ago it decided to add a public relations consulting arm so it created a subsidiary called APCO. Margery Kraus headed the subsidiary and it now has become independent.
APCO is the second largest privately owned public relations firm in the world. It has offices in the major business, financial, political and medial capitals of the world. It gets involved in all issues and it doesn't matter which side.
And that is how it got involved with Phillip Morris in creating The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition to fight a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that identified secondhand smoke as extremely hazardous to health.
In order to appear to be an independent grassroots coalition, TASSC broadened its focus to other scientific topics, most notably global warming. TASSC now appears to be defunct. The "coalition" no longer exists. It is now a "center."
This all happened before Richardson was hired. During his terms as governor, Richardson was a champion of environmental causes and alternative energy. It is highly unlikely he ever would have been involved in such a project.
But Garrey Carruthers was involved with TASSC in the years immediately following his term as governor.
The issue did arise during the selection process for the New Mexico State University presidency. Some Democratic lawmakers from Las Cruces sent a letter to the president of the NMSU Regents. Carruthers was questioned about his TASSC activities and beliefs. His answers apparently were sufficient for any concern of the regents.
But they apparently wouldn't have been enough to get by the New Mexico Legislature's Senate Rules Committee. Astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt was nominated by Gov. Susana Martinez as her cabinet secretary for energy, Minerals and natural resources.

Schmitt's resume was impressive. He graduated in geology from Cal Tech, MIT and a prestigious school in Norway. He was selected to go to the moon because he could use his knowledge of geology to train fellow astronauts in what they would be finding on the moon.
He was the last astronaut to set foot on the moon so the program could be sure that it had its top scientist finish the exploration with the best information possible. Sure enough, Schmitt made the most important find – a rock that provided evidence of a magnetic field on the moon.
Schmitt returned from space to spend a year and a half traveling New Mexico in a pickup campaigning for the U.S. Senate. He beat incumbent Joe Montoya convincingly.
After his defeat by fellow Silver Citian Jeff Bingaman, Schmitt went into private practice, much of it aimed at encouraging the development of resources on the moon. He still lives in Silver City.
It looked as though he had the perfect qualifications for the cabinet job except some of his time was spent with organizations questioning whether the human race has anything to do with global warming. None of those organizations appear to be TASSC affiliated but many other groups have been formed over the years and Schmitt speaks at their conferences and participates in their leadership.
The New Mexico Legislature is run by Democrats. Environmentalist groups tend to support Democrats. It wasn't hard to convince state Senate leaders that New Mexico's future lies in alternative energy. It is the Senate Rules Committee that decides whether Gov. Martinez's recommendations are recommended to the Senate floor.
Dr. Schmitt ultimately withdrew his name over a dispute about the committee's questionnaire but that may not have been the only reason.


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