Q&A, Jeff Bingaman

Freedom Newspapers

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was in Portales last week. He sat down with Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico staff for about 30 minutes.

Q: What are the chances the Ute Water Project will receive 80 percent funding from the federal government, with 10 percent from the state and 10 percent from local communities?
A: The 80/10/10 split I think is justified. It’s what Congress has agreed to with regard to some other rural water projects. I think it’s a pretty good formula for how we ought to split the costs for this kind of a project.
We’ve got two examples where (the federal government has paid 80 percent of the project), and a third example where the federal government has paid 76 percent of the costs. And I think you can justify the federal government supporting that level if the local communities step to their own responsibility, particularly in rural areas like this where you don’t have a lot of people. The cost per consumer gets significantly high, so it’s not as if they’re getting a free pass. They’re having to pay.”

Q: Should private water wells be metered and monitored?
A: I think that the extent that we’re operating in … basins, where we have allocated water rights, I think the state engineer has a responsibility to be sure those water rights are respected, and that requires some level of monitoring. … It’s really a decision the state engineer needs to make based on his assessment of what’s required to carry out his responsibility …

Q: You don’t think this is a federal issue at all?
A: I think the history is real clear that water rights are a state and local issue. In this state we’ve had laws in the books since we were a territory. I think there are ways in which the federal government can assist the state in some of its responsibilities and its own laws.

Q: As eastern New Mexico grows its agriculture industry — dairies and the Southwest Cheese Plant are spurring growth right now — how seriously should we take those trumpeting environmental concerns?
A: We just toured the new cheese plant. It seemed to me, based on what I saw and heard, that they are making a substantial investment to be sure that the environmental issues are dealt with in waste water treatment and their agreement with the city of Clovis to recycle water — a whole variety of things that they have agreed to and that they are spending substantial dollars on to meet the environmental concerns. As far as I can tell, they are acting responsibly in this regard. I don’t know what other environment concerns have been raised. I was very impressed with what I saw in this tour this morning.

Q: John Kerry said recently that if he’s elected, he will try to delay the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. What is your position on BRAC? Do we have too many military bases or not and is this a good time to be cutting back?
A: I have voted a couple times in the last two or three years to delay the BRAC process. It has been my view that with all the deployments of troops … that what was justified that was making sense when this BRAC process started doesn’t really make sense right now.

Q: How will New Mexico fare if BRAC goes through as planned?
A: I think New Mexico will fare well. … (We’ve) all worked very hard to position our bases so that they would not be adversely affected by the BRAC process. … One of the things that the Pentagon always looks at in deciding which base to nominate for closure, is which bases have the oldest most dilapidated facilities. They will not choose Cannon if that’s the criteria. Cannon has a lot of very state-of-the-art facilities.