Courage in Mora County

If you saw someone put a spoonful of cat poop into a bowl of whipping cream and whip it up so you couldn’t see it, would you put it on your strawberry shortcake? Probably not.

If you saw someone pour a gallon of gasoline into a swimming pool, would you want your children to jump in for a cooling dip? I don’t think so.

If you knew that fallible human beings were going to drill for oil or gas through your precious groundwater would you feel confident about drinking and washing with that water? Not if you valued your health.

Of course you can’t see what actually happens when corporate persons out for profit pollute your ground water.  But it doesn’t take much imagination to suppose pollution will occur many times, if not most times, when drilling rigs and all their gear and goop go at it.

Such worries must have been going through the minds of Mora County commissioners when they voted 2-1 last week to outlaw extraction of oil and gas, and other natural resources, in their county.

Mora County asserted the right of its people to protect their water and health over the “rights” of big companies to make money from land they don’t have to live on and through water they don’t have to drink.

The 2-1 vote was apparently about strategy, not values. The dissenting commissioner was concerned the ruling would be overturned in the courts.

We learned of this demonstration of grassroots courage from many sources, the best being the Santa Fe New Mexican, in the latest example of the paper’s long history of excellence in environmental reporting and commentary.

Mora, in northeastern New Mexico, is one of the poorest counties in the poorest state of the union. About 25% of its 4,881 residents live below the poverty line. 

It has an inspiring history of fighting back. Insurgents in Mora were outright resisters to the Unites States takeover from Mexico in 1848. They held their ground until the U.S. Army fired artillery rounds into the plazas that made up the town, leveling them to the ground.

The Mora County Cattle War, as it was called in l967, saw area ranchers force the Forest Service to stop impounding cattle straying on to federal land and to resume following age old communitarian practices on the Carson Forest.

Mora’s lost some and won some. I worry that the oil and gas industry, the richest corporate force on earth, will try to do the same to the Mora County Commission as the U.S. Army did long ago, pulling out its big gun lawyers and flattening this latest uprising. The commission wants its day in court and in the legislature to work for an amendment to the New Mexico Constitution giving real people the upper hand against phony corporate persons.

Why should Mora County be perhaps the first county in the nation to go after gigantic corporations armored in federal and state law, and dispensing their transitory jobs while fighting tooth and nail against environmental regulation?

It must have something to do with what we sense about the generosity of the impoverished. People of meager means always give more of what they have to people worse off than they are. They know what it’s like to be poor and hungry. They have the moral power of empathy, something that corporate persons will never have.

If we want to be of help, all of us should pay very close attention to the legal and financial artillery arrayed against Mora County in the coming months and years.  A public arena is the only place for this battle to be waged, not in cloakrooms and penthouse law offices, but before our eyes.




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V.B. Price

V.B. Price is editor and co-founder of New Mexico Mercury. He is the former editor of Century Magazine and New Mexico Magazine, former city editor of the New Mexico Independent, and long-time columnist for the late Albuquerque Tribune. His latest book is The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project. He retired as the editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press in 2010. He has taught in the UNM Honors Program since l986.

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