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Ex-astronaut out as New Mexico Energy czar

February 11, 2011 |  4:14 pm

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Former astronaut and state legislator Harrison Schmitt has withdrawn his nomination to become New Mexico's head of the department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the latest setback as the state's new Republican governor tries to reverse her Democratic predecessor's environmental regulations.

Gov. Susana Martinez was handed her first setback late last month, when the state Supreme Court ruled that her attempts to reverse carbon-emission mandates set by a panel appointed by the previous governor, Bill Richardson, were illegal. Martinez also fired all the members of the Environmental Improvement Board that had written the rules.

Martinez had tapped Schmitt, a Harvard-educated geologist and skeptic of global warming who has compared the environmental movement to communism, to run the Energy department. He would have been the point man on loosening environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry imposed by Richardson that the industry contends have caused a sharp drop-off in exploration -- and jobs -- in New Mexico.

But Schmitt would not consent to a mandated background check, and withdrew Thursday afternoon.

"Sen. Schmitt was willing to allow a private investigator access to his personal
information, but he was not willing to waive that investigator’s liability for any improper
actions or use of that information," Martinez said in a statement. "While one can understand Senator Schmitt’s concerns, complying with the Legislature’s request is necessary to restore public confidence in state government. That’s why I am requiring all of my cabinet secretary designees to comply
with that request and this has led to Sen. Schmitt withdrawing his nomination."

Martinez promised, however, that she "will work swiftly to find a qualified replacement to lead New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department."

RELATED:

New Mexico's environmental U-turn

 -- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: Astronaut Eugene Cernan walking on the moon in 1972, in a photo taken by Harrison Schmitt during the Appollo 17 mission. Schmitt recently withdrew nomination to become New Mexico's head of the department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Photo: NASA / Reuters

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