Dec 7, 2014

By: State Senator Mary Kay Papen and Congressman Steve Pearce

Washington, DC (Dec. 7, 2014) Today, we in the United States face an unprecedented variety and quantity of threats against our safety.  From Chinese cyber aggression, to the possibility of ISIS terror attacks – our nation must defend itself.  In order to do that, our military requires the ability to train and adapt to threats as they emerge and evolve, as well as the ability to develop and test new technology that will assist in strengthening our security. 

There is only one military installation in the world that is able to provide this dual capability for the U.S. – White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). 

WSMR is the nation’s premier development and test facility.  Unlike any other range, WSMR allows the military to conduct live tests of everything from Patriot missiles to laser interceptors. 

This diversity is possible because of WSMR’s size and location. Covering roughly 4,000 square miles, with 100 percent restricted airspace; the Army, Navy, and Air Force have a unique environment to create and engage in virtually any test that is needed.

Under current global conditions – this versatility makes WSMR invaluable to our national security and the protection of our men and women in uniform.  Unfortunately, some appear to believe that corporate profits come before the defense and security of the United States. 

In 2008, the SunZia Corporation began plans to construct a 515 mile long transmission line across New Mexico to Arizona.  Utilizing alternative energy sources, the line will support Phoenix and other large Arizona cities with significant energy assistance. 

To be clear, we support the prospects of alternative energy development in New Mexico, and we do not oppose the construction of the SunZia transmission project.  What is unsupportable is the route.

Currently, the route would directly impact WSMR by cutting through an important section of the installation.  It is utilized for nearly 30 percent of the test and evaluation operations ongoing at WSMR, and this percentage will increase in coming years.  Routing the line through this area will cripple the military’s ability to conduct critical tests, jeopardizing not just the survival of WSMR, but the safety and security of American soldiers and American citizens. 

The SunZia transmission line is projected to cost more than one billion dollars, but construction has not begun. Final environmental impact studies have yet to be completed, and so, alterations to the route can still be made with little difficulty, delay or cost.  Not to mention it would be easier to construct next to existing power lines – like those already along Highway 60.  Yet, for the last 6 years, SunZia has fought to route the transmission line through WSMR. 

We have yet to understand why, and our support remains solidly behind the mission of the Range.

Earlier this fall, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel agreed to mitigation terms that would allow the line to cut across WSMR, with the requirement of three small buried sections. 

From day one, the Department of Defense opposed any effort that would impact the viability and flexibility of WSMR, while the Department of the Interior seemed determined to approve the line regardless of the security and economic implications it has for New Mexico and the nation. 

However, after senior officials at the White House were briefed on SunZia’s project and the conflict that existed, Defense suddenly agreed to approve the transmission line, despite crossing WSMR. 

We struggle to understand how anyone could believe it is more important to prioritize the construction of a transmission line, than to protect the nation’s top test and evaluation site, which is unlike anywhere else in the world.  In the end, it seems as though an unfortunate compromise was made, placing corporate profits over national security.  This is unwise and dangerous.

The Albuquerque Journal, Las Cruces Sun-News, Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and Governor Martinez, have all opposed SunZia compromising WSMR’s mission.  The Range provides nearly $1 billion annually in revenue for New Mexico, and employs roughly 10,000 of our friends, family members and neighbors.  Most importantly, it provides our military with the spring board to conceptualize, develop and test the next generation of defense capabilities to face any threat against the United States head on. 

White Sands Missile Range is fundamental to national defense, and to obstruct its mission is to invite peril.