By Mary Alice Murphy
Congressman Steve Pearce was in town Saturday to be keynote speaker at the Republican Party of Grant County Lincoln Day Dinner held that evening.
The Beat caught up with him mid-afternoon.
To a question about the problems at several of the Veterans Administration hospitals, Pearce said that to take pressure off the V.A. system, veterans should be allowed to visit local doctors, saving the veterans time and alleviating the backlogs at V.A. hospitals.
"I have a bill to do just that," Pearce said. "While Eric Shinseki was a decorated veteran, he did not have the expertise required for the position. We need a business manager running the V.A. We need to hold them accountable for productivity. We need measurements on how functional the system is. Accountability sessions, which I have held with the veterans here, are valuable, because when the directors have to deal with veterans one-on-one, it's different. If veterans were allowed to see local doctors, they would have a choice of treatment."
He noted that between World War I and World War II, in 1930, the VA system "had to be created" to consolidate government activities affecting war veterans.
Pearce said the technology that is available today to provide telemedicine to veterans should be a piece of the V.A. "We should be accelerating the use of technology for the benefit of veterans' treatment."
To a question about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl having been released from captivity in Afghanistan, where he has been since 2009, Pearce noted that it was good news for the soldier and his family, but "we had to give up five high-level Taliban members, who were being held at Guantanamo Bay."
He also talked about the SunZia transmission line across the White Sands Missile Range. "Although they have agreed to bury five miles of line, it is still compromising the mission, because it limits future missions. Obama's decision allows an Arizona corporation to put at risk our mission and New Mexico jobs." He said it would have been easy at little cost, compared to the overall $1.2 billion project, to move the line outside the WSMR land.
"The whole thing doesn't make sense," Pearce said. He compared it to the Maryland Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where the mission has been shut down by the construction of wind turbines right next to the site.
As for the recent presidential designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument, Pearce said it shows the president's contempt for the legislative process. He said the sheriff of Doña Ana County has predicted the portion along the border will become a new corridor for the drug cartels and human traffickers, similar to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, where visitors are warned that they might encounter armed illegals crossing through the area. Those exiting Mexico through the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument will not encounter any border patrol presence until about Truth or Consequences. Border Patrol and law enforcement will not be allowed to patrol within the about half a million acres of national monument.
Pearce also addressed the recent leakage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. He said the estimates for the reopening of the plant are 18 months to two years. "They used industrial strength, basically, kitty litter in the barrels to prevent leakage of the radioactive material. They changed to a 'green' formulation, which hadn't been tested. The chemical reaction of the new 'kitty litter' blew the barrels up. There was no risk to people, but radiation has been deposited on the walls, which will have to be scraped to get rid of the radioactive material. The problem is that no one knows how many containers have the new formulation. Although the Department of Energy was not very transparent in the beginning, it was convinced that it would be best to be very transparent. And now they are letting the public know."
The U.S. Forest Service is another agency, with which Pearce has had his battles. "There was a forest service person in the room during every discussion on the recent Signal Fire. " The agency uses the virtual incident provisioning system (VIPR) to provide services to those fighting the fire. "They used to buy stuff locally, but not they are cutting out the locals. For instance, for the portable toilets, they brought them in from the Northwest, because they said they were cheaper. When you add in the transportation and fuel they are not cheaper. The Forest Service is taking our constitutional rights away by not allowing the thinning of forests and the harvesting of stimber products."
"These are just some of the things that are blowing up right now," Pearce said. "Every day there's another one."