April 10, 2017

Around NM: Science education, nuclear waste, mineral royalties and more

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Andy Lyman

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

As we reported on Friday, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the Next Generation Science Standards Act. In her message, she wrote that “the Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.” The governor also argued the standards don’t belong in statute because it would “make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”

As Matt Grubs wrote in the Santa Fe Reporter, that bill would have required the state to adopt updated, nationally-vetted benchmarks for teaching science in public schools.

As Grubs wrote last week:

Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it’s better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state’s education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place.

In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution. Both are referenced in New Mexico’s current standards, but are much more thoroughly addressed in the Next Gen standards. The new standards are much more hands-on, changing not just what students learn, but how they learn it. Currently, 61 percent of high school juniors fail New Mexico’s standardized proficiency tests.

NM Political Report’s most recent environment stories:

Youth continue legal action against federal government as temperatures continue rising
BLM: NM will get $70 million from oil and gas leases
State gives some response to lead poisoning questions
State remains silent on lead poisoning data
Read all our environment stories at: http://nmpoliticalreport.com/category/environment/

Another rule change

Last week, Rep. Steve Pearce hailed the U.S. Department of the Interior’s plans to repeal the Consolidated Federal Oil & Gas and Federal and Indian Coal Valuation Reform Rule.

According to a 2016 press release from the Interior Department, that reform rule was part of a five-year long rule-making process and an “overall effort to modernize the Nation’s energy regulations.” When companies drill or mine on federal or tribal lands, they must pay royalties into public or tribal coffers.

At that time, the valuation regulations hadn’t been updated since the 1980s. The reform was supposed to simplify how the proceeds from oil, gas and coal sales on federal lands were valued. It was also supposed to ensure American Indian mineral owners received the maximum revenues from coal resources and also provide “certainty and consistency” for companies mining those lands.

In a statement, Pearce called the 2016 rule a “direct attack on the production of energy on federal lands.”

The Republican was also among eight congressmen to write in a letter that “(i)ncreasing royalties will not expand federal revenues, but will lower them by slowing resource production on federal lands.”

Wind jobs

Last week, the State Land Office announced that Avangrid Renewables will start installing wind turbines at El Cabo Wind Farm in Torrance County this month. The company has already hired 300 temporary construction workers and plans to hire another 100. According to the state’s press release, the company expects to hire 17 permanent full-time employees to work at the wind farm.

The 87,000-acre project includes 27,000 acres of State Trust lands and 60,000 acres of private lands. El Cabo will include 142 wind turbines and produce 200 megawatts of energy. The electricity generated will be transmitted across PNM lines to Clines Corners.

The state lease is for 45 years, with a $93,000 annual rental fee. Once the turbines begin generating electricity, the state will also receive annual revenue earnings.

New nuke waste coming to NM?

Holtec International wants to bring more nuclear waste to New Mexico. The site is proposed for about 1,000 acres between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

According to a story in the Carlsbad Current-Argus, the project would be big enough to hold the entire country’s backlog of spent fuel from nuclear power plants and include 10,000 subsurface containers.

The federal government tried to permanently store the nation’s commercial waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the state and its congressional delegation fought the proposal for decades. But New Mexicans appear pleased with the plans. According to the story:

The facility is expected to create 150 permanent jobs and a $2.4 billion capital investment in the area.

The project has received widespread support, with the state’s legislature issuing memorials in support of the project.

Earlier in April, Holtec submitted its application for a license to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The facility would be an “interim storage” facility. But without plans for a permanent storage facility elsewhere, it’s unclear when the waste would be moved from New Mexico.

The Santa Fe New Mexican has been keeping up with Holtec and the federal government’s plans to drill deep boreholes in eastern New Mexico for nuclear waste storage.

According to Sunday’s story:

[Rancher Ed] Hughs is one of the leaders of the opposition in rural Quay County, an area that once appeared to welcome the federal project as an economic boon but now has grown staunchly against it.

“These folks, they face drought, they face uncertain markets, they face fire, they face hail and they are not scared of much,” Hughs said. “But this is completely over the top. If something happens, if there is a spill, our [agriculture] industry is done. And I think our industry would be done if the borehole even got started.”

Read the entire story, which also covers WIPP and New Mexico’s complicated relationship with the nuclear industry.

What have you done for me lately?

Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees want people to know what the agency has done over the past few decades.

The EPA Alumni Association has published “Protecting the Environment: A Half Century of Progress,” a series of essays looking at what was happening in the mid-20th century that spurred Congress to action on bills like the clean water and clean air acts.

Those lessons are important, write the authors, to help Americans today think about how to address the impacts of climate change and issues like biotechnology and nanotechnology.

To read the essays, visit this page.

If you come across stories related to wildlife, water, energy, climate change and other environmental issues in New Mexico, drop me a note at laura@nmpoliticalreport.com or Tweet them and CC me: @LauraPaskus.

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