In early November, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish formally rejoined the federal Mexican Wolf Recovery Program as a lead agency. The department signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a framework for collaboration with Fish and Wildlife on the recovery program for the endangered animal. On November 14, just one week later, a Mexican gray wolf pup was caught and injured in a leghold trap that had been set in the Gila National Forest. A second wolf pup was later spotted \with a piece of another leghold trap still attached to its injured paw.
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Nine months earlier, four other wolves were caught in traps in the same area. One of those wolves died, while another had its leg amputated.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a new interim decision allowing the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, on Thursday. The agency released its revised decision on the controversial devices after retracting the initial interim decision in August. M-44s date back to the 1970s and are used to kill coyotes and other predators that threaten livestock. The spring-loaded device is inserted into the ground, and topped with scented bait to attract carrion-feeding animals. When an animal bites down on the bait, the spring shoots a pellet of powdered sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth.
On a chilly evening in October, Santa Fe-area residents packed into the St. Francis Auditorium for the second of what would be five public meetings held by the New Mexico Environment Department on the state’s plans for produced water. It was only a matter of minutes before attendees began interrupting the presentation with accusations of the state poisoning waterways and calls for a moratorium on fracking in the name of climate change. Residents and environmentalists alike are concerned about the state’s plan to research and eventually regulate the recycling and reuse of treated produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction that contains both naturally-occurring minerals, hydrocarbons and rare earth metals, as well as chemical additives and drilling constituents that are used in hydraulic fracking. Every barrel of oil generates four to seven barrels of produced water, according to Bill Brancard, general counsel of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).
Energy engineer and consultant David Schlissel questioned some of the claims presented by Enchant Energy and consulting firm Sargent & Lundy on the feasibility of retrofitting the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture system technology. PNM, the majority stakeholder in the plant, plans to shutter the facility by 2022 as part of the utility’s wider goal of ending all coal-fired power generation in its portfolio by 2031. That strategy aligns with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Energy Transition Act (ETA) law, which would require 50 percent of the state’s electricity generation to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Enchant Energy has proposed acquiring 95 percent of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to install a carbon capture system that it says would offer a cost-effective, low-emission solution to keep the coal-fired plant open beyond 2022. Schlissel testified his concerns about the proposal before the Public Regulation Commission in response to the recent testimony of PRC staff witness Dhiraj Solomon, acting engineering bureau chief of PRC’s utility division. Solomon argued that a carbon capture system would enable the plant to operate within the emission requirements of the ETA.
Sierra Club filed Schlissel’s testimony with the PRC late last week.
Nelson Cordova’s commanding presence quieted an audience gathered in one of the large ballrooms at Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque. Cordova, who is the director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, was about to begin his presentation on the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement, also known as the Abeyta Settlement, at the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute’s 64th annual Water Conference.
The event, focused on tribal perspectives on water this year, drew a who’s who of water experts, researchers and engineers in the state, as well as an impressive showing of tribal leadership from across New Mexico’s indigenous nations. Water rights settlements were top of mind for many attendees.
Speaking to the crowd, Cordova voiced what has become a common refrain among settlement parties: “Not everybody got what they wanted.”
Congress approved the Taos Indian Water Rights Settlement in 2010, 41 years after adjudication was first filed in 1969. The settlement was one part of a wider push from the state to enshrine tribal water rights into law before appropriating water to other parties. Nelson Cordova, director of the Taos Pueblo Water Administration Department, speaking at the 64th Annual Water Conference, held at Buffalo Thunder.
Ed Mayer, program manager at the private firm that is seeking to build one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities in New Mexico, wants to set the record straight. “You hear sometimes, oh, this is going to be a nuclear waste dump. This isn’t a dump,” Mayer told members of the Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee earlier this month. “This is a highly engineered, safe and secure facility.”
The firm Holtec International, which specializes in spent nuclear fuel storage, has applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which is still moving through the licensing application process established by the NRC for consolidated interim storage, would house up to 120,000 metric tons of high-level waste at capacity — more nuclear waste than currently exists in the country.
U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced legislation this week to support the conservation of wildlife corridors on tribal lands in the United States.
The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019 would require federal entities such as the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to coordinate with indigenous nations on land management and wildlife corridor conservation. The bill is supported by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland, along with seven Democratic U.S. Senators.
The legacy of human activity on the planet has led to severe habitat loss and habitat fragmentation for millions of species. A recent report on biodiversity published by the United Nations found that activities such as farming, logging, fishing, poaching and mining have altered the planet’s ecosystems at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”
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Wildlife corridors are stretches of land that are not fragmented by human-made structures such as roads, fencing, or bridges and where wildlife can move freely. These corridors are becoming increasingly rare in certain areas in the U.S. and around the globe.
A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators last week the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s indigenous communities and people of color. Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.
Oil and gas activity in New Mexico may be exacerbating water stress in the state, according to an analysis by a liberal public policy think tank. The Center for American Progress determined that 387 of 402 leases granted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the state in the last two and a half years are located in areas that are considered by the World Resources Institute to be “extremely high” in water-stress.
Source: Center for American Progress
World Resources Institute released its global Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas earlier this year. The interactive online tool maps water stress at the national and sub-national level for countries around the world. It ranked New Mexico as an area of extreme water stress, on par with areas in the Middle East and North Africa. New Mexico is the most water-stressed state in the U.S., according to the World Resources Institute.
Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member.
“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”
Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session.
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.