Sen. Heinrich backs Green New Deal, citing lack of progress on climate crisis

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich threw his support behind the youth-led Global Climate Strike and announced he’s signed on as a co-sponsor to the Green New Deal, in a video posted to his Facebook page on Friday. “This rising generation of activists understands what we’re up against, and is willing to propose the kind of bold changes that equal the scale of that problem. Unlike previous generations who have delayed and denied climate change, I strongly believe that these young people are going to be the critical catalyst for solving this issue,” Heinrich said. “I stand in solidarity with the students and activists around the world today who are demanding action on climate change, because you are the most powerful tool that we have to make this right.”

Heinrich, who sits on the Senate select committee on the climate crisis, said more needs to be done to address climate change. “I’ve spent decades working to build a renewable energy economy,” he said.

Guv. announces ‘data refinery’ to track methane emissions by satellite

The state is partnering with a New Mexico-based geospatial analytics company to launch a “data refinery” to track methane emissions using satellite data. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the partnership at an energy and sustainability-focused summit held in Santa Fe on Thursday, touting that New Mexico will become the first state to use such data to inform methane regulations. Methane is the primary component of natural gas extracted in New Mexico and is a valuable revenue-generating resource for the state. But methane is also a powerful greenhouse gas, and reeling in methane emissions has become a priority for Lujan Grisham, as she balances the economic benefits of a booming oil and gas sector in the state with her administration’s goals of reducing carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. 

The state hopes to find out how much methane is being released into the atmosphere through the newly-announced partnership with Descartes Labs. The company will use data collected from satellites, drones, planes and ground sensors to detect and track methane emissions in the state.

A win for the state’s last wild river

Environmentalists, business owners and sportsmen cheered after a victory in protecting the state’s last free-flowing river. Grant County Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution last week to support protecting portions of the Gila and San Francisco rivers and tributaries under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 establishes protections for free-flowing waterways in the U.S. The designation protects rivers that offer “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values” by preserving them and prohibiting further development in the area. Rivers or portions of rivers can be designated wild and scenic through legislation, or through the U.S. Department of Interior. 

“A wild and scenic river designation is the highest form of protection for a river,” Joey Keefe, communications coordinator for New Mexico Wild, told NM Political Report. “This proposal would protect various segments of the Gila and San Francisco rivers in their current free-flowing state — the completely undammed, undeveloped parts of the river are what we’re looking at and trying to protect those segments for future generations.”

The resolution was the result of grassroots efforts by the Gila River Wild and Scenic Coalition to protect the Gila River.

EPA rolls back water protections for seasonal rivers and streams

The EPA has repealed a portion of the Clean Water Act that expanded protections for smaller water systems across the U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of the Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James announced the repeal at an event at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters in Washington D.C. Monday. 

The Obama-era 2015 rule defines “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to include isolated waterways and wetlands, as well as seasonal streams and rivers that flow only part of the year. The definition was broadly supported by environmental groups as a recognition of the complexity of water systems across the U.S. but drew criticism from industry and land stakeholders for creating uncertainty around which waters are federally regulated and which are not. 

Communities in New Mexico and across the western half of the U.S. rely on waterways that flow intermittently after rain or snow to support wildlife habitats and drinking water sources. The 2015 rule extended pollution protections to those types of water systems, which often feed into larger rivers, lakes and other water systems. Ninety-three percent of New Mexico’s waterways are “ephemeral,” meaning they do not flow consistently throughout the year. RELATED: Revised Clean Water Rule leaves out most of NM’s waterways

Wheeler described the 2015 rule as an “egregious power grab” and said its repeal is part of a wider policy shift for regulating water at the agency. “Today’s Step 1 action fulfills a key promise of President Trump and sets the stage for Step 2 – a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide,” Wheeler said in a statement.

While state grapples with new methane rules, EPA wants to end some methane emissions limits all together

The EPA’s newly proposed methane regulation revisions drew criticism from oil and gas companies and environmentalists alike and spurred some groups in New Mexico to redouble efforts to pressure state officials adopt more stringent rules for methane emissions in the state. Last week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed updates to federal air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry that would remove limits on methane emissions from production and processing operations and would remove regulations all together for methane emissions coming from transmission and storage sources of oil and gas production. The proposed rule changes will “save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year,” the EPA said, “while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”

“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall described the proposed changes as a “backwards move in face of climate crisis,” in a statement released last week. 

“EPA’s decision today is an affront to New Mexicans and people across this country who have a right to clean air.

Tribes are leaders in wildlife management

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland opened her speech at the recent Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Corridors Summit with a story about passenger pigeons. Once considered the most abundant bird in North America, passenger pigeon migrations were a sight to see. Potawatomi tribal leader Simon Pokagon famously described “an unbroken front millions of pigeons” during a migration in 1850. “Never have my astonishment, wonder, and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven,” he wrote. “And now they’re extinct,” Haaland told audience members at the summit, held last month.

Suit alleges ETA a ‘deregulation law’ for PNM

A group of organizations filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court this week that alleges the Energy Transition Act is a deregulation law for PNM, and are challenging provisions in the law as unconstitutional. The suit from New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based advocacy nonprofit, and six other groups claims the ETA removes some of the authority given to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to regulate the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and its proposed rate increases associated with its fossil fuel assets. PNM is an investor-owned utility that operates as a monopoly in parts of New Mexico. As a utility, the company has an obligation to serve its customers—the ratepayers—in the most efficient manner and at the lowest possible cost. But as a publicly-traded company, PNM also has an obligation to its shareholders to generate profit.

A long road to remediation for hexavalent chromium plume near Los Alamos

In the years between 1956 and 1972, thousands of kilograms of chemical called hexavalent chromium was released into a canyon near Los Alamos. Some of the contaminant filtered through the soils of the area and was consequently converted to trivalent chromium, a far less dangerous iteration of the chemical. But at least 2,000 kg of hexavalent chromium has remained in the environment, moving through the canyonlands that surround Los Alamos for decades. Today, the contamination is settled atop an aquifer in a plume, and the chemical is now present within the first 100 feet of the water table in the area of the plume. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have been working to contain the plume since 2005, while officials decide on how best to clean up the contamination.

State Land Commissioner ‘recommits’ to protecting wildlife

The State Land Office will expand efforts to include wildlife protections in future infrastructure projects. The office made a series of announcements at the recent Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Corridors Summit related to conservation in future State Land Office projects. “I’m here to recommit not only myself, but the state land office, to being a partner in ensuring that wildlife corridors, wildlife crossings, are part of all of our infrastructure plans, our land management plans, our animal management plans,” State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said at the summit. Howard Gross, assistant commissioner for surface resources at the State Land Office, said during a panel discussion at the summit that the agency’s mission is to optimize revenue generated from state trust lands, but the office also has a responsibility to protect “long-term health of those lands for future generations.”

“You might recognize a dichotomy in that mission between revenue generation and conservation. But I prefer to look at it as a yin and yang,” Gross said.

To protect wildlife, state agencies pledge collaboration in wildlife corridors

As the divisions of the United States have grown more complex over the years, lawmakers, regulators and landowners have been busy dividing up land. Railroads, highways, fencing and pipelines now stretch across thousands of miles of landscape; and borders have been established at every opportunity: national borders, state borders, jurisdictional borders and property lines. While these boundaries — both the physical boundaries and the more-or-less imaginary ones — have helped us organize and manage the resources of the land, they have severely impacted the wildlife we share space with. Decades of research has shown wildlife corridors, which refer to the routes animals take when moving across a landscape, are an important part of species survival. But large contiguous plots of land are becoming increasingly rare as development pushes into new areas, and there’s a need to protect those corridors if we want to limit impacts to those species.