Looking for lessons along the Colorado River

Over the next week, New Mexico Political Report will be reporting from…not New Mexico. Instead, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Colorado River. The Colorado delivers water to more than 36 million people in seven states and two countries. Its waters carved the Grand Canyon and, far more recently, allowed the growth of Sunbelt cities like Phoenix and Tucson. (No, neither is near the Colorado.

Bill to ease plant closing impact heads to House floor

In a case of strange political bedfellows, a conservative lawmaker from San Juan County and the leader of a Santa Fe environmental group not known for compromising came together Tuesday to back a bill aimed at easing the economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large coal-burning power plants. The House of Representives voted 44-25 to pass Rep. Rod Montoya’s House Bill 325, designed to help a large school district keep most of its tax base if Public Service Company of New Mexico closes the San Juan Generating Station by 2022. To become a reality, the measure would also have to clear the Senate before the Legislature adjourns at noon Thursday. “Are you going to refer to me as an environmentalist activist,” Montoya joked with a reporter Tuesday. Endorsing the bill was Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based non-profit that has fought many PNM rate increases and other proposals before the state Public Regulation Commission.

NM Environment Review: Fireballs, climate studies and forest thinning

In the Santa Fe New Mexican, Ben Neary wrote about plans by the U.S. Forest Service to thin 1,800 acres of forest just outside Santa Fe near Hyde Park:
Santa Fe National Forest officials say they will make a final decision in coming weeks on plans to start thinning out more than 1,800 acres of trees near Hyde Park this summer. The Hyde Park project is the first phase of a larger thinning program intended to reduce fire danger on 107,000 acres across the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in coming years. Bone-dry forest conditions make it imperative to address areas now choked with stunted and diseased trees, Forest Service officials say. If smaller trees are left in place, officials warn, they will likely fuel huge “crown fires” that destroy the larger, healthier trees around them. Planning documents call for leaving most trees larger than 16 inches in diameter standing.

PNM, enviro groups hammer out funding for ‘abandoned’ coal plant

A bill scheduled to come before the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday has some environmental groups and the state’s largest electric utility facing off over financing the retirement of a coal-fired power plant. If passed, the bill would create a bond financing mechanism allowing Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to recover “stranded” costs associated with its planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. The bill would allow the utility to form a subsidiary that could issue low-interest “energy redevelopment bonds” and recover more than $300 million. Senate Bill 47 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney, and Republican Sen. Steven Neville, a real estate appraiser from Aztec. Its counterpart, House Bill 80, is also a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, and Republican Minority Whip Rod Montoya, a miner from Farmington.

EPA’s waters and jobs, plus climate change and Cape Town’s dwindling water supplies

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the “Waters of the United States” applicability date. Last March, President Donald Trump directed the agencies to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act. The rule applies to navigable waterways and their tributaries. Under the rule, a tributary doesn’t need to be a continuously flowing body of water. But it must have flowing water—marked by a bed, bank and high water mark—to warrant protection.

As Trump delivers blow to solar industry nationally, NM tax credit could ‘zero out’ cost increases

This week, the Trump administration announced it was imposing new tariffs on imported solar panels and modules—a move that will hit installation companies and consumers alike. But in the New Mexico State Legislature a trio of Democratic state representatives wants to give solar development in New Mexico a boost. House Bill 87 would give people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. If passed, the bill would authorize the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to pay out up to $5 million in tax credits for the year. The bill is sponsored by Reps.

NM Environment Review: Energy and EPA news plus climate change hits television in NM

As the legislative session kicks off, don’t expect many bills related to the environment. (Though we will have stories on those coming up soon.) This year’s 30-day session focuses on the state budget. Any other issues require that Gov. Susana Martinez place them on the call. But there’s plenty happening around the state when it comes to energy, regulations and climate. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Goose tornadoes, jumping mice and more at Bosque del Apache

Every year, migrating birds blanket fields and hunker down for the winter along the Middle Rio Grande. Even if you’ve never visited Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro, you’ve likely seen photographers’ striking images: flocks of snow geese erupting from the water just as the sun peeks above the horizon or closeups of sandhill cranes with their giant wings spread in mating displays. Typically between November and February, tens of thousands of greater sandhill cranes, snow geese and Ross’s geese overwinter at the refuge. “We provide resting habitat and the food to get them through the winter so when they go up for breeding season they’re in good they’re good physical shape for the next year,” says refuge manager Kevin Cobble, adding that the refuge grows corn, seed and native crops to keep the birds from traveling outside the refuge and feeding on local crops on private land. “We try to manipulate our wetlands to simulate what the Rio Grande used to do,” he says.

In Deep Water: U.S. Supreme Court to decide how states share the drying Rio Grande, and New Mexico could lose big

As severe drought returns to New Mexico, farmers and skiers alike fret over the state’s lack of snow. Meanwhile, on a cold, cloudy Monday morning in Washington, D.C., attorneys for New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and the United States government grappled over the muddy waters of the Rio Grande. In its U.S. Supreme Court case against New Mexico and Colorado, the State of Texas says that by letting farmers in southern New Mexico pump from wells near the Rio Grande, our state has failed to send its legal share of water downstream. The water fight has some New Mexicans gnawing their nails—and not just southern farmers whose water rights could be cut if Texas prevails. See all of NM Political Report’s stories on Texas v. New Mexico to date. Monday’s oral arguments before the court, over whether the feds can intervene under the Rio Grande Compact, drew a large crowd from the Land of Enchantment.

NM’s PRC to decide $150 million coal plant reimbursement

SANTA FE, N.M. – A continuing dispute over rate hikes by Public Service Company of New Mexico is back before the Public Regulation Commission tomorrow. PNM had planned to use a January 1 ratepayer hike to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades at its Four Corners plant until the PRC backed an environmental group’s claim that its financial analysis and risk assessment were flawed. Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the advocacy group New Energy Economy, successfully argued that spending at the generating station would be “imprudent” and consumers should not have to pay investment costs at the coal-fired plant. “You can’t spend that much money and not do a valid financial analysis because ratepayers must be held harmless for the imprudent decisions of utility management,” she says. PNM is asking the commission to adopt an earlier agreement to increase residential customer rates by nearly nine percent over the next two years.