NM Environment Review: ‘political connections and tax breaks’ + news from around NM

Holtec International was in the news last month when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied requests from some groups to hold an additional hearing over the company’s license to build an interim storage site in southeastern New Mexico to hold nuclear waste from commercial power plants. The Camden, N.J.-based company is also hoping the NRC will allow it to buy a closed nuclear power plant in the Garden State so “it can decommission it and gain control over an almost $1 billion decommissioning fund,” according to a May 8 story from the Associated Press.   

ProPublica and WNYC have also been looking into the company’s activities. In a story published today, Nancy Solomon and Jeff Pillets report that the company “gave a false answer about being prohibited from working with a federal agency in sworn statements made to win $260 million in taxpayer assistance for a new plant in Camden.”

Also, according to the story:

Holtec’s new factory in Camden is part of a resurgence for the poverty-stricken city pushed by South Jersey Democratic boss George E. Norcross III, who is an unpaid member of Holtec’s board.Norcross’ brother Philip is managing partner at the law firm that represented the company in its EDA application, Parker McCay.Sheehan worked closely with Philip Norcross on the Holtec matter, according to the emails obtained by WNYC and ProPublica. The law firm’s work on behalf of several Camden projects is now under scrutiny.

NM Environment Review: Watching water, PFAS investigation + the militarization of climate change

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• Writing for Searchlight New Mexico, April Reese took a look at health concerns from expanded drilling in the northwestern part of the state. • MyHighPlains.com investigates PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base.

Slowing the waters

Earlier this spring, or perhaps during a summer monsoon storm, you’ve probably seen floodwaters ripping down the North Diversion Channel in Albuquerque. That’s the huge concrete channel that runs alongside Interstate 40 and then turns north toward the Pueblo of Sandia. It’s probably the most visible sign of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, or AMAFCA. Other than the tumbleweed snowman, of course. “That’s kind of the embarrassing thing, when you say ‘I’m the AMAFCA guy,’ and they’re saying ‘Who is AMAFCA?’” says Jerry Lovato, AMAFCA’s executive engineer.

NM Environment Review: What do the Rio Grande, Mike Pompeo & student climate activists have in common?

What do they all have in common? Well, they’re smashed into a really full NM Environment Review. So grab a snack and strap on your reading glasses. There is a ton of environmental news this week. Usually, only email subscribers get to read the entire review, but we’re feeling generous this week.

NM Environment Review: Climate change ‘fingerprints’ in the 20th century + news around the state

This week we have a story about a new study in Nature that shows the “fingerprints” of climate change on 20th century drying. Next week, we’ll look at what some local governments in New Mexico are doing to prepare people for the continued impacts of warming. • There are two other recent studies worth checking out, including one in Nature about the risks of hydroclimate regime shifts in the western United States and another in Earth’s Future, published by the American Geological Union, about adaptation to water shortages caused by population growth and climate change. • Rebecca Moss with the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the lack of progress on safety concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory. • The Carlsbad Current Argus’s Adrien Hedden reports on New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s executive order to create a “buffer zone” around Chaco Canyon. The order enacts a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on 72,776 acres of state trust lands in the area. • Writing for High Country News, Nick Bowlin covers a judge’s ruling that reinstates the valuation rule, which the Trump administration repealed. We wrote about those changes in 2017, after the first time a judge ruled that the U.S. broke the law when “updating” how royalties are calculated on federal and tribal lands.

Rio Grande roars to life with runoff

This time last year, the riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Socorro was sandy, the edges of its channel strewn with desiccated fish. Even through Albuquerque, the state’s largest river was flowing at just about 400 cubic feet per second, exposing long sandbars and running just inches deep. This year, the Middle Rio Grande is booming, nearly ten times higher than it was last April—and it’s still rising. Running bank-to-bank, the river’s waters are lapping up over low spots along the bank, nourishing trees and grasses, replenishing groundwater and creating much-needed habitat for young fish and other creatures. This year’s high flows through the Middle Rio Grande come thanks to a mix of natural conditions, like snowpack, and also manipulation of the river’s flows from dams, diversions and interstate water-sharing agreements.

NM Environment Review: Energy transitions, plastic bag ban and more

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. We love when you read the NM Environment Review on our webpage. But wouldn’t you rather see all the news a day earlier, and have it delivered straight to your inbox? To subscribe to the weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

There’s a kerfuffle between Facebook, PNM, state regulators and state officials, over who has to pay for about half the cost of a transmission line to the social media giant’s new data center in Los Lunas.The Albuquerque Journal’s Kevin Robinson-Avila covered last week’s unanimous decision by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission requiring PNM to bill Facebook for half the cost of the new line, estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. From the story:

PRC members, who voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the order, contend that PNM cannot bill ratepayers for the transmission project because the line will not benefit retail customers, only Facebook and wholesale electric operators who need the transmission capacity to supply renewable energy to other markets.

NM Environment Review: Field hearings, nuke news & more

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. It’s great to read some of that news here, right? But it’s even better to see all the news in your inbox on Thursday morning. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• The Albuquerque Journal’s Dan Boyd covered the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources field hearing in New Mexico this week, focused on oil and gas development and the protection of areas around Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

As pressure over Gila River diversion grows, NMCAP Entity digs in

SILVER CITY, N.M.—On Monday morning, the organization responsible for planning and building a diversion on the Gila River convened a special meeting to discuss a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In that letter, the federal agency reiterated concerns over the project’s schedule. During the special meeting, New
Mexico Central Arizona Project (CAP) Entity board members placed blame for the
delays squarely on the shoulders of Reclamation itself, along with the
contractor hired to conduct environmental studies, environmental groups and the
administration of former-Gov. Bill Richardson. NM Political Report obtained a copy of the letter, which is from Reclamation’s Phoenix office area manager, Leslie Meyers. In it, Meyers follows up on a March 15 conference call between Reclamation and the CAP Entity and asks if the group plans to continue spending money on the environmental impact statement (EIS).

States set plans for declining Colorado River flows

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president. The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.