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.
The New Mexico Environment Department issued notices of violation to two oil and gas producers operating in southeastern New Mexico. Matador Production Company and Mewbourne Oil Company were both cited for violating the state’s Air Quality Control Act. NMED discovered the violations during an inspection conducted in April alongside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The violations included failure to capture emissions from storage vessels, failure to maintain pilot lights on flares, failure to comply with closed vent system requirements and failure to ensure natural gas is captured and not emitted to the atmosphere. The EPA also cited the two companies for violating the federal Clean Air Act.
The New Mexico Environment Department and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham strongly oppose the EPA’s proposal to roll back regulations for methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry. The EPA proposed removing some regulations covering methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from transmission and storage sources and processing and production operations. 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.”
RELATED: While state grapples with new methane rules, EPA wants to end some methane emissions limits all together
NMED Secretary James Kenney submitted comments in opposition to the proposal to the EPA Thursday night. Kenney argued the proposed rule “preempts state law while imposing significant burdens upon state environmental agencies.”
“The proposed revisions will significantly degrade air quality and adversely impact public health throughout the U.S., including the State of New Mexico,” Kenney said.
Kenny’s comments came after the EPA held a hearing on the proposal in Dallas last week. Several residents from New Mexico testified at the hearing, as did a representative of NMED.
The rainbow trout has taken over much of the waterways of the West. Considered an angler’s favorite, the fish species is stocked frequently in waters across New Mexico and other western states to draw recreational fishers and the money the license fees generate. But the rainbow trout is bad news for many of the native populations of cutthroat trout across the western U.S. — including here in New Mexico, where the state and tribes are working to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat, an endangered subspecies of cutthroat trout found in Northern New Mexico. The rainbow trout tend to mate with the native cutthroats, creating a hybrid “cutbow” fish and removing some of the genetic diversity of the native cutthroat populations.
“[New Mexico Department of] Game and Fish is between a rock and a hard place with rainbow trout,” said Doug Eib, a former employee of NMDGF and of the Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department. “They depend on license sales to fund their activities, and people want to catch rainbow trout.
On a sunny, brisk Saturday morning in October, a group of 10 people gathered along the newest portion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, built east of Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico. Construction has halted for the weekend, and the morning air is filled with the sound of birds. “This is one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.,” said Kevin Bixby, the executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center and self-described “border tourism” guide for the group. Behind him, the newly constructed steel wall rose up out of the low brush that makes up the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, which stretches from the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque southward across northern and central Mexico. Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwestern Environmental Center, stands before a section of border wall in southern New Mexico.
Wastewater from a mining site in southwestern Colorado spilled into the Animas River on Wednesday. The EPA alerted New Mexico and Colorado state officials to the spill later that day. The EPA is still trying to determine the extent of the spill, which occurred at the Silver Wing Mine, located north of Silverton, Colorado. The discharges have discolored the river, the EPA said. The Animas River snakes through southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.
Los Alamos has a starring role in a shift to U.S. nuclear policy that’s two presidential terms in the making. Nuclear watchdog groups in the state are concerned about the United States’ evolving nuclear agenda, which will see a sharp increase in plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). LANL recently released its $13 billion expansion proposal to accommodate increased pit production at the site. The expansion is part of a wider push across the country to ramp up the nuclear warhead manufacturing machine, according to Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.
“We’re on the cusp at the moment of awakening the wolf in the domestic dog,” Mello told NM Political Report, adding that nuclear facilities across the country have increased production shifts and doubled staffs. “Everyone is hiring like crazy,” he said.
State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero would like to redefine energy production in New Mexico. Speaking on a panel about community solar, Caballero said she got the idea from the book Energy Democracy, which she uses as a textbook when she teaches. “The basic premise is that we treat energy as commons,” the Albuquerque Democrat said, “and we change how we understand energy production, from consumption and profit being an end, to an energy transition providing services essential to life and quality of living for all community members.”
Roybal Caballero is one of a group of advocates and activists who gathered at the Center for Peace and Justice in Santa Fe on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of community solar and its place in a just transition to clean energy. The event was organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Retake Our Democracy. “That’s an important premise, and one that we need to be grounded in,” she said.
While fresh water supplies in the state are slowly dwindling, oil and gas activity generates millions of gallons of produced water each year. The state is currently deciding how best to regulate the use of treated produced water, while researchers, oil and gas producers and other companies are trying to find new uses for the wastewater. Produced water is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction activities currently going on in two energy-generating sections of the state, the Permian Basin in the southeastern portion of the state, and the San Juan basin in the Four Corners area. The wastewater comes into contact with hydrocarbons and drilling constituents, and is generally considered contaminated. As the state gears up to hold a series of public meetings on recycling produced water throughout October, there are some serious question marks over the feasibility of using treated produced water in applications outside the oil and gas industry.