Q&A with NM’s incoming energy secretary

Last week, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham started announcing appointments to top spots in state government. Among the positions she announced was her choice for secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), Sarah Cottrell Propst. Most recently, Propst worked as executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a nonprofit trade association of renewable energy companies in six western states, including New Mexico. During the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, Propst served as his energy and environment advisor, and then as deputy secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). She came to New Mexico after earning a master’s degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Oil leases bring jobs, strains to southeast NM

LOVINGTON—The 61-mile drive on US 82 from Artesia to this southeast New Mexico town crosses the heart of the Permian Basin oil field’s extension into the state. Pump rigs bob like great iron dinosaurs come to life, and the smell of petroleum fills the air. Flare pipes burn off natural gas and methane like fire-breathing dragons. It’s the scent of economic opportunity for some, the stench of impending danger to others. Industry experts and environmentalists agree on one thing: the September 2018 sale of nearly $1 billion in federal leases has set off one of the greatest oil booms in American history and has overwhelmed everything from the region’s highway to its housing supply.

NM Environment Review: sun-dimming and news-cutting

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:

• At the Santa Fe Reporter, Elizabeth Miller provides an update on Navajo farmers who are still seeking compensation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. • At KNAU-FM, Melissa Sevigny spoke with Northern Arizona University forester Nikki Cooley, a member of the Navajo Nation, about the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the impacts of climate change on tribes.

Revised Clean Water Rule leaves out most of NM’s waterways

Rachel Conn was in a state wetlands meeting Tuesday when she heard the news: The Trump administration had released its revised Clean Water Rule. For Conn, who has been working on issues related to the rule for more than 15 years, it was another twist in a legal and administrative saga that could leave most of New Mexico’s streams and wetlands without clean water protections. Under the new rule issued Tuesday, almost 60 percent of the waterways and wetlands nationwide would no longer be protected under the Clean Water Act. The new rule says streams that flow only in response to snowmelt or rainfall—“ephemeral” streams—would not be protected. It also questions removing protections from “intermittent” streams, or those that have a baseflow from groundwater recharge, but may not run above-ground throughout the entire year.

NM Environment Review: Cannon AFB, double drilling & wolf news

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:

• This week the New Mexico Environment Department issued a Notice of Violation against Cannon Air Force Base over water supplies contaminated with toxic chemicals from the base.Then, this morning we learned that Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luján met with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson (also, a former New Mexico representative) to discuss the contamination. (As we’d previously reported, Luján first reached out to Wilson back in mid-October…) According to a joint statement from Udall, Heinrich and Luján, “As we discussed with Secretary Wilson, the Air Force must do more to address this serious issue with the urgency it demands.

Wrangling the Gila’s deadline

Fourteen years after Congress authorized New Mexico to trade 14,000 acre feet of water with a downstream user in Arizona—and four years after a state commission voted to build a diversion on the Gila River—there’s little to show for the project, other than continued confusion and about $17 million in spent money. “The process is going to end at some point,” said Norman Gaume, an opponent of the project and a former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). “It’s a question of how much more money will they waste?”

At an ISC meeting on Thursday, the state approved an additional $110,000 for the engineering firm Stantec, as well as an amendment that would allow the quasi-governmental organization in charge of the project to someday spend money slated for the diversion on other water projects. But, noted Gaume, each of the 15 members of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity will need their governing boards to approve it, too. In practical terms, he said, the change means little: the joint powers agreement says the state can only spend money on the diversion.

Lujan Grisham names transition team for environment, energy and water

Shortly after Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected governor, she started assembling her transition teams for various state agencies. In November, Lujan Grisham announced that Sarah Cottrell Propst and Toby Velasquez will head the Natural Resources Committee, which reviews the agencies that oversee water, energy and environment issues. Velasquez is deputy director of New Mexico State Parks. Cottrell Propst is executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance and served as the energy and environmental policy advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson from 2006 to 2010. Over the weekend, Lujan Grisham announced transition teams for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department; the Environment Department; the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.

New Mexico: Air Force is violating state water law at Cannon AFB

The state of New Mexico says the U.S. Air Force needs to immediately develop a plan to protect dairies from chemicals at Cannon Air Force Base. The New Mexico Environment Department announced today that Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is violating the state’s Water Quality Act and related ground and surface water regulations. The state agency issued a Notice of Violation, which requires the Air Force to create a plan to protect local dairies from contamination in the short-term and also evaluate the possibility of installing systems to treat contaminated water supplies. If the military fails to comply, New Mexico can issue civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for each violation. Chemicals from fire fighting training activities have been found in the groundwater below Cannon, and in groundwater wells off-base.

Drought persists over Four Corners, rivers & reservoirs low across the SW

The Four Corners is at the epicenter of drought in the continental United States, even as conditions in other parts of the Southwest improve. “The Four Corners is getting further and further behind in precipitation,” said Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, during a briefing Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System. “That’s had a huge impact on local water supplies, particularly local municipal water supplies in the Four Corners.”

He noted, “Almost all the reservoirs through the intermountain West are below normal for where they should be this year.”

Two of the worst-hit systems, he said, are the Rio Grande and the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. But the Chama, Jemez, San Francisco and Gila rivers in New Mexico are also lower than normal for this time of year. In southern New Mexico, Elephant Butte Reservoir on the Rio Grande has bumped up a bit from earlier this fall—but is still only at about six percent capacity.

Federal climate report shows how climate change will impact U.S. economy, infrastructure and more

Climate change is here. It’s human-caused. And it’s going to deliver a blow to American prosperity. Already hard-hit by drought, wildfires and declining water supplies, the southwestern United States will continue to face those challenges—and new ones. That’s the message from a federal report released over the holiday weekend about climate change and its impact on the U.S. economy and infrastructure.