In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.

Proponents of early ed measure struggle to secure House votes

Supporters of a popular idea among Democrats — a proposed constitutional amendment that would take between $153 million and $163 million a year in the first three years from the state’s land grant endowment to expand early childhood education — are having a difficult time mustering the votes to get it through the state House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1 has been waiting all week to get a floor vote. Word got out Friday that the resolution once again would not be heard, even though it was the top item on the House calendar. The measure would amend the state constitution to draw less than 1 percent a year from the endowment to pay for early childhood education. The sponsors of the proposal, Democratic Reps.

Santa Fe legislators seek curbs on parcel’s redevelopment

Santa Fe is the hometown of the state’s two most powerful legislators, and they are using their collective might to try to restrict what can be developed on the downtown parcel that’s now home to Garrett’s Desert Inn and Santa Fe Bite restaurant. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth grew up in and around Santa Fe’s Historic District, so they have written Senate Bill 409 to protect it. The measure would shape redevelopment at 311 Old Santa Fe Trail. The New Mexico State Land Office acquired the 2.7 acres in a land swap. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said there is interest from developers across the country in a 60-year lease with the state to bring in retail, residential and commercial tenants.

Martinez wants Congress to repeal methane rule

Gov. Susana Martinez is urging Congress to repeal a federal rule that seeks to stop the waste of methane from oil and gas producers. Martinez sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., outlining her opposition to the rule, which was put in place by the Bureau of Land Management during the Barack Obama administration. Martinez argued that it would mean less royalties to state and federal governments. “Rather than allowing this misguided rule to move forward, I urge you to repeal the rule and work with the Department of Interior to address the infrastructure challenges currently causing venting and flaring events to occur,” Martinez wrote. “Insufficient pipeline capacity and gas processing capacity make it difficult for producers to capture and sell as much of their product as possible.”

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State auditor opens special audit on Jal water issues

State Auditor Tim Keller recently designated the City of Jal for a special audit on the city’s water billing issues. The move comes two months after Keller’s office opened a case into an arrangement where the city in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch gave a local ranch a discount on utility water worth $1.2 million over a 25-month period between 2012 and 2014. NM Political Report, in partnership with the Jal Record, first reported on the city’s water deal with the Beckham Ranch in September. Related: State Auditor to investigate Jal water deal

In a Dec. 2 letter to Jal Mayor Cheryl Chance*, Keller writes the special audit will look at Jal’s “compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and and procedures with respect to water utility billing practices.”

Jal City Manager Bob Gallagher told NM Political Report that he is “extremely pleased” with the state auditor’s decision for the special audit and said he has been cooperating with Keller’s office on the matter for the past two months.

Land Commissioner to pitch expanding drilling to fund early childhood education to ALEC

New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands is slated to speak Friday with a group of conservative-minded state lawmakers in Washington D.C. about his proposal to transfer federal mineral rights on private lands to the state. Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is also planning to meet with members of Congress in order to urge them to approve the transfer, according to spokeswoman Emily Strickler. In an email to NM Political Report, Strickler said Dunn is promoting his Early Childhood Education Land Grant Act to state lawmakers at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) policy summit. Related: BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

“The group Commissioner is presenting to at ALEC would not be voting on this legislation, but may be interested in using the legislation as a model for legislation in their states,” Strickler wrote. “Also, Commissioner will be meeting with New Mexico’s congressional delegation while in D.C. to discuss this legislation because it needs congressional approval.”

ALEC members use model legislation to spread laws throughout states, with the most high-profile example perhaps the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that are in place in several states.

Udall also wants Dakota Access Pipeline moved, denounces violence

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall weighed in on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, joining his fellow U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Martin Heinrich. The incoming vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the president to consider re-routing the pipeline and also said he was “disturbed by the increasingly aggressive and violent tactics that have been used against” protesters. Udall noted that he condemned the use of violence against protesters in a letter to Obama three months ago and said he appreciated Obama temporarily halting the project. Related: Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

“[T]he violence at the protest site has continued, with law enforcement and private security forces using inexcusable means against peaceful demonstrators, including rubber bullets, attack dogs and even water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures,” Udall wrote. “Many of the protesters are from New Mexico Tribes, and one of those seriously injured was a Navajo woman from Arizona who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.”

The Navajo Nation spans across large portions of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as part of Utah.

Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

For the second time this month, a U.S. Senator from New Mexico addressed President Barack Obama regarding the growing contention in Standing Rock, North Dakota over an oil pipeline. This time Sen. Martin Heinrich criticized the Obama administration for allowing federal officials to close down the protesters’ campsite and asked that the federal government deescalate the situation. Related: Heinrich calls on Obama to move Dakota Access Pipeline

“In particular, I question the decision to close the area to demonstrators on December 5, 2016,” Heinrich wrote in a letter to the president Wednesday. “This arbitrary date is certain to escalate an already volatile situation and I would urge you to overturn this decision by the Corps of Engineers.”

Heinrich praised Obama for halting the controversial pipeline project after the senator raised his concerns for the safety of protesters earlier this year, but said he is still worried about the situation getting worse. “The brutality we’ve seen in recent days involving rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons, has increasingly put the health and lives of the demonstrators at real risk,” Heinrich wrote.

Heinrich calls on Obama to move Dakota Access Pipeline

On Thanksgiving, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called on President Barack Obama to reroute the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and condemned the response by police to protests. Native Americans and others have protested pipeline over recent weeks over a fear that it would imperil the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s only water source. The pipeline’s path was already moved once, from near Bismarck. Part of the reason was the risk to the city’s water supply. Update: Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

“Today is Thanksgiving and I cannot help but reflect on our history in these United States and how often it has not lived up to the rosy picture of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal in friendly company that I saw in textbooks as a child,” Heinrich said in a statement.

BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells. The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology. “Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.