EPA moves forward with sodium cyanide bomb rule

The Environmental Protection Agency released a new interim decision allowing the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, on Thursday. The agency released its revised decision on the controversial devices after retracting the initial interim decision in August. M-44s date back to the 1970s and are used to kill coyotes and other predators that threaten livestock. The spring-loaded device is inserted into the ground, and topped with scented bait to attract carrion-feeding animals. When an animal bites down on the bait, the spring shoots a pellet of powdered sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth.

This Giving Tuesday, support local, non-profit journalism

I helped start NM Political Report five years ago. My first day was December 1, 2014. 

We knew that New Mexico needed an outlet to cover hugely important stories that just weren’t being covered by newspapers or TV stations around the state. In the years since we began, we’ve grown and become an important part of the state’s news landscape and we’re still covering stories no one else will. Five years ago, we decided that we would be a non-profit and not chase ad revenue or fill your browser with pop-ups. In that time, we’ve never placed an ad on our site.

Critics: San Juan Generating Station carbon capture proposal ‘overly optimistic’

Energy engineer and consultant David Schlissel questioned some of the claims presented by Enchant Energy and consulting firm Sargent & Lundy on the feasibility of retrofitting the San Juan Generating Station with carbon capture system technology. PNM, the majority stakeholder in the plant, plans to shutter the facility by 2022 as part of the utility’s wider goal of ending all coal-fired power generation in its portfolio by 2031. That strategy aligns with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Energy Transition Act (ETA) law, which would require 50 percent of the state’s electricity generation to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. 

Enchant Energy has proposed acquiring 95 percent of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to install a carbon capture system that it says would offer a cost-effective, low-emission solution to keep the coal-fired plant open beyond 2022. Schlissel testified his concerns about the proposal before the Public Regulation Commission in response to the recent testimony of PRC staff witness Dhiraj Solomon, acting engineering bureau chief of PRC’s utility division. Solomon argued that a carbon capture system would enable the plant to operate within the emission requirements of the ETA.  

Sierra Club filed Schlissel’s testimony with the PRC late last week.

Members of Congress pressure White House to fire Stephen Miller

Two of New Mexico’s U.S. Representatives signed onto a letter calling on President Donald Trump to remove White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller from the administration in light of emails revealed by the Southern Policy Law Center in recent weeks. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland signed the letter along with over 100 other members of Congress, all Democrats. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, took the lead on writing the letter. The emails, provided to the SPLC by Katie McHugh, a former Breitbart reporter who has since renounced her far-right political views, show Miller shared links from far-right, white nationalist websites, suggested Breitbart aggregate a story from the fringe website American Renaissance and expressed anger at removal of the Confederate flag after a shooting by a white supremacist.

Elisa Martinez jumps into Senate race

A prominent anti-abortion activist filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Elisa Martinez, who founded the New Mexico Alliance for Life and is the group’s executive director, is the third Republican to run for the open U.S. Senate seat after filing her statement of candidacy with the FEC. Only one Democrat is currently running for the position. She announced her candidacy in Albuquerque shortly after. If elected, the member of the Navajo Nation would be the first Native American woman U.S. Senator nationwide and the first Latina U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

State Auditor: Secret payouts were ‘about abuse of power’

In a press conference Monday, New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón announced his office’s findings regarding multiple secret payouts approved by former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Colón said he was “disappointed” and “disgusted” with the way the Martinez administration handled 18 confidential legal settlements totalling $5 million in taxpayer money. The payouts were in response to a lawsuit filed against Martinez and her former chief of police, alleging workplace harrasment and discrimination.   

“This is about abuse of power, a lack of transparency, and particularly as it relates to political appointees by our former governor,” Colón said. 

The Martinez administration finalized the settlements in question just before she left office and approved by a cabinet secretary she appointed. News stories about the settlement highlighted not only a mysterious audio recording that reportedly contained a conversation between Martinez and her husband, but also an unusually long confidentiality period. 

But state law still allows settlements like these to remain confidential for 180 days. Colón said he’d like to see a change in that law. 

“I look forward to standing at the Legislature and explaining to them if we’re going to restore people’s trust in government, we have to change the confidentiality agreement, period,” Colón said.    

Colón is not the first official to call for a revamp of the state’s confidentiality law for legal settlements.

Report: 95% of oil and gas leases on public lands in NM are in ‘extremely high’ water stress areas

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.

Welcome to our reproductive justice reporter, Susan Dunlap

We are happy to announce that we expanded our reporting team with a reproductive justice reporter: Susan Dunlap. Dunlap will lead our coverage of reproductive justice, a very important but undercovered story in New Mexico, which has been described in recent years as a central area in the debate over abortion rights and access. She will also write a twice-a-month newsletter on reproductive justice issues. Dunlap comes to NM Political Report from Montana, where she previously covered the environment at The Montana Standard. Prior to that, she worked at The Silver City Sun-News as a news reporter and now she’s returning to New Mexico.

NMED issues first round of violation notices for methane emissions in Permian Basin

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.

Members of NM House delegation vote to back impeachment investigation

House Democrats, including all members of New Mexico’s delegation, voted Thursday to approve rules related to the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. The 232-196 vote was nearly on party lines, with ex-Republican, now independent Justin Amash voting along with the Democratic majority and two Democrats voting with Republicans against the rules. The vote outlined rules for the next phase of the impeachment proceedings, which has so far consisted of closed-door meetings with witnesses. At the same time, the House has been pushing for documents from Trump and testimony from those close to Trump. Republicans have criticized the process, saying it is not transparent.