Around NM: Springtime highs, Water Project Fund, dropping oil prices and more

Happy First Day of Spring! It’s hot out there. Record hot, in fact. On Sunday, the Albuquerque Sunport hit 80 degrees—making it the 3rd earliest 80-degree day for that location’s recorded history. This morning, the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque said those above normal high temperatures will continue in central and eastern New Mexico—and that the winds will return, too.

Climate change part of debate over energy head’s confirmation

Even as temperatures rise in the southwestern United States and across the globe, climate change doesn’t often grab the interest of many New Mexico’s state legislators. But during the Senate’s confirmation of Ken McQueen as secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department the issue came up repeatedly, both in the Senate Rules Committee and later in the day on the Senate floor. Nominated in December by Gov. Susana Martinez, McQueen retired last year as San Juan vice president from WPX Energy. McQueen spent nearly four decades in the oil and gas business and worked taught Petroleum Engineering at the University of Tulsa. Related story: Over objections, New Mexico energy chief confirmed

His former employer, WPX Energy, has the rights to lease about 100,000 acres of federal, state and Navajo allottee lands in the San Juan Basin for oil and gas production and has drilled more than 100 oil wells in recent years along the Highway 550 corridor.

Over objections, New Mexico energy chief confirmed

After his confirmation hearing turned to discussion of climate change and the Four Corners methane hotspot on Wednesday, environmental groups lambasted Mew Mexico’s top oil and gas regulator as echoing politically conservative talking points while one legislator described the conversation as “very troubling.” But despite opposition from conservationists and a small group of Democratic lawmakers, the state Senate voted 32-4 to confirm former oil and gas industry executive Kenley McQueen as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. While McQueen won praise from some lawmakers as having an expert grasp on the sector he is now in charge of policing, environmental groups have likened his appointment to picking a fox to guard a hen house, prompting some of the harshest opposition that any of Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointees have met so far in the current legislative session. Related: Climate change part of debate over energy head’s confirmation

The secretary’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday only seemed to enflame criticism from liberal senators. “What I heard today was very troubling,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said later on the Senate floor.

Warm spring winds whip up more than dust

A dust storm closed parts of Interstate-10 near the border of New Mexico and Arizona Tuesday for the third day in a row. By 11:00 a.m., weather forecasters reported gusts of 50 miles per hour and that a “wall of dust was approaching the Las Cruces area from the west.” At the same time, wind advisories for the lower and middle Rio Grande Valley and the Estancia Valley were upgraded to “High Wind Warning.” That means people should expect sustained winds of 40-50 mph and gusts of up to 60-70 mph. High winds cause damage and raise the danger of wildfire. They also affect air quality, reduce visibility for drivers, aggravate allergies and in some parts of New Mexico, spread the spores that cause Valley Fever. With its playas—dry lake beds—the area near Lordsburg is notorious for dust storms, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kerry Jones.

Around NM: Navajo Generating Station, Gila River plans and climate change in the news

The Navajo Generating Station is on the Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona. But the plant’s closure in 2019, announced last week by Salt River Project, will have implications across the West. The coal-fired power plant is among the region’s largest polluters, contributing to smog at National Parks like the Grand Canyon and emitting 44,000 tons of carbon each day. It also employs nearly 1,000 people, most of whom are from the Navajo Nation or the Hopi Tribe. The Associated Press covered the announcement from SRP and how it might affect local economies and the Kayenta Mine, which is owned by Peabody Energy and has supplied coal to the plant for decades.

Bill to protect government science backed by Udall, Heinrich

New Mexico U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced today they’ve joined 25 of their colleagues to cosponsor a bill that would allow government scientists to share information without political interference. Both senators are Democrats, as are all the co-sponsors of the bill. Passage of the Scientific Integrity Bill would ensure scientists can share information with Congress, the public and the press without suppression, said Udall. The bill would also require federal agencies to develop scientific integrity policies, including whistleblower protections. “Scientists and their research play a key role in public safety—from relaying information about the real and detrimental effects of climate change to the dangers of toxic chemicals in our household items—and the disturbing efforts by the Trump administration to silence the facts and prevent our federal agencies from communicating with the public must be stopped,” Udall said.

Around NM: online oil and gas auction, EPA’s resolution of a civil rights complaint, pecan weevils and more

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctioned off the rights to drill for oil and gas on 843 acres in northwestern New Mexico. The sale of these particular leases, in the Chaco Canyon region, had been postponed due to opposition from environmental and indigenous groups. The leases are in Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties. According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the rights sold for $3 million and at least 15 companies bid during the online auction run by Energy Net, an online oil and gas marketplace. The BLM’s next auction for New Mexico oil and gas leases is planned for July.

Around NM: federal fallout, wolves, methane and more

It’s been a rough few days for people concerned about climate change and the environment. By the time Trump gave his inaugural address, mentions of climate change already disappeared from the White House website. As the New York Times reported, the purge was part of the routine “full digital turnover” of whitehouse.gov. But it did place into “sharp relief some of the starkest differences” between presidents Obama and Trump. On Friday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also issued a freeze on new or pending regulations—which included four U.S. Department of Energy efficiency standards. That same day, after a National Park Service employee retweeted two news reports—about the disappearance of the White House climate pages (among others, like those related to civil rights) and the administration’s smaller inaugural crowd—government Twitter accounts were temporarily shut down.

Albuquerque: Two degrees high, and rising

The numbers from around the globe are in, and it’s official: 2016 was the hottest year on record, again. According to independent analysis from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 was the third year in a row to break temperature records. The New York Times collected AccuWeather data for more than 5,000 cities, including Albuquerque, to illustrate temperature and precipitation changes. Albuquerque’s average temperature last year was 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, while precipitation fell 2.8 inches short of normal. Globally, the average temperature has risen by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s.

Udall questions nominees on climate change, financial conflicts

Sen. Tom Udall questioned two of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees about climate change and the president-elect’s financial conflicts during Senate hearings Wednesday. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is Trump’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Wilbur Ross is the nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. During Haley’s confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, Udall questioned her position on climate change. Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and vowed to withdraw funding for United Nations climate programs. He has also said his administration would withdraw the U.S. from commitments made last year in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Udall asked if Haley thinks the U.S. should “maintain its leadership in the Paris Agreement in order to ensure that countries abide by their climate obligations?”