On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.
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.
In recent years, spills of crude oil, natural gas and drilling wastewater have increased even more rapidly than production has grown. Yet the state of New Mexico doesn’t fine or sanction oil and gas companies that pollute water. A bill before the state legislature seeks to change that. If passed, the bill wouldn’t create new rules or regulations. Instead, it would allow the state’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) to impose penalties on polluting companies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its annual survey numbers for Mexican Gray Wolves in the Gila National Forest. As of the end of December, there were 113 wolves living in the recovery area, which includes areas in both New Mexico and Arizona. That’s an increase of 16 from the 2015 survey. In a statement, the agency’s southwest regional director Benjamin Tuggle said the goal is to achieve an annual growth rate of 10 percent. According to the survey, there are a total of 21 packs, with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 in Arizona.
An Eddy County state representative wants to remove three words from the New Mexico Renewable Energy Act. That slight change would classify nuclear energy as a source of renewable energy. Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown, an attorney, introduced HB 406, which is scheduled for the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. The Renewable Energy Act requires public utilities, like PNM and Xcel Energy to provide customers with a certain amount of electricity generated from renewable sources. Currently, renewable sources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, certain hydropower facilities and fuel cells that don’t rely on fossil fuels.
This week, a bill to terminate law enforcement jobs at the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management was referred to a subcommittee in the House Committee on Agriculture. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced the bill. If passed, it would eliminate the Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations unit, which handles everything from public safety and criminal investigations to seizing illegal drugs grown in forests, curtailing smuggling and closing drug labs on public lands. The bill would also eliminate and the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement, which employs more than 250 rangers and special agents. The bill would cease funding for federal law enforcement on federal lands later this year.
Last month, NM Political Report wrote about how a one-sentence provision in state law emboldened an agency to keep one citizen from obtaining public information. In December, retired Interstate Stream Commission Director Norman Gaume asked his former agency for an unlocked copy of an Excel spreadsheet showing how much water is diverted from and used along the Gila River and its tributaries each year. The agency’s questionable actions against Gaume drew the attention of one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senator, and a state representative who introduced a bill to make a slight wording change to the state’s open records law. Over the past few years, Gaume has opposed the state’s plans to build a diversion along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico. With an unlocked copy of the spreadsheet, he could examine the formulas and original data within the spreadsheet.
Should we start off the weekly environmental news wrap up nice and easy? If you haven’t gotten out to the Rio Grande, including Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, to see the sandhill cranes, you might want to do that as soon as possible. The birds are starting their migrations north—and won’t be back to New Mexico until November. Now, for the rest of the news and some newly-released studies. There is a lot happening across New Mexico, especially when it comes to issues like nuclear facilities, state agencies and the Trump administration’s impact on rules and regulations.
Attorneys for the states of New Mexico and Texas learned yesterday that a lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande will head to the U.S. Supreme Court. For New Mexico, a lot is at stake. Though Texas also named Colorado in the suit, its real target is New Mexico. Texas alleges that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater connected to the river, the state is unfairly taking water from the Rio Grande that, under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, should be flowing to Texas. When Texas filed a similar suit against New Mexico about the Pecos River, the case dragged on for almost two decades, and cost both states millions of dollars.
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.