Around NM: Wind, oil, public lands, climate and more

Happy Birthday to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Last Saturday, the 242,000-acre monument near Taos turned four. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the monument includes the Rio Grande Gorge, protecting that stretch of the Rio Grande as a Wild and Scenic River, as well as lands that stretch all the way to the Colorado border. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, monuments like this one help the local economy:
Designation of Río Grande del Norte bolstered that economic advance. After the monument’s first year, the Bureau of Land Management’s Taos Field Office reported a 40 percent increase in visitors to the area.

Vulnerable to climate change, New Mexicans understand its risks

Most New Mexicans know climate change is happening and understand it is human-caused. According to recently-released data, New Mexicans are also more likely than people in about half the country to talk not just about the weather, but climate. This week, The New York Times published six maps showing how adult Americans think about climate change and regulations on carbon emissions. The maps were based on data from researchers at Yale University. According to their nationwide survey, 70 percent of Americans think global warming is happening.

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.

Chaco memorial hits at deeper issues

Saturday night, freshman state Rep. Derrick Lente watched one of his first initiatives turn into a showdown on the House floor. Earlier in the session, Lente’s memorial to protect cultural and historical sites near Chaco Canyon received bipartisan support and passed through the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously. Something changed, though. By the time it reached the House floor, the Democrat’s memorial had triggered uncertainty and skepticism from Republicans. That’s because there was an elephant lurking in the room, said Lente, who is from the Pueblo of Sandia.

House passes bill criminalizing false reports on utilities’ water quality

Spurred by a Four Corners-area water company that for months provided phony information to state regulators, the state House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for owners or operators of public water systems to knowingly give false reports to the Environment Department. House Bill 511, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, passed on a 66-0 vote Monday night and now goes to the Senate. There was virtually no discussion about the reason for the bill during a brief floor hearing. Complaints last year from customers of the Animas Valley Water Co. eventually prompted the state to order thousands of households to boil their water.

Bill for oversight of Gila diversion project dies in committee

A bill related to the proposed diversion on the Gila River has effectively died. The Senate Finance Committee tabled the bill Monday night and asked the bill’s supporters and opponents to resolve the issues on their own, without changing the law. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would have required additional oversight of the federal money New Mexico receives to plan and build the diversion. Had the bill passed, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) would have been required to answer specific questions before paying out more money for attorneys, engineers and consultants.

Oil and gas penalty bill passes committee

Monday night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to restore the state Oil Conservation Division’s ability to penalize oil and gas companies that pollute water. If passed by the Legislature, Senate Bill 307 would also increase those penalties, which haven’t been updated since the Oil and Gas Act of 1935. Related story: Bill to bring back oil and gas pollution penalty moves forward

The committee passed the bill by a vote of 6-3, with Republican Sen. Ron Griggs, Alamogordo, joining Democrats in voting to advance the bill. Like when the bill moved through the Senate Conservation Committee earlier in the session, during last night’s meeting, environmental groups stood in support of the bill while energy lobbyists opposed it. This time, however, representatives from the Oil Conservation Division attended the meeting, answering a question raised by a committee member and speaking in support of the bill.

Digging into Zinke’s public lands lead ammo ban reversal

On Ryan Zinke’s first day as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, he overturned an 11th-hour Obama-era directive that would have expanded the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on public lands. Rep. Steve Pearce publicly thanked Zinke on Twitter for his “quick action to scrap a last-minute Obama Administration regulation that banned lead ammo.” The social media message included a shot of Zinke signing the order while flanked by clapping fans, including the National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox, and a picture of lead ammunition. NM Political Report followed up with the Republican representative’s office, asking why the congressman supported the use of lead, a metal known to harm humans and wildlife, on public lands. Related: Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders

“Use of lead ammunition and tackle has occurred since the beginning of our nation and there is no scientific evidence that links the use of lead to decreasing population levels of wildlife,” Press Secretary Keeley Christensen said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, lead based ammunition and tackle is widely used by sportsmen and fishermen.

Around NM: Unspent money, wildfires, Gila update and more

Today, the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor released information about unspent funds in various state accounts. A quick read of the report shows that New Mexico isn’t spending all it has available on environment and water projects. According to the report, New Mexico has $512 million in unspent water-related infrastructure funding. The office points out that despite increasing needs around the state, “water-related infrastructure funds continue to accumulate faster than they can get out the door.”

The state also has $43 million in “stagnant funds” that haven’t been used the last two years according to the State Auditor. Among the largest of those 39 funds?

Ray Powell running for State Land Commissioner

Democrat Ray Powell is announcing his candidacy for New Mexico Commissioner of State Lands. Powell previously served in that position from 1993-2002 and 2011-2014. The State Land Office is responsible for administering 9 million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. Those lands are managed for beneficiaries of the state land trust, which include schools, universities and hospitals. Powell plans to formally announce his candidacy on March 13, at the New Mexico State Legislature’s Environmental Justice Day.