NM Environment Review: ‘political connections and tax breaks’ + news from around NM

Holtec International was in the news last month when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied requests from some groups to hold an additional hearing over the company’s license to build an interim storage site in southeastern New Mexico to hold nuclear waste from commercial power plants. The Camden, N.J.-based company is also hoping the NRC will allow it to buy a closed nuclear power plant in the Garden State so “it can decommission it and gain control over an almost $1 billion decommissioning fund,” according to a May 8 story from the Associated Press.   

ProPublica and WNYC have also been looking into the company’s activities. In a story published today, Nancy Solomon and Jeff Pillets report that the company “gave a false answer about being prohibited from working with a federal agency in sworn statements made to win $260 million in taxpayer assistance for a new plant in Camden.”

Also, according to the story:

Holtec’s new factory in Camden is part of a resurgence for the poverty-stricken city pushed by South Jersey Democratic boss George E. Norcross III, who is an unpaid member of Holtec’s board.Norcross’ brother Philip is managing partner at the law firm that represented the company in its EDA application, Parker McCay.Sheehan worked closely with Philip Norcross on the Holtec matter, according to the emails obtained by WNYC and ProPublica. The law firm’s work on behalf of several Camden projects is now under scrutiny.

Irrigation district, state issue head’s up on high waters

If you’re out and about in the Middle Rio Grande’s bosque right now, there are some things you should know, as runoff continues ripping through the watershed. This morning, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission notified local governments and the public that high flows on the Rio Grande and the Chama River are expected to last through June. “Most of the bosque will be flooded during this time, and water will be against the levees,” the two agencies wrote in a joint press release. The irrigation district actively monitors its levees, especially older “spoil bank” levees and works with other state and federal agencies to address any seepage or erosion. MRGCD also closed public access to levee roads, drains and the bosque between the southern boundary of the Pueblo of Isleta and Reinken Road in Belen, where construction crews are working on levees.

NM Environment Review: Watching water, PFAS investigation + the militarization of climate change

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• Writing for Searchlight New Mexico, April Reese took a look at health concerns from expanded drilling in the northwestern part of the state. • MyHighPlains.com investigates PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base.

Slowing the waters

Earlier this spring, or perhaps during a summer monsoon storm, you’ve probably seen floodwaters ripping down the North Diversion Channel in Albuquerque. That’s the huge concrete channel that runs alongside Interstate 40 and then turns north toward the Pueblo of Sandia. It’s probably the most visible sign of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, or AMAFCA. Other than the tumbleweed snowman, of course. “That’s kind of the embarrassing thing, when you say ‘I’m the AMAFCA guy,’ and they’re saying ‘Who is AMAFCA?’” says Jerry Lovato, AMAFCA’s executive engineer.

NM Environment Review: What do the Rio Grande, Mike Pompeo & student climate activists have in common?

What do they all have in common? Well, they’re smashed into a really full NM Environment Review. So grab a snack and strap on your reading glasses. There is a ton of environmental news this week. Usually, only email subscribers get to read the entire review, but we’re feeling generous this week.

Feds release Copper Flat Mine analysis

Outside the town of Hillsboro, N.M., remains of the Copper Flat Mine are visible down a graded gravel road off Highway 152. A white pickup truck moves along in the distance. And there are a couple of buildings and a small electric line. The mine operated for just a few months before closing in July 1982. But a new company hopes to reopen it on 2,190 acres of federal and private land, and put to use water rights it says date back decades.

‘We need to get adults to stop Tweeting and start acting’

Friday afternoon, Albuquerque middle and high school students took over a corner of the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Field—and then a busy intersection nearby—to demand action on climate change. Alyssa Ruiz from Sandia High School told the crowd that while the United States plans to spend more than a billion dollars building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2020 cuts spending on renewable energy. “When will our future be considered a national emergency?” she asked. Katie Butler, a 17-year-old student from La Cueva High School, was among the co-organizers of the School Strike for Climate Action.

NM Environment Review: Climate change ‘fingerprints’ in the 20th century + news around the state

This week we have a story about a new study in Nature that shows the “fingerprints” of climate change on 20th century drying. Next week, we’ll look at what some local governments in New Mexico are doing to prepare people for the continued impacts of warming. • There are two other recent studies worth checking out, including one in Nature about the risks of hydroclimate regime shifts in the western United States and another in Earth’s Future, published by the American Geological Union, about adaptation to water shortages caused by population growth and climate change. • Rebecca Moss with the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the lack of progress on safety concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory. • The Carlsbad Current Argus’s Adrien Hedden reports on New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s executive order to create a “buffer zone” around Chaco Canyon. The order enacts a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on 72,776 acres of state trust lands in the area. • Writing for High Country News, Nick Bowlin covers a judge’s ruling that reinstates the valuation rule, which the Trump administration repealed. We wrote about those changes in 2017, after the first time a judge ruled that the U.S. broke the law when “updating” how royalties are calculated on federal and tribal lands.

New study shows the ‘fingerprints’ of climate change on 20th century drying

Most New Mexicans understand that climate change is already happening and that its impacts will continue into the future. Now, a new study published in Nature reveals signs of human-caused climate change in the past, too. Relying upon computer models and long-term global observations, the peer-reviewed study shows the “fingerprint” of drought due to warming from greenhouse gas emissions in the early twentieth century. The researchers identified three distinct periods within their climate models: 1981 to present, 1950 to 1975 and 1900 to 1949. In that initial time period, during the first half of the twentieth century, “a signal of greenhouse gas-forced change is robustly detectable,” they write.

Rio Grande roars to life with runoff

This time last year, the riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Socorro was sandy, the edges of its channel strewn with desiccated fish. Even through Albuquerque, the state’s largest river was flowing at just about 400 cubic feet per second, exposing long sandbars and running just inches deep. This year, the Middle Rio Grande is booming, nearly ten times higher than it was last April—and it’s still rising. Running bank-to-bank, the river’s waters are lapping up over low spots along the bank, nourishing trees and grasses, replenishing groundwater and creating much-needed habitat for young fish and other creatures. This year’s high flows through the Middle Rio Grande come thanks to a mix of natural conditions, like snowpack, and also manipulation of the river’s flows from dams, diversions and interstate water-sharing agreements.