Federal royalty committee meets in NM today

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Royalty Policy Committee meets in Albuquerque today. While it isn’t a household name, the RPC was rechartered by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after the Trump administration made increased production of domestic oil, gas and coal the centerpiece of its energy policy. When companies drill or mine on federal lands, they currently pay 12.5 percent in royalties to the federal government and states. Because New Mexico receives the second-largest amount of federal royalty revenues in the nation, said Pam Eaton, senior energy advisor with The Wilderness Society, the state stands to lose significant income if that changes. “We have a committee that was pulled together by the Trump administration that’s really just focused on making those public lands cheap, easy and fast to drill,” she said, “so that companies can make the biggest buck possible.”

NM groups urge EPA to enforce methane waste rule

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday. The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place. Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.

Navajo nation ‘goes green’ with new solar plant

SANTA FE, N.M. – The Navajo Nation is going green by building its first utility-scale solar farm on tribal property. The facility, to be located on 300 acres near Monument Valley, is expected to generate enough power for 7,700 homes in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah after it is completed in late 2016. Deenise Biscenti, public affairs director for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said building the solar plant is part of a long-term strategy to change the way the tribes deliver power. “For the past several years, NTUA has explored renewable-energy resource possibilities,” she said. “This solar farm is our move into that field, to establish a green economy for the Navajo Nation.”

Decision due on controversial Gila diversion

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups fighting a plan to divert large amounts of water from the Gila River in New Mexico say today is the deadline for the federal government to green light the plan. The project would cut a significant amount of water from the river that normally flows into Arizona. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to announce whether funds will be allocated for the project. It would divert some 14,000-acre feet of water annually, and pump it over the Continental Divide to southern New Mexico. Staci Stevens, communications manager for the Audubon New Mexico, says the environmental impact statement and other studies for the project will have to clear some high hurdles.

Taxpayers group pushes to stop wasting natural gas

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Venting and flaring at oil and natural gas wells on public lands in the Four Corners area costs the public millions in lost royalty revenue, and much more to corporations doing the extraction – not to mention releasing a major climate change contributor into the environment. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group, says the technology exists to stop the practice. Buying advertising in the Santa Fe New Mexican and other publications this week, they’re calling for lawmakers to press the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to pass a rule that ends the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas on federal lands. Don Schreiber owns Devils’s Spring Ranch in the Four Corners area. “In that escape of natural gas, that is just throwing money away for the oil companies,” he says.

Bad roads costing Albuquerque drivers, report finds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Failing roads in Albuquerque can cost drivers up to $669 in extra vehicle repair and maintenance expense each year. That’s according to a report from TRIP, a transportation research group. Carolyn Kelly, associate director of research and communications with TRIP, says the report also shows that 32 percent of urban roadways in Albuquerque are in poor condition. She says tire damage from potholes, glass damage from rocks and extra fuel expense from congestion are major problems with a far-reaching economic impact. “Oftentimes when companies are looking to either expand or relocate,” she says.

50th anniversary report examines Medicaid in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. – A new report shows how many people in New Mexico benefit from Medicaid as the program’s 50th anniversary on July 30 draws near. Judy Solomon, vice president of health policy with the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says Medicaid provides health coverage for 576,100 low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities in the state. She says it’s especially helpful for New Mexico’s youngest residents. “Less than 10 percent of kids are uninsured, and that is because of Medicaid,” says Solomon. “There is no way you would have a percentage like that without the Medicaid program that’s covering almost 350,000 kids.”