Climate provisions part of Senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act

The U.S. Senate passed a $430 billion package aimed at addressing rising inflation rates, making prescription drugs more affordable and combating climate change on Sunday on a party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. Democrats voted for the bill, while Republicans voted in opposition. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, said in a statement on Sunday that the Inflation Reduction Act “will be the most transformative action that Congress has ever taken to tackle the climate crisis.”

The package includes provisions to encourage domestic manufacturing of solar panels and other renewable energy components and to make it easier for people to retrofit their homes to be more energy efficient and to move away from fossil fuels. For example, it includes a new rebate program that is similar to what U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, proposed in his Zero-Emission Home Act. This allows for rebates when people purchase and install electric appliances and equipment for their homes.

San Juan River water administration under a microscope as drought plagues Colorado River basin

As the federal government directs more and more scrutiny on the Colorado River and its tributaries, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer is developing systems to better account for how much water is diverted from the San Juan River and how much is returned in hopes of demonstrating to both federal partners and other states that rely on the Colorado River that New Mexico is meeting its obligations. Shawn Williams, the district manager for the Office of the State Engineer, said there will likely be tighter administration of water in the future. New Mexico’s source of Colorado River water is through the San Juan River, along with its tributaries like the Animas River. These rivers flow through San Juan County, though the water from the San Juan is also used by people in Albuquerque. A system of dams and tunnels known as the San Juan-Chama Project diverts water away from the San Juan River in the Navajo Reservoir area into the Rio Grande on the other side of the continental divide.

New report urges protection of cultural heritage sites like Chaco, Mesa Verde from oil and gas

A new report released this week by Archaeology Southwest and The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks calls for increased protection of cultural resources like Chaco Culture National Historical Park from oil and gas development. “To honor and protect our diverse and shared heritage, America’s national parks and monuments must be preserved and protected to the maximum extent possible. But the presence of oil and gas development on their doorstep is a stark threat to their long-term protection,” the report states. Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, said the report is intended to give President Joe Biden’s administration input about management of sites. The groups chose five locations to focus on.

Cannabis class action suit over insurance moves to federal court

A class action lawsuit challenging health insurance companies’ refusal to cover the costs of medical cannabis has been moved to federal court, for now. 

The lawsuit, filed earlier this year by a group of medical cannabis patients and one cannabis production company, originally asked a state district court judge to order New Mexico healthcare insurance companies to cover the costs of medical cannabis for members. The seven insurance providers in turn refiled the case in federal court, arguing that it is the appropriate venue because the plaintiffs’ claims are inherently tied to federal law. 

In June, six New Mexico medical cannabis patients and cannabis producer Ultra Health filed the class action suit, arguing that the recent enaction of a state law requiring insurance providers to cover the costs of behavioral health services should also include medical cannabis. In turn, last week, lawyers for the insurance companies moved the case to federal court, arguing that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which sets standards for many health insurance plans, “preempts” the plaintiffs’ claims. Lawyers for the insurance providers also justified moving the case to federal court because the lawsuit “necessarily raises disputed and substantial issues of federal law,” specifically whether the federal Controlled Substances Act allows a state to mandate coverage of a substance that is still federally illegal. The final claim justifying the move to federal court argues that the type of class action lawsuit the defendants filed should be in federal court. 

The lawsuit came just months after the enactment of a state law that prohibits cost-sharing for behavioral health services. After signing the enacting legislation, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised the bill in a press release. 

“We can make a real, meaningful difference by reducing the costs for those with insurance who seek help by eliminating the copays for behavioral health services – and I’m so proud and grateful to sign this priority measure,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The state agency tasked with regulating insurance has maintained that the department, which is one of the governor’s cabinets, does not have the authority to force insurance providers to cover cannabis. 

One of the plaintiffs is Albuquerque-based attorney and New Mexico state Sen. Jacob Candelaria.

Farmington electric has not finalized plans for replacing its 47 megawatts from San Juan Generating Station

With the clock ticking down to the San Juan Generating Station closing, the one owner trying to keep it open has not finalized plans for replacing the electricity it receives from the plant. Farmington Electric Utility System receives 47 megawatts of power from the San Juan Generating Station, which is about 20 percent of its generation portfolio. 

“If San Juan doesn’t continue, we would be looking to fill that gap,” FEUS Utility Director Hank Adair said. “Of course, our goal is for it to continue. We’re still fighting hard for everything we can. In our recent cost of service study, we’ve seen that if San Juan does not continue, and we have to go to the market for a while, it could raise our rates between six to 10 percent.