February 6, 2017

Around NM: Program cuts, solar headlines, crumbling Camel Rock and more

A solar array at Nellis Air Force Base. Wikicommons

Friday, we reported officials with the Village of Santa Clara were breathing a sigh of relief after the state deposited grant money into its bank account.

That deposit occurred about a week after the New Mexico Environment Department said it would no longer accept invoices or reimbursement requests for a grant the village used to build a park.

Santa Clara had received a grant under the state’s Recycling and Illegal Dumping Fund (RAID) program. The total reimbursement from NMED was $231,000, more than a third of the village’s annual budget.

While NMED still hadn’t explained the letter to the press or officials, in a Silver City Daily Press story Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, is quoted saying NMED pulled the grant funding because of cuts in SB 113.

NM Political Report has not confirmed this independently. NMED’s spokeswoman has not explained why the letter had been sent in the first place. And Morales has not returned repeated phone calls.

Some of the cuts delivered by legislators and the governor through SB 113 include:

-$200,000 from the tire recycling program

-$6.5 million from the rural infrastructure revolving loan fund

-$1 million from the New Mexico livestock board fund

-$2.636 million from the state air quality permit fund

-$400,000 from the radiation protection fund

-$150,000 from the storage tank fund

-$383,000 from the hazardous waste emergency fund

-$285,000 from the public water supply system operator and public wastewater facility operator fund

Speaking of NMED, the agency’s former secretary penned an op-ed in the Las Cruces Sun-News warning legislators against jeopardizing oil and gas revenue in New Mexico.

In that piece Ryan Flynn, who left Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration in 2016 to direct the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, wrote that now “is not the time to add additional regulations, further exacerbating the problem and discouraging production at a time when we need it most.”

He continued:

Any proposal that does not improve the business climate for existing and new industry should not become law. New laws and regulations that offer complex and costly rules without clear science-based and cost-effective benefits to water quality, human health and the environment should not move forward.

Get in on the plans

The Santa Fe National Forest is updating its forest plans and its wilderness evaluation maps. And there is still time to be involved.

There are two public meetings in Santa Fe, today and tomorrow, and another at Pecos High School on Thursday.

For more information on the plans and the meetings, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/santafe/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprd3791442 or call a member of the Forest Plan Revision Team at 505-438-5442.

Koch Bros solar scare

On Friday, the Huffington Post ran a story about the Koch Brothers ambushing the solar industry in New Mexico. Surely, its headline grabbed some attention. According to the story, “The Koch Brothers Are Attacking New Mexico Solar. Here’s How Lawmakers Can Fight Back”:

The New Mexico legislation, which is moving through legislative committees in the coming days, is a perfect example of monopolists’ and polluters’ savvy new strategy: pretend to be pro-solar and pro-consumer, then do damage through legislative details.

But the bill that the story highlights has already been withdrawn, and the version of HB 199 that’s moving through the legislature right now is not an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill.

Nonetheless, New Mexico Conservation Voters New Mexico communications director Liliana Castillo said that today, the group decided to oppose the bill and its companion, SB 210, because it would hurt solar installers.

Tipping points

Scientists worldwide are wondering when a 110-mile long rift in an Antarctic ice shelf will crack wide enough to sheer the shelf off into the ocean, creating an iceberg larger than Rhode Island. According to a story in USA Today:

For now, it’s fascinating scientists, gamblers and the public worldwide. Everyone wants to know when part of the Larsen C ice shelf will finally break off, fundamentally changing the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The short answer: It could take days to years. But the iceberg is most likely to break free within the next few months because of the overwhelming weight the 110 miles of already separated ice is placing on the 12 miles that remains connected to the shelf, said Adrian Luckman of Project MIDAS, a British Antarctic research project that’s keeping watch on the ever-growing crack.

Meanwhile, New Mexicans had some excitement last week when a chunk of rock forming the “mouth” of Camel Rock fell off.

As KOB reported:

For those who live around the landmark, many people say they haven’t noticed much of a difference. But will the changes cause tourists traveling on US 84 to keep on moving instead of stopping to take pictures?

Water balance

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, is trying again this year to change the makeup of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

That nine-member commission makes decisions related to everything from water infrastructure and pipelines to the proposed diversion on the Gila River.

Currently, the commissioners are all appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor. They include the Director of the Interstate Stream Commission, the State Engineer and seven appointed members with staggered terms.

If passed, SB 157 would change how the commissioners are chosen.

The commission would include the state engineer and four members appointed by the governor with consent from the senate. Those four members would each represent an irrigation or conservancy district, an acequia or community ditch, an American Indian tribe and a drinking water utility.

The other four members of the commission would be appointed by the legislature, with approval of the senate. Each of those four would represent an irrigation or conservancy district, a New Mexico water resources research institute or civil or environmental engineering faculty member from a New Mexico university, a professional hydrogeologist or engineer and a conservation advocate.

The bill also lays out rules for ensuring one political party, or geographic region of the state, doesn’t dominate the commission.

Wirth introduced a similar bill in 2015. That bill passed the Senate 28-13, but was never referred to any House committees.