March 27, 2017

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


Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

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. The same year, the town of Taos enjoyed a 21 percent boost in tax revenue from stays in hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts, and an 8.3 percent jump in gross receipts revenue in the accommodations and food service sector.

To find campsites and boat launches, visit the BLM’s website.

Meanwhile, according to a new report from The Wilderness Society, New Mexico has sold almost 4 million acres of its lands since it became a state in 1912. At that time, New Mexico had more than 12 million acres of state lands.

Lands have been sold to copper and molybdenum mining companies, developers and oil and gas companies.

The report also notes that unlike on many federally-administered lands, like National Parks and National Forests, recreation opportunities are restricted on state lands. Recreational shooting, for example, is prohibited and hiking requires a permit.

Southern NM, oil and labor

Last week, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced the state’s March oil and gas lease sale earned $18,556,402. The office offered 56 tracts covering 16,812.52 acres in Lea, Roosevelt, and Chaves Counties within the Permian and Tatum Basins. Beneficiaries include public schools, the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the New Mexico School for the Deaf, the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute, Rio Grande Improvements, and Water Reservoirs.
According to the office’s press release, the earnings will be distributed in April and public schools will receive $14,252,802.

Successful bidders included OneEnergy Partners Operating, LLC ($2,363,175 for 315.09 acres in Lea County) and Marathon Oil Permian ($3,500,100 for 315.59 acres in Lea County).

As oilfield jobs return, it will be interesting to see who fills those positions. During past booms, immigrants were a valuable part of the labor force. According to a Kevin Robinson-Avila story in the Albuquerque Journal, during the peak of the 2006-07 boom in the Permian Basin, about 60 percent of the labor pool was “Spanish-speaking immigrants, particularly Mexicans.”

From the story:

That influx of foreign-born labor is now deeply ingrained in New Mexico’s oil patch, with immigrants occupying jobs up and down the chain, including top management, [former Lea County commissioner and owner of Fulfer Oil and Cattle Co. Gregg] Fulfer said. And that remains true today, despite the industry bust.

“Even in the down time, immigrants still account for more than half the labor force,” Fulfer said. “Whether it’s up or down, our industry runs short on labor all the time. If immigrants are available and ready to work, they’re hired like everyone else.”

Robinson-Avila also has a story about New Mexico’s new wind farm. Xcel Energy is planning to build two new wind farms in eastern New Mexico and West Texas in the next three years.

The Sagamore Wind Project will be near Portales and require 300 construction workers. Once it’s up and running in 2020, it will generate enough power to supply about 194,000 homes each year and will employ about 20-30 people.

According to the story:

“We’re doing it primarily because it’s the cheapest energy resource we can buy now, even lower than our coal generation,” [Xcel spokesman Wes] Reeves told the Journal. “We can lock in a good price now to predict and know where that price will be for the future.”

Cadaver dogs!

According to a post on the Gila National Forest website, archaeologists put three cadaver dogs to work on an archaeological survey in the forest’s Black Range Ranger District.

German shepherds Bella, Halligan and Axe came from Missouri to New Mexico to see how well the dogs could detect archaeological sites with human remains.

On the website, archaeologist Christopher Adams noted that “Using cadaver dogs will be a useful tool for future archaeological projects here in the southwest.”

Trump budget will decimate rural water loans

According to a story in the Albuquerque Journal, President Trump’s budget proposal would cut nearly $500 million from a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s water and wastewater loan and grant program—a program that New Mexico’s smallest and most economically-vulnerable commonly take advantage of to build up their infrastructure.

Oliver Uyttebrouck’s story points out that since 2012, USDA has provided about $81 million in grants and loans for projects in 17 New Mexico counties. According to his story:

“In New Mexico, something like 85 percent of our water systems serve a population of 500 or less,” said Bill Conner, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Water Association, which represents about 480 largely small water systems.

“I believe that it would be very hard for some of our small water systems to operate – to get funding to replace infrastructure” if Congress enacts the proposed cut, Conner said.

Trump’s budget plan proposes that rural communities instead obtain private-sector financing or seek funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which itself faces a 31 percent funding cut under Trump’s proposed budget.

Ticking clock

In 2015, countries agreed that to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climate change, everyone would need to pitch in and cut their carbon emissions. With the landmark Paris Agreement, countries aimed to keep their carbon budgets to a level that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

In the past few months, the U.S. has waffled on its commitments, but the clock is still ticking.

According to the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, which created a carbon clock tracking how much time is left until the agreement’s carbon budget has been depleted:

In concrete terms, it means that reaching the 2°C target with a high probability would allow us to emit at maximum only about 940 gigatons of CO2 between 2017 and 2100 into the atmosphere. However, at present the world is still emitting 40 gigatons of CO2 every year. This corresponds to 1268 tons per second.

Check out the clock online here.

This month, Science also published a piece laying out how to make up the difference between what scientists say needs to happen to keep warming at or below 2 degrees and what countries have promised they will do. The roadmap looks at how to take advantage of innovation and calibrate for short-term politicking through 2050. It’s online here.

There’s also a new group educating the public and policymakers about climate change and public health—and one of their target states is New Mexico.

According to a story in the MinnPost, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health released a report about how climate change is harming health. From the story:

The consortium hopes to fill in that knowledge gap. In a report issued Wednesday, the group describes what is already known—through evidence-based research—about the health harms inflicted by climate change.

“These harms include heat-related illness, worsening chronic illnesses, injuries and deaths from dangerous weather events, infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, illnesses from contaminated food and water, and mental health problems,” the report says.

At a Washington, D.C., press conference Wednesday, [Dr. Mona] Safarty said the consortium had begun to reach out to certain “priority states where we felt policy makers really needed to get the message out, where the legislators may be less attuned to health consequences.”

Those states include Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia and New Mexico.