March 9, 2018

NM Environment Review: No-go on solar plus public lands, nuclear waste and more

Andy Lyman

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the budget passed earlier this year by state legislators. But she refused to sign a bill that would have reinstated state tax credits for solar.

That bill reinstated a tax credit that had expired after a decade, one that had spurred the deployment of 220 million BTUs per day of solar heating energy and 40 megawatts of solar electricity. The tax credit would have given people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000.

Previously, Martinez has praised the state’s “all of the above” energy resources, but by declining to sign the solar tax credit bill, she effectively vetoed it, but without having to explain why.

This week, there’s an interesting water case before the Second District Court, over a private company’s plans to drill for groundwater in the Sandia Mountains.

Aquifer Science, a partnership between Campbell Ranch and Vidler Water Company, wants approval from the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer to drill for water in the Sandia Basin. Locals, including those who have seen their well levels decline over the past decade, oppose the project.

The Santa Fe New Mexican ran a story this weekend about the issue:

At stake in the case is a permit that would allow developers of Campbell Ranch, a proposed 3,990-home resort community near Sandia Park, and their corporate partners, to extract about 114 million gallons of well water per year from an aquifer deep beneath the eastern slope of the Sandias.

For [Mark] Moll and some of the development’s other neighbors, who will face down Campbell Ranch in court, the permit would further tax the region’s already dwindling water reserves — thereby putting existing communities in jeopardy.

“We’re just trying to make sure that there isn’t a huge influx of homes that draw out what water there is,” said Kathy McCoy, a former state representative and Sandia Park resident who is active in a grass-roots coalition called Deep Well Protest. “The necessity for water to support 4,000 homes is astronomical.”

On the Gila River, the Deming Headlight has coverage of Monday’s New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity’s meeting:

Water yields for proposed projects were the focus of Monday’s meeting of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity. The quasi-governmental body is charged by the Interstate Streams Commission with diverting up to 14,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Gila and San Francisco Rivers.

Water engineer and former Interstate Stream Commission Director Norm Gaume, a critic of the plan, stated that, “You need to know the yield; it’s crucial.” Yet water yield is only one of many questions that remain – and the body is running out of time to begin the environmental review process.

Read the entire story here.

There was a great deal of excitement over U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announcement that he was postponing lease sales in northwestern New Mexico and Montana. However, the New York Times reported that the potential for oil and gas exploration was key in changing the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. That reporting is based on internal agency documents journalists reviewed, which show that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, R, telling the Interior Department that shrinking the monument’s boundaries would “resolve all known mineral conflicts.”

In December, after President Donald Trump and Zinke announced the new monument boundaries, Zinke criticized those who called the changes into question:

“I’ve seen the press hits,” he said, adding that no lands have been transferred or sold. “This is not about energy. There are no oil and gas assets. There is no mine within Bears Ears Monument, before or after.” He said. “So the argument that somehow, President Trump stole land is nefarious, it is false, it is a lie.”

In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is already moving ahead with management plans for the reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, according to Tay Wiles at High Country News.

At the end of February, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted an application from Holtec International, which has proposed storing spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors in southeastern New Mexico. The company is requesting a 40-year license to store 500 canisters of spent fuel. In the coming months, there will be public meetings, but for now, background information on the company’s plans can be found on the NRC website.

In addition, the New Mexico Environment Department announced a public comment period to modify the permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, which stores transuranic waste from nuclear weapons. The 60-day public comment period ends on April 23, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. For more information on the permit and how to comment, visit here.

Lastly, there’s a new paper out in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association about observed changes in the climate and the streamflow of the Upper Rio Grande. (Thanks to John Fleck for pointing out the paper.) Read it here. And if you missed our story about the Rio Grande on Monday, “Grim forecast for the Rio Grande has water managers, conservationists concerned,” you can read that here.