State land commissioner says the office is nearing her goal for renewable energy development

When Stephanie Garcia Richard took the office of State Land Commissioner following the 2018 elections, she had the goal of tripling renewable energy development on state lands. “We are very rapidly closing in on that goal two years later,” Garcia Richard told NM Political Report. There were 453 megawatts of renewable energy when she took office. That has more than doubled in the past couple of years and the State Land Office has inked deals for even more future projects. Angie Poss, a spokesperson for the State Land Office, said 466 megawatts have been added since Garcia Richard took office and, with the upcoming projects, the office will definitely get to the goal of tripling renewable energy on state trust land.

Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

Even though they aren’t actively producing oil or gas, orphaned wells can still spew climate-changing gases into the atmosphere and threaten water sources. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, said plugging these wells is an important step to protecting communities and can help put people back to work. He has teamed up with Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, to introduce the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells Act, also called the REGROW Act, calling for $4.275 billion to clean up orphaned wells on state and private lands as well as $400 million for plugging wells on public and tribal lands. It also includes $32 million for related research, development and implementation. “New Mexico has the worst methane emissions in the country,” Luján told NM Political Report last week. 

NASA scientists have discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin in the northwest portion of the state.

Habitat Stamp Project funding requests range from riparian restoration to protecting elk habitat

Beaver once swam in Big Bear Creek in the Lincoln National Forest and built their dams in the area, which improved the ecosystem. But the semi-aquatic rodents have since abandoned that part of their range amid habitat loss. “We’ve lost a lot of the riparian vegetation, the biomass and species diversification within this area,” said Larry Cordova, a biologist with the Lincoln National Forest. Now the U.S Forest Service is asking for $20,000 of funding from the Habitat Stamp Program to improve the riparian area ecosystem, including building fake beaver dams that play the function the beavers once played in the creek system. This is one of two dozen proposals presented to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Habitat Stamp Program Citizen Advisory Committee this week by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Environmental group reaches settlement with Wildlife Services suit over animal killing policies

A federal agency kills thousands of wild animals annually through contracts aimed at protecting livestock and agriculture interests, but a conservation advocacy group hopes a new legal settlement will reduce the number of animals killed in New Mexico. The settlement comes after WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in October. Wildlife Services is a branch of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

In an April 13 press release announcing the settlement, WildEarth Guardians described it as a major win for New Mexico’s wildlife. 

Related: Lawsuit asks Wildlife Services to update its research on ‘outdated’ wildlife management program

In a statement to NM Political Report, Tanya Espinosa, a public affairs specialist with USDA APHIS, said Wildlife Services New Mexico implemented interim measures following the stipulated settlement agreement that was reached in March. 

Espinosa said these measures will remain in place pending an Environmental Assessment. If the EA results in significant findings, an Environmental Impact Statement will be completed. 

“WS-New Mexico is currently developing a new EA for its Predator Damage Management Activities in New Mexico and will make a draft available for public comment,” Espinosa said. Wildlife services last completed an Environmental Assessment for predator damage management in New Mexico in 2006, and WildEarth Guardians argued that scientific knowledge regarding predators has changed in the past 15 years.

New Mexico is experiencing climate change in the form of drought

Hydrologist Katrina Bennett describes extreme weather events like droughts and floods as the way that human societies experience climate change. These events are immediately noticeable and can have rippling impacts, including economic repercussions. These events will become more frequent and intense amid climate change, according to a paper Bennett published in the journal Water on April 1. Bennett’s co-authors include Carl Talsma and Riccardo Boero, who also work at Los Alamos National Laboratories. The study highlights the need to look at the extreme events together.

Youth activists plan protest as oil and gas industry group presents award to Lujan Grisham (Retracted)

When following up on this story after the supposed award, NM Political Report learned that Youth United for Climate Crisis Action invented the fake award as a “creative hook” according to a spokesperson for the group. The governor’s office was not aware of the non-existent award from the non-existent group. NM Political Report is retracting this story and removing links from social media. The story, as originally written, is available below for transparency. A group of activists is planning a protest for Saturday as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham receives an award from an oil and gas industry group.

Leger Fernandez visits Cerro de la Olla amid push to designate it as a wilderness area

Some places are so special that they deserve the highest level of protection, said U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat who represents northern New Mexico. Cerro de la Olla is one of those places, she said. The dome-shaped caldera already has some protections as part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, however Leger Fernandez is hoping to get it classified as a wilderness area to provide that additional level of protection. She visited Cerro de la Olla for the first time as a congresswoman this week, where she met with stakeholders including members of Taos Pueblo, county leaders and ranchers. After hearing from them, she climbed up the volcano.

Governor signs Environmental Database Act

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Wednesday that will make it easier for the public to access environmental data. HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, will lead to the creation of a map-based database hosted and managed by Natural Heritage New Mexico, which is a division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. The information that will be included in the database is already available through seven New Mexico agencies. However, the database will put all the information in a single user-friendly location. Related: Environmental Database Act aims to increase transparency for publicly-available state data

This includes information about waterways, the location of oil and gas wells and rates of childhood asthma.

Officials say plugging orphaned wells protects public health and environment

At the end of their useful life, every oil and gas well must be plugged to prevent future contamination as the infrastructure ages and to return the site back to its original state. For the most part, this is done by the operator. However, sometimes bankruptcies lead to wells becoming orphaned, meaning there is no operator to plug them. 

Officials say these wells tend to not have had great maintenance and cleaning them up is important to protect both the environment and the health of nearby communities. Democratic Senator Ben Ray Luján says he plans to introduce legislation to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. This comes as President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $16 billion to plug abandoned wells and mines.

Gov. Lujan Grisham signs community solar, trapping ban, Gila Diversion bills

Mayane Barudin, a self-described solar nerd, would like solar energy. However, as a renter, she is unable to place the panels on the roof of the Albuquerque home that she rents. Barudin, who works as the interior west director and tribal liaison for Vote Solar, hopes a new law will pave the way for community solar farms that would allow renters like herself to access clean energy. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Community Solar Act, SB 84, on Monday. Barudin said this makes New Mexico the 21st state with a community solar law on the books—and it comes after years of work.