The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board kicked off a hearing about the ozone precursor pollutants rule on Monday with opening statements from the New Mexico Environment Department, environmental advocacy groups and industry groups. The hearing is anticipated to take two weeks and public comments are being accepted at multiple times each day during the process. Additionally, recordings of the hearing will be posted on YouTube. The EIB will not vote on the rule until after the parties have filed post-hearing briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing examiner will also file her report prior to the EIB voting on the measure.
The Pueblo people have been farming along the Rio Grande since time immemorial, but funding is needed for the infrastructure to keep this practice going, according to U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, who worked to get $200 million included in the reconciliation package for that purpose. The Albuquerque Democrat said that the reconciliation package and the infrastructure package are opportunities for Congress to fund major projects that will help people for decades to come. “In Congress, we are fighting for what will likely be one of the largest investments in our communities in generations and we need for the public and our communities to make sure that they get over the finish line,” Stansbury said. There are $280 million of identified needs for irrigation infrastructure for 18 Pueblos in the Rio Grande Basin. There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, but Zuni Pueblo, which is located in the Colorado River watershed, is not included.
When Kayley Shoup, a community organizer with the Carlsbad-based group Citizens Caring for the Future, read over an environmental assessment for new oil wells and infrastructure near Loving, she noticed that the Bureau of Land Management chose not to analyze the social cost of carbon. The BLM states in the environmental assessment that evaluating the social cost of carbon was not required under the National Environmental Policy Act and could provide inaccurate information because a full cost-benefit analysis was not conducted. A social cost of carbon analysis looks at how the emissions from projects can impact human health and the environment. Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, described it as an estimate that federal agencies use to inform their decision making about the consequences of a project. He said it helps the federal agencies evaluate when the emissions from a project will create problems, when these emissions might occur and how much work would be needed to reduce the emissions from the project.
With just days left before a public hearing of the ozone precursor pollutants rule, changes are still being made to the proposal that the New Mexico Environment Department plans to present to the board. The Environmental Improvement Board’s public hearing begins at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Among the changes has been a back and forth regarding inspections for wells that only have the potential to emit small amounts of pollutants. The ozone precursor pollutant rule is intended to address emissions of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas infrastructure.
The Eunice Gas Plant will be shutting down as part of a settlement between the plant’s owner, DCP Operating Company and the New Mexico Environment Department. NMED alleges DCP illegally emitted almost 3.8 million tons of pollutants from May 2017 through June 2019 at various facilities including the Eunice Gas Plant, where 131 excess emissions events occurred between May 1, 2017 and Aug. 16, 2018. According to an NMED press release, the Eunice Gas Plant was the highest source of emissions. In an emailed statement, DCP said the Eunice plant is “an older vintage facility” that includes the company’s last sulfur recovery unit in New Mexico.
When the transition away from fossil fuels occurs, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández told NM Political Report it is important not to “leave the communities that powered America’s growth behind.”
Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a bill, known as the Just Transition for Energy Communities Act, last week that would provide $4.5 billion in grants for states through 2031 and $500 million for tribes to implement plans for economic development. These grants will only be available to states and tribes that receive federal mineral revenue. Leger Fernández said she hopes the funding will be enough to begin the process of diversification. The grants, she explained, could provide “that extra investment sometimes it takes to get businesses going.”
When states and tribes apply for the grant funding, Leger Fernández said the expectation will be that the projects occur in the communities that will be impacted by the loss of fossil fuel extraction and will be most impacted by the transition. Projects that support fossil fuel development would not be eligible, nor would communities be able to use the funds for lobbying.
The funds will be available through 2031 and Leger Fernández said the states and tribes will not be limited to a single application for funding.
While community solar interconnection applications cannot fully be processed until the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission adopts rules next spring, the three investor-owned utilities are accepting interconnection applications from developers hoping to build a community solar array following a complaint from the Renewable Energy Industries Association. While these applications can still be submitted, the developers will not necessarily have any advantage by submitting their application early. Community solar projects are small arrays that provide electricity to subscribers, many of whom are unable to install rooftop solar. That includes renters, people who live in apartments and low-income households. In June, the PRC ordered the investor-owned utilities to provide notice to the developers, including posting on their websites, that stated the rules are not complete and the applications cannot be processed at this time.
As outdoor recreation becomes more common in New Mexico, the intersection of stream access and private property rights could become more contentious, according to those on both sides of the debate. Both sides agree that the public has a constitutional right to float waters in New Mexico, even when these rivers cross through private property. But they disagree on whether people have the constitutional right to wade through a streambed on private property or to fish in the stream where it crosses private property. Lesli Allison, a Santa Fe resident and executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, told NM Political Report that the central issue is about property rights. She compared it to whether the public has the right to enter a house and get a drink of water from the kitchen sink.
Allison said, unless the waterway was used for commerce at statehood, the bed and the banks belong to private landowners when the stream or river crosses private property.
In late August, San Juan Watershed Group Coordinator Alyssa Richmond reached out across the San Juan River using a long pole as it flowed through the Fruitland area and scooped up water. This water was transferred into a bottle that was capped to be sent to a lab in Florida where it will be analyzed to see how much bacteria like E. coli is coming from human waste. Human waste can lead to high levels of E. coli in rivers and the section of the San Juan River where the watershed group collected samples is listed as impaired for the bacteria. That means if people were to ingest the raw water it could make them sick. E. coli is one of the top three causes of water impairment in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Environment Department’s 2020-2022 integrated report, and agencies throughout the state are working to address the bacteria contamination.
E. coli in the water can come from numerous sources, including leaking septic tanks, livestock, wildlife and pets.
Efforts are underway on both the San Juan River in northwest New Mexico and the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to test how much E. coli is coming from human waste.
For centuries, acequias have provided water to farmers along the Rio Chama near Abiquiu, but now some stretches are drying up and the community is facing curtailment. With climate change leading to less water in the area—especially in terms of spring runoff—the acequia members are looking to make every drop count. “They’re not making any more water,” said Tim Seaman with the Rio Chama Acequia Association, while speaking with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, as they stood looking out over the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Leger Fernández visited acequias along the Rio Chama as part of her Agua Es Vida tour on Tuesday. The tour was an opportunity for the congresswoman to see first hand how climate change is impacting water users in New Mexico.