Lands around Chaco officially withdrawn from oil and gas leasing

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland officially withdrew lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing on Friday morning. The withdrawal order, which has been years in the making, means that no new oil and gas leasing can occur on federal lands within 10 miles of the park for 20 years. This does not apply to Navajo allotments. 

The withdrawal has been divisive among Native communities. The Navajo Nation withdrew its support for the buffer zone earlier this year citing economic concerns. Many of the allottees who live near Chaco say that leasing their mineral rights is one of the few ways they can make money off their lands and that, even though the withdrawal does not impact their mineral rights, it would make it harder for them to lease their rights.

Community solar project rescoring leads to complaints

Solar developer OneEnergy Development spent two years developing leases with land owners and setting up partnerships in preparation for the state’s community solar program, according to the company’s CEO. 

OneEnergy submitted their proposals to InClime, the contractor hired by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. InClime was tasked with determining which of the proposed projects would be able to participate in the initial program. The Community Solar Act only allows for 200 megawatts of capacity in the initial stage and about 1,700 megawatts of projects were proposed. When the scores were first announced, company CEO Tobin Booth said it appeared that eight of OneEnergy’s projects would be selected. Then InClime delayed announcing selections and chose to rescore the proposals.

NMED secretary: PFAS drinking water standards are a start, but not a silver bullet for addressing the contamination

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney compared the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed drinking water standards for PFAS to chapter one in a novel. The public comment period for the EPA’s proposed maximum contaminant level for PFAS in drinking water closes on May 30, although there have been calls for the EPA to extend the comment period. Kenney said the EPA released a PFAS strategic roadmap in 2021, which he compared to the table of contents in a book. “The first chapter they’re writing is the drinking water MCL,” he said. At the same time, Kenney expressed surprise about how complex the MCL rulemaking has become.

Environmental advocacy groups decry SCOTUS Clean Water Act ruling

Environmental advocacy groups say that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling weakening the Clean Water Act will put waters throughout the country at risk of pollution and degradation. 

The ruling requires a more stringent test to determine if wetlands are protected under the decades-old law. The case, Sackett vs. U.S. EPA, stems from a couple—Mike and Chantell Sackett—who bought land in Idaho to build a house. The Sacketts had begun backfilling the lot with dirt to prepare to build the house when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed them that backfilling violated the Clean Water Act. The couple were ordered to restore the site. 

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that this action violated the couple’s private property rights, but more significantly, the majority opinion struck down the significant nexus test that has been used to determine if wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. 

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants, including rocks and sand, into navigable waters, which are referred to as waters of the United States.

As climate changes, researchers develop a new metric for evaluating water available from snowpack

Throughout the western United States, communities rely on the storage of water in mountain snowpack to feed the rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water and irrigation supplies. But climate change is changing that and the current methods of measuring how much water is stored in the mountain snow may provide an inadequate picture, according to Kathrine Hale, an author on a paper published this week in the journal Nature Communications: Earth & Science. Hale worked on the paper with a team of researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, but she is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont. The team developed a metric known as the Snow Storage Index that she says takes into account factors such as when the snow falls that impact how much moisture the mountains store and for how long. This new metric could help inform water management decisions as well as monitor ecosystem stress, according to the paper.

InClime announces community solar projects

After two delays, InClime announced the projects selected for New Mexico’s community solar program on Monday. InClime is the contractor hired by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to oversee the program. Six projects in the El Paso Electric service area, 10 in the Southwestern Public Service Company service area and 29 in the Public Service Company of New Mexico service area were selected. Each service area also has a waitlist of projects should one of the selected projects fall through. The first deadline the developers face is coming up on June 21.

Colorado River Basin states reach an agreement on cutting water use

The seven Colorado River Basin states have come to a consensus on a plan to address dwindling water supplies. On Monday, the states submitted a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announcing this consensus. In a press release, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said 40 million people, seven states and 30 Tribal nations rely on the Colorado River to provide drinking water and electricity. 

The letter comes after the Lower Basin states—California, Arizona and Nevada—reached an agreement to conserve an additional three million acre feet of water by the end of 2026 and at least half of that will be conserved by the end of 2024. The Bureau of Reclamation has been pushing the states to reach a consensus for nearly a year and has threatened to take unilateral action should the states fail. 

While the Upper Basin states—Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—have not had time to fully evaluate the Lower Basin’s plans, the letter represents an endorsement of the Lower Basin agreement. This is because the Bureau of Reclamation is wrapping up public comments on their proposal for the Colorado River.

Efforts are underway to protect snakes, frogs in the Gila area

When the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy sets up booths and tables to educate people about their work, a noticeable trend appears: the children are excited to hold the snakes but the adults are concerned or afraid. “People aren’t born with a fear of snakes, typically,” ARC Conservation Program Coordinator José Garrido said in an interview with NM Political Report. He said trying to get a 30-year-old to hold a snake is ten times harder than convincing a child to hold one. ARC spokesperson Stephanie Haan-Amato said this fear of reptiles or amphibians can have real-world consequences for species. She said research looking at the Endangered Species Act shows that a smaller percentage of imperiled reptiles and amphibians are listed compared to other types of vertebrate animals.

Federal legislation seeks to update mining law

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is leading efforts to modernize mining laws as the transition away from fossil fuels increases demand for certain metals and minerals. Heinrich introduced the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act on Friday in the Senate while U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, introduced the legislation on the House side. Current mining laws date back to 1872 and have left a slew of unremediated sites across the west, placing watersheds at risk of contamination and people recreating outdoors at risk of collapsing structures. “We cannot go all in on a clean energy future with a 19th century mining policy on the books. This antiquated law has become a driving force behind centuries of legacy mining pollution that is leaking toxic heavy metals and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers all across the West,” Heinrich said in a press release.

SunZia transmission line receives key approval

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the right-of-way for the SunZia transmission line on Thursday. The transmission line will take clean power from New Mexico to utilities in Arizona and California. “The Department of the Interior is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis said in a press release announcing the record of decision. “Through robust engagement with states, cities and Tribes, we are proud of the part we play in the all-of-government efforts to diversify the nation’s renewable energy portfolio while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The BLM’s New Mexico State Director Melanie Barnes called it “an important step in the development of our country’s renewable energy and transmission infrastructure.”

The project includes two 500-kilovolt transmission lines that will span about 520 miles, crossing federal, state and private lands in central New Mexico and central Arizona. In New Mexico, the project will cross through areas of Lincoln, Socorro, Sierra, Luna, Grant, Hidalgo, Valencia, and Torrance counties.