Advocacy group: Federal agency violated Endangered Species Act

The Center for Biological Diversity says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has violated the Endangered Species Act when it comes to protecting the lesser prairie chicken. The service published a proposed rule in June 2021 to list two distinct population segments of the lesser prairie chicken. 

The Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to finalize the proposed rule in a timely manner. In a court filing made Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity stated that it intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service if the rule is not finalized in the next 60 days. The proposed rule would list the lesser prairie chicken living in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, northwest Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle as threatened and the population living in west Texas and eastern New Mexico would be listed as endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity says that the rule should have been finalized in June of this year under Endangered Species Act requirements.

NM Environment Review: Three ways the Inflation Reduction Act could benefit fossil fuels

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A lot of news following the Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has focused on provisions to help address climate change, like making it easier for people to purchase electric vehicles. You can read my coverage on the topic here. However, the package is not a death toll for the fossil fuel industry.

NM regulators deny request to delay implementation of community solar program pending court appeal

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission denied Southwestern Public Service Company’s request to delay implementing the community solar program while the state Supreme Court weighs an appeal. SPS appealed the PRC’s final ruling in the community solar case in July, which some community solar proponents see as an attempt to stall. In its appeal, SPS argued that the rule does not adequately protect customers. Community solar allows people to receive electricity from small arrays. This is intended to benefit people who cannot afford solar panels for their homes or who rent or live in an apartment where they are not authorized to install solar.

Monsoon flows temporarily prop up New Mexico waters

Monsoon flows have prevented some of the water shortages officials were planning for this year, but they won’t be enough to curb the declining reservoirs in the Colorado River basin or significantly reduce New Mexico’s water debt to Texas in the Rio Grande basin. Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, the director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, presented the water conditions to the ISC on Friday. “It’s been very nice to get some of the rains that have been occurring in the past few weeks,” he said. “And the northwest part of New Mexico has been a beneficiary of a good number of those flows. It has propped up the available water for a number of people who otherwise would have been out.”

But even with that additional precipitation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that Navajo Reservoir, which is located on the San Juan River and is part of the Colorado River’s watershed, could dip below critical levels next year.

Climate provisions part of Senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act

The U.S. Senate passed a $430 billion package aimed at addressing rising inflation rates, making prescription drugs more affordable and combating climate change on Sunday on a party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. Democrats voted for the bill, while Republicans voted in opposition. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, said in a statement on Sunday that the Inflation Reduction Act “will be the most transformative action that Congress has ever taken to tackle the climate crisis.”

The package includes provisions to encourage domestic manufacturing of solar panels and other renewable energy components and to make it easier for people to retrofit their homes to be more energy efficient and to move away from fossil fuels. For example, it includes a new rebate program that is similar to what U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, proposed in his Zero-Emission Home Act. This allows for rebates when people purchase and install electric appliances and equipment for their homes.

San Juan River water administration under a microscope as drought plagues Colorado River basin

As the federal government directs more and more scrutiny on the Colorado River and its tributaries, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer is developing systems to better account for how much water is diverted from the San Juan River and how much is returned in hopes of demonstrating to both federal partners and other states that rely on the Colorado River that New Mexico is meeting its obligations. Shawn Williams, the district manager for the Office of the State Engineer, said there will likely be tighter administration of water in the future. New Mexico’s source of Colorado River water is through the San Juan River, along with its tributaries like the Animas River. These rivers flow through San Juan County, though the water from the San Juan is also used by people in Albuquerque. A system of dams and tunnels known as the San Juan-Chama Project diverts water away from the San Juan River in the Navajo Reservoir area into the Rio Grande on the other side of the continental divide.

New report urges protection of cultural heritage sites like Chaco, Mesa Verde from oil and gas

A new report released this week by Archaeology Southwest and The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks calls for increased protection of cultural resources like Chaco Culture National Historical Park from oil and gas development. “To honor and protect our diverse and shared heritage, America’s national parks and monuments must be preserved and protected to the maximum extent possible. But the presence of oil and gas development on their doorstep is a stark threat to their long-term protection,” the report states. Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, said the report is intended to give President Joe Biden’s administration input about management of sites. The groups chose five locations to focus on.

Farmington electric has not finalized plans for replacing its 47 megawatts from San Juan Generating Station

With the clock ticking down to the San Juan Generating Station closing, the one owner trying to keep it open has not finalized plans for replacing the electricity it receives from the plant. Farmington Electric Utility System receives 47 megawatts of power from the San Juan Generating Station, which is about 20 percent of its generation portfolio. 

“If San Juan doesn’t continue, we would be looking to fill that gap,” FEUS Utility Director Hank Adair said. “Of course, our goal is for it to continue. We’re still fighting hard for everything we can. In our recent cost of service study, we’ve seen that if San Juan does not continue, and we have to go to the market for a while, it could raise our rates between six to 10 percent.

Wildfire, drought resiliency efforts pass U.S. House of Representatives

A package of about 50 bills to address wildfires, drought and climate change passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday on a 218-199 vote and now heads to the U.S. Senate. 

Among the provisions in the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act include increasing pay for wildland firefighters, assisting people and businesses harmed by the Hermits Peak Fire, making it easier for tribes to access federal funding for water infrastructure, addressing the drying of the Rio Grande and sharing water data in order to inform policies and decisions. While the total amount the package will cost has not been calculated, it does include large spending items like $500 million for the Colorado River to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from declining to critically low water levels and $1.6 billion for firefighter pay. The package is not an appropriations bill. Instead, it is an authorization bill. During debate on Friday, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Colorado, said that if this package is not passed wildland firefighters will see a decrease in pay because the funding that increased their pay that was authorized in last year’s infrastructure package was only temporary.

LANL team looks at how wildfire soot absorbs sunlight, contributes to climate change

As wildfires char land in the western United States, they are not only destroying property and threatening water supplies. They’re also producing black carbon, or soot, which contributes to climate change. Scientists have known for a while that black carbon, or soot, from wildfires absorbs sunlight and heats the atmosphere. But to what degree black carbon absorbs sunlight has been unknown. This is in part because black carbon does not occur alone and other aerosols that linger around it can change how much sunlight is absorbed.