With less than a year left before San Juan Generating Station’s scheduled closure, San Juan County officials are concerned that the facility could become an eyesore if it is retired in place rather than immediately demolished. In the past, the plant’s majority owner, Public Service Company of New Mexico, has said retirement in place—which means making the facility safe and fencing it off but not demolishing it—would save customers money. If the owners choose to go that route, it could be decades before the facility is demolished. But an ordinance that the San Juan County Commission is expected to adopt would require demolition of coal-fired power plants upon closure. The commission approved publishing a notice of intent to adopt the ordinance during its Tuesday meeting and a final vote on the measure is scheduled for Nov.
A newly launched initiative seeks to reform wildlife management not only in New Mexico, but across the nation. Wildlife for All is a campaign from the Southwest Environmental Center, which is based in Las Cruces. The advocates behind the effort say the current system of managing wildlife places too much emphasis on hunting and fishing and not enough emphasis on conserving biodiversity. While Wildlife for All emphasizes that it is not anti-hunting, it maintains that wildlife is a public trust for everyone, including people who don’t hunt or fish, and that it should be managed as such. The idea of wildlife management reform is not new.
Conservation advocates say they won a partial victory in a lawsuit regarding the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. A federal district court judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday to produce a draft recovery plan. This plan must be released for public comment within six months and must include site-specific management actions to reduce the number of wolves illegally killed. The plan must be finalized no later than six months after the draft is released. Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and David Parsons, a former Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a roadmap for addressing PFAS, a group of forever chemicals that have contaminated air, water and soil across the United States. “For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a press release announcing the roadmap. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”
Related: NMED secretary says federal regulations are needed for PFAS
PFAS, or per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, are also called forever chemicals because they do not break down under normal environmental conditions. PFAS chemicals are man-made and use of them dates back to the 1940s.
A new method developed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory could reduce the costs of determining if proposed oil and natural gas activity could lead to earthquakes and which direction fractures are likely to occur during hydraulic fracturing. A study published in Nature’s Communications Earth and Environment journal looked at a way to estimate the orientation of stress in the earth’s crust without doing the traditional borehole analysis or looking at past earthquake data. Scientists focused on north-central Oklahoma, which has experienced earthquakes induced by the injection of produced water from the oil and gas operations, as well as north-central New Mexico, which was chosen to compare the Oklahoma results with an area straddling a continental rift around the Colorado Plateau. The lead author on the study is Los Alamos scientist Andrew Delorey, who has spent years studying nonlinear elasticity. In an interview with NM Political Report, Delorey said it is easiest to explain nonlinear elasticity by first explaining linear elasticity.
Supporters of hydrogen power say it can create good-paying jobs while also providing zero-emission energy, but some environmental advocacy groups are concerned about a proposal to create a hydrogen hub in New Mexico. These advocates say the use of fossil fuels to create hydrogen could lead to further emissions from natural gas extraction and could distract from the need to transition to renewable energy sources. About 30 groups sent a letter to New Mexico leaders expressing those concerns. “New Mexico must prioritize comprehensive, durable, and enforceable climate legislation to light the pathway to a thriving, resilient New Mexico that benefits all of New Mexico’s workers and families,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “We don’t need a distraction that involves risky bets of taxpayer resources that serves to further entrench the power of fossil fuel corporations.”
The letter starts by highlighting natural disasters that are worsening as a result of climate change such as heat waves, wildfire and flooding.
Groundwater provides an important source of irrigation for farmers in southern New Mexico, but Texas alleges that New Mexico’s use of groundwater below Elephant Butte reservoir has reduced surface water in the Rio Grande that is available for farmers downstream.
Texas filed a lawsuit in 2013 before the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico has violated the Rio Grande Compact. This week, special master Judge Michael Melloy heard witness testimony and opening arguments during the first week of a virtual trial. Melloy is tasked with compiling a report for the U.S. Supreme Court. The virtual section of the trial will be followed by an in-person section in the spring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March.
Related: Change up: SCOTUS changes special master on Rio Grande water battle
The United States has intervened in the case, arguing that New Mexico has failed to administer the groundwater use and that failure threatens not only the compact but also the 1906 treaty agreement with Mexico. This treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with up to 60,000 acre-feet of water annually.
While companies across the United States are extracting metals like gold, silver and copper, they do not pay royalties like other extractive industries. This is in part because the laws governing hardrock mining date back to 1872. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, wants to reform hardrock mining among other measures to help address the impact that mining can have on communities, including pollution of waterways. “Every year millions of dollars worth of hardrock metals are given away for free,” Heinrich said in a phone interview with NM Political Report following a Senate committee hearing on hardrock mining reform. “And we still have this enormous abandoned mine problem and the toxic metals that are leaching into our water supply.”
He said there is a desperate need to have a revenue stream tied to the industry through a royalty process that can pay for that cleanup.
More than 1,200 water users in Valencia County have been asked to boil their water after E. coli bacteria was discovered in a routine sample. These customers receive their water from Monterey Water Company. The New Mexico Environment Department instructed the utility to issue a boil water advisory on Oct. 2, according to a press release. E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of both humans and other animals and NMED states that the bacteria’s presence in water indicates that it may have been in contact with sewage or animal waste.
Environmental advocates say the ozone precursor pollutant rule developed by the New Mexico Environment Department should be strengthened, while supporters of the oil and natural gas industry say the draft rule is too restrictive and the costs of retrofitting equipment could lead to wells being plugged. Organizations on both sides had the opportunity to present arguments and answer questions during a two-week-long Environmental Improvement Board hearing that ended Friday. Ozone pollution is caused when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen react in the presence of sunlight. This can be seen in the form of smog. Several New Mexico counties are pushing federal National Ambient Air Quality standards for ozone and, if the counties go into non-attainment status, they could lose access to federal funding for infrastructure projects such as roads.