As climate change leads to warmer, drier conditions, some high altitude species found only in small areas of New Mexico may see their habitat vanish and have nowhere to go. This is a concern for an orange, brown and white butterfly found only in a small area of the Sacramento Mountains around the Village of Cloudcroft. This butterfly is known as the Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly. Citing climate change as one of the threats, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition earlier this year asking for the butterfly to be listed as endangered. In a press release, the Center cited the U.S. Forest Service description of the butterfly as the “most endangered butterfly in the United States.”
This butterfly is an example of one of the many animals found only in small areas of New Mexico that could find themselves on the brink of extinction amid the changing climate.
Beyond coal plants, carbon capture and sequestration may help with cement manufacturing and create new industry in New Mexico, according to a presentation at the Legislative Finance Committee on Thursday. Others, however, remain skeptical of the industry’s viability. Wiley Rhodes, co-founder of Escalante H2 Power, said a retrofit of the shuttered Escalante Power Plant could do more than just generate electricity. Escalante Power Plant is currently owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., Escalante H2 Power is planning on purchasing the plant. Rhodes’ company is working to make Escalante Power Plant the first coal-fired power plant to be transformed into a hydrogen facility.
In a few years, new cars being sold in New Mexico may be required to meet more stringent emission requirements, similar to those in place in California. The City of Albuquerque and the New Mexico Environment Department kicked off the rulemaking process to adopt California’s clean car standards with a public meeting Wednesday. New Mexico has the choice of continuing to use the federal standards for vehicle emissions or adopting the more stringent requirements put into place by California. Vehicles are a major source of ozone pollution, which can be seen as smog. Bernalillo County, as well as several other counties in New Mexico, are pushing federal ozone standards and, in a recorded video address, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the clean car standards as “reasonable, common-sense regulations.”
“By adopting clean car standards, we’re helping reach the governor’s target of reducing emissions by 45 percent by the year 2030,” said Claudia Berchert, who is overseeing the rulemaking process for NMED.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-182 in favor of legislation that would regulate PFAS. The PFAS Action Act would require federal regulators to establish national drinking water standards for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances. The legislation would further designate PFAS as hazardous, thus allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites. Additionally, the legislation would lead to at least two types of PFAS being classified as hazardous air pollutants and it would limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals. The PFAS Action Act would also provide $200 million annually to assist water and wastewater utilities.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich described wildlife conservation as a topic that can bring people together—something that he said is highlighted by a bipartisan Senate bill.. “Whether you grew up in New Mexico or you grew up in Missouri, you remember the first fish you ever catch, you remember the butterflies in your backyard,” Heinrich said during a press conference announcing the legislation. He added that these species are not as common as they once were. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which Heinrich is introducing along with Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, would provide $1.3 billion annually in funding to states and $97.5 million to tribes to implement projects identified in the wildlife action plans that will help keep species off of the endangered species list and recover those that are already on the list. The sponsors and proponents described it as the “largest and most significant investment in wildlife and habitat conservation in half a century.”
The projects are guided primarily by the state wildlife action plans and Heinrich said he views this as a way to solve problems that have been identified rather than a tool to research the causes of the decline in biodiversity.
As state Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, listened to discussions about drought in New Mexico during a legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting, she thought about the rural water systems in her district in Rio Arriba County, where she said four utilities have required temporary backup water as infrastructure failed. There are hundreds of small community-owned water systems in the state known as mutual domestic water users associations. Herrera urged state lawmakers to remember that rural water systems may need more support than the urban water supplies. “Most of the clean drinking water in rural communities depends on these volunteer mutual domestic water systems,” Herrera said in an interview with NM Political Report. “And we haven’t really given them the resources to do the job that they need to do.”
She said most of the small, mutual domestic water systems are struggling.
A report indicating that PFAS chemicals have been used in hydraulic fracturing operations in New Mexico “emphasizes how important it is for regulators to know what is in the industrial wastewater,” Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department told NM Political Report in an email. Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report this week that found PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or chemicals that could break down into PFAS have been used in fracking operations in 1,200 wells in half a dozen states, including New Mexico. PFAS chemicals have a broad range of applications and can be found in household objects including non-stick cookware. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health impacts of these “forever chemicals,” which do not break down under normal environmental conditions. “Ongoing research into uses of PFAS and the prevalence of these persistent chemicals in the environment is essential to support strong regulatory responses at the federal and state levels,” Hayden said.
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission plans to open an investigation into a cooling tower collapse that happened in late June at the San Juan Generating Station. “We had a major baseload component of our power system go down and we were in the dark about it,” said Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann, who added that an investigation will create a formal record. This unanimous decision came after Public Service Company of New Mexico, the majority owner and operator of the plant, presented information to the commission during a Wednesday meeting. It was the first time that PNM officials spoke publicly about the incident. Mark Fenton, the executive director of regulatory policy for PNM, said the company was concerned that market prices could increase if it became widely known that the power plant’s unit was not supplying electricity to customers.
Enchant Energy is asking New Mexico lawmakers to introduce legislation that would clarify who owns the rights to the small cavities in geological formations that carbon dioxide can be injected into. These cavities are known as pore space. Enchant Energy is hoping to take ownership of the San Juan Generating Station next year and retrofit it with carbon capture technology. During an interim legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting on Tuesday in Gallup, the company’s CEO Cindy Crane said the carbon dioxide will primarily be sequestered underground, which is a shift from Enchant Energy’s original proposal to sell most of the carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. However, Crane said some of the carbon dioxide will still be sold for enhanced oil recovery.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on regulations that would allow the government to buy the cattle from a dairy farm in Clovis where groundwater was contaminated by PFAS related to training at a nearby Air Force base, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez said during a virtual press conference on Friday. Art Schaap, the owner of Highland Dairy, and Leger Fernandez spoke about the challenges the dairy has faced since learning of the contamination. Schaap has been paying to try to keep the sick cattle alive and, when they do die, he has been burying the corpses on his farm, which requires a permit. He said the USDA buying the cows will allow for a humane solution for the animals, which are currently suffering as he does what he can to keep them alive. The meat cannot be sold even for dog food, he said, and the bodies need to be incinerated to prevent their contaminated flesh from polluting the water.