NM Supreme Court denies request to remand PNM/Avangrid merger case

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by utility giant Avangrid, the Public Service Company of New Mexico and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to remand the merger case back to the PRC. The case stems from the PRC’s decision in 2021 to reject a proposed merger stipulation, which led to the utilities appealing the order to the state Supreme Court. In January, new commissioners were appointed to the PRC, replacing the former elected officials. The PRC change came after voters approved a constitutional amendment. 

After the new commissioners took office, Avangrid approached the PRC about asking the court to remand the case for the new commission to consider. These discussions led to accusations of ex parte communications and violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, though the PRC maintains that it acted within the law. 

Related: PRC defends discussions, decision to request the NM Supreme Court send utility merger case back commission

In addition to denying that request, the state Supreme Court set a hearing for 10:30 a.m. Sept.

New study looks at the health costs, impacts of oil and gas pollution

A new report released this week found that pollution from oil and gas costs billions in health damages annually and contributes to early deaths as well as childhood asthma. The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research: Health, looked at data from 2016,  before New Mexico saw surging levels of extraction. Corresponding author Jonathan Buonocore, an assistant professor at Boston University, said that the impacts are likely more severe now due to the increased production. In 2016, the pollution from oil and gas worsened asthma in more than 410,000 instances and led to more than 2,000 new cases of childhood asthma and 7,500 excess deaths, according to the study. The pollution caused $77 billion of health-related damages in 2016.

Environmental activists say not enough is being done to protect from pollution, including oil spills

Environmental advocates told members of the Oil Conservation Commission that state regulators are not adequately enforcing rules designed to protect New Mexicans from pollution. The commission heard a presentation on the Oil Conservation Division’s enforcement actions  taken prior to the public comments on Thursday. The advocacy group Youth United for Climate Crisis Action requested the presentation. YUCCA sent questions to the OCD that the members hoped would be answered. Brandon Powell, the Oil Conservation Division’s deputy director, said there is some misunderstanding about what the OCD does.

Lawsuit says New Mexico has failed to protect the environment, communities from oil and gas

Paul and Mary Ann Atencio sometimes hear a loud boom. This boom, they have been told, occurs when an 18-inch high pressure pipeline that runs down the road by their house is cleaned out. They aren’t told when this will occur and, when it does, they say that they can hear and smell the gaseous fumes being released. The Atencios live in a part of eastern Navajo Nation where there’s a checkerboard of land and mineral ownership. 

They have joined other Navajo community members as well as the Pueblo Action Alliance, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians in suing the state. The plaintiffs say that New Mexico has failed in its constitutional duty to protect the environment and frontline communities from the impacts of oil and gas.

NRC issues a license for Holtec to store nuclear waste in New Mexico, state officials respond

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued Holtec International a license on Tuesday that will allow the company to construct and operate a facility in southeast New Mexico that will temporarily store nuclear waste from power plants across the country. The federal agency issued the license despite backlash from the state, including the passage of a new law that attempted to block the facility by requiring a federal permanent repository to be in operation before nuclear waste can be stored in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the law that attempts to block the project. In a statement, Steinborn said the NRC’s decision to issue the license illustrates why the new law is so important. “It’s time that our voice be heard and honored, and that this project be shut down,” he said.

FEMA announces funding for Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire recovery

Communities impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire will receive more than $18 million in federal assistance to help rebuild damaged infrastructure and reimburse expenses from wildfire response. “The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire destroyed individual homes and businesses, and also the foundational infrastructure we collectively rely on,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a press release. “To get through, New Mexicans pulled together and gave shelter and support to their neighbors. These federal funds will help us rebuild our electrical infrastructure and repay those who gave shelter when it was needed most.”

The Mora-San Miguel Electric Co-Op will receive about $17.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair damage to the electric infrastructure. Additionally, FEMA is providing the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with nearly $1.5 million to reimburse the agency for mutual aid responses, including  shelter operations, equipment, and staff to support people and pets that were evacuated because of the wildfire.

EMNRD announces new leadership positions in the Oil Conservation Division

Dylan Fuge, who currently serves as general counsel for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department will be stepping into the director role for the Oil Conservation Division starting Saturday. He has been serving as acting OCD director since January while also serving as general counsel. 

As general counsel, he has advised the department’s secretary and divisions in matters related to natural resources and regulatory issues. 

He will continue to serve as general counsel until that position is filled. Fuge previously worked at T-Mobile in permitting efforts and advocacy support for cell site development efforts. Prior to that, he worked as counselor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and as Attorney Advisor in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor. His time in the DOI provided him with experience working with oil and gas development and oversight as well as renewable energy project development, land use planning and management of public land.

PRC delays community solar project selection

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and its contractor, InClime, postponed the announcements of the selected and waitlisted community solar projects due to a complaint filed by one of the applicants. Selected projects were initially supposed to be announced on Tuesday. The complaint by Lightstar Renewables and its subsidiary NM Solar 4000 is based on the scoring of the applications in which Lightstar alleged that it should have ranked higher but alleges that InClime did not accept its permitting plans that were stamped by a licensed engineer because the stamped plan’s date was after the closure for applications to the community solar program. The company states that it had submitted plans that were signed by a licensed engineer and was told that they needed to be stamped instead of signed. Lightstar maintains that the Community Solar rules state that the plans should be signed.

PRC asks NM congressional delegation to support water legislation

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission sent letters to members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation requesting that they support efforts to ensure low-income households can access safe and affordable drinking water. The letters specifically requested that they support continued funding for the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Parity Act. The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, or LIHWAP, is a temporary COVID-era initiative that helps families pay their water and wastewater bills, but the program is set to end on June 30. The PRC has asked the state’s congressional delegation to support efforts to fund the program through Fiscal Year 2024. 

According to a PRC press release, since the program began in 2021, LIHWAP has helped more than 430,000 households. In New Mexico alone, residents received $9 million in fiscal year 2021.

A sign on State Highway 220 protesting a concrete batch plant coming to Alto.

The concrete plant next door: How lack of zoning has led to a fight over land use in Alto

For Mark Severance and his wife, a retirement home in the mountain community of Alto north of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico was more than just a dream come true. It was a place to heal. The couple moved to Alto in 2018 after Severance’s wife, Barbara, finished breast cancer treatment, including a mastectomy and reconstruction. “She said that she didn’t really feel better till she got out in this clean air and this environment and she just felt like she was in a cleansing type of environment,” Severance said. The clean air and open spaces provided a healing environment for the Severances, but now the couple fear that may be coming to an end.