PRC rejects argument that state law requires approval of full decoupling

Asan increasing number of people install solar panels on their houses or make energy efficiency upgrades, the amount of electricity utilities sell may go down. This can impact the utility’s revenue streams, even as costs of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure remain. One way to address this is known as decoupling and the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, argued that a 2019 amendment to the state’s Efficient Use of Energy Act requires the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve applications for full decoupling. Decoupling is essentially a mechanism that removes the incentive for a utility to sell as much electricity as possible by reducing or eliminating the need to sell a certain amount of power to cover the fixed costs like maintenance and upgrades. During its Wednesday meeting, the commission unanimously rejected PNM’s argument, instead adopting a decision recommended by Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros.

A NM facility that grows seedlings for reforestation had to evacuate due to wildfire

As fires char tens of thousands of acres of land in New Mexico, the very place tasked with growing seedlings to reforest is now facing the threat of wildfire. New Mexico State University’s John T. Harrington Forest Research Center, located in Mora, was evacuated this week. Owen Burney, the center’s director, said the staff was able to save the seed library, but thousands of seedlings currently growing in greenhouses are at risk. By grabbing the seeds, the staff ensured that a new nursery could be started somewhere else if needed. Burney said this means that even if the facility is destroyed, there will be seeds to plant at a planned reforestation center that could be developed in the future.

Heinrich pushes for hardrock mining reform

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, has once again introduced legislation attempting to reform what he describes as an outdated hardrock mining law. 

On Tuesday, Heinrich introduced the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act, which would strengthen the regulations for hardrock mining. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, also a Democrat from New Mexico, is listed as one of the co-sponsors. This comes after New Mexico has faced several mining-related disasters over the years. One of the high profile disasters was the Gold King Mine Spill of 2015 that sent a plume of heavy-metal laden water into the Animas River in Colorado that ultimately flowed into New Mexico. 

Heinrich has been pushing for hardrock mining reform for years and the legislation he introduced this week is similar to what he has introduced in the past. However, an infrastructure package that passed last fall created an abandoned hardrock mine reclamation program.

Computer modeling can help prescribed burn decisions

Prescribed burns can be a key weapon in preventing catastrophic wildfire, but finding the right window to burn can be challenging and, with dry conditions, prescribed burning in New Mexico has come to a halt. A modeling effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists aims to provide agencies with a tool to determine when the conditions are best for burning. Rod Linn, a scientist with Los Alamos who leads the wildfire modeling team, told NM Political Report that various factors are used to determine when it is safe to burn, but conditions can change rapidly. On Saturday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a briefing that the state is banning fires campfires on stand lands and is asking every local government to think about ways to ban the sales of fireworks. This comes as 20 wildfires were actively burning, as of Saturday afternoon, in 16 counties in New Mexico. “Half the state has a fire issue,” she said.

NM Interstate Stream Commission approves cloud seeding application

As New Mexico creeps closer to having 100 percent of the state experiencing some level of drought, cloud seeding may help bring water to counties in the southeastern part of the state. The Interstate Stream Commission approved a weather modification application during its monthly meeting on Thursday. The cloud seeding is expected to occur during the summer and will impact Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea, Quay and Roosevelt counties. Those seven counties are experiencing either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday. SOAR, or Seeding Operations and Atmospheric Research, applied in December to conduct the cloud seeding.

Albuquerque’s air quality has worsened, according to new State of the Air report

Albuquerque has some of the worst air pollution in the country, according to the State of the Air Report released Thursday by the American Lung Association. The report ranked the city and its surrounding area with the 22nd-worst air pollution in terms of ozone from 2018 through 2020, and Albuquerque is seeing more days with high ozone levels. The American Lung Association releases its State of the Air report annually. This is the 23rd report. Ozone pollution, sometimes called smog, occurs when oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds react with sunlight.This is generally caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

Study finds high share of methane emissions from low-producing oil and gas well sites

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency develops policies for methane emissions from oil and gas production, environmental advocacy groups have a new tool to back their calls for regular leak detection and repair at all sites, including those that produce limited amounts of oil and gas. Scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund published a study this week in Nature Communications that found while small-producing well sites may, individually, have relatively low emissions, when looked at as a whole, they account for a disproportionate share of methane emissions. 

While scientists from an environmental advocacy group that has actively been lobbying for stricter regulations for low-production facilities conducted the study, it was published in a peer-reviewed paper. That means other scientists evaluated the methodology used and looked for potential errors. During a press conference on Wednesday, the lead author Mark Omara explained the researchers’ methodology, which relied heavily on previously published peer-reviewed studies. Omara said the researchers defined a low-producing well site as one that produced less than 15 barrels of oil equivalent.

Federal appeals court rejects ranchers’ bid to overturn critical habitat designation for endangered mouse

A federal appeals court rejected two cattle groups’ arguments that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inadequately evaluated the economic implications of designating critical habitat for the meadow jumping mouse in New Mexico. The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018 following the 2016 designation of critical habitat. The ranchers who belong to those groups don’t own land in the designated critical habitat, however they have federal permits to graze cattle on allotments in the area. The rangers argued that the critical habitat designation will increase costs, impact their cattles’ health and lower property values. Private property sales can include federal allotments.

State board adopts rules regulating emissions from oil, natural gas relating to ozone

After a lengthy discussion, the Environmental Improvement Board adopted ozone precursor rules on Wednesday evening. The weeks-long hearing involved in depth discussions of each section and modifications to the rule. The EIB voted on each individual section and definition. These rules apply to oil and gas production in counties that are pushing the federal ozone thresholds. Those counties include Chaves, Doña Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan, and Valencia.

FWS releases revision to wolf recovery plan addressing poaching

Following a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plans to address poaching of Mexican wolves, as well as other human-caused mortalities. An update to the 2017 recovery plan was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, opening up a 30-day public comment period. “Mexican wolves continue to make progress toward their recovery goals here in the U.S., but human-caused mortality continues to be a concern as it could hinder future population growth,” Brady McGee, the Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a press release. “Addressing this threat will require the support of our partners, law enforcement and members of the public.” 

Defenders of Wildlife, along with other groups, sued the Fish and Wildlife Service after the 2017 recovery plan failed to address the human-related mortality. Bryan Bird, the southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife, said that the lawsuit was broader than just human-related wolf deaths, but the judge narrowed it down.