New online portal shows climate change impacts

A new website launched this week is intended to help people visualize how climate change is impacting their communities and to help communities plan for and respond to climate change. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ administration announced the new Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation portal on Thursday. According to a White House press release, the portal will “help state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and leaders better track real-time impacts and access federal resources for long-term planning.”

The site does this through location-based data about climate threats and information about federal funding opportunities to help prepare for and respond to climate impacts. The 20 largest climate-related disasters in 2021 carried a combined price tag of more than $150 billion in damages. There are currently more than 114 million people in the United States who are experiencing drought conditions and, within the last 30 days, more than 49 million people have faced heat alerts, according to the new portal’s real-time monitoring dashboard.

NMED works on rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants

With less than a month left before the scheduled closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, the New Mexico Environment Department is working on a rule that would ensure any future coal-fired generation emits less than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The new emission requirements will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will impact both existing and future power plants. “The only affected facility that there is right now, even though it is closing down, is the San Juan Generating Station,” Robert Spillers, an environmental analyst with NMED’s Air Quality Bureau, said during a stakeholder engagement meeting at San Juan College on Thursday. The meeting on Thursday included discussions about the rulemaking process for coal plants as well as the new ozone precursor rule that applies to oil and gas facilities.

Amid New Mexico’s history of legacy pollution, Holtec tells lawmakers that nuclear storage proposal is safe and secure

Officials with the company that wishes to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico are working to assure lawmakers that it would be both safe and secure. 

Holtec International Project Director Ed Mayer presented the plans for the nuclear fuel storage to the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Thursday during its meeting in Hobbs. His presentation comes as New Mexico has been fighting the company’s proposal. During this year’s legislative session, legislators introduced a bill to ban the storage of spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico. While the bill made it through two committees, the House ultimately did not pass the proposal. 

Related: Bill to ban spent nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico passes committee

While the bill did not pass this year, spent nuclear fuel storage will likely be debated once again during next year’s session. In July, after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced plans to issue a license to Holtec to construct and operate the facility, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon the Legislature to “deliver a proposal to my desk that protects New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s spent nuclear fuel and it will have my full support.”

Opponents point to the risks surrounding radioactive material as well as the history of pollution in New Mexico and environmental racism.

PRC hopes to finalize transportation electrification rule by end of year

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking on Wednesday in hopes of finalizing the agency’s transportation electrification rule by the end of the year. This rule is intended to work hand in hand with the investor-owned utilities’ transportation electrification plans that the state regulators have already approved. It comes following lengthy pre-rulemaking stakeholder engagement, an effort that was spearheaded by Commissioner Joseph Maestas. That engagement included a statewide summit earlier this year, hosted by the consulting and engineering firm Gridworks. “This is a really important step for the entire state as transportation is the number two source of carbon emissions and state agencies and private entities are going to have to work hand and hand to transition New Mexico and its infrastructure toward a cleaner running, more sustainable future,” Maestas said. 

Rulemaking processes can be lengthy, but PRC General Counsel Russel Fisk said that the transportation electrification rule is not as complicated as some other rules the PRC has recently finalized, such as the community solar rules.

Proposal would use $566K in settlement funds for ABCWUA wastewater outfall project

Settlement funding to remediate groundwater at two Superfund sites in Albuquerque could be used to partially fund the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s Southside Wastewater Reclamation Plant Outfall Restoration project. The Office of Natural Resources Trustee is seeking public comments on a proposal to use $566,000 of money remaining from settlements in the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Tie-Treater and South Valley Superfund cases to help the outfall restoration project. The ONRT reached two settlements in the early 2000s that resulted in about $5.8 million of funding for projects to improve groundwater quality and restore habitat. Of that $5.8 million, $566,000 remains. The ATSF Tie-Treater site operated as a railroad tie treating facility from 1908 until 1972 and is located near the Rio Grande State Park.

Officials tout federal funding and incentives to clean up orphaned wells, spur clean energy development

While standing at the future site of the San Juan Solar project, with the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station and an old pump jack in the background, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk said the country’s energy transition could be visualized. 

Turk and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland joined solar developers, the director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese  and New Mexico officials to tout the funding and incentives made possible through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed in November and the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed last week. The San Juan Solar project will someday replace the electricity that the Public Service Company of New Mexico receives from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. Deese said that the Inflation Reduction Act provides incentives for companies to build solar arrays in communities like San Juan County that are being hit hard economically by the transition to cleaner energy sources. During the visit, Haaland said that 24 states, including New Mexico, will be receiving a total of $560 million to cap, reclaim and remediate about 10,000 orphaned oil and gas well sites across the country. New Mexico will receive $25 million beginning Oct.

Monsoon storms bring flooding, surges in rivers

As Joe Kenmore, the Lincoln County emergency services director, saw the rain coming down around the McBride Fire burn scar last weekend, he knew what he had to do: keep people safe and protect property. Lincoln County is no stranger to the impacts of monsoon rains on burn scars. About a decade ago, another fire swept through the area. 

The McBride Fire burned in the same canyon and the burn scar is now threatening the waters and lands in the same place. Kenmore described it as “a continual fight to recover the land.”

A weekend storm starting Aug. 19 led to flooding around the burn scar area.

New dinosaur species adds to knowledge of New Mexico’s diverse past

When the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science first received a dinosaur skull that had been removed from the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area south of Farmington, the paleontologists believed it was a pentaceratops. 

Museum curator of paleontology Spencer Lucas explained that the pentaceratops is the common ceratopsian species found in the Bisti. The ceratopsian dinosaurs, the best known of which is the triceratops, are a type of horned dinosaur. About five years ago, Lucas said the paleontologists began to suspect the skull belonged to a different species—one that had not yet been identified. A team of scientists including Lucas published a paper in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin describing and naming the new species, Bisticeratops froeseorum. Lucas said the dinosaur lived about 74 million years ago when a sea shore ran up through parts of New Mexico and the Bisti area would have been a tropical jungle environment west of the coast.

What is happening with the state’s 30×30 initiative?

New Mexico’s 30×30 committee is working on defining terms and collecting information from the public with only four months left before the annual report is due to the governor. The state’s initiative is running parallel to a federal initiative known as America the Beautiful. Both have the goal of conserving 30 percent of land by 2030 and designating another 20 percent set aside for climate stabilization. Sarah Cottrell Propst, the secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, attended the New Mexico State Game Commission’s meeting on Friday to present an update on the initiative. EMNRD is one of seven state agencies that, along with the State Lands Office, are represented on the advisory committee.

PNM ordered to show that it is following through with rate credits

After telling the Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue rate credits so that customers are not paying for a coal plant that is being retired, state regulators are now requesting proof that the utility has done so. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved an order asking PNM to show that it has complied with its order. 

The rate credits should have started this month and will appear on customers’ electricity bills. They should be retroactive to July 1. For now, the average residential customer should see a $1.76 rate credit to reflect that unit one of the San Juan Generating Station is no longer in use. Starting in October, the rate credit will increase to $8.19 for residential customers after unit four, the last operating unit at the power plant, is retired.