Global supply chain challenges may make it hard for the state’s largest utility to meet electricity demands next summer and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is concerned that these could include unanticipated problems.
These supply chain challenges were sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had impacts like slowing manufacturing and changing consumer demands. This has delayed a couple major solar projects in New Mexico that are intended to replace the electricity from the San Juan Generating Station. The PRC is concerned that this could lead to challenges meeting electricity demand next summer after the San Juan Generating Station is scheduled to stop providing power to the state’s largest electric utility. Commissioner Joseph Maestas raised the topic during the regular meeting on Wednesday. Maestas brought it up in connection to solar projects that are intended to replace the San Juan Generating Station and have been delayed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments regarding listing the Peñasco least chipmunk as endangered. The Peñasco least chipmunk is a subspecies of the least chipmunk that has historically been found only in the White and Sacramento mountains of southern New Mexico. However, it has not been seen in the Sacramento Mountains since 1966 and its population in the White Mountains is declining and could be destroyed by catastrophic events like fire or disease. The nonprofit advocacy group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the chipmunk as endangered in 2011, citing threats like habitat loss and degradation as well as climate change. Related: Climate change places some of New Mexico’s unique species at risk
Following the petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the chipmunk as endangered is warranted.
As part of an effort to increase renewable energy, the Bureau of Land Management will hold a virtual geothermal lease sale this fall for three parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. These parcels are located in Hidalgo and Sierra counties in southwest New Mexico. This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase renewable and clean energy sources. Additionally, the Energy Act of 2020 directed the BLM to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal on public lands no later than 2025. According to the BLM, as of May there were 36 wind projects and 37 solar projects on federal lands across the United States.
The National Defense Authorization Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week includes an amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández that would officially apologize for the radiation exposure resulting from nuclear tests the federal government conducted in states like New Mexico. The massive bill also includes an amendment to help communities impacted by PFAS contamination from military bases. During her floor speech Thursday about the radiation amendment, the New Mexico Democrat spoke about the Trinity Site in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was tested. She said between 1945 and 1992, the federal government conducted more than 200 above-ground nuclear tests. “These tests exposed nearby communities and the people living and working in those communities to radiation,” Leger Fernández said.
With monsoon rain bringing drought relief to New Mexico, cattle ranchers who had to sell off stock have found a glimmer of hope, according to Eric Scholljegerdes, a range animal nutritionist with New Mexico State University.
Scholljegerdes specializes in beef cow nutrition and he conducts research at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. He said droughts force ranchers to sell off herds and, as the drought impacts ranches statewide, that can lead to a large supply of calves and cows being sold, reducing the price that they go for. Monsoon storms this year drastically improved drought conditions in New Mexico, including taking about 10 percent of the state out of any type of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. But extreme drought conditions persist in the northwest and southwest portions of the state. The impacts of drought on cattle can be felt through every step of production.
The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board kicked off a hearing about the ozone precursor pollutants rule on Monday with opening statements from the New Mexico Environment Department, environmental advocacy groups and industry groups. The hearing is anticipated to take two weeks and public comments are being accepted at multiple times each day during the process. Additionally, recordings of the hearing will be posted on YouTube. The EIB will not vote on the rule until after the parties have filed post-hearing briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing examiner will also file her report prior to the EIB voting on the measure.
The Pueblo people have been farming along the Rio Grande since time immemorial, but funding is needed for the infrastructure to keep this practice going, according to U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, who worked to get $200 million included in the reconciliation package for that purpose. The Albuquerque Democrat said that the reconciliation package and the infrastructure package are opportunities for Congress to fund major projects that will help people for decades to come. “In Congress, we are fighting for what will likely be one of the largest investments in our communities in generations and we need for the public and our communities to make sure that they get over the finish line,” Stansbury said. There are $280 million of identified needs for irrigation infrastructure for 18 Pueblos in the Rio Grande Basin. There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, but Zuni Pueblo, which is located in the Colorado River watershed, is not included.
When Kayley Shoup, a community organizer with the Carlsbad-based group Citizens Caring for the Future, read over an environmental assessment for new oil wells and infrastructure near Loving, she noticed that the Bureau of Land Management chose not to analyze the social cost of carbon. The BLM states in the environmental assessment that evaluating the social cost of carbon was not required under the National Environmental Policy Act and could provide inaccurate information because a full cost-benefit analysis was not conducted. A social cost of carbon analysis looks at how the emissions from projects can impact human health and the environment. Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, described it as an estimate that federal agencies use to inform their decision making about the consequences of a project. He said it helps the federal agencies evaluate when the emissions from a project will create problems, when these emissions might occur and how much work would be needed to reduce the emissions from the project.
With just days left before a public hearing of the ozone precursor pollutants rule, changes are still being made to the proposal that the New Mexico Environment Department plans to present to the board. The Environmental Improvement Board’s public hearing begins at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Among the changes has been a back and forth regarding inspections for wells that only have the potential to emit small amounts of pollutants. The ozone precursor pollutant rule is intended to address emissions of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas infrastructure.
The Eunice Gas Plant will be shutting down as part of a settlement between the plant’s owner, DCP Operating Company and the New Mexico Environment Department. NMED alleges DCP illegally emitted almost 3.8 million tons of pollutants from May 2017 through June 2019 at various facilities including the Eunice Gas Plant, where 131 excess emissions events occurred between May 1, 2017 and Aug. 16, 2018. According to an NMED press release, the Eunice Gas Plant was the highest source of emissions. In an emailed statement, DCP said the Eunice plant is “an older vintage facility” that includes the company’s last sulfur recovery unit in New Mexico.