PHOTOS: Opening day at the Legislature

Elected officials from around the state gathered at the Roundhouse on Tuesday for the opening day of the Legislature. Here’s a look at the day in photos. Climate activists representing the New Mexico chapter of the Extinction Rebellion held banners and waved flags outside the Roundhouse. Extinction Rebellion New Mexico held an event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday to give testimony before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) at a hearing about PNM’s proposal for replacing power generated at the San Juan Generating Station with natural gas and renewable energy alternatives. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, center, at the opening day of the Legislature.

Clean energy top of mind in 2020 legislative session

As the legislative session gets underway in Santa Fe this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham selected a handful of bills aimed at expanding the state’s clean energy economy to be considered during the short session this year. Here’s a preview of the clean energy bills that made it on to the governor’s call this session. Reinstating the solar tax credit

Sen. Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, prefiled SB 29, the Solar Market Development Income Tax. It’s the fifth time legislators will consider the bill, which would reinstate a solar tax credit that expired in 2016. Fellow Democrat Rep. Matthew McQueen, who represents parts of Bernalillo and Santa Fe county, is the House sponsor of the bill.

Egolf challenger Johnston begins 7 day fast on Capitol steps

The woman who is challenging the state’s Speaker of the House for his seat in this year’s elections began the first of seven days of fasting and public engagement on the steps of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe Monday. Lyla June Johnston, who will face Santa Fe Democrat Brian Egolf in the Democratic primary, will be unveiling the pillars of her seven-point “Seven Generations New Deal” platform each day of the “Fast for the Future” event. The campaign is focused heavily on addressing the climate crisis and protecting the planet for future generations. “It’s a seven day fast because we want policy to support the next seven generations. It’s a very long-view policy outlook,” Johnston told NM Political Report, something she believes is missing from our current political leadership.

Oil Conservation District can enforce oil regulations for first time in a decade

The state agency charged with regulating the oil and gas industry can once again enforce those rules by imposing penalties. The Oil Conservation District (OCD), a division of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), adopted a new rule Thursday which enables the OCD to assess penalties to oil and gas producers operating in the state for violations of New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Act. It’s the first time the OCD has had the authority to impose fines for violations since 2009. The rule change stemmed from the Fluid Oil and Gas Waste Act — also known as the Produced Water Act — which passed during the 2019 legislative session. A provision of that bill enshrined into law the OCD’s ability to assess monetary penalties between $2,500 to $10,000 to oil and gas producers in violation of state law of, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.

NMED discovers more potential methane emission violations

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced more possible emission violations produced by oil and gas operations around the state. The department said it acquired video footage collected by citizens using forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras documenting methane and other air contaminants. NMED believes the emissions depicted in the video footage are “potential violations of existing state permits or regulations,” the department said in a statement. RELATED: NMED issues first round of violation notices for methane emissions in Permian Basin

NMED is sending written notices to oil and gas operators about the emissions. Oil and gas producers will have 14 days to correct the issues.

In Permian Basin, BLM continues oil and gas leasing on lands proposed for protections

Amid a Permian Basin oil and gas boom, conservation advocates worry the current levels of industry activity occurring on federally-managed lands in southeast New Mexico are unsustainable, damaging to the land, reducing habitat for wildlife and further stressing populations of fauna that are struggling against a changing climate. A 2018 policy change drastically increased the frequency of oil and gas lease sales in the state, propelling the Carlsbad Field Office, which oversees management of BLM land in portions of the Permian Basin, to become one of the busiest BLM field offices in the country. The Carlsbad office is also in the midst of a resource management program (RMP) revision that began in 2010, updating the 1988 RMP that outlines, among other things, where oil and gas leases can be sold. Conservation groups such as the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have nominated several areas for federal protection against oil and gas development. And the state’s Game and Fish Department has identified a number of important wildlife migration corridors in the Permian Basin for protections from oil and gas activity.

State fines Air Force $1.7 million for PFAS contamination at Cannon AFB

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) fined the United States Air Force $1.7 million for multiple violations of state law regarding PFAS chemicals. NMED announced late Thursday that the department issued an administrative compliance order to the Air Force for unlawfully discharging wastewater without a groundwater permit at Cannon Air Force Base since April 1, 2019. Read all of our PFAS contamination coverage here

“The Air Force continues to ignore New Mexico’s environmental laws,” said NMED Sec. James Kenney in a statement. “Rather than address PFAS contamination, the Department of Defense shows no interest in helping afflicted communities and impacted natural resources.”

Cannon Air Force Base is one of two military installations in the state where PFAS chemicals have contaminated groundwater.

An inactive uranium mine located on a sacred mountain will finally close

Located just a half-mile from the Village of San Mateo, Mount Taylor can be seen rising from the San Mateo mountains 100 miles in any direction. The mountain, whose peak stretches nearly 12,000 feet upward, sits east of Grants and has long been considered a place of cultural and spiritual significance. Mount Taylor is a pilgrimage destination for at least 30 indigenous communities, including the Navajo Nation, the Hopi and Zuni peoples, and the Acoma and Laguna Pueblos. The mountain is one of the four sacred mountains that make up the boundaries of the Dinétah land. It holds special significance for the Acoma people, where streams on the mountain feed into the Rio San Jose, one of the pueblo’s primary water sources. 

But Mount Taylor also sits atop one of the country’s largest uranium deposits, and was mined for decades.

NNSA: No new programmatic environment study needed for plutonium pit production at LANL

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will not complete a programmatic study for environmental impacts of increased plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) and one other lab located in South Carolina. The decision to not do so drew criticism from Nuclear Watch NM and other groups, who argue such assessments are required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and an existing court order. Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear warheads where the chemical reactions occur that cause the warhead to detonate. The U.S. made thousands of cores during the Cold War, but pit production has all but stopped in the last thirty years. Now, the federal government is getting ready to ramp up pit production in order to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and “assure the nation has a safe, secure and credible deterrent,” said Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the NNSA Administrator, in a statement.

DOI denies funding for Gila River diversion project

The U.S. Department of Interior dealt a major blow to the Gila River diversion project last month. The New Mexico Central Arizona Project (NMCAP) Entity will have to find new funds for the proposal after the DOI denied a request for an extension for a funding application. The NMCAP Entity requested an extension on the deadline for filing documents to support its application for up to $56 million in construction funding for the project that’s available under the Arizona Water Settlement Act of 2004. The NMCAP Entity had until the end of December 2019 to complete the necessary environment impact statements and receive a federal Record of Decision. It has spent $17 million so far on the project.