Heinrich to introduce legislation to provide a ‘glide path’ for energy producing states

Sen. Martin Heinrich announced Thursday plans to introduce legislation that would help areas that depend on revenue from fossil fuels maintain balanced government and education budgets as the country moves toward a clean energy economy. Known as the Schools and State Budgets Certainty Act, the bill would provide funding to offset the loss of revenue if money from fossil fuel extraction drops. The bill would create a baseline minimal revenue for governments based on the historical average revenue the governments received from federal minerals. If the revenue drops below the baseline, the governments would receive an energy transition payment to offset that loss. These payments will be made to eligible states, counties and tribes and would provide some budget certainty during the transition away from fossil fuels.

New study looks at jaguar reintroduction possibilities

A big cat, largely absent from the United States since the 1960s after living in the southwest for thousands of years, could make a return to the area. Conservationists are now exploring reintroducing the jaguar to New Mexico and Arizona. A study published on Tuesday in the journal Conservation Science and Practice examines reintroduction, including how the jaguar could interact with livestock and other wildlife and the potential for ecotourism related to the cat. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate for Center for Biological Diversity, is one of the authors on the study. He said government programs aimed at protecting livestock from predators essentially eliminated the jaguar from the United States.

Study finds high levels of methane emissions on Navajo Nation lands

Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, recalled spending a few days camping near Counselor, New Mexico with other members of the advocacy group a few years ago and feeling sick from the emissions related to oil and gas production. “For me, being in a region where there’s just that air pollution, I seriously was getting headaches, feeling nauseous, and it’s just amazing that people have lived there for so long in an area where they’re exposed to that kind of pollution,” she said, adding that she had a panic attack that night. After researching the health impacts of emissions like methane, she said she realized the symptoms were not unusual. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund found that 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas, consisting primarily of methane, is released into the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations on Navajo Nation lands. EDF argues this wastes a valuable commodity leading to the loss of $1.2 million of royalties and taxes to the tribe annually.

NMED releases ozone precursor rules

Following concerns from members of the environmental community, the New Mexico Environment Department removed the exemptions from the oil and gas sector ozone precursor rule for stripper and marginal wells. The department released the ozone precursor rule Thursday and filed a petition with the Environmental Improvement Board to review it. A public hearing is anticipated this fall. If approved by the seven-member board, the rules would likely go into effect in early 2022. It is intended to work in conjunction with a methane waste rule that the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department already finalized.

‘America the Beautiful’ report outlines path toward 30 percent conservation by 2030

President Joe Biden has called for preserving 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030 and, on Thursday, his administration released a report outlining how this could be accomplished. The report released on Thursday, called Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021, states that three problems must be addressed to protect lands and waters—the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. The America the Beautiful report lists building more parks and outdoor spaces in areas with limited access to nature as one of the tools to reaching that goal. The America the Beautiful report released Thursday outlines eight principles:

Pursuing a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservationConserving lands and waters for the benefit of all peopleSupporting locally-led and designed conservation effortsHonoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nationsPursuing approaches that create jobs and support healthy communitiesHonoring private property rights and supporting voluntary stewardship efforts by landownersUsing science as a guideEmphasizing flexibility and adaptive approaches while building on existing tools and strategies

Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate for Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said in an email to NM Political Report that state action will be needed to make the 30 percent by 2030 goal a reality. Peters said New Mexico can build on the success of landmark legislation like the Energy Transition Act, the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division and the Outdoor Equity Fund.

Heinrich touts transmission, agriculture and hydrogen as ways to address the climate crisis

Sen. Martin Heinrich said this week reinstating methane regulations that former President Donald Trump rolled back will buy time to take the next steps to addressing the climate crisis. 

The Senate approved revoking the rollback of the methane regulations about a week ago and the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have the majority, will consider the measure this month. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

Looking forward, Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said a federal infrastructure package should have robust investments in things like transmission, which is needed to move renewable energy from one area to another. “More and more of our economy is going to be run off of electricity as opposed to combustion,” he said. “That means we have to be able to move electrons from where we have renewable energy to where that energy is consumed. We don’t have enough transmission to do that today.”

Heinrich met with NM Political Report while in Aztec, where he presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to the San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas for efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is found on bats in New Mexico caves

A fungus that causes the often-fatal white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in two caves in eastern New Mexico. These caves are located within the Bureau of Land Management’s Roswell Field Office in De Baca and Lincoln counties. BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey said New Mexico has not had any cases of white nose syndrome in bats in the past and the biologists will need to do further testing to determine if the disease is present in the state. That means euthanizing a bat and analyzing it in a lab. However, she said the fungus was found on cave walls and evidence of the disease were seen on certain bats.

Amid drought, Interstate Stream Commission seeks federal support

As much of New Mexico faces exceptional drought conditions, the Interstate Stream Commission authorized its chairman to ask the Department of Interior for financial support. The commission approved delegating that authority to commission chairman during its meeting on Friday. The chairman will work with State Engineer John D’Antonio to request funding for both long-term and short-term drought relief. The short-term relief could be something like assistance for farmers, said ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Peterson. “Help them make it through this year so that the economic impacts are not so severe that they can no longer farm,” he said.

Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Fisheries rule update may open remote creek for fishing

As the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish works to update its fisheries rule, a remote stream in the Gila wilderness could be opened for angling. Fishing has not been allowed in McKenna Creek in Catron County in an effort to protect a small Gila trout population. For decades, this population was believed to be one of the few remaining pure Gila trout populations. But now biologists say the trout found in McKenna Creek have hybridized with rainbow trout. 

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is updating its fisheries rule, which expires on March 31, 2022. The updated rule will likely remove the prohibition on angling in McKenna Creek as it is no longer needed to protect the Gila trout.