Los Alamos has a starring role in a shift to U.S. nuclear policy that’s two presidential terms in the making. Nuclear watchdog groups in the state are concerned about the United States’ evolving nuclear agenda, which will see a sharp increase in plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). LANL recently released its $13 billion expansion proposal to accommodate increased pit production at the site. The expansion is part of a wider push across the country to ramp up the nuclear warhead manufacturing machine, according to Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.
“We’re on the cusp at the moment of awakening the wolf in the domestic dog,” Mello told NM Political Report, adding that nuclear facilities across the country have increased production shifts and doubled staffs. “Everyone is hiring like crazy,” he said.
On a sunny, brisk Saturday morning in October, a group of 10 people gathered along the newest portion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, built east of Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico. Construction has halted for the weekend, and the morning air is filled with the sound of birds. “This is one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.,” said Kevin Bixby, the executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center and self-described “border tourism” guide for the group. Behind him, the newly constructed steel wall rose up out of the low brush that makes up the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, which stretches from the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque southward across northern and central Mexico. Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwestern Environmental Center, stands before a section of border wall in southern New Mexico.
Wastewater from a mining site in southwestern Colorado spilled into the Animas River on Wednesday. The EPA alerted New Mexico and Colorado state officials to the spill later that day. The EPA is still trying to determine the extent of the spill, which occurred at the Silver Wing Mine, located north of Silverton, Colorado. The discharges have discolored the river, the EPA said. The Animas River snakes through southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.
State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero would like to redefine energy production in New Mexico. Speaking on a panel about community solar, Caballero said she got the idea from the book Energy Democracy, which she uses as a textbook when she teaches. “The basic premise is that we treat energy as commons,” the Albuquerque Democrat said, “and we change how we understand energy production, from consumption and profit being an end, to an energy transition providing services essential to life and quality of living for all community members.”
Roybal Caballero is one of a group of advocates and activists who gathered at the Center for Peace and Justice in Santa Fe on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of community solar and its place in a just transition to clean energy. The event was organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Retake Our Democracy. “That’s an important premise, and one that we need to be grounded in,” she said.
The New Mexico Supreme Court denied a request to determine the constitutionality of the Energy Transition Act (ETA) on Tuesday. The decision was released without an opinion. In August, the advocacy nonprofit New Energy Economy (NEE) filed a writ of mandamus asking the Court to rule on whether portions of the ETA are unconstitutional. The writ alleges that wording in the ETA removes the Public Regulation Commission’s (PRC) regulatory oversight of Public Service of New Mexico (PNM) and proposed rate increases. New Energy Economy’s executive director, Mariel Nanasi, announced the court decision at a panel discussion in Santa Fe Tuesday evening.
“We believe the ETA is unconstitutional, especially in regards to its eviscerating the regulatory authority [of the PRC],” Nanasi said.
U.S. Army officials say no PFAS contamination has been detected at White Sands Missile Range, contradicting an article published by NM Political Report on September 24. That article was on this page, but is replaced with this post. Army personnel contacted NM Political Report Thursday to clarify the issue. Our initial article incorrectly stated groundwater samples from White Sands Missile Range tested positive for PFNA, which belongs to the PFAS family of chemicals found in firefighting foam. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich threw his support behind the youth-led Global Climate Strike and announced he’s signed on as a co-sponsor to the Green New Deal, in a video posted to his Facebook page on Friday. “This rising generation of activists understands what we’re up against, and is willing to propose the kind of bold changes that equal the scale of that problem. Unlike previous generations who have delayed and denied climate change, I strongly believe that these young people are going to be the critical catalyst for solving this issue,” Heinrich said. “I stand in solidarity with the students and activists around the world today who are demanding action on climate change, because you are the most powerful tool that we have to make this right.”
Heinrich, who sits on the Senate select committee on the climate crisis, said more needs to be done to address climate change. “I’ve spent decades working to build a renewable energy economy,” he said.
The state is partnering with a New Mexico-based geospatial analytics company to launch a “data refinery” to track methane emissions using satellite data. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the partnership at an energy and sustainability-focused summit held in Santa Fe on Thursday, touting that New Mexico will become the first state to use such data to inform methane regulations. Methane is the primary component of natural gas extracted in New Mexico and is a valuable revenue-generating resource for the state. But methane is also a powerful greenhouse gas, and reeling in methane emissions has become a priority for Lujan Grisham, as she balances the economic benefits of a booming oil and gas sector in the state with her administration’s goals of reducing carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy.
The state hopes to find out how much methane is being released into the atmosphere through the newly-announced partnership with Descartes Labs. The company will use data collected from satellites, drones, planes and ground sensors to detect and track methane emissions in the state.
Environmentalists, business owners and sportsmen cheered after a victory in protecting the state’s last free-flowing river. Grant County Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution last week to support protecting portions of the Gila and San Francisco rivers and tributaries under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 establishes protections for free-flowing waterways in the U.S. The designation protects rivers that offer “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values” by preserving them and prohibiting further development in the area. Rivers or portions of rivers can be designated wild and scenic through legislation, or through the U.S. Department of Interior.
“A wild and scenic river designation is the highest form of protection for a river,” Joey Keefe, communications coordinator for New Mexico Wild, told NM Political Report. “This proposal would protect various segments of the Gila and San Francisco rivers in their current free-flowing state — the completely undammed, undeveloped parts of the river are what we’re looking at and trying to protect those segments for future generations.”
The resolution was the result of grassroots efforts by the Gila River Wild and Scenic Coalition to protect the Gila River.
The EPA has repealed a portion of the Clean Water Act that expanded protections for smaller water systems across the U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of the Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James announced the repeal at an event at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters in Washington D.C. Monday.
The Obama-era 2015 rule defines “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to include isolated waterways and wetlands, as well as seasonal streams and rivers that flow only part of the year. The definition was broadly supported by environmental groups as a recognition of the complexity of water systems across the U.S. but drew criticism from industry and land stakeholders for creating uncertainty around which waters are federally regulated and which are not.
Communities in New Mexico and across the western half of the U.S. rely on waterways that flow intermittently after rain or snow to support wildlife habitats and drinking water sources. The 2015 rule extended pollution protections to those types of water systems, which often feed into larger rivers, lakes and other water systems. Ninety-three percent of New Mexico’s waterways are “ephemeral,” meaning they do not flow consistently throughout the year. RELATED: Revised Clean Water Rule leaves out most of NM’s waterways
Wheeler described the 2015 rule as an “egregious power grab” and said its repeal is part of a wider policy shift for regulating water at the agency. “Today’s Step 1 action fulfills a key promise of President Trump and sets the stage for Step 2 – a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide,” Wheeler said in a statement.
The EPA’s newly proposed methane regulation revisions drew criticism from oil and gas companies and environmentalists alike and spurred some groups in New Mexico to redouble efforts to pressure state officials adopt more stringent rules for methane emissions in the state. Last week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed updates to federal air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry that would remove limits on methane emissions from production and processing operations and would remove regulations all together for methane emissions coming from transmission and storage sources of oil and gas production. The proposed rule changes will “save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year,” the EPA said, “while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”
“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall described the proposed changes as a “backwards move in face of climate crisis,” in a statement released last week.
“EPA’s decision today is an affront to New Mexicans and people across this country who have a right to clean air.