PNM and Avangrid request oral arguments in PRC merger case

Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid have asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to hear oral arguments prior to making a decision on the merger application. PNM and Avangrid joined a group of intervenors in making this request. The request states that oral arguments would allow critical issues and questions to be addressed and further explained. The PRC hearing examiner has recommended that commissioners reject the merger, stating that the potential harms outweigh the benefits. Last week, three commissioners indicated that they plan to vote against the merger. 

The PRC is scheduled to discuss the request for oral arguments during its meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, which will be livestreamed on YouTube.

A small seabird found far from home in New Mexico

Mikal Deese has rehabbed more than a hundred species of birds at her non-profit rehabilitation center in Corrales, but last week she received a bird that she’d never seen before. The small black and white bird was found unable to fly on the side of a trail in Placitas and was brought to her On a Wing and A Prayer rehab center in a box. Upon opening the box, Deese knew the bird was far from where it belonged. 

She identified the bird as a murre–a seabird that rarely comes to shore. And, based on its size, she knew it was a murrelet, a small species of murre. The plumage and markings matched the ancient murrelet, a seabird that lives in the Pacific northwest and north into the arctic.

Haaland visits Chaco Culture National Historical Park

As the U.S. Department of the Interior begins the process of placing a 20-year moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands near Chaco Canyon, some nearby Indian allottees say that such an action would limit their ability to make a living off of their land. Meanwhile, proponents of the moratorium say it is needed to protect the sacred sites, lands and waters. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland drove by signs protesting the moratorium as she headed to Chaco Culture National Historical Park to celebrate President Joe Biden’s announcement of the moratorium impacting federal lands within a ten mile buffer of the park. While at the park, Haaland met with Indigenous and state leaders before addressing the crowd that had gathered for, what she described as, a celebration that was decades in the making. Haaland said Chaco Canyon is a living landscape.

State utility regulators look toward increased adoption of electric vehicles

Utility regulators in New Mexico are preparing for increasing use of electric vehicles in the state and, while they have approved transportation electrification plans for the three investor-owned utilities in New Mexico, they say there is still more work to do. New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Joseph Maestas spoke about the need for a rulemaking process for electric transportation and said the PRC must plan for the $38 million that New Mexico will receive for charging infrastructure under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Maetas offered these comments during the PRC’s meeting last week following the approval of two transportation electrification plans. 

Southwestern Public Service Company, Public Service Company of New Mexico and El Paso Electric were required to submit transportation electrification plans to the PRC by the start of this year under the PRC Application for Public Safety law that passed the state Legislature in 2019. All three utilities filed these applications in 2020 and these plans have now been adopted. SPS’s plan received PRC approval in September and, on Nov.

ISC looks at Abiquiu Reservoir to ease storage constraints while El Vado undergoes repairs

Amid the need for reservoir repairs and the decreased water levels due to drought and climate change, the Interstate Stream Commission’s staff is looking at ways to store some of the water from El Vado Reservoir downstream in Abiquiu Reservoir. During an Interstate Stream Commission meeting on Thursday, Page Pegram, the Rio Grande Basin Bureau Chief for the Interstate Stream Commission, said El Vado Reservoir will largely be out of operation next year while the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation repairs the steel faceplate and the spillway. She said construction is scheduled to begin after the spring runoff ends. “Because of that, for the upcoming 2022 year, there will essentially be no storage in El Vado Reservoir,” she said. Pegram said about 2,400 acre-feet of water will remain in El Vado during the repairs of the faceplate.

Interior begins process to end new oil and gas leasing near Chaco for 20 years

President Joe Biden’s administration took steps today to begin the process of banning new oil and gas leases within a 10 mile buffer zone of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. Monday, the president announced a series of initiatives focused on Indigenous communities, including the Chaco Canyon buffer zone. This came during the Tribal Nations Summit. The president instructed the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate the process for withdrawing the area around the park from new oil and gas leasing for two decades. Over the last decade, Native American groups in both Arizona and New Mexico have been lobbying for protections of the sacred Chaco region from oil and gas development, leading to several congressional actions that temporarily deferred leasing.

Panelists: Plans for plutonium transportation put New Mexicans at risk

Transportation of weapons-grade plutonium to and from Los Alamos National Laboratory puts New Mexicans at risk, according to panelists who presented to the interim Legislative Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee on Friday. Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen said the panel presentation came in response to the federal fiscal year 2022 budget, which includes surplus plutonium disposition. There are current plans to move weapons-grade plutonium from Pantex in Texas to LANL, where it will be turned into a powdered plutonium oxide and then transported to South Carolina. In South Carolina, it will go through more processing before being sent back to New Mexico to be stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad. The entire process requires transporting this plutonium about 3,300 miles across a dozen states using trucks.

NM poised to get billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure

New Mexico is poised to get billions of dollars in infrastructure investments through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that is awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature. This bipartisan infrastructure package passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday and previously cleared the U.S. Senate. During a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, described this legislation as the largest investment in infrastructure since the New Deal, nearly a century ago. He said more than $3.7 billion in formula funding alone will go to New Mexico and more money will be available through competitive funding such as grants. Heinrich and three other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation participated in the press conference to highlight the various investments that will be coming to the state through the legislation.

Push continues to prevent gravel mining on 4,200 acre area in Sandoval County

The four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation are pushing to have 4,200 acres of Bureau of Land Management land removed from mineral development, in particular gravel mining, in Sandoval County near Placitas. U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and is also supported by two congressmen from California. On the Senate side, New Mexico’s senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, have co-sponsored the bill. The Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, which are included in the bill, are popular recreation areas and ancestral lands of the Pueblo of Santa Ana and the Pueblo of San Felipe.

Heinrich, Lujan seek wild and scenic river designation for the Gila

In the face of climate change and a history of proposals to dam or divert water from the Gila River, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, Democrats from New Mexico, have introduced legislation that would designate a section of the Gila River in New Mexico as a wild and scenic river. This legislation bears the name of M.H. Dutch Salmon, who advocated for the protection of the Gila River. The Wild and Scenic River Act, which passed in 1968, helps protect free-flowing rivers by prohibiting the use of federal funds to support projects like dams or diversions that would harm the free-flowing condition or the water quality. The legislation introduced by Heinrich and Lujan would protect 446 miles of river segments in New Mexico under that law. Those river segments include portions of the Gila and San Francisco rivers as well as a part of the east fork of the Mimbres River.