With less than a year left before San Juan Generating Station’s scheduled closure, San Juan County officials are concerned that the facility could become an eyesore if it is retired in place rather than immediately demolished. In the past, the plant’s majority owner, Public Service Company of New Mexico, has said retirement in place—which means making the facility safe and fencing it off but not demolishing it—would save customers money. If the owners choose to go that route, it could be decades before the facility is demolished. But an ordinance that the San Juan County Commission is expected to adopt would require demolition of coal-fired power plants upon closure. The commission approved publishing a notice of intent to adopt the ordinance during its Tuesday meeting and a final vote on the measure is scheduled for Nov.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a roadmap for addressing PFAS, a group of forever chemicals that have contaminated air, water and soil across the United States. “For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a press release announcing the roadmap. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”
Related: NMED secretary says federal regulations are needed for PFAS
PFAS, or per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, are also called forever chemicals because they do not break down under normal environmental conditions. PFAS chemicals are man-made and use of them dates back to the 1940s.
Los Alamos scientists work on technique for estimating stress in earth’s crust from oil and gas activity
A new method developed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory could reduce the costs of determining if proposed oil and natural gas activity could lead to earthquakes and which direction fractures are likely to occur during hydraulic fracturing. A study published in Nature’s Communications Earth and Environment journal looked at a way to estimate the orientation of stress in the earth’s crust without doing the traditional borehole analysis or looking at past earthquake data. Scientists focused on north-central Oklahoma, which has experienced earthquakes induced by the injection of produced water from the oil and gas operations, as well as north-central New Mexico, which was chosen to compare the Oklahoma results with an area straddling a continental rift around the Colorado Plateau. The lead author on the study is Los Alamos scientist Andrew Delorey, who has spent years studying nonlinear elasticity. In an interview with NM Political Report, Delorey said it is easiest to explain nonlinear elasticity by first explaining linear elasticity.
Groundwater provides an important source of irrigation for farmers in southern New Mexico, but Texas alleges that New Mexico’s use of groundwater below Elephant Butte reservoir has reduced surface water in the Rio Grande that is available for farmers downstream.
Texas filed a lawsuit in 2013 before the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico has violated the Rio Grande Compact. This week, special master Judge Michael Melloy heard witness testimony and opening arguments during the first week of a virtual trial. Melloy is tasked with compiling a report for the U.S. Supreme Court. The virtual section of the trial will be followed by an in-person section in the spring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March.
Related: Change up: SCOTUS changes special master on Rio Grande water battle
The United States has intervened in the case, arguing that New Mexico has failed to administer the groundwater use and that failure threatens not only the compact but also the 1906 treaty agreement with Mexico. This treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with up to 60,000 acre-feet of water annually.
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.
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.