NM Congressional Democrats introduce bill to help those impacted by the Hermits Peak Fire

As the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire continues to grow, New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to increase the aid available to people who have lost their homes, businesses and other property. The joined fires have now grown to be the largest wildfire in state history at 259,810 acres. Tens of thousands of New Mexicans have been forced to leave their homes. More than 200 people have lost their homes. The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act would set up an Office of Hermits Peak Fire Claims within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to process claims of property loss, business loss and financial loss.

How much do we know about our watersheds? New study says gaps in knowledge exist because of ‘bias’ in stream gauge placement

Corey Krabbenhoft saw the ebbs and flows of New Mexico’s rivers growing up in Albuquerque. From that experience, she knew how many of the waterways in the state only flow at certain times of the year. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Buffalo, she is the lead author on a new paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability that looks at stream gauges, particularly in what the authors call “bias” in placement. Krabbenhoft explained that the study doesn’t focus on where the stream gauges are located, but rather what types of rivers are represented globally when it comes to monitoring with gauges. This paper documented that ephemeral waters, headwaters and waterways in protected areas like wilderness areas are less likely to have stream gauges on them, which can lead to a gap in knowledge about how the river systems work. 

In contrast, larger rivers that often have dams on them regulating the flows and usually pass through more populated areas are more likely to have these gauges.

New Mexico’s Clean Car Rule will go into effect July 1

New Mexico car dealerships will soon be required to stock a small percentage of electric vehicles under the state’s newly adopted Clean Car Rule. The Environmental Improvement Board and Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board both approved the new rules upon the conclusion of a two-day meeting this week. The meeting allowed the two entities to hear from environmental advocates, utility representatives and auto dealers. Under current laws, states are able to choose to either adopt California’s clean car standards or follow the federal requirements. The new rules state that seven percent of model year 2026 vehicles sold in New Mexico must be electric.

Deputy Interior Secretary discusses water infrastructure during visit to Belen

The New Belen Wasteway is an example of how infrastructure funding can accomplish the shared goals of resiliency and protecting water for both people and the ecosystem, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said during a tour of the facility this week in Belen. The New Belen Wasteway is located at the intersection of several canals and allows water managers to better regulate the flow of water for irrigation as well as returning water to the Rio Grande to meet the needs of the endangered silvery minnow. Beaudreau and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, visited the site on Wednesday and spoke about funding for water projects that is now available through the infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed in November. They met with officials from various groups including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. MRGDC Chief Engineer and CEO Jason Casuga told them that the district strives toward what he describes as a “triangle of equal sides.” Those equal sides are the commitments to the irrigators, commitments to the ecosystem and commitments to other regions as laid out in the Rio Grande Compact.

Silverspot butterfly, found in northern New Mexico, could receive federal protection

A butterfly found in northern New Mexico could soon be added to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it is considering listing a subspecies of the silverspot butterfly, which is found in high elevation areas ranging from 5,200 to 8,300 feet above sea level in parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as threatened. This follows the completion of a peer-reviewed species status assessment report. This is one of five subspecies of the silverspot butterfly and there are only ten known populations of this subspecies. The scientific name is Speyeria nokomis nokomis.

Comments sought on SunZia transmission project

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on proposed amendments to the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project that will move electricity from New Mexico across Arizona and into California. The BLM released a 525-page draft Environmental Impact Statement and draft Resource Management Plan amendment on Friday. This came after SunZia requested an amendment to their existing right of ways last year. The new right of ways could incorporate parts of Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands. A 90-day public comment period opened this week and will include three public comment sessions hosted using the Zoom web platform.

PRC rejects argument that state law requires approval of full decoupling

Asan increasing number of people install solar panels on their houses or make energy efficiency upgrades, the amount of electricity utilities sell may go down. This can impact the utility’s revenue streams, even as costs of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure remain. One way to address this is known as decoupling and the state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, argued that a 2019 amendment to the state’s Efficient Use of Energy Act requires the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve applications for full decoupling. Decoupling is essentially a mechanism that removes the incentive for a utility to sell as much electricity as possible by reducing or eliminating the need to sell a certain amount of power to cover the fixed costs like maintenance and upgrades. During its Wednesday meeting, the commission unanimously rejected PNM’s argument, instead adopting a decision recommended by Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros.

A NM facility that grows seedlings for reforestation had to evacuate due to wildfire

As fires char tens of thousands of acres of land in New Mexico, the very place tasked with growing seedlings to reforest is now facing the threat of wildfire. New Mexico State University’s John T. Harrington Forest Research Center, located in Mora, was evacuated this week. Owen Burney, the center’s director, said the staff was able to save the seed library, but thousands of seedlings currently growing in greenhouses are at risk. By grabbing the seeds, the staff ensured that a new nursery could be started somewhere else if needed. Burney said this means that even if the facility is destroyed, there will be seeds to plant at a planned reforestation center that could be developed in the future.

Computer modeling can help prescribed burn decisions

Prescribed burns can be a key weapon in preventing catastrophic wildfire, but finding the right window to burn can be challenging and, with dry conditions, prescribed burning in New Mexico has come to a halt. A modeling effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists aims to provide agencies with a tool to determine when the conditions are best for burning. Rod Linn, a scientist with Los Alamos who leads the wildfire modeling team, told NM Political Report that various factors are used to determine when it is safe to burn, but conditions can change rapidly. On Saturday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a briefing that the state is banning fires campfires on stand lands and is asking every local government to think about ways to ban the sales of fireworks. This comes as 20 wildfires were actively burning, as of Saturday afternoon, in 16 counties in New Mexico. “Half the state has a fire issue,” she said.

Albuquerque’s air quality has worsened, according to new State of the Air report

Albuquerque has some of the worst air pollution in the country, according to the State of the Air Report released Thursday by the American Lung Association. The report ranked the city and its surrounding area with the 22nd-worst air pollution in terms of ozone from 2018 through 2020, and Albuquerque is seeing more days with high ozone levels. The American Lung Association releases its State of the Air report annually. This is the 23rd report. Ozone pollution, sometimes called smog, occurs when oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds react with sunlight.This is generally caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.