Legislators told of possible low-emission cement production at Escalante Power Plant

Beyond coal plants, carbon capture and sequestration may help with cement manufacturing and create new industry in New Mexico, according to a presentation at the Legislative Finance Committee on Thursday. Others, however, remain skeptical of the industry’s viability. Wiley Rhodes, co-founder of Escalante H2 Power, said a retrofit of the shuttered Escalante Power Plant could do more than just generate electricity. Escalante Power Plant is currently owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., Escalante H2 Power is planning on purchasing the plant. Rhodes’ company is working to make Escalante Power Plant the first coal-fired power plant to be transformed into a hydrogen facility.

New Mexico begins clean car standards rulemaking process

In a few years, new cars being sold in New Mexico may be required to meet more stringent emission requirements, similar to those in place in California. The City of Albuquerque and the New Mexico Environment Department kicked off the rulemaking process to adopt California’s clean car standards with a public meeting Wednesday. New Mexico has the choice of continuing to use the federal standards for vehicle emissions or adopting the more stringent requirements put into place by California. Vehicles are a major source of ozone pollution, which can be seen as smog. Bernalillo County, as well as several other counties in New Mexico, are pushing federal ozone standards and, in a recorded video address, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the clean car standards as “reasonable, common-sense regulations.”

“By adopting clean car standards, we’re helping reach the governor’s target of reducing emissions by 45 percent by the year 2030,” said Claudia Berchert, who is overseeing the rulemaking process for NMED.

U.S. House passes PFAS Action Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-182 in favor of legislation that would regulate PFAS. The PFAS Action Act would require federal regulators to establish national drinking water standards for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances. The legislation would further designate PFAS as hazardous, thus allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites. Additionally, the legislation would lead to at least two types of PFAS being classified as hazardous air pollutants and it would limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals. The PFAS Action Act would also provide $200 million annually to assist water and wastewater utilities.

Heinrich, Blunt introduce legislation to fund wildlife conservation

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich described wildlife conservation as a topic that can bring people together—something that he said is highlighted by a bipartisan Senate bill.. “Whether you grew up in New Mexico or you grew up in Missouri, you remember the first fish you ever catch, you remember the butterflies in your backyard,” Heinrich said during a press conference announcing the legislation. He added that these species are not as common as they once were. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which Heinrich is introducing along with Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, would provide $1.3 billion annually in funding to states and $97.5 million to tribes to implement projects identified in the wildlife action plans that will help keep species off of the endangered species list and recover those that are already on the list. The sponsors and proponents described it as the “largest and most significant investment in wildlife and habitat conservation in half a century.”

The projects are guided primarily by the state wildlife action plans and Heinrich said he views this as a way to solve problems that have been identified rather than a tool to research the causes of the decline in biodiversity.

In rural New Mexico, water systems need funding and support

As state Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, listened to discussions about drought in New Mexico during a legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting, she thought about the rural water systems in her district in Rio Arriba County, where she said four utilities have required temporary backup water as infrastructure failed. There are hundreds of small community-owned water systems in the state known as mutual domestic water users associations. Herrera urged state lawmakers to remember that rural water systems may need more support than the urban water supplies. “Most of the clean drinking water in rural communities depends on these volunteer mutual domestic water systems,” Herrera said in an interview with NM Political Report. “And we haven’t really given them the resources to do the job that they need to do.”

She said most of the small, mutual domestic water systems are struggling.

Report documents PFAS use in fracking in New Mexico

A report indicating that PFAS chemicals have been used in hydraulic fracturing operations in New Mexico “emphasizes how important it is for regulators to know what is in the industrial wastewater,” Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department told NM Political Report in an email. Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report this week that found PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or chemicals that could break down into PFAS have been used in fracking operations in 1,200 wells in half a dozen states, including New Mexico. PFAS chemicals have a broad range of applications and can be found in household objects including non-stick cookware. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health impacts of these “forever chemicals,” which do not break down under normal environmental conditions. “Ongoing research into uses of PFAS and the prevalence of these persistent chemicals in the environment is essential to support strong regulatory responses at the federal and state levels,” Hayden said.

PRC plans to open official inquiry into San Juan cooling tower collapse

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission plans to open an investigation into a cooling tower collapse that happened in late June at the San Juan Generating Station. “We had a major baseload component of our power system go down and we were in the dark about it,” said Commission Chairman Stephen Fischmann, who added that an investigation will create a formal record. This unanimous decision came after Public Service Company of New Mexico, the majority owner and operator of the plant, presented information to the commission during a Wednesday meeting. It was the first time that PNM officials spoke publicly about the incident. Mark Fenton, the executive director of regulatory policy for PNM, said the company was concerned that market prices could increase if it became widely known that the power plant’s unit was not supplying electricity to customers.

Old oil fields may be ideal for carbon sequestration

When looking for places to sequester carbon, old oil fields may be a promising choice, according to a new study published in the journal Geology. Geophysicists from Stanford University analyzed the Delaware Basin – a sub-basin of the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico – and found that injecting substances into older oil fields is less likely to cause earthquakes than if the substances are injected into a newer oil field. The geophysicists, No’am Dvory and Mark Zoback, noticed that the southern part of the basin had more seismic activity than the northern part, which has a long history of extraction. The seismic activity is primarily connected to salt water disposal, which occurs throughout the basin, according to Dvory. After creating models, the duo discovered that pore pressures in geologic formations in the northern part of the basin were lower.

OCD has issued 23 complaints resulting in fines against oil and gas companies

The Oil Conservation Division of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department regained the ability to fine oil and gas companies that were not complying with state laws a little more than a year ago, and officials say this has paid off. Since February of 2020, the OCD has filed 23 complaints, resulting in $263,000 in penalties that go to the state’s general fund, according to a press release from EMNRD. Of those complaints, nine have been resolved. These complaints are only the formal enforcement actions that assess penalties against operators. In addition to those complaints, the OCD also issues field citations.

Revenue diversification needed as NM looks to transition away from fossil fuels

As New Mexico looks at an inevitable end to oil and gas extraction, some environmental advocates say no new leases should be issued and the United States should work to phase out fossil fuels. This would not have a huge immediate impact on the state, but could result in less revenue and fewer jobs in the future, experts say. President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, issued orders in January pausing both leasing and permitting to enable a robust review of the federal processes. The pause in permitting ended after 60 days, but the leasing pause continued until a federal judge issued a temporary injunction earlier this month. The vast majority of federal land available for leasing in New Mexico is already leased for oil and gas production, which limited the impact that the leasing moratorium had on the state. 

“It’s not as if the bottom is going to fall out because of the moratorium,” Kayley Shoup of Citizens Caring for the Future said in a Zoom call hosted by the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter this week.