Interior oil and gas review met with mixed reactions

While environmental activists praise various aspects of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s newly released report on federal oil and gas leasing and permitting processes, some say the report is incomplete and fails to account for the impact fossil fuel emissions have on climate change. The department released the report to comply with an executive order President Joe Biden issued titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” This executive order directed the Department of the Interior to review leasing and permitting processes. The report was released Friday and consists of 18 pages. 

The report includes recommendations such as raising royalty rates, charging more for rent and requiring higher levels of bonding. 

While the recommendations are supported by the environmental advocates, many of whom have been pushing for such reforms for years,  some say that the recommendations do not go far enough to address the climate crisis. “We’re sympathetic to the political gauntlet the Biden administration must run, but it had a choice to run it with power, speed, and agility. Instead, it’s running that gauntlet, weak, slow, and tentative,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, in a press release.

Study: Emergency managers should plan for volcanic eruptions in the southwest

The southwest United States has thousands of volcanoes that were only active for a very short period of time and, a new analysis published in the journal Geosphere urges emergency managers to be aware of the potential for further volcanic activity. The authors of the study counted 2,229 volcanoes in 37 volcanic fields located in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. While it is dotted with volcanic fields, the region has not received the same amount of attention for its volcanism as some other areas of the country such as the Pacific Northwest, which is home to volcanoes like Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier. Greg Valentine, a lead author on the paper and a geology professor at the University of Buffalo, said one reason that the volcanoes in the southwest have not received as much attention is that no eruptions have occurred since geology became an official science in the 1700s. Meanwhile, the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest has had modern explosions, such as Mount Saint Helens.

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.

PRC hearing examiner recommends approval of PNM’s Four Corners shares transfer to NTEC

While environmental advocacy groups are concerned that transferring Public Service Company of New Mexico’s 13 percent ownership share in the Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company will lead to continued or increased emissions, a hearing examiner for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission recommended last week that the state regulators approve that transfer. The hearing examiner, Anthony Medeiros, recommended that the state regulators approve PNM’s application to transfer its shares in the coal-fired power plant to NTEC in 2024. About a year ago, PNM announced the plans to sell its 13 percent share to NTEC, a Navajo Nation enterprise, for $1 and to pay NTEC $75 million to assume its obligations under the coal supply agreement. The PNM shareholders are paying the $75 million. PNM claims that transferring its ownership shares to NTEC will save customers $30 million to $300 million.

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.

San Juan County passes ordinance requiring demolition of San Juan Generating Station

Despite opposition from the San Juan Generating Station’s majority owner, a new ordinance in San Juan County will require the power plant to be demolished once it is permanently closed. The San Juan County Commission unanimously passed an ordinance requiring the demolition and remediation of the coal-fired power plants upon closure following comments from various plant owners during the commission meeting on Tuesday. This comes after the Public Service Company of New Mexico proposed retiring the plant in place, which means the structure would remain standing until a later date. The ordinance does not require all of the infrastructure to be demolished after the power plant closes next summer. Some of the infrastructure at the site, such as the water conveyance system, could be put to other use.