NRC issues a license for Holtec to store nuclear waste in New Mexico, state officials respond

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued Holtec International a license on Tuesday that will allow the company to construct and operate a facility in southeast New Mexico that will temporarily store nuclear waste from power plants across the country. The federal agency issued the license despite backlash from the state, including the passage of a new law that attempted to block the facility by requiring a federal permanent repository to be in operation before nuclear waste can be stored in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the law that attempts to block the project. In a statement, Steinborn said the NRC’s decision to issue the license illustrates why the new law is so important. “It’s time that our voice be heard and honored, and that this project be shut down,” he said.

FEMA announces funding for Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire recovery

Communities impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire will receive more than $18 million in federal assistance to help rebuild damaged infrastructure and reimburse expenses from wildfire response. “The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire destroyed individual homes and businesses, and also the foundational infrastructure we collectively rely on,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a press release. “To get through, New Mexicans pulled together and gave shelter and support to their neighbors. These federal funds will help us rebuild our electrical infrastructure and repay those who gave shelter when it was needed most.”

The Mora-San Miguel Electric Co-Op will receive about $17.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair damage to the electric infrastructure. Additionally, FEMA is providing the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with nearly $1.5 million to reimburse the agency for mutual aid responses, including  shelter operations, equipment, and staff to support people and pets that were evacuated because of the wildfire.

EMNRD announces new leadership positions in the Oil Conservation Division

Dylan Fuge, who currently serves as general counsel for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department will be stepping into the director role for the Oil Conservation Division starting Saturday. He has been serving as acting OCD director since January while also serving as general counsel. 

As general counsel, he has advised the department’s secretary and divisions in matters related to natural resources and regulatory issues. 

He will continue to serve as general counsel until that position is filled. Fuge previously worked at T-Mobile in permitting efforts and advocacy support for cell site development efforts. Prior to that, he worked as counselor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and as Attorney Advisor in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor. His time in the DOI provided him with experience working with oil and gas development and oversight as well as renewable energy project development, land use planning and management of public land.

PRC delays community solar project selection

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and its contractor, InClime, postponed the announcements of the selected and waitlisted community solar projects due to a complaint filed by one of the applicants. Selected projects were initially supposed to be announced on Tuesday. The complaint by Lightstar Renewables and its subsidiary NM Solar 4000 is based on the scoring of the applications in which Lightstar alleged that it should have ranked higher but alleges that InClime did not accept its permitting plans that were stamped by a licensed engineer because the stamped plan’s date was after the closure for applications to the community solar program. The company states that it had submitted plans that were signed by a licensed engineer and was told that they needed to be stamped instead of signed. Lightstar maintains that the Community Solar rules state that the plans should be signed.

PRC asks NM congressional delegation to support water legislation

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission sent letters to members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation requesting that they support efforts to ensure low-income households can access safe and affordable drinking water. The letters specifically requested that they support continued funding for the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Parity Act. The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, or LIHWAP, is a temporary COVID-era initiative that helps families pay their water and wastewater bills, but the program is set to end on June 30. The PRC has asked the state’s congressional delegation to support efforts to fund the program through Fiscal Year 2024. 

According to a PRC press release, since the program began in 2021, LIHWAP has helped more than 430,000 households. In New Mexico alone, residents received $9 million in fiscal year 2021.

A sign on State Highway 220 protesting a concrete batch plant coming to Alto.

The concrete plant next door: How lack of zoning has led to a fight over land use in Alto

For Mark Severance and his wife, a retirement home in the mountain community of Alto north of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico was more than just a dream come true. It was a place to heal. The couple moved to Alto in 2018 after Severance’s wife, Barbara, finished breast cancer treatment, including a mastectomy and reconstruction. “She said that she didn’t really feel better till she got out in this clean air and this environment and she just felt like she was in a cleansing type of environment,” Severance said. The clean air and open spaces provided a healing environment for the Severances, but now the couple fear that may be coming to an end.

PRC moves forward with community solar

Next week, officials will announce the projects selected to offer community solar, and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission drew numbers on Monday that will help determine which project is awarded a position in the community solar program in the event of a tie. This drawing was done in conjunction with the PRC’s contractor, InClime, which has been overseeing the application process. The PRC received more than 400 applications for proposals to build and operate community solar facilities, totalling more than 1,700 megawatts of generation capacity. The Community Solar Act, which passed in 2021, sets an initial statewide capacity cap at 200 megawatts. The initial period stretches to Nov.

Navajo Nation officials, activists feel cut out as company advances uranium mining plans

When a foreign company started exploratory drilling for the possible return of uranium mining near Church Rock, community members say they were not informed in advance. “It was a complete shock,” Jonathan Perry, the director of Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, said of the process that started this winter. The eastern Navajo Nation communities have stood largely in opposition to future uranium mining for decades. “The majority of Diné people have been personally impacted by (uranium),” Leona Morgan, an activist and member of Navajo Nation, said. The Navajo Nation has a moratorium dating back nearly two decades that prohibits uranium extraction, but the Eastern Agency consists of what is known as checkerboard.

Environmental group calls on NMED to address air pollution from oil and gas

An environmental advocacy group alleges that oil and gas companies across New Mexico are violating state rules by venting large quantities of gas. 

WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Thursday requesting that NMED “take immediate steps to end…this illegal air pollution and penalize the companies who are so blatantly flouting public health safeguards.”

The organization analyzed venting from March 1, 2022 to March 1, 2023 and found that at least 60 facilities released levels of volatile organic compounds “to trigger legal clean air thresholds,” according to a press release. “In spite of rules adopted by the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration to limit oil and gas industry venting and protect clean air, the reality is companies are routinely ignoring and violating these rules,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the press release. “We need action to confront and deter these violations and for the Environment Department to stop giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute.” 

WildEarth Guardians alleges that companies are failing to obtain proper permits, violating the emission limits in the permits and not reporting excess emissions. The letter highlights several examples, including a company venting more than 400 pounds of volatile organic compounds per hour for four days last fall in Lea County and another company failing to report excess emissions at 10 facilities in the Lybrook and Nageezi area of San Juan County, which is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Another company reported venting almost every day between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, WildEarth Guardians states.

Conservation groups file suit over oil and gas production on federal lands

Various conservation groups, including the New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court alleging that the U.S. Department of the Interior has failed to respond to a petition for a rulemaking to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands. The petition was filed in January 2022 by more than 360 groups and calls for federal oil and gas production to reach near zero by 2035. The groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

“For our climate, we need to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and that has to start with ending oil and gas extraction on public lands,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Today’s lawsuit is about compelling rational leadership from the Biden administration and enforcing the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.”

The filing states that the Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies like the Department of the Interior to “give interested parties the right to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule” and that the law requires the agency to “conclude a matter presented to it within a reasonable time.”

In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth are listed as plaintiffs. The groups say that new extraction of fossil fuels must end immediately and existing resource extraction operations must be phased out in order to avoid more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit—of warming above pre-Industrial levels.