While companies across the United States are extracting metals like gold, silver and copper, they do not pay royalties like other extractive industries. This is in part because the laws governing hardrock mining date back to 1872. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, wants to reform hardrock mining among other measures to help address the impact that mining can have on communities, including pollution of waterways. “Every year millions of dollars worth of hardrock metals are given away for free,” Heinrich said in a phone interview with NM Political Report following a Senate committee hearing on hardrock mining reform. “And we still have this enormous abandoned mine problem and the toxic metals that are leaching into our water supply.”
He said there is a desperate need to have a revenue stream tied to the industry through a royalty process that can pay for that cleanup.
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.
As part of an effort to increase renewable energy, the Bureau of Land Management will hold a virtual geothermal lease sale this fall for three parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. These parcels are located in Hidalgo and Sierra counties in southwest New Mexico. This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase renewable and clean energy sources. Additionally, the Energy Act of 2020 directed the BLM to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal on public lands no later than 2025. According to the BLM, as of May there were 36 wind projects and 37 solar projects on federal lands across the United States.
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.
Oil and gas development on federal lands has prioritized development over protection of cultural sites and has occurred with inadequate tribal consultation, according to a new report authored by Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest. During a press conference on Tuesday, Reed said that needs to change.
Reed said Archaeology Southwest began a review of oil and gas leasing policies and approaches as President Joe Biden’s administration took office earlier this year. “The goal of our review was to identify problems and issues that need to be addressed,” he said. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Interior is also reviewing its oil and gas leasing program. Reed said Archaeology Southwest is “optimistic that many of the issues that we’ve raised in our report will be addressed in that review as well.”
He said that the Archaeology Southwest report reached two primary conclusions: that the oil and gas leasing program “prioritizes the use of public lands for mineral extraction at the expense of protecting cultural resources and landscapes” and that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are failing to consult Native American tribes.
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.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental assessment regarding Mosaic Potash Carlsbad’s plans to use a nearly 1,000 acre natural playa as a clay settlement facility. The playa, known as Laguna Uno, has previously been used by the mine and, if approved, the mining company will use it as a secondary clay settling pond to reduce the amount of clay in the water that is discharged into an area known as Laguna Grande. A 30-day comment period began Monday on the draft environmental assessment and will remain open through July 23. The draft environmental assessment’s proposed action would allow Mosaic to use Laguno Uno as an additional clay settling pond. BLM considered other locations as well as the no action alternative, which would result in the application being denied.
After learning about a plan to place captive-born Mexican wolves in a den of wild wolves in Catron County, Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from New Mexico, wrote a letter to State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard urging her to reconsider the move. “These activities are occurring less than two miles from the home of several of my constituents who have expressed to me their extreme alarm and fear for the safety of their family and livestock,” Herrell wrote in the letter dated May 7. “These constituents were only notified several days before the cross-fostering was to begin, giving them little time to voice their opposition.”
Garcia Richard granted permission in April for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cross-foster wolves at the den. The cross-fostering of wolves is done to increase genetic diversity among the population. In her letter, Herrell said the cross-fostering places lessees at greater risk for harm caused by the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf.
A bill that would help states plug and clean up orphaned oil and gas wells passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday on a 22 to 17 vote. The Orphaned Well Clean Up and Jobs Act is sponsored by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat from New Mexico. “Orphaned wells pose a serious threat both to our communities and our climate,” she said during her presentation to the committee. “They can leak toxic fluids into our water and pollutants into our atmosphere, including heat trapping gas, methane.”
The freshman Democrat said there are more than 700 orphaned wells in New Mexico as well as “countless more” idle wells that could become orphaned. Leger Fernández said when visiting those wells she could taste the metal in the air and see stains around the deteriorated well pads.
Recent rain and snow in parts of New Mexico have brought a temporary reprieve from the high fire dangers, but officials warn that the vegetation can dry out quickly and that precautions should be taken to prevent and prepare for wildfire. “My biggest concern and concern from fire management is that people may become complacent because we have had a little bit of rain,” Teresa Rigby, a fire education and mitigation specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told NM Political Report. She said New Mexico is in fire season and that will continue through June and possibly into July. “It really doesn’t take that much for things to turn around and where it was wet one day the next day it can burn,” she said. Fire restrictions reevaluated in some national forests
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which releases a map every Thursday showing current drought conditions, shows slight improvements in drought in New Mexico this week compared to the previous week.
Oil and gas infrastructure could leave the state with a hefty price tag for cleanup if companies go bankrupt, according to a new analysis completed by the Center for Applied Research. The analysis found an $8.18 billion difference between the bonds for the infrastructure in the state and the cost of cleaning up the sites. Companies issue bonds to provide financial assurance that the sites will be cleaned up in case of bankruptcy. The Center for Applied Research is an economic consulting firm that focuses on “resource valuation and market analysis pertaining to tribal lands and state trust lands,” Chad Linse, an economist with the organization, told NM Political Report in an email. According to the report, it will cost approximately $8.38 billion to clean up the oil and gas infrastructure currently located on state and private lands in New Mexico.