Udall also wants Dakota Access Pipeline moved, denounces violence

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall weighed in on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, joining his fellow U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Martin Heinrich. The incoming vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the president to consider re-routing the pipeline and also said he was “disturbed by the increasingly aggressive and violent tactics that have been used against” protesters. Udall noted that he condemned the use of violence against protesters in a letter to Obama three months ago and said he appreciated Obama temporarily halting the project. Related: Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

“[T]he violence at the protest site has continued, with law enforcement and private security forces using inexcusable means against peaceful demonstrators, including rubber bullets, attack dogs and even water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures,” Udall wrote. “Many of the protesters are from New Mexico Tribes, and one of those seriously injured was a Navajo woman from Arizona who was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.”

The Navajo Nation spans across large portions of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as part of Utah.

Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

For the second time this month, a U.S. Senator from New Mexico addressed President Barack Obama regarding the growing contention in Standing Rock, North Dakota over an oil pipeline. This time Sen. Martin Heinrich criticized the Obama administration for allowing federal officials to close down the protesters’ campsite and asked that the federal government deescalate the situation. Related: Heinrich calls on Obama to move Dakota Access Pipeline

“In particular, I question the decision to close the area to demonstrators on December 5, 2016,” Heinrich wrote in a letter to the president Wednesday. “This arbitrary date is certain to escalate an already volatile situation and I would urge you to overturn this decision by the Corps of Engineers.”

Heinrich praised Obama for halting the controversial pipeline project after the senator raised his concerns for the safety of protesters earlier this year, but said he is still worried about the situation getting worse. “The brutality we’ve seen in recent days involving rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons, has increasingly put the health and lives of the demonstrators at real risk,” Heinrich wrote.

Heinrich calls on Obama to move Dakota Access Pipeline

On Thanksgiving, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called on President Barack Obama to reroute the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and condemned the response by police to protests. Native Americans and others have protested pipeline over recent weeks over a fear that it would imperil the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s only water source. The pipeline’s path was already moved once, from near Bismarck. Part of the reason was the risk to the city’s water supply. Update: Heinrich concerned over violence against Standing Rock protesters

“Today is Thanksgiving and I cannot help but reflect on our history in these United States and how often it has not lived up to the rosy picture of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal in friendly company that I saw in textbooks as a child,” Heinrich said in a statement.

BLM finalizes rule to limit methane emissions

The United States Bureau of Land Management announced this week a final rule aimed at limiting methane flaring at oil and gas wells. The rule, which requires oil and gas producers to limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere, is set to be enforced gradually. In a press release, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the rule is also an effort to update regulations to mirror available technology. “Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said. New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has long opposed the BLM rule, citing the difficulty of oil and gas companies getting access to federal land in order to capture the excess methane.

Land Commissioner says new oil rule aimed at helping state, not companies

A new rule for oil leases by the New Mexico Land Office is aimed at ensuring companies don’t abandon wells and the state doesn’t lose out on revenues. Contrary to a previous news report—that the state was waiving land rentals for energy companies—the state land office said the new “shut-in” rule gives small oil companies a small amount of leeway in temporarily halting production instead of completely shutting down wells that are not currently economically viable. It does not, Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said, allow companies to stay on state land rent-free. “The rule requires annual rental payment while the well is temporarily shut-in—but, ultimately, this rule seeks to benefit the long-term interests of the trust and will result in more royalty revenue down the line,” Dunn said in a statement to NM Political Report. New Mexico has long depended on oil and gas revenues to help balance the state’s budget, but recent price drops have created hard times for the state financially.

BernCo Commission votes to support methane waste, flaring changes

The Bernalillo County Commission passed a resolution supporting the federal government’s push to create stricter rules on methane leaks and emissions. The proposal passed on a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, with all three Democrats on the commission voting for it and Commissioner Wayne Johnson voting against. Commissioner Lonnie Talbert was not present for the vote. The resolution shows the support of the  Bernalillo County Commission for proposed rules from the Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency on methane emissions and leaks from oil and gas drilling. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins sponsored the resolution and said the proposed federal rules would have a positive impact on health for residents of Bernalillo County, plus help slow down the effects of climate change.

BernCo resolution would ask for tougher methane requirements

The battle over restricting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is headed to Bernalillo County. It’s in the form of a proposed resolution by Democratic County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, with the support of groups such as New Mexico Voices for Children and Hispanics Enjoy Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO). The resolution is expected to be heard during Tuesday evening’s meeting. While acknowledging that “energy development is critically important to the economy of both Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico,” the resolution calls for the Bernalillo County Commission to support stronger rules from the federal government on methane flaring and leakage and to charge royalties on “wasted, vented or flared methane gas” released into the atmosphere. “It really seems to us to make no sense to allow these oil companies to basically waste a resource that should belong to the public, that the production of which should benefit the public,” NM Voices for Children Executive Director James Jimenez said in a short interview.

GOP targets key seat in Rio Rancho in bid to take control of Senate

One of the key districts New Mexico Republicans need to take the state Senate back sits just north of Albuquerque in Rio Rancho, where incumbent Democrat John Sapien faces GOP challenger Diego Espinoza. Sapien, an insurance salesman who is running for his third term, won both the 2008 and 2012 elections on narrow margins—by just 121 votes and 161 votes respectively. Sapien’s latest challenger, Espinoza, has so far outstripped him in fundraising, gathering roughly $153,000 as of press time compared to Sapien’s $126,000. Both speak of job creation as the top priority of their candidacies. But each have different solutions.

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

State Auditor to investigate Jal water deal

The State Auditor’s office is looking at an arrangement where the city of Jal provided a local ranch with a large discount on water, after a report earlier this week. The news comes after NM Political Report and The Jal Record reported on the credits that Beckham Ranch, Inc. received from the city of Jal. “The State Auditor’s Office has opened a case to conduct fact-finding into concerns that have been raised,” Deputy Chief of Staff Justine Freeman said in a statement. The city has been unable to produce a written record of the deal and city councilors don’t remember voting on the deal. Some don’t remember discussing the deal, while others, including the mayor, say the deal was discussed but no official decision was made.

City gave ranch million-dollar water discount, documents show

This story was reported in partnership with the Jal Record, a weekly newspaper based in southeastern New Mexico. JAL—Like many areas in New Mexico, water is in short supply in this southeastern oil patch town of 2,500 people. In the past few years, city officials have tried to address the matter by limiting water use, including barring businesses from buying city water for industrial use in the summer of 2013. But between 2012 and 2014, the city gave one ranch an unusual perk—a more than $1 million discount on its water bills. On top of this, Jal continued to sell industrial water to Beckham Ranch, Inc. for six months after the ban went into effect.