Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation. 

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it. Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died. Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs. “I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.

Federal lawmakers from Colorado, New Mexico outline priorities for spending to address Colorado River water crisis

Democratic members of Congress from New Mexico and Colorado sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urging the agency to prioritize funding for long-term solutions to the Colorado River Basin water crisis. This comes as the Bureau has $4 billion in funding allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act to address drought in the west. “The [Colorado] River is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, with nearly 40 million people reliant on the water resources across seven states and 30 Tribes,” the letter states. U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both from New Mexico, and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury, also from New Mexico, joined Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps.

State climatologist: Communities need to prepare for climate change

Local communities need to prepare for the impacts of climate change, New Mexico State Climatologist David DuBois said during the Four Corners Air Quality Group meeting Wednesday in Farmington. The air quality group consists of state agencies from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico as well as federal and tribal agencies working together to address air quality in the Four Corners region. 

This group started more than 15 years ago. At the time, the area was on the verge of violating federal ozone standards, Michael Baca of the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau said. He said the air quality has improved, but ozone levels remain a challenge and federal standards have become more strict. 

“We have a tremendous task ahead of us to address the climate challenge,” Claudia Borchert, climate change policy coordinator for NMED, said. 

Borchert highlighted the state’s efforts to address emissions including the Energy Transition Act, the natural gas waste rule and the ozone precursor rules. 

DuBois provided statistics focused on the northwest corner of the state. Since 1970, the area has warmed on an average rate of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. 

At the same time, the southwest United States has been gripped by drought for more than 20 years. 

While the drought isn’t as dry as past droughts, DuBois said the warmer temperatures exacerbate the conditions. 

“Drought is more complex than just lack of water,” he said. 

DuBois said dry soil and increased evaporation means less water is available even when it does rain.

Judge lifts U.S. ban on Mexicans entering country to sell blood plasma

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. A federal district judge in Washington, D.C., has ordered immigration officials to allow Mexican citizens with visas to sell their blood plasma in the U.S.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted a preliminary injunction overturning a policy announced last year by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials that barred Mexican visitors from participating in what had become a multibillion-dollar business along the border. Judge Chutkan ruled that CBP officials had “failed to consider” the extent to which blood plasma companies were relying on Mexican donors and that they had failed to adequately justify the policy. In issuing the preliminary injunction, the judge found that the companies had shown they had a “likelihood of success” to overturn the ban if the case went to trial.

Advocates say new mining claim near Mogollon threatens ecosystem and sacred sites

A new mining claim threatens the ecosystem and sacred sites around the town of Mogollon, about 75 miles northwest of Silver City, according to Indigenous and environmental advocates. In late August, Canadian-based mining company Summa Silver announced that it had staked a new claim at the Mogollon Project. 

“Although the Mogollon mining district remains underappreciated, we think it has good potential to develop into a classic American mining district,” CEO Galen McNamara said in the Aug. 30 announcement. “Within that context, acquiring mineral rights to more land via inexpensive claim staking was an easy decision, particularly given that the new claims are known to have a number of prospect trenches and remain completely unexplored by modern methods.”

While many people might think of jewelry when they think about silver, the metal also plays an important role in solar energy production. This has driven an increased demand for silver.

Group accuses PNM, AVANGRID of misleading the public

An environment and consumer protection advocacy group said the Public Service Company of New Mexico and AVANGRID engaged in an ad campaign to mislead the public. New Energy Economy filed a motion to show cause with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday. In a press release, the group stated that the order to show cause comes as a result of emails from confused New Mexico residents who have seen advertisements that make it look as if PNM and AVANGRID are a single company. The PRC rejected an application for the two entities to merge last year, though that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. NEE has asked the PRC to investigate what it terms as a “deceptive and misleading co-branding strategy” that it alleges PNM and AVANGRID are engaging in because “they believe that the PRC’s decision is no more than a small pothole on the way to the merger that they are hell-bent on accomplishing.”

“When PNM CFO Don Tarry was deposed in another case, he accidentally referred to the merger as ‘delayed’ rather than its actual status – denied, because the PRC that we elected determined that it would not serve the public interest,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a press release.

As EPA fails to fine oil and gas polluters, New Mexico officials demand answers

New Mexico officials are asking the federal government to explain why it decided not to impose fines on oil and gas producers it caught violating the Clean Air Act in the state. In May, Capital & Main reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that 24 companies had 111 leaks from wells and other equipment, following an airborne monitoring program over New Mexico’s portion of the Permian Basin in 2019. However, only 11 companies were given violation notices, and only one received a fine for Clean Air Act (CAA) violations. Another company was fined for a permitting violation. Now, James Kenney, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich have asked the regional EPA office to explain the paltry number of violation notices and fines.

Scientific paper raises awareness about wildfire misinformation

As wildfires spread at sometimes an alarming rate through the western United States, so does the misinformation about fire science and wildfires. A group of fire scientists have penned an article published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment highlighting the misinformation about wildfires. “Misinformation confuses people about the causes, contexts, and impacts of wildfire and substantially hinders society’s ability to proactively adapt to and plan for inevitable future fires,” the authors wrote in the paper. Gavin Jones, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Center based in Albuquerque, was the lead author in the paper. He said the main goal was to raise awareness about the issue.

Ronchetti calls for constitutional amendment on abortion

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti wants a constitutional amendment to determine the legality of abortion. Ronchetti announced that he wants to “put it on a statewide ballot so everyone gets a say” in a new TV ad he released today. In the ad, Ronchetti sits next to his wife, Krysty. 

He says, “No politician should decide this” and describes his own position as wanting to “end later term abortion and protect access to healthcare” and describes Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham’s position as “abortion up to birth, no limits.”

New Mexico’s state constitution only allows legislation to be done through the state legislature. This means that voter referendums or special elections cannot take place. 

The only exception is amending the state’s constitution, which can be done if a proposed amendment passes both the state House and Senate with a majority of votes, after which it would be sent to voters at the next general election. Democrats currently hold majorities in both the state House and Senate.

Abortion fund calls for Lovelace to end relationship with a crisis pregnancy center org

Indigenous Women Rising, an abortion fund in New Mexico, wrote an open letter to Lovelace Health Systems in Albuquerque calling on it to publicly end any relationship it has with an organization that runs crisis pregnancy centers. Care Net is a Christian-based nonprofit organization that tries to discourage pregnant individuals from abortion. Care Net runs 39 percent of the 31 CPCs in New Mexico. “These organizations have been reported by previous CPC clients to use coercive measures to pressure people out of obtaining abortions. Moreover, this extremist organization is anti-contraception, which indicates the organization does not support reproductive health options,” the letter states.