PRC receives first grid modernization application

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has received its first grid modernization application since the state Legislature passed the Energy Grid Modernization Roadmap during the 2020 session. Southwestern Public Service Company filed an application for grid modernization on June 4 and, during the Tuesday PRC meeting, the commission’s counsel Judith Amer informed members that it was the first application of its kind. The Energy Grid Modernization Roadmap provides a way for regulated utilities to recover the cost of investing in grid modernization through an approved tariff rider or changes in the base rates. SPS’s proposal calls for recovery through an approved rider. SPS plans to install an advanced metering infrastructure, which will allow for real-time tracking of customer’s electrical usage through the use of smart meters.

Study: Pneumatic controllers, wellbore liquids unloading make Hilcorp the top methane emitter

Hilcorp Energy, a prominent oil and gas company that operates in the San Juan Basin, has the highest reported methane emissions in the country, according to a report released this month by the Clean Air Task Force in collaboration with Ceres. The report, which was authored by the advisory group M.J. Bradley and Associates, states that Hilcorp’s methane emissions intensity is about six times the national average and, in the San Juan Basin, more than half of the emissions come from Hilcorp facilities. This is important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In 2014, NASA discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin. While it remains unclear how much methane naturally seeps out of the earth in the San Juan Basin, studies have concluded that fossil fuel extraction is a significant contributor.

LNG proponents say exports could reduce emissions, but critics call it a bridge to nowhere

Touting natural gas as a bridge fuel to help address global climate change, a study released by the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN) states that replacing coal-fired generation in several Asian countries with liquefied natural gas from Rocky Mountain states could reduce net life cycle emissions by 42 to 55 percent, which some groups dispute. Jason Sandel, the chairman of WSTN, said Rocky Mountain natural gas is a “viable fuel for a fuel switch which will have a positive impact for emissions across the globe.”

This would be done by transporting the natural gas to a facility in the Baja California region of Mexico where it would be liquefied prior to transport to Asian countries. “I see, really, more opportunities than I do challenges,” Sandel said, although he said he was not surprised by the results of the study. Sandel described the study as a “first of its kind” in terms of looking at the Rocky Mountain region. He said similar studies examined LNG from other regions, including Canada, and those studies have also shown that it could lead to reduced emissions.

How a federal abortion bill could impact New Mexico

This week members of Congress introduced legislation into both chambers that would codify Roe v. Wade into law if it passes. HR 3755, more commonly known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would protect a person’s ability to terminate a pregnancy and would protect a provider’s ability to provide abortion services. Reproductive healthcare advocates believe the bill, which has been introduced by members of Congress, has greater urgency this year because of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear next year. Related: The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion gestational ban, will be the first test of Roe v. Wade with the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Many in the reproductive healthcare community believe Roe v. Wade could be overturned or become a law in name only as a result. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.

Dispute over wolf cross-fostering in Catron County

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 group of inmates sue state and Corrections Department over medical grievance system

A group of state prisoners alleged a corrupt medical grievance system violates their constitutional rights and has contributed to a bone epidemic in New Mexico prisons in a lawsuit. The 18 prisoners filed a lawsuit last month in state district court against the state, the New Mexico Corrections Department and members of its leadership including Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero alleging that a corrupt medical grievance system ignores inmates’ health problems, including after they begin to deteriorate and that officers retaliate against the inmates for filing medical grievances and talking to attorneys. Nine of the inmates involved in the suit developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that results from an infection, according to the complaint. Tripp Stelnicki, director of communications for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, referred NM Political Report to Eric Harrison, public information officer for New Mexico Corrections Department. Harrison wrote that the department does not comment on active litigation.

New Mexico Supreme Court: State not required to compensate businesses for public health closures

Businesses that were ordered to close during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic do not have a claim for government compensation, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled.  

The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Shannon Bacon, states that public health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Department of Health did not constitute either a physical or regulatory “taking” of property that would warrant compensation from the state. 

“Occupancy limits and closure of certain categories of businesses, while certainly harsh in their economic effects, are directly tied to the reasonable purpose of limiting the public’s exposure to the potentially life-threatening and communicable disease, and thus can be deemed ‘reasonably necessary,”’ Bacon wrote. 

Before Lujan Grisham’s office asked the high court to take the case, business owners who sought compensation after emergency public health orders forced them to close their doors to the public filed a number of suits around the state in lower courts. Lujan Grisham’s office asked the state supreme court to decide whether a public health order to close businesses constitutes a regulatory taking. 

Another question posed to the court was whether a portion of state law that specifically mentions compensation in public health emergencies applied to all types of businesses or just medical companies. The group of businesses seeking compensation argued that the state Public Health Emergency Response Act’s provision on compensation includes non-medical businesses with the words “any other property.” But the state supreme court seemed to agree with the governor’s office argument that ejusdem generis, or a Latin term meaning of the same kind, applied to the words “any other property,” essentially meaning any other medical or medically related company  taken by the state to help fight a public health emergency. 

“Because a public health emergency can affect the entire population, anyone and everyone could be a potential claimant under the Real Parties’ interpretation, even under far less restrictive measures than the [public health orders],” Bacon wrote. “It is simply not credible that the Legislature in enacting the PHERA intended for such a potential raid on the public wealth while simultaneously granting broad powers to protect the public health.” Further, the high court also ruled that anyone seeking compensation under PHERA has to first follow the law’s procedure for a claim, which means the claim has to first go through the state Attorney General’s Office.

Citizen lawmakers find work in new cannabis industry

Cannabis legalization in New Mexico was sold as, amongst other things, a job creator. Those who are eyeing the new industry are navigating proposed rules and regulations and making plans for real space, how many plants they will be able to grow and how to get their applications approved by the state. Now there seems to be a niche market for cannabis adjacent businesses, particularly those aimed at guiding business owners through the process. 

Even prior to the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act in the New Mexico Legislature, a handful of consulting and legal firms specializing in cannabis regulations and law existed. But since the Cannabis Regulation Act passed, there are at least three elected officials who are currently, or plan to, sell their knowledge to those interested in getting in at the ground floor of what is expected to become a booming new industry. 

That raises questions about the ethics of state and local lawmakers selling their services in an industry they sometimes have a hand at creating. But some of those elected officials who operate cannabis adjacent businesses say they are keeping things ethical but that the dilemma could be avoided if lawmakers are paid an actual wage.    

On the evening of March 31, which was the last day of New Mexico’s special legislative session, the state Senate was deep in a debate over cannabis legalization.

Lujan Grisham announces reelection campaign

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made it official on Thursday: She is running for a second term in office. At an event in Old Town New Mexico, she announced that she would run for a second term. No New Mexico governor has lost a reelection campaign since 1994 when incumbent Bruce King lost to Gary Johnson. Every governor since then has won a second term. “We’re gonna protect New Mexico and no amount of noise will deter, intimidate or create a vacuum in leadership.

All counties are turquoise as 60 percent fully vaccinated nears

Every county in New Mexico is now at the turquoise level, the least restrictive level of restrictions. “Given the state’s vaccination progress and continued positive outlook with respect to new virus cases, counties will remain at the turquoise level barring exceptional circumstances,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said. Those exceptional circumstances could include an unforeseen mass outbreak of COVID-19 infections. Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said this was because of not only improvements, but also changes to the way the state’s color-coded county-level restriction system works. Without the changes put in place by the governor, according to Scrase, five largely rural counties would have been at the yellow level.