Land Grant Permanent Fund constitutional amendment is years in the making

In November, voters will vote whether an additional 1.25 percent of distribution will come from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to help support early childcare education in New Mexico, as well as address some of the concerns raised in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. The fund, also known as the Permanent School Fund, at around $25 billion, is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. It grows annually based on a rolling five-year average, which protects the fund from stock market crashes and reductions in oil and gas revenues. The state currently distributes 5 percent of the fund, annually, to the New Mexico Public Education Department and to 20 other public institutions. For 10 years legislators and early childcare advocates worked on a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide if an additional 1.25 percent of the fund’s growth could be spent on early childcare and at-risk students.

Wolf advocates sue US Fish and Wildlife Service

Wildlife advocates are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging that the revised management plan for the Mexican wolf fails to protect the wild canine. In a suit filed Monday, the advocates—Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, New Mexico Wilderness Association, Wildlands Network, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project—argued that the plan fails to promote genetic diversity, and leaves the wolf vulnerable to humans. They further oppose the restriction of the wolf population to an area south of Interstate 40 in Arizona and New Mexico. “Mexican wolves’ recovery is being hampered by politically motivated management decisions, like arbitrary population goals and geographic boundaries that fall short of what the species truly needs,” Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Mexican wolves won’t be on a path to real recovery until the scientific recommendations are no longer being watered down by policies that appease the states and special interests.”  

Related: Fish and Wildlife Service faces criticism over finalized Mexican wolf rule

Advocates also say that defining the small population of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico as non-essential harms protections. 

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should treat our single, vulnerable population of Mexican wolves in the wild as ‘essential’ to the survival of the species,” Sally Paez, staff attorney for New Mexico Wild, said in a press release. 

The population is classified as non-essential by Fish and Wildlife in part because there is a population of wolves in Mexico and because of the captive population.

Enchant pushes forward with carbon capture project despite barriers

While the San Juan Generating Station has closed, hopes of someday bringing back the coal jobs and the power plant remain. Enchant Energy and the City of Farmington are pushing forward with efforts to transform the shuttered facility into the largest carbon capture project in the world. Negotiations to transfer the ownership of the power plant to Farmington haven’t yielded results as the other power plant owners have concerns about continued liability and the viability of the carbon capture project. This led to Farmington filing suit in an attempt to acquire the plant in the final month before it closed. Meanwhile, project costs have increased because of inflation and other issues..

PNM customers could face bill increases amid grid modernization effort

The Public Service Company of New Mexico plans to spend $344 million on grid modernization over the next six years, resulting in an increase of about $1.20 per month in electricity bills for the average residential customer. The utility filed its grid modernization plan on Monday with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. The plan comes as a result of the state’s 2020 Energy Grid Modernization Roadmap Act, which allows utilities to submit an application to the PRC for grid modernization projects. These applications must include the estimated costs of those projects. The commission must then review the application to ensure that it meets seven criteria:

Improves system reliability, efficiency, security and resilience Supports connection into regional energy marketsIncreases access to clean and renewable energy, especially for low-income customersHelps reduce greenhouse gas emissionsSupports increasing the products and programs the utility offers Is transparent and incorporates public reporting requirementsIs consistent with the state’s policies and efforts to modernize the grid

The law also allows the utility to recover the costs of the investments from customers by increasing rates or implementing tariff riders.

Asylum seekers go on hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility

A group of 13 detainees announced a hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility to protest “inhumane” conditions. The hunger strike began last Monday, according to Orlando de los Santos Evangelista, an asylum seeker from the Dominican Republic who has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Torrance facility since July. He spoke to NM Political Report by phone through an interpreter provided by Pacific Interpreters, based in California. CoreCivic, the for-profit company that has a contract to operate the facility, and ICE each denied that a hunger strike was taking place. 

Both CoreCivic and ICE denied the hunger strike when NM Political Report reached out to them on Thursday. “There were no detainees on a hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility, nor is there a hunger strike occurring today,” wrote Matthew Davio, CoreCivic public affairs manager.