NM Environment Review: Energy transitions, plastic bag ban and more

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. We love when you read the NM Environment Review on our webpage. But wouldn’t you rather see all the news a day earlier, and have it delivered straight to your inbox? To subscribe to the weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

There’s a kerfuffle between Facebook, PNM, state regulators and state officials, over who has to pay for about half the cost of a transmission line to the social media giant’s new data center in Los Lunas.The Albuquerque Journal’s Kevin Robinson-Avila covered last week’s unanimous decision by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission requiring PNM to bill Facebook for half the cost of the new line, estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars. From the story:

PRC members, who voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the order, contend that PNM cannot bill ratepayers for the transmission project because the line will not benefit retail customers, only Facebook and wholesale electric operators who need the transmission capacity to supply renewable energy to other markets.

The military projects in NM that might be cut to fund a border wall

The U.S. Department of Defense listed military construction projects from across the world that could lose funding under a national emergency declaration by President Donald Trump. Included among those are projects at military facilities in New Mexico. Trump’s national emergency declaration would draw funds from the DOD to construct a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Both the U.S. House and Senate—led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall—voted to disapprove Trump’s national emergency declaration. Trump vetoed Congress’ effort.

Cannon AFB water contamination on tap in Friday night meeting

Friday evening in Clovis, the U.S. Air Force is scheduled to host a meeting about groundwater contamination below and near Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. Details about the meeting were publicly released Tuesday, Nov. 6, on Election Day. This summer, the Air Force announced it was sampling groundwater wells for traces of harmful chemicals found within firefighting foam used at the base from the 1970s until last year. The testing was part of a nationwide effort by the military: Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals, often referred to as PFAS’s, that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Air Force: Training op caused March fire in East Mountains

A training exercise on Kirtland Air Force based ignited the early March fire in the East Mountains that spread across 200 acres. An investigation by the 277th Air Base Wing Safety showed the Piñon Juniper Fire was started by a ground burst simulator. Like smoke grenades, ground burst simulators are used to prepare military personnel for scenarios and sounds they might encounter in combat. James Fisher with Kirtland Public Affairs said an interdisciplinary team has since developed and implemented new guidelines for training with smoke canisters, diversionary devices and ground burst simulators during times of high fire risk. “Training procedures have been amended to ensure that risk associated with fire hazard conditions requires substitutions with non-hazardous equipment or omission of certain training activities,” according to Fisher.

NM Environment Review: ‘Breakdown’ in KAFB leak partnership, plus climate and Borderlands

If you want to be ahead of the curve, sign up to receive our New Mexico Environment Review email on Thursday mornings. -John Fleck is no longer with the Albuquerque Journal, but he just can’t let go of the news. On Wednesday, he published a short piece on his blog about the “breakdown” in the partnership between Kirtland Air Force Base and the New Mexico Environment Department and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The Air Force is responsible for the leakage of more than 24 million gallons of jet fuel into local groundwater supplies. According to a recent memo from the water authority to the New Mexico Environment Department, which Fleck posted online, the base’s new strategic plans are “disconnected from the stated goal of protecting drinking water and the aquifer and undermine Water Authority’s ability to ensure the safety and quality of drinking water.”

Furthermore, the memo notes that the updated strategy “implies that the site is moving from an active remediation strategy to a passive remediation strategy….” The authority opposes that “as it extends the damages to water resources and places liabilities on the water users and utilities, while allowing the responsible party to take minimal efforts towards corrective action.”

Read the entire memo here.

NM Environment Review: Copper Flat mine, Dunn’s demand, Los Alamos fee and more

Earlier this month, we wrote about a proposed copper mine near Hillsboro. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for how the New Mexico Copper Corporation’s  proposed open pit mine, mill, waste rock pile, stockpile and other facilities might affect things like local wildlife, water supplies and vegetation. Many local residents and downstream farmers as well as New Mexico’s two U.S. senators pointed out problems with the analysis. At that time, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission also said that the BLM didn’t adequately consider the project’s impacts on New Mexico’s ability to meet its Rio Grande water delivery requirements to Texas. (A big deal since New Mexico is currently being sued by Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court over those water deliveries.)

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Environment news for the new year: power plants, nuclear contracts, water and Clean Power Plan comment period

I hope readers had a restful break from work, school and yes, media, too. To help catch you up on environment news around New Mexico, I have a few links to share. In December, PNM closed two units at its San Juan Generating Station. Now, the utility wants legislative approval to address how it will recover the money it spent on the plant. According to an AP story by Susan Montoya Bryan:
The utility closed two units at the plant in December as part of an agreement to curb haze-causing pollution in the Four Corners region.

State remains silent on lead poisoning data

In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story and accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the metal in their blood. Severe lead poisoning can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For children, there is no such thing as a safe exposure to lead, which causes permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Even though lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago, the ongoing Flint, Michigan emergency highlighted that lead poisoning is still a problem in the United States.

Air Force: Not enough interest for public KAFB fuel spill board

There isn’t enough community interest in the cleanup of the massive Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill to merit the creation of a Restoration Advisory Board. That’s according to a memo sent out by the U.S. Air Force this Monday. Restoration Advisory Boards, or RABs, allow local governments and citizens to become more involved in environmental restoration issues at U.S. Department of Defense facilities. In the memo, Kirtland Commander Col. Eric Froehlich wrote that last year the executive director of Citizen Action, Dave McCoy, delivered a petition with 80 signatures, asking that the federal government create a RAB related to the jet fuel leak and cleanup.

NMED seeks public comment on plan for KAFB fuel leak

The New Mexico Environment Department and its partners released their 2017 strategic plan for the Kirtland Air Force Base fuel leak in January. Over the course of decades, an estimated 24 million gallons of jet fuel leaked from storage tanks at the base. The leak was first detected in 1999. The strategic plan is only a “reference and planning document” and is not enforceable under any regulatory agencies. But it does include information that the public could find helpful, including conceptual diagrams of the leak, a map showing the locations of monitoring wells and drinking water wells and a timeline for cleanup.