Mario Atencio, an activist from the Greater Chaco region of New Mexico, said the methane waste rule adopted by the Oil Conservation Commission on Thursday will set energy production in New Mexico on a path trending toward fairness. Atencio’s community in the Counselor Chapter of Navajo Nation is among the poorest in the state and, he said, it has long borne the impacts of oil and gas emissions. He is hopeful that the methane waste rule will significantly decrease emissions impacting his community. The Oil Conservation Commission, which falls under the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, unanimously approved the final language of the new rule for venting and flaring of natural gas during its meeting and the commissioners expressed pride in the final language.
The methane waste rule requires 98 percent of the methane from oil and gas operations to be captured by 2026, although it leaves the companies with the flexibility to use a variety of technology to meet those goals. Work on the methane waste rule began in 2019 following an executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The state of New Mexico is expected to take a major financial hit under executive orders issued by President Joe Biden to fight climate change, including a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. But the impact may not be felt right away. After a presentation Tuesday by a chief economist and other state officials, as well as representatives from the oil and gas industry, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said the budget for the upcoming fiscal year will see little, if any, impact. “But in the next years, you will see a great decline,” said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. “So as [lawmakers file requests for] recurring money or send bills to us, be prepared to look to the future and what that looks like because if we add additional money and recurring money, cutting will not be any fun at all.”
COUNSELOR — About halfway through a late-April Sunday service at the Living Spring Baptist Church, the sermon took an unusual turn. Pastor Tom Guerito’s exhortations to trust in God and resist sin, delivered mostly in Diné, gave way to a more earthly concern: oil and gas. “People say, ‘I smell it,’” Guerito told the 20 or so parishioners, who since 2012 have lived among an expanding constellation of oil and gas wells. But an air monitor installed nearby found nothing out of the ordinary, he said. “There’s nothing in the air.
When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed up New Mexico to support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on Tuesday. In joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, Lujan Grisham is aligning New Mexico with other states working toward the accord’s goals after President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the international agreement in 2017. Signing an executive order at the state Capitol, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. “I will join 19 other governors who are clear about making sure we do something about climate change irrespective of the failed policies and lack of science that is going on in our federal government today,” Lujan Grisham said. The order is a start, cheered by environmental groups as affirming a pivot from the policies of her predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez.
Public documents show the superintendent of a school district in Sandoval County worked for four months in 2015 on an expired state educator license. But that superintendent, Allan Tapia of Bernalillo Municipal Schools, blames the state Public Education Department for not processing his license on time. “If they didn’t process it on their end, I didn’t have control over that,” he said in an interview. The documents, obtained through public records requests to the state by NM Political Report, show a 115-day gap between the expiration of Tapia’s administrative license and its renewal by the state Public Education Department last year. They also show the state’s renewal of Tapia’s administrative license came nearly four months after his previous license expired.
More than two dozen charter schools across the state accused the Public Education Department of directing “a general atmosphere of hostility” toward several state-authorized charter schools. Last month, the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools wrote a list of 20 detailed complaints against the PED’s Charter Schools Division coming from 29 charter schools across the state in a letter to the Public Education Commission, an elected statewide body that oversees state-authorized charter schools. “In a nutshell,” the letter reads, “The relationship between [the Charter Schools Division] and charter schools appears to have deteriorated significantly over the past year, and in numerous cases appears to be broken.”
Twenty charter schools signed onto the letter, though the Coalition says nine more have lodged complaints but didn’t want to go public “for fear of reprisal” from the PED. The list of complaints, which accuse PED of imposing burdensome regulations against charter schools, pits nearly one-third of the charter schools in the state against a state agency that has touted itself as favorable to nontraditional public education. The Coalition wrote the letter at the request of the Public Education Commission after first mentioning the problems at a March commission meeting.
Two more top-level employees at the state Public Education Department recently left their jobs, taking the number to at least five since the beginning of the year. Terese Vigil, who headed the PED’s human resources bureau, left the department in mid-February. Aimee Barabe, director of Strategic Outreach for the department, left around the same time period. Vigil and Barabe’s exits make at least five resignations from top-level PED staffers since the end of January. The three others were Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner.
At least three top-level state Public Education Department staffers recently resigned, among them a deputy cabinet secretary, NM Political Report has learned. They are Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner. Lenti is one of two deputies under Secretary Hanna Skandera, pulling in a $105,000 per year according to the state’s Sunshine Portal. The department’s other deputy cabinet secretary is Hipolito “Paul” Aguilar, who had been rumored to resign but told NM Political Report in February that he wasn’t doing so. Archibeque, who handled the department’s IT division, earned close to $96,000 for his salary.
A report from State Auditor Tim Keller released Thursday takes a former Española Public School District principal to task for allegedly misusing more than $12,000 from a candy fundraiser last year. Though the audit doesn’t list the former principal’s name, NM Political Report has learned it’s referring to Norma Lara, who used to head San Juan Elementary. “In addition, the same Principal was found to be pocketing money from game gate fund wherein she was responsible for maintaining certain gate receipts during the games,” the audit reads. “The receipts turned in to the athletic director were found to be off sequence.”
Lara, who is now a first grade teacher at Pablo Roybal Elementary in Pojoaque, did not return a handwritten message sent to her classroom this morning. Specifically, the audit states that it examined records from 10 teachers who participated in the fundraiser, which was meant to raise money for student activity funds, along with Lara’s records.