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TUES: Environmentalists protest governor's $500M proposal to treat fracking wastewater, + More

Permian Basin New Mexico Oil
Blake Thornberry
Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New Mexico governor proposes $500M to treat fracking wastewater - Associated Press

Environmental activists pushed back Monday against an initiative from the governor of New Mexico that would finance the treatment and recycling of oil-industry wastewater, warning that the plan relies on unproven technologies and might propel more water-intensive fracking for oil and natural gas.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is seeking legislation and regulatory changes that would allow the state to finance development of a strategic new source of water by buying and selling treated water that originates from the used, salty byproducts of oil and natural gas drilling or from underground saltwater aquifers.

The aim is to help preserve freshwater sources by providing a new source of recycled water for industrial uses, at the same time helping an arid state attract businesses ranging from microchip manufacturers to hydrogen fuel producers.

An array of environmental and social-justice groups gathered outside the Statehouse to denounce the governor's plan as a handout to the oil and natural gas industry that won't necessarily decrease pressure on the state's ancient underground aquifers.

"It's intended to help oil and gas producers, particularly in the Permian Basin, to resolve their enormous problem with wastewater disposal and allow for continued extraction" of petroleum, said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the environmental and consumer protection group New Energy Economy.

Julia Bernal, executive director of the environmental justice group Pueblo Action Alliance, sees the initiative as an attempt to secure more water supplies for the production of hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be made by splitting water with solar, wind, nuclear or geothermal electricity yielding little if any planet-warming greenhouse gases. But most hydrogen today is not made this way and does contribute to climate change because it is made from natural gas.

"We would like to see more investment in wind and solar, more community based projects," said Bernal, a tribal member of Sandia Pueblo.

Inside the Capitol, state Environment Department Secretary James Kenney briefed a state Senate budget-writing on the administration's plan to underwrite the project with up to $500 million in bonds over a two-year period, to spur private investment in water-treatment and desalination infrastructure.

Approval from the Legislature is necessary under a construction-spending bill that has not yet been introduced. The state's annual legislative session ends on Feb. 15.

The Environment Department is proposing a new regulatory framework for reusing oil-industry wastewater and desalination of naturally occurring brine. On Monday, it also announced a related request for technical and economic briefings by people in business, academia, government agencies — or other interested individuals.

New Mexico has extensive underground reservoirs of salty water that have been of limited use. That brackish water is a crucial component in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and advanced drilling techniques that have helped turn New Mexico into the No. 2 oil production state in the U.S.

Tribes, environmental groups ask US court to block $10B energy transmission project in Arizona - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Ken Ritter Associated Press

A federal judge is being asked to issue a stop-work order on a $10 billion transmission line being built through a remote southeastern Arizona valley to carry wind-generated electricity to customers as far away as California.

A 32-page lawsuit filed on Jan. 17 in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona, accuses the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management of refusing for nearly 15 years to recognize "overwhelming evidence of the cultural significance" of the remote San Pedro Valley to Native American tribes including the Tohono O'odham, Hopi, Zuni and San Carlos Apache Tribe.

The suit was filed shortly after Pattern Energy received approval to transmit electricity generated by its SunZia wind farm in central New Mexico through the San Pedro Valley east of Tucson and north of Interstate 10.

The lawsuit calls the valley "one of the most intact, prehistoric and historical ... landscapes in southern Arizona," and asks the court to issue restraining orders or permanent injunctions to halt construction.

"The San Pedro Valley will be irreparably harmed if construction proceeds," it says.

Government representatives declined to comment Tuesday on the pending litigation. They are expected to respond in court. The project has been touted as the biggest U.S. electricity infrastructure undertaking since the Hoover Dam.

Pattern Energy officials said Tuesday that the time has passed to reconsider the route, which was approved in 2015 following a review process.

"It is unfortunate and regrettable that after a lengthy consultation process, where certain parties did not participate repeatedly since 2009, this is the path chosen at this late stage," Pattern Energy spokesperson Matt Dallas said in an email.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Tohono O'odham Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the nonprofit organizations Center for Biological Diversity and Archaeology Southwest.

"The case for protecting this landscape is clear," Archaeology Southwest said in a statement that calls the San Pedro Arizona's last free-flowing river and the valley the embodiment of a "unique and timely story of social and ecological sustainability across more than 12,000 years of cultural and environmental change."

The valley represents a 50-mile stretch of the planned 550-mile conduit expected to carry electricity from new wind farms in central New Mexico to existing transmission lines in Arizona to serve populated areas as far away as California. The project has been called an important part of President Joe Biden's goal for a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

Work started in September in New Mexico after negotiations that spanned years and resulted in the approval from the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency with authority over vast parts of the U.S. West.

The route in New Mexico was modified after the U.S. Defense Department raised concerns about the effects of high-voltage lines on radar systems and military training operations.

Work halted briefly in November amid pleas by tribes to review environmental approvals for the San Pedro Valley, and resumed weeks later in what Tohono O'odham Chairman Verlon M. Jose characterized as "a punch to the gut."

SunZia expects the transmission line to begin commercial service in 2026, carrying more than 3,500 megawatts of wind power to 3 million people. Project officials say they conducted surveys and worked with tribes over the years to identify cultural resources in the area.

A photo included in the court filing shows an aerial view in November of ridgetop access roads and tower sites being built west of the San Pedro River near Redrock Canyon. Tribal officials and environmentalists say the region is otherwise relatively untouched.

The transmission line also is being challenged before the Arizona Court of Appeals. The court is being asked to consider whether state regulatory officials there properly considered the benefits and consequences of the project.


This story has been edited to correct the name of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Authorities safely dispose of bomb mailed to US Attorney's office – KUNM News

A bomb was mailed to the US attorney’s office in Albuquerque Tuesday and another went off outside the adult probation office in Deming.

In a statement, the US Attorney Alexander Uballez said the device in the package was “Detected, isolated and then safely detonated” by authorities.

No injuries were reported in either event, and The Deming Police Department says it has a suspect in custody after a pursuit on the highway.

Authorities have not said whether the two cases might be related.

Two other bomb scares were reported yesterday, one in Las Cruces and another in Downtown Albuquerque, that both turned out to be empty boxes.

New Mexico State Police are directing questions to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who are working with US Marshals and other state, local and federal organizations in the investigation.

New Mexico recorded second deadliest year for alcohol deaths in 2022 - By Ted Alcorn, New Mexico In Depth

Alcohol killed more than 2,000 New Mexicans in 2022, according to new data from the Department of Health, the third straight year the state exceeded that grim threshold.

Although New Mexico has long suffered the nation’s highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, the crisis has often been overshadowed by the state’s other problems, such as gun violence, an issue Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spotlighted last week in her State of the State address.

She made no mention of alcohol, however. In recent years, deaths by drink in New Mexico have outstripped deaths by bullets nearly four to one.

Arriving as the state’s 30-day legislative session gets underway, the alcohol mortality data underscored the enormous stakes of debates about New Mexico’s drinking problem, which policymakers have clashed over in previous years but largely failed to address, even as the crisis worsened. The number of alcohol-related deaths in 2022 was 28% higher than 2018, the year Lujan Grisham was first elected governor.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, called the numbers “disturbing,” and said there was a moral obligation to respond. “We are not going to move the needle on so many social problems in our state until we seriously address alcohol misuse,” she wrote in a text message.

Asked whether the state was making sufficient efforts to respond, a health department spokesperson emailed that the agency “acknowledges the gravity of the situation and is committed to addressing this public health issue.”

But there has been little evidence of action. After last year’s session, the governor touted the start of a new Office of Alcohol Misuse Prevention, but the health department spokesperson confirmed that nearly a year later, it has yet to fill more than one of its 11 allocated positions.

A death is defined as ‘alcohol-related’ if its cause is attributable to drinking, whether it is a motor-vehicle crash with an intoxicated driver, lethal violence involving alcohol, or a deadly illness brought on by chronic drinking such as liver disease or some cancers.

In terms of these causes, 2022 was New Mexico’s second-deadliest year on record, down 9.1% from 2021. Alcohol-related deaths due to chronic illnesses, which made up nearly two-thirds of the total, fell 12.5%, whereas deaths involving acute intoxication, including those due to violent injuries, fell only 3.6%.

As Lujan Grisham urges state legislators to pass a raft of gun safety measures, scientists said the overlap between alcohol and violence is considerable and underappreciated. Because drinking inhibits reasoning and fosters impulsivity, it is commonly implicated in shootings. An investigation by New Mexico in Depth showed that over the last decade, 42% of the state’s homicide victims were drinking immediately prior to death as were 32% of people who died by suicide.

“There is no way to comprehensively reduce firearm death and injury without tackling the role of alcohol,” wrote Josh Horwitz, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, in an email. To prevent gun violence, he said New Mexico could limit the hours and days when alcohol can be served, raise alcohol taxes, and temporarily prohibit gun possession by people convicted multiple times for driving under the influence.

If anything, New Mexico has done the opposite. In 2022, Lujan Grisham signed a bill expanding days and hours of sale for alcohol,over the objections of the state’s alcohol epidemiologist in her own health department.

As for alcohol taxes, Sedillo Lopez and other Democratic legislators filed a bill to raise rates 25¢ a drink.

The governor has not publicly indicated whether she opposes or supports their proposal.

SCOTUS to hear oral argument on Rio Grande CaseSource New Mexico

The nation’s highest court will hear federal objections against a deal to end more than a decade of litigation over the Rio Grande, according to aU.S. Supreme Court order issued Monday.

First filed in the high court in 2014, the lawsuit centers on allegations by Texas that New Mexico’s groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte Dam siphoned off Rio Grande water allocated legally to Texas.

Texas alleged that New Mexico was violating the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement set in 1938 that splits the river’s waters between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The agreement, ratified by Congress in 1939, also notes federal agreements with Pueblos and its federal treaty with Mexico. The case is formally called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, but the allegations stem between Texas and New Mexico.

No clear datesThere is no clear scheduling for when oral arguments will take place, and spokespeople at the supreme court directed Source NM to lawyers in the case. We’ll update the story as we know more.

The lawsuit itself sparked from years of legal battles in lower courts that sprung up after severe droughts shocked the region in the early 2000s.

As the case slowly winds its way through the court system, taxpayers are on the bill for tens of millions of dollars. Those legal fees are determining issues such as allowing the federal government to intervene as a party member in the case in 2019.

Last year, U.S. 8th Circuit Judge Michael Melloy, the special master who is overseeing the case, heard arguments from attorneys representing the three states on a compromise plan to resolve the case.

Parts of the compromise plan would include moving the delivery of Texas water from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, to the Texas state line, and include new guidelines for adjusting to drought conditions. To prepare for the deal, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer said it would have to cut 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater pumping from below Elephant Butte, a heavily agricultural area.

Attorneys representing the federal government objected that the deal was made without its consent and would overreach by requiring federal agencies to change operations.

Melloy recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court sign off the states’ deal, over the federal government’s objections.

In his 123-page report, Melloy concluded that the proposed plan was “fair and reasonable” and said the federal government’s objections could be resolved in state courts and other proceedings.

The federal government filedformal objections against Melloy’s report in the Supreme Court. These are supported by the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

Bill to encourage more clean energy moves forward in house – Megan Taros, Source New Mexico

A bill that could limit the carbon intensity of transportation fuels such as gasoline and diesel faced eclectic support and opposition in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Saturday as people from both political wings took varying sides on the issue.

House Bill 41 seeks to lower carbon intensity by rewarding fuel companies for investing in cleaner options by allowing them to purchase carbon tax credits that it can then sell to companies that are producing high-carbon fuels like traditional gasoline and diesel.

Producers that make high-carbon products will have to purchase carbon credits to be allowed to continue manufacturing such items.

The bill passed the committee on a party-line vote of 7-4.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) said it was time for New Mexico to capitalize on growing investments in clean energy. She estimated that the passage of the bill would lead to up to $240 million in new investments in clean energy, creating 1,600 or more new jobs.

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced $19 million in grants for U.S. business owners in 22 states to expand the production of biofuels, which blend ethanol into gasoline. This includes $4.9 million for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores to retrofit 704 new ethanol pumps at stations across 18 states, including those in Albuquerque.

“Without this bill, the new energy boom that we’re experiencing all around the country will leave New Mexico behind,” Ortez said at Saturday’s committee hearing.

Reactions across the boardIn the nearly five-hour hearing, Republicans and lobbyists for agriculture and small petrol producers criticized the bill for having too many unknowns and argued it would pass costs on to consumers. Supporters said that the bill would not affect gasoline prices, drawing skepticism from Republicans in the committee.

“That would be the first business cost I knew or ever heard of that didn’t get passed on to the consumer,” said Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia). “Somebody pays. And that’s what I think most people have not fully grasped.”

Others who spoke in public comment claimed the bill didn’t take all stakeholders in account and some groups were excluded.

Climate activists also criticized the bill for not going far enough to compel industries to meaningfully reduce emissions, calling carbon credits “gimmicks” to allow industries to continue polluting at the same rate.

“This not only allows producers to make more money without achieving any environmental benefits, but also raises doubts about the credibility of these offset programs,” said Destiny Ray, an activist with the climate nonprofit Earth Care. “We need laws that result in effective, new and permanent emissions-reducing activities.”

Democrats, climate nonprofit representatives and some utility companies like the Public Service Company of New Mexico and Exxon Mobile praised the bill as a step in the right direction.

“For too long, this state, the fossil fuel industry has considered the health effects collateral damage,” said Jim MacKenzie, co-coordinator of the climate nonprofit 350 New Mexico. “It’s time we take the health effects of this industry as real people. They are not only costs, they are people who hurt.”

In contrast to smaller energy producers, Exxon Mobile representatives said the bill would be a cost-effective and efficient way to reduce emissions faster.

The bill aims to reduce emissions by 20% by 2030, resulting in a decrease of 16 million metric tons of carbon emissions over six years – less than 10 million metric tons short of emissions released in a year in New Mexico, according to the Environment Protection Agency.

According to the American Lung Association, one in seven New Mexicans has a respiratory condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The annual cost of treating asthma is about 10% of New Mexico’s median income of, which is about $3,100 in health care costs per person, per year the study shows.

Republicans argued the decrease in emissions would be insignificant and would require a high cost for little reward.

“I think we’re really trying to do something here, but we can’t quantify it,” said Rep. Rod Montoya (R-Farmington). “We’re hoping that it will help with asthma and other breathing issues, and we don’t know how or how much. And with the numbers presented earlier, I don’t think it’ll make a difference at all.

Future revenue source for the state?The proposed legislation is a reflection of similar plans enacted in Oregon, Washington and California. In Washington, the state’s first auction of carbon credits netted $300 million.

New Mexico’s bill would require companies that sell credits to invest the revenue in infrastructure projects. An amendment to the bill that did not come in on time to be heard in the committee changed the language to stipulate that 50% of the investments must go toward low-income and underserved communities.

The credit swap program would be run by the New Mexico Environment Department that can collect fees on transactions.

While Rep. Angelica Rubio (D-Las Cruces) ultimately voted yes on the bill, she reiterated concerns that the bill did not go far enough to protect communities of color that are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental racism.

Much of the frontline communities in oil and gas production in the state are immigrants and people of color.

“Organizing is slow and governing is that much slower,” Rubio said. “I hope that in my tenure serving in this committee and in this institution that we’ll one day truly prioritize the needs and challenges of tribes, frontline communities and youth through real action in the way, if not more than, that we do for extractive industries and car culture.”