Here comes the sun: NM lawmakers champion renewable energy

The large meeting hall at Santa Fe’s Temple Beth Shalom was packed, nearly every seat filled and with more people standing against the walls, listening to speakers at a clean energy conference late last month. When Sen. Mimi Stewart took the mic, she admitted she’d had to illegally park to get there. The first word new Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham got in after the applause and whoops greeting her arrival was, “Wow.”

“There’s no reason New Mexico can’t be the clean energy leader in the United States,” she declared in the pep talk that followed, and promised to address issues from solar tax credits to increasing renewable energy requirements for utilities, along with a list of others. And to do them fast. “This moment speaks to that kind of urgency, and we have to collectively make sure that the House and the Senate passes every single measure that allows us to not just have a foothold, but a clear design,” she said, before exiting to a standing ovation.

Bill seeks to close an environmental gap, without quashing business

The methane hotspot in the northwest. The town of Mesquite, where residents worry about air quality while living adjacent to Helena Chemical, in the south. Albuquerque’s South Valley and its air quality concerns. Proponents of the Environmental Review Act, HB 206, have a list of places where people and the environment could be better protected if the state had the environmental assessment tools it lays out. The bill bogged down in four hours of questions and public comment during its first committee hearing before the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a Saturday in January.

Oil Conservation Division could issue fines again under legislation

For the last decade, New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division has been like a traffic cop that can’t write speeding tickets. That’s the metaphor advocates give for a bill that would reinstate the division’s right to issue fines for bad actors, which, amid booming oil business in the southeastern parts of the state and an increase in spills documented by the department, have hovered near zero. The state’s highest court in 2009 ruled the division couldn’t issue fines because the Oil and Gas Act didn’t grant it that authority. “If you look at the way the penalties were collected, it basically fell off a cliff, and the last administration didn’t show any interest in actually enforcing our oil and gas regulations, so I think it’s time that we stepped up and got back to doing that,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe. McQueen and Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, are cosponsoring SB 186, legislation that would empower the Oil Conservation Division to once again issue fines.

New bill calls for zero-carbon electricity for New Mexico

New Mexico’s elected officials set a target of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2045 in a bill introduced Thursday. The Energy Transition Act (SB 489), sponsored by Democratic Sens. Mimi Stewart and Jacob Candelaria and Rep. Nathan Small, adds to the Renewable Portfolio Standards already on the table. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham championed legislation introduced Feb. 1 that set a timeline for moving the state’s electricity supply from coal to solar, wind and geothermal power to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

Lawmakers seek safe passage on highways for wildlife, drivers

Drive a rural highway, particularly in the colder months and at dusk or after dark, and the primary road game often comes down to dodging deer. Each year, drivers lose that fight, and vehicles collide with animals at least 1,600 times, according to New Mexico Department of Transportation. The department estimates that tally of officially reported accidents underrepresents the problem by half. “You stand a chance of hitting a large game animal virtually anywhere in the state,” says Mark Watson, terrestrial habitat specialist with the Department of Game and Fish. The Transportation Department’s 2016 report found 738 instances of serious injury or fatality from 2002 to 2016 as a result of these accidents.

New Mexico is getting out there with new outdoor recreation position

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s state of the state address mentioned a new job title in her administration: an outdoor recreation coordinator. “The outdoor recreation coordinator will work to promote and support outdoor recreation across the state,” Nora Meyers Sackett, deputy press secretary for Grisham, wrote in an email.  “Much in the same way that the film office works to facilitate film business in New Mexico, the outdoor recreation position will work with communities, outdoor recreation businesses, the hospitality industry, and our marketing and tourism sectors to further grow the industry and attract visitors to New Mexico to experience our great outdoors.”

The new position would mark another step toward New Mexico joining a growing movement to bolster the outdoor industry as an economic force. The previous administration’s #NewMexicoTrue campaign could be seen as an early foray here, and in May, Las Cruces hosted the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference, with a keynote speech from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Nathan Small, both Democrats from Las Cruces, sponsored memorials requesting the tourism and economic departments study the effects of creating a state office of outdoor recreation in 2017 and 2018. The move would match one made by Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.

Patrick Lyons fundraising for Land Commissioner campaign raises legal and ethical questions

A campaign fundraising letter that public land commissioner candidate Patrick Lyons sent ranchers who lease land from the State Land Office is raising legal and ethical questions a month before voters decide whether to return him to the job he held for eight years. Should Lyons win the seat this November, he will be in charge of renegotiating leases with companies seeking to renew those agreements. About 30 percent of the money Lyons has raised so far in his run has come from lessees, according to a review of campaign finance records. A copy of the letter was shared with New Mexico In Depth and is addressed “dear agricultural lessee.” It goes on to describe Lyons’ record as a rancher and farmer, and as previous land commissioner. It then states, “I am running for Commissioner of Public Lands in 2018 and need your help to get elected so that the agricultural lessees have a voice at the State Land Office.” The letter asks the reader to consider donating $100 to $1,000 before concluding, “Let’s make sure agriculture has a voice in the Land Office.”

Lyons used a list from his previous time in office to reach out to ranchers, and didn’t duplicate the effort for the oil and gas industry.

Industry showers campaign funds on Lyons, who may be their future landlord

The campaign accounts of state land commissioner candidates Pat Lyons, a Republican, and Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, tell remarkably different stories. Sixty percent of Lyon’s $268,000 — garnered from 172 donations — comes from companies or individuals employed in the oil and gas or agriculture industries, which are principle sectors that do business with the State Land Office. Half of that amount, or 30 percent of his total funds, comes from companies that have active leases with the State Land Office. Those lessees are largely oil and gas companies, ranchers or dairy producers. See Lyons Donors

 

Garcia Richard has raised $220,000 from 1,036 donors, 72 percent of which are $200 or less.

Dunn: Land commissioner candidates won’t hold Oil & Gas accountable

Outgoing State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn grew up on an apple farm near Alamogordo and worked for 25 years in banking. He characterizes the land commissioner’s job as one of handling a thousand different things and managing almost 200 people in ways that draw from both his business background and his familiarity with land and conservation issues. He has been accused of rubber-stamping oil and gas drilling on state lands, but he argues his record shows otherwise. “As land commissioner, you have a constitutional duty to create income from lands and protect it for future generations — it’s a dual purpose,” says Dunn, who accessorizes his suit and tie with ostrich cowboy boots and lapel pins of the U.S. and “Don’t Tread on Me”-emblazoned Gadsden flags. “It’s got to be a balance: conservation and oil and gas.”

He points to a policy switch around no longer allowing wells into the Ogallala Aquifer for oil and gas operations and his fight for Texas hornshell mussel habitat as examples.

Land commissioner candidates offer differing visions for renewable power

The state land commissioner manages 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate, with a mandate to maximize revenue from those acres through leases to pay for public schools and universities. Fossil fuels accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office. Commissioner candidates talk about where renewable energy fits into the picture.