Life after coal: San Juan miners, economists wonder what’s next

It’s like cruising along in a refurbished airplane, which works well enough, but isn’t shiny anymore, then looking down at a new plane and deciding to jump out to ride in that one instead. And you’ve got all the parts in your hands to make a parachute, but you’ve got to put them together on the way down. That’s how one coal miner says the planned shut down of the San Juan Generating Station and its associated mine feels right now. He was one of a trio of miners who drove the three and a half hours Thursday to tell lawmakers in Santa Fe not to forget their communities as the San Juan Generating Station is taken offline. Already, he’s transitioned his kids through a recent divorce, he told House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee members, and now he faces the end of his job sometime before the generating station shuts down in 2022 and the possibility of moving if he can’t find work.

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.

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.

Ambitious renewable goals on deck as new political era dawns in New Mexico

New Mexico was in the first wave of states to require gradually increasing amounts of renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal to power its electrical grid. Signed into law in 2004, the state’s Renewable Energy Act required private utilities to ensure that 20 percent of the electricity they provide to consumers comes from those sources by 2020. Since then, what was once a novel idea has gone mainstream. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have similar laws. More than half have higher goals than 20 percent.

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.

Flyover Country: Aerial tour of Carlsbad highlights oil and gas moving in on national park

The plane had wheeled back north toward the airport when the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center came into view, perched on the tan heaps of a sloping escarpment that offers no clue to the dramatically sculpted caverns beneath. From the air, however, signs of another underground natural resource were plainly visible: well pads pock the horizon. The park overlooks a stretch of desert atop the Permian Basin, and I’m in a tiny, six-seat plane—including the pilot’s—to get a look at how the push for one resource could affect the other. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed to auction mineral leases on 197 parcels in the area in September. Some of those 89,000 acres sit within a mile of the national park boundary, or encroach on Guadalupe Mountains National Park across the Texas state line.