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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take a look at most oil and gas infrastructure — wellheads, pipes and cylindrical storage tanks — dotting New Mexico oil and gas fields, and little seems to be happening. But use the right equipment and you can see gases, including methane, wafting into the air. Heading skyward with methane, the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, are royalties some say the oil and gas industry could be paying New Mexico. An April report from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national budget and taxpayer advocate, analyzed federal leases through the Office of Natural Resource Revenue and estimated that the gas lost nationwide on federal lands in 2016 was worth $75.5 million. Half of the gas lost between 2012 and 2016 came from New Mexico.
On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Chavez Herbert introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents. The listening session, which lasted about five hours, provided a glimpse into tensions in several small Navajo communities near Chaco Canyon over an uptick in fracking in recent years, pitting those who worry about the public health hazards it poses against government agencies who authorize it, as well as some of their neighbors who benefit economically from leasing their land to oil and gas companies.
This week the state agency in charge of building a diversion on the Gila River has scaled down plans for capturing the river’s water. The agency’s decision might mean good news for project critics who feared its environmental consequences and high cost. But many questions remain around how much money the state has to build the project, the location and scale of the diversion, and who would buy the water once it’s built.