2016 Year in Review


El Paso Group begins distributing reusable bags in low-income El Paso neighborhoods to promote reduced use of single-use plastic bags.


• Sandridge LLC withdraws its application for a natural-gas exploratory well near Rio Rancho city limits after thousands of Sandoval County citizens and conservation groups spoke up in opposition. The withdrawal is a victory of citizen engagement but raises the issue that the county, which new technologies have made more viable for drilling, has almost no ordinances to protect against negative impacts of drilling. The county is now developing such ordinances, and Sandoval citizens must stay involved. Write to riogrande.chapter@sierraclub.org to join our action listserv and get updates.

• The Game Commission agrees to let the Ladder Ranch house endangered Mexican wolves again as long as they are intended for release only into Mexico (the commission denied the ranch’s permit renewal for holding wolves in 2015). In February, a family of wolves was transferred to the facility, where the female gave birth to six more pups. All 11 wolves were released together into old Mexico on Dec. 1.

New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session ends with few environment-related bills, good or bad, considered. With a severe budget crisis, renewal of tax credits for residential solar installations and utility-scale renewable-energy production and facilities failed. But thin state coffers also doomed bills offering oil and gas tax breaks.


Rio Grande Chapter honors former chapter Chair John Buchser, Political Chair Susan Martin and Public Lands Chair Norma McCallan for their combined decades of contributions to environmental protection in New Mexico.


• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cross-fosters a pair of pups from a cmexican_wolf_2_yfb-edit_1-courtesy-sevilletaaptive wolf mother to a wild pack’s den, adding much-needed genetic diversity to the dwindling population of 97 Mexican gray wolves in the wild.

• Truth or Consequences City Council rescinds support for the Copper Flat mine based on challenges to the Bureau of Land Management’s draft Environmental Impact Statement after more than 600 Sierra Club supporters sent comments with concerns about the mine’s water use and likely water contamination.

• PNM files with the Public Regulation Commission to build an 80-megawatt natural-gas plant at the San Juan site after withdrawing an application for a 187-megawatt plant in 2015.


• EPA finalizes rule requiring oil and gas producers to reduce methane leaks at new and modified drilling sites.  New Mexicans sent more than 27,000 comments in favor of the rule through Sierra Club and our allies. Methane is 86 times more potent as a climate-change gas than carbon dioxide but disperses from the atmosphere much more quickly, so reducing waste can be a powerful way to stave off climate disruption.

First community meeting on Health Impact Assessment at Counselor Chapter in Navajo Nation is a first step for a community health report on the impacts of oil and gas.

• The state of New Mexico sues to stop the federal government from releasing endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico. A federal district judge stays additional wolf releases.

Jim Tolbert, a member of our chapter’s El Paso Group Executive Committee, wins El Paso City Council special election with a majority of the vote despite an eight-way race.


Santa Fe Living Treasure and bedrock Rio Grande Chapter leader Norma McCallan passes away on June 27 at age 83. To learn more about Norma’s enormous contributions to the Sierra Club and New Mexico, please go to norma-mug-from-kingstonriograndesierraclub.org/norma-mccallan.

Nine of 12 candidates endorsed by Rio Grande Chapter win their primary races.

• The Bureau of Land Management postpones a planned lease of three Chaco Canyon-area parcels intended for oil and gas development until January.

• Conservation groups release oil and gas “threat map” (www.oilandgasthreatmap.com/threat-map/new-mexico.) to document which homes, schools, and medical facilities are located within a half-mile “threat radius” of oil and gas facilities.

• Center for American Progress report shows that the San Juan Basin ranked No. 1 in the nation for methane pollution per well in 2014.

• Rio Grande Chapter volunteers begin monitoring quarterly reports from 13 dairies that have committed groundwater-contamination violations.

Eric Patterson, who leads our Taos Water Sentinels water-testing program, wins national Sierra Club’s Special Service award.


• Taos Water Sentinels travel to southeastern New Mexico to monitor water quality on the Pecos River.

Northern New Mexico Group releases updated eighth edition of its popular hiking guide, Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area. Copies are available at Santa Fe REI and community bookstores.

• In a surprise move, El Paso Electric drops a proposed $11 monthly fee on El Paso solar owners and abandons its attempt to put customers with residential solar into a separate rate class. The victory came after a year of efforts by Eco El Paso, a coalition of citizens and community groups that includes Sierra Club El Paso Group. The utility is expected to try similar proposals in its next rate case, however.


BLM proposes to offer 843 acres in the greater Chaco area for lease for oil and gas development in its January lease sale.

• NASA study identifies 250 sources in the San Juan Basin that significantly contribute to the large methane cloud hanging over the region. Just 10 percent of these sources are responsible for more than half of all methane emissions.

• Ryan Flynn, the force behind the industry-written Copper-Mining Rule that clean-water groups are appealing, resigns as secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department.


• New Mexico Oil and Gas Association announces its new executive director: Former Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn.

• Albuquerque passes initiative requiring 25% of electricity at the city’s facilities to come from solar energy by 2025.

In a divided vote, New Mexico Public Regulation Commission approves about half the 14% rate hike requested by PNM. The commission chopped PNM’s proposed increase in base fees from $8 to $2, and the company didn’t get to charge customers for unnecessary coal-plant equipment. But PNM does get to make customers pay for coal and nuclear power it procured without prior approval, though it got a lot less than it asked for.


A federal judge orders the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop an updated Mexican-wolf recovery plan by the end of 2017. If the new Congress removes Endangered Species protections from wolves, it isn’t clear if that order will still apply.

PNM withdraws application for an 80-megawatt natural-gas plant and pipeline after acknowledging it doesn’t need the power.

The BLM and BIA reopen the public scoping period to update a 2003 Resource Management Plan to analyze the impacts of fracking on the environment and surrounding communities.


painted-bunting-small• After a delay of more than a year, New Mexico Game Commission approves a modified State Wildlife Action Plan to qualify for millions in federal funding for non-game species. The commission weakened the language and removed all insects and a host of other species from consideration at the behest of oil and gas interests. It still covers 235 species, including river otters, jaguars, black-footed ferrets, 70 bird species (including the painted bunting, at left),  reptiles, fish, and mollusks.

• Environmental champions retake New Mexico House and Senate. Hundreds attend Sierra Club post-election meetings for new volunteers.

BLM finalizes rules to reduce methane waste from oil and gas facilities on public lands. In New Mexico, enough natural gas is wasted each year to heat 530,000 homes.


• 55 people attend comment-writing workshop to submit BLM comments on Chaco.

Saddle Butte LLC withdraws application for Piñon Pipeline (see Page 3), which could have quadrupled oil production in greater Chaco Canyon.

• Gov. Martinez names Ken McQueen, former vice president of oil company WPX, to head New Mexico’s Energy Department, which oversees permits for new wells, regulates oil and gas activity and enforces oil and gas statutes. WPX has drilled more than 100 wells in recent years in northwest New Mexico, including some across the highway from Lybrook Elementary School.

2016 Year in Review