2020 – Year in Review

January

✔ Thirty-day legislative session wraps up. Tax credits for rooftop solar are finally renewed after passing the Legislature several times but being killed by former Gov. Martinez. Sen. Mimi Stewart’s Prohibiting Wildlife Trafficking bill also passes.

March

✔ As COVID-19 rates begin to skyrocket, the Sierra Club cancels all in-person events, including outings, through June.

✔ Despite the rest of the country shutting down during an unprecedented pandemic, the BLM forges ahead with oil and gas lease sales and comment periods, despite the public’s diverted attention and reduced ability to respond.

April

The Greater Chaco Coalition demanded that BLM impose an immediate moratorium on all new fracking and leasing activities.

✔ The Bureau of Land Management postponed the May oil and gas lease sale of 50,000 acres in New Mexico and ceased leasing more lands in Greater Chaco for the remainder of the year.

May

✔ Interior Secretary Bernhardt extends deadline to comment on resource management plan for Greater Chaco after multiple calls from tribal and congressional leaders, environmental and community groups, and state agencies.

✔ The Oil Conservation Division proposes an update to its regulations on reusing “produced water,” or water produced from the fracking process, in the oil field, asserting that the rulemaking was only intended to make simple changes. The Rio Grande Chapter intervened in the rulemaking to advocate for strengthening the rules.

June

✔ After 15 years of persistent effort, the ill-conceived Gila River diversion project is finally defeated. The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission voted in June (after hundreds of calls from activists like you) to defund and stop work on the diversion’s Environmental Impact Statement because the project was not economically viable. The victory came after years of work by coalition groups and your attendance at meetings, submission of thousands of comments, and financial support to groups like the Gila Resources Information Project.

✔ In New Mexico’s primary election, pro-environment Senate candidates defeat several right-leaning long-time incumbents, including Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen and Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, who used their power to block much environmental and other critical legislation from advancing.

✔ PRC hearing examiners recommend 100% solar and battery to replace the coal power at San Juan Generating Station, slated to retire in 2022, rather than PNM’s preferred plan, which included gas generators. The hearing examiners say the plan is reliable and complies with Energy Transition Act provisions siting replacement power in the same school district as the plant. The plan still must be approved by the commission.

✔ The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Trump’s transfer of funds from the Defense Department counter-narcotics and military retirement funds is unconstitutional and illegal in Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition v. Trump. The $2.5 billion was used to fund construction of 176 miles of border wall. However, a year ago, when a district court issued an injunction against construction, the Supreme Court issued a stay, allowing construction to continue while the case moved through the courts.

2021’s call to act against racism

By Miya King-Flaherty, Solidarity Committee

The Black Lives Matter movement to address and dismantle systemic racism and inequity was heard loud and clear after the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd and other black people and the ensuing uprising this summer.

When institutions treat special places and resources as disposable, the people who live there are treated as disposable and sacrificed too — often communities of color.

No matter the environment we live in and want to protect, whether it’s wildlands, river ecosystems or in city and urban settings, every person should have the right to live with full dignity and respect. The Sierra Club believes it is important to demand racial and social justice.

This year, in addition to internal work and support of community protests and other efforts, the Rio Grande Chapter Solidarity Committee hosted two webinars. The first was about the Albuququerque Community Safety Department, a new city department to respond to 911 mental-health crises. The second featured ACLU New Mexico speakers Barron Jones and Elaine Maestas discussing police accountability and legislation that would allow New Mexicans to bring claims for damages in state court against police officers and other public officials who violate their rights. We’ll continue to act in support of the movement for racial and social justice in the new year and beyond. Contact miya.king-flaherty@sierraclub.org to get involved. 

July

✔ The Public Regulation Commission unanimously approves Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy’s proposal for 100% solar power and battery to replace the coal power at San Juan Generating Station. The new projects will invest $1.1 billion into the San Juan, Rio Arriba and McKinley County economies and replace the tax base for the school district, in addition to lowering PNM customers’ bills. This critical climate victory, years in the making, is thanks to thousands of New Mexicans, especially residents of the impacted area, speaking out for an equitable transition from coal.

✔ U.S. Congress passes the Great American Outdoors Act, securing full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and solidifying future investments that preserve our public lands.

August

New Mexico updates its energy-efficiency building code for new buildings from the 2009 to the 2018 version, reducing energy use in new residential and commercial buildings by about 25 percent.

✔ Sierra Club joins the APD Forward Coalition led by concerned residents working to see the Albuquerque Police Department become a responsible, community-friendly department.

September

✔ Oil Conservation Division’s revised rule on produced water is finalized and approved. Many of the changes recommended by the Sierra Club and other groups such as Wild Earth Guardians were accepted. This is just the beginning of our efforts to reform oil and gas statutes and rules to ensure they fulfill the Oil and Gas Act mandate to protect human health, environment and freshwater resources.

✔ The nuclear policy that Sierra Club volunteers from across the country spent two years creating, which provides guidelines for management of nuclear high-level waste, is finalized and released (see riograndesierraclub.org/holtec). Meanwhile, hundreds of Sierra Club supporters comment to Nuclear Regulatory Commission in opposition to Holtec nuclear storage site before September deadline.

✔ The City of Albuquerque passes its own Energy Conservation Code, an even more energy-efficient building code than the one passed by the state in August. The city also directed $100,000 to assist with energy-efficiency retrofits for low-income residents.

October

✔ Ninth Circuit court places a permanent injunction on $4 billion taken from the Defense Department military construction fund in 2019 in State of California v Trump. However, the Trump administration continues construction, claiming some work needs to be completed before they can stop. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed construction to continue until mid-November.

November

✔ Supreme Court agrees to hear the two cases from the 9th circuit (a combined $6.5 billion taken from the Department of Defense). Meanwhile, the recent injunction was stayed, allowing construction to continue in the interim.

✔ Texas Commission on Environmental Quality holds public meeting on El Paso Electric effort to expand Newman Gas Plant. Every public commenter speaks in opposition to the plan, and 180 comments are submitted against the expansion.

✔ To accompany the defeat of our anti-environment president, Sierra Club-endorsed candidates win 63 of 77 races in Nov. 3 general election, and  New Mexico House becomes only the second majority-femal legislative chamber in the nation. See Page 6.

December

✔ Fifth Circuit Court overrules lower federal courts and rejects the City of El Paso and Borderlands Network’s standing, throwing the case out and not ruling on the merits. The lower courts had found that Trump’s emergency declaration and diversion of funds were illegal after accepting the standing of the City of El Paso.

✔ President-elect Joseph Biden nominates U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland to the first Native American Interior Secretary. See Page 3.

PRC rejects El Paso Electric’s plan to build a 228MW gas generator at its Newman power plant, just over the border from Chaparral, NM, citing New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act.

2020 – Year in Review

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