2021 Year in Review
Some of the key environment- and justice-related events of 2021:
  • Almost immediately after assuming office, President Joseph Biden issues an order to temporarily suspend new federal oil and gas leasing on public lands. The pause does not affect existing leases or drilling permits, and royalty revenue to the state is uninterrupted.
  • New Mexico Legislature begins first virtual session. 
  • The remote Ojo Encino Chapter House, west of Cuba, N.M., and in the greater Chaco Canyon area, is the first Navajo chapter to go online with continuous local air-quality monitoring using the PurpleAir network to measure particulate matter. The project is the continuation of monitoring conducted in the Counselor Chapter in 2018 as part of a community Health Impact Assessment. View air-quality readings at https://rb.gy/tsmaeu.
  • U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of Laguna Pueblo becomes the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. The Senate voted 51-40 to confirm the Democratic congressional representative for New Mexico’s 1st District to lead the Interior Department, an agency that plays a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.
  • The New Mexico Oil Conservation  Commission finalizes a rule to limit venting and flaring of climate-damaging methane by the oil and gas industry. Environmental and community groups advocate for banning venting and flaring of gas except in limited circumstances and requiring all oil and gas companies to capture 98% of methane emissions by 2026. The rule does not mandate fixing methane leaks. A separate rule from the Environment Department will target emissions and leaks of methane, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide.
  • New Mexico’s legislative session ends, passing some significant policy signed into law in April (see below). 
  • Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs “Roxy’s Law,” prohibiting traps and poisons from public lands in New Mexico. Years of work and activism by New Mexicans contributed to that achievement. Hikers and walkers can now enjoy public lands without fear of their pets — or themselves — being injured or even killed in traps.  
  • SB112, “Sustainable Economy Task Force,” becomes law. This legislation will recommend diversification opportunities for New Mexico’s economy and require implementation of recommendations from a Department of Workforce Solutions survey of 1,800 New Mexico frontline workers.
  • Community Solar Act also becomes law. Another bill that environmental and community organizations have been advocating for for years, this legislation will make solar energy more affordable and accessible to all New Mexicans. It allows individuals, school districts, municipalities and tribal governments to subscribe to solar energy without having to install solar panels on site.
  • Citing Energy Transition Act requirements, PNM proposes 100% solar and battery as replacement for PNM’s retiring lease in Palo Verde nuclear plant. The company will still own a separate share of Palo Verde after this lease expires. In choosing renewables, the utility also cited the PRC’s rejection of its gas-heavy replacement plan for the San Juan coal plant in 2020 in favor of solar and storage. 
  • Attorney General Hector Balderas files suit in federal district court against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, requesting denial of Holtec’s permit to build a temporary storage facility for all the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico. Balderas’s suit complements the Sierra Club’s legal challenges against the NRC’s plans.
  • A Center for Applied Research report for Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard reveals that capping orphaned oil and gas wells could cost the state $8.4 billion, not including the cost of reclaiming a well site or cleaning spills on federal lands. The state has about $200 million in financial assurance funds to plug orphaned wells, leaving New Mexicans on the hook to fund the enormous gap. 
  • A coalition of groups, including the Sierra Club, files a petition at the state Environmental Improvement Board and supplying a draft rule and the regulatory documents needed for the state to swiftly adopt Clean Car standards to make zero-emission vehicles more readily available and accessible in New Mexico.
  • In response to a suit filed by Sierra Club and others in 2018, EPA proposes to designate the El Paso area as in “nonattainment” with the 2015 ozone standard. The designation has implications for El Paso Electric’s proposed expansion of Newman Gas Plant and other polluting facilities as their air permits come up for renewal.
  • N.M. Oil Conservation Division bans routine venting and flaring.
  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service announces that in April and May, a record 22 captive-born wolf pups were cross-fostered into wild dens. Nine pups have been fostered into three different packs in Arizona, and 13 pups have been fostered into five different packs in New Mexico. 
  • A federal judge in Louisiana blocks the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. 
  • The Biden Administration announces it will begin the process of repealing the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, also known as the “Dirty Water Rule.” The rule harms New Mexico more than any other state, leaving more than 90% of the state’s waters unprotected by the federal Clean Water Act.
  • State Rep. Melanie Stansbury becomes U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury when she wins election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 
  • PRC hearing examiner agrees with the Sierra Club that the role of Four Corners coal plant is relevant to the PNM-Avangrid merger case. Also in June, PNM signs a deal with mine owner NTEC and majority plant owner Arizona Public Service to prohibit closure of the coal plant before 2027. Sierra Club intervened in the merger case because it objected to PNM’s promise to NTEC to veto plant closure while it remains owner, until 2025. 
  • New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board denies environmental groups’ petition to start Clean Cars rulemaking in time to apply to the 2024 model year. 
  • After a 16-month hiatus, the Sierra Club resumes leading its free and open-to-the-public hikes, walks and tours.
  • Del Oro Dairy in Anthony, N.M., agrees to modifications to its plan to capture polluted shallow groundwater from beneath its facility. This revised plan is the culmination of efforts between the New Mexico Environment Department, the New Mexico Citizens Dairy Coalition and Del Oro.
  • New Mexico Game Commission rejects five private landowners’ applications for “certificates of non-navigability” that would have empowered them to prohibit recreation use of the Rio Chama and Pecos River through their properties. 
  • The Bureau of Land Management announces it will hold a new round of oil and gas lease sales in February 2022. More than 1,000 New Mexicans submit comments protesting the lease sales. 
  • Sierra Club, Earthworks and Chaparral Coalition for Community Health and Environment settle with El Paso Electric over proposed expansion of Newman Gas Plant. While EPE will go forward with the new gas unit, the settlement will substantially reduce air pollution in the region. EPE must retire two existing gas units and is prohibited from building new fossil-fuel facilities for four years, and must reduce CO2 pollution from the new unit by 500,000 tons and NOx by 50 tons. 
  • N.M. Public Regulation Commission approves Southwestern Public Service’s “Transportation Electrification Plan.” The plans, required of all three of New Mexico’s major utilities — will add charging stations for electric vehicles on New Mexico public roadways and provide rebates for residents to install fast chargers at home. El Paso Electric’s and PNM’s plans are approved within the next two months. 
  • New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham announces she will put climate legislation on her call to be considered during the 30-day legislative budget session starting in January. 
  • New Mexico Environment Department releases draft Clean Car rules to make electric vehicles more accessible in the state and tighten vehicle pollution standards. 
  • Local elections held around New Mexico. See Page 10 for results for our endorsed candidates. 
  • State releases discussion draft of legislation that would incentivize production of hydrogen that would generate considerable amounts of climate pollution. See legislative article on Page 6 and riograndesierraclub.org/hydrogen to learn more. 
  • EPA holds hearings on methane rules that will for the first time apply to both new and existing sources of oil and gas pollution. 
  • New Mexico PRC rejects Avangrid and PNM’s merger application. 
  • One week later, PRC commissioners reject PNM’s application to transfer its share of Four Corners coal plant to the mine owner, NTEC. The transfer would have increased the likelihood that the plant would continue pumping pollution indefinitely. Now the money-losing plant is more likely to close and end its climate pollution early.
2021 Year in Review