From the January/February/March 2023 newsletter
- New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposes Advanced Clean Cars standards that would require automakers to offer more zero-emission electric vehicles in the state. The American Lung Association found that such standards would save New Mexicans an estimated $20 billion in the next 30 years by improving community health.
- Local elected officials and outdoors advocates, including the Sierra Club, and community members weigh in against a proposal by an Arizona Air Force base to bring fighter-jet paths over the Gila Wilderness. In 2021, a Holloman Air Force Base plan for low-altitude test flights over the Gila was scratched after overwhelming local opposition. The Environmental Impact Statement for the new plan is due in fall 2023, along with more opportunity for public input.
- BLM holds public meetings on the 20-year moratorium on drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park as part of the national Honoring Chaco Initiative. But Chaco protectors, urging landscape-level safeguards to protect the cultural integrity of all of Greater Chaco and its communities, find little meaningful public engagement or tribal collaboration at the meetings.
- Four pieces of legislation that offered hundreds of millions in subsidies or incentives for methane-fueled, or “blue,” hydrogen development all died during the 30-day session thanks to New Mexicans showing up in force at every remote committee hearing and advocacy groups’ unified opposition.
- Sierra Club endorsee Pascual Maestas wins election as Taos mayor. With Maestas as a the fifth vote, the town council also gains a progressive majority.
- Low-income energy efficiency funding passes Legislature and is signed by the governor, providing $10 million in a pilot project to support energy-efficiency improvements for low-income New Mexicans’ homes to save money and lower energy burden. A joint resolution sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler also passed to send a constitutional amendment to voters to allow the state to directly serve the utility needs of low-income New Mexicans without violating the Constitution’s anti-donation clause.
- PNM announces it will delay the Energy Transition bond issue that would lower customer bills by more than $8 a month until after its planned 2023 rate case. Environmental groups and low-income advocates file a Public Regulation Commission motion to force the utility to credit customers for the savings they should be seeing once the plant closes.
- The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously rules that the state Constitution doesn’t permit New Mexico’s waterways to be “privatized” and sealed off from public access. The court voided all Game Commission privatization certificates that had authorized three wealthy landowners to close boatable sections of the Upper Rio Chama and the Upper Pecos River and sections of the Mimbres and two small streams in southern New Mexico.
- Disregarding public input and dozens of commenters, Albuquerque’s City Council votes 6-3 to repeal its own Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, commonly known as the ban on distribution of single-use plastic bags. A study on the ordinance’s effectiveness had been planned to conclude on June 30. Councilors Benton, Davis and Fiebelkorn defended Clean and Green.
- A Stanford University study reveals staggering rates of methane emissions upward of 9% in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, far eclipsing the 1.4% estimate the EPA uses for calculations like what methane-fueled hydrogen facilities will be eligible for federal tax credits. It also highlights the importance of robust state and federal safeguards to slash oil and gas waste of methane, which is 80 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
- The NM Environmental Improvement Board finalizes safeguards to cut smog and methane pollution from oil and gas facilities. The board adopted many of the proposals from environment and community groups to strengthen the pollution protections, including leak-detection and repair requirements for all operators.
- Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires begin to tear through Northern New Mexico and combine near Las Vegas, burning for months, forcing hundreds to evacuate and eventually burning an area bigger than New York City.
- BLM nominates 740,000 acres for auction for oil and gas leasing in a June lease sale, but after incorporating reforms from an Interior Department review of federal oil and gas leasing, the agency scales back the lease sale to 140,000 acres in eight states.
- New Mexico Gas Co. signs a settlement with Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Western Resource Advocates, New Energy Economy, the New Mexico attorney general and other intervenors, agreeing to cut its proposed rate increase in half, drop plans for a pilot project to blend hydrogen into its gas supply and fund an already existing experiment on hydrogen’s end-use impacts using shareholder, not ratepayer, dollars.
- Environmental Improvement Board adopts Advanced Clean Cars standards requiring automakers to provide increasing percentages of electric and low-emission vehicles in New Mexico. With incentives for early action, more EVs should begin to appear in showrooms in 2023. Hundreds of Sierra Club members and supporters submitted comments urging adoption of Clean Cars, with many sharing how much money they’ve saved by driving plug-in hybrid or full electric cars and how difficult it is to find EVs at New Mexico dealerships.
- Albuquerque City Council extends its Zero Fares program for city public transit, making public buses free through June 2023.
- Sierra Club-endorsed candidates go 15 of 19 races in New Mexico primary elections.
- PRC orders PNM to credit customers an average of $8.40/month to reflect the savings from closing San Juan Generation Station upon the coal plant’s retirement in September. PNM had previously announced it would delay issuing ETA bonds that would lower customer costs and instead continue to charge customers for San Juan for as long as two years after the plant closes. Dozens of impacted community members and Sierra Club supporters spoke passionately at a hearing urging commissioners to require PNM to keep its promises to close the plant, pre-fund $40 million in worker and community ETA funds and not horde the savings from transitioning away from expensive coal.
- The City of Santa Fe, Sierra Club and Coalition of Sustainable Communities help provide solar to 39 families through Solarize Santa Fe, a low-cost bulk-purchasing pilot.
- After public uproar led by Valencia Water Watchers, Valencia County Commission holds a new meeting to hear an oil and gas ordinance that had been improperly noticed and approved at a June commission meeting. Despite opposition from hundreds of speakers, the commission passes the measure, which makes it easier to drill for oil and gas in the county.
- Operator and majority owner PNM closes coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.
- New Mexico Supreme Court grants PNM a stay on the PRC ruling requiring the utility to credit customers for the savings they should be seeing from issue of Energy Transition bonds, which PNM has delayed.
- New Mexico Environment Improvement Board hears appeal of the Environment Department’s permit denial of Roper Construction’s concrete plant in Alto. Residents of the small town have formed a broad coalition made up of wide range of residents to stop construction of the plant, which threatens to harm the air quality along the nearby Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway and nearby homes. The board will likely make a final decision on the permit denial in March 2023.
- Environmental Improvement Board creates a rule to enforce the ETA’s carbon limit for coal plants. The limit should prevent companies like Enchant from operating coal-fired San Juan Generating Station without working carbon capture, but the rule implementing the limit left some loopholes.
- In a national environment where pro-environment and pro-democracy candidates do much better than expected, 34 of 37 candidates local and state candidates endorsed by the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter win. Volunteer-fueled victories included keeping climate and democracy champs Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver; maintaining a pro-environment majority in the state House, and flipping New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District with a win for Gabe Vasquez.
- Energy Transition Act Committee, which recommends which projects should receive $20 million in ETA funds earmarked for community investment, meets to hear proposals. See Page 3. The committee plans to meet in late December or January to make final recommendations, and state agencies will make final decisions on grantees.
- The Environmental Protection Agency releases a rule proposal that would establish strong, commonsense protections against methane and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry, improving on a draft rule that EPA issued in 2021. See Page 10.
- PNM announces that it has filed for a rate increase of about 9%, though the increase will be offset by reduced fuel charges because San Juan coal will be replaced by solar and storage, which don’t have fuel costs. However, PNM is still collecting profits from customers on San Juan Generating Station because it is so far successfully appealing the PRC order to credit customers for the amount of savings Energy Transition bond sales would provide. Advocacy groups will be working to hold the utility accountable and try to restore fair rates to customers.
2022 Year in Review