- A female Mexican wolf named Asha roams almost to the Colorado border before being taken back into captivity. The US Fish and Wildlife Service hoped she could be paired with a mate to have pups that could be released to the wild.
- Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter’s Pajarito Group, including Los Alamos and Jemez Springs, rejoins the Northern New Mexico Group, which surrounds it. “We’re still working together. Only the name has changed,” says Pajarito Chair Jody Benson.
- The Fish and Wildlife Services’ annual count shows that the wild population of Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest increased from 196 to 241 in 2022, with 136 wolves in New Mexico and 105 in Arizona.
- After residents of Mountain View, a South Valley Albuquerque neighborhood of primarily low-income people of color, band together with help from New Mexico Environmental Law Center to stop a hot-mix asphalt plant from being built in their neighborhood, the Albuquerque-Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board votes unanimously to deny further action on the plant’s permit.
- The Legislature handily passes a bill to reform the state Game Commission that would have, if signed, set better qualifications for who could serve and split appointments to the seven-member board between the governor and legislature. Unfortunately, it is not signed by the governor.
- President Biden announces the designation of 7,000 acres in Castner Range near El Paso, along with Nevada’s Avi Kwa Áme, as the nation’s newest national monuments. The Rio Grande Chapter’s El Paso Group worked for years with a local coalition to protect the range and its historic beauty and rare and endangered wildlife.
- The Environmental Improvement Board votes to overturn the Environment Department’s denial of Roper Construction’s permit to build a concrete batch plant near homes and protected spaces in Alto, NM. Alto residents vow to pursue legal means to prevent the plant from being built.
- Sierra Club attorney Jason Marks argues at the New Mexico Supreme Court to prevent a PNM deal that would risk prolonging the life of the aging and polluting Four Corners coal-fired power plant. Sierra Club was helping defend the PRC decision to reject PNM’s attempt to pay $75 million to offload its stake in the plant to NTEC, the owner of the coal mine, which had expressed its intent to keep the plant open as long as possible.
- On the last full day of the 2023 New Mexico legislative session, the state says “no” to being the nation’s nuclear dump. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham almost immediately signed SB53, which prevents the state from issuing permits for Holtec’s proposed “interim” storage site for all the nation’s high-level nuclear waste. “This is a momentous step forward to show the world that we can protect ourselves from never-ending radioactive waste,” says Diné anti-nuclear activist Leona Morgan.
- Legislators include the largest appropriation for the Strategic Water Reserve since 2005, allowing the state to purchase or lease water rights from other owners as opportunities arise.
- Other legislative victories included appropriation of the ETA funds to be distributed to workers and the Four Corners community after the September 2022 closing of San Juan Generating Station; passage of tax credits for electric-vehicle purchases, home energy storage, geothermal and heat pumps; passage of the Voting Rights Act that expands voting access for Pueblos and tribes as well as citizens who have served prison terms; and a permanent fund for conservation projects. But …
- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issues line-item veto of most of the legislative tax package, including climate tax credits for EVs, geothermal, home energy storage and heat pumps, as well as a geothermal center and fund. The Sierra Club and partners call on the governor to regain the state’s climate leadership by passing Clean Cars and Trucks standards and supporting comprehensive and equitable climate-justice policies.
- Outings leader Rose Rowan leads 12 chapter members on a service trip at City of Rocks State Park, completing trail maintenance on over 2 miles of mountain trail.
- Bureau of Land Management proposes its “Public Lands Rule” allowing the agency to manage lands for health and resiliency by placing conservation on the same level as other uses, like resource extraction and grazing, that have historically been prioritized by the agency.
- American Lung Association State of the Air Report gives Eddy, Lea and San Juan Counties, the state’s biggest oil and gas producers, F grades for oil and gas smog pollution.
- El Paso’s “Climate Charter,” supported by a broad coalition of community climate-justice activists, is defeated after oil and gas interests spend more than a million dollars on deceptive mailers and ads opposing it.
- NRC issues a license to Holtec for an “interim” nuclear storage facility despite state opposition. Sierra Club and partners return to court.
- Mexican wolf Asha gets along with, but refuses, all potential suitors as mates in captivity, so she is released back into the wild alone in the Apache National Forest of southeast Arizona.
- Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issues a final decision to ban new oil and gas development on unleased federal lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. The ban does not include existing leases or private, tribal, allotted or state lands.
- Dozens of organizations, including Sierra Club, write to the Department of Energy and Treasury Department outlining strict requirements that should be imposed in order for developers to qualify for lucrative new hydrogen-production tax credits. The groups warn that, without robust guardrails, billions of dollars could be spent incentivizing increased climate pollution.
- News emerges that the USDA plans to spray an insecticide that is also a potent neurotoxin over 39 square miles in the Rio Chama watershed on June 26 to kill native grasshoppers that are competing with cows for grass.
- The BLM, which controls much of the 25,000 acres of Rio Chama land to be sprayed, halts the USDA’s plan to release the toxic insecticide. The decision follows a powerful community mobilization when wildlife and air-quality proponents learned of the planned spraying just weeks before it was to happen. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard supported hundreds of activists’ requests to the BLM to block the spraying.
- Diné water-protection organization Tó Nizhóni Áni announces that 35 Navajo chapters have passed resolutions opposing hydrogen produced from fossil-fuel sources.
- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces a proposal to adopt Clean Cars and Clean Trucks standards to require increasing percentages of new vehicles sold in New Mexico be zero-emission electric cars or trucks.
- New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upholds the Public Regulation Commission’s 2021 denial of PNM’s transfer of its ownership share in Four Corners Power Plant to Navajo Transitional Energy Company.
- Kill reports from trappers for the previous winter, the first in which traps could not legally be set on New Mexico public lands thanks to the passage of Roxy’s Law, show that fox kills went down by 56% and bobcat kills were down by 31%.
- The Bureau of Land Management proposes its oil and gas rule, with long-overdue provisions to update the agency’s leasing program, including raising royalty rates, lease rates, minimum bids and bonding requirements.
- Environmental organizations and the New Mexico attorney general announce a settlement with PNM requiring the utility to issue an ETA customer credit averaging $9.28 per month after PNM delayed issuing Energy Transition Act bonds that would have reduced bills thanks to the closing of San Juan Generating Station. See Page 5 for more.
- The Department of Energy releases its selection of regional “hydrogen hubs” to receive $7 billion in federal funding. New Mexico’s hub is not selected. New federal tax credits and other state funds could potentially direct billions of public dollars toward fossil-fuel hydrogen, which presents climate, pollution and safety risks. We will continue to oppose public funding for harmful hydrogen development in 2024 and beyond.
- New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces the creation of the Climate Investment Center, or “Green Bank,” to help low-income families and rural businesses finance money-saving climate solutions like solar panels and heat pumps.
- Sierra Club and Beer Central New Mexico Group meetings are revived! After two and a half years, meetings were held in October, November and December.
- San Juan Solar breaks ground on a 200-megawatt solar facility in the shadow of the closed San Juan Generating Station, hiring hundreds of construction workers.
- After wandering back into New Mexico from Arizona and spending several months roaming slowly northward, Mexican wolf Asha crosses I-40 again and reaches the Jemez Mountains.
- In a major step for climate and health in New Mexico, the state Environmental Improvement Board and Albuquerque-Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board vote to adopt Clean Cars and Clean Trucks standards.
- Eighteen of 23 endorsed candidates and ballot measures win in the November local elections, including important wins for equity. One Albuquerque race goes to a runoff. See page 11 for details.
- Northern New Mexico Group members join the Caja del Rio Coalition for trash pickup on the Caja Mesa near the shooting area, filling two huge county trailer-dumpsters with close to 10,000 pounds of junk.
- The Environmental Protection Agency finalizes its oil and gas methane-reduction rule. Thousands of New Mexicans submitted comments supporting strong safeguards. See Page 5.
- Nichole Rogers wins her Albuquerque City Council runoff, becoming the 19th of 23 candidates endorsed by the Rio Grande Chapter who won their elections in 2023.
- The tracking collar of Mexican wolf Asha shows her staying around the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Scientists have already determined that this is suitable habitat for Lobos. But on Dec. 11, Asha is taken back into captivity, where wildlife officials say they will try again to breed her in hopes that next summer she can be released back to the wild in the official wolf recovery area, perhaps with pups.
- Resisting pressure from the fossil-fuel industry, the U.S. Treasury Department releases draft guidance on qualification for 45V hydrogen-production tax credits. The guidance includes many of the strict requirements that Sierra Club and other climate advocates had requested. “Without critical guardrails, hydrogen could actually increase climate emissions and air pollution,” Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Patrick Drupp said. “We urge the Administration to finalize strong standards that fully reflect the total emissions impact of hydrogen production.”
2023 Year in Review