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Newsbites – February 2015
The New Mexico Acequia Commission – Meeting on Feb. 27
The New Mexico Acequia Commission (NMAC) serves acequia communities throughout the state. The 11-member commission, created in 1987, is currently seeking to make itself better known to those communities.
Pursuant to Executive Order 88-06, the commission advises the governor, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on what criteria should be used to determine priorities for rehabilitating acequias under federal funding programs. The NMAC is also charged with facilitating communication between local acequia organizations and the state and federal governments and with reviewing plans or legislation that affect acequias. The commission presents its findings to the governor and the ISC.
The NMAC will be active during the 2015 legislative session. Legislation the commission is working on includes a joint memorial to create an Acequia Interim Committee to present acequia issues to legislators and plan legislation. The NMAC is also seeking a budget increase to support full-time staff and office space.
Acequia communities are encouraged to contact the commission by visiting www.nmacequiacommission.state.nm.us or by contacting Chair Ralph A. Vigil at 505.603.2879 or email@example.com. Agendas are available for the NMAC’s next meeting on Feb. 27, 10 a.m., in room 238 of the Bataan Memorial Building in Santa Fe.
Agricultural Lands Tax Reassessment in Taos
Agricultural status has become a hot topic in Taos County after many residents received huge property tax increases in 2014. After county staff visited more than 1,000 properties to determine if agriculture was still active, 630 parcels had their ag status revoked. Once ag status is lost, the taxable value of a property increases to match the value of nonresidential land in that area. The tax on a parcel in Des Montes, where some upscale homes are located, went from about $10 a year to just over $3,000.
Many property owners said the reassessment came amid a record-setting drought that made agriculture—especially small-scale ranching—impossible or prohibitively expensive. The increases raised concerns that many old Taos families, who are land rich but cash poor, would be forced to sell their property and that changing ag status could affect water rights tied to land. The tax reassessment added to mounting pressures against open space and traditional agrarian communities with proud, centuries-old acequia culture.
The Assessor’s Office maintains that its reviews of ag land are fair and mandated by state law. The state considers legitimate ag-land use as land producing a crop for personal consumption or sale, although some nontraditional ag uses have been successfully protested. Two bills are pending in the state Legislature, SB112 and HB112, sponsored by Senator Cisneros and Representatives Gonzales and O’Neill, that would protect and preserve agricultural properties in Taos County and throughout the state of New Mexico. The bills would allow property owners to “rest” agricultural land during long periods of drought without risking a tax hike.
New Regulations for Methane Emissions
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), human activities are responsible for 60 percent of all methane emissions. According to NASA, a 2,500-square-mile area of the Southwest’s Four Corners region is the nation’s largest emitter of methane over a 20-year timeframe, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide . Scientists say excess methane is significantly contributing to global warming and acidifying oceans. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, says this is a concern because we have acidified the oceans to a degree 30 percent higher than optimal to fully support life. She says that the ocean’s plankton, which produce half of the oxygen on Earth, are dying.
Methane is known to leak during coal production and at all levels of the oil- and gas-drilling production process. Increased drilling and production are expected to increase emissions unless new controls are in place. Last month, the Obama administration announced that it intends to cut methane emissions by nearly half by 2025 through new regulations to be administered by the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management. A spokesman from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association has said that such rules are burdensome and unnecessary because the industry is already working to reduce leakage.
Piñón Pipeline Would Facilitate San Juan Basin Oil Boom
The San Juan Basin in the Four Corners region may be on the verge of a shale-oil boom. The proposed 130-mile Piñón Pipeline, capable of carrying 50,000 barrels of crude a day, would start out as smaller pipelines that would gather oil at well pads and other points. A larger pipeline would then move the oil south to a distribution center near Interstate 40. The pipeline would span Navajo, private, state and federal land, including an area near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, a World Heritage Site.
Hundreds of people spoke out at public hearings last month, including Navajos who traveled hundreds of miles to ask the Bureau of Land Management to deny a permit to Saddle Butte San Juan Midstream LLC, a Denver-based corporation. Navajo activists and a Chaco Canyon archaeologist said that the permanent infrastructure the pipeline would require would fracture cultural and archaeological heritage, threaten endangered species, flora and fauna, ruin the recreation economy and bring inevitable oil spills. Fracking, they say, is already degrading air and water and negatively impacting local communities.
If the pipeline is constructed, oil and gas wells could quadruple in the San Juan Basin. The industry rationale for the pipeline is that current infrastructure—tanker trucks—can’t handle the crude being produced and developed and that trucking costs more and is riskier than a pipeline. At one of the hearings, however, an industry executive admitted that increasing drilling to such an extent would mitigate any environmental benefits.
The Sierra Club has urged the BLM to conduct a more detailed review, as required for an environmental impact statement, to consider the cumulative effects of all oil and gas development in the region and to fund a health assessment, as required by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Record Closed in PNM Replacement Power Case
After more than three weeks of testimony in the case before the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) over Public Service Company of New Mexico’s regional haze plan to retire two of four generating units at the aging coal-fired San Juan Generating Station (SJGS), the record is now closed. Some highlights:
PNM executives admitted that, due to errors and omissions, original estimates to replace power at the SJGS need to be increased by $1 billion. The more-than-$7-billion energy replacement plan would dictate energy resources (or cause further “stranded assets”) for ratepayers over 20 years. PNM began the case stating that its replacement portfolio of coal, nuclear, natural gas and 40 megawatts (MW) of solar was the “least-cost” and “most cost-effective.” The company’s argument shifted during the case, as the utility’s computer modeling (Strategist®) analyzed the plans and four alternatives, including New Energy Economy’s proposed 400 MW of wind and 260 MW of solar were shown to be less expensive for ratepayers.
Farmington Electric Utility System—a co-owner of the SJGS plant—announced its intention not to buy additional capacity when the other partners leave in 2017. As a result, Wall Street analyst Jefferies Equity Research downgraded PNM to a “hold,” rather than a “buy,” stating, “Our economic analysis of the plant makes it unlikely that PNMR (PNM Resources, PNM’s parent company) will find a third party to acquire [Farmington’s] 65 MW interest in the plant.”
Three parties that were part of a Stipulation Agreement with PNM—Western Resource Advocates (WRA), Renewable Energy Industry Association (REIA), and New Mexico Independent Power Producers (NMIPP)—have withdrawn their support. WRA cited concerns that PNMR might be negotiating to buy 65 MW. REIA and NMIPP withdrew after citing concerns over misestimated coal costs and the plant’s economic viability. The groups were also upset by a new “access fee” PNM wants to charge people who install residential solar panels. On Jan. 27, the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Authority filed its opposition to the Stipulation.
After the parties file briefs, the hearing examiner will make his Recommended Decision to the full PRC.
Santa Fe Higher Education Center Opens
Four New Mexico institutions have joined with Santa Fe Community College to form the Santa Fe Higher Education Center. The Institute of American Indian Arts, New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico State University and University of New Mexico offer 20 major areas of study. After completing two years at the community college, students can now obtain a bachelor’s degree through one of the center’s partner institutions.
The new campus at 1950 Siringo Rd. features state-of-the-art classrooms, geothermal heating and cooling and a solar photovoltaic array that generates about 80 percent of the facility’s energy demand.
Renewable Energy Day at the Roundhouse
Feb. 27, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
With 300 days of sunshine per year, New Mexico has the potential to lead the nation in renewable energy (RE) development, creating jobs, improving the economy and reducing water use.
On Friday, Feb. 27, the economic, environmental and social benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency will be celebrated at the state capitol. A diverse array of advocates, including public institutions, RE developers and environmental organizations will have display tables at the event. To encourage a favorable political climate for expanded clean energy, the Sierra Club will offer citizen lobby training and information about current legislation. A press conference at noon will feature legislators, industry specialists, youth and nonprofits who will share their policies and plans to help grow the RE industry in New Mexico. Free parking is available in the facility at 420 Galisteo St. For more information, call 505.310.4425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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