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Newsbites – December 2016
Verde Transmission Line: Acceptance and Opposition
Hunt Power, a Dallas-based company owned by a family that deals in oil and gas production, is seeking to build a $60 to $80 million 345-kilowtt transmission line across northern Santa Fe County and southern Río Arriba County. The 33-mile project, the last uncompleted section of a loop the runs from the Four Corners area to Albuquerque and back, would go through the pueblos of Pojoaque, Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh and cross the Río Grande. Hunt has negotiated a right-of-way agreement with those pueblos but the Pueblo of San Ildefonso has refused; and so the line would go around that pueblo, near the populated area of Jacona. About one third of the route is on federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.
Many non-pueblo residents in the Española and Pojoaque valleys have expressed opposition to the 55- to 130-ft. towers, citing health concerns, effect on property values, critical wildlife habitat and impacts on landscapes that attract tourists and film productions. The Taos field office of the BLM has labeled the area “a High-Priority Visual Corridor.” There have been calls for the line to be buried, a suggestion the company has adamantly rejected.
The company says the line would strengthen PNM’s electrical grid, improve reliability and expand capacity to transport power generated by coal, natural gas and renewable sources.
The project has not yet received a permit from Santa Fe County. It will likely be discussed by the County Commission on Dec. 13. The next BLM public meeting is Dec. 12 in Pojoaque. The BLM will continue taking public comment through Jan. 5. It will probably be two years before a final decision is made whether to approve some version of the line on public land.
Public Lands Methane Rule Finalized
The oil and gas industry’s methane waste on public lands is said to equal the climate pollution of 14 coal-fired power plants. On Nov. 15, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released new rules that will reduce the industry’s waste by requiring that companies invest in controls to stop waste in existing operations, and as a condition for new leasing and drilling. The rules modernize standards adopted 36 years ago. Low-cost technology to combat methane waste is readily available and is a growing industry.
Oil and gas companies routinely vent methane into the atmosphere, burn it as a waste product from drilling and allow it to leak from equipment—an estimated $100-million-worth every year in New Mexico. Wasted gas has been shown to negatively impact public health—particularly for communities bordered by oil and gas operations—and exacerbate climate change. The new rules will help protect land, air and water throughout the lands that surround Native American communities in the Four Corners and greater Chaco regions.
When methane is emitted, smog-forming pollutants that can cause respiratory diseases, and chemicals such as benzene, which has been linked to cancer, are also released. Methane waste has also contributed to haphazard development, leaving a patchwork of drilling pads, wells, roads and pipelines that disrupt local communities and scar the landscape.
A nearly 100-member coalition of local, regional and national groups, led by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) worked for almost four years to encourage the federal government to heed government studies and craft a strong rule. Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, WELC’s executive director, said, “Now we will begin the difficult work of defending the rule and making sure it is implemented and enforced.”
New Mexico Water News
A dry year is expected for New Mexico. So far, reservoirs such as Elephant Butte Lake are very low, and snowmelt and runoff, upon which many farmers depend, does not look promising. Warm weather is predicted to continue through the winter. Some farmers in the southern part of the state have stopped growing on portions of their acreage because of low reservoir levels.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Utility Authority has begun its annual releases of reservoir water so it will seep into the ground and be available later to be pumped from the aquifer. In September, the Authority signed off on a comprehensive 100-year water plan that takes climate change predictions into account and focuses on conservation, groundwater management, watershed restoration and reuse.
In other water news, last month the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) imposed a $1-million penalty on Animas Valley Water, a Farmington-area utility, and ordered the company to supply water to customers who have been most severely affected by contaminated water. Some have had to boil water in order to drink it since June. Famed activist Erin Brockovich has begun an investigation into “what appears to be one of the worst drinking-water systems in the country.” “Sadly,” she wrote on her Facebook page, “its source water is the mine-polluted toxic river.”
Jémez y Sangre Regional Water Plan Submitted
According to the updated Jémez y Sangre Regional Water Plan, submitted by a regional committee to the Interstate Stream Commission last month, surface water that northern New Mexico relies on such as the Río Grande and the Río Chama could be significantly reduced as a result of climate change. The report predicts that the region’s demand will exceed its supply, possibly as early as 2020. It proposes conservation, restoration and storage projects, advocates the protection of agriculture, and recommends that domestic well associations, many of which are facing infrastructure needs, combine resources.
The Jémez y Sangre is one of the 16 water-planning regions in the state. Reports from each region will be used to develop an integrated plan.
One threat to groundwater cited in the report is the presence of hexavalent chromium in the Los Alamos-area aquifer. The chemical, once used to line cooling towers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, reportedly does not currently affect drinking water supplies, but a report released by the lab’s Environmental Management Office said the plume may not be remediated for decades. Another concern is that many of the region’s wells have high levels of naturally occurring uranium.
Establishment of a governing board for a regional water utility, a $261-million project that would be built in the Pojoaque Valley by 2024, is soon to be voted on by the Santa Fe County Commission. The utility would include four area pueblos. If approved as part of the Aamodt case, it would end more than half a century of litigation over the area’s water rights.
Navajo Nation Installing Solar/Wind Generators
Big Navajo Energy (BNE), a Utah-based, Navajo-owned and operated company, has installed a solar heater and solar/wind generators on the Navajo Nation’s legislative branch offices. The company has announced that it will next begin installing solar heaters and off-grid generators on some of the most rural parts of the reservation for tribal members. BNE also distributes natural gas generators and intends “to provide low-cost renewable energy to Native Americans across the United States and globally as well.”
The Navajo Nation is the size of West Virginia, with over 300,000 tribal members. More than 18,000 do not have access to electricity. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is building its first utility-scale solar plant near Kayenta, Arizona.
Tewa Women United’s Crowd-Funded Solar System
Tewa Women United’s solar project was two years in the making. Fundraising efforts made it possible for a 7kW solar system to be installed on TWU’s community center in Española, New Mexico, recently. The system will generate about 98 percent of the group’s annual electrical needs, saving money and reducing the organization’s carbon footprint. Additional yearly projected benefits: 24,035 pounds of coal not burned and 119,073 gallons of water saved.
The project was crowd-funded by the local advocacy group New Energy Economy. There were also some private donations. Sunpower by Positive Energy Solar was a partner on the project.
“Renewable energy restores the experience and dignity of self-sufficiency that our ancestors enjoyed,” said Beverly Billie, TWU’s outreach/training coordinator. “The poor of New Mexico spend about 27 percent of their incomes on energy bills.”
TWU programs, which serve the Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico, the Española Valley, and the greater Native community, focus on family wellness and women’s empowerment. The organization, started in 1989 as a support group for women concerned with issues such as alcoholism, suicide and domestic/sexual violence, later incorporated as a nonprofit for educational and social purposes, specifically to work to “end all forms of violence against Native women, girls and Mother Earth.”
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