from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico SANTA FE, N. M. - An international consumer advocacy groups has set its sights on clean water in New Mexico. Food & Water Watch is concerned about hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" - a process used to extract natural gas from oil shale deposits. It's a practice the New Mexico organizer for the organization will be working to ban in the coming year. The group's state organizer, Eleanor Bravo, says fracking carries with it a host of dangers.
"The fracking fluid, which is injected at high pressure into the oil shale to release the natural gas, is laced with approximately 57 different carcinogens."
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association President Steve Henke acknowledges the use of carcinogens, notably benzene, in the fracking process. However, he expresses confidence that the water table is unaffected by hydraulic fracturing operations.
"Well, I absolutely do. As we drill through the fresh-water-bearing zones, there's at least two protective layers of steel casing and cement in that well bore that separate those fresh-water zones from any fluids coming in and out of the well bore."
Henke says history and monitoring have shown this to be an effective method for preventing commingling and creating protection for the water table during fracturing operations.
Bravo believes that's not enough. She points out that the fracking process is exempt from the Clean Water Act, and says an analysis of the chemicals used shows that as much as 50 to 55 percent of the fracking fluid remains in the strata, with the rest reclaimed as "produced water."
"Municipal water systems can't clean that kind of water."
Bravo adds the big concern is money, not the environment. She does not believe industry statements that the natural gas is simply a "bridge fuel" to tide the nation over until more alternative energy comes online.
"These oil and gas companies are poised to sell this natural gas to foreign countries. They're turning North America into the next Saudi Arabia."
Editor's Note: Food & Water Watch will be opening an office in Albuquerque this month. Beth Blakeman reporting, firstname.lastname@example.org
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico SANTA FE, N. M. - In a letter to President Obama, more than 100 economists and academics from universities around the country point out that America's public lands are an important part of its infrastructure, worthy of protection and investment.
At New Mexico State University, Dr. Christopher Erickson explains how that approach could benefit his local community of Las Cruces.
"We have a new national monument at the Dinosaur Trackway, and that needs to be developed. And development of that would be a way of attracting people into the community. It'd make the new national monument accessible to the public."
The letter says quality of life and recreation opportunities are priorities for today's companies and workers. It asks the president to support spending to get public lands in better shape, as well as protecting new areas.
Dr. Walter Hecox, a professor who heads the State of the Rockies Project at Colorado College, says those who are suggesting selling off public land to help pay the national debt are short-sighted.
"It'd be like having a discussion about selling off the Washington Monument because it doesn't make money. And if we don't in the West begin to be active in raising these concerns that it's the very foundation of a vibrant economy, then I fear that we will lose in Congress."
Research from the State of the Rockies Project found 77 percent of voters in five Rocky Mountain States agreed with this statement: "We can protect land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs at the same time, without having to choose one over the other."
Headwaters Economics is an independent nonprofit research group that organized the letter and its signers. Its executive director, Dr. Ray Rasker, says the public lands are economic assets that call for a special kind of balance.
"So, when the choice comes to use those lands for either protection or for resource extraction, it doesn't mean you don't do resource extraction, but it means there's a significant opportunity cost if you do it wrong. Because the clean water and the scenery and the recreational opportunities are what is attracting most of the growth right now."
And Toner Mitchell, who runs a fly-fishing shop in Santa Fe, underscores how his business is affected by protection of public lands.
"Santa Fe's economy is very tourist-based - hotels, restaurants. And folks who bought into the real estate boom preceded their permanent residence by visiting. We have skiing, hiking, fishing - and it's all the national forests that make that possible."
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Rural Development Agency, under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers many of the services Americans used to count on from their banks, with one large proviso: These services are available only in rural areas.
Terry Brunner, the USDA's New Mexico director for rural development, oversees about 45 programs which do everything from providing loans for small and emerging private businesses to assisting in development of advanced biofuels. At one time, his agency helped bring electricity to rural farms and ranches across the nation.
Brunner says its mission has grown.
"We also have some programs where we give money to nonprofits and public bodies that are re-lenders or micro-lenders. So, they use our money to re-lend it out in the community. So we are doing, in some ways, what banks do."
Brunner says the agency's loans, grants and services are part of an effort to facilitate rural community and economic development. The Rural Development Agency still helps with utility concerns in rural areas, he says, but it also has a vibrant housing program.
"We're one of the largest housing financial institutions in the U.S., and we provide hundreds of home loans and loan guarantees for banks, for people around New Mexico. We also have community facilities program, where we help finance the building of community centers and courthouses and hospitals and clinics."
The agency also offers loan guarantees for businesses, he says, including those which want to increase energy efficiency.
Today, "rural development" can mean anything from small farms and farmers' markets to broadband access. For the latter, Brunner says, his agency has yet to cover the entire state, but is working diligently to link producers to consumers.
"We do a lot of broadband work. We've spent about $150 million in the last couple years in broadband in New Mexico. We've got projects all around the state - First, Middle and Last Mile projects. A lot of those are stimulus projects out to cooperatives and member-owned phone companies in these rural areas."
Since the start of the current administration, Brunner says, the Rural Development Agency has spent about $1 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants around New Mexico.
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico FARMINGTON, N.M. - An effort is under way to get Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) to clean up nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) being emitted by the San Juan Generating Station. According to New Energy Economy, the coal-fired electric plant emits more than 8.5 million tons of carbon pollution and requires more than 9.3 billion gallons of clean water each year.
John Bucsher, chair of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested that PNM employ "selective catalytic reduction" (SCR) to reduce pollutants, as called for in the Clean Air Act. But PNM is resisting, he says.
"They don't really want to do it. They want to spend as little money as possible. Frequently, large companies feel that their primary role is to maximize profit for their investors."
The Sierra Club says installing these pollution controls will lower nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent, thus reducing health problems such as asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, birth defects and infant mortality. He adds it will also make the Four Corners' panorama more majestic, through clear air, and that will attract tourists to visit and spend money in the local economy.
PNM Executive Director of Environmental Services Maureen Gannon says a study performed by an international engineering firm indicates a less-expensive technology would also meet federal standards.
"When you look at the visibility improvements with either of those technologies, there's very little change in terms of decibews."
A decibew is a visibility measurement, much as a decibel is an audio measurement.
It will be up to the EPA to decide which technology is installed at the coal-fired plant.
Bucsher says the utility claims the cost of using SCR technology will be a financial burden. He says PNM's cost estimate is exaggerated and the utility's resistance to installing SCR has to do with loss of profits.
"They went to court and said, 'This is too expensive. Our ratepayers and our shareholders can't afford it. There are cheaper technologies that we could deploy. They won't be as effective, but we think they'll be good enough.'"
According to Gannon, SCR installation would cost PNM, its shareholders and ratepayers $750 million or more. The Sierra Club points out that the EPA's cost estimate is $345 million, and PNM's share of that would be only $160 million, since the utility owns just 46 percent of the plant.
PNM would agree to install selective noncatalytic reduction (SNCR) at a cost of approximately $77 million, Gannon says, if the state's plan prevails. She says SNCR would cost about one-tenth as much as SCR.
Either plan will work, according to PNM Public Information Officer Don Brown.
"Both the state plan and the EPA plan address regional haze and meet federal standards."
The Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice filed the motion in federal court in October, on behalf of New Energy Economy, San Juan Citizens Alliance, National Park Conservation Association, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment and the Sierra Club.
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Sierra Club is concerned about Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry's plans to change the 2009 Energy Conservation Code.
Shrayas Jatkar, the local chapter's organizing director, says the mayor's plan to change to a building code that is not as environmentally friendly would mean confusion for people in the construction industry and a loss of energy efficiency and money for consumers.
"Albuquerque has had a very good building code in place for almost two years. It's a building code that ensures that new homes and new commercial buildings will be built to use less energy. They will be built energy-efficiently."
In addition, Jatkar says, the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) will become the U.S. national standard and will achieve the same level of energy savings as would the Duke City's present code. Jatkar says changing to a new code could mean changing back when the 2012 IECC is put in place.
Lynne Andersen, president of the National Association of Office and Industrial Properties (NAOIP) and a supporter of the mayor's measure, says the state is not required to change to the 2012 IECC code. According to the Department of Energy, however, there is a funding incentive tied to updating to the new code.
The NAOIP has the support of Berry and at least two city councilors in its efforts to change the popular code. Andersen says there are a number of reasons to make the change, not the least of which is cost.
"For a 25,000-square-foot warehouse or factory, it would cost $91,000 more to build on the current Albuquerque code than the '09 Energy Conservation Code."
The Sierra Club says the 2012 IECC could be an economic boon to central New Mexico, if Albuquerque chooses to focus on becoming a manufacturing hub by producing green building materials and creating jobs.
from the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce Albuquerque, NM (October 23, 2011) - On the heels of a successful statewide renewable energy conference, the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce today announced that 31 New Mexico business leaders have sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, encouraging him to support the development of clean-energy projects on New Mexico's public, private, and Tribal lands for the benefit of the state's economy and environment.
"These New Mexico businesses believe responsible clean-energy development on our state's abundant public lands will help spur economic growth and job creation, and urge Secretary Salazar to push on this transition to a new clean-energy economy," said Allan Oliver, CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce.
The New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce's September conference in Las Cruces attracted 200 business leaders, representatives of industry, government, higher education, and research laboratories, as well as policy-makers from across the state and region.
Interior Department Adviser Alan Gilbert was a keynote speaker, and carried a message from the Secretary: "Encouraging new sources of renewable energy for our country on our public lands is a high priority for President Obama and Secretary Salazar, both for the energy people will be able to use and for the jobs these new and important businesses will bring."
To encourage a continued conversation with Secretary Salazar, New Mexico business leaders this month sent a letter to him asking that he work with them to "create local jobs while protecting our national treasures," adding that "New Mexico has some of the best clean energy resources in the nation but we are behind other states in harnessing new energy development... We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop additional new projects in New Mexico that meet your goals to both build America's new energy future and protect our treasured landscapes."
According to the Brookings Institution, New Mexico has over 17,000 clean economy jobs, with each job producing approximately $10,000 in exports on average, but ranks 36th in the nation in the overall size of its green economy industry.
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico SANTA FE, N.M. - A new poll suggests Congress should butt out when it comes to air pollution standards in America. J. Drake Hamilton with the clean energy advocacy group Fresh Energy says the survey found that 75 percent of voters believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be in charge, as it has been for decades.
Hamilton says public health protections are currently under attack by some in Congress who want to delay requirements that coal plants get updated pollution control equipment, even though the poll found that clean air is not a partisan issue.
"Eighty-eight percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents and 58 percent of Republicans oppose Congress stopping the EPA from setting new limits to control air pollution from coal plants."
Hamilton says some of New Mexico's coal plants were built a half-century ago or longer and they're sending mercury, carbon dioxide, ozone and particulate pollution into the air and water. She says that's having an impact on health in the state, where nearly 14 percent of the adults suffer from asthma.
"And the pollutants from these coal-fired power plants are triggering more asthma attacks, hospital visits, and then for people with respiratory disease, in some cases, premature death. We think this is unacceptable and it turns out the voters overwhelmingly support stronger health-based rules."
Hamilton says the last time the Clean Air Act was updated was 21 years ago.
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico SANTA FE, N. M. - Farming is vital to New Mexico's economy, and a new report takes a look at agriculture production trends around the country - focusing on natural methods to keep soil healthy and productive. Growing cover crops in the off-season and using more organic production methods are two recommendations.
The report suggests ways to help farmers save money, boost production and help the environment. Report coauthor Eliav Bitan, agriculture adviser for the National Wildlife Federation, says cover crops minimize soil erosion, provide food for many game bird species, and reduce fertilizer use in the next crop year.
"It'll soak up any of those extra nutrients, it'll die, and it'll return those nutrients to the soil so the farmer can use those nutrients next year."
The report makes seven recommendations for agricultural production, including the use on on-farm anaerobic digesters to treat animal waste, and reduced tilling.
Bitan says organic produce is still gaining in popularity with consumers, and points out that organic farming practices are becoming more profitable for farmers.
"A farmer can benefit on the bottom line by reducing their fertilizer costs or their herbicide costs, the same time as wildlife can benefit, the same time as the water quality can benefit."
The report, "Future Friendly Farming: Seven Agricultural Practices to Sustain People and the Environment," says organic farming practices also require 60 percent less energy use compared to traditional farming methods. Read it online at http://tinyurl.com/3o9lyxt.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The Bureau of Land Management is planning ahead for large-scale solar development on public lands, outlining 24 Solar Energy Zones in southwestern states. The idea is to find areas with the most solar potential and the least conflict with wildlife and recreation.
The Wilderness Society says the federal agency is doing a good job, and Jason Marks, New Mexico's public regulation commissioner, agrees.
"There is one in the Deming area, which is southwest part of the state, close to the Arizona border, and then there's another one I think in the Afton area, which is the southern-central part of the state."
The Wilderness Society has issued a new report reviewing the proposed Solar Energy Zones, and only finds major concerns with three of them - in Arizona and California - because of conflicts with wildlife or recreation.
Alex Daue, renewable-energy associate for The Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, says outlining zones ahead of time is good business for the solar industry as well as the environment.
"The fact that these areas are generally flat, have great solar resources and are close to existing roads and power lines will decrease construction costs."
Daue says the report also finds that local support for the zones in New Mexico is strong when folks discover that popular hunting, fishing and hiking areas won't be impacted. The BLM is expected to complete the environmental review of the sites next year.
from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico LAS CRUCES, N. M. - What once were the wide open spaces of New Mexico are slowly being sold off, as ranches are turned into housing developments instead of being passed on to heirs. It's a change in the times noted at the recent Agricultural Land Conservation Forum hosted by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
Landowners in attendance learned about using agricultural conservation easements and related tax incentives to conserve their property. A group of New Mexico ranchers and farmers participated in a panel discussion about their experiences successfully using such easements, which also keep land in production. Among them was Dale Armstrong, who ranches near Magdalena.
"I think that future generations will be very grateful that some people did this to preserve the open space, and I think the government recognized that you giving up that value, and that's why there is some tax benefit to it."
For those who want to continue ranching, Armstrong explains, they can lower their tax burden by promising to keep the land in agricultural use under a conservation easement.
"There's a federal tax deduction when you earn income, then there is the estate tax credit and you can actually sell those credits, so it can pay for the profits of getting the easement put on."
While some ranchers may be hesitant about the easements, Armstrong notes he hasn't experienced anything negative. He runs cattle and says operations have continued on his ranch without interruption.