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BLM initiates scoping on Natural Gas Pipeline Project Environmental Assessment

—Donna Hummel 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is initiating a public scoping process in order to solicit public comments and identify issues for an environmental assessment (EA) for the Western Expansion Pipeline III (WEP III) Project proposal.

This proposed plan of development, prepared by Enterprise Mid-America Pipeline (MAPL), and submitted to the BLM, proposes to construct, operate, and maintain about 246 miles of natural gas liquids pipeline, which would tie into and be installed adjacent to their existing system that runs through New Mexico. This project crosses Federal lands, managed by the BLM Farmington, Rio Puerco, and Roswell Field Offices, as well as lands administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The project would also cross Tribal, State, and private lands.

The proposed project would consist of about 246 miles of 16-inch diameter pipeline, comprised of seven loop pipeline segments (portions of segments one and three would be twenty-inch diameter), in San Juan, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, McKinley, Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Torrance, Guadalupe, Lincoln, De Baca, Chaves, and Lea counties, New Mexico

Enterprise MAPL has requested a fifty-foot permanent right-of-way and an additional 75 feet of temporary construction width for the length of the seven loop pipeline segments. Additional temporary work areas have also been requested in various locations (road crossings, stream crossings, steep slopes, etc.).

The BLM will prepare an EA to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act requirements for this proposal. The EA will consider a reasonable range of alternatives, including a No Action alternative, and will disclose the direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the proposal. As a starting point in the assessment, the BLM is soliciting input on issues that will be considered in the preparation of the EA. At this time, the public is encouraged to provide any comments, concerns, or issues they may have in regard to the proposal.

To best facilitate the development of the EA, scoping comments must be received by November 20, 2012. Written comments and questions should be directed to Lorraine Salas, BLM National Project Manager stationed at the Las Cruces District Office, 1800 Marquess St., Las Cruces, NM 88005. Electronic comments may be submitted to lsalas@blm.gov or faxed to 575-525-4412.

Enterprise MAPL’s proposed plan of development, which provides additional information, is available for review at www.blm.gov/nm/westernexpansionpipeline. Digital and hard copies of the maps referred to in the plan of development are available at Farmington and Rio Puerco field offices.


Editorial

Vote for PRC reform: Constitutional Amendments 2, 3, and 4

—Fred Nathan

Toward the end of your ballot in this coming election is an opportunity to professionalize and streamline New Mexico’s dysfunctional Public Regulation Commission (PRC) by voting in favor of Constitutional Amendments 2, 3, and 4.

This matters because no local, state, or federal government agency directly affects more New Mexicans on a daily basis than the PRC.

In addition to approving the prices New Mexicans pay for electricity, natural gas, water, and landline telephone service, the PRC also regulates every type of insurance—ranging from auto, property, life, and title insurance to health insurance. The PRC controls the cost and service of motor carriers (including taxis, moving vans, buses, shuttles, ambulances, and tow trucks); processes corporate registrations; regulates oil, natural gas, and hazardous liquid pipelines; and even oversees the State Fire Marshal’s office and ski lift inspections.  

As a result, the PRC has the broadest regulatory power of any state agency in the nation, yet the qualifications required of the five PRC commissioners are surprisingly low for such a powerful position. PRC commissioners are only required to be: 1) at least 18 years of age; 2) residents of the state for at least one year; and 3) not convicted felons. That is it.

There are no professional requirements or educational requirements—not even a high school diploma. This is particularly troubling because PRC commissioners must frequently make very complex and technical decisions that require them to understand, analyze, and apply economic, legal, and engineering concepts. The decisions they make affect hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans and deal with tens of millions of dollars.

Constitutional Amendment 2 would authorize the legislature to increase the qualifications of PRC commissioners and require continuing education so that the commissioners are better able to fulfill their mission of ensuring fair and reasonable utility rates and service for all New Mexicans.

The PRC would also benefit from being streamlined so that commissioners can focus on their core mission, the regulation of utilities.

A good place to start would be removing the PRC’s responsibility for processing the registration of corporations. The PRC’s corporations bureau has long been plagued by problems including lost checks, lost paperwork, and delays lasting weeks and even months. Further confusing the situation, the PRC handles the reporting and registration of only some types of businesses, like limited liability companies (LLCs), while the Secretary of State handles it for others, like limited liability partnerships (LLPs).

Constitutional Amendment 3 would consolidate both units into an efficient one-stop shop for all business registrations and filings at the Secretary of State’s office, the way 41 other states do it.  

Another important reform would be to remove the PRC’s authority over the Insurance Division. Under the PRC, every Superintendent of Insurance has either been fired or forced to resign because of the inherent conflicts that arise from working for five bosses with competing political agendas. In addition, the Insurance Division has been placed on probation by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners three times in its 16-year history, often because, in the past, PRC commissioners had pressured the Division to hire unqualified but politically connected employees.

Constitutional Amendment 4 would instead allow the Superintendent to be selected by an independent nominating committee, insulating the regulation of insurance from political interference.    

Three of the five current PRC commissioners—Chairman Patrick Lyons, Commissioner Doug Howe, and Commissioner Jason Marks—have joined with Think New Mexico to advocate for the passage of Constitutional Amendments 2, 3 and 4 as essential first steps toward turning around the PRC. 

Lyons is a Republican, Marks is a Democrat, and Howe is an Independent. This tri-partisan cooperation reflects the fact that this package is about enacting common sense reforms, not politics.   

Please encourage all your friends and family to vote in favor of Constitutional Amendments 2, 3, and 4 (on the second side of your ballot). If you would like to learn more about these constitutional amendments to reform the PRC, please visit Think New Mexico’s website at www.thinknewmexico.org.

Fred Nathan is Executive Director of Think New Mexico, an independent, results-oriented think tank serving New Mexicans. Think New Mexico released a report last October entitled “Rethinking the PRC.” 


EPA awards over $600,000 to New Mexico to ensure safe drinking water supply

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the New Mexico Environment Department 605,300 dollars to ensure New Mexico residents have a safe supply of drinking water. The NMED is the primary drinking water agency in New Mexico, and its function is to implement the Safe Drinking Water Act and associated regulations. The funds will be used to provide technical assistance to drinking water systems, collect and analyze drinking water samples and conduct sanitary surveys of surface water systems.

The Safe Drinking Water Act is the main federal law that ensures the quality of drinking water. The EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards.

Additional Information on EPA grants is available at: www.epa.gov/region6/gandf/index.htm

For more information contact Dave Bary or Jennah Durant at 214-665-2200 or r6press@epa.gov


PNM and Placitas Library launch energy-saving opportunity

—Ryan Baca

As the weather gets cooler and energy usage increases, PNM is making Kill A Watt meters available in the Placitas Library to help customers take charge of their energy bills beginning October 30.

The local effort will launch with a free presentation that same day at the Placitas library, beginning at 2:00 p.m. In addition to a demonstration of the Kill A Watt, PNM will hold drawings for energy efficiency goodie bags during the event.

“The Kill A Watt tells you where your energy dollars are going. Once you know that, we can help you find savings opportunities,” said Melissa Leymon, PNM senior program developer for energy efficiency.

A Kill A Watt is a small device that measures the energy used by most small-to-medium sized home appliances. The item, which will be listed in the library’s card catalog, can now be checked out along with an easy-to-use instruction kit created by PNM.

Learn more about energy efficiency rebate programs at PNM.com/rebates. Take advantage of the online home energy analysis at PNM.com/analyzer. To bring the Kill A Watt partnership to your library, send an email to efficiencyeducation@pnm.com.


Weak measures could stonewall a strong transition to clean energy

—Deirdre Smith

A coalition of clean energy advocates call on the state of New Mexico and PNM to stand on the side of New Mexicans who want a gradual, but strong, transition to clean energy. Clean energy supporters in New Mexico have been advocating for solutions that protect New Mexican families from coal pollution, save ratepayer’s money, and are conducive to job creation. The state’s announcement proposes to retire only two of the smaller coal plant’s boilers and leave the two larger ones in operation with weak and ineffective pollution controls. After having over two years to develop a serious plan to determine the future of San Juan Generating Station, in effect what the state proposes would lock in PNM’s use of coal for decades to come. The proposal to use weak pollution controls also does not fully meet public health safeguards and would allow units 3 and 4—which are the biggest and represent the majority of the plant’s coal pollution—to continue to threaten public health and the local environment.   

Local clean energy supporters—including the New Mexico Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE), Sierra Club, 350.org New Mexico, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, McCune Solar Works LLC, Moms for the Environment, and New Energy Economy—have collected thousands of petition signatures calling for a transition away from dirty coal and toward greater use of local clean energy at PNM’s San Juan Generating Station. The petition signatures addressed to PNM and the Martinez Administration were delivered on October 3 at the Governor’s office in Santa Fe.

“Burning coal to generate electricity has numerous harmful health effects for all New Mexicans and especially for our children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Mike McCally of Physicians for Social Responsibility—NM Chapter. “For everyone’s health, it is vital to transition from dirty polluting coal to clean renewable sources of energy.”

Recently, the New Mexico Environment Department concluded technical work group meetings to draft an alternative plan to reduce pollution at the same standards as those mandated originally by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The forty-year-old coal-burning power plant near Farmington is one of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the American West. The EPA had given PNM and the Martinez Administration a period of ninety days to draft its alternative plan starting in mid-July.

Collectively, the groups supporting a transition to clean energy are urging PNM and the Martinez Administration to support a transition away from coal to repower New Mexico with local, clean energy including energy efficiency. A gradual but strong transition would lower costs for consumers and regenerate the Four Corners and New Mexico’s economy. Such a plan could create good, family-supporting employment opportunities without sacrificing people’s health or New Mexico’s treasured environment, including the state’s limited supply of clean drinking water. The full text of the petition at: www.NewMexicoForCleanEnergy.org.


Two new National Wildlife Refuges in New Mexico

—John Blair

On September 27, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar dedicated the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, making it the first urban refuge in the Southwest and one of a handful across the nation. Valle de Oro was established through the acquisition of 390 acres of Valley Gold Farms, a former dairy and hay farm.

Salazar then traveled to Wind River Ranch near Mora, NM for a signing ceremony, establishing the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area on over 4,200 acres donated by the Thaw Charitable Trust.

The Service intends to work with its partners to restore native Bosque forest on the refuge and establish recreation and environmental education programs for area residents. The site may also provide demonstration areas for sustainable agriculture.

In addition to a contribution from Bernalillo County, this first phase was made possible by two million dollars from the Bureau of Reclamation, 1.8 million dollars from the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, 1.7 million dollars from the Service, and five-hundred-thousand dollars from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Walmart Acres for America Grant program.

Located in the heart of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the new refuge is an important stop-over site for migrating migratory birds such as sand hill cranes, snow geese, and duck species.

The Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which Salazar established as the 560th unit of the refuge system, is located in the transition zone between the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Mora River flows through the center of the refuge for approximately five miles in a 250- to 300-foot-deep canyon.

Inclusion of this important ranch and conservation area into the refuge system, coupled with the newly established Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado, creates a wildlife corridor that will ensure protection and restoration of the Mora River watershed and one of the great prairie grassland landscapes of North America. It will benefit many grassland and woodland species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher. 

For more information on these two new refuges, visit: www.fws.gov/southwest.

 
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