Morning Word

Oil and Gas Reform Bill Passes First Committee—Minus Key Health Protections

Whitney Biennial includes four New Mexico artists

Pared-down bill to overhaul oil and gas law passes committee

House Bill 133, which aims to update New Mexico’s 1935 Oil and Gas Act, passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee yesterday on a 6-5 party-line vote after nearly four hours of testimony and debate. The bill drew opposition from smaller oil and gas producers, as well as some from the business sector. Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition, testified that while oil and gas provides “40 to 50%” of the state’s budget, instead of supporting the industry, “we’re seeing continued attacks on the industry. We’re seeing that the state is happy to take the money from this industry, but it frequently is raising barriers and constraints that cause more harm to our operators.” Large industry players Occidental Petroleum and EOG Resources, however, testified in the bill’s favor, as did numerous environmental and social justice advocates. In the latter case, however, many highlighted the environmental and health impacts the oil and gas industry poses for the state’s residents, particularly those living in close proximity and urged lawmakers to add back provisions stripped out in the committee’s substitute bill. Those provisions included a variety of setbacks for new oil and gas infrastructure to address those health threats. Wendy Atcitty, a Navajo Nation member who works for Naeva, told committee members her family, living within proximity of 10 oil and gas wells within 2 miles of their home, had learned to smell the air and taste the water in order to decide whether to stay inside and seek water from farther away, respectively.

The committee substitute preserves other elements of the bill to regulate the industry, such as eliminating caps on penalties, increasing penalties and providing the state new authority to block the transfers of oil and gas assets when when there is a risk of abandonment. The bill also codifies the state’s 2021 methane waste capture rules requiring the capture of 98% of natural gas produced during operations starting in 2027. Still, even those who testified in the bill’s favor lambasted the loss of health and environmental protections following its passage. “This bill utterly fails to impose any real restrictions on the oil industry and does nothing to protect frontline communities from the toxic pollution they’re exposed to every single day,” Gail Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Once again our state’s politicians have surrendered to the oil and gas industry, and the pollution crisis will continue to make our residents sick.” A news release from the Center for Biological Diversity notes that Indigenous and youth plaintiffs in Atencio v. State of New Mexico, who have sued the state over oil and gas pollution, were excluded from meetings developing the bill. Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman, who also testified yesterday in favor of the bill, tells SFR “all the environmental groups are on the same page that this bill does not do much to protect human health and the environment” and they had hoped amendments would add back some of the lost provisions. Nonetheless, she says, “what remains in the bill is also really important.”

Three gun-reform bills pass first committee

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee yesterday recommended passage of three gun-safety bills—all backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham—on party-line votes of 4-2 after a mixed bag of charged testimony that lasted for hours. The measures would raise the legal age for firearm purchases to 21; establish a 14-day waiting period after buying a gun; and ban gas-operated semi automatic firearms, a proposal modeled on a federal bill introduced by US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM. State Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, a sponsor of House Bill 129, creating the 14-day waiting period, and HB137, the ban on gas-operated semi automatic firearms, told the committee the proposed “cool-off period” for HB 129 works to close a loophole that allows people whose background check has not yet been completed to obtain a firearm after three days. “Any ability for us to save lives within the evidence that we do have is in particular why we are here today,” Romero said. “Even saving one life due to access to a firearm during that period is exactly why we’re here: to save lives and diminish risk to the lives of those who can obtain firearms.” Both Romero and the governor yesterday also attended a virtual news conference hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety, with Lujan Grisham expressing optimism about the public safety package’s prospects this session.”Weapons of war do not belong in the hands of everyday Americans or New Mexicans and should not be available to anyone for future purchase,” she said. “This is the time to take real action…We can’t wait around for Congress; the states are going to have to lead the way here.”

New rules on PFAS could impact Santa Fe well owners

SFR’s cover story this week delves into a forthcoming enforceable cap the US Environmental Protection Agency will place on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, in drinking water. Agency officials estimate that between 3,400 and 6,300 US water systems will be affected by the regulation, which is the EPA’s first ever PFAS standard, as well as the maximum level allowed of a contaminant in water set by the agency for any chemical in drinking water in more than 25 years. As for Santa Fe, the EPA’s current proposal to drop acceptable levels of PFAS to 4 ppt in drinking water would have no ostensible impact to the municipal water sources because recent testing shows the compounds aren’t present in detectable amounts. Santa Fe County could be a different story. Last year, evidence of PFAS turned up in tests the county ordered after the Air National Guard confirmed PFAS was present in the ground under its facility at the Santa Fe airport. In November, the county reported that five of six groundwater wells sampled in La Cienega and La Cieneguilla showed the presence of PFAS—at levels between 1.8 ppt and 25 ppt for the two compounds the EPA plans to regulate, PFOA and PFOS. As such, the EPA recommends all private domestic well owners conduct regular testing for PFAS, and the county secured a grant from the state Environment Department for more testing that will help determine “the nature and extent of the potential impact to groundwater in these areas.”

Whitney Biennial includes four NM artists

The Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2024 biennial: Even Better Than the Real Thing (March 20), yesterday announced a roster of 69 artists and two collectives, many naturally from New York, the New York Times notes, but “four, as it turns out, live in New Mexico.” Those four artists: Harmony Hammond, who lives in Galisteo; Rose B. Simpson (Pueblo of Santa Clara) and Cannupa Hanska Luger, who lives in Glorieta (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota) was born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold; and the painter Maja Ruznic, who was born in Bosnia, the Times reports, “and is influenced by mysticism and psychoanalysis.” Luger’s upside-down tipi, “Uŋziwoslal Wašičuta,” featured in the Times story, along with Hammond’s work, comes from the series “Future Ancestral Technologies. “The curators landed on the [tipi] piece,” he tells SFR. “I’m always excited to try new things, to make, and when they first started talking to me about it, it was kind of before all the information and news we have presently, but over time I think that piece has become stronger as a statement.” As for Simpson, SFR caught up with her too to hear about her work, which will build off the ceramic figures from her recent solo show, Skeena, at the Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco. The Biennial lineup also includes Gallup native Demian DinéYazhi’ (Diné) who now lives in Portland, among other places. Two Whitney curators, Chrissie Iles and Meg Onli, organized the 2024 biennial and say of the exhibiting artists: “It is striking how many artists are contending with relationships between the psyche and the body, and the precarity of the past few years…We are thrilled to be working with such a rigorous and thoughtful group of artists to create a space where ideas and the materiality of the world can be examined and engaged.”

Listen up

Today’s entry into the 2024 Morning Word Playlist Project comes from Gabe Gomez, who once upon a time wrote about music for SFR. “Now I just listen,” he writes. Find all the playlists thus far in the Morning Word archive; we intend to construct a master playlist once we work through all the submissions. Stay tuned!

1. “If We Were Vampires” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “My wife and I were traveling in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. One morning, I sat on the balcony of our boat with coffee and this song playing through my headphones as the light appeared on the water and the limestone towers.”2. “Tripped Out Slim” by Trombone Shorty: “Having lived in New Orleans through a particularly important and transformative part of my life, Trombone Shorty always brings me back to the late nights, boozy afternoons and moments where music happened so spontaneously.”3. “Mr. Tillman” by Father John Misty: “It’s very difficult to develop complex fictionalized characters, but FJM manages to create a beautiful portrait of a decisively broken man in under three minutes.”4. “Ceremony” by New Order: “This song was first composed and recorded by Joy Division; this version was re-recorded as New Order after the death of Ian Curtis. The song inhabits a liminal space between the band’s two critical eras. The first notes of Peter Hook’s bass sends me to another universe every time I hear it.”

5. “Etude #5 (Arr. M. Besier for Cello)” by Maya Beiser x Phillip Glass: “This beautifully mournful piece from an equally beautiful album provides the perfect soundtrack when I’m cooking, driving or doing nothing at all.”

And—action!

Filming in New Mexico is picking up following after months of writers’ and actors’ strikes that brought the industry to a standstill. This week, the state Film Office announced that Miss You, Love You, starring Allison Janney and Andrew Rannells, will start filming next month in and around Albuquerque, employing 100 New Mexicans as crew and background talent. Plot: A widow plans her husband’s funeral, but her estranged son refuses to come and instead sends his assistant. “If I could direct every single movie with the remarkable Allison Janney starring, I would,” Director Jim Rash says in a statement. “To pair her with the wonderful Andrew Rannells makes this a dream cast for me. As with all my projects, actors are contractually obligated to be my best friends, which is a huge win-win for them.” In addition, the Film Office yesterday announced Tyler Perry’s Joe’s College Road Trip, directed by and starring Perry, will film in and around Las Cruces. The movie will employ 90 New Mexicans as crew and background talent and “follows BJ as he gears up for a cross-country college visit with his best friends after graduating high school.” While his father is initially excited, he then “realizes his son has a sheltered and disconnected view of what it means to be Black in America.” He takes his concerns to Madea who suggests BJ instead travel across country with his grandfather Joe. “They then embark on a trip that changes the trajectory of both of their lives.” In a statement, state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, described the city as “thrilled” the movie will be filming there, and said Perry is “one of America’s most prolific directors,” adding, “We’re excited to be able to offer our great outdoor locations and warm winter filming climate to this prestigious film production.” Steinborn said.

Love and (spa) happiness

With the end of the mostly holiday-free month of January in sight, prepare for what we assume will be a surge in Valentine’s Day-themed travel advice. USA Today kicks it off with a round-up of romantic getaways in wine country. And, yes, New Mexico these days garners props for its wine heritage (which dates to 1629). In this case, Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Farm earns mention as a spot for wine-loving lovebirds, as it’s “located in the heart of the Middle Grand Valley wine region, home to Gruet Winery and Sheehan Winery, among many others.” Plus, it’s “nestled in 25 acres of gardens, cottonwood trees, and lavender fields,” with a spa and a restaurant, Campo, whose chef, Christopher Bethoney, was recently named a semifinalist in the 2024 James Beard Awards best Chef in the Southwest category. Outside magazine doesn’t specifically cite Valentine’s Day in its collection of the best wellness retreats in the world for active travelers, but presumably some of those work hard/play hard travelers come in pairs. At any rate, the recommendations run the gamut and the planet but one is close to home: the OG Ojo Caliente Spa and Resort (in Ojo Caliente), possibly the first health spa in the US when it opened in 1868, Outside writes. These days, Ojo includes a farm-to-table restaurant (with a Valentine’s Day prix-fixe, btw) and a long menu of spa treatments. “But the sulfur-free, therapeutic hot springs are why people come,” the story says. “You can devise a soaking circuit to soothe whatever ails you.”

Winter’s Tale

The National Weather Service forecasts a 40% chance for more snow showers today before 1 pm, which could turn to rain in the afternoon and snow again after 4 pm, with little or no accumulation expected. Otherwise, today will be partly sunny, with a high temperature near 43 degrees and north wind around 10 mph. The weekend should be sunny, with a high temperature in the mid 40s on Saturday and near 50 degrees (!) on Sunday.

Thanks for reading! Though unlikely to spend 500 days alone in a cave, The Word kind of sees the appeal.

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