Bulk Transmission Environment in New Mexico
At a Glance
|Environmental Review Process:||Location Permit Application|
|Environmental Review Agency:||New Mexico Public Regulation Commission|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Leasing Stage):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Non-invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Invasive Exploration):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Drilling):|
|Type of State Environmental Review (Power Plant Siting):|
|Contacts/Agencies:||New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, New Mexico Environment Department|
State Environment Process
For projects subject to the state-administered siting act (transmission lines 230kV or greater), an applicant must apply to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC) for a Location Permit. The NMPRC considers the following environmental concerns prior to approving the location of the transmission line:
- Existing land use plans for other developments near the project area
- Fish, wildlife and plant life
- Noise emissions level and communication facility interference
- Public recreation and safety
- Existing scenic, religious, cultural and historic sites
- Additional factors that require consideration under applicable federal and state laws pertaining to the location 
Cultural Resource Assessment
New Mexico’s Cultural Properties Act provides for the identification, preservation, protection and enhancement of structures, sites and objects of historical significance within the state. Developers should consult with the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (NMHPD) to determine if a cultural survey is necessary. If developers discover cultural resources on-site during the project, then they will be required to comply with specific requirements. If human remains are discovered on the site, the necessary requirements are more stringent.
Developers are required to undergo consultation with the NMHPD prior to engaging in any ground-disturbing activity on state lands in New Mexico. NMHPD will then determine if a cultural survey will be needed. If necessary, the developer hires a qualified archaeologist to apply for a General Permit for Archaeological Investigations.  The archaeologist, upon approval, will conduct the archaeological investigation.  If cultural resources are discovered, then the archaeologist must meet certain obligations before a developer may continue with the project. Where cultural resources are discovered and it is determined that the project will result in an effect on those resources, the developer will be required to comply with a treatment/mitigation plan. 
Developers must comply with strict notice and action requirements if unmarked human burials or burial grounds are discovered on New Mexico state lands at any time during the project.  Developers are required to provide notice to local law enforcement upon discovery, and a Medical Investigator will determine if the burial has medicolegal significance. Absent medicolegal significance, the developer must employ a qualifying archaeologist who then applies for a Permit to Excavate Human Burials. The archaeologist determines during the application process whether the burials are Native American or non-Native American and comply with differing notice requirements based on that determination.  The archaeologist then develops a Disposition Plan and submits the plan to NMHPD for approval. NMHPD may comment or modify the plan. Upon approval, the archaeologist is responsible for carrying out the approved Disposition Plan.
If developers discover cultural resources on-site during the project, then they must comply with the cultural resource discovery process in New Mexico.  When the cultural resource is discovered, all ground-disturbing activity must immediately cease in the vicinity of the discovery. Developers will then be required to develop and implement a mitigation plan, which will be reviewed by NMHPD. 
Biological Resource Assessment
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) preserves endangered or threatened wildlife in the state against any direct take under NMSA 17-2-41. State endangered and threatened species are listed in NMAC 19.33.6. Incidental takings are not within the scope of the statute. New Mexico law only requires consultation with the NMDGF for projects on State Game Commission land. However, developers are encouraged to voluntarily consult with NMDGF for all projects that may impact wildlife and ecosystems in New Mexico. NMDGF may conduct biological reviews for developers and provide comments or recommendations. After consultation, a developer is not bound to following any recommendations made by NMDGF.
Developers may be required to obtain several permits related to water quality issues, including permits for nonpoint source pollution, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting, and Section 401 water quality certification.
Developers must comply with New Mexico’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Management (NPS) Program if their project will impact priority watersheds or impaired waters. The NPS program helps New Mexico meet water quality standards and achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act. The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is the lead agency for developing, implementing, and coordinating the NPS Management Program. NMED’s State Water Quality Bureau establishes total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for priority watersheds and impaired waters. TMDLs establish separate maximum acceptable loads for nonpoint sources of pollution. Developers are required to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the project; which may be structural or non-structural.
Developers must comply with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements if their project will discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States, which includes wetlands. New Mexico has been granted authority by the Environmental Protection Agency to administer the NPDES program within the state. New Mexico’s role in the NPDES process is to ensure that NPDES-permitted projects comply with state water quality standards outlined in NMAC 20.6.4 through NMED. The EPA will develop a draft NPDES permit for the project then give it to NMED for review to ensure compliance with state water quality standards. If NMED approves the permit, then a Final Certification will be issued to the developer. 
New Mexico does not have authority to issue construction storm water permits under NPDES. However, the Surface Water Quality Bureau, within NMED, assists the EPA in the regulation of storm water discharges by performing inspections on behalf of the EPA and serving as the local point of contact for providing information to operators and other agencies regarding the federal regulatory program.
Developers requiring a Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit, which covers impacts to wetlands and other waters of the United States and is administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers, are required to obtain a Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the state of New Mexico. NMED may issue or deny 401 Water Quality Certifications for dredge and fill activities.  NMED must ensure that the project will comply with state water quality standards, including the antidegradation policy, and applicable statewide water quality management plans. Developers must apply for 401 Water Quality Certification with NMED on forms provided by the Department. NMED may determine that a public hearing is required for the application. 
In the state of New Mexico, air quality permits are not required for facilities that emit less than 10 tons per year of any criteria pollutant. Although an air permit for the construction of a transmission line is not required at the state level, a permit would be required if construction and operation of a batch plant is necessary for the construction of a transmission line project. In instances where a batch plant is needed, a General Construction Permit (GCP) -5 permit would be required for concrete batch plants. Permitting information is available on the NMED website.
Electric and Magnetic Field Regulations
Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) are invisible areas of energy that surround any electrical device including transmission lines, electrical wiring, and household appliances. Most medical experts and other scientific peer reviews of the more than 30 years of conducted research agree there is no conclusive evidence of harmful effects from exposure to EMF nor has there been a demonstrated biological mechanism that links EMF exposure to a disease. EMF Electric Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power: Questions and Answers brochure contains more information regarding EMF.
Although the State of New Mexico has no known magnetic field regulations, local governments may have regulations relating to EMF standards.
Developers should be aware that the potential effects of transmission projects on visual resources has been a challenge in siting transmission facilities. Transmission line projects may cause visual contrast within the landscapes they cross due to their length, size and the regular geometric forms of the transmission towers. These projects may affect sensitive viewers (i.e., residents, recreationist, etc.) located along the right-of-way.
Analysis of impacts to visual resources as a result of a transmission line project may be required as part of a federal, state or local permitting process. For example, at the federal level, a project required to go through the NEPA process must evaluate impacts to visual resources. In addition, some public agencies have requirements or provide guidelines for evaluating and assessing impacts to visual resources for projects that cross their jurisdiction. For example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have developed methodologies for inventorying visual resources and assessing visual impacts on lands under their respective jurisdictions.
In New Mexico, impacts to visual/scenic resources may be evaluated and reviewed as part of the Location Permit process as noted above. No guidelines or methodologies for conducting or assessing potential visual/scenic impacts are outlined in the Location Permit application requirements, however, for projects crossing lands with developed methodologies, like the BLM or USFS, then those guidelines shall be adhered to when evaluating visual/scenic resources.
Developers should review local government resource management plans, comprehensive plans, regulations, etc. to identify any permit requirements as they relate to visual resources.
Waste and Hazardous Material Assessment Process
Developers may be required to obtain a Hazardous Waste Permit from NMED if their project will involve “hazardous wastes” as defined in the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act (NMHWA). “Hazardous waste” is defined by the NMHWA as any solid waste or combination of solid wastes that because of their quantity, concentration or physical, chemical or infections characteristics may: cause or significantly contribute to any increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness; or pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, disposed of or otherwise managed.  Developers must be issued an EPA Identification Number by NMED prior to submitting an application. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing, and NMED will respond to any comments made during the hearing. 
Local Environment Process
In the state of New Mexico, no Location Permit may be approved by the NMPRC that violates an existing state, county, or municipal land use statutory or administrative regulation unless NMPRC finds that the regulation is "unreasonably restrictive and not in the interest of the public convenience and necessity.  Because each local government entity (county, town, city, etc.) has a unique process for regulating land use within their respective jurisdictions, it is recommended that transmission line developers learn about all permitting requirements, including environmental reviews that may apply early in the planning phase.
Policies & Regulations
- An Introduction to Electric Power Transmission
- CHAT: Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools
- Environmental Recommendations for Transmission Planning
- Hazardous Waste Part A Permit Application
- NM Installation Requirements for UST Systems
- NM Underground Storage Tank Registration
- NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau website
- NMED Petroleum Storage Tank Bureau webpage
- New Mexico Antidegradation Policy Implementation Procedure
- New Mexico Archaeological Permits Webpage
- New Mexico Department of Fish and Game Mining Guidelines webpage
- New Mexico Department of Fish and Game Powerline Project Guidelines
- New Mexico Department of Fish and Game webpage
- New Mexico Surface Water Quality Bureau Federal Dredge and Fill Permits webpage
- Notification of Regulated Waste Activity
- Pre-Construction Notification
- Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool
- N.M.S. 62-9-3 (2013).
- NMAC 4.10.8 Permits to Conduct Archaeological Investigations on State Land (2005). 8-9
- NMAC 4.10.15 Cultural Properties and Historic Preservation Standards for Survey and Inventory (2006).
- NMAC 4.10.8 Permits to Conduct Archaeological Investigations on State Land (2005). .20
- NMAC 4.10.11 - Permits to Excavate Unmarked Human Burials (2008).
- NMAC 20.6.2 Ground and Surface Water Protection (2001). 2001(G)
- NMS 74-6-4 Duties and Powers of the Water Quality Control Commission (2009).
- NMAC 20.6.2 Ground and Surface Water Protection (2001). 2002.I
- NMSA 74-4 (2012). 3(K)
- NMAC 20.4 Hazardous Waste (2000). 1.90
- N.M.S. 62-9-3 (2013). G