Interior’s new sage grouse recommendations at a glance

The Interior Department has finished a sweeping review of 98 West-wide sage grouse management plans, part of a broader effort to examine what President Donald Trump deems potential barriers to energy extraction on federal public lands. The review, which took place across the 10 Western states with existing sage grouse plans, ended with a contentious report filed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week. A panel of federal officials authored the report, which was released to the public on Monday. The report suggests scaling back protections for the imperiled bird, in an effort to give states (and likely industry) more flexibility. Some governors and industry groups say the recommendations open the door to more development.

Sen. Mimi Stewart is indeed New Mexico’s most effective legislator

Senator Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque recently was named New Mexico’s single most effective legislator – indeed, one of the most effective lawmakers in any state – by FiscalNote. The national, non-partisan organization knows what it is talking about, representing many of the most successful Fortune 500 corporations. Most recipients of the award were Republicans. It was given on how successful a legislator is at sponsoring and steering legislation through each crucial step of the legislative process, all the way through enactment. This complex process requires strong bipartisan skills, and often goes completely unnoticed by the general public.

Generic drug prices are declining, but many consumers aren’t benefiting

Not all drug prices are going up. Amid the public fury over the escalating costs of brand-name medications, the prices of generic drugs have been falling, raising fears about the profitability of major generic manufacturers. Last week, Teva Pharmaceuticals reported that it had missed analysts’ earnings estimates in the second quarter and planned to lay off 7,000 workers. Its share price plummeted 24 percent in one day as investors worried there was no end in sight. Share prices of other generic drugmakers also declined, as did those of wholesalers, which profit from the sales of generic drugs and have said they expect prices to continue declining.

Taking a U-Turn on benefits, big employers vow to continue offering health insurance

The shrinking unemployment rate has been a healthy turn for people with job-based benefits. Eager to attract help in a tight labor market and unsure of Obamacare’s future, large employers are newly committed to maintaining coverage for workers and often their families, according to new research and interviews with analysts. Two surveys of large employers — one released Aug. 2 by consultancy Willis Towers Watson and the other out Tuesday from the National Business Group on Health, show companies continue to try to control costs while backing away from shrinking or dropping health benefits. NBGH is a coalition of large employers.

School choice needed for education progress in New Mexico

It’s back to school time in New Mexico. But throughout the summer three big education-related headlines have framed education policy issues that will impact our school children this year and for years to come. The recently-completed court hearing as to whether New Mexico’s education system is “adequate” and whether the courts should attempt to force legislators to spend as much as an extra $600 million on K-12;
Sen. Mimi Stewart, a liberal Democrat and union supporter spoke at an education-related conference over the summer and offered some unvarnished truths about New Mexico’s education woes including “We don’t know how to teach kids from poverty.”
PARCC scores were released. The test may be controversial, but it, like most other objective education measuring tools finds New Mexico’s education system to be lacking. In particular, PARCC exposed the shortcomings of the State’s largest district, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS).

Legal scholars dispute whether monuments are permanent

No president has ever abolished a national monument, and it has been more than 50 years since a president shrank one. Nor has Congress revoked any significant monuments. The high regard given these special places is part of what makes President Donald Trump’s order to review all large monuments designated since 1996 so extraordinary. Courts have never decided whether a president has the legal authority to change or undo a designated monument, and now this uncertainty has sparked a clash of legal titans. A multitude of legal experts — including 121 law professors — argue that presidents lack the power to alter or revoke monuments.

Deadline looms for NM comments on oil and gas methane rule rollbacks

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico residents have until Wednesday to submit comments on stricter standards for methane leaks from new and modified oil and gas operations. The tougher rules were approved under the Obama administration, but they’re among those the Trump administration has promised to roll back. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has argued that the oil and gas industry didn’t have enough input on the new standards aimed at preventing air pollution. New Mexico rancher Don Schreiber said he opposes any rollback. He attended dozens of public meetings and said hundreds of thousands of comments were already submitted supporting the changes.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Under Trump, tribal land ownership is not a priority

During President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, tribal sovereignty, the power by which tribes govern themselves, was a prime concern. But under the Trump administration, that may change. There are several indicators of this shift, including proposed budget cuts to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the de-prioritization of major land initiatives. Within the first six months of President Donald Trump’s administration, the Department of Interior has renewed its interest of energy development and tribal land privatization. That differs starkly from Obama policies, which focused on both acquiring and consolidating land for tribal nations.

A farewell to the EPA at a troubling time

I wish I could do it all over again! I have had the most wonderful 40 years working in environmental protection. Over those years, I have worked for a private consulting firm, local government, state government and finally EPA’s Water and Superfund programs. In every one of those organizations, I had the privilege of working with dedicated professionals from many different fields. These are people who first spent years studying science, engineering, economics, and statistics and then spent years on the job assessing the public health and ecological impacts of pollution, identifying the causes of those impacts, and devising fixes. During my 40 years working on environmental protection, our country has made enormous strides preventing and remediating pollution, led by those highly trained professionals who work alongside local communities, states, companies and the general public.