At the end of March, a federal court said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has not adequately considered protection of cultural sites near Chaco Culture National Historical Park when granting permits for oil and gas drilling. The full order is still forthcoming, but the six-page memo by Judge James Browning echoed comments by U.S. Department of the Interior Ryan Zinke earlier this spring. When Zinke postponed the sale of oil and gas leases on 4,434 acres of BLM land in San Juan, Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties, he told the Albuquerque Journal, “We’re going to defer those leases until we do some cultural consultation.”
Under federal law, agencies must consult with tribes that have cultural ties to an area being developed, whether the plan is to drill oil and gas wells, inundate a reservoir, build a pipeline or create a national monument. Yet, what often constitutes consultation is already considered inadequate by tribes and activists—and some wonder how the Interior Department will address the problem in northwestern New Mexico while simultaneously prioritizing energy development. President Donald Trump signed an executive order early in his administration directing Zinke to review the agency’s rules, including one guiding hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands.
New Mexico, along with most of the U.S., is struggling to find a way to combat opioid abuse, overdoses and death, a problem often referred to as an epidemic or crisis. One possible solution, according to a recent study, is using cannabis to help fight the addictions to deadly addictive drugs like heroin or prescription drugs. New Mexico Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher has already shot down the possibility of adding opioid use disorder or substance abuse disorder to the list of 21 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis numerous times. Internal documents show the New Mexico Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, will likely disapprove it for opioid use disorder again. The revelation that DOH officials have compiled more than a dozen studies that show cannabis not only doesn’t help addiction, but worsens it, has at least one producer in polite disagreement with the Martinez administration and two others openly frustrated.
Every five years, the U.S. Congress has to reauthorize the farm bill. In addition to its effect on food security and agricultural production, the farm bill — which is projected to cost about $387 billion altogether — is also the nation’s single largest funding package for conservation on private lands. That makes it crucial to the protection of endangered species and wildlife habitat, since 70 percent of the land in the Lower 48 is privately owned, and 40 percent of that is used for agriculture. Given that fact, and the length of time between bills, what does (and doesn’t) make it into the legislation has a huge impact on shaping Western conservation projects. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.
Last month, Albuquerque-based anti-abortion missionaries Bud and Tara Shaver and the University of New Mexico branch of Students for Life co-sponsored a screening of a documentary promoted as a way to “start a healthy conversation” about abortion. Someone chalked sidewalks outside the university campus venue with phrases like “Support unbiased research” and “Abortion does not cause breast cancer.” Tara told me she’d invited several pro-choice groups and was disappointed none of their members attended. What she didn’t mention was that the documentary itself had already been decried by medical experts as misleading, unfair and emotionally manipulative—a form of conspiracy thinking rendered in film. Two weeks after the screening, Tara told me she’d read an article I wrote in February about a Massachusetts project that in the 1990s helped bridge extreme rifts between local abortion activists. Tara thought another showing of the documentary could promote civil discourse about a severely polarizing issue.
Ten years of animosity between tribal governments and union organizers led up to a meltdown of bipartisan efforts to pass the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act on Monday. The bill, which would have excluded tribal governments from legislation allowing workers to unionize or strike, failed to receive the votes in the Senate it needed to pass. State and federal governments are already excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, and until recently tribal governments — being sovereign nations — were as well. But that changed in 2004, thanks to the law’s vague wording. The NLRA was established in 1935, and for almost 80 years it prevented private industry from blocking workers’ unionization and strikes.
Tyler Bennallie, 11, sprawls on the floor of his family’s mobile home on the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, while his baby sister bounces on his back. He doesn’t mind when 1-year-old Emily plays horsey on him, or when she babbles loudly in his ear, or when she interrupts his efforts to talk about his favorite things, like Iron Man Legos. A tall, kind-faced boy with dark-framed glasses and a buzz cut, Tyler doesn’t even object when Emily grabs his prized “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books. His brothers, Conner, 4, and Bryson, 6, meanwhile play with his Lego Super Heroes — his most treasured possessions — which could be headless, legless or MIA by the time the two get done. “They usually destroy all my stuff,” Tyler says calmly.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.
Sue Parton first began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1976, as a teacher at the Albuquerque Indian School, one of the few remaining BIA boarding schools at that time. Parton, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, had been around the agency most of her life; her father was a lifelong employee. But she gained a new perspective in 2008, as she got more involved with the Federation of Indian Service Employees, the union that represents employees of the four Interior Department agencies that serve Native Americans. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. “One of the things that shocked me was the intimidation factor,” says Parton, now president of the union.
Powerful Democrats in both the House and Senate called Tuesday for an investigation into Drug Enforcement Administration-led operations in Mexico that played a role in triggering violent drug cartel attacks. These attacks left dozens, possibly hundreds, of people dead or missing, including many who had nothing to do with the drug trade. The call was issued in a letter signed by ranking members of the committees that oversee America’s foreign law enforcement operations and draws heavily on two stories last year by ProPublica and National Geographic that documented the attacks and the DEA’s role. One story reconstructed a 2011 massacre by the Zetas cartel in the Mexican state of Coahuila. It revealed that the wave of killings was unleashed after sensitive information obtained during a DEA operation wound up in the hands of cartel leaders, who ordered a wave of retaliation against suspected traitors.
Ripple effects of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and harassment continue to cascade, from Hollywood to academia, sports to politics. For people like Pamela Stafford who are closest to those at particular risk of assault and harassment, such public conversations feel painfully overdue. “I don’t think there’s been as much of a ripple effect as we would like to see,” she said during an interview last week. Growing up alongside a disabled sibling pushed Stafford toward a career in advocacy. And today at The Arc of New Mexico, a non-profit offering services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she prepares to take on a new role.
Proposed, sweeping and dramatic changes to a decades-old federal food aid program could have major negative impacts on many impoverished New Mexicans who rely on the program. Donald Trump’s administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, in his most recent budget recommendation. The proposal included providing food boxes to those who qualify for the program while slashing the amount of money the federal government spends by 30 percent over ten years. All of this would likely result in fewer people receiving fewer benefits through the program. While the state splits the administrative costs of the program with the federal government, the federal government provides funding for the SNAP benefits New Mexicans receive.