Conservation groups sue Trump admin over changes to Endangered Species Act

Conservation organization WildEarth Guardians and six other environmental and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over changes it made to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States. “Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period,” said EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, in a statement. “Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable.”

The lawsuit alleges the administration “failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules,” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It argues the administration inserted changes into the final rules that “were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.”

The groups also argue the administration violated the ESA by “unreasonably changing requirements” for compliance with Section 7, a provision of the ESA that requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species.

State agency says political parties can’t hold raffles

A northern New Mexico county political party last week learned they could not raffle off a long-range rifle during a fundraising dinner this fall. But it’s not because of the gun, according to the state department that oversees gambling events like bingo and raffles. 

Earlier this month, an agent with the New Mexico Gaming Control Board told members of the Los Alamos Republican Party they would have to cancel their scheduled raffle and refund all of the ticket sales. On its surface, it may seem that the raffle was cancelled because of the grand prize, but the Gaming Control Board said it’s simply because political parties don’t qualify under state law to have raffles. 

Not a ‘qualified organization’ 

On August 6, Gaming Control Special Agent Robert Zajac told Los Alamos Republican Party Chairman Bill McKerley in an email that the party did not qualify to hold a raffle. 

“Upon a review of the Los Alamos GOP, it does not fall under the definition of a ‘qualified organization,’” Zajac wrote. 

In an email days later, Zajac’s boss, Commander Terry McGaha responded to concerns from the Los Alamos GOP that they did indeed fall into the “qualified organization” category. “Based on state law as a whole, it does not appear that a political organization or a political committee meets the statutory definition for being qualified as a civic or service organization,” McGaha wrote. “Since the Bingo and Raffle act has not included political organizations as a permissible category of nonprofit organizations that are permitted to conduct games of chance under the Bingo and Raffle Act, we must insist that you immediately cease and desist from further sales or activity with respect to the raffle you are currently conducting.”

New Mexico Republican Party Vice-Chair of the 3rd Congressional District Anise Golden-Morper told NM Political Report that the party is still considering their options, and that they hope the issue is just about the raffle, not the rifle. 

“We hope that this is not an attempt to control the citizens to freely purchase a raffle ticket that involves a rifle,” Golden-Morper said.  

Richard Kottenstette, a spokesman for the Gaming Board, said the county party’s giveaway was shut down simply because they’re not qualified to hold a raffle. 

“The gun’s not the issue,” Kottenstette said.

Trump administration’s latest asylum rule allowed to stand in Texas, New Mexico

“Trump administration’s latest asylum rule allowed to stand in Texas, New Mexico” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Asylum-seeking migrants who cross into Texas or New Mexico can be barred from receiving asylum protection if they passed through another country before arriving at the U.S. border, a federal court ruled Friday. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a partial victory for the Trump administration, which announced a policy last month that would disqualify most asylum seekers from receiving protection in the United States if they crossed through another country and didn’t first apply for asylum there. A federal district judge in San Francisco initially halted the measure, aimed at blocking asylum claims from Central Americans, but Friday’s decision by the 9th Circuit let the policy stand in Texas and New Mexico while halting it in Arizona and California, which are in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. The ruling could change the fate for thousands of people waiting to apply for asylum in Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros.

Doña Ana County Commissioners retreat on sodium cyanide bomb amendment

Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”

Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.

Cannabis working group

Cannabis legalization task force aims for compromise

A group tasked with creating a proposal to legalize cannabis in New Mexico met for the second time to discuss specifics of licensing and regulation as well as how to maintain a medical cannabis program. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Working Group on Marijuana Legalization met for more than five hours on Wednesday and heard from a couple dozen members of the public. 

This is for the naysayers

Pushes for cannabis legalization in the Legislature are nothing new. For years there have been attempts to legalize cannabis by changing the state constitution, as constitutional amendments do not require approval by the governor, and former Gov. Susana Martinez vocally opposed the idea. But the last legislative session showed increased signs of success for proponents. Two different bills, one that pushed for state-run stores and sponsored by Senate Republicans and another without a state-run store provision, saw increased support. 

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a legalization bill in the House and he is now a member of the working group. Martinez said he thinks the group’s “cognitive diversity” will help convince lawmakers who are against legalization, but still open to the idea.  

“I think that out of this process will emerge consensus across the board,” Martinez said.

NM governor intervenes in court case over medical cannabis cards

New Mexico’s governor has officially become a party in a legal battle over whether medical cannabis cards should be issued to out-of-state residents. 

On Wednesday, a state district judge approved Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request to intervene in the case, which arose after a prominent medical cannabis producer challenged the state on wording in a state statute related to who can become a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico. 

In a motion to add Lujan Grisham as an intervening party, her lawyers argued that the governor’s office is better suited than the state Department of Health to address some issues in the case. 

Related: Cannabis legalization task force aims for compromise

“Public safety considerations such as the interstate transportation of marijuana, which is a violation of federal and state law, and diversion concerns are critical state policy matters,” the court filing read. 

Kenny Vigil, the director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, was originally named in court documents but Lujan Grisham’s office argued that Vigil cannot adequately represent the state. 

“[Vigil] lacks authority to address law enforcement concerns, approve regulatory action, or direct healthcare policy for our State,” the court filing read. “Thus, the significant public policy considerations interests at issue cannot be fully addressed by the current parties to this litigation and could be substantially affected or impaired.”

While at a task force convened by the governor to examine cannabis legalization, Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said the issue is too complex for her department alone. 

“It’s such an important matter,” Kunkel said. “What it could impact is significant. It’s beyond the Department of Health.” 

A lawyer with the department told NM Political Report he could not speak for the governor’s office, but did say Lujan Grisham’s office took an interest in the case because it dealt with “interstate issues.”

The court case goes back to an attempt by New Mexico medical cannabis producer Ultra Health to encourage those who qualify as a medical cannabis patient but do not live in New Mexico to apply for a medical card. The company’s reasoning was that a law change removed the term “resident of New Mexico” and replaced it with “person” in the definition of “qualified patient.” 

Almost immediately, the Department of Health dismissed the idea that legislators intended to open the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to residents from other states.

Haaland asks for House to start impeachment inquiry

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland announced Wednesday that she supports an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. When announcing her support for the impeachment inquiry, the first-term Democratic congresswoman said, “the President is not above the law” and that “there is growing evidence of impeachable offenses.”

Support for beginning the process of impeaching Trump has grown among Democrats in the House; Haaland is the 122nd House Democrat to support such an inquiry according to the Washington Post’s count. Then-Republican congressman Justin Amash of Michigan announced his support for impeachment earlier this year. He has since left the Republican Party. So far, Haaland is the only member of the House from New Mexico to support impeachment.

El Paso’s strong but wounded heart

Something clicks inside of me every time I land in El Paso. My shoulders make peace with my neck. I get off the plane and look for my cultural North Star: an actual star shape made of giant light bulbs on top of the Franklin mountains — mountains that hug the city like a protective mother nestling her young. Home, is above all things, a welcoming place. Many people say their hometown is hospitable or friendly, but El Paso’s warmth is a fundamental tenet that holds up daily life.

Ben Ray Luján aims to connect with voters across the state

On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. 

Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate. 

Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

Confusion reigns in calculating methane emissions

No one knows exactly how much methane is released into the atmosphere each year in New Mexico. And with record production in oil and gas for the state of New Mexico, and a governor that wants to transition to clean energy, that’s a big problem. According to EPA data, methane makes up just 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—but it is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, with eighty times the warming power of carbon dioxide. In 2014, the NOAA documented an alarming methane “hotspot” hovering above the Four Corners area. Subsequent research indicated the methane cloud was in fact due to oil and gas production in the region.