AG warns against vaping, using e-cigarettes

New Mexico’s Attorney General issued a warning to residents about the health risks of e-cigarettes and vaping. The announcement came after the federal Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration each announced investigations into the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes. 

“I am warning all New Mexicans of the health and safety risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes of any kind,” said Attorney General Balderas. “My office will hold any bad actor civilly and criminally accountable that risks the lives of New Mexican children by falsely marketing these devices as safe.”

The New Mexico Department of Health said it had identified 14 vaping-related injury cases, each requiring hospitalization; 10 patients said they had vaped products with THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, while one said they had only used nicotine, which a department spokesman said is similar to national numbers. Earlier this year, reports of mysterious illnesses and deaths linked to vaping prompted investigations and media coverage of the problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that there are a reported 805 lung injury cases in 46 states, including New Mexico, and one U.S. territory, along with 12 confirmed deaths in ten states.

Insurers test new way to cut maternity care costs: Bundling

The thrill of delivering newborns helped pull Dr. Jack Feltz into the field of obstetrics and gynecology. More than 30 years later, he still enjoys treating patients, he said. But now, Feltz is also working to change the way doctors are paid for maternity care. Feltz’s New Jersey-based practice, Lifeline Medical Associates, recently partnered with the insurer UnitedHealthcare to test a new payment model. The insurer sets a budget with the practice to pay doctors one lump sum for prenatal services, delivery and 60 days of care afterward.

Balancing wildlife and wildfire in revised forest plans

The U.S. Forest Service is in the middle of a major update to forest management plans. Four National Forests in New Mexico — the  Santa Fe, Carson, Cibola and Gila national forests — are now in various stages of the multi-year process to update management plans from the 1980s. 

The Forest Service has the difficult task of balancing its management plan for a host of diverse uses, ranging from resource management, recreational use, wildlife conservation and wildfire management. There has been a recent push by conservation groups to protect wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity by designating more portions of the National Forest as wilderness. But the discussion on how best to protect habitat has shone a light on another important component of forest management — one that’s a bit more controversial among residents: wildfire. Earlier this summer, the Santa Fe National Forest released the Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project, a vegetation management project proposal designed to improve ecosystem resiliency to wildfire.

Life behind bars: Kids serving decades for violent crimes

The youngest of six children, John Gamble was born in his parents’ bedroom. His sister, Mary, 9 years older than her kid brother, changed his diapers and helped potty-train him. He was allergic to milk, so he had his Cheerios with apple juice instead. The family lived across the street from a city park in Carlsbad, where Mary would take John to play on the swings and the merry-go-round. As he grew older, he became an avid sportsman: football, baseball, tennis, gymnastics.

Touring the fracking wells at Chaco Canyon

“Take a left here,” Daniel Tso says, gesturing with a hand towards an unmarked dirt road. There’s a small, hand-painted sign beside a tree that reads “Living Spring Church,” the only marker I’ve seen so far that differentiates this dirt road from the web of other unmarked roads we took to get here. We’re headed to a group of fracking wells in what’s now called the “Greater Chaco landscape,” 25 million square miles of land outside of Counselor, New Mexico. Tso, who is a delegate on the Navajo Nation Council representing Counselor and the surrounding area, sits in the passenger seat of the car while my husband drives. I’m in the backseat, taking notes as he points out changes to the landscape caused by oil and gas development. 

Daniel Tso, right, leads the “Fracking Reality Tours” in the Greater Chaco region.

House to begin impeachment inquiry

“Today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon in an historic announcement. Shortly after Pelosi announced that she directed six committees to investigate Trump under the auspices of an impeachment inquiry, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a first-term Democrat representing the most conservative district in the state, released a statement that did not mention impeachment, and instead focused on access to a whistleblower complaint over actions Trump took regarding aid to Ukraine and allegedly pressuring the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. “Congress has a legal right to see the full details of any whistleblower complaint, especially those that involve our nation’s security,” Torres Small said. “The President must release the full complaint and allow any testimony by the whistleblower, or any other administration officials, to occur free of White House interference. Through the coming weeks and months, I will act to support and defend our Constitution by insisting on a transparent process that fully informs the American people and restores trust and faith in our system.

ESA rules could spell trouble for the lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie chicken can’t catch a break. The fowl, a relative of the sage grouse, has the misfortune of calling portions of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico home. Grazing, oil and gas development and water scarcity in southeastern New Mexico has decimated the bird’s population in New Mexico over the last 25 years. 

The species was briefly listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, but after a series of lawsuits from industry groups, the bird’s listing is currently caught in bureaucratic limbo. Officials in southeastern New Mexico have pledged to keep fighting against attempts to protect it. And now, tweaks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could spell extinction for the bird.

Dysfunction at the PRC puts New Mexico’s clean energy plan at risk

Dysfunction and a lack of expertise within the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) threaten to undermine the state’s ambitious plan to flip the switch from coal to reenewable power. 

The Energy Transition Act — the centerpiece of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — phases out coal, turbocharges solar and wind development, and provides funding to retrain displaced coal plant and mine workers. It has been hailed as one of the strongest climate measures in the country. 

But six months after Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law, its success appears jeopardized by the very regulatory body charged with overseeing its implementation. 

The powerful commission must vet every aspect of the plan: the closure of the San Juan Generating Station coal plant; the complex financing to pay for decommissioning and worker assistance; and every new energy project that will provide the replacement power. But when the first proposals came before the PRC in July, the commission chose to ignore the new law, leaving the state’s energy transition in limbo. The unusual move has sparked a political furor, pitting the PRC against the governor and Legislature and leading to calls for impeachment of three of the commissioners as well as a proposal by the governor to convert the PRC from an elected body to an appointed one. 

The law’s supporters say the commission’s handling of the plan reflects deep dysfunction that could slow the state’s renewables ramp-up and jeopardize aid for displaced workers. Lujan Grisham says she finds the PRC’s actions “baffling” and suspects that long-standing tensions between the commission and Public Service Co.

Climate rally in ABQ includes calls for action

Thousands of students walked out of school and adults left work across New Mexico as part of massive international climate protests. In Albuquerque a large crowd took part in large a rally downtown  on Friday with hundreds, likely over 1,000, people. The rally included local artists, politicians and students speaking about the impact of climate change and the need to immediately address it. Most of the speakers were local youth. Alyssa Ruiz, the founder of the Sandia High School Climate Club, spoke to the crowd and called on zero emissions by 2050.

Trump administration transfers land to Army to build border wall

The Trump administration announced Thursday it transferred  560 acres of land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to the U.S. Army to pave the way for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico—including some land in New Mexico. The land in New Mexico includes a 170 acre parcel that includes parts of Luna and Hidalgo counties for “replacement of existing vehicle barrier with pedestrian barrier.” An additional 43 acres in Hidalgo County is slated for “construction of new primary and secondary pedestrian barriers.”

The announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said the transfer would allow the construction of about 70 miles of border barriers. 

The move comes after the Trump administration diverted $3.6 billion in funding for military projects to fund the controversial border wall. “Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost,” Bernhardt said. “The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures.”

Of the $3.6 billion in diverted military funds, $125 million comes from projects slated for New Mexico, at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Thursday’s move drew immediate condemnation from members of New Mexico’s federal delegation.