‘Not much benefit to the state’: Legislators scrutinize details of Holtec’s proposed nuclear storage facility

Ed Mayer, program manager at the private firm that is seeking to build one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities in New Mexico, wants to set the record straight. “You hear sometimes, oh, this is going to be a nuclear waste dump. This isn’t a dump,” Mayer told members of the Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee earlier this month. “This is a highly engineered, safe and secure facility.”

The firm Holtec International, which specializes in spent nuclear fuel storage, has applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which is still moving through the licensing application process established by the NRC for consolidated interim storage, would house up to 120,000 metric tons of high-level waste at capacity — more nuclear waste than currently exists in the country.

Udall, Luján and Haaland introduce bill to support tribal stewardship of wildlife

U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced legislation this week to support the conservation of wildlife corridors on tribal lands in the United States. 

The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019 would require federal entities such as the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to coordinate with indigenous nations on land management and wildlife corridor conservation. The bill is supported by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland, along with seven Democratic U.S. Senators. 

The legacy of human activity on the planet has led to severe habitat loss and habitat fragmentation for millions of species. A recent report on biodiversity published by the United Nations found that activities such as farming, logging, fishing, poaching and mining have altered the planet’s ecosystems at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

RELATED: Tribes are leaders in wildlife management

Wildlife corridors are stretches of land that are not fragmented by human-made structures such as roads, fencing, or bridges and where wildlife can move freely. These corridors are becoming increasingly rare in certain areas in the U.S. and around the globe.

Mothers behind bars

For almost three years, Stephanie Baker’s young sons knew her as a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit. They could only visit her at Springer Correctional Center, passing through concrete walls and tall barbed fences, once every few months. It was difficult for their maternal great-grandparents, with whom they lived in Roswell, to make the five-hour drive to the prison. 

In nightly phone calls, the boys asked their mother when she was coming home. Her release had been delayed so many times in 2019 that she no longer discussed possible dates with them for fear of getting their hopes up.  So when she opened their front door in the early evening of Sept. 26, the sight of her was almost too much for them to bear.

NM leaves med. cannabis security specifics up to producers

On a Sunday afternoon over Labor Day weekend, a masked man, armed with a gun, burst through the doors of an Albuquerque medical cannabis dispensary. About two minutes later, he walked back out the door, with an estimated $5,000 worth of cannabis products. In that time, the man hopped over a glass display case and corralled employees and at least one patient into one spot while he emptied a large jar of cannabis—and seconds later cannabis concentrates from the display case—into a bag. After he left, the man got into a car waiting in the back and sped off. All of it was caught on security cameras.  

In body camera footage from the Albuquerque Police Department, one of the employees can be heard recounting what the man said. 

“He asked if we had families and he was like, ‘Then you understand why I have to do this,’” the employee said.

NM United tells legislators about need for their own stadium

New Mexico’s professional soccer team received a warm reception from the Legislature Thursday as the team told legislators about the need for their own stadium. The discussion was light on specifics, since it is so early in the process, but signs pointed toward a publicly-owned facility managed by New Mexico United, a similar arrangement in place between the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes. New Mexico United President and CEO Pete Trevisani was joined by McCullers Sports Group LLC president Mark McCullers and City of Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael to speak to the Economic and Rural Development Committee about the potential for a stadium. Rael was involved in the move to build Isotopes Park after the Albuquerque Dukes, the minor league baseball team that played in Albuquerque for decades, left the city. They cautioned that this was in the very early stages and said they didn’t have any specifics to study, but told legislators about the potential impact that a stadium would have on Albuquerque.

Nuclear Colonialism: Indigenous opposition grows against proposal for nation’s largest nuclear storage facility in NM

A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators last week the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s indigenous communities and people of color. Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.

Access to abortion limited in NM

When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report. 

When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.

Letters could foreshadow future debates over crime prevention, budgets

The months leading up to legislative sessions are often marked by state agencies presenting progress reports to lawmakers. Crime in the Albuquerque area has been a frequent subject to come up when talking about spending. But those conversations are usually devoted to the road ahead and not to picking apart past budgets. 

But in a letter sent last month, the state’s speaker of the House and a top financial leader in the House asked the Bernalillo County district attorney for an informal audit of millions of dollars appropriated to his office two years ago. In return, the district attorney offered a private meeting with a legislative panel to go over how money is being spent. The written exchanges hint at further budget scrutiny from lawmakers, and also a potential rift between some House and Senate Democrats. 

Progress report

On October 17, New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and House Appropriations Chair and Legislative Finance Co-chair Patricia Lundstrom, both Democrats, co-authored a letter to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez about an upcoming interim meeting with the Legislative Finance Committee.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.

‘Everyone is watching New Mexico’: Update shows no progress on PFAS clean up

Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member. 

“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”

Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session. 

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.