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.

HSD settles with two more behavioral health providers

The state of New Mexico announced two more settlements in lawsuits filed by behavioral health providers who had their Medicaid funds frozen by the state in 2013. 

The state Human Services Department settled with TeamBuilders Counseling Services, Inc. and Counseling Associates, Inc. Last month, the state settled with three other providers. “These settlements reflect a shared commitment to rebuild what was lost,” HSD Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D. said. “We are continuing to work with other behavioral health provider litigants affected by the 2013 New Mexico Medicaid payment freeze and to reconstruct this essential network of services that so many vulnerable New Mexicans need and rely on.”

“We are grateful for the swift action and efforts of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and HSD Secretary David Scrase to resolve this matter,” TeamBuilders CEO Shannon Freedle said. “We appreciate finally being able to put this to rest and are hopeful for the future of New Mexico’s behavioral health system and the people who depend on those services.”

The settlements do not include any admission of liability or fault on either side. Counseling Associates paid $11,854.16 under the agreement, while the state paid $173,573.84 to Counseling Associates’ attorneys.

Elections Roundup

Note: This is an edition of the NM Political Report Elections Roundup, which comes out twice a month on Tuesdays (and will increase to ever week when elections near) as an email newsletter. Sign up to get the newsletter here. Quick hits

This week, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced he supports impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. See my story on it.U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland announced her support last week.Speaking of Haaland, after endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president, she has been a fairly active surrogate on behalf of the Massachusetts U.S. Senator, especially on Native issues.Andy wrote about how political parties can’t hold raffle fundraisers according to a state agency.It’s not officially a campaign event, but VP Mike Pence will be in Artesia this week.Any links you think I should include in the next edition? Email matthew [at] nmpoliticalreport [dot] com.

EPA administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision

On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler withdrew the agency’s interim decision to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, a pesticide that’s used to make lethal M-44 devices used in predator control. The agency released its interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June, after a period of public comment. The EPA received some 20,000 comments by March 2019, the “overwhelming majority” of which “did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide,” the agency said. 

“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals.”

RELATED: EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry

M-44s, also called sodium cyanide bombs, are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill predators that threaten livestock. Sodium cyanide is a restricted-use pesticide, meaning that entities need to be registered to use M-44 devices.

EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry

The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision

This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.

Greg Abbott invoked mental illness after the El Paso shooting. There’s been no indication that was a factor.

“Greg Abbott invoked mental illness after the El Paso shooting. There’s been no indication that was a factor.” 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. Hours after a white gunman walked into an El Paso Walmart on Saturday and killed nearly two dozen Hispanic shoppers, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addressed a room full of reporters in the border city and expressed grief and support for the community. As high-profile mass shootings continue to erupt across the country — three of which occurred in Texas in the last two years — a reporter asked the governor what he planned on doing to ensure one doesn’t happen again.

Guv accuses EPA of neglecting duties in PFAS contamination inaction

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham criticized the EPA for its refusal to join the state’s lawsuit against the Air Force for PFAS contamination at two bases in the state. PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that 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 New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) found “significant amounts of PFAS” in the groundwater, under both bases. The Air Force has since discontinued the use of the chemicals.

NM releases settlement info from case against previous administration

A New Mexico department released specifics of legal settlements Tuesday between the Department of Public Safety and some of its former employees. 

The state’s General Services Department released specifics of the settlement agreements for former DPS employees Dianna DeJarnette, Terri Thornberry and former DPS Deputy Secretary Amy Orlando. 

RELATED: State law encourages secret payouts

The records from General Services show DeJarnette and Orlando each received settlements of $300,000, while Thornberry received $400,000. Thom Cole, a spokesman for the General Services, said the release is partially in response to increased interest in a large settlement that was agreed upon by former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Cole said the department has been fielding public records requests for specifics of the settlement. But state law requires any claims settled by Risk Management — which is under General Services — have to remain confidential for 180 days and the law is somewhat ambiguous about when that 180 days starts.  

“Rather than have people continue to file [records requests] one after another, after another, trying to hit the right date, we just decided to go ahead and release them,” Cole said. 

The settlements are part of a lawsuit filed by DeJarnette, Thornberry and Orlando alleging employment discrimination and harrasment, specifically by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. 

Kassetas has been outspoken about the case since KRQE-TV first reported on it. He still maintains that the large settlement amount and the original confidentiality period of three years was at least partially to protect Martinez.

Ranked choice voting off the table this year for ABQ

The Albuquerque City Council voted 8-1 late Monday night to withdraw a proposition that would have asked voters to decide whether the city would use ranked choice voting for municipal elections. Even if the council had sent the issue to voters, the city’s elections would not see a change until 2021. 

After hearing from a few supporters of ranked choice voting, who expressed concern about educating voters ahead of November’s election, Councilor Don Harris, who sponsored the proposition, announced he was taking it off the table. 

“I’ll probably just withdraw this,” Harris said just before the council was set to vote on the proposition. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Heather Ferguson told the council her organization is usually emphatically behind voter initiatives, but that there are too many misunderstandings about ranked choice voting and the proposed language for the ballot was too vague. 

“Our main concern is we want an informed electorate,” Ferguson told the council. 

Ranked choice voting, sometimes referred to as instant run-off voting, is a process in which voters rank their candidates. During the tallying process, candidates who come in last are eliminated, and the second-choice votes on those ballots are picked until a candidate reaches 50 percent. Until 2009, a candidate in Albuquerque’s municipal elections needed to get a simple majority.

EPA appoints former NM EMNRD secretary to head Region 6

A former secretary for New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) will head the EPA’s Region 6. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler tapped Ken McQueen to oversee environmental protection for New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas along with 66 Tribal Nations. McQueen, who is a climate change denier and former oil executive, is the latest Trump administration appointee whose track record appears to be at odds with his new position. “Ken’s experience in public service and familiarity with natural resource issues make him an excellent choice to lead the Region 6 office,” Wheeler said in a statement announcing the selection. McQueen’s industry experience in oil and gas far outweighs his public service.