NM Environment Review: Oil and gas leases, climate planning, dust, minnows and more

-Andrew Oxford at the Santa Fe New Mexican reports a federal judge reversed his earlier opinion that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) when it approved oil leases in northwestern New Mexico. Instead, Judge James Browning threw out the 2015 case brought by community groups and environmentalists opposing the drilling activity. (You can read our recent story about the importance of the NHPA and tribal consultation here.)

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-According to a subscription-only story in InsideEPA, a draft report at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges local government officials to adopt “worst-case” climate adaptation plans. (Back in the day, New Mexico had been studying the effects of climate change on New Mexicans.

Gov. Susana Martinez

Supreme Court: Martinez vetoes of ten bills invalid, bills are law

The saga of ten invalid vetoes ended Wednesday, when the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Gov. Susana Martinez failed to follow the state constitution. That means the bills she vetoed more than a year ago without explanation remain law, upholding a lower court ruling. During the 2017 legislative session,  Martinez vetoed ten laws, but failed to explain those  vetoes. The state Legislature sued, saying she had violated the state constitution. With the court’s ruling, those laws are in effect immediately.

NM Political Report scores big at regional journalism competition

This weekend, NM Political Report won seven awards at the Top of The Rockies, an annual contest sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists – Colorado Pro Chapter. The competition includes outlets from New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. We won one first place award, one second and five third-place awards, facing off against outlets like the Denver Business Journal, the Provo Daily Herald and more. Donate today so we can keep doing this award-winning work! Laura Paskus won first place in the Ag and Environment: General Reporting category for her story, “The Heart of Darkness: A walk through the scorched landscapes where our forest used to be and a glimpse of future fires.” NM Political Report wrote this story along with the Santa Fe Reporter.

Heinrich, Udall cosponsor Medicare buy-in bill

Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall support a Medicare buy-in bill that would allow individuals and companies to buy into the federally-run health care program, the latest bill to address healthcare introduced by Democrats that has little chance to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, introduced the legislation this week along with nine co-sponsors including the two New Mexico Democrats. Sponsors of the bill say it will pay for itself through premiums and that it would drive down private insurance premiums because of the new competition. The Murphy-Merkley bill, dubbed the Choose Medicare Act, would give both individuals and companies the option of buying health insurance coverage through a Medicare plan instead of private insurance.

Who polices the immigration police?

This story was co-published with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Early one winter morning last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were scouting the last-known address of a fugitive they had labeled Target #147 when they happened upon Isabel Karina Ruiz-Roque. A turkey farmworker for over a decade, Ruiz-Roque had kept her head down and her record clean, never once encountering los ICEs, as she called them. Then two federal agents rapped on her car window and flashed a photo of the immigration fugitive they believed to be her York County neighbor. Ruiz-Roque, 34, said she did not know the woman, and they told her not to worry, that she was not their target.

Pearce poll puts him within 2 points of Lujan Grisham

Steve Pearce’s campaign released an internal poll showing he trails Michelle Lujan Grisham by two percentage points. The campaign touted the results, saying they show the race is within the margin of error and so essentially tied. The poll, conducted by The Tarrance Group, showed Lujan Grisham with the support of 47 percent of registered voters and Pearce with the support of 45 percent. Related post: Is the governor’s race tied? Pearce does not have a primary opponent, while Lujan Grisham is facing two Democrats in June’s primary.

Zinke grilled about edited science report

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast. House Democrats grilled Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week about National Park Service officials deleting all references to the human cause of climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report. Zinke told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that he and other political appointees at the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service, have not seen the draft. And he repeated a vow that he will not censor scientific reports.

Coming up this week: Gubernatorial candidates answer questions on water, energy, climate

This week, NM Political Report is publishing interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates about water, energy, climate change and other environment issues. Throughout election season, candidates typically talk a lot about jobs, education, the economy and what their opponents might be saying or doing. Those are undoubtedly important issues. But so are conflicts over water, the fact that the southwestern United States is warming at nearly double the global rate, and chronically low morale at some of the state’s most important agencies. We didn’t tailor the questions we asked to elicit campaign promises or to paint candidates into an ideological corner.

What will Zinke do with the extra $2.5 billion in his budget?

Since his confirmation in March 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s push to trim the department he oversees while opening more public lands to energy development has been lauded by Republicans and denounced by Democrats. When it came to the budget, however, both sides agreed on one thing: No big cuts. In the omnibus federal budget, which recently passed with solid bipartisan support, Congress decided the Department of Interior was worth nearly $2.5 billion more than the administration had proposed. The Trump administration had proposed substantial budget cuts at a time of record visitations to public lands, billions of dollars of maintenance backlogs and some of the lowest staffing levels in decades at agencies like the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. But in the appropriations bill signed March 23, the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM each received more than a quarter billion dollars more than requested, and the National Park Service got almost $650 million more than the secretary asked for.