Environmental groups and Navajo government officials are criticizing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the bureau’s handling of oil and gas leases approved in the Greater Chaco area. Navajo leaders and 16 tribal and environmental organizations addressed their concerns in a letter sent to BLM’s New Mexico state director Tim Spisak last week calling for more public hearings on the issue. “We urge you to reject the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Findings of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessments,” the letter reads. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved environmental assessments for five sets of oil and gas wells that did not address the cumulative water impacts of nearly 4,000 horizontal Mancos Shale wells in the Greater Chaco region.
A Taos-based water conservation group has been waiting for the EPA to make a decision about a stormwater permit for over five years, while pollution coming from urban stormwater runoff in Los Alamos County, the group alleges, continues to threaten water quality standards. Amigos Bravos wants a final determination from the EPA in response to a petition it filed with the agency back in 2014. “It’s been 1,833 days since we petitioned,” Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos, said in an interview. “Under the regulations, they are supposed to respond within 180 days. So, we are close to two thousand days overdue.”
In June, the organization filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over the failure to act.
The New Mexico Department of Health on Friday heard public testimony from medical cannabis patients, patient advocates and cannabis producers about proposed changes to the Medical Cannabis Program. More than 30 people shared their thoughts about a new proposed plant limit, increased producer fees and extending the life of patients’ medical cannabis cards.
While almost all of the speakers addressed the specific rule changes, many also brought up a barrage of other issues like oversight of those who hold a Personal Production License and grow their own cannabis, opening the licensure for more producers and more testing of cannabis for contaminants or pesticides.
The divergence from issues published in the proposed rule change seemed to show that some in the medical cannabis community don’t feel like they are being heard by the Department of Health.
Former Department of Health chief records officer Daniel Jacobs told NM Political Report that previous department leadership is partly to blame. Jacobs retired from DOH shortly after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office. He said throughout the eight years of Susana Martinez’s time as governor, the Medical Cannabis Program and DOH shut itself off from the public.
“For the last nine years we’ve been under an administration of exclusion,” Jacobs said. “We [now] have a governor who is about inclusion and she’s going to move the state forward and the program forward to benefit everybody, not just a select few.”
Jacobs said he was recruited to work in the department by then-cabinet secretary Lujan Grisham under then-Gov. Bill Richardson.
Medical Cannabis Program Director Kenny Vigil said DOH and Medical Cannabis Program staff hear from patients about twice a year when the board meets to discuss adding qualifying conditions to the program.
“One of the things we can certainly do better at is improving dialogue with patients,” Vigil said.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Long known for its insular culture and tendency toward secrecy, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is saying little in the aftermath of news reports exposing a vulgar and hateful Facebook group for current and retired Border Patrol agents, including supervisors. While CBP officials have publicly condemned the offensive social media posts, they’ve disclosed few details about the steps the agency has taken to identify employees who behaved inappropriately online and hold them accountable. The agency, which is responsible for policing the nation’s borders and official ports of entry, declined to say how many employees CBP has disciplined or how many remain under investigation.
In its inaugural meeting, a group tasked by New Mexico’s governor to come up with ideas to safely and efficiently legalize recreational use cannabis in the state discussed the process for which it will follow in the next several months.
The Working Group on Cannabis Legalization for New Mexico consists of about 20 people with varying backgrounds, including medical cannabis producers, medical cannabis patients and state departments. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham picked the members of the group.
Lujan Grisham’s senior policy advisor Dominic Gabello told members he is confident the group will be able to address the many concerns related to legalizing cannabis in New Mexico.
“We’ve put this together and I think we’ve got a good plan moving forward to discuss this and really figure out, how do we find the right path forward for New Mexico,” Gabello said. Some medical cannabis patients and producers previously raised their concerns about adequate patient representation in the group. Before Wednesday’s meeting, there was no patients in the group, but patient advocate Heath Grider was ultimately added. “I believe that everyone is doing their best to include us,” Grider said just after Wednesday’s meeting.
But, he said, the group can still use more voices, particularly from patients and businesses who might be impacted by legalization.
The group’s chair, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, told NM Political Report there will be more opportunities in the next eight planned meetings to include community stakeholders from across the state, including Native American tribal members and leaders and residents in rural areas.
“All those meetings are public and they can add comments ahead of time online,” Davis said.
Davis also said the group’s website will allow members of the public to see what each member thinks about a specific issue related to legalization.
“You’ll see who dissented and what the vote was,” Davis said.
And even though the group’s website is not an official state site, Davis said the whole process will be transparent and encouraged members to be aware of that .
“Assume everything you write down is public record,” Davis told the group before the meeting.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who co-sponsored a bill last legislative session to legalize cannabis and establish state-run dispensaries, is also part of the group.
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary James Kenney and other members of the department’s staff held a public meeting July 8 to address fears that NMED would move the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) Oversight Bureau field office out of Los Alamos. The department held the meeting, the first of a series of public outreach events the department plans to hold this year throughout the state, in part to assuage public concerns around the future of the Oversight Bureau’s field office in Los Alamos.
In June, the department announced a proposal to move the field office to a Santa Fe location. The news was met with immediate backlash from LANL watchdog groups such as Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
Kenney, along with Resource Protection Division director Stephanie Stringer and Administrative Services Division director Michelle Desmond, explained some of the factors behind the contemplated move in a short presentation to audience members. “[There] was never the intent to decrease oversight, or lessen any compliance or enforcement [over LANL],” Stringer told audience members. “A lot of people [thought] when they heard we were moving off the hill, that it meant less oversight.