NM Environment Review: Cannon AFB, double drilling & wolf news

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• This week the New Mexico Environment Department issued a Notice of Violation against Cannon Air Force Base over water supplies contaminated with toxic chemicals from the base.Then, this morning we learned that Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luján met with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson (also, a former New Mexico representative) to discuss the contamination. (As we’d previously reported, Luján first reached out to Wilson back in mid-October…) According to a joint statement from Udall, Heinrich and Luján, “As we discussed with Secretary Wilson, the Air Force must do more to address this serious issue with the urgency it demands.

Feds fail to prosecute crimes in Indian Country

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute more than a third of cases referred to them in Indian Country. That’s business as usual according to a new report by the department. The report reveals that U.S. attorneys’ offices left 37 percent of referred cases from Indian Country unprosecuted in 2017 — a figure slightly up from 2016 and steady with data since 2011, after then-President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law. The percentage continues to plateau despite funding for tribal law enforcement from the Trump administration. Lawmakers like Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., see the department’s prosecution rate as failing members of federally recognized tribes.

Federal politics unite unlikely coalitions at the border

The last two years of the Trump administration have been challenging for both environmental and immigrant advocacy groups at the border. Renewed calls to build a $25 billion wall that would cut through important wildlife habitat for species like the jaguar and the Mexican gray wolf, combined with the impacts of ramped-up militarization in border communities, have increasingly united conservationists and social justice activists. This newfound collaboration is especially strong in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Here, in the Borderlands, groups like the faith-based organization NMCAFé and the American Civil Liberties Union Regional Center for Border Rights have long worked on immigration reform and fought for immigrant rights at detention facilities.

Poll: Martinez approval rating remains low; Senators’ tick up

Susana Martinez will be leaving office in three months, and she remains unpopular among New Mexico voters according to a recent poll. Meanwhile, the state’s two U.S. Senators still have more support than opposition, but their approval ratings remain under 50 percent. Martinez’s approval rating stand at 36 percent among registered New Mexico voters according to Morning Consult, while her disapproval rating is at 54 percent. This is barely changed from numbers released in July. The Republican governor’s disapproval rating remains sixth-highest among all governors.

New Mexico senators speak out over order they say would hamper nuclear safety board

New Mexico’s senators are asking Congress to block a Department of Energy order that would limit a federal board’s access to information about nuclear facilities and could hinder its ability to oversee worker health and safety. In a letter sent Wednesday to the leaders of a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall also asked their colleagues to block impending staff cuts and a broad reorganization at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. New Mexico is home to three of the 14 nuclear facilities under the board’s jurisdiction: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. “We feel strongly that these two matters facing the [safety board] and its future must be suspended while Congress and the public have time to review and offer constructive feedback” on how to maintain and improve the board, the senators wrote to Sens.

Poll: Martinez remains unpopular among NM voters

With less than six months left in her time in office, Gov. Susana Martinez remains unpopular among New Mexico voters. Morning Consult released approval ratings for all governors and U.S. Senators on Wednesday. The poll showed Martinez among the least popular governors in the nation, with 54 percent of voters disapproving of her job performance, compared to 35 percent who approve. Her  disapproval rating is tied for the fifth-worst. The previous numbers, released in April, showed Martinez with 53 percent disapproval and 37 percent approval.

Scott Pruitt’s ethics violations haven’t stopped his rollbacks

Kevin Chmielewski knew when he was out at the Environmental Protection Agency. As he told Democratic members of Congress, it was when the former deputy chief of staff refused to retroactively approve a staff member’s first-class travel from Morocco to the United States. Chmielewski, a 38-year-old former Coast Guard member, was placed on administrative leave without pay, later learning from news reports that he had been fired. A staunch Trump supporter, Chmielewski had tangled with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over spending before: He’d previously dissuaded Pruitt from using EPA funds to contract with a private jet company for $100,000 per month. After his firing, Chmielewski turned whistleblower, meeting with congressional Democrats to detail EPA behaviors that he found to be unethical.

Labor concerns trump tribal sovereignty in Congress

Ten years of animosity between tribal governments and union organizers led up to a meltdown of bipartisan efforts to pass the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act on Monday. The bill, which would have excluded tribal governments from legislation allowing workers to unionize or strike, failed to receive the votes in the Senate it needed to pass. State and federal governments are already excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, and until recently tribal governments — being sovereign nations — were as well. But that changed in 2004, thanks to the law’s vague wording. The NLRA was established in 1935, and for almost 80 years it prevented private industry from blocking workers’ unionization and strikes.

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.

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.