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.

Trump to send National Guard troops to border

Under President Donald Trump’s plan to send military troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would consult with the governors of border states to decide how many National Guard troops are needed. Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of DHS, made this announcement during a White House briefing on Wednesday. NM Political Report asked Gov. Susana Martinez’s office if she supports deploying troops along the border and if she had spoken with the White House about these plans. Her office did not respond by press time despite three emails to her public information officers. A spokesman did tell the Associated Press that she supported the move.

Questions remain on federal anti-sex trafficking legislation as Senate vote nears

Correction: In referencing a Ms. article from 2011, this story originally said that Chris Garcia was one of the operators of an allegedly illegal website, Southwest Companions. Garcia was charged by police of being an operator of the site, which they alleged was a house of prostitution, but a state district court judge threw out all the charges. The reference has been removed. It’s rare lately for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to find consensus, though some phrases like “infrastructure” and “small businesses” still inspire legislators to declare their willingness to work together. “Sex trafficking” is another one of those.

Injured nuclear workers finally had support. The Trump administration has mothballed it.

Nearly three years ago, President Barack Obama responded to long-standing concerns that workers exposed to toxic chemicals at the country’s nuclear weapons labs were not receiving proper compensation. Obama created an advisory board to be composed of scientists, doctors and worker advocates. Their recommendations have led to significant changes, including the repeal of a rule that made it more difficult for workers who’d been injured in the last two decades to get compensation. President Donald Trump and his administration have taken a different approach: His Labor Department has let nearly all of the board member’s terms expire — and so far hasn’t nominated new ones. “For two years our board put a lot of brain power and cutting-edge expertise into developing recommendations,” said Ken Silver, an occupational health professor at Eastern Tennessee State University, who until last month was a board member.

Impact of proposed SNAP cuts would be huge in New Mexico

Proposed, sweeping and dramatic changes to a decades-old federal food aid program could have major negative impacts on many impoverished New Mexicans who rely on the program. Donald Trump’s administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, in his most recent budget recommendation. The proposal included providing food boxes to those who qualify for the program while slashing the amount of money the federal government spends by 30 percent over ten years. All of this would likely result in fewer people receiving fewer benefits through the program. While the state splits the administrative costs of the program with the federal government, the federal government provides funding for the SNAP benefits New Mexicans receive.