$125 million in NM military projects being diverted to fund border wall

Two projects at military bases will see their funding sent to fund the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In all, the federal government is diverting the funds from 127 military projects totaling $3.6 billion toward the construction of the wall. The U.S. Department of Defense says the diversion will be temporary. The projects in New Mexico that saw their funding eliminated, at least temporarily, are $85 million for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) training facility for  at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million originally slated for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range. U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the area and sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said she was “appalled at the Administration’s decision to divert military construction funds allocated for projects essential to our national defense to build a fiscally irresponsible border wall.”

Groundwater contamination devastates a New Mexico dairy – and threatens public health

For
months, Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go
down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons
a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning
to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in Curry
County’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination.

Feds to boost troops at border as Lujan Grisham pulls Guard members out

The federal government is sending more troops to the U.S. border with Mexico just as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pulls back National Guard personnel from the state’s southern frontier. But the Department of Defense is not saying whether any of 3,750 additional troops headed to the border will be coming to New Mexico. Related: Feds to boost troops at border as Lujan Grisham pulls Guard members out

“The specific units and locations are still being finalized,” Maj. Mark Lazane said Wednesday. “We hope to release that information when it becomes available, but we aren’t able to do so at this time.”

Senators aim to close ‘loophole’ in domestic violence gun ban

One of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators introduced legislation that would make sure those convicted of domestic violence offenses in the military cannot own a firearm. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, worked with U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, on sponsoring the legislation. Both men described the bill as one that can pass with bipartisan support and will have a real-world impact. They introduced the bill in response to the fact that the man who killed over two dozen men, women and children in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church was convicted of assault against his wife and step-child and discharged for bad conduct while a member of the U.S. Air Force. The alleged murderer was still able to buy guns despite a federal ban preventing those convicted of domestic violence from buying firearms.

But there is no specification in the Uniform Code of Military Justice for domestic assault, Flake said, only for assault. Because of this, the military has not been reporting convictions of what would be classified as domestic assault in non-military courts to a federal database of domestic abusers meant to prevent them from owning weapons.

Will Texas massacre finally get military to improve its criminal reporting system?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had an urgent question Monday about Devin Patrick Kelley, the former U.S. Air Force airman who is accused of killing 26 people worshipping at a church service yesterday: How was it that Kelley, convicted of domestic violence and discharged for bad conduct, was still able to get a gun?”

By late afternoon, Abbott appeared to have his answer: the Air Force said an initial review indicated it had failed to share Kelley’s criminal record with the civilian authorities, and so his conviction was never entered into the federal database used to screen potentially dangerous gun buyers. Federal laws bar felons and those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns. This story originally appeared at ProPublica and is reprinted with permission. The Air Force said it will conduct a full review of how it handled Kelley’s records, as well as all “relevant policies and procedures.”

However, the Air Force and the military’s other armed services have known for years there were widespread problems with their reporting procedures. A 2015 Pentagon report found the military was failing to provide crucial information to the FBI in about 30 percent of a sample of serious cases handled in military courts.

How military outsourcing turned toxic

IN AUGUST 2016, an inspector from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, a nerve center for the U.S. military’s global air combat operations, to conduct a routine look at the base’s handling of its hazardous waste. Barksdale, like many military bases, generates large volumes of hazardous materials, including thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from cleaning, painting and maintaining airplanes. For years, Barksdale had been sending a portion of its waste to an Ohio company, U.S. Technology Corp., that had sold officials at the base on a seemingly ingenious solution for disposing of it: The company would take the contaminated powder from refurbished war planes and repurpose it into cinderblocks that would be used to build everything from schools to hotels to big-box department stores — even a pregnancy support center in Ohio. The deal would ostensibly shield the Air Force from the liabililty of being a large producer of dangerous hazardous trash. The arrangement was not unique.

Trump has secretive teams to roll back regulations, led by hires with deep industry ties

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts. Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone. The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production

In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby. Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction. Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives.