Chaparral residents seek alternative to new El Paso Electric natural gas unit

When Ida Garcia looks out the kitchen window during cool mornings, plumes billowing from a power plant less than a mile away in Texas obscure her view of the broad Chihuahuan desert skies and expansive vistas. During hot summer days the plumes disappear but she still worries. 

“We see that plant everyday,” said Garcia of the Newman Power Station that sits between Chaparral, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. “We see how all this smoke comes out from the stacks… We know that it’s not just steam. We know it’s bad stuff coming out of there. Garcia and her husband, David, live in southern New Mexico, a region with some of the dirtiest air in the country.

Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest

Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”

The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.

The two hospitals have similar infant death rates — until you look at extremely premature babies

It was morning shift change at Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the neonatal intensive care unit, the lights were dimmed, as usual. People spoke in hushed tones typical of the NICU. But an arriving clinician knew immediately that something had gone wrong.

A “crash cart” carrying resuscitation equipment was positioned next to a newborn incubator, the enclosed cribs that keep preterm babies warm. Nurses stood nearby with grim expressions.

The incubator light illuminated an infant’s swollen, discolored belly.

Legislature shines light on itself

The Legislature concluded Saturday, which also happened to be the final day of Sunshine Week, so it’s only fitting that we review a couple of transparency measures taken up by the Legislature. 

In short: it’s a mixed bag. One prominent measure five years in the making passed, and if the governor signs the bill, lawmakers will no longer be able to allocate public works dollars in secret. But another measure that sought to fix a loophole in campaign finance disclosure laws was dead in the water. 

This story was originally published by New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission through a creative commons license. Lawmakers shine light on themselves

Once a contentious measure among lawmakers, a bill that requires a list of how lawmakers allocate public infrastructure dollars be published on the legislative website sailed through the 2021 session. It’s momentous, considering the long history of secrecy surrounding how lawmakers decide what projects to fund.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

Nonprofit groups put new independent expenditure law to the test

After a decade-long effort, New Mexico lawmakers passed new campaign reporting requirements in 2019 to force nonprofit groups, which can spend money on political campaigns without registering as political committees, to disclose their spending as well as the names, addresses, and contribution amounts of their donors who fund such “independent expenditures.” 

Outside campaign spending by groups or individuals not affiliated with a particular campaign have long been a target of reformers seeking to rein in the influence of money on politics.   Without disclosure, nonprofits can spend unlimited amounts of “dark money” without the public knowing where the money comes from. This story was written for New Mexico In Depth and is republished here with permission through a Creative Commons license. In 2020, two nonprofit groups immediately put the new law to the test by refusing to disclose donors despite enforcement efforts by both the Secretary of State and the New Mexico State Ethics Commission. “I’m not at all surprised,” said Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who championed the transparency measure for a decade.

Democrats dream of expanded majority in State Senate

In the wake of a “progressive wave” in June’s Democratic primaries that swept out of office a group of powerful incumbent Democrats, the state Senate will look very different come January. The wins could help progressive Democrats advance key initiatives, like tapping the Land Grant permanent fund for early childhood programs or getting rid of a criminal abortion law on the books since the 1960s. 

But first, the victorious challengers must win on Tuesday or other closely contested seats largely within the Albuquerque metro area must flip if Democrats want to strengthen their 26-16 advantage in the chamber. 

This story was written for New Mexico In Depth and is republished here with permission through a Creative Commons license. New Mexico In Depth identified 10 Senate districts in which the difference between registered Democratic and Republican voters is below 4,000. We then charted out candidate spending for each race, as well as the level of in-kind contributions for each candidate. The in-kind contributions reflect spending by party leaders on behalf of the candidates, who then included the value of that spending in their own campaign reports.

Spending in New Mexico’s 2nd district congressional busts into stratosphere

This year’s rematch between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s second congressional district is one of the most closely-watched in the nation, generating tensions within the state’s oil and gas industry and tens of millions in outside spending. Roll Call has identified Torres Small as one of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents up for re-election this year. The respected Cook Political Report rates the race as a tossup. 

This story was written by New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission through a Creative Commons license. At this point, candidates and outside groups have spent a combined sum exceeding $30 million. Spending in 2018 approached $14 million, in a year when across the country record spending was recorded.

Oil and gas support for Torres Small exposes internal divisions

Dressed in denim on a windy day in front of an oil and gas rig, Xochitl Torres Small looks into the camera and says, “Washington doesn’t get us,” then tells viewers she fought to get workers the coronavirus relief they deserve. 

The ad is just one of many in which Democrat Torres Small is positioning herself as an ally of oil and gas this election year as she strives to win a second term in New Mexico’s southern congressional district, one of just 26 of 435 House races across the nation declared a tossup by the respectedCook Political Report. It’s New Mexico’s most competitive high-profile contest. 

Two years after Torres Small beat former Republican state lawmaker Yvette Herrell by fewer than 4,000 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast, the two women are facing off again in 2020, and Torres Small is making sure to stress her oil and gas bona fidesOil and gas money powers the economy in the 2nd Congressional District and generations of families have come up through the oil patch in a solidly Republican swath of counties in southeast New Mexico. 

Xochitl Torres Small 2020 social media ad claiming her support for oil and gas workers. The first-term Democrat insists she would not vote to ban fracking, a drilling method that has greatly expanded U.S. fossil fuel production and flooded New Mexico with revenue before the pandemic crippled the state economy. Advocates who want to ban the procedure, which injects chemical laden water at high pressure into underground rock formations, say fracking threatens human health in addition to increasing greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. But industry professionals and their supporters insist it can be done safely and responsibly. 

Torres Small also took to Twitter last week to call out her party’s presidential nominee, tweeting it was wrong to “demonize” one industry in the fight against climate change after Joe Biden said he’d work to transition to an economy based on renewable energy and away from the current oil economy. 

Her efforts to trumpet her support of oil and gas come at a time when the industry itself is in turmoil and internal tensions between larger companies and their smaller New Mexico-based counterparts are bursting into the open, particularly over how to talk about Torres Small and her record. 

Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, whose board of directors is dominated by out-of-state oil producers, told the Associated Press in August that Torres Small has been a “strong advocate for our state’s energy interests.”  

Flynn’s comment ignited a mini-firestorm among Republican loyalists. 

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce, a former congressman in the southern district who made a fortune selling his oil field services company, condemned Flynn’s statement.

COVID complicates college prep for Native students

It’s a crisp late afternoon in Northern New Mexico, the kind of day that invites you to drive with your windows down or chop firewood in preparation for winter.If this were a normal year, Marisa Gutierrez might not register the seasonal change. The 18 year old is usually beyond busy. But this is 2020, and the high school student body president, cheerleader, community organizer, and aspiring valedictorian is feeling cooped up.And pondering lost opportunities. This story was written by New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission under a Creative Commons license.Earlier this year the pandemic killed a conference she had hoped to attend at Emory University in Atlanta for Native American students across the country.The teenager, who is a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo, one of New Mexico’s 23 Native American tribes, yearned to visit an out-of-state college campus.“I have been on college campuses before but nothing outside of New Mexico,” she said.  She felt for her peers, too, knowing the missed opportunity it likely represented for many.“I’ve had the advantage and opportunities to see a bunch of places, but a lot of people, specifically Natives, aren’t usually accustomed to looking outside of their Pueblo or outside of their tribe,” she said.