AG raids House Majority Leader’s home

State investigators served search warrants at the Albuquerque home of House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton according to multiple media reports. The Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican and other outlets reported the warrants from the Attorney General’s office were in regard to investigations into ties to Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company that has had a contract with Albuquerque Public Schools for over a decade. The investigation includes allegations of “racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.” The Journal reported the search warrants said businesses and charities operated by Williams Stapleton received more than $950,000 from the company since 2012. Williams Stapleton is the career and technical education director for the school district, which is the largest in the state.

Legislators told of possible low-emission cement production at Escalante Power Plant

Beyond coal plants, carbon capture and sequestration may help with cement manufacturing and create new industry in New Mexico, according to a presentation at the Legislative Finance Committee on Thursday. Others, however, remain skeptical of the industry’s viability. Wiley Rhodes, co-founder of Escalante H2 Power, said a retrofit of the shuttered Escalante Power Plant could do more than just generate electricity. Escalante Power Plant is currently owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., Escalante H2 Power is planning on purchasing the plant. Rhodes’ company is working to make Escalante Power Plant the first coal-fired power plant to be transformed into a hydrogen facility.

New Mexico begins clean car standards rulemaking process

In a few years, new cars being sold in New Mexico may be required to meet more stringent emission requirements, similar to those in place in California. The City of Albuquerque and the New Mexico Environment Department kicked off the rulemaking process to adopt California’s clean car standards with a public meeting Wednesday. New Mexico has the choice of continuing to use the federal standards for vehicle emissions or adopting the more stringent requirements put into place by California. Vehicles are a major source of ozone pollution, which can be seen as smog. Bernalillo County, as well as several other counties in New Mexico, are pushing federal ozone standards and, in a recorded video address, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the clean car standards as “reasonable, common-sense regulations.”

“By adopting clean car standards, we’re helping reach the governor’s target of reducing emissions by 45 percent by the year 2030,” said Claudia Berchert, who is overseeing the rulemaking process for NMED.

U.S. House passes PFAS Action Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-182 in favor of legislation that would regulate PFAS. The PFAS Action Act would require federal regulators to establish national drinking water standards for per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances. The legislation would further designate PFAS as hazardous, thus allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites. Additionally, the legislation would lead to at least two types of PFAS being classified as hazardous air pollutants and it would limit the introduction of new PFAS chemicals. The PFAS Action Act would also provide $200 million annually to assist water and wastewater utilities.

Heinrich, Blunt introduce legislation to fund wildlife conservation

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich described wildlife conservation as a topic that can bring people together—something that he said is highlighted by a bipartisan Senate bill.. “Whether you grew up in New Mexico or you grew up in Missouri, you remember the first fish you ever catch, you remember the butterflies in your backyard,” Heinrich said during a press conference announcing the legislation. He added that these species are not as common as they once were. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which Heinrich is introducing along with Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, would provide $1.3 billion annually in funding to states and $97.5 million to tribes to implement projects identified in the wildlife action plans that will help keep species off of the endangered species list and recover those that are already on the list. The sponsors and proponents described it as the “largest and most significant investment in wildlife and habitat conservation in half a century.”

The projects are guided primarily by the state wildlife action plans and Heinrich said he views this as a way to solve problems that have been identified rather than a tool to research the causes of the decline in biodiversity.

Border wall map reveals damage to landscape, migration routes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A newly-released map identifies portions of the U.S.-Mexico border wall built by the Trump administration, and for conservation groups and wildlife advocates, it is alarming. The Biden administration halted construction, and said it will use federal funds to assess damage caused by the new, higher walls. Myles Traphagen, borderlands program coordinator for the Wildlands Network who created the map, said in addition to environmental damage, the project identified several areas in border states where restoration to benefit wildlife is needed. “There’s very high biodiversity in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico,” Traphagen explained. “It’s a meeting ground of the neotropics and the temperate zones.

USDA may buy cows from dairy farm contaminated with PFAS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on regulations that would allow the government to buy the cattle from a dairy farm in Clovis where groundwater was contaminated by PFAS related to training at a nearby Air Force base, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez said during a virtual press conference on Friday. Art Schaap, the owner of Highland Dairy, and Leger Fernandez spoke about the challenges the dairy has faced since learning of the contamination. Schaap has been paying to try to keep the sick cattle alive and, when they do die, he has been burying the corpses on his farm, which requires a permit. He said the USDA buying the cows will allow for a humane solution for the animals, which are currently suffering as he does what he can to keep them alive. The meat cannot be sold even for dog food, he said, and the bodies need to be incinerated to prevent their contaminated flesh from polluting the water.

Coalition of Native women urge the public to keep wearing masks

On Thursday the state ended COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, but Indigenous leaders with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women urge the public to keep wearing the mask. Angel Charley, Laguna and executive director of CSVANW, said this is a safety precaution. “It requires a lot of sacrifice from all of us as individuals; it’s how we made this much progress,” she said. “But until we reach herd immunity, until there is vaccination access for kids under 12, until there is true equitable access to vaccinations then we’re asserting this is a safety precaution.” 

The World Health Organization recommended that vaccinated people continue to wear masks, especially in light of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is more contagious than other variants. Charley said the Navajo Nation is following WHO guidance and is continuing its mask mandate.

OCD has issued 23 complaints resulting in fines against oil and gas companies

The Oil Conservation Division of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department regained the ability to fine oil and gas companies that were not complying with state laws a little more than a year ago, and officials say this has paid off. Since February of 2020, the OCD has filed 23 complaints, resulting in $263,000 in penalties that go to the state’s general fund, according to a press release from EMNRD. Of those complaints, nine have been resolved. These complaints are only the formal enforcement actions that assess penalties against operators. In addition to those complaints, the OCD also issues field citations.

NM expands early childcare subsidies

For the next two years, New Mexico will raise the income eligibility for childcare assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with a phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, officials announced Thursday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Early Childcare Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and state Sen. Michael Padilla spoke during a press conference Thursday to announce the change. The press conference was also part of a one-year anniversary celebration for ECECD, which is an agency that began under the Lujan Grisham administration to improve early childcare education. The press conference was held in Santa Fe and online. The department will use emergency funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan to increase the assistance starting August 1.