A stock photo of construction workers and equipment.

Nationwide unemployment rates hold steady in April

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its federal monthly jobs report Friday. The report showed that the unemployment rate, the percentage of eligible workers filing for unemployment insurance, has remained steady since March 2022. The current federal unemployment rate is 3.4 percent compared to March 2022 when it was 3.7 percent. The report states that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 253,000 jobs in April. Employment trended upward in the professional and business services, health care, leisure and hospitality, and social assistance, the report states.

Kids Online Safety Act reintroduced in U.S. Senate

The internet can be a dangerous place for young people, especially social media platforms where children and adults can interact with minimal or nonexistent barriers. To help combat the dangers children may face online, Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján and others reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act which was sponsored by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn. The bill, however, is controversial and many privacy, tech and LGBTQ+ groups oppose the bill, and they say it could actually cause harm to minors by restricting access to information based on what state attorneys general determine to be harmful. This comes as states throughout the country target abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights. “Big Tech knows that the algorithms they use to maximize time spent online also lead to harm, particularly for children,” Luján said in a statement supporting the bill.

PRC moves forward with community solar

Next week, officials will announce the projects selected to offer community solar, and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission drew numbers on Monday that will help determine which project is awarded a position in the community solar program in the event of a tie. This drawing was done in conjunction with the PRC’s contractor, InClime, which has been overseeing the application process. The PRC received more than 400 applications for proposals to build and operate community solar facilities, totalling more than 1,700 megawatts of generation capacity. The Community Solar Act, which passed in 2021, sets an initial statewide capacity cap at 200 megawatts. The initial period stretches to Nov.

Supreme Court justice makes Law Day proclamation

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice C. Shannon Bacon announced Law Day observance on Monday through a proclamation released Friday. Law Day is celebrated every May 1 to help the public understand the legal profession better and to celebrate the role of law in our society, according to the American Bar Association which began hosting Law Day events in the late 1950’s following a proclamation by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Law Day reminds us that we must continue to work to improve access to justice, particularly for those unable to obtain legal assistance for civil matters,” Bacon said in a statement. “We must take steps together to reduce the access justice gap that many New Mexicans face, whether too often they cannot afford an attorney or they live in a part of the state where few lawyers and legal aid services are available.” 

Bacon’s proclamation lists ways people are helping to make courts more accessible and more equitable. These include legal service organizations that provide legal services for people who cannot afford them otherwise, Pro Bono Publico which private lawyers accept cases at no fee to the client, lawyer referral programs that help people find the legal services that best suits their case or situation and court programs that inform the public about laws, legal procedures and provide interpreters as needed

“We salute these efforts, but let us offer greater support to those who work daily to provide legal services to those who most need them,” Bacon’s proclamation states.

Environmental group calls on NMED to address air pollution from oil and gas

An environmental advocacy group alleges that oil and gas companies across New Mexico are violating state rules by venting large quantities of gas. 

WildEarth Guardians sent a letter to New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Thursday requesting that NMED “take immediate steps to end…this illegal air pollution and penalize the companies who are so blatantly flouting public health safeguards.”

The organization analyzed venting from March 1, 2022 to March 1, 2023 and found that at least 60 facilities released levels of volatile organic compounds “to trigger legal clean air thresholds,” according to a press release. “In spite of rules adopted by the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration to limit oil and gas industry venting and protect clean air, the reality is companies are routinely ignoring and violating these rules,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the press release. “We need action to confront and deter these violations and for the Environment Department to stop giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute.” 

WildEarth Guardians alleges that companies are failing to obtain proper permits, violating the emission limits in the permits and not reporting excess emissions. The letter highlights several examples, including a company venting more than 400 pounds of volatile organic compounds per hour for four days last fall in Lea County and another company failing to report excess emissions at 10 facilities in the Lybrook and Nageezi area of San Juan County, which is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Another company reported venting almost every day between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023, WildEarth Guardians states.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales visits with kindergarteners at the Boys and Girls Club of Otero County in Alamogordo during a visit on April 25, 2023.

‘The whole world is a classroom’: Morales visits Alamogordo Boys and Girls Club

Fresh from a day of school, the children came into the club in groups, all standing in a line waiting to be checked in at the Boys and Girls Club of Otero County in Alamogordo. Today may have started out normally for the children participating in the afterschool programs at the Boys and Girls Club but today was different. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a former teacher, visited the Club and played with the children including handing out snacks during snack time. The visit was to see after school programs in action after $20 million was added to the state’s budget to help after school programs like Boys and Girls Club. “We’re very thankful for the after school funding,” Boys and Girls Club of Otero County CEO Pamela Cisneros said.

Conservation groups file suit over oil and gas production on federal lands

Various conservation groups, including the New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court alleging that the U.S. Department of the Interior has failed to respond to a petition for a rulemaking to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands. The petition was filed in January 2022 by more than 360 groups and calls for federal oil and gas production to reach near zero by 2035. The groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

“For our climate, we need to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and that has to start with ending oil and gas extraction on public lands,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Today’s lawsuit is about compelling rational leadership from the Biden administration and enforcing the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.”

The filing states that the Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies like the Department of the Interior to “give interested parties the right to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule” and that the law requires the agency to “conclude a matter presented to it within a reasonable time.”

In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth are listed as plaintiffs. The groups say that new extraction of fossil fuels must end immediately and existing resource extraction operations must be phased out in order to avoid more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit—of warming above pre-Industrial levels.

NM Political Report wins 10 regional journalism awards

This week NM Political Report won ten awards at the Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies annual awards, including five first-place awards. NM Political Report competed in the small newsrooms category against news outlets in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. 

The awards include a 1st place award in the Podcast category for Growing Forward, a two-season podcast series in collaboration with New Mexico PBS. Former NM Political Report writer Andy Lyman co-hosted the podcast with Megan Kamerick. Kevin McDonald produced the podcast. The other awards, all by NM Political Report writers, are listed below.

Flower found in marshes of southern New Mexico listed as threatened

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Wright’s marsh thistle, a type of sunflower found primarily in New Mexico, as a threatened species. As part of the listing, which was announced this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 159 acres of land in seven areas as critical habitat. The Wright’s marsh thistle is already listed as endangered at the state level. 

Some of the factors threatening the flower include livestock grazing, drought, oil and gas extraction, diversion of water and invasive plant species. The plant is found in eastern New Mexico. In the Pecos River Valley, it has vivid pink flowers and dark green foliage.

State completes checks on developmentally disabled clients

On Friday, the New Mexico Department of Health announced it had completed health and safety wellness checks on all of its 6,815 clients in state Developmental Disabilities Waiver programs.

“This was a huge and necessary undertaking to visit in-person all 6,815 waiver clients in a short period of time,” NM Department of Health Secretary Patrick Allen said in a news release. “I’m very grateful for the help several agencies and many staff provided to get these visits done.” 

The wellness checks found 111 sites with possible concerns. All of those sites are now under investigation, the news release stated. 

The 111 sites includes 61 sites with reported allegations of potential abuse, neglect and exploitation and 50 sites with issues such as home repairs, damages or other environmental concerns, the news release states. 

“Individuals who receive services from our Developmental Disabilities Waiver Programs, are among the state’s most vulnerable residents,” Allen said. “We have a responsibility to make sure they are receiving appropriate services and that we are doing our job to make sure that those services are happening, and that people are well cared for. Most DD Waiver providers do.