Bill to protect women’s right to abortion passes U.S. House of Representatives

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act on Friday by 218 to 211 largely along party lines. One Texas Democrat voted against it while all Republicans voted against the bill. U.S. Representatives Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, and Teresa Leger Fernández New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, both Democrats, voted for the bill. The bill would protect women’s right to an abortion in every state and end gestational bans and other restrictions to reproductive access. The bill is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate.

New Mexico Democrats in Congress sign onto amicus brief supporting Roe v. Wade

The New Mexico Democratic Congressional delegation signed onto an amicus brief urging  the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That case will be heard December 1. But the court has traditionally made its ruling on abortion cases at the end of the term in late June or early July. The state of Mississippi, in its case against the sole clinic that provides abortions in that state, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade. Mississippi lawmakers passed an unconstitutional law in 2018 making abortion at 15 weeks gestation illegal in that state.

Labor secretary, congresswoman visit orphaned well in Kirtland

As he stood looking at an orphaned well in Kirtland, U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh asked, “is this ground dirty here?” 

Activist Don Schreiber said yes and Adrienne Sandoval, the Oil Conservation Division Director for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, confirmed that there was surface contamination in places at the site. Sandoval said the contaminated soil will have to be removed from the site and clean soil will be brought in to replace it. Walsh visited the orphaned well with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat who has been pushing for increased funding to assist states with cleaning up orphaned wells. They, and Aztec Mayor Victor Snover, met with Schreiber and Sandoval at the private property where the well is located. Related: Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

The site is one of the hundreds of oil and gas wells in New Mexico that has no operator or responsible party to clean it up.

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.

How a federal abortion bill could impact New Mexico

This week members of Congress introduced legislation into both chambers that would codify Roe v. Wade into law if it passes. HR 3755, more commonly known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would protect a person’s ability to terminate a pregnancy and would protect a provider’s ability to provide abortion services. Reproductive healthcare advocates believe the bill, which has been introduced by members of Congress, has greater urgency this year because of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear next year. Related: The future of reproductive healthcare in NM if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion gestational ban, will be the first test of Roe v. Wade with the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Many in the reproductive healthcare community believe Roe v. Wade could be overturned or become a law in name only as a result. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.

House Natural Resources Committee passes bill addressing orphaned oil and gas wells

A bill that would help states plug and clean up orphaned oil and gas wells passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday on a 22 to 17 vote. The Orphaned Well Clean Up and Jobs Act is sponsored by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat from New Mexico. “Orphaned wells pose a serious threat both to our communities and our climate,” she said during her presentation to the committee. “They can leak toxic fluids into our water and pollutants into our atmosphere, including heat trapping gas, methane.”

The freshman Democrat said there are more than 700 orphaned wells in New Mexico as well as “countless more” idle wells that could become orphaned. Leger Fernández said when visiting those wells she could taste the metal in the air and see stains around the deteriorated well pads.

Leger Fernandez visits Cerro de la Olla amid push to designate it as a wilderness area

Some places are so special that they deserve the highest level of protection, said U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat who represents northern New Mexico. Cerro de la Olla is one of those places, she said. The dome-shaped caldera already has some protections as part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, however Leger Fernandez is hoping to get it classified as a wilderness area to provide that additional level of protection. She visited Cerro de la Olla for the first time as a congresswoman this week, where she met with stakeholders including members of Taos Pueblo, county leaders and ranchers. After hearing from them, she climbed up the volcano.

Right-wing mob of Trump supporters takes over U.S. Capitol; NM and other lawmakers evacuated

Domestic terrorism. Insurrection. Insanity. That’s what elected officials from New Mexico called what happened when a mob of right-wing Trump supporters stormed and briefly took over the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, as the House and Senate were debating challenges to election results based on unfounded conspiracy theories about voter fraud. The Senate voted against any objections that would undermine the majority of voters in any states.

2020 elections usher in a wave of ‘firsts’ for NM

New Mexico voters embraced candidates in the 2020 elections that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office. The state saw a slew of “firsts” this year. 

For the first time in the state’s history, New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held by women of color. And both Yvette Herrell, who will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and Deb Haaland, who won reelection to the state’s 1st Congressional District, are enrolled members of Indigenous nations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation, making New Mexico the first state in the U.S. to have two Indigenous Representatives. 

Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, is Latina. 

Terrelene Massey, Diné (Navajo) and the executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said she’s really excited to see more representation from women, especially women of color and Native American women. “I think they’ll provide different perspectives on the different issues they’ll be working on,” Massey said.

Democrat Leger Fernandez wins 3rd Congressional District, AP projects

Teresa Leger Fernandez beat Republican Alexis Johnson for the open seat in the House of Representatives for New Mexico’s 3rd  Congressional District. 

The Associated Press called the election for Leger Fernandez at 9:12 p.m., with 83 percent of precincts reporting partial results and 10 percent of precincts reported full results. Leger Fernandez thanked those who voted for her, and said she will work to earn the trust of those who did not vote for her, in her victory speech. “I promise to listen to your voices and strategize with you to help us all solve our common problems,” she said during a virtual election event held by the New Mexico Democratic Party. “2021 will be transformative as we address the failures that have caused so much death and misery, as we resolve ourselves to act in unison, in the face of a crisis.”

Leger Fernandez runs the Santa Fe-based social impact law firm Leger Law and Strategy. She was appointed as vice chair to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation under President Barack Obama’s administration.