Friday News Roundup: Court Sides With NM Regulators Over Copper Rule

May 9, 2014

Court Sides With NM Regulators Over Copper Rule   The Associated Press

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has rejected efforts by the state attorney general, environmentalists and a ranch owned by billionaire mogul Ted Turner to put on hold regulations that govern groundwater pollution by copper mines.

Attorney General Gary King and the others filed an appeal last fall to challenge the new regulations and sought to put them on hold pending the appeal.

The court says King and the others failed to show there would be irreparable harm if the copper rule is enacted while the appeal is heard.

The court also questioned the appellants' likelihood of success on the merits of the case.

State regulators have defended the copper rule.

King, water watchdog groups and Turner's ranch contend the regulations give mining companies too much leeway to pollute groundwater.

Albuquerque Protesters Vow More Civil Disobedience - The Associated Press, Russell ContrerasActivists in Albuquerque say attempts to silence them over criticism of police will only make them more aggressive in future protests.

Several demonstrators were removed from council chambers late Thursday after they refused to speak at the podium and turned their backs to councilors because of new rule changes they say limit free speech.

The demonstrators are pressing city officials to make changes to Albuquerque police after 39 police shootings since 2010.

David Correia, a protest organizer and University of New Mexico American studies professor, says he and other received citations ordering them not to return to City Hall for 90 days or risk arrest.

Correia says protesters are meeting Saturday to decide what actions they will take next. He says the actions will likely involve more civil disobedience.

Judge Won't Dismiss Charges In Minivan ShootingThe Associated PressA New Mexico judge has refused to dismiss charges against a Tennessee woman who was involved in an October high-speed chase near Taos during which a State Police officer fired at her fleeing minivan carrying five children.

Nobody was injured by the officer's gunfire, which was videotaped and shown on the Internet. The officer was later fired.

District Court Judge John Paternoster on Thursday denied a request by Oriana Farrell's lawyer to dismiss charges against the Memphis woman on several grounds based on grand jury proceedings against her.

However, Paternoster said he would allow Farrell's lawyers to file an appeal on the legal issues before Farrell's trial. She is charged with aggravated fleeing from an officer and child abuse.


DOE: Could Be 3 Years To Fully Reopen NM Nuke Dump - The Associated Press

The head of the recovery effort at the federal government's nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico says it could be 3 years before full operations resume at the underground facility.

Recovery manager Jim Blankenhorn says the timeline is a moving target, but full operations are expected to resume no earlier than 18 months from now.

He says crews are investigating the cause of a radiation release that exposed some workers and halted operations at the repository in February. One theory is there may have been a chemical reaction inside waste drums from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn urged officials not to withhold any information. He says he's concerned the public will lose faith if federal officials change their story every couple of weeks about what might have happened at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Head Of Federal Nuclear Agency Visits New Mexico - The Associated Press, Susan Montoya Bryan

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz says renovations at one of the nation's top federal labs are an example of what the National Nuclear Security Administration needs to do as it begins to modernize its operations across the country.

Klotz was in New Mexico on Thursday to get a firsthand look at Sandia National Laboratories' testing facilities as he settles in to his new position at the helm of the NNSA.

More than $100 million was spent to renovate testing facilities around Sandia that are critical to ensuring the safety and durability of the nation's nuclear stockpile.

Despite the modernization efforts, Klotz acknowledged the tough budget times and said some difficult choices will have to be made.

He also met with the directors of Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

Udall Calls For VA To Broaden Waiting List Probe - The Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico is calling for federal authorities to broaden their investigation into alleged secret waiting lists at veterans hospitals.

Udall says he's outraged at the ongoing allegations that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System and possibly others were covering up the extent of their waiting lists while veterans died waiting for appointments.

In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Udall called for VA officials to expand their investigation to facilities in New Mexico and elsewhere.

Arizona, New Mexico and part of Texas fall under the same Veterans Integrated Service Network.

Udall says the New Mexico VA Health Care System is in the hiring process for a new director.

He says that person must know whether similar management failures occurred within New Mexico's system.

Albuquerque Council Meets Amid Heightened Security - The Associated Press, Russell Contreras

Some people were escorted from the Albuquerque City Council meeting after turning their backs to the council members and refusing to speak during their turns at the podium during debate over police reforms following a spate of deadly police shootings.

The decision by at least four demonstrators to remain silent comes just days after rowdy protesters halted Monday's council meeting and called for the citizens' arrest of Albuquerque's police chief.

The council gathered for Thursday's special meeting under new rules and heightened security designed to avoid the angry confrontation that broke out earlier this week.

Public comment was limited to the legislation the council was prepared to consider, including a measure that would affect the way the police chief is hiring.

Some in the crowd of about 200 people told councilors they disagreed with the rules.

Memo: Albuquerque Police Changes Personal Gun Rule - The Associated Press

Albuquerque police officers will soon no longer be allowed to carry personal weapons.

A memo from Chief Gorden Eden dated Monday says the department is getting new handguns and all officers will be required to carry those weapons while on duty.

The move is a reversal of a current policy that allows officers to carry personal weapons. The U.S Justice Department criticized that policy in a harsh report last month faulting Albuquerque police over use of force.

Eden says the Albuquerque Police Department is ordering new Smith and Wesson 9 mm and Glock 9mm handguns.

Albuquerque police are under scrutiny for 39 police shootings since 2010.

New Mexico Agency Sued In Whistleblower Case - The Associated Press

Two former Economic Development Department employees have sued the agency and its top executives, alleging they were wrongly fired for trying to expose wrongdoing such as contracting violations in Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.

Former department Chief Financial Officer Kurt Saenz and ex-International Trade Division Director Brent Eastwood filed their whistleblower lawsuit in February but it was unsealed and became public in state court records last week.

The lawsuit alleges Eastwood was directed to solicit money from Mexican business owners to create a "slush fund" for border area marketing.

Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela said Thursday in a statement the lawsuit's allegations are "baseless and malicious rantings from disgruntled employees" fired for sexual harassment and threatening workplace violence.

The lawsuit was first reported by Mother Jones magazine.

Lincoln National Forest Fire Danger Now Very High - The Associated Press

Lincoln National Forest officials have elevated the fire danger rating to "very high" due to continued low moisture, drought, winds and warm weather in southern New Mexico.

They say the forest's Smokey Bear, Sacramento and Guadalupe districts all are experiencing conditions that warrant the higher rating.

It now will be displayed on all forest-wide fire danger rating signs.

The "very high" rating indicates that fires start easily from all causes, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity immediately after ignition.

Spot fires are a constant danger.

Fires burning in light fuels such as grass may quickly develop high intensity characteristics such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when they burn into heavier fuels.