Western States Want Feds To Help With Mussel Fight, County Collecting Back Taxes From Oil Industry

Nov 3, 2017

Western Governors Want Federal Help In Invasive Mussel FightThe Associated Press

Governors of 19 Western states are pressing the federal government to do more to prevent the spread of damage-causing invasive mussels from infected federally managed waterways.

The Western Governors' Association on Thursday sent a letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to put in place by spring 2018 controls to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.

The governors are asking that federal agencies conduct mandatory inspections and decontamination of boats leaving infected water bodies.

The governors say they're particularly concerned about the mussels reaching the Columbia River Basin, Lake Tahoe, and the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell.

The mussels can clog water pipes, damage boat motors and affect other aquatic life.

Many states have spent millions on efforts to stop the mussels from infecting state waterways.

Eddy County Collecting Back Taxes From Oil And Gas IndustryThe Associated Press

Officials in one southeastern New Mexico county have collected more than $300,000 in back taxes from oil and natural gas companies for equipment and other assets.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that companies have allegedly failed to render their gas gathering pipelines for taxation and possibly more than 100 drilling rigs managed by various companies were omitted from Eddy County's tax rolls.

An audit thus far shows that some of the companies operating in the county have failed to pay taxes for the last decade.

County Assessor Gemma Ferguson said a total of about $365,000 was billed to companies so far and more bills are forthcoming.

The process will continue as a company contracted by the county is undertaking a mapping and discovery project that includes evaluating pipelines, wells and compressors.

New Mexico Regulators Report Drop In Methane EmissionsThe Associated Press

State regulators say methane emissions from oil and natural gas production in New Mexico have dropped by more than 50 percent over the past year thanks to advances in technology and changes in the way wells are drilled.

Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Ken McQueen told a panel of state lawmakers Friday that most companies that are actively drilling are reporting the volumes of methane intentionally released through venting and flaring as part of their operations.

McQueen says out of the 60,000 active wells that are documented each month, his agency found 56 instances in which operators failed to report the required data.

Environmentalists say the state isn't accounting for methane pollution resulting from leaks and that allowing the gas to escape is costing New Mexico millions of dollars in lost tax revenues and royalties.

New Mexico No Longer Leads In Drug FatalitiesAssociated Press

New Mexico is likely to fall further in a national ranking of states when it comes to drug overdose deaths, largely because fatalities have increased elsewhere.

State Epidemiologist Michael Landen on Thursday said he expects New Mexico to fall to about 15th place in the rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 from its eight-place ranking the prior year.

He says overdose deaths have stabilized in New Mexico, as fatalities accelerate in many other states. Nevada now rivals New Mexico for the highest overdose death rate in the western United States.

At the same time, New Mexico appears to be faring better than many states when it comes to fatalities linked to the powerful opioid painkiller called fentanyl.

A federal report last week linked more than half of recent opioid overdose deaths in 10 states to fentanyl. Of those states, New Mexico and Oklahoma reported the lowest percentage of fentanyl-involved deaths

Louisiana Woman Fatally Shot By Authorities In New MexicoAssociated Press

Authorities in New Mexico have identified a Louisiana woman who was fatally shot after she allegedly broke into a Las Cruces home.

Doña Ana County Sheriff's officials say 37-year-old Heather Denean Bubrig of New Orleans was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday night.

Bubrig was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by her 51-year-old boyfriend, who told authorities she had just been discharged from a Texas mental health facility.

The couple was traveling on Interstate 10 when the man pulled over and Bubrig exited the vehicle and tried to walk into traffic before fleeing.

A homeowner called 911 to say the woman had entered his home, claiming that someone was trying to kill her.

Sheriff's deputies arrived to find Bubrig armed with a sledge axe and she was shot.

O'Keeffe Museum To Build Database Of New Mexico SitesAssociated Press

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum has received federal preservation dollars to build a database that will house information about the New Mexico locations that are represented in works by the American modernist painter.

The museum announced the $30,000 grant Thursday, saying the database will support a mobile app and website about the historic sites.

Among the landscapes that inspired O'Keeffe are Cerro Pedernal, the Chama River Valley and Ghost Ranch. Museum officials say these areas, or viewsheds, are of critical cultural importance.

Plans call for the museum to eventually collaborate with other organizations to replicate the O'Keeffe experience in other places where she worked, including New York and Hawaii.

O'Keeffe is known for her landscapes, large-scale flower paintings and abstractions. After making New Mexico her home for decades, she died in Santa Fe in 1986.

New Mexico Governor Excited About Federal Drone ProgramAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says aviation and innovation have been crucial to New Mexico's economy over the years and the integration of drones into the wider airspace will make for even more opportunities.

The two-term Republican governor joined federal officials and industry representatives in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to kick off the Trump administration's drone project.

President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead last week for a pilot program aimed at increasing government and commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

The plan calls for select states, communities and tribes to devise their own trial programs in partnership with government and industry users. The results will help in the crafting of new regulations.

Martinez said drones offer nearly limitless potential for rural states like New Mexico but that integrating the technology into everyday life must be done safely.

New Mexico Agency To Abide By Collection ProcessAssociated Press

The New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance says there is a process outlined by state statute that detail how it must go about recovering any premium taxes owed by health insurers operating in the state.

Agency spokeswoman Heather Widler said Thursday that the office has a responsibility to uphold that process and that insurance companies have a right to due process.

Her comments were prompted by a letter from state Attorney General Hector Balderas, in which he asks that the collection of any taxes due to the state be quick and transparent.

Balderas also asked for an accounting of what is owed.

State insurance officials say that per statute, the account reconciliation amounts and each associated company's details must remain confidential until the cases are finalized.

Widler said the office is committed to collecting the payments.

New Mexico AG Presses For Collection Of Unpaid TaxesAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is putting more pressure on state insurance regulators to collect millions of dollars in unpaid premium taxes from health insurance providers operating in the state.

Balderas in a letter sent Wednesday to Insurance Superintendent John Franchini asked for an accounting of what is owed by each company and what the procedure will be for collecting the money.

The letter follows Balderas' announcement of an $18.5 million settlement with Presbyterian Health Plan to resolve claims of unpaid taxes that dated back more than a decade.

A recent state-commissioned audit found tax underpayments of $65 million by a long list of companies since 2003.

Balderas says the money should be collected in a quick and transparent manner.

New Mexico School District Settles Teacher Sex Abuse SuitsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico school district has agreed to settlements of nearly $8 million from two out of three lawsuits filed against the district over sexual assault complaints involving a former teacher.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Española Public Schools settled the suits that claim 61-year-old Gary Gregor sexually abused female elementary school students and that the school did not report the teacher.

The Fairview Elementary teacher was fired by the district in 2010, but he was accused of inappropriate behavior at schools in Utah, Montana and Santa Fe years before he was hired.

Gregor awaits trial after charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual contact of a minor were filed in April.

A third civil suit is pending in federal court.

Attempts by the newspaper to contact school officials were unsuccessful.

Parents Of Teen In School Shooting Case Sue State AgencySanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The parents of boy who pleaded no-contest to a 2014 Roswell school shooting have filed a lawsuit against New Mexico's child welfare agency, claiming it violated the boy's civil rights.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the lawsuit was filed in Santa Fe on Tuesday, and it accuses the state-run Youth Diagnostic and Development Center where the boy has been held for the past three years. The suit claims the facility has offered inadequate services and has denied the boy's requests to speak with his parents.

Officials with the state Children, Youth and Families Department say they could not comment on the case.

The middle school gym shooting injured two students, and the boy who was 12 at the time was sentenced to detention up to the age of 21.