Zinke Defers Oil And Gas Lease Sale Near Chaco, Two Teens Arrested in ABQ Shooting Death

Mar 2, 2018

Zinke Stops Oil And Gas Sale Near Chaco Canyon Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has halted a controversial oil and gas lease sale planned near a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northwestern New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Zinke told the paper Thursday that his agency wants to conduct additional reviews on the impact of expanded oil and gas development on cultural artifacts near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

Native American tribes, environmentalists and others filed 120 comments opposing the sale saying the sites at issue are too close to the park and areas with artifacts of a highly developed civilization that began more than 1,000 years ago. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich also raised concerns about expanded energy development in the area.

The planned sale of about 25 parcels on more than 4,400 acres will be delayed while Interior does “some cultural consultation,” Zinke told the Journal.

Advocates have worked unsuccessfully over the years to get the federal government to preserve more of the region around Chaco. The All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 20 tribes in New Mexico, filed a formal protest of the lease sale earlier this year.

Albuquerque City Councilors Seek To Decriminalize Pot ­ - The ABQ Journal

Two Albuquerque City Councilors are renewing efforts to decriminalize marijuana in the city.

City Councilors Pat Davis and Isaac Benton will unveil their proposed ordinance Monday at an event with the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that if the legislation passes, marijuana would still be illegal in the city, but law enforcement would be instructed to impose either a $25-dollar ticket or no penalty at all for possession of an ounce or less. 

A similar measure was approved by the City Council in 2015, but vetoed by former Mayor Richard Berry.      

Readers Reevaluate Author Amid Sex Misconduct Allegations – The Associated Press

Readers of Sherman Alexie's works are re-evaluating what place he has on their bookshelves after the prominent author became the subject of anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct.

Best known for his semi-autobiographical novel "The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian," Alexie is likely the most famous Native American author of his time, a hero to some and the focus of simmering misgivings that he's the white man's idea of an Indian writer.

He often draws from childhood experiences, writes openly about navigating life on and off a reservation, and speaks bluntly on social issues.

Allegations against Alexie, 51, so far have been vague, referring to unwanted advances, inappropriate remarks and threats against fellow Native American writers. In a written statement this week, Alexie acknowledged "there are women telling the truth about my behavior" but said he didn't threaten anyone or their careers.

His publisher, Hachette Book Group, deferred to Alexie's statement. His agent, Nancy Stauffer Cahoon, has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Debbie Reese, the founder of the American Indians In Children's Literature blog, has chosen not to promote Alexie by striking out mentions of him and removing his image from a picture gallery. She said she's heard for years of people holding back uncomfortable or angry feelings about Alexie who now might feel empowered to say something publicly.

"A caring piece inside of me was like, one of these young people who he hurt comes to my blog and sees him, it's another hurt," Reese, an enrolled member of Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico, told the AP. "As a person who works in a community sense, I'm very conscious of that."

Police: Two Teens Arrested In Fatal New Mexico Shooting – The Associated Press

Two teens have been arrested in connection with a deadly shooting at a park in southwest Albuquerque.

Officer Simon Drobik said Friday the two 15-year-olds were booked into the juvenile detention center on an open count of murder in the death of 25-year-old Larry Desantiago.

Police responded to the shooting at Tower Park just before 5 p.m. Thursday and found Desantiago shot in the chest. He was taken to a hospital where he later died.

The two suspects were taken into custody and questioned after they tried to flee from the scene. Detectives also found a gun in the area.

Police have not released any details about what led to the shooting.

New Mexico Increases Scrutiny Of Social Spending By Governor – Associated Press

A fund used by New Mexico's governor for social obligations will receive more scrutiny under legislation signed Thursday.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill that will allow the so-called contingency fund to be audited and automatically return unused money each year to the state general fund.

The new rules take effect after Martinez leaves office at the end of the year after two terms.

The state currently supplies the contingency fund with $72,000 a year — money that is used at the governor's discretion on dinners and receptions, along with gifts for protocol meetings or spending on gestures of condolence or congratulations.

The basic arrangement dates back more than a century.

Accounting practices have come under criticism in recent years for providing scant details about actual spending.

The contingency fund has been kept in a separate bank account that is not included in the balance sheet of the governor's office — and has not been subject to audit, according to a 2016 report form the State Auditor's Office. It said the practices run counter to basic notions of transparency and accountability in government.

Martinez has defended her handling of the fund, noting that her office published quarterly summaries when the law only requires an annual report and that she reduced appropriations from $90,000 under the previous administration. Her office has declined requests to provide details of specific expenditures.

Republican state Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque seized on the transition to a new administration at the end of the year to push through the bill aimed at providing more information on spending from the contingency fund.

Future governors will have to submit an itemized list of expenditures each month to a legislative committee and the Department of Finance and Administration.

Martinez said in a written message that the fund will soon fall under the state open records act. "The people of New Mexico deserve to know how the governor is spending taxpayer money," she wrote.

New Mexico Homeless Shelter Eyes Temporary ClosureHobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico homeless shelter might be temporarily shutting down after the group's co-directors announced they were leaving.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports that Manna Outreach, a Christian ministry which for almost 30 years has been aimed at helping people in Hobbs, New Mexico, is considering halting some functions, including its shelter, until new managers are found.

Manna Outreach co-directors Javonica and Michael Wallace recently said they are leaving their post because Michael started a new job.

Marilyn Coady, president of the board, confirmed Wednesday that Manna Outreach will be unable to provide housing or meals at the center until qualified and dedicated managers become available.

The center has struggled with funding issues for several months.

Holtec Proposal To Store Spent Nuclear Fuel Advances - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it is beginning a detailed safety, security and environmental review of an application to store spent nuclear fuel from power plants at a temporary facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The commission announced Thursday the proposal from Holtec International is sufficiently complete to begin the technical review process that eventually involves expert testimony and public comment.

Holtec is seeking an initial 40-year license for an underground storage facility that could accept radioactive used fuel that is piling up at reactors across the United States. The Alliance for Environmental Strategies is warning of rail transportation risks for spent fuel canisters.

Federal officials have long acknowledged that the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. depends on the ability to manage used fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Non-Hispanic Woman Named Garcia Loses Discrimination CaseAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has rejected a discrimination claim by a former public school bus driver who says she was fired because she is not Hispanic, even though her last name is Garcia.

In a ruling Thursday, the court found insufficient evidence to show discriminatory action in the dismissal of the bus driver Natalie Garcia by Hatch Valley Public Schools in southern New Mexico. It noted job performance problems.

Garcia describes her national origin as German and says she is not of Hispanic ethnicity.

The court says Garcia has the right to claim discrimination as a non-Hispanic under the state Human Rights Act. The unanimous ruling notes that reverse discrimination claims face the same burden of proof as a claim brought by a member of a racial minority.

New Mexico Pushes For 'Path Forward'Associated Press

Lawyers for the New Mexico Human Services Department say they agree with many of the recommendations of a special master who has spent the last year reviewing whether the state is making progress in processing applications for certain welfare benefits.

They told a federal judge during a daylong hearing Thursday that the agency has made improvements and wants to find a path forward for resolving a decades-old legal battle over access to emergency food aid and health coverage under Medicaid.

However, the state rejected a recommendation calling for a management shake-up.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales acknowledged during the hearing that the agency's progress was undeniable but he has yet to adopt the special master's report. It could be at least two weeks before he makes a decision.

New Mexico Governor Signs Auto-Theft, Daycare LegislationAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed bills aimed at deterring auto theft, protecting domestic violence victims, improving daycare for toddlers and encouraging businesses to hire youths raised in foster homes.

The Republican governor signed an assortment of nearly 20 bills on Thursday that were sponsored by Democrats and GOP allies.

Two signed bills aim to address strangulation in domestic violence situations by increasing criminal penalties for aggravated battery when someone is violently choked and expanding prevention training at law enforcement academies.

A bill from Republican Sen. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque will create an auto theft prevention authority to help local law enforcement agencies handle auto-theft related crimes including insurance fraud.

The Children, Youth and Families Department will develop standards for early childhood care programs under another approved bill.

Navajo President Says He'll OK Emergency Head Start Funding – The Associated Press

Navajo President Russell Begaye says he'll approve $6.3 million in emergency funding for the tribe's Head Start program.

His decision comes after a federal judge denied the tribe's request to block a funding cut from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The judge said the tribe didn't show it would suffer irreparable harm.

Begaye said Friday the tribe needs consistency in employment at Head Start centers so parents can access the program.

The Health and Human Services Department reduced the tribe's funding this year by 32 percent to $16 million because of chronic under-enrollment.

The Navajo Nation sued, alleging it was denied an opportunity to appeal the cut.

Tribal lawmakers passed a bill last month to divert money from the tribe's rainy day fund to Head Start.

New Mexico Governor Rejects Pet Food Fee For SterilizationsAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has rejected a bill that would have expanded dog and cat sterilizations by collecting a new fee from pet food manufacturers.

Martinez on Thursday announced her veto of the bill. She said the proposal amounted to a tax increase and that local governments are better positioned to promote the spaying and neutering of pets.

The bill would have imposed a $100 fee on each pet food label for manufacturers doing business in New Mexico, raising an estimated $1.3 million each year.

Supporters of the measure said it would have a small financial impact on pet owners, while reducing the mounting expenses and hardships of euthanizing unwanted pets at locally run animal shelters and pounds.

Sam Donaldson To Moderate New Mexico Congressional Forum – The Associated Press

Sam Donaldson is scheduled to moderate a debate for candidates in seek of the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in central New Mexico.

The former ABC News White House Correspondent is slated Saturday to ask questions to the seven congressional hopefuls seeking to replace Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Grisham is not seeking re-election and is running for New Mexico governor.

The El Paso, Texas, resident Donaldson has close ties to New Mexico.

Oklahoma Adds 3 Rigs As US Rig Count Increases To 981 – The Associated Press

The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by three this week to 981. That exceeds the 756 rigs that were active this time a year ago.

Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes reported Friday that 800 rigs drilled for oil this week and 181 for gas.

Among major oil- and gas-producing states, Oklahoma increased by three rigs, Alaska and Pennsylvania each gained two rigs and New Mexico and Texas each increased by one.

Colorado decreased by three rigs, North Dakota lost two rigs and Louisiana lost one. Arkansas, California, Ohio, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming were unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981. It bottomed out in May of 2016 at 404.

Trump Ally Running For Congress Says College Wants To Fire Him – The Associated Press

A former Trump administration appointee running for Congress in a closely watched race in southern New Mexico says his university is trying to fire him for seeking the seat.

Gavin Clarkson, a business law professor at New Mexico State University, said this week the school told him that his leave of absence had been revoked and his employment would be terminated if he didn't return to work.

The Republican said he requested a leave of absence until January 2020 after he was appointed to a Bureau of Indian Affairs position. "The letter granting my leave did not specify that the leave was contingent on anything or subject to revocation," Clarkson said in a statement.

But Clarkson resigned from the agency last year following a harsh inspector general report into the loan program he directed, according to stories by ProPublica and The Washington Post. Clarkson called the reports "fake news" and said he stepped down to run for Congress in a sprawling district that sits along the U.S-Mexico border.

New Mexico State spokeswoman Minerva Baumann told The Associated Press that the university doesn't comment on personnel matters.

The race is one of many expected to draw national attention in 2018 since it may help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats have long targeted the heavily Hispanic district along the U.S.-Mexico border where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. But it has remained in GOP hands largely due to the popularity of incumbent Rep. Steve Pearce, who is stepping down to run for governor. Pearce has attracted support from Hispanics and the region's oil and gas interests.

Clarkson, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, is one of four Republicans seeking the seat. The others are state Rep. Yvette Herrell, former Hobbs mayor Monty Newman, and Lovington resident Clayburn Griffin. Former Eddy County Commissioner Jack Volpato quit the race on Thursday.

Las Cruces water attorney Xochitl Torres Small and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Madeline "Mad" Hildebrandt are seeking the Democratic nomination.

BNSF Plans To Add Third Set Of Tracks On Part Of Main Line – The Associated Press

BNSF Railway's capital expenditure plan for 2018 includes building a third set of tracks on 10 miles (16 kilometers) of its southern main line in New Mexico.

BNSF spokesman Joe Sloan says the track expansion project between Belen and Dalies south of Albuquerque will increase the speed of rail traffic by allowing regular operations to continue during maintenance work on one set of tracks and by allowing a priority train to move without delaying a lower priority train.

BNSF's southern main line connects Southern California with Chicago.

BNSF says the expansion project announced Thursday is part of the railroad's $80 million of planned capital expenditure spending in New Mexico in 2018, with about half of the money going for maintenance projects such as replacing rails, ties and ballast.