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TUES: New Mexico governor embraces US law on climate and health care, + More

MLG State of State 2022
Hannah Colton
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexico governor embraces US law on climate, health care – Associated Press

The governor of New Mexico is using a visit to Washington to celebrate Democrats' flagship U.S. climate and health care bill and to advocate for additional federal wildfire relief.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was traveling to Tuesday's celebration of the Inflation Reduction Act at the invitation of President Biden.

Signed in August, the law could save money for some Americans by lessening the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly, extending health insurance subsidies and reducing energy prices.

The legislation represents Congress' largest ever investment in curbing carbon emissions. It would also modestly cut the government's budget deficit.

Also in Washington, the 62-year-old governor and skiing enthusiast will consult with with an orthopedic surgeon about a lingering knee injury.

Campaign related activities in Washington and New York are scheduled before the Lujan Grisham's planned return to New Mexico on Friday.

Lujan Grisham is seeking a second term in the November general election against Republican nominee and former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.

Ronchetti is campaigning on proposals for a permanent annual tax rebate tied oilfield production, new restrictions on abortion access and enhanced criminal penalties to address crime.

The two candidates boasted Monday of collecting a combined $5 million in direct campaign contributions for the two month period ending Sept. 5.

New Mexico is reeling from serious of catastrophic wildfires during the spring and early summer that have been followed by debris-choked flooding with the arrival of seasonal monsoon rains.

One fire — the largest in state history — was traced to a prescribed burn by the U.S. Forest Service outside Las Vegas, N.M., that escaped control and dry, windy conditions.

Roundhouse anti-harassment policy needs reform, advocates and senators agree - By Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico

New Mexico senators and the lobbyists they work with are calling for changes to the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy to include greater transparency during the investigative process and more clear timelines for how it proceeds.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) is under investigation after a complaint was filed by lobbyist Marianna Anaya alleging that he acted inappropriately, groped her on at least one occasion and then retaliated against her by blocking voting rights legislation she supported.

Ivey-Soto and Anaya are under a strict order of confidentiality while the case remains an active investigation under review by lawmakers.

Neither can give any information on where the process stands, leaving the public in the dark about a process that could lead to the expulsion or suspension of a powerful New Mexico senator.

Ivey-Soto did speak to Source NM broadly about how he would like to see such investigations changed going forward, saying he would support reform efforts if he is still in office for the January 2023 legislative session.

As it stands, the anti-harassment policy outlines that lawmakers, via interim legislative committees, determine probable cause based on an independent investigation.

If the interim committee decides to proceed with a debate on Ivey-Soto’s future, the case file is opened up, and the public will hear details of the investigation for the first time. If his colleagues decide there is no wrongdoing, the case file is tucked away never to see the light of day.

This process is entirely separate from complaints filed with the State Ethics Commission, an independent agency with jurisdiction on matters involving acts related to campaign finance, lobbyist regulation and government conduct.

It does not have any oversight on the anti-harassment policy. Ivey-Soto and advocates calling for his removal share common ground in wanting the commission to take over these cases.

“I think the process can be improved upon,” Ivey-Soto said. “I do think we ought to have at the very least, the option — if not the presumption — that the investigation will be conducted by the State Ethics Commission.”

Sen. Mimi Stewart said the Legislature could begin discussion about how to move the needle on reform during an interim committee meeting scheduled at the end of September. The meeting will be open to the public.

Groups like Common Cause New Mexico said they want to see harassment complaints reviewed by an independent agency, such as the State Ethics Commission — not lawmakers.

And more transparency, advocacy groups are saying, would not only create public confidence in the process but provide more support for survivors speaking up.

“I think that what we’ve seen from this is that there’s not a clear way for harassment or abuse to be reported to Senate leadership or leadership in the Roundhouse,” said Jessie Damazyn with the Center for Civic Policy. “And so I think that there’s sort of a little bit of a lack of a process to begin with.”

Last month, a coalition of advocates and survivors put out a list of demands to Senate leadership calling for the immediate release of the investigative report, the Ethics Commission to be given the go-ahead to oversee the process — and for Ivey-Soto’s removal from interim committees.

In late August, Ivey-Soto still served as the chair on the Finance Authority Oversight Committee and on others. Dozens of lawmakers from both chambers are on the committee, some who might even be responsible for the outcome of the harassment complaint. We won’t know, because the members of the committee determining Ivey-Soto’s fate are not publicly listed.

The coalition was upset that their request to suspend him from the committees went without a response. Damazyn said her group did not hear from Senate leadership. The same goes for Andrea Serrano, executive director at OLÉ, a group that’s been part of the coalition demanding change.

“I think it’s disrespectful to the people who came forward and publicly shared their stories and publicly put themselves out there,” Serrano said. “And it sends a message that despite the investigation, there’s going to be business as usual.”

Stewart, the Senate pro tem, said she did read the letters addressed to her from the coalition and does not have sole authority to remove a senator from a committee position. She said that would have to go through another process.

“I have a committee that I work with, unlike the (House) speaker who does have sole authority. The Senate pro tem does not. I work with the Committee’s Committee,” she said. “And so I may be reaching out to them. It’s too soon yet for me to say. I definitely can say that I am trying to put together a group to rewrite our policies and procedures so that they work better.”

She said she agrees the process should be reformed overall. “We definitely need to review and rewrite these procedures, so there’s more transparency, so that there’s timelines built in and so that we have more help with how it’s conducted,” Stewart said.

Until then, advocacy groups are still preparing for work at the Roundhouse and do what it takes to keep people safe. Lan Sena, with the Center for Civic Policy, said her staff has a safety plan in place to prepare for unwanted interactions or potentially dangerous situations. It’s unfair, she said, but necessary until everyone feels comfortable working in Santa Fe.

“The Roundhouse is the people’s house,” Sena said. “It’s a public place where we can advocate and express our First Amendment rights. Yet we have to tell folks that there are certain members of the Legislature that they cannot be alone in a room with because of the fear for their safety. It’s appalling.”

In response to people making safety plans, Ivey-Soto said if he is still serving office in January, he also plans to institute safeguards in his office “so that I can focus on policy issues and not have to worry about other allegations being made, based upon who I’m working with or not working with.”

“If people are choosing to do safety plans, I don’t aggress that at all,” he said. “And frankly, I’m in the same process of doing safety plans for myself.”

Indigenous groups ask Supreme Court to overturn power shift - By Lindsay Fendt, Searchlight New Mexico

A coalition of Indigenous women’s groups on Sept. 12 filed a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court seeking to throw out a constitutional amendment that shifts the state’s utility regulatory body, the Public Regulation Commission, from an elected board to one appointed by the governor.

Charged with everything from setting electricity rates to managing utility safety and quality of service, the PRC has a major influence on many New Mexican’s daily lives, but its inner workings are often poorly understood by the general public. The amendment had no organized opposition when it appeared on the ballot in 2020 and passed with 55 percent of the vote. But with an appointed commission set to take control in January, the change is coming under new scrutiny.

The petitioners argue that the ballot measure is null and void because it failed to meet accuracy and clarity requirements, among other issues.

“I unknowingly voted in favor of an amendment that I thought would improve the PRC’s professionalism,” said Anna Rondon, executive director of the New Mexico Social Justice and Equity Institute, one of three nonprofit groups petitioning the court. “At the time, I didn’t realize I was giving up my right to vote for PRC commissioners, and I think many other voters were in the same position,” she said.

Rondon and the other petitioners — Indigenous Lifeways and the Three Sisters Collective, both focused on Indigenous rights and equity — argued in their filing that although the amendment was presented as a reform to the PRC, it instead serves to “repeal democracy.”


In the past, voters from five districts elected a commissioner to represent their region for four-year terms.

Under the new process, a seven-person nomination committee chooses potential candidates, and the governor ultimately makes all the appointments. The nominating committee includes one person from a tribal nation, appointed by the governor; other members are chosen by the secretaries of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the Economic Development Department, as well as by the leaders of both parties in the state legislature.

The amendment also extends commissioners’ terms from four years to six. Instead of having them come from five distinct regions, they must come from three different counties (even if those counties are all in the same part of the state).

Supporters say the changes will help ensure that commissioners are free of electoral politics, including the potential influence of campaign contributions and dark money from anonymous donors. The switch will also help ensure that commissioners have the necessary experience in utilities and regulations, they say.

But for Rondon and her fellow petitioners, the amendment represents a major power shift, denying a voice to the people most affected by oil, gas and coal interests.

“Extractive industries have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities in New Mexico,” Rondon said in a written statement. “Therefore, it is imperative that our communities have representation in the agency that regulates extractive industries: the PRC.”

The petitioners also argue that the amendment contains numerous “ad hoc” measures that don’t achieve the goal of reforming the PRC.

If the Supreme Court rules in the petitioners’ favor, two PRC commissioners — Theresa Becenti-Aguilar and Cynthia Hall — would remain in place. The three whose terms are expiring would have their seats filled either through a special election or by governor appointment, according to attorney Sarah Shore, of Butt Thornton & Baehr in Albuquerque, who is representing the petitioners.


Formed in 1996 by combining two other regulatory agencies, New Mexico’s PRC at its outset was considered the largest state regulatory body in the country. For years, the commission served as a clearinghouse for a host of seemingly unrelated regulatory matters, from railroad safety and insurance to business registrations. There were no professional or educational requirements for commissioners.

The early PRC was perpetually mired in scandal, riddled with conflicts of interest and allegations of abuse of power. By the 2010s, calls for reform had reached a fever pitch. Throughout that decade, voters and the legislature slowly stripped away the agency’s responsibilities and focused it on utility regulation.

A 2012 constitutional amendment provided additional reforms, including strict qualifications for commissioners, requiring them to have at least 10 years of relevant educational or professional experience.

Many of the adopted reforms were proposed by Think New Mexico, an independent think tank, which researched the matter at length. Among other issues, the group investigated whether an appointed commission would be an improvement.

“Our conclusion was that it didn’t seem like a magic fix,” said Fred Nathan, the group’s executive director. Instead, he said, the group found that both elected and appointed commissions can be vulnerable to political influence. “We really found that it’s just a coin flip either way.” The better solution, he said, was to simply raise the qualification requirements.


In 2019, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a resolution to make PRC commissioners appointed, as a first step to getting the amendment on the ballot. Though the resolution proposed no new qualifications for commissioners, supporters held it up as a way to professionalize the panel.

Four of the five sitting PRC commissioners were opposed to the amendment. But it met very little public opposition outside of the PRC, with no election spending to defeat the issue, according to the Secretary of State.

Becenti-Aguilar, a current PRC commissioner from the Navajo Nation who represents the state’s northwest region, is one of the four who opposed the amendment. Like the petitioners in the court case, she worries that an appointed commission will shift power away from communities.

“Whoever’s going to be on the next commission may not go to the small villages that I used to go to, to update the people,” she said. The choice of appointees will be “really heavily driven by the inside circle of the state legislature and the executive branch.”


Supporters of the amendment include democrat Peter Wirth, the Senate majority floor leader and one of the sponsors of the 2019 resolution. Wirth believes that an appointed commission will improve the quality of the PRC and actually improve its representation.

“What I’d like to see are people who have the right type of regulatory backgrounds that don’t have to worry immediately about having to run in the next election,” Wirth said in a phone interview. “With all the dark money that is showing up in these races I just think at the end of the day the citizens in New Mexico are going to be better served.”

Historically, PRC elections have attracted floods of cash from political action committees and nonprofits, some of it from anonymous donors. But the campaign for the amendment similarly attracted dark money. Two groups — Vote Yes to Reform the New Mexico PRC and the Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers — spent a combined $1 million on advertising promoting the measure, according to the Secretary of State.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in the coming days can deny the petition or agree to hear the case. There is no deadline for its decision.

Republican AG candidate, NM secretary of state have days to prepare for hearing - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

The Republican candidate for New Mexico attorney general and the state’s top election official have less than a week to prepare for a hearing on whether the GOP contender really does qualify to be on the ballot.

First Judicial District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington on Friday ordered candidate Jeremy Michael Gay and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to turn in written arguments in response to a petition filed two days earlier alleging that Gay has not lived in New Mexico for long enough to be in the running.

Oct. 11 is the first day that absentee ballots can be mailed to voters and the first day of early voting, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

“Thus, time is of the essence in hearing the issues raised in this petition,” Ellington wrote.

Ellington ordered Gay and Toulouse Oliver to get their arguments turned in by the end of Sept. 15. Those arguments, along with any witnesses they may choose to call, will guide an in-person hearing the next afternoon in Ellington’s courtroom in Santa Fe.

Also on Friday, election administrators finalized the ballots and sent them to the printer, Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson Alex Curtas confirmed. However, he said they probably have not begun to actually be printed yet, though they will either be in process or completed by the time the hearing is held.

Gay is running in the 2022 general election against Democrat and Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez.

The petition calling into question Gay’s qualifications was filed by James Collie, a retired pastor who was appointed by Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2020 to finish out a year-long term on the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners.

Gay and his family have “called New Mexico home since 2014,” and his wife was born in Gallup, said Noelle Gemmer, his campaign manager.

“Jeremy and his family temporarily left N.M. on active duty orders with the U.S Marines and returned as soon as he entered the Reserve Forces,” Gemmer said.

Whether Gay’s active duty orders affect his residency will have to be decided by the courts, Curtas said. Whatever the judge decides, N.M. election administrators will follow that order, he said.

Gemmer also called the petition “a disgusting attack on a veteran for his service and a desperate attempt by the Raúl Torrez campaign to deny voters options at the ballot box.” She did not respond to a follow-up question about what exactly is the connection between Collie’s petition and the Torrez campaign.

Collie’s petition “raises serious questions about Jeremy Gay and his qualifications to run for Attorney General, especially if he doesn’t meet the basic constitutional eligibility requirements,” said Taylor Bui, Torrez’s campaign manager.

Bui also did not immediately respond to a followup question about Gemmer’s allegation that Torrez has something to do with Collie’s petition.

“Raúl is continuing to maintain his active campaign schedule, speaking with voters across the state about his plans for the Attorney General’s Office,” Bui said. “The Torrez campaign will be following the case as it makes its way through the process.”

Inspections of chile imports heat up at New Mexico border - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's green chile season is in full swing as the aroma of fresh roasted peppers permeates the air, but growers and exporters in Mexico are just as busy and that's causing a crunch at the international border.

Authorities said Monday that agricultural inspectors with U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been processing dozens of chile imports daily at the port of entry in Columbus, New Mexico. They're looking for any pests in the shipments that could affect domestic production in New Mexico, where green chile is a signature crop and a cultural icon.

"Chile is a huge crop for farmers in New Mexico so it is important that CBP agriculture specialists identify and stop any dangerous pests from making it into the state and potentially spreading," acting Columbus Port Director Sam Jimenez said in a statement.

As part of "Operation Hot Chile," Jimenez said agricultural inspectors are being assigned to Columbus from other locations to help with the increased traffic.

The inspectors will process around 100 chile shipments a day during the busiest part of the season. The Mexican import season is busiest between September and October, but can stretch as late as mid-December. Last year, they handled just under 11,000 shipments of red and green peppers from Mexico.

Imports have grown significantly each season, with inspectors seeing a nearly 25% jump since 2016. Officials are expecting continued growth this year.

Despite more imports, New Mexico farmers are seeing higher yields from their crops and the state's reputation for growing what many have anointed as "the best green chile in the world" is expanding, said Travis Day, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association.

The state's chile harvest starts in late July, but gets cranking in August. Day spent Monday taste testing green chile cheeseburgers at the New Mexico State Fair while still recovering from the annual chile festival in Hatch, New Mexico, just a week ago where he talked to people from New York, Kansas and even Hawaii who flew in to get their fix.

"As an industry, we're in a unique place where demand is the highest it's ever been and it's continuing to go up every year," he said.

Yet, fewer acres of chile are being grown in New Mexico today due to labor pressures and dwindling irrigation supplies. While most commercial acreage is started from seed, some farmers have shifted back to transplanting seedlings to give their crops a jumpstart. Farmers are also working with engineers to develop a mechanical harvester.

So far this season, officials said New Mexico's green chile harvest is more than 10 days ahead of schedule and experts are expecting between 55,000 and 60,000 tons of peppers to be harvested.

Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University, said growers in New Mexico have become adept at minimizing losses from disease issues spurred by heavy summer rains and that the yield from newer green chile varieties is increasing.

At the port of entry, all Mexican chile imports are subject to an X-ray scan. Then comes a physical inspection by a Customs and Border Protection specialist who searches for pests, diseases and any contaminated soil or noxious seeds.

If anything is found, digital images are sent to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who determine whether the shipment can be released or returned.

In 2021, the inspections resulted in 25 cases where shipments had to be returned to Mexico.

100 years after compact, Colorado River nearing crisis point - By Chris Outcalt And Brittany Peterson The Colorado Sun And The Associated Press

The intensifying crisis facing the Colorado River amounts to what is fundamentally a math problem.

The 40 million people who depend on the river to fill up a glass of water at the dinner table or wash their clothes or grow food across millions of acres use significantly more each year than actually flows through the banks of the Colorado.

In fact, first sliced up 100 years ago in a document known as the Colorado River Compact, the calculation of who gets what amount of that water may never have been balanced.

"The framers of the compact — and water leaders since then — have always either known or had access to the information that the allocations they were making were more than what the river could supply," said Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center at the University of Colorado Law School.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a collaborative series on the Colorado River as the 100th anniversary of the historic Colorado River Compact approaches. The Associated Press, The Colorado Sun, The Albuquerque Journal, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Arizona Daily Star and The Nevada Independent are working together to explore the pressures on the river in 2022.

During the past two decades, however, the situation on the Colorado River has become significantly more unbalanced, more dire.

A drought scientists now believe is the driest 22-year stretch in the past 1,200 years has gripped the southwestern U.S., zapping flows in the river. What's more, people continue to move to this part of the country. Arizona, Utah and Nevada all rank among the top 10 fastest growing states, according to U.S. Census data.

While Wyoming and New Mexico aren't growing as quickly, residents watch as two key reservoirs — popular recreation destinations — are drawn down to prop up Lake Powell. Meanwhile, southern California's Imperial Irrigation District uses more water than Arizona and Nevada combined, but stresses their essential role providing cattle feed and winter produce to the nation.

Until recently, water managers and politicians whose constituents rely on the river have avoided the most difficult questions about how to rebalance a system in which demand far outpaces supply. Instead, water managers have drained the country's two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, faster than Mother Nature refills them.

In 2000, both reservoirs were about 95% full. Today, Mead and Powell are each about 27% full — once-healthy savings accounts now dangerously low.

The reservoirs are now so low that this summer Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet would need to be cut next year to prevent the system from reaching "critically low water levels," threatening reservoir infrastructure and hydropower production.

The commissioner set an August deadline for the basin states to come up with options for potential water cuts. The Upper Basin states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming — submitted a plan. The Lower Basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — did not submit a combined plan.

The bureau threatened unilateral action in lieu of a basin-wide plan. When the 60-day deadline arrived, however, it did not announce any new water cuts. Instead, the bureau announced that predetermined water cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico had kicked in and gave the states more time to come up with a basin-wide agreement.


A week before Touton's deadline, the representatives of 14 Native American tribes with water rights on the river sent the Bureau of Reclamation a letter expressing concern about being left out of the negotiating process.

"What is being discussed behind closed doors among the United States and the Basin States will likely have a direct impact on Basin Tribes' water rights and other resources and we expect and demand that you protect our interests," tribal representatives wrote.

Being left out of Colorado River talks is not a new problem for the tribes in the Colorado River Basin.

The initial compact was negotiated and signed on Nov. 24, 1922, by seven land-owning white men, who brokered the deal to benefit people who looked like them, said Jennifer Pitt of the National Audubon Society, who is working to restore rivers throughout the basin.

"They divided the water among themselves and their constituents without recognizing water needs for Mexico, the water needs of Native American tribes who were living in their midst and without recognizing the needs of the environment," Pitt said.

Mexico, through which the tail of the Colorado meanders before trickling into the Pacific Ocean, secured its supply through a treaty in 1944. The treaty granted 1.5 million acre-feet on top of the original 15 million acre-feet that had already been divided, 7.5 million each for the Upper and Lower Basins.

Tribes, however, still don't have full access to the Colorado River. Although the compact briefly noted that tribal rights predate all others, it lacked specificity, forcing individual tribes to negotiate settlements or file lawsuits to quantify those rights, many of which are still unresolved. It's important to recognize the relationship between Native and non-Native people at that time, said Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico.

"In 1922, my tribe was subsistence living," Vigil said. "The only way we could survive was through government rations on a piece of land that wasn't our traditional homeland. That's where we were at when the foundational law of the river was created."


Agriculture uses the majority of the water on the river, around 70% or 80% depending on what organization is making the estimate. When it comes to the difficult question of how to reduce water use, farmers and ranchers are often looked to first.

Some pilot programs have focused on paying farmers to use less water, but unanswered questions remain about how to transfer the savings to Lake Powell for storage or how to create a program in a way that would not negatively impact a farmer's water rights.

Antiquated state laws mean the amount of water that a water right gives someone access to can be decreased if not fully used.

That's why the Camblin family ranch in Craig in northwest Colorado plans to flood irrigate once a decade, despite recently upgrading to an expensive, water-conserving pivot irrigation system. Nine years out of 10, they'll receive payment from a conservation group in exchange for leaving the surplus water in the river. But in Colorado, the state revokes water rights after 10 years if they aren't used.

Not only would losing that right mean they can't access a backup water supply should their pivot system fail, but their property's value would plummet, Mike Camblin explained. He runs a yearling cattle operation with his wife and daughter, and says an acre of land without water sells for $1,000, about a fifth of what it would sell for with a water right attached.

There are other ways to improve efficiency, but money is still often a barrier.

Wastewater recycling is growing across the region, albeit slowly, as it requires massive infrastructure overhauls. San Diego built a robust desalination plant to turn seawater to drinking water, and yet some agricultural users are trying to get out of their contract since the water is so expensive. Some cities are integrating natural wastewater filtration into their landscaping before the water flows back to the river. It's all feasible, but is costly, and those costs often get passed directly to water users.

One of the biggest opportunities for water conservation is changing the way our landscapes look, said Lindsay Rogers, a water policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting water and land in the West.

Converting a significant amount of outdoor landscaping to more drought-tolerant plants would require a combination of policies and incentives, Rogers explained. "Those are going to be really critical to closing our supply-demand gap."

After years of incentive programs for residents, Las Vegas recently outlawed all nonfunctional grass by 2026, setting a blueprint for other Western communities. For years, the city has also paid residents to rip out their lawns.

Several water agencies, including the one that serves Las Vegas, recently wrote to the Bureau of Reclamation committing to more water reuse and lawn replacement. Denver Water signed it, although it does not offer incentives for replacing residential lawns. Its neighbor, Aurora Water, has done so for 15 years and recently restricted non-functional grass in new housing.

This summer, in southern California, the Metropolitan Water District instituted an unprecedented one-day-a-week water restriction.

Still, regardless of the type of water use, more concessions must be made.

"The law of the river is not suited to what the river has become and what we see it increasingly becoming," Audubon's Pitt said. "It was built on the expectation of a larger water supply than we have."