FRI: Governor says she sees progress on health and poverty, + More
Governor of New Mexico sees progress on health, poverty - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham provided an exuberant overview Friday of her approach to improving public health during a second term in office, touching on initiatives ranging from children's nutrition to reproductive health care and the regulation of oilfield pollution.
In an expansive online interview with the dean of Maryland-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the governor outlined efforts to reduce the need for acute medical care in a state with some of the nation's highest rates of poverty, fatal drug overdoses and gun deaths.
"Gun violence is a public health issue. Poverty is a public health issue. Environmental consequences from energy is a public health issue," said Lujan Grisham, a former state health department secretary. "All of these disenfranchised populations, all of the equity barriers, are all public health issues. And when we address those, our economy is better, our families are stronger, our risks are fewer."
Lujan Grisham said she believes New Mexico is making progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity that can undermine health and economic prosperity. State lawmakers enacted legislation this year to offer all public school students free lunch and breakfast, while underwriting improvements to school kitchens and setting up grants to local farms and ranches as suppliers.
Lujan Grisham also touted high rates of vaccination for COVID-19 across Native American communities within the state. And she denounced "chilling aspects" of last year's U.S. Supreme Court's decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion.
"Women's reproductive rights are a significant public health issue, not the least of which is giving families and women the tools they need to do effective family planning," Lujan Grisham said.
State abortion laws in New Mexico are among the most liberal in the country, but six local governments in eastern New Mexico have recently approved abortion-ban ordinances that reflect pockets of deep-seated opposition to abortion access. The state Supreme Court is weighing whether to strike down the ordinances.
"My political view is these are all efforts, they always have been, to create a national abortion ban, which is the worst policy, the most draconian. ... It's despicable," Lujan Grisham said.
The interview did not delve into recent allegations of potential abuse and neglect of disabled New Mexico residents under home and community-based programs and contracts overseen by the state.
An independent evaluation last year of state-operated hospitals for veterans, mentally ill people and older adults described inadequate oversight that threatened the ability to provide quality care.
Lujan Grisham figured prominently in discussions about potential presidential Cabinet appointments immediately after President Joe Biden's election in 2020.
Wearing red, Indigenous families honor missing relatives - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Native Americans whose relatives have gone missing or been killed wore red on Friday, a color synonymous with raising awareness about the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who have been victims of violence.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day is held on May 5 — the birthday of Hanna Harris, who was only 21 when she was slain on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.
Countless more Indigenous people have gone missing since her body was found nearly a decade ago. Advocates describe it as a silent crisis, rooted in colonization, forced removal and government policies that led to the stamping out of culture and identity as entire communities were marginalized.
This weekend's marches, symposiums, prayer gatherings, art installations and ceremonies are meant to pressure policy makers in the U.S. and Canada to ensure equity when investigating such cases. The red dresses, they say, are used to call home the spirits of missing and slain Indigenous victims.
"We have to call this national state of emergency what it is -- a genocide," Carol McBride, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said in an email. She urged people to channel their grief into activism. "Wearing red is powerful."
Canada's House of Commons unanimously approved a motion this week calling on the government to declare a national state of emergency. Such a declaration would make more tools available, said Mel Critch, who works with the Native Women's Association of Canada and is co-chair of the group Manitoba Moon Voices.
The burden of tackling the problem has fallen largely to Indigenous women, relatives and other community members, Critch said.
"As this moves through the Senate, our communities will be watching and listening carefully, praying for its adoption and a day when this will end, when our children and families will be safe," Critch said.
Lawmakers in the U.S. introduced their own resolutions this week supporting the May 5 effort.
High rates of violence, sexual assault, homicides and disappearances of Indigenous people, particularly women, have festered for generations amid inadequate public safety resources in Indian Country, where tiny police forces are responsible for vast territories and a tangled web of local and federal jurisdictions often complicates efforts to track and communicate about cases as they happen.
About 4,200 missing and murdered cases have gone unsolved, according to U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates. Federal health statistics document murder rates for Native American and Alaska Native women at 10 times the national rate.
Still, the number of missing and slain Indigenous women remains unknown. A 2021 review by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office pointed to reporting problems, distrust of law enforcement and jurisdictional conflicts.
Recently adopted U.S. laws aim to improve data collection and law enforcement responses. A national commission began holding public meetings in April to craft more recommendations. Gary Restaino, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, will be listening to tribal leaders and families at next week's commission meeting in Flagstaff.
He said the Justice Department now prioritizes cases in Indian Country, bringing the Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to support the FBI when local or tribal police call for help.
"That, I think, is a real expansion from the way we have traditionally done these cases and should be an opportunity to get more resources into underserved areas in Indian Country," he said.
Many states have created their own task forces and commissions, aiming to keep cases from falling through the cracks. Prosecutors in New Mexico's largest judicial district have a special unit to help with missing person investigations involving Native Americans.
In California, lawmakers approved the creation of an alert system to help find Indigenous people missing under suspicious circumstances. The legislation came last year after the Yurok Tribe issued an emergency declaration after five Indigenous women were reported as missing or were killed within a span of 18 months.
"Every time someone goes missing in this state, that is tomorrow's historical trauma," said Abby Abinanti, the Yurok Tribe's chief judge.
The tribe plans to use drones to bolster its search and rescue program.
The Round Valley Indian Tribes in Northern California also declared an emergency, and imposed a curfew for minors following the recent killings of two tribal citizens.
Washington is creating a cold case investigations unit, and Oklahoma's governor signed legislation Monday ordering state public safety officials to work with tribes on an alert system named for Cherokee Nation citizen Kasey Russell, who went missing in 2016.
While there has been progress, state and federal lawmakers agree that more needs to be done.
California Assemblymember James Ramos told a hearing Tuesday that trends in his state don't show improvement. He wants qualified tribal law enforcement officers to be able to access a statewide telecommunications system as they investigate missing persons cases.
In New Mexico, advocates want the governor to issue a new executive order to chart the next phase of implementing recommendations made in an extensive task force report in 2020.
For Melody Delmar, who leads MMIP projects for New Mexico's Indian Affairs Department, the crisis is personal. As a social worker, she's often among the first people families call when they need help.
Her dream? A state office dedicated to Indian Country cases where families could be assigned a social worker.
"There's just so many levels of this and it can be complicated," she said. "But we also can look at this and know there are solutions out there too."
Nearly two years passed before federal authorities made an arrest in the case of Ella Mae Begay, a master Navajo weaver who went missing in 2021.
Her niece, Seraphine Warren, walked from the Navajo Nation to Washington D.C. to raise awareness. She has not given up finding her aunt — she's gathering volunteers for another search of the desert in the coming weeks.
Waiting for information to trickle down from authorities to grieving family members is like torture, Warren said.
"All that families want is for somebody to check on them, to see if their cases are still being investigated," said Warren, who will be marching in Seattle this weekend.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland received a briefing Friday in Albuquerque from her agency's Missing and Murdered Unit, created in 2021. To date, the unit has investigated 728 cases; solved or closed 263 missing persons cases; and solved eight murder cases.
Advocates are watching closely as Congress hashes out budget requests for federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cuts could result in fewer law enforcement officers in areas that are already understaffed.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said Congress has a responsibility to honor trust and treaty obligations with Indian Country.
"And it's important to affirm that this is a priority," he said.
Associated Press contributors include Sophie Austin in Sacramento, Calif.; Claire Rush in Portland, Ore., Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Okla. and Terry Tang in Phoenix, Ariz.
Feds announce $12.6 million to remove PFAs at southern NM desalination research plant - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico
Remove salt to make drinkable, usable water – that’s the mission for a federally-owned desalination research facility in Alamogordo. The Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility or BGNDRF (big-EN-dorf) grants space for companies, government agencies and researchers to pilot-test their new processes for treating with variable salinity.
Problem is, there is more than just salt in the water.
In 2019, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation discovered persistent synthetic chemicals per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – called PFAS – in evaporation ponds for agriculture testing and waste brine in the southwest corner of Alamogordo. In later tests, the agency also found PFAS in two test wells’ groundwater at the site. This shut down half of BGNDRF test wells.
New Mexicans have spent millions in testing and legal fees after wide-ranging PFAS contamination from firefighting foams used at Air Force bases near Clovis and Alamogordo have spread to groundwater and surrounding areas.
MORE ON PFAS
PFAS are used in thousands of products around the world for their durability, waterproofing and non-stick qualities. However, this means the chemicals resist decay and build up in the air, soil and water — but also in the bodies of animals and humans.
Even as more study is needed, scientists have found the chemicals pose health risks, even in extremely small doses. Exposure to PFAs is linked to thyroid disease, reproductive issues and cancers, liver and kidney injury.
Now the federal government is chipping in for repairs.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a $12.6 million investment in a new treatment plant to remove toxic ‘forever chemicals.’
“Specifically, this investment will treat PFAs found in the facility’s groundwater supply, restoring access to research water-supply wells that were previously closed,” Haaland said at an event in Las Cruces on May 3.
Climate change and years of compounding drought are challenging communities’ access to water across the western U.S. Changed snowfall patterns and hotter temperatures are shrinking the sources of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. Decades of over-pumping aquifers also means that fresh groundwater resources have declined.
Desalination offers communities the potential to “liberate water supplies,” Haaland said, but not if the water is polluted.
Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) said the project will “pilot new developments to clean up brackish water all across the country.”
Malynda Capelle, the facility manager for BGNDRF, said the new treatment building at BGNDRF would be under construction between six months to two years.
“This building will take the PFAS out of the water, but will leave the salt behind, so we continue with the desalination research,” she said.
Capelle said the source of the PFAS contamination at BGNDRF is unknown, but pointed to a report that considered the contamination came from a cookware manufacturing company.
One well had PFAS levels 70 times the Environment Protection Agency’s proposed federal drinking water standard of just 4 parts per trillion, would allow.
The Presto facility located nearby to BGNDRF “reportedly manufactured PFAS-coated cookware from 1972 to mid-2002,” according to a 2022 report prepared for the New Mexico Environment Department.
“Limited information has been found regarding operations and waste disposal practices
at Presto, and no investigations have been conducted at that site,” the report said.
The tests were collected as part of the investigation around fire-fighting foams at Holloman Air Force base, first reported in 2018. The Air Force’s own report showed some PFAS samples at Holloman AFB at more than 1 million parts per trillion – more than 323,000 times greater than the proposed drinking water standards.
Neither the City of Alamogordo, nor Holloman AFB use the groundwater under the base for drinking. Most of their water comes from lake and streamflow out of the Sacramento Mountains.
Frank Ward, a professor in resource economics at New Mexico State University said that desalination offers a good supply of water – if communities are willing to pay for expensive treatment and can store the concentrated brine from the process.
But pollution issues in groundwater need to be addressed in multiple ways, including when the polluter is the federal government, he said.
“The short-term solution is pumping out the water and treating the chemicals,” he said. “But putting good enforcement into place to block contamination in the first place is a long-term solution.”
TURNING ON THE TAP
Both the state and the federal government funds are flowing out around desalination research.
In September, the Department of the Interior awarded $20 million to New Mexico’s neighbor, which hosts one of the largest inland desalination plants in the nation. El Paso Water Utility operates the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, which can treat up to 27 million gallons per day, that water then goes to Eastern El Paso and Fort Bliss residents.
Another Interior grant, announced in January, offers $250 million to states for developing desalination projects.
In the 2023 legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers earmarked up to $35 million for use in the Lower Rio Grande, which could include desalination.
“We’re investing aggressively in multiple tools so that we’re more efficient,” said Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces). “We recognize the limits to use, especially with the effects of climate change.”
He said some studies have looked at desalination in Santa Teresa, N.M. and there has been a yearslong effort to build a desalination plant in Alamogordo, near BGDRF, that can deliver clean water to people in southern New Mexico.
“In terms of large-scale augmentation or use, I think that’s still to come,” Small said.
New pipeline agency rule aimed at cutting methane leaks - By Matthew Daly Associated Press
The federal agency that regulates pipelines announced new rules Friday aimed at reducing leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from a network of nearly 3 million miles of natural gas pipelines that crisscross the country.
The proposal by the Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would significantly improve the detection and repair of leaks from gas pipelines, keep more product in the pipes and prevent dangerous accidents, officials said.
If finalized, the rules would eliminate up to 1 million metric tons of methane emissions by 2030, equivalent to emissions from 5.6 million gasoline-powered cars, the agency said. Overall, the rule would reduce emissions from covered pipelines by up to 55%.
"Quick detection of methane leaks is an important way to keep communities safe and help curb climate change," said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "We are proposing a long-overdue modernization of the way we identify and fix methane leaks, thereby reducing emissions and strengthening protections for the American people."
The proposal is aimed at cutting methane emissions from more than 2.7 million miles of gas transmission, distribution and gathering pipelines nationwide; 400 underground natural gas storage facilities; and 165 liquefied natural gas facilities, the agency said.
The rule would update decades-old federal leak detection and repair standards that rely solely on human senses in favor of new requirements that use commercially available, advanced technologies to find and fix methane leaks and other flammable, toxic and corrosive gases, officials said.
The rules will improve health and safety in poor and minority communities where gas pipelines and related infrastructure are disproportionately located, the agency said.
The proposal is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to restrict methane emissions and follows proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department to strengthen methane leak detection and limit emissions from oil and gas production.
"Natural gas pipelines are ubiquitous in our neighborhoods, cities, parks and rural communities, and pipeline leaks are both safety risks and a source of methane pollution that accelerates climate change," said Erin Murphy, a senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has pushed for stricter methane standards.
PHMSA's proposal is "a welcome step" that will help "unlock" use of advanced technologies to find and fix more pipeline leaks, Murphy said.
"Strong federal standards to reduce pipeline leaks are critical for delivering on the Biden administration's commitment to curb climate-warming methane pollution while increasing public health and safety," she said.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas that is far more powerful than carbon dioxide in the near-term. Leakage from natural gas pipelines is a major source of methane emissions that contribute to global warming.
The Associated Press reported last year that researchers identified more than 500 methane "super emitters," including pipelines, wells, tanks and compressor stations, during a 2021 aerial survey of the oil-rich Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas. The sites leak massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, according to Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The EPA is now conducting helicopter flyovers in the region using special infrared cameras that can detect emissions of hydrocarbon vapors invisible to the naked eye.
The new pipeline rule was developed as a result of the bipartisan PIPES Act of 2020, which created a series of regulatory mandates targeting pipeline safety, including methane leaks. Transmission, storage and distribution of oil and gas accounts for about one-third of oil-and-gas emissions, according to EPA data.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican culture, not independence - By Anita Snow Associated Press
American bars and restaurants gear up every year for Cinco de Mayo, offering special deals on Mexican food and alcoholic drinks for the May 5 holiday that is barely celebrated south of the border.
In the United States, the date is largely seen as a celebration of Mexican American culture stretching back to the 1800s in California. Typical festivities include parades, street food, block parties, mariachi competitions and baile folklórico, or folkloric ballet, with whirling dancers wearing shiny ribbons and braids and bright, ruffled dresses.
For Americans with or without Mexican ancestry, the day has become an excuse to toss back tequila shots with salt and lime and gorge on tortilla chips smothered with melted orange cheddar that's unfamiliar to most people in Mexico.
The focus on drinking and eating has brought some criticism of the holiday, especially as beer manufacturers and other marketers have capitalized on its festive nature and some revelers embrace offensive stereotypes, such as fake, droopy mustaches and gigantic straw sombreros.
"Cinco de Mayo is a day to celebrate the resilience, culture, and heritage of generations of Mexican Americans," President Joe Biden said Friday in a tweet. "The story of America is the story of them — and the White House is their house."
The United Farm Workers paid homage in a tweet Friday to field workers in the U.S., who are overwhelmingly Hispanic, saying that laborers like the woman it pictured are responsible for the avocados "that make our #CincoDeMayo guacamole."
THIS YEAR'S CELEBRATIONS
With May 5 falling at the end of the work week this year, festivities are kicking off Friday evening with happy hours and pub crawls in cities including Hollywood, featuring $4 beers and two-for-one margaritas, and a boozy party aboard a yacht on Chicago's Lake Michigan with norteño, or northern Mexico music, and ballads called corridos.
Celebrations are planned throughout the weekend, especially in places with large Mexican American populations, such as Los Angeles, Houston, New York, San Antonio and Washington, D.C.
A Sunday festival in downtown Phoenix will feature performers including Los Lonely Boys, who describe their music as "Texican rock," as well as lucha libre, or wrestling matches with masked adversaries. A Cinco de Mayo parade will take place in Dallas on Saturday, while a Holy Guacamole Cinco de Mayo Run steps off that morning in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California.
WHAT IT IS
Cinco de Mayo marks the anniversary of the 1862 victory by Mexican troops over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla. The triumph over the better equipped and more numerous French troops was an enormous emotional boost for the Mexican soldiers led by Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza.
Historical reenactments and parades are held annually in the central Mexico city of Puebla to commemorate the inspirational victory over the Europeans, with participants dressed in historical French and Mexican army uniforms.
WHAT IT ISN'T
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, Mexico's most important holiday.
Mexicans celebrate their country's independence from Spain on the anniversary of the call to arms against the European country issued Sept. 16, 1810, by the Rev. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest in Dolores, Mexico.
Mexico's president reenacts el Grito de Independencia, or the Cry of Independence, most years on Sept. 15 at about 11 p.m. from the balcony of the country's National Palace, ringing the bell Hidalgo rang.
The commemoration typically ends with three cries of "¡Viva México!" above a colorful swirl of tens of thousands of people crowded into the Zócalo, or main plaza, in central Mexico City.
Democratic US Sen. Martin Heinrich seeks 3rd term in NM seat - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich announced Thursday that he will run for a third term next year as he champions causes from gun safety to abortion access to a transition toward cleaner energy in New Mexico, a major oil-producing state.
A win by the state's senior senator would extend Democratic domination of New Mexico's Congressional delegation. Heinrich won a second term in 2018 in a three-way race against a Republican political newcomer and former Gov. Gary Johnson, who ran as a Libertarian.
Heinrich announced his candidacy in an online video that also highlighted federal spending on roads, bridges and wildfire relief.
Heinrich's initial campaign pitch to voters touches on his advocacy for expanding early childhood education, as well as 2022 federal legislation toughening background checks for younger gun buyers and keeping firearms from more domestic violence offenders.
"We have to continue the transition to clean energy, and we have to build upon our historic investment in early childhood education," Heinrich said.
Heinrich is chairman of the Senate's joint economic committee and sits on others overseeing intelligence services and policy on energy and natural resources.
Immediate endorsements came from influential state Democrats including newly elected Attorney General Raúl Torrez and House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque.
No candidates have emerged yet to challenge Heinrich.
He may have influenced the course of abortion rights in New Mexico with his endorsements in 2020 of Democratic state Senate challengers who ousted incumbents who had voted against overturning a ban on most abortion procedures.
The following year New Mexico's Democratic-controlled Legislature repealed the dormant 1969 statute, ensuring access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
NM horse Practical Move out of Kentucky Derby with high temperature - Associated Press
Practical Move won't run in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday because of an elevated temperature. The Japanese horse Continuar also is out.
The scratches were announced Thursday.
Practical Move, the Santa Anita Derby winner, galloped in the morning and practiced standing in the starting gate.
Trainer Tim Yakteen told The Associated Press via text message that Practical Move's temperature began to rise around 11 a.m.
The colt was the early co-fourth choice at 10-1 odds.
The scratch moves Cyclone Mischief into the 20-horse field. He finished third in the Florida Derby and was second in the Fountain of Youth. He has two wins in seven career starts for trainer Dale Romans.
Continuar was scratched because "he has not been able to reach the peak fitness required to take on a race as tough as the Kentucky Derby," trainer Yoshito Yahagi said.
As a result, King Russell moves into the field and will break from the far outside post.
Yakteen still has Reincarnate in the Derby. He took over that colt's training from Bob Baffert, who is serving a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc. for a failed post race doping test by Medina Spirit, the 2021 winner who was later disqualified.
Right this sway for senior dance classes - By Megan Gleason,Source New Mexico
Following the pull of the music, New Mexico seniors can line up at the National Hispanic Cultural Center for free dance classes this month and next.
This is part of the multidisciplinary arts series, Siempre Creativo. Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center will be hosting free dance classes, art workshops, genealogy classes and literary events through fall.
New Mexico folk dance is up first.
Local instructor Lucy Salazar will be leading the class on Thursday afternoons in May, before Carlota Silva steps up in June to teach salsa and tango every Wednesday until the last class on June 28.
Noël Merriam is the artistic director at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. She said the series gives seniors an entry point into different art experiences.
It’s also a way to keep up with physical and mental health needs, she said.
“We’re really providing something that’s specifically catering to the needs of seniors, keeping them physically, mentally active while giving them opportunities for socialization with each other,” Merriam said.
This is something particularly prevalent after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was dangerous to gather, especially for those more at-risk to the virus like seniors. Merriam said loneliness was an issue even before the pandemic, and COVID only intensified it.
Siempre Creativo is a good social outlet for seniors, she said, and they can express themselves creatively at the same time.
“We really wanted to find ways for senior citizens to come and not only experience the arts, but have opportunities to socialize with each other in this setting that’s really specific for them,” she said.
COVID is still around, and people who are older or immunocompromised are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and getting a severe case. However, Merriam pointed out that these are small gatherings with only the senior community.
She said as a state organization, the National Hispanic Cultural Center follows state guidelines, which don’t require masks to be worn. “However, we encourage everybody to do what makes them feel safe,” she said.
A $15,000 grant from AARP, a nonprofit focused on the needs of people over 50 years old, is funding the series.