MON: Haaland Confirmed As Interior Secretary, Governor Seeks To Offset Biden's Oil Policies, + More

Mar 15, 2021

  

New Mexico Governor Seeks To Offset Biden's Oil Policies - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says nearly three-quarters of $1 billion could be lost over the next four years if New Mexico sees even a 10% reduction of oil and gas production due to President Joe Biden's actions to curb leasing on public lands.

The first-term Democratic governor said Monday in a letter to the president that financial losses of that magnitude would have real effects on the state's ability to achieve goals like universal access to early childhood education.

The governor is asking that New Mexico be granted energy transition credit for actions the state already is taking to address pollution and move toward more renewable energy.

The Democratic-led Legislature also is considering a proposal that would establish a clean fuel standard to address New Mexico's second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — the transportation sector.

Oil and gas revenues have been key to bankrolling many initiatives in the state as it struggles to diversify its economy.

An analysis by state finance officials show New Mexico stands to lose $709 million between this fiscal year and 2025 if there's a 10% decline in production.

With more than half of all oil and gas wells in New Mexico on federal land, Lujan Grisham noted that any changes to leasing and permitting by federal managers would disproportionally affect the state and push producers to Texas and other states where there are more opportunities on private land.

Oil and gas operators and business groups have concerns about Biden's moratorium on new leases and drilling permits, saying stifling economic development — particularly in rural areas like southeastern New Mexico, which is home to one of the world's most prolific oil patches — will have ripple effects beyond the industry.

But environmental groups have hailed the moratorium as the kind of urgent action needed to slow climate change, which has been linked to drought, forest fires and heat waves.

Haaland OK'd At Interior, 1st Native American Cabinet Head - By Matthew Daly Associated Press

The Senate on Monday confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, making her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department and the first to lead the federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for nearly two centuries.

Haaland was confirmed by a 51-40 vote.

Democrats and tribal groups hailed Haaland's confirmation as historic, saying her selection means that Indigenous people — who lived in North America before the United States was created — will for the first time see a Native American lead the powerful department where decisions on relations with the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes are made. Interior also oversees a host of other issues, including energy development on public lands and waters, national parks and endangered species.

"Rep. Haaland's confirmation represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country,'' said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"Native Americans for far too long have been neglected at the Cabinet level and in so many other places,'' Schumer said.

Haaland's nomination has been closely watched by tribal communities across the country, with some virtual parties drawing hundreds of people to watch her two-day confirmation hearing last month.

Supporters projected a photo of Haaland, a two-term congresswoman who represents greater Albuquerque, on the side of the Interior building in downtown Washington with text that read "Our Ancestors' Dreams Come True."

Many Native Americans see Haaland, 60, as someone who will elevate their voices and protect the environment and tribes' rights. Her selection break a two-century pattern of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the top federal official over American Indian affairs. The federal government often worked to dispossess tribes of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture.

"It is long past time that an American Indian serve as the secretary of the Interior," said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation's oldest and largest tribal organization.

"The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens,'' Sharp said.

Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, called Haaland's confirmation "an unprecedented and monumental day for all first people of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position."

Haaland's confirmation "sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people,'' Nez added.

Not everyone was celebrating. Some Republican senators have criticized Haaland's views on oil drilling and other energy development as "radical" and extreme, citing her opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and her support for the Green New Deal, a sweeping, if mostly aspirational, policy to address climate change and income inequality.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Haaland's "extreme views" and support of "catastrophic legislation" such as the Green New Deal would make her confirmation as interior secretary disastrous, harming America's energy supply and economy.

"American jobs are being sacrificed in the name of the Biden agenda, and Rep. Haaland couldn't defend it,'' Barrasso said, referring to decisions by President Joe Biden to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and impose a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

Barrasso also faulted Haaland's support for continued protection for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region of the Rocky Mountains, despite a recommendation by the Fish and Wildlife Service that about 700 bears in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho no longer need protections.

"Rep. Haaland has chosen to ignore the science and the scientists of the very department that she is now nominated to lead,'' Barrasso said, calling on Interior to remove protections for the grizzly under the Endangered Species Act.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she appreciates Haaland's leadership in the House on a range of issues, adding that Haaland's status as a Native American "will give us an extra advantage on (tribal) issues that are so important to Indian Country overall.''

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she had "some real misgivings" about Haaland because of her views on oil drilling and other energy issues, but said Native Alaskans, an important constituency in her rural state, had urged her to back Haaland.

"Quite honestly, we need (Haaland) to be a success," Murkowski said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he was disappointed at the rhetoric used by Barrasso and other Republicans. Heinrich, who lives in Haaland's district, said she "always has an open door and an open mind" to a range of views.

New Mexico Senate Passes Aid In Dying Bill - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

The New Mexico state Senate has passed a law that would remove criminal and civil liability for medical professionals who assist in the death of terminally ill patients who have chosen to end their life.

The Elizabeth Whitfield End-of-Life Options Act is named for a former New Mexico judge who testified in support for a right to die for the terminally ill in 2017. She died of cancer the following year.

"She was a judge who could make a decision. And when she did so she did with compassion," said Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivy-Soto, of Santa Fe, a lawyer who argued in front of Judge Whitfield and later counted her as a constituent. "She said 'I implore you to give me the choice that is right for me.'"

Supporters of the measure oppose the term "assisted suicide" because patients with uncurable ailments don't necessarily want to die; they just want to avoid the inevitable pain of their lethal illness.

The law would require a terminal health diagnosis, a physical and mental health evaluation, and a 48-hour waiting period after a lethal prescription is filled. Bill sponsor and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics said the entire process would take weeks.

GOP members opposed to the bill compared it to the Senate's recent repeal of an unenforceable anti-abortion bill.

"There's elements of partisanship, around this issue, unfortunately, because we do view human life differently," said Republican Sen. and surgeon Gregg Schmedes, who represents suburbs east of Albuquerque and south of Santa Fe.

He argued that the bill could open the possibility of poorer and less medically literate New Mexicans being pressured to end their life, concluding that under the measure, "the poor lose autonomy."

Eight other states have passed similar laws.

If passed, New Mexico would become the second state to pass a right-to-die law where a third or more of adults are Catholic, after New Jersey.

Like abortion, assisted suicide is opposed by the Catholic church.

The Senate passed the bill 24-17, largely along party lines, with Catholics on both sides of the aisle and the vote. Democratic senators Benny Shendo and George Muñoz, both from northwestern New Mexico, also voted against it.

'Monumental Day': Indian Country Reacts To Deb Haaland Vote - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Citizens of tribes across the U.S. cried and clapped in celebration Monday as Deb Haaland became the first Native American confirmed as secretary of a Cabinet agency.

The U.S. Senate voted 51-40 in favor of the Democrat's nomination to lead the Interior Department amid a groundswell of support from tribal members.

Many Native Americans have called Haaland's historic confirmation an answer to their prayers and a long time coming, putting someone they trust in a position to carry forward their hopes and expectations. The Interior Department has broad oversight of tribal affairs and energy development.

Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, will resign as a U.S. representative to take the post.

Here are reactions from Indian Country:

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Jason Holuby, owner of Oklahoma City-based New Fire Native Design Group, 45. Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.

"It's a huge opportunity for Indian Country to have someone that's clearly going to be supportive of those things that can improve the lives of Native people."

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Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians and the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington.

"The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens."

___

Marlene Helgemo, pastor of All Nations Indian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 74. Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.

"However you do your meditation, pray for Deb. She is going to have the biggest challenges of her life coming forward, and we want to stand with her and beside her to support her. She's going to have some of those days where she's going to wonder, 'how did I get myself into this?' But she's called by the ancestors ... offer up those prayers as you're praying for your family, your friends, pray for Deb. Pray for all of our women leaders who are out there serving us in a variety of capacities. For that, we are so thankful. This is a day of gratitude."

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Adam Crepelle, attorney and law professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 34. Houma Tribe of Louisiana

"From a tribal perspective, hopefully when she gets into office, she can roll back some restraints on tribal economic development. Trust lands are super regulated, and it's all federal land. If tribal economies can improve, hopefully that will lead to more funding for schools, tribal police, things like that."

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Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

"This is an unprecedented and monumental day for all first people of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position. It's a wonderful feeling that we can now refer to her as Madam Secretary. Today's historic confirmation sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people. It gives us a seat at the table to offer a new and different perspective from a person that has experienced the reality of adversities and challenges of growing up on what federal officials refer to as 'Indian' reservations."

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Deborah Dotson, president of the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma.

"Deb Haaland's willingness to work across the aisle and to share a broader view of the issues is a BIG win for Indian Country and for all Americans. My hope is that under Ms. Haaland's tenure, we can have true government to government consultation on the issues that affect Indian Country."

___ Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe of Washington.

"Represent all of Indian Country —very hard thing for one person to do, and I'm just really proud of her and how she's carried that and been willing to step into that role. because sometimes these things are - the creator kind of puts you in a place and says, 'all right, this is your pathway, good luck with that.' And then you just go follow that good red road, as we call it. And she's done a great job of doing that.

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Mark Masters, owner of Chloeta, a Native professional services firm in Midwest City, Oklahoma, 38. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

"The idea of the first Cabinet person that is of an Indigenous background is obviously historic, and the fact that it's Interior is even more important because Interior has a really unique responsibility as compared to other federal agencies. To have someone not just on the Cabinet itself who is Native but to also have someone in such a crucial position who's responsible for managing those trust relationships with tribes and the vast amounts of cultural and natural resources is unprecedented. It's amazing.

___

Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana.

"We are the first peoples of this country. Why does something like this have to take this long?"

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Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative. Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

"Finally, a Native woman — a powerhouse and history maker — who will fight to ensure Native issues and voices are heard. Someone who will protect our land and water and is in a position to protect our planet for future generations. She's given us a renewed sense of hope and optimism for the future of this country. This is a major milestone and a step forward in our continued fight to transform the systems who have for centuries been used against our communities."

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Matthew L. Morgan, chairman, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

"She understands sovereignty and appreciates the trust relationship and our nation's treaty obligations. She recognizes the importance of tribal businesses and knows how these businesses can be an economic engine for states, rural regions, and impoverished areas."

New Mexico Court Upholds Damages Cap In Medical MalpracticeAssociated Press

New Mexico's highest court has ruled that monetary limits on some types of damages due to medical malpractice are not unconstitutional.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the Medical Malpractice Act, which maintains non-medical and non-punitive damages at $600,000. The limit does not extend to punitive damages and compensation for medical and rehabilitative care.

The five-member panel argue that a cap on some damages will just be a legal consequence when juries determine amounts to award.

The decision reverses a 2018 ruling made by the Bernalillo County District Court, which declared such caps unconstitutional.

In that case, a woman was awarded $2.6 million in damages in her lawsuit against an Albuquerque doctor and health provider over a botched gynecological procedure. The provider requested a cap on certain damages be applied.

New Mexico Legislators Close In On Budget Agreement - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Lead state budget negotiators are rewriting spending plans to quickly tap federal pandemic relief money and shore up unemployment insurance, student financial aid, Medicaid insurance, teacher pensions and select state agency budgets.

New Mexico's lead Senate budget committee on Monday put the finishing touches on proposed amendment to a spending plan for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The amended plan would increase general fund spending by 4.8% over current annual spending obligations to $7.45 billion, a $373 million increase.

The panel plans to vote Monday or Tuesday on amendments that funnel $600 million in federal relief toward the state's indebted unemployment fund.

New Mexico state government expects to receive $1.63 billion directly from the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill approved by congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden.

The committee's endorsement would send the budget bill to the Senate floor for a decisive legislative vote. The bill addresses most spending priorities outlined by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who can veto any portion or the bill.

Proposed Senate budget amendments would boost student financial aid programs, including the governor's signature tuition-free college program for in-state students, by $21.5 million.

Another $50 million in federal relief would cover state Medicaid obligations as enrollment surges in the federally subsidized health insurance program for the poor.

Another proposed committee amendment funnels about $32 million toward a 1% increase in retirement contributions for educators and K-12 school staff. That sweetens the taxpayer contributions for teacher retirements to 15.2% of salary in efforts to pay down multi-billion unfunded pension obligations.

The proposed changes boosts spending at the state Environment Department and staves off House-proposed spending cuts at the Aging and Long-Term Services Department and the state's cultural affairs agency that stopped collecting museum admissions fees for nearly a year amid public health order closures.

The amended bill would provide a 1.5% pay increase for state agency and K-12 school employees.

State reserves would hold steady about $1.8 billion — or nearly 24% of current annual spending commitments.

The state used $1 billion in reserves to prop up general fund spending during the current fiscal year. State income forecasts have rebounded on surging oil production and market prices for petroleum.

VP Harris, Jill Biden Hit The Road To Promote Relief Plan - By Darlene Superville, Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are hitting the road on a cross-country tour this week to highlight the benefits of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

The road show started Monday with Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, heading to Las Vegas while first lady Jill Biden visited Burlington, New Jersey.

The president plans to stop in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, and he has an appearance with Harris in Atlanta on Friday. Wednesday sees Jill Biden in Concord, New Hampshire, and Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The stops at vaccination sites, businesses, schools and more are meant to educate the public about different aspects of the giant American Rescue Plan and how the administration says it will help people get to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

New Mexico Hits Stalemate On Cannabis Legalization - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

State legislators are at a stalemate regarding popular efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico with less than a week remaining to send a bill to the governor.

A state Senate panel pulled cannabis discussions off its agenda minutes before a Sunday hearing.

Legislators are searching for common ground among advocates for legalization who say the industry would help New Mexico's economic recovery from the pandemic.

Divergent views on marijuana taxation, licensing and pardon procedures for past convictions are complicating efforts to bring a final bill to a crucial Senate vote.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set cannabis legalization as a high priority this year as her administration looks for new sources of employment as an antidote to high rates of poverty.

In one camp, Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell is advocating for a streamlined approach to taxation and regulation aimed at stamping out the illicit market for marijuana and providing easy entry for entrepreneurs.

Successful legislation also is likely to include social justice provisions within a House-approved bill from Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque that emphasizes aid to communities adversely affected by marijuana criminalization.

The House-backed bill provides automated pardon and expungement procedures for past marijuana possession charges and convictions. It also would set aside public funds in the future to to underwrite vocation training for cannabis workers, education to prevent substance abuse, and an array of social services in communities battered by policing against illicit drugs.

Legislators have until the close of the regular annual legislative session at noon on March 20 to send bills to the governor. Several diehard opponents to legalization were ousted from the state Senate in 2020 elections. 

Negotiations over a legalization bill have faltered as some incumbent medical marijuana producers insist on price supports and a head start in the licensing process to bring recreational-use cannabis to market.

New Mexico can't approve legislation by ballot initiative and would join a handful of states that have legalized marijuana through the legislative process, including Vermont, Illinois and, soon, Virginia.

Costs To Fortify New Mexico Statehouse: $700,000 And Growing - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Heavy security and fencing that have cordoned off the New Mexico state Capitol and adjacent streets from public access have cost taxpayers at least $700,000 in police overtime, salaries for National Guard troops, equipment rental and other special expenses. 

The unprecedented security measures were instituted by legislative leaders in the Democratic majority in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol amid warnings by the FBI about threats to legislatures. 

Republican legislators for weeks have called for an end to the extraordinary security measures outside the building that are making public protests all but impossible.

Republican state Sen. William Sharer of Farmington says the security perimeter is an infringement on political speech as the Democratic majority pushes hot-button progressive proposals.

New Mexico Reports 160 More COVID-19 Cases And 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 160 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and two more deaths. 

The latest numbers increase the state's totals to 188,311 cases and 3,852 known deaths since the pandemic started. Of the additional cases, 45 were reported in Bernalillo County and 29 in Doña Ana County.  

With the slowing of the coronavirus outbreak, Albuquerque Public Schools will resume in-person learning for five days a week on April 5 although students can continue remote learning for the rest of the school year. 

New Mexico's largest school district announced its startup date Friday after the state Public Education Department earlier in the week said all schools were expected to reopen classrooms after spring break.

Navajo Nation Reports 3 More COVID-19 Cases, No New Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Sunday reported three additional cases of COVID-19, but no new deaths. 

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's pandemic total to 29,948 confirmed cases. 

The known death toll remained at 1,218. 

The Navajo Nation is planning a soft reopening Monday with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions. 

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that health care experts continue to caution everyone about traveling because another surge of the virus could happen.  

Nez says vaccines continue to be administered across the Navajo Nation and tells tribal members to "continue staying home as much as possible, wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and crowds, and wash your hands often."

New Mexico Demands More Of US When Addressing Nuclear Waste - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department has rolled out its 2021 priorities for cleaning up tons of toxic waste left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research around the country. 

Included is a goal of sending 30 shipments from the birthplace of the atomic bomb — Los Alamos National Laboratory — to the federal government's underground waste repository. 

But some elected officials and watchdog groups say the list is another indication that New Mexico is on the back burner when it comes to cleaning up legacy waste. 

They also are raising concerns that new waste generated by the lab will need to be cleaned up and could further sideline decontamination efforts.

State Rep. Christine Chandler, whose district includes the once secret city of Los Alamos, described the federal government's lack of attention to Los Alamos cleanup requirements as beyond disappointing.

Greg Mello with the Los Alamos Study Group said at 30 shipments per year, it would take at least 30 years to remove existing waste that includes radioactive tools, clothing, gloves and other debris.

There's about 400,000 cubic meters of legacy radioactive waste on lab property, with most buried in disposal areas around the sprawling campus. Some areas have been excavated and closed. There's about 3,500 cubic meters of legacy waste stored above ground that will eventually be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Pointing to past missed deadlines, watchdogs have said the Energy Department has no coherent plan or budget to remove the waste on a reasonable schedule.

1 Complaint On New Mexico House Speaker Still Being Reviewed - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Two of three complaints filed by a retired judge against New Mexico state House Speaker Brian Egolf likely will be dismissed, said a letter the State Ethics Commission sent to the complainant.

The letter on Friday signed by Executive Director Jeremy Farris said the third charge — that Egolf failed to communicate a potential conflict of interest — is still under investigation.

The third complaint will be sent to the commission's general counsel for review, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. 

The two charges that will likely be dismissed are that Egolf used his legislative office for personal gain and that he failed to discharge his legislative duties in an ethical way.

In her complaints, former state Judge Sandra Price said Egolf promoted legislation that would financially benefit his legal practice without disclosing the conflict of interest.

The legislation would allow people to file complaints in state District Court to accuse government of violations of the state Bill of Rights. 

Egolf is a co-sponser of the bill. Currently, such cases are filed in federal court and cite violations of the U.S. Constitution.

Egolf has denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney, Andrew Schultz, has asked the ethics commission to dismiss the complaints.

Egolf has also referred to the complaint a deliberate distraction.

Albuquerque Schools To Resume In-Person Learning On April 5 - Associated Press

With the slowing of the coronavirus outbreak, Albuquerque Public Schools will resume in-person learning for five days a week on April 5, though students can continue remote learning for the rest of the school year.

New Mexico's largest school district announced its startup date Friday after the state Public Education Department earlier in the week said all schools were expected to reopen classrooms after spring break.

The district's Board of Education was briefed on the reopening plan but did not vote on it.

Mask-wearing will be required and social distancing will be expected, interim Superintendent Scott Elder said.

"The reality is that full reentry will create situations in classes where we are unable to keep people 6 feet apart, but we're assured that is OK," Elder said. "But the goal is to maintain social distancing … to the greatest extent possible."

Albuquerque Public Schools officials said they were trying to arrange extensions for teachers in high-risk groups to allow them to wait to return to in-person instruction until two weeks after being fully vaccinated.

FBI Offering Reward For Info About Shiprock Man's 2020 Death - Associated Press

The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information in the death of a Shiprock man last year.

Authorities said the body of 30-year-old Isiah Terrell Billy was found in October along Highway 64 near a gas station in Shiprock.

The FBI said the cause of death is pending, but is considered suspicious. 

Albuquerque TV station KRQE reports that the FBI and the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety are investigating the case.

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