New Mexico Sues Air Force Over Contamination, Oil Giants Plan Production Boost

Mar 5, 2019

New Mexico Sues US Air Force Over Groundwater ContaminationAssociated Press

New Mexico is suing the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at two military bases in the state.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas said Tuesday the lawsuit is aimed at getting the Air Force to clean up the pollution and ensure that residents have access to clean water.

Chemicals associated with firefighting foam once used at Cannon and Holloman air bases were detected last year in groundwater on and near the military installations. State regulators say the contamination constitutes an immediate and substantial danger to surrounding communities.

The Air Force declined Tuesday to comment on the pending litigation.

The Pentagon acknowledged in a report to Congress last year that water at or around dozens of military installations across the U.S. contains levels of the chemicals above federal health standards.

New Mexico Senate Passes School ReformsAssociated Press

The New Mexico state Senate has endorsed sweeping public education reforms that respond to a court order to provide more resources to struggling schools across the state.

The Senate voted 41-0 Tuesday to approve a bill that would channel more money toward minority and low-income students. The House is considering a nearly identical bill.

The Senate-endorsed bill would increase minimum teacher salaries, allow school districts to expand teacher training and add five weeks to the school year at many elementary schools. Lawmakers are wrestling with a court order that found the state is failing to provide an adequate education to minority and low-income students.

One point of contention in the Senate was a provision to eliminate school funding for students over the age of 21. Lawmakers amended it, leaving the age cap in place but ensuring several schools that serve adults – including Gordon Bernell Charter School in Albuquerque – can continue to operate.

A draft budget plan would increase state spending on public schools by about 16 percent next year amid a surge in state government income.

Former New Mexico Officer Found Guilty Of Armed Robbery - Alamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

A former Roswell police officer has been found guilty of the 2016 armed robbery of a Subway restaurant in southeast New Mexico.

The Alamogordo Daily News reported Friday that 27-year-old Valerie Palombi was also convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and two counts of resisting an officer.

Palombi faces one to 15 years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for May 14.

Police say 26-year-old Kevin Blake entered the Roswell Subway and threatened two employees with a gun after ordering a sandwich.

He held the employees in the back of the restaurant as Palombi removed $600 from the cash register.

Blake pleaded guilty to armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery in August and faces two to 15 years in prison at his sentencing this month.

Former New Mexico Daycare Owners Sentenced To Prison TermsEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

A mother and daughter who operated an eastern New Mexico day care have been sentenced to at least three decades each for the death of one child and the serious injury of another.

The Eastern New Mexico News reported that Mary Taylor received a 36-year prison sentence Monday while her daughter Sandy Taylor received 30 years.

The former owners of Taylor Tots day care in Portales were convicted in February of reckless child abuse for leaving the girls in a car in July 2017.

Two-year-old Aubri Loya survived after being left in the hot car for more than two hours, but 22-month-old Maliyah Jones died in a hospital the same day.

A judge denied a defense motion for acquittal due to state of mind and another for release pending appeal.

Exxon, Chevron Raise Production Forecast In Texas-New MexicoAssociated Press

The fracking boom is gaining speed in the Permian Basin of west Texas and New Mexico, as Exxon Mobil and Chevron are primed to sharply boost oil production in the next few years.

The big oil companies say advances in drilling technology mean that the Permian field can be profitable even at lower crude prices because production costs have dropped.

Exxon Mobil said Tuesday that as soon as 2024 it expects to produce the equivalent of more than 1 million barrels of oil per day in the basin, up from a forecast of 600,000 barrels by 2025.

Exxon, the largest operator in the Permian, has 48 drilling rigs there and plans to raise that to 55 by year-end. The Irving, Texas-based company estimates that it is sitting on about 10 billion barrels of oil in the basin.

Chevron officials told analysts Tuesday that the company expects to produce 600,000 barrels per day in the Permian by the end of 2020 and 900,000 barrels a day by the end of 2023.

San Ramon, California-based Chevron says its Permian portfolio has doubled in value over the past two years.

Oil majors led by Exxon and Chevron are playing a bigger role in the Permian field, which not long ago predominantly featured smaller independents.

New Mexico Bill Aims To Limit Immigration Detention CentersAssociated Press

A new proposal would restrict federal contracts for immigration detention centers in New Mexico and could make the state a "sanctuary state."

Democratic state Reps. Angelica Rubio and Antonio "Moe" Maestas are pushing a bill that limits the use of state and local resources for civil immigration custody or detention purposes.

Under the proposal, state law enforcement agencies won't be able to sign new federal contracts or renew current ones around civil immigration custody unless there have been two public meetings.

Legislative analysts say the bill potentially could make New Mexico a sanctuary state in the view of the federal government and cost the state millions of dollars in federal grants.

Leader Of Prayer Group Sentenced For Defrauding MembersAssociated Press

A 66-year-old Rio Rancho man has been placed on probation for three years and ordered to pay $76,000 of restitution for defrauding members of an Albuquerque-area prayer group that he led.

Felix Fernando was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court after previously pleading guilty to wire fraud.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for New Mexico says Fernando acknowledged telling prayer group members that "their money was evil" and that "miracles would happen" if they gave money to him so it could be used to help people in need.

The office says Fernando kept all of the money for himself.

Assistant Public Defender Mallory Gagan said in a presentencing report on Fernando's behalf that he had spiraling credit card debt and took the money from prayer group members because he was desperate.

New Mexico Legislature Passes Background Checks - Associated Press

A bill to extend background checks to nearly all gun sales has won approval from the New Mexico Legislature.

The 42-27 vote of the House on Monday sent the bill to the desk of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for final approval. In a statement, the governor applauded the bill as a common-sense safety measure.

Republican legislators and county sheriffs across much of the state have described the expansion of background check requirements as ineffectual and an infringement on gun rights.

Lawmakers are considering a raft of gun safety initiatives that also would allow judges to authorize removing guns from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence, expand child neglect laws to encompass the secure storage of household firearms and ban gun possession for people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.

Governor Undeterred On Trust Spending For Pre-K - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to keep the conversation alive about increasing withdrawals from a state endowment to pay early childhood education programs.

Lujan Grisham on Monday endorsed a scaled-back proposal to increase distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by half a percentage point. A proposal for a 1-point increase has stalled in the Senate amid worries that it would erode future investment earning from a $17 billion state trust for public education.

Lujan Grisham campaigned on efforts to provide universal access to childhood education, and she says the state general fund spending may be unreliable in the future.

The governor appeared alongside state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque to present a bill designed to build support for an eventual constitutional amendment to increase withdrawals from the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

The bill from Lopez would suspend the increased withdrawals if the trust's market value dips below $12.5 billion.

Governor Supports Some Parts Of Tax-Reform Bill - Associated Press

New Mexico's Democratic governor is voicing support for major provisions of a bill that would increase some income tax rates and apply new taxes to e-cigarettes and online sales.

Gov. Lujan Grisham told reporters Monday that she supports many provisions of a tax-code overhaul approved by the House of Representatives last week but wants something more to support road infrastructure.

Increased taxes on tobacco and a first-time tax on e-cigarettes won praise from the governor.

She also supports efforts to level the playing field between online retailers and walk-in stores in the state by allowing state and local governments to levy taxes on sales by online retailers.

As the state Senate takes up the legislation, Lujan Grisham said she is open to higher personal income tax rates for people earning $200,000 or over, but has not made up her mind on many provisions.

Bill To Phase Out Coal Plant Advances In New Mexico - Associated Press

A bill that aims to boost renewable energy production and phase out a major coal-fired power plant in New Mexico is headed toward a Senate vote.

A Senate committee endorsement on Monday cleared the way for a floor vote.

The bill would set aggressive new quotas for renewable energy production by publicly regulated utilities and cooperatives. The goal is to produce 50 percent of retail electricity from renewable sources such as wind turbines and solar panels by 2030.

The bill would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico and other owners of the San Juan Generating Station to recover investments in the coal-fired plant by selling bonds that are later paid off by utility customers.

The plant is a major employer and major sources of air pollution in the region.

Hospital, Insurers Fight Putting Medicaid Residents At Risk - Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

Thousands of southeastern New Mexico residents enrolled in Medicaid may soon not be able to access Lea Regional Medical Group and its physicians for non-emergencies.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Lea Regional Medical Group recently alerted Medicaid patients in Lea County they may not be able to use the hospital for non-emergencies after this month because of an impasse in contract negotiations with health insurers.

Lea Regional Medical Group, the only hospital in Lea County that provides obstetric services such as labor and delivery, is encouraging local Medicaid patients to contact state lawmakers for help.

The New Mexico Department of Health says around 39 percent of Lea County residents, or 27,500 people, are enrolled in Medicaid.

State Sen. Gay Kernan, a Hobbs Republican, says she's hopeful both sides will come to an agreement.

New Mexico House Halts Lottery Expansion To Sports Betting - Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has endorsed a bill that would halt plans to create a state lottery game tied to the outcome of sports.

The bill from Republican Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho passed the House on Monday without opposition. The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The New Mexico Lottery sustains scholarships to help state residents attend public universities and colleges. The board of the lottery has been seeking to cash in on last year's ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a federal sports gambling ban.

Harper's bill also would redirect unclaimed lottery funds directly toward scholarships rather than back into lottery prizes. He says between $2 million and $4 million remain unclaimed each year.

New Mexico Raises Cap For Medical Marijuana Producers - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's medical marijuana producers have received approval from state regulators to temporarily boost by fivefold the number of

plants they are allowed to grow as the result of a legal battle centered on concerns about demand and adequate supplies.

The state health department issued is an emergency rule change last Friday, when a court order invalidating the state's 450-plant limit was set to kick in.

The amendment sets the cap at 2,500 plants per producer at least through Aug. 28.  It will be up to the health department to launch a public process over the next six months for crafting a permanent rule governing how many plants will be allowed.

Without the change, state officials said there would not have been any restrictions in place and producers would have been able to grow an unlimited number of marijuana plants.

Plan To Protect Colorado River Still Isn't Done. Now What? - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Another federal deadline has passed for seven states in the U.S. West to finish a plan to protect the drought-stricken Colorado River.

The river delivers water to 40 million people in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. The states have been crafting drought contingency plans for years.

But Arizona and California missed a deadline Monday and another set earlier by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Without a consensus, the agency will allow governors from the seven states to weigh in with recommendations on what to do next. The federal government also could step in and impose its own rules in the river's lower basin.

The comment period ends March 19. The bureau says it can call off the process if all states complete work before then.

Preschool Funding Proposal Stalls In New Mexico Senate - Associated Press

A proposal to increase spending on early childhood education from a multibillion-dollar state trust has stalled in the New Mexico state Senate and appears unlikely to advance this year.

A Senate committee voted 7-4 on Monday to set aside the initiative with fewer than two weeks left in the annual legislative session. The proposed constitutional amendment from Democratic Reps. Antonio Maestas and Javier Martinez of Albuquerque has House approval.

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez says it was unlikely that her panel would reverse course.

Advocates for increasing withdrawals from the Land Grant Permanent fund include Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Opponents fear the plan would erode investment earnings that have helped the fund grow to $17 billion even as it pays out annual dividends to public schools.

Survey Finds Half Of Las Vegas Trees In Poor Condition Or Dead -  Las Vegas Optic, Associated Press

Officials say nearly half of the trees surveyed in Las Vegas are in poor condition or dead.

The Las Vegas Optic reports state forestry officials told residents this week that the city's well-stocked Siberian Elm  trees were ticking time bombs and were posing a danger to the community.

Of trees inventoried in Las Vegas, 40 percent were in fair condition, 34 percent were in poor condition and 12 percent were dead. Only 2 percent were considered excellent.

New Mexico State Forestry's urban and community forestry program manager Jennifer Dann says more than one-tenth of Las Vegas' trees surveyed are already dead, posing a threat of falling on people, pets, vehicles or structures.