US Officials Delay Oil Leases Near Chaco, Politicians Remember Navajo Codetalker

May 29, 2019

Politicians Pay Tribute To Navajo Code TalkerAssociated Press

Family, friends and politicians are honoring deceased Navajo Code Talker and state Sen. John Pinto at a memorial procession and service.

Hundreds of mourners gathered inside the New Mexico state Capitol on Wednesday to hear tributes to Pinto.

Democratic Senate majority leader Peter Wirth said colleagues of Pinto were awed by the stamina that carried the World War II veteran through 42 years as a legislator.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised Pinto for rallying lawmakers this year to authorize state spending on a museum about Navajo code talkers who helped safeguard military secrets in World War II by encrypting radio communications. She noted that Pinto's political career spanned across landmark legislation for Native American health care and tribal consultation requirements for governments.

US Officials To Put Off Oil Leases Near Sacred Tribal Land Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has agreed to put off oil and gas leasing for a year on land that tribes consider sacred surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

Officials say that will allow time to finish an updated management plan to guide energy development across the region. The decision comes after Bernhardt visited the ancient site Tuesday.

The area has been central to an ongoing dispute over drilling in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado.

Native American tribes and others are pushing for a formal buffer to protect culturally significant sites within 10 miles of the park.

The management plan will include an alternative that reflects the views of Native American leaders and provisions from pending federal legislation.

Interior Secretary, Tribes Meet Amid Drilling Fight - Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has met with tribal leaders who are supporting legislation to prevent drilling on land they consider sacred around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The meeting Tuesday at the centuries-old site in northwest New Mexico came at the urging of Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich amid a yearslong dispute over oil and gas development surrounding the park.

Legislation sponsored by Heinrich and other members of New Mexico's all-Democratic congressional delegation would halt new oil and natural gas lease sales on federal land within a 10-mile buffer zone around the park's ancient stone structures and avenues.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has previously said that many tribes want a greater area around Chaco protected from industrial incursions.

Oil developers say robust protections already are in place.


New Mexico Signs Off On Settlements In Pay-To-Play ScandalAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico's State Investment Council has approved settlements in a decade-old scandal that involved politically influenced investment deals using state money.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the council unanimously approved settlements Tuesday with Anthony Correra and his son Marc Correra, who shared in more than $22 million in fees charged to investment firms.

Anthony Correra has agreed to pay $1 million to settle claims that he illegally directed state investments to firms that paid fees to his son.

Marc Correra has agreed to turn over $4.1 million to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court to be used to settle claims. The settlement also allows $900,000 to be released from an escrow account.

The father and son have both agreed to never conduct business again in New Mexico.

Census Head Vows 'Independent' Count Amid Heated Politics - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

The U.S. Census director is promising the 2020 Census will remain independent and will avoid political pressures amid uncertainty over how the bureau will question immigrants.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham told reporters in Albuquerque on Wednesday bureau workers have taken a "lifetime oath" not to share private information from residents. He also vowed the bureau would make sure states with high percentages of Latinos and Native Americans receive accurate counts.

Dillingham was in New Mexico for a bureau's four-day tour of the state's rural communities and the Navajo Nation.

His visit comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a possible question about whether a person is a United States citizen.

Democratic U.S, Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico says all communities should feel safe about filling out the 2020 Census.

Census Director Meets In Albuquerque Ahead Of 2020 Count - Associated Press

The U.S. Census director is visiting New Mexico as the state pushes to ensure there is an accurate count of its heavily Hispanic and Native American populations.

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham is in the state for a series of meetings. On Tuesday, he toured the border communities of Sunland Park and Chaparral before visiting Los Lunas in Valencia County.

He's expected to take part in round-table meetings Wednesday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

New Mexico's U.S. senators say the state faces a high likelihood of an undercount, which could put the state's federal funding at risk.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed an executive order calling on her Cabinet and advocacy groups to encourage census participation.


New Mexico Gets New Commission To Oversee Wildlife, HuntingAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed new members to a state panel that oversees wildlife management and sets hunting and fishing regulations across New Mexico.

The new Game Commission was announced Tuesday. The panel will meet June 14 in Albuquerque.

The commissioners include Roberta Salazar Henry and David Soules, who both are members of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance board of directors. Salazar Henry also worked for the state Game and Fish Department for 25 years.

The others are Jeremy Vesbach, former director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation; former state energy secretary Joanna Prukop; Gail Cramer, who served on the commission from 1996 to 2000; Albuquerque businessman and hunter Jimmy Bates; and Tirzio Lopez, a former park ranger who now works as a criminal investigator with the state Public Regulation Commission.

Colorado Utility Gets $500M Offer To Shut Coal PlantsDaily Sentinel, Associated Press

A wholesale power provider has proposed a $500 million deal for a Colorado electric utility to retire some coal assets and shift toward more renewable energy.

The Daily Sentinel reported Wednesday that the proposal from Denver-based Guzman Energy calls for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to shut down coal-fired power plants in New Mexico and northwest Colorado by 2025.

Guzman Energy says the deal would provide financial assistance to impacted communities and help the utility comply with new regulations.

Tri-State CEO Duane Highley says in the statement the verbal proposal by Guzman Energy is "imaginative and creative" but lacks detail and terms.

He says the utility welcomes a detailed written explanation from Guzman Energy.

Navajo Nation Votes To Accept Copy Of 1868 TreatyAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation has accepted an original copy of an 1868 treaty that had been stored in a Massachusetts home.

The treaty allowed Navajos to return to their homeland in the Four Corners region after years of imprisonment in eastern New Mexico.

It is one of three known copies of the treaty. One is at the National Archives. Another was given to Navajo Chief Barboncito, but its whereabouts are unknown.

The great-grandniece of one of the negotiators, Clare "Kitty" P. Weaver, recently donated the third copy to the tribe. A legislative committee voted Tuesday to accept it.

Weaver was visiting the Navajo Nation on Wednesday where a small crowd gathered to see the treaty.

It will be on display at the Navajo Nation Museum for a week starting Saturday.

New Mexico Auditor Cites Timing As Concern In Settlements - Associated Press

The state auditor is investigating whether proper protocols were followed for state financial settlements to resolve workplace complaints by personnel including members of the former governor's security detail.

New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón on Tuesday announced the investigation of settlement payments of $1.7 million to resolve complaints by six individuals that ranged from wrongful termination to hostile workplace issues.

The settlements involving Public Safety Department personnel were authorized last year near the end of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.

Details have been sealed until 2023. Martinez denies involvement in the agreements.

Colón says the review aims to ensure financial settlements are made in the best interest of taxpayers.

He says the timing of settlements raises procedural concerns. Colón's office has subpoena authority.

City Issues Cease-And-Desist Order For Private Border Wall - Associated Press

A border suburb of El Paso, Texas, has issued a cease-and-desist order against construction of a privately funded border barrier.

A spokesman for Sunland Park, New Mexico, said Tuesday that the barrier being erected by We Build The Wall Inc. on private property doesn't comply with city ordinances. City spokesman Peter Ibarbo says the company had applied for a construction permit but the application was incomplete.

The company didn't immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.

In a statement to KVIA-TV in El Paso , the company says it had "done everything they need to do to be in compliance with all regulations." The company calls the stop order "a last ditch effort to intimidate us from completing this project."

US Scientist Pleads Not Guilty In China Case - Associated Press

A scientist for a U.S. laboratory in New Mexico has pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied about contacts with a state-run program in China that seeks to draw foreign-educated talent.

Turab Lookman of Santa Fe entered the plea Tuesday before a judge ruled that he could be released on a $50,000 secured bond with his family's home as collateral.

His travel will be restricted to the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas as he awaits trial on charges of making false statements while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The facility is tasked with ensuring the safety of the nation's nuclear stockpile and reducing weapons threats.

Prosecutors say Lookman had lied three times about being recruited by China's Thousand Talents Program and applying to participate in work there.

New Mexico Shores Up Medicaid Spending Rates At Hospitals - Associated Press

Public comments are being sought on a plan to increase annual Medicaid spending on reimbursements to hospitals in New Mexico by $169 million.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced the increased reimbursement rates designed to shore up professional health care networks.

All told, lawmakers have arranged a quarter-billion dollar increase in annual spending on Medicaid services starting July 1.

For hospitals, about $34 million of the $169 million increase will come from the state general fund, while the federal government pays the rest. The new announcement comes on the heels of a proposed $60 million annual increase in Medicaid reimbursements to physicians and clinicians.

Human Service Department spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis-Porter says reimbursements are set to increase by 18% for outpatient services and 9% for inpatient hospital stays.

Memorial Procession For Navajo Lawmaker Traverses State - Associated Press

A procession in honor of deceased state Sen. John Pinto will travel from Gallup to the state Capitol to honor the former Navajo Code Talker and politician.

The procession including State Police and the Navajo and Hopi Honor Riders motorcycle group is scheduled to accompany Pinto's casket through the communities of Shiprock, Farmington, Bloomfield, Cuba, Bernalillo and Santa Fe.

Afternoon memorial services were scheduled in the Statehouse rotunda.

Pinto died on Friday at age 94 after setting a record for serving 42 years in the state Senate.

Potential successors to Pinto in the Senate will be nominated by the McKinley and San Juan county commissions. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham makes the final appointment.

Pinto this year voted in favor of progressive initiatives on gun control and abortion rights.

Impairment May Be Factor In Deadly Albuquerque Uber Crash - Associated Press

Albuquerque police are looking into whether alcohol was a factor in a collision that killed two Uber passengers.

Investigators say the crash occurred late Friday night near Alameda and the Pan American frontage road.

A Kia sedan hit a Ford Fusion that was in the process of making a left turn.

Police say the Ford was an Uber transporting two passengers.

Both passengers were killed.

Authorities have identified them as 35-year-old Robbie Gallegos and 33-year-old Kristina Martinez. Family members say the couple, who had been dating for several years, were on a date and had decided to use the ride-share service.

Police say both drivers were taken to the hospital in stable condition.

They say the Kia driver did show signs of impairment and had been driving at high speed.