WED: Navajo Nation President Says State Failing Students, Solar Leads Plant Replacement Options

Jun 24, 2020

Navajo Nation President: New Mexico Still Failing Students - By Cedar Attanasio. Associated Press/Report For America

The leader of one of the largest Native American tribes in the U.S. has called on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to end efforts against a court ruling ordering education improvements for members of his tribe and other vulnerable groups.

Wednesday's comments from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez come ahead of a court hearing next week in which Lujan Grisham will ask a state judge to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit representing Native American and Hispanic plaintiffs.

In 2018, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the state to address inequality in funding and academic outcomes for low-income, Native American and Hispanic students —which account for about 80% of children.

The lawsuit — initially filed against Lujan Grisham's Republican predecessor Susana Martinez — threatens to wrestle control of policy away from the state Public Education Department and control of funding away from the state Legislature.

Lujan Grisham's administration argues in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit that the state has increased funding for education, that future changes will take years and that administration officials should not be micromanaged by court orders.

A judge will consider the request to dismiss the case at a hearing on Monday.

Solar Leads Options For Replacing New Mexico Power Plant - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Solar panels with the capacity to produce hundreds of megawatts of electricity and back-up battery storage systems would be installed in northwestern New Mexico to replace the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station under one alternative that will be considered by state regulators.

Hearing examiners with the Public Regulation Commission issued the recommendations Wednesday in a case that has been fraught with protests, political power struggles and legal battles.

The recommendations offer a starting point for the commission as it considers what mix of solar, battery storage and possibly natural gas it will require Public Service Co. of New Mexico to install to make up for what the utility will lose when it divests itself from the San Juan power plant in 2022.

The document states that New Mexico's new energy transition law puts more weight on environmental effects than on cost, so some of the options that include more renewable energy could end up costing ratepayers more.

Part of the consideration is where any new solar farms, gas-fired plants or battery systems would be located, as millions of dollars in taxes and other revenue that help fuel the local school district and other government services are expected to evaporate with the planned closure of San Juan.

The city of Farmington and others have been working to keep San Juan open as part of a proposed carbon-capture project. The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $2.7 million for an engineering study to further investigate the feasibility.

US Energy Department Fined $304K Over Waste DocumentationAssociated Press

The U.S. Department of Energy has been fined $304,000 over missed deadlines in documenting waste shipments at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the New Mexico Environment Department cited the federal agency, the lab and the lab's contracted operator Triad National Security LLC for eight violations dating back to 2017.

The violations involved documentation deadlines missed by a year or more. All occurred under previous lab operator Los Alamos National Security LLC. Triad took over lab management in November 2018.

It isn't known whether the nuclear security administration plans to challenge the fine.

Drought Plan Enacted For 40 Colorado Counties By GovernorAssociated Press

Gov. Jared Polis has ordered a task force to assess initial damage and to recommend mitigation measures for severe drought conditions that are affecting 40 of Colorado's 64 counties.

Polis' order follows dwindling mountain snowpack, a warmer-than-average spring and far less precipitation than normal. It also comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that extreme drought expanded in northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado.

Polis also directed a state agricultural task force to determine the drought's potential crop and cattle damage impact and the possible economic fallout for the state's $8 billion farming industry.

A climatologist says the summer promises higher temperatures and low rainfall.

Navajo Nation Reports 43 New Coronavirus Cases And 1 DeathAssociated Press

The Navajo Department of Health has reported 43 new cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation with one more known death.

That pushes the total of positive COVID-19 cases to 7,088 with the death toll at 336 as of Tuesday night. Tribal officials say coronavirus related cases continue to decrease due to the Navajo Nation's daily curfew and requirement to wear a face mask.

The tribe also has resumed weekend lockdowns with businesses closed as the number of coronavirus cases off the reservation increases, most notably in Arizona.

Preliminary reports from 11 health care facilities indicate about 3,754 people have recovered from COVID-19 with one hospital report still pending.

Tribal health officials say 50,185 people have been tested so far. 

New Mexico Cases Near 11,000 As Vets Call For Posts To OpenAssociated Press

The statewide total of COVID-19 infections in New Mexico is approaching 11,000 as health officials are reporting an additional 156 positive tests.

The numbers released Wednesday also show the death toll now stands at 480, including four new deaths related to the coronavirus.

The latest cases come as the state eases into the reopening of some segments of the economy, including breweries, restaurants, gyms and salons at limited capacities.

However, members of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other organizations have been asking Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider allowing veterans' posts to open.

The latest figures show Bernalillo County — the state's most populous county — had the highest number of new cases Wednesday, topping McKinley and San Juan counties. Those two more rural counties account for about half of the state's total cases.

There are now 32 cases among people held be federal agencies at the Torrance County Detention Facility. At the Otero County Prison Facility, which holds state and federal detainees, there are 701 cases.

Also, the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County reported two officers and one inmate have tested positive for COVID-19.

New Mexico Releases Plan For Reopening Public Schools - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico's Public Education Department is outlining a path for how schools will reopen this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Under a plan made public Tuesday, the state is requiring schools to open at 50% capacity. Students will alternate between time in the classroom and continuing with online lessons at home.

Based on regional testing data, schools could be forced to close or allowed to fully open. Regardless of infection numbers, children and staff will be required to wear masks and large gatherings like pep rallies are to be avoided.

Officials say the goal is to move into a full school schedule as soon as safely possible.

The guidance comes after a month of consultation with a task force that was made up of parents, teachers and administrators.

They considered many ideas that might have been logistically challenging, such as requiring bus drivers to check every student's temperature.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory also explored numerous school infection scenarios, according to state Human Services Secretary David Scrase.

Scrase said officials are looking at what’s happening in Europe, noting that preliminary data out of Denmark and Iceland suggest that children may not transmit COVID as much, but state officials still are hoping more can be learned about the virus.

Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.

New Mexico Urging Visitors To Use Masks To Stop Virus Spread – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico is under a state order for residents and travelers to wear masks in public places, but visitors to Santa Fe continue to stroll through the city's downtown with uncovered faces.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported city and tourism officials plan to post signs by this weekend encouraging the use of face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Santa Fe City Council has approved a measure requiring everyone in the city over age 15 to wear a mask in most public settings, with repeat offenders facing a $50 fine for second and subsequent violations.

The state reported seven new deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 476. There were 147 additional positive tests. New Mexico now has nearly 10,840 COVID-19 cases.

A prison facility in Otero County that holds state and federal detainees has 687 cases.

Racist Vandalism Cause Estimated $100K Of Damage To Santa Fe Indian Restaurant – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press, KUNM

Vandals damaged the interior furnishings of an Indian restaurant in downtown Santa Fe and spray-painted racist comments on walls and art objects in the building.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the cost of the damage Monday to the India Palace was estimated at $100,000. The damage included smashing a buffet and overturning tables and chairs. The restaurants walls and artwork were also spray-painted with white supremacist declarations and racist statements directed at the restaurant’s Sikh owners.

The Santa Fe Police Department, who have been criticized for taking several hours to arrive after the incident was reported, have labeled it a hate crime. 

The Anti-Defamation League's Mountain States Region said Tuesday in a statement that it was "deeply disturbed by reports of significant vandalism and racist, xenophobic graffiti at India Palace restaurant in downtown Santa Fe."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the vandalism as a "disturbing hate attack."

Several online fundraisers have been started by community members and a fellow Indian restaurant. The New Mexican reported Tuesday that combined, the campaigns have raised over $100,000. 

New Mexico Hospital Under Review Over Profiling Allegations - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

State officials say the findings of a recent survey at a women's hospital in New Mexico are in the process of being referred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights after allegations of racial profiling were raised.

The survey at Lovelace Women's Hospital in Albuquerque was completed last week. While the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has yet to finalize the report, state health officials say initial findings identified noncompliance.

State officials called for an investigation after the online publications New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica reported that several unidentified clinicians at the hospital alleged that pregnant Native American women were singled out for COVID-19 testing and separated from newborns after delivery while their test results were pending.

The hospital denies that extra scrutiny was given to pregnant Native American patients amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some tribal communities in the Southwest have been hit hard by the virus. In New Mexico, just over half of the cases are among Native Americans.