Wednesday News Roundup: BLM Grants Peabody Lease To Expand NM Coal Mine

Mar 12, 2014

BLM Grants Peabody Lease To Expand NM Coal Mine The Associated Press

The Bureau of Land Management has issued a lease allowing for more than 9 million tons of coal to be mined in western New Mexico.

The federal agency said Tuesday it issued the 640-acre lease to Peabody Natural Resources Co. after considering an appeal that stemmed from a lease sale in August 2013.

The BLM says it weighed potential environmental effects and determined there would be no significant impacts.

Peabody paid $2.3 million for the lease, which covers land adjacent to its El Segundo Mine in McKinley County.

The mine employs about 340 workers and produces about 8 million tons of coal each year for utility customers in New Mexico and eastern Arizona.

Royalty payments from the coal production will be shared by New Mexico and the federal government.


Governor Vetoes Bill Revamping Water Board -  The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed proposals that would have chipped away at executive branch powers over water funding and the horse racing regulation.

The governor on Wednesday rejected a measure passed by the Legislature that would have overhauled the membership of the Water Trust Board, which recommends funding for some water projects.

The proposal would have stripped the governor of her power to appoint public members of the board and assigned that responsibility to the Legislature.

The governor objected that the measure would have prevented the board from funding some previously approved projects.

Martinez also vetoed a measure that would have taken away power of the governor-appointed State Racing Commission to decide penalties for some horse racing violations, such as administering illegal drugs to horses.

Gov. Susana Martinez Signs $6B State Budget - The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has signed a $6 billion state budget but cut spending about $27 million with line-item vetoes.

The governor signed the measure on Tuesday but eliminated $2.4 million that would have provided pay raises for judges, district attorneys and appointed government workers.

Martinez also eliminated $15 million for public schools because she said the money isn't needed until 2016 when newly enacted changes in the state's school funding formula take effect.

The governor also vetoed $4 million for a college endowment fund. Lawmakers didn't overhaul the fund as requested by Martinez to make colleges compete for the money and target it to recruiting professors in critical areas such as math and science.

The budget, as signed by the governor, provides for a 4.3 percent spending increase next year.

Feds To Keep Employees Of Closed Nuclear Dump Working - The Associated Press 

The Department of Energy has approved a plan to keep all employees at southeastern New Mexico's underground nuclear waste dump working while officials determine what caused a radiation release.

The DOE said in a press release Tuesday that it had signed off on a plan to keep all the 650-plus workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on the job.

DOE Carlsbad Field Officer manager Joe Franco says the employees will be retrained as necessary to help investigate what caused the radiation release and to work on recovery and remediation efforts.

The repository has been closed since a truck caught fire in one of its tunnels early last month. Nine days later, there was a radiation release. Officials say at least 17 workers were exposed to low levels of radiations.

Los Alamos Studying Alternatives For Toxic Waste - The Associated Press

With the nation's only underground nuclear waste dump shuttered by a mysterious leak, Los Alamos National Laboratory has begun looking at alternatives for getting toxic waste off its campus.

Lab spokesman Matthew Nerzig confirmed Tuesday that officials have begun looking at options if the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad remains closed indefinitely.

The presence of that waste, stored outside with little protection, came to the public's attention three years ago as a massive wildfire lapped at the edges of the sprawling lab property.

The lab has since agreed to have it all removed from the mesa by the end of June. The lab was ahead of schedule for getting the nearly 4,000 barrels to WIPP when back-to-back accidents, including a radiation release, closed the repository last month.

15,000 New Mexicans Enroll Through Health Exchange - The Associated Press

The Obama administration reports about 15,000 New Mexicans have signed up for health insurance plans through a federal online marketplace during its first five months of operation.

The enrollment figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed about 3,400 people signed up during February. Open enrollment ends this month.

New Mexico is using the federally operated website to enroll individuals. Businesses can enroll through a state-run exchange.

From October through February, 15,012 people selected an insurance plan. Older New Mexicans — ages 35 to 64 — accounted for about 73 percent of enrollment.

Enrolling younger, healthy Americans is considered critical for keeping insurance premiums from rising in the future because older adults tend to have greater health problems and are more costly to serve.

King Accuses Feds Of Trying To Siphon NM Water - The Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King says the federal government has sided with Texas in an effort to take the state's groundwater.

King responded Tuesday to a motion by the government to intervene in a dispute over management of the Rio Grande. Texas first took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.

New Mexico maintains it is meeting its water delivery obligations to Texas.

But the federal government alleges groundwater pumping in New Mexico is tapping the shallow aquifer that would otherwise drain back into the Rio Grande and flow to Texas.

In the latest court filing, King claims groundwater is a separate source of water from the Rio Grande Project, which provides farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas with irrigation water.

Feds Funnel $28M To New Mexico Water Projects - The Associated Press 

Several water projects in New Mexico will be getting a funding boost.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation say the Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to fund eight projects that will bring more than $28 million to the state.

Lawmakers say the projects will help prevent potentially dangerous and costly flooding.

The projects include work along the Middle Rio Grande Valley and in Alamogordo and San Miguel County.

Money is also earmarked to study the flood risks and other environmental and recreational issues in the Espanola Valley.

Another study aimed at reducing the salinity along the Rio Grande and Pecos River is planned.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says last year's flooding was a reminder of how important it is to shore up dams and levees and maintain river habitat.

Linda Lopez Plans To Stay In Governor's Race - The Associated Press

Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque says she plans to stay in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Lopez failed to earn an automatic place on the June primary election ballot because she didn't receive 20 percent of the vote from delegates at the party's pre-primary nominating convention.

Lopez said in a statement Tuesday that her campaign is gathering additional nominating petition signatures needed to secure a place on the ballot.

Lopez said she's received calls from supporters urging her to continue her candidacy.

Attorney General Gary King also has said he's staying in the governor's race despite finishing last at the convention.

Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City received the most support, followed by Santa Fe businessman Alan Webber and Lawrence Rael.

Governor Signs Water Spending Legislation - The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez is signing a spending measure Tuesday that includes $89 million for infrastructure projects aimed at securing drinking water resources for communities around New Mexico.

Martinez says she's disappointed lawmakers didn't allocate more for water projects as the state continues to wrestle with severe drought.

Her administration had asked for at least 60 percent of capital outlay funds — or more than $110 million — to be spent on such projects.

The governor says having clean drinking water in New Mexico is a necessity for well-being as well as economic development.

The northern community of Las Vegas is among those to benefit from the funds. The city will receive $10 million to significantly expand the capacity of its reservoir, which will allow the community to weather the drought.

Obesity Rate Among New Mexico 3rd Graders Dropping - The Associated Press

State health officials say the childhood obesity rate among New Mexico 3rd graders is dropping.

The New Mexico Department of Health announced Tuesday, that between 2010 to 2013, the state's 3rd graders saw a 12 percent decrease.

Among Native American 3rd graders, the group saw a 20 percent decline.

The obesity rate for all New Mexico 3rd graders is 19.9 percent.

Still, the health officials say they are concerned about jumps in childhood obesity between kindergarten and third grade. For example, the same group of 3rd graders had only a 13 percent rate in kindergarten.