Fracking boom leads to tension in Navajo communities

On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Chavez Herbert introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents. The listening session, which lasted about five hours, provided a glimpse into tensions in several small Navajo communities near Chaco Canyon over an uptick in fracking in recent years, pitting those who worry about the public health hazards it poses against government agencies who authorize it, as well as some of their neighbors who benefit  economically from leasing their land to oil and gas companies.

Lawmakers tackle payday lending

For the past several years efforts have been made at the State Legislature to cap interest rates imposed by New Mexico’s small-loan industry, alternately called storefront lenders or payday lenders. The lenders make loans of $2,500 or less, with often extremely high interest rates and short pay-back periods. And typically their customers are low-income New Mexicans who need quick cash to help pay bills. The issue is back in 2017, and two proposals to cap such interest rates are expected to be heard today in a House committee. The big difference between the two bills is the amount of interest lenders could charge.

Video: Rep. Jim Dines says subpoena power important for ethics commission

New Mexico is one of the few states that doesn’t have a state ethics commission, and Rep. Jim Dines, R-Bernalillo, hopes to change that. House Joint Resolution 8 proposes an independent ethics commission that oversees complaints concerning state officers and employees, lobbyists, campaigns, and state contractors. Rep. Dines says the subpoena powers contained in the resolution are important. “It gives the commission the ability to obtain records that are out there that would be able to help end the investigation of a potential ethics complaint,” said Rep. Jim Dines. Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Jeff Seinborn (D- Doña Ana), Rep Nathan P. Small (D- Doña Ana), and Rep. Bill McCamley (D- Doña Ana).

Tax loopholes are in the eye of the beholder

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez continues to say we need to tighten our belts rather than raise taxes in order to solve our current fiscal crisis. “She will not raise taxes,” Chris Sanchez, the governor’s spokesperson, told New Mexico In Depth this week. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, however, told the Santa Fe New Mexican this weekend the state can’t endure any more cuts and he is joined by lawmakers who favor raising new tax revenue to balance the budget and replenish the state’s reserve fund. On its face the two positions set up a battle over whether to cut expenses or to raise revenue. But it’s not so simple.

New Mexico Tribes descend on state legislature to oppose Dakota Access Pipeline

Each year, American Indian Day brings culture and concerns from Native Americans across New Mexico to the State Legislature, but Friday they also showed up to show unified support for the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in South Dakota to stop a pipeline that they say threatens their water and damages sacred sites. “We came here today because it’s American Indian Day and to support Standing Rock,” said Rita Blatche who drove more than three hours with her husband from Mescalero to Santa Fe. Standing Rock was the overall theme of the day, with Standing Rock Councilman Robert Taken Alive speaking as the honored guest. All 23 Native American tribes within the state unified their stance toward the Dakota Access Pipeline and signed a letter opposing the pipeline. San Ildefonso Pueblo Lt. Gov. Chris Moquino said the visit from Taken Alive “shows there is strength in numbers.” San Ildefonso is located east of Pojoaque.

Capital Outlay transparency gains traction

Several bills related to transparency are up for hearing this legislative session, including a capital outlay bill introduced by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe. The proposal, HB 121, would make public information about capital projects—and who funds them. That information is currently kept private. Detailed information including the amount of money given to projects is protected under statute. That means there is no way for the public to know how much money their lawmakers individually allocate to a capital project.