ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO – JUNE 26, 2022: The alcohol department at a grocery store Albuquerque, NM on June 26, 2022. CREDIT: Adria Malcolm for New Mexico In Depth
Many New Mexican families struggle with alcohol but the problem has often been neglected. That’s partly because of stigma towards addiction: it doesn’t always feel easy to share stories about it. New Mexico In Depth published Blind Drunk last week, a series about why New Mexico leads the country in deaths related to alcohol, and what can be done about it. The reporting examines myths, misconceptions, and outright fallacies in thinking about alcohol dependency.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears to have slowed its timeline for deciding whether to let another federal agency house uranium-contaminated debris on a mill site it regulates near Church Rock. Local Navajo people and Navajo Nation officials object to the plan, saying the proposal doesn’t move debris far enough away from the community.
“It’s very surprising to me, in a good way,” Eric Jantz, an attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said Thursday of the slow down in the commission’s approval process contained in a May 4 letter.
“Typically, the NRC sits back and waits for formal appeals, but this time they got involved at a critical juncture,” said Jantz, who represents the Red Water Pond Road Association, an organization formed by residents who live near two large abandoned mines and the mill site just north of Church Rock. The center has litigated on behalf of the community for decades to force cleanup of abandoned uranium waste and to resist future uranium mining.
The slow down by the commission follows a historic visit in April that NRC commissioners made to the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup. The commissioners wanted to see the mine and mill sites for themselves, and to hear what residents and Navajo officials, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, thought.
The EPA plan to move the uranium contaminated mine debris to the mill site, in the works for more than a decade, would clean up one of the largest abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. It’s one of more than 500 abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation. But it wouldn’t move the debris far, which is why Navajo residents exposed to the mine waste for more than 40 years oppose the plan. Community members at the April visit urged commissioners to not allow the EPA to move the mine debris to the mill site that has itself been undergoing cleanup for years.
Big questions loom as the 2022 primary election nears. Who will Democrats nominate for Attorney General, State Auditor Brian Colón or Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez? Who among a lengthy list of Republicans will challenge Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this fall? Will a concerted effort by conservative forces to unseat a group of progressive Democratic incumbents succeed? I would add, will the oil and gas industry feel like a winner after the election?
New Mexico In Depth’s 2020/2021 academic reporting fellow Bella Davis returns as full-time staff this summer with a focus on Indigenous affairs, thanks to funding from Report for America.
Report for America is a national program that helps fund reporting positions in local newsrooms.
“Report for America provides a unique opportunity for journalists to pursue meaningful, local beat reporting that sadly is missing from many of today’s newsrooms,” said Earl Johnson, director of admissions at Report for America, in the organization’s statement about their 2022 reporting corps. “Together, our emerging and experienced corps members will produce tens of thousands of articles on critically under-covered topics—schools, government, healthcare, the environment, communities of color, and more.”
Davis began reporting while a student at the University of New Mexico, with student newspaper The Daily Lobo. As she neared graduation, she joined New Mexico In Depth’s diversity fellowship program, where she was able to produce longer-form, deeply reported work. She focused on the importance of midwifery as one solution to staggeringly disproportionate rates of maternal death among Black and Native women, and a series of stories about private prisons. After graduation, she accepted an eight-month fellowship at the Santa Fe Reporter, funded by the New Mexico Local News Fund, where she wrote about criminal justice, housing, local businesses and cannabis.
In reporting two recent stories about abandoned uranium mines north of Church Rock, N.M., I heard residents say several times that they want federal officials to take action, not just more talk about cleaning up radioactive waste left practically in their backyards for 40 or more years. I also heard how exhausting it is for the people who live next to this waste to repeatedly tell their stories to people like me, people concerned, even outraged about the situation, but who don’t live there–journalists, government officials, and activists from elsewhere–who have the luxury to come and go. “…sometimes, you get so frustrated talking about these things,” said Edith Hood, a resident who lives in the Red Water Pond Road community near the mines, in remarks to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at their public meeting in Gallup last Friday. “…we, Indian country, we are like the people that live in the third world, in the United States,” Hood said. “Nobody listens to us.
The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills. Chairman Christopher Hanson called the visit historic, and the significance was visible with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Navajo officials in attendance. As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said. “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind. “They say it’s clean, it’s ok.
Another political season. Another new political group with a forgettable but vaguely feel-good name.In March, a new entity registered with the Secretary of State: Working Together New Mexico. Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez, who represents part of the city’s westside, has said its purpose is to support the campaigns of particular candidates. Sanchez didn’t file a report last week saying how much the group has raised and spent despite a state deadline. Nor did he file a no activity report, a minimum requirement of groups that register with the Secretary of State under the campaign reporting act. Yesterday, six candidates in the June 7, 2022 Democratic primary wrote Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to request an immediate investigation of Working Together New Mexico for not filing a report. “This PAC has developed a website, launched a PR campaign, raised funds, and retained a prominent consultant…to say they haven’t spent $1,000 yet just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Tara Jaramillo, running for State House District 38 in central and southern New Mexico, stated in the press release sent out by campaign consultant, Neri Holguin. This analysis originally appeared in our Friday newsletter.
This story is part of a collaboration from the Institute for Nonprofit News Rural News Network in partnership with INN members Indian Country Today, Buffalo’s Fire, InvestigateWest, KOSU, New Mexico In Depth, Underscore and Wisconsin Watch, as well as partners Mvskoke Media, Osage News and Rawhide Press. Series logo by Mvskoke Creative. The project was made possible with support from the Walton Family Foundation.
Uranium mines are personal for Dariel Yazzie. Now head of the Navajo Nation’s Superfund program, Yazzie grew up near Monument Valley, Arizona, where the Vanadium Corporation of America started uranium operations in the 1940s. His childhood home sat a stone’s throw from piles of waste from uranium milling, known as tailings.
Update: Shortly after publishing the following newsletter on Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, wrote in an email to New Mexico in Depth that lawmakers would include transparency in a revised junior bill during an upcoming special session. She said lawmakers would use as a model new transparency measures passed last year for capital outlay allocations. “I wish we had done this originally but we think we have an answer to how to make those changes,” she wrote. Later on Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders announced a special session of the Legislature would convene on April 5, to take up a revised junior bill and consider measures they can take to help New Mexicans in the face of rising inflation. After sending out our newsletter last week about lawmakers’ outrage over the governor vetoing their dark spending bill, I had a moment of deja vu.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has vetoed lawmakers’ dark spending bill, casually called the “junior bill”, and they don’t like it.
The vetoed Senate Bill 48 cobbles together spending by individual lawmakers into one long list of projects worth $50 million in total.
The junior bill doesn’t happen every year but when it does, it’s held sacrosanct by lawmakers, who each get part of the pie to divvy up. The junior bill doesn’t disclose which lawmaker makes which appropriation, and lawmakers exempt that information from state transparency laws. The public is simply left in the dark.
Lawmakers put the bill together behind the scenes, not in public. They each get a slice of the money and some guidelines to follow (what those guidelines are, from whom they’re given, and whether lawmakers have total carte blanche is unclear because the process is not public). Senators put their list together, the same goes for representatives, and those two combine to form the junior legislation.