Friday, July 11, 2008

AG: E.P.A. Putting Cart Before Horse in Desert Rock Permitting

Attorney General Gary King

The Attorney General's Office and the New Mexico Environment Department today filed a joint motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and proponents of the proposed Desert Rock power plant on Navajo Nation trust land in the Four Corners area.

"New Mexico can not afford to sit idly by as attempts are being made to skirt the legal requirements for a new coal-fired power plant to be built in the state," says Attorney General Gary King.

The EPA indicated it will issue a decision on the plant's air permit by July 31 as part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit Desert Rock developers brought against the agency for delaying action on the Clean Air Act permit for the plant. New Mexico seeks to intervene because the July 31 deadline would mean that the EPA would act on the permit before it completes important and obligatory environmental reviews.

For example, if the EPA acts by July 31, it would do so in violation of the Endangered Species Act. That Act unequivocally requires that any EPA decision on a Desert Rock permit be guided by a completed formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts of Desert Rock on endangered species. That formal consultation—which takes several months—has not even begun.

An unidentified protestor, photographed by Mark Bralley, listens to testimony during a NM House committee meeting in Santa Fe during at the State Capitol on February 28, 2007.

"This permitting process is truly putting the cart before the horse. We believe there a number of regulatory issues that need to be addressed by the EPA before it can make a decision on this permit," says Attorney General King.

Sonny Weahkee has protested the plant on the Navajo Nation. He is Laurie's Weahkee's brother; both Weahkees are organizers at SAGE Council, a grassroots organizing group. Laurie Weahkee is also a Super Delegate to the Democratic Convention in Denver.

State Environment Department experts have been working closely with AG's Office attorneys to formulate an action plan to identify and address environmental and legal concerns presented by the proposed power plant. Both agencies agree that important environmental issues have yet to be addressed by the EPA in the Desert Rock permitting process. New Mexico therefore must have a seat at the table in this litigation to ensure that the EPA's permitting process includes adequate protection of the environment and the health of citizens of New Mexico.

"The effects on fish and other wildlife under the Endangered Species Act must be considered; carbon dioxide pollutant levels must be determined; compliance with new federal standards for ozone pollution must be met; and the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for hazardous air pollutants have yet to be addressed by the EPA."

In a letter last month to the EPA, AG King and Governor Bill Richardson warned that fast-tracking the permit for Desert Rock without the required analysis could worsen air quality and adversely affect the health of those in the region.

Photo Credits: MG Bralley

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Heinrich All Smiles After New Poll Shows Him Surging.

Martin Heinrich appeared relaxed and confident as he greeted me with a smile and a handshake Wednesday afternoon. I soon learned why he was so cheerful during this lunchtime AUDIO INTERVIEW at his campaign headquarters.

Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Washington-based group, also used by Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish’s gubernatorial campaign, published their polling results showing Heinrich surging.

The poll shows Heinrich leading Republican candidate Darren White by three percentage points, 47-44, well within the 4.4 percentage points margin of error. The findings are based on a survey of 518 voters and was conducted June 29th to July 2nd. If accurate, Heinrich’s small lead is remarkable! Last fall a Washington, D.C. Newspaper labeled White as “untouchable” when a poll by Roll Call showed White with a 17 percentage point lead, 51-33.

Already a leading fundraiser on Act Blue Heinrich hopes to parlay the latest poll results into additional donations for his campaign’s war chest. He told me he spent more than $850,000 in the primary and expects to spend double that this fall.

Barbara Wold at Democracy for New Mexico reported that “Heinrich actually raised almost $100,000 in the campaign's one-and-a-half week end of quarter push that started with a $35,000 goal -- showing the strong support he's getting from the grassroots-netroots. Since his campaign fundraising began on ActBlue's website, supporters have donated a total of $305,781 to Heinrich there.

Wold writes:

Heinrich will need every penny as the general election cycle heats up. Heinrich's opponent, Darren White, has already received about $300,000 from a George Bush fundraiser in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, and another sizeable take at this past weekend's fundraiser hosted by outgoing NM-01 Rep. Heather Wilson. Because this is one of the premier races in the nation and the GOP would love to hang onto the seat, expect money to gush in from all the usual Republican suspects.

This weekend, Heinrich is one of a few dozen candidates who has been invited to attend the 2008 Speaker's Issues Conference hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Northern California. Barbara Armijo at the NM Independent reports the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is organizing the conference. Many Democratic heavy hitters are expected to participate.

During his brief AUDIO INTERVIEW, Heinrich told me he’s passionate about the issues and that his experience on the Albuquerque City Council taught him how to work with people he disagrees with to reach bi-partisan solutions.

Photo Credits: MG Bralley

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

County Clerk Pledges Free, Fair and Accurate Elections During Fall Vote!

Political analysts predict high voter turnout at the polls this fall, so we decided to talk with Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver about what she’s doing to prepare her office for the general election November 4th.

We caught up with her on the campaign trail. In this AUDIO INTERVIEW she said her job takes priority over her campaign.

Toulouse-Oliver was appointed by Bernalillo County Commissioners in 2007 to fill the unexpired term of Mary Herrera after she was elected New Mexico Secretary of State. Prior to her appointment, Toulouse Oliver worked for more than a decade as a campaign consultant and political activist.

“Democracy is the cornerstone of our society,” said Toulouse-Oliver. “I personally think I have not only the skills and background, but the personal commitment to ensuring free, fair and accurate elections.”

A Democrat, Toulouse-Oliver collected almost 70 percent of the primary vote and easily defeated Ambrose Chavez. She’ll face Republican Richard Lloyd Abraham in the general election.

“I’m raising money, and I’m getting out to events, and talking to people about what I want to do with the office,” said Toulouse-Oliver as she raised money at a small house party/fundraiser.

The clerk says she has three goals for Election 08

  1. Ensure efficient elections with technology and revamped phone systems.
  2. Recruit, and train 2,300 paid poll workers.
  3. Improve voter education by letting them know in advance where they vote.

Toulouse-Oliver says she has a good relationship with the Secretary of State and has renewed confidence in electronic voting machines after reviewing results from a Pew Center funded “Making Voting Work” audit.

The clerk says recommendations from the study, with UNM, have been reviewed and the actual audit results and analysis will be made public in a few weeks.

“According to state law a machine's accuracy needs to be found with 1.5 percentage points, so if the machine count to hand count is within that margin it’s considered to be an accurate machine,” Toulouse said. “If it’s not some sort of corrective action has to be taken.”

The clerk tells us she understands the audit’s results show all the results are within that margin of error.

Some 25 percent of the 2006 votes cast in two statewide offices, Governor and State Land Commission, were audited. Only 2 percent of the vote will have to be audited after the 2008 election.

“We learned a lot and shared the results with the Secretary of State.”

The clerk will be busy because in the first six months of 2008 there have been a little more 52,000 new voter registration filed statewide. Democrats lead with 27,207 registrations, while 12,926 registered as Republicans and 11,805 registered independent of any political party. Several hundred more registered as members of other political parties.

“I’m going to be out this summer visiting neighborhood associations, and civic organization meetings, all over the place trying to recruit poll workers,” said Toulouse-Oliver. “I’m also meeting with a variety of stakeholder groups to ensure they are getting their people and parties, union organizations, and other activist groups who care about elections and the outcomes of elections.”

Toulouse-Oliver says if you don’t mind working a long shift you should consider volunteering. Election poll workers are compensated for their time, but need to be patient working with the public. More information about being a poll worker is posted on the Bernalillo County Clerk's website here.

The clerk says she’ll take advantage of a new state law and begin counting absentee vote five days before the actual election

“Our ability to do that will improve our ability to get the results up swiftly,” said Toulouse-Oliver.

In past elections counting provisional and absentee ballots led to long delays in posting election results.

We’re confident with her leadership skills, voter education program, and technical planning the general election should go without a hitch. At least we can hope for a miracle.

Photo Credit: MG Bralley