Happy Holidays!

To Our Loyal Readers:

As the holiday season approaches, we at ClearlyNewMexico.com would like to take the time to say thank you for visiting our site throughout the past year. The Clearly Team has greatly enjoyed providing commentary and interpretation of local and national events for like-minded New Mexicans.
ClearlyNewMexico will be taking a holiday hiatus until Jan. 4. To you and all of yours, have happy holiday season and a peaceful New Year.

The Clearly Team

Waiting for the Wurst: NM bloggers on the Senate Health Care Reform Debate

sausagemakingAs the health care debate grinds us all down to a state of sullen apprehension, little consolation is to be had by once again citing the famous dictum, attributed to Otto von Bismarck, comparing lawmaking to the manufacture of bratwurst.

The Iron Chancellor certainly would have gotten a wry chuckle watching the United States Senate (aka “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”) do its best to fritter away America’s best chance in over a half century to enact comprehensive reform.

From New Mexico’s highly informed blogosphere, the reaction could best be described with words like despair, disgust, outrage and revulsion.

Non-partisan investigative journalist Heath Haussamen:

Our corrupt system gives corporations and other special interests undue influence that undermines the Constitution. The ongoing health-care reform debate in Washington proves the point…. I believe both parties, and the system in general, are corrupted by corporate and other special-interest money… The ongoing health-care reform debate in Washington proves the point. This discussion has been hijacked by a Republican Party that largely doesn’t want any reform – not because individual Republicans don’t see the need for reform, but because too many elected officials from that party are in the pockets of the status-quo health-insurance industry. Certain Democrats who are also in the pocket of the industry have also hijacked the debate.

The blogging conscience of NM’s progressive movement, Barb Wold:

The folks I talked with ran the gamut — from elected officials, to party people, to activists, from fairly moderate sorts to lefties. It didn’t matter. It was like someone had kicked them in the stomach, or they had awoken from a dream, or someone had died. It occurred to me that what really had died was trust in our government, trust in our Democratic President, trust in the political process, trust in our institutions. This latest disappointment is like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Or in the words of Matt Reichbach, “progressives are pissed.”

For my part, the slow motion congressional train wreck in the making has sure dampened any holiday spirit I might have feebly mustered (Happy Festivus, anyone? Bah humbug! No health care  for you!)

As they would say in Boston, the Senate is a wicked pissah.

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The CNM Emergency Scholarship Fund is Fantastic

Amidst all the sad and angry accounts I’ve been reading about the healthcare bill and the Copenhagen summit, I was very happy to find something to read that would actually make me feel good.

That happiness sprang from an article that I read on NM Business Weekly  (subscription required) called “Founders Grow CNM Emergency Scholarship.” Many of my friends have attended or are currently attending CNM and have found it to be a great school that aims to help its students as much as possible.

And that also includes help outside of school.  The article highlights the Rust Opportunity Assistance Fund, which is a great program CNM provides to its students when they have a financial emergency.

Here’s a description of the program from InsideHigherEd.com:

“The Rust Opportunity Assistance Fund, established in 2005, is an “emergency fund” offered to any Central New Mexico student facing an “unforeseen financial situation” that could force him or her to drop out of college. The unforeseen circumstances, which must be beyond students’ control, can mean anything from a month’s worth of rent or a utility bill when a traditional source of income has disappeared or an emergency medical bill has taken priority.”

Wow.  I had never heard of school having this type of program before. I really do think this is an effective program to keep many people in school.

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The Poorest And The Sickest

It’s funny what makes the news these days.

On Friday, I went to a Medicaid Concept Coverage public meeting at the Balloon Museum in Albuquerque.

Several hundred people came there to hear New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary Pam Hyde explain what’s going on with the Medicaid program, which faces a projected $300 million or more shortfall for FY 2011.  The meeting was one of a series of hearings the department is holding across the state through Dec. 18.  (To read about possible changes, visit the department’s site and click on the Medicaid Concept Paper under “What’s New.”)

At Friday’s meeting, the HHS laid out some grim statistics.

  • Approximately 23 percent of all state residents – some 452,800 people – are uninsured.
  • New Mexico ranks second in the percentage of the highest number of uninsured in the nation, followed only by Texas.
  • Uncompensated care for the uninsured costs New Mexico $335 million annually.

Hyde then told people she wanted to hear their comments about which services they think they can’t live without – and which they could recommend be cut.

First let me say it’s commendable that the state department is taking great pains to meet with New Mexicans to explain what changes may be coming.

But I do have a few observations about the whole affair.

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Recovery Funds going to New Mexican Tribal Communities

I first want to thank Barb Wold for making me aware of this.  I just got through reading an article from Democracy for New Mexico entitled, “Recovery Act Funds go to NM Tribal Communities for Energy Efficiency, Transportation.”

A quick excerpt from her blog:

“Five pueblos and the County of San Juan will receive more than $900,000 in energy efficiency grants through the Department of Energy for energy audits, building retrofits and to create financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements. They include:

Pueblo of Cochiti: $40,400

Pueblo of Isleta: $112,000

Pueblo of San Felipe: $102,200

Pueblo of Taos: $61,400

Zuni Pueblo: $267,500

San Juan County: $329,400

Additionally, the Department of Transportation released ARRA funds to:

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo: $156,000 to purchase one van and one bus compatible with Americans with Disability Act standards.”

This is great news and I applaud New Mexican Senators Udall and Bingaman who helped get this money to some of our Native communities.

These funds will help tribal residents save energy and make their homes and buildings more efficient, while also providing jobs for residents there in the realm of performing building retrofits and energy audits.

Also, make sure to go here to read the full blog by Barb.

“Everyone Is Going To Have To Compromise”

Senator Peter Wirth

Senator Peter Wirth

There’s been a lot of talk about how so-called revenue enhancements to the state budget will be “dead on arrival” at the upcoming legislative session in January.

That talk comes in the face of a predicted $579 million budget shortfall for FY 2011.

Sen. Peter Wirth is one legislator who thinks the notion of legislators dismissing revenue enhancements at this stage is unfortunate and premature.

Especially since it could get even worse.

The $579 million figure cited by the Legislative Finance Committee assumes a 6.2 percent revenue growth rate in FY2011. That’s pretty optimistic, considering the state lost 11 percent in FY2009 and 9.3 in FY2010, Wirth said.

“That’s a huge swing,” he said. “If we assume we’ll have a flat budget in 2011, we’ll have a $867 million recurring shortfall.”

“Folks on both sides – those fighting tax increases and those fighting spending cuts – are panicked, and rightfully so,” said Wirth. “But the magnitude of the situation makes it unrealistic to think we can come up with the amount of recurring money we need without looking at both some cuts and some revenue enhancements.”

It would be a shame if budget negotiations continue to break down along partisan lines, with conservatives standing against any tax increases and moderates and liberals resisting the notion of any cuts to state services, he said.

“The magnitude of the situation means that everyone is going to be out of their comfort zone,” Wirth said. “This can’t be solved on a partisan basis. Everyone is going to have to compromise.”

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San Juan Coal Company’s Disposal Problem

tva-kingston-tn-plant

An afar view of the Kingston Foosil Plant and remnants of its coal ash spill.

Yesterday, the Sierra Club issued a press release stating that they are putting the San Juan Coal company on notice.   From the release:

“The Sierra Club today put the San Juan Coal Company on notice for failing to properly dispose of millions of tons of toxic coal ash and scrubber sludge each year. The San Juan Coal Company has dumped more than 40 million tons of coal combustion waste containing pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury into massive unlined pits at the San Juan Mine, about 10 miles west of Farmington. As a result of the lack of safety precautions, toxins from the coal ash have leaked into nearby waterways and wells, endangering local residents, livestock, and wildlife.”

This coal company supplies the coal to power the San Juan Generating Station, which is owned by the Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM). Coincidentally, the generating station has had it share of problems as earlier this year PNM was forced to pay $6.9 million to the state as a result of air quality violations racked up by the generating station.

Another interesting piece of this story is that a New Mexican sheep farmer from Waterflow, NM, R.G. Hunt, was in Washington D.C. yesterday to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for a hearing on coal combustion waste and its impact on public health.

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Darren White moves into the Sinecure of Scandal

DarrenWhiteAlbuquerque’s freshly installed Director of Public Safety, Darren White, informed the City Council this week that he is assuming heretofore unimagined new powers, which evoked concern across the Duke City’s ever vigilant blogosphere.

Tracy Dingmann at ABQ Journal Watch:

White, who resigned his post as Bernalillo County Sheriff to accept Mayor Richard Berry’s appointment, will report directly to the new mayor and control both his own department and the day-to-day decisions of Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.

Previous Public Safety Directors reported to the city’s Chief Accounting Officer and did not have veto power over the Police Chief…

This new concentration of power in the fledgling Berry administration should be important information for everyone who lives in Albuquerque.

Joe Monahan:

Boss of the APD chief? Doesn’t report to the CAO as all other department directors do and as all past public safety directors have? That is a complete redefinition of the powers of the post. The mayor’s public safety directors previously exercised oversight over the police, fire and emergency operations departments, but day-to-day decisions came from the individual chiefs and the public safety director had no veto power over a chief’s judgment.

Whether the wielding of vast new powers by White will put him on a collision course with the entrenched cliques at APD’s cop shop remains to be seen.

However, an equally interesting question is whether White’s ascension will represent another major departure from the traditions of the post.

For indeed it seems that the one of the main qualifications for the cushy, highly paid position created by Mayor Martin Chavez in 2001 was a background in investigating scandals involving – you guessed it – Mayor Marty.

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A Sterling Example

I had some harsh words last week for some members of the local business community who’ve been resisting any and all efforts to regulate the oil and gas industry in the name of climate control.

Then I read this, taken from a story in the Dec. 4 edition of the New Mexico Business Weekly (subscription required):

Businesses Unite on Behalf of Climate Change Legislation

A broad alliance of business associations representing about 1,400 local firms is pushing New Mexico’s senators to include tougher regulations in emerging climate change legislation.

The coalition will hand deliver a letter this month to New Mexico’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, urging them to seek faster emissions reductions and more industry responsibility for the cost of regulations than what is outlined in the current bill under debate in the Senate.

Most coalition participants represent businesses directly linked to clean energy development, such as the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. But the group also includes associations with a variety of businesses that embrace carbon reduction and see economic opportunities in a green economy, such as the Santa Fe Alliance, which represents 500 locally owned businesses and nonprofits, and the 620-member Santa Fe Area Home Builders Assn.

Mark Giorgetti of AmEnergy LLC, which has a leading role in the emerging coalition, said participants want to “embolden” New Mexico’s senators to act aggressively in the climate change debate.

This hearty endorsement proves that being in business in New Mexico doesn’t have to equal being hostile to tougher regulations regarding climate control.

Kudos to this diverse new alliance of businesses – and here’s hoping the group has some sway with New Mexico’s senators!

And the Copenhagen Summit Begins

Yesterday the long awaited the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen commenced.  This large gathering of nations, which many are calling one of the most important summits of our time, consists of 192 country delegates who are coming together to discuss how to curb worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, provide financial support to developing countries to assist them in fighting climate change, and coming up with a carbon trading schematic.

The meeting in Copenhagen is the fifteenth meeting of delegates from around the world to talk about addressing climate change.  Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was when the United Nations hosted its first conference of parties, and they have continued to meet every year to discuss this important issue.  Its also worth noting that this is also the fifth convening of the parties involved in drafting the Kyoto Protocol

Here is an excerpt from Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s opening remarks for this year’s summit:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Climate change affects every aspect of society, from the health of the global economy to the health of our children. It is about the water in our wells and in our taps. It is about the food on the table.

It is about energy security and international security. It is at the core of nearly all the major challenges we face today

That is why it is an issue for Heads of State. And that is why it is an issue for business.

So far, only a small portion of the business and investment community has made climate change a strategic priority. Too many are sitting on the fence, waiting for others to act, or waiting for the clear policies that will signal a level playing field.

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