New Poll Shows How Americans Really Feel About Health Care Reform

By Tracy Dingmann

In the debate over the recently-passed health care reform law, much of the media and political narrative has focused on the angry Americans who say they oppose the so-called government take-over of health care and the mandate that most Americans carry insurance by 2014.

But did you know that the number of people who think the law should have gone further outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care?

A New Poll Enlightens

An Associated Press poll conducted in early September by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that overall, 30% favored the legislation, while 40% opposed it, and another 30% remained neutral. Sounds like most of the rest of the surveys we’ve heard about, right?

But here’s the twist. The survey also found that – regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral – about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, That’s compared with about one in five who say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

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An Auspicious Anniversary for Health Care Reform

By Tracy Dingmann

Soon thousands of New Mexicans will realize the benefits of the historic health care reform passed by Congress six months ago.

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, our country’s leaders took a major step toward providing a more fair health care system; one that provides affordable quality care for all Americans, of all ages, and all incomes – especially working middle class families and children.

Americans needed health care reform to make certain that all insurance companies are held accountable for unfair practice – and to make sure they can no longer deny coverage regardless of one’s current health condition.

Several of the provisions will become active on Sept. 23, including:

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Who Dat Lobbyist?

Back in Washington, the revolving door is alive and well when it comes to individuals leaving government service to lobby on behalf of the very industries they once regulated.  The same seems to hold true at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

The agenda for last week’s meeting of the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee featured a presentation by James O’Neill, a former assistant secretary and tax policy director for the state Department of Taxation and Revenue.  The topic of his talk:  Personal Income Tax and Corporate Income Tax Proposals-Council on State Taxation Ranking.

In his talk, O’Neill pitched three revisions to Tax Administration Act and the Corporate Income Tax Act, arguing that these suggested “fixes would increase our score” on the COST scorecard and aid economic development.

The COST to which he referred is the Council on State Taxation, a Washington-based trade association made up of nearly 600 multistate corporations engaged in interstate and international business.  COST was formed in 1969 under the sponsorship of the Council of State Chambers of Commerce, an organization still closely linked to COST.

COST’s membership is a veritable who’s who of corporate America, including 7-Eleven Inc., Aetna, Altria (formerly Phillip Morris), Aztra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, Bank of America, Best Buy, BP America Inc, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., Comcast, Conoco Phillips, Domino’s Pizza, Home Depot, Intel, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Temper Pedic, Verizon, Wal-Mart, Waste Management Inc., Wendy’s — just to name a few.

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Praise for KUNM Series on West Mesa Murders

By Tracy Dingmann

If you missed KUNM-FM’s three part series on the West Mesa murders last week, you can still listen to it at the station’s website, KUNM.org.

Reporter Elaine Baumgartel at the public radio station took an in-depth look at the murders of 11 women whose bodies were found in a mass grave on the city’s West Side more than a year and a half ago.

The first segment, which ran Sept. 15, focused on the pain of the families and the Albuquerque Police Department’s fruitless search for suspects.

The second segment, which ran Sept. 16, included interviews with journalists who covered and advanced the story, including local freelance writer Laura Paskus, former Tribune writers Maggie Shepard and Joline Gutierrez Krueger and Journal reporter Jeff Proctor.

And the third segment, which ran Sept. 17, focused on the difficulties faced by women like the West Mesa victims and the resources available to help them.

The Center for Civic Policy funded in-depth research by Paskus into the murders and the social circumstances that led up to them, how the story was covered in the media and what policy changes might possibly result.

We look forward to reading and hearing more from Paskus in the coming months about the lasting effects of the murders and what good, if any, might come from a closer examination of the conditions that led to them.

Albuquerque’s International Festival Marks Turning Point for the City’s International District

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg of the Native Health Initiative

More than a day-long celebration of diverse cultural performances, foods and crafts, the 2nd annual Albuquerque International Festival this Saturday (September 18th) represents years of work to revitalize the city’s Southeast Heights.

The Southeast Team for Entrepreneurial Success (STEPS) put together the event at a time when the leaders, businesses, and neighborhood associations of the Southeast Heights are a year into redefining their community as the International District.

The International District is Born

In 2009, both the Albuquerque City Council and the New Mexico State Legislature passed resolutions officially renaming the area as the International District. The district, with residents from six continents speaking 27 languages, hosts the largest Vietnamese and Native American populations in Albuquerque.

Enrique Cardiel, coordinator of the Southeast Heights Health Coalition, is excited to see a focus on the area’s positive aspects.

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Breaking News! Fight Over Uranium Mining on Indian Land Goes to the Supreme Court

By Tracy Dingmann

New Mexico Environmental Law Center said today it is taking a decades-old fight over renewed uranium mining on Native American lands to the Supreme Court.

The Center announced today (Sept. 16) that it has filed an appeal of a March 10 decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow uranium mining in the Four Corners region of New Mexico.

Two community groups represented by the Center – the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and the Southwest Research and Information Center – have been fighting for the last 16 years to stop the resumption of uranium mining in Navajo communities.

The people argue that new mining there would contaminate drinking water used by some 15,000 people. Many of those same communities are still waiting for waste from previous uranium mining to be remediated.

Clearly New Mexico has written about the historic case before, including with a guest opinion piece from Nadine Padilla, who is Dine and an organizer with the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment.

You can read more about the Center’s appeal to the Supreme Court here.

A Delay in the Camino Real Landfill Decision

By Tracy Dingmann

It looks like the City of El Paso’s decision last month to dispose of city waste within its own borders will delay the state Secretary of Environment’s decision on whether to grant a 10-year extension for the Camino Real landfill in Sunland Park, N.M.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry issued an order today announcing that he will consider a motion filed by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center regarding the effect of the city’s of El Paso’s so-called “flow control” ordinance on the Camino Real extension.

Curry was originally supposed to decide this week whether to renew a permit for the controversial landfill, which takes in 90 percent of its waste from El Paso and various Mexican maquiladoras.

In the order, Curry indicated that he will take until Sept. 27 to consider any response to the motion, and until Oct. 7 to consider any replies. The order says he will issue “another order or a Second Final Order on or before Nov. 10, 2010.”

Curry’s take on a 10-year extension for the landfill was due in 2008 but was delayed by legal action over Curry’s decision to grant the project a one-year extension. A court ruled that Curry must either reject the project or give it a 10-year approval and gave him until this year to do.

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Don’t Call It A Landfill: The Story Of The Camino Real Environmental Park

By Tracy Dingmann

Does a community have the right to reject a landfill full of out-of-state waste that citizens have said over and over again they don’t want?

The right of concerned citizens to determine what kind of projects affect their environment is a concept that has come to define the issue known as “environmental justice.”

What does that term mean? In part, it means that communities with the least resources to fight are the ones that end up with the most objectionable projects. That tends not to happen in communities whose citizens have money, education and political power and connections – and can afford to wage fights that drag on for years.

The Camino Real Landfill

That’s the issue going on right now with the Camino Real Landfill in Sunland Park, N.M. After a protracted legal battle, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry is scheduled to decide on a 10-year renewal for the plant by Sept. 16.

The Camino Real Landfill (actually, that’s its old name – the owners, Waste Connections Inc., now call it the Camino Real Environmental Center) sits near the one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest. According to the landfill’s website, Waste Connections Inc. is the third largest privately held waste hauler in the country.

The landfill takes in 90 percent of its trash from Mexican maquiladoras and from the city of El Paso, which is located directly across the Texas state border from Sunland Park.

Longtime Community Opposition

For decades, a significant portion of the people who live in Sunland Park have spoken out against the landfill, including the Sunland Park Grassroots Environmental Group and many others in the community.

(For some great history about the landfill and its relationship with the community, check out this great, albeit ancient, book chapter from 1993.)

More recently, local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club have joined the citizens in calling for the state to conduct a comprehensive health assessment before issuing a decision on the renewal.

Recent Developments

Local citizens have also been frustrated by the city of Sunland Park’s refusal to take a strong stand against the landfill. In fact, residents seeking to have the item put on the official city council agenda say they’ve been rebuffed and rejected.
And they say they want to know more details about a recent deal the city made with the landfill that allows the city to dump its waste there at a reduced cost.

Adding to the drama is the fact that, on Aug. 10 the city of El Paso opted not to renew a longtime contract with the company to dump its waste at the landfill – wiping out about 75 percent of the landfill’s current business. Instead, the city of El Paso will handle its own waste within its own borders, under a concept known as flow control.

The Same Old Story?

It’s worth noting that Sunland Park fits the profile of so many areas that historically get dumped on: The village of about 13,000 people has a high poverty rate – about 40 percent of residents live under the poverty line – and is 96.44 percent Hispanic. You can check out the rest of the demographics here.

There are so many players battling it out here – it’s almost like a soap opera. Except it’s not at all entertaining – not for the people who live in Sunland Park.

But things might be looking up for them. During a special meeting on Friday (Sept. 10), the Sunland Park city council passed a resolution commending the city of El Paso for adopting flow control and asking Curry not to approve a ten-year extension for the landfill.

Will the Sunland Park city council’s vote against the landfill make any difference? Will Curry grant approval for the landfill, and if so, where will it get its waste from now?

Keep an eye on this blog for more news about what happens next.

A Case of Excessive Coziness with Oil and Gas

By Tracy Dingmann

Once upon a time in a little New Mexico town, a man who worked for the Bureau of Land Management took money and favors from the oil and gas industry he was in charge of regulating.

Who was this man, and exactly what did he do? His name was Steve Henke, and he was the district manager of the BLM in the oil-and-gas-rich town of Farmington, N.M. As district manager, Henke ran the Farmington BLM office, which oversees minerals production at the San Juan Basin – the largest minerals production area in the onshore United States.

According to a report from the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Henke took gifts from a major oil and gas company in the area, Williams Exploration and Production — golf tickets, lodging and meals — and solicited about $8,000 in donations from the company for his son’s youth baseball teams. He also allowed his son to serve a three-month internship with Merrion Oil & Gas Company during the same time period that he helped the company expedite drilling permits from the BLM.

In addition, Henke was accused of misusing about $1,000 in BLM travel funds to attend the 2007 PGA Championship in Oklahoma as a guest of Williams Exploration &Production. In 2009, he attended the Masters Golf Tournament in Georgia with friends from the company but reimbursed them for some expenses. His annual financial disclosures did not mention any of the gifts.

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