New Portal Lets The Sun Shine on State Government

By Tracy Dingmann

Thanks to a bipartisan effort at the New Mexico State Legislature, New Mexicans who want to know more about state budgets, financing, revenue, employee salaries, purchases, expenditures and revenue can now simply visit one website to find their answers.

The State of New Mexico Department of Information Technology launched a beta version of the state’s new Sunshine Portal, a searchable database that’s described as a “one stop shop” for those who want to keep a sharp eye on state government.

The site and database was developed here in New Mexico by Steve Schroeder of realtimesites, a local technology firm that has already designed several sites for state government, including the Summer Food Program for the Children, Youth and Families Department.

The new system cost the state about $180,000, but it will be worth it because state employees will no longer have to spend time responding to costly and extensive public records requests, said IT Department Secretary Marlin Mackey.

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Improve The Health Care Market!

By Tracy Dingmann

News that two of the state’s largest private health insurance companies are sharply limiting or changing the way they insure New Mexico children has local children’s advocates reacting with dismay but not surprise.

According to a story last week in the Albuquerque Journal:

Presbyterian Health Plan, beginning Jan. 1, intends to put all new applicants for individual insurance coverage younger than 19 years into a single risk pool and charge different rates depending on the child’s health status. Children already enrolled in an individual plan would not be affected.

Lovelace Health Plan will accept all new children who apply into its existing individual insurance products, but only once a year during open enrollment periods. The next open enrollment will occur in July 2011. Applicants 19 years old and older can apply at any time.

Both companies are blaming their choices on changes that took effect on Oct. 1 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – changes that were meant to strengthen patient’s leverage with large health insurers and to increase access to health care for millions of Americans who did not have it.

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EIB Decides on State Carbon Cap; Helena Chemical Air Permit

By Tracy Dingmann

Two long-awaited decisions emerged from today’s meeting of the state Environmental Improvement Board in Santa Fe.

By a 4 to 1 vote, the board voted to adopt a petition by New Energy Economy that will create a new state carbon pollution reduction program that will lead the rest of the nation in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and create living-wage jobs for New Mexicans.

The new state pollution limit will require the state’s largest polluters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013, an effective date amended by the EIB.

“This new policy makes New Mexico the nation’s leader in carbon pollution reduction while at the same time stimulating our economy and creating jobs for New Mexico families and communities,” said NEE senior policy adviser Mariel Nanasi. “The board understands that the same technologies that can reduce carbon pollution can also make New Mexico more competitive in the clean energy economy, which means more long-term, well-paying jobs for New Mexicans.”

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EIB Decision on Statewide Carbon Cap Coming Today

By Tracy Dingmann

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board is expected to make its final decision sometime today (Dec. 6) on a proposal to reduce statewide carbon emissions.

If approved, the carbon emission rules would apply only to the state’s largest polluters, including power plants, refineries and natural gas processing hubs.

Approval of the proposal would kick-start an economic engine to bring jobs to New Mexico and to showcase the state as a national leader in the area of halting or slowing harmful climate change.

The proposal to reduce carbon pollution is the result of a petition from New Energy Economy (NEE), a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization, and 17 other organizations representing communities, businesses and rural interests.

“Our proposal is about unleashing investment that will drive innovation and create jobs for New Mexico families and communities while demonstrating national leadership,” said New Energy Economy president John Fogarty. “Clean energy is the next Industrial Revolution and we’re in a race to see who will lead that revolution. Let’s stake a claim and make New Mexico the beneficiary of the prosperity that’s there for the taking.”

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Camino Real Landfill Decision Delayed Once More

By Tracy Dingmann

Residents of Sunland Park will have to wait until Dec. 30 to find out whether the Camino Real landfill will continue to operate in their midst for another 10 years.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry’s office announced last week that he will take until Dec. 30 to decide whether to grant a renewed permit for the sprawling New Mexico landfill, which takes in 90 percent of its trash from neighboring El Paso and nearby Mexican maquiladoras.

Residents of the small Southern New Mexico town have said they are concerned about quality of life issues and possible health concerns posed by the landfill’s proximity to a large underground aquifer used for drinking water.

An original decision on a ten-year permit for the landfill was supposed to be made earlier this year.

A Tip of the Hat to Laura Paskus at the Global Climate Change Conference in Cancun

By Tracy Dingmann

You may have heard about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, meeting from Nov. 30 to Dec. 10 in Cancun, Mexico.

It’s a global confab of policymakers and negotiators from 192 countries who are gathering to work through solutions to the scourge of global warming and climate change. (Last year’s meeting was in Copenhagen.)

Aside from publications like the New York Times and The Guardian, news coverage of Cancun has been pretty sparse. That’s part of a trend noted by media critic Nathan Schock, writing at the blog 3blmedia, who notes that a recently-leaked memo from the Gannett newspaper USA TODAY shows that 27 reporters there cover entertainment, while only five cover the environment.

I am happy to say that New Mexicans are lucky to have one of the region’s finest freelance reporters, Laura Paskus, in Cancun gathering information for stories that will appear in a number of media outlets.

You can follow her personal blog – read one of her dispatches from Cancun here – and keep track of what longer-term projects she might be working on with the information she’s gathering from the world’s leading climate change fighters in Cancun.