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August 20 First News: N.M. Governor, Senators Seek Answers From EPA Over Mine Spill (Listen)

Aug 20, 2015

New Mexico U-S Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are joining a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues in Colorado and Utah to urge the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General to examine a critical set of questions regarding the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in the Animas River earlier this month. The Senators’ announcement came as New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez ordered the New Mexico Environment Department to investigate the waste spill that impacted the Animas River in Northwest New Mexico and Southwest Colorado.  

Meanwhile, the initial outrage aimed at the Environmental Protection Agency over the August fifth disaster at Colorado’s Gold King Mine along the Animas River initially focused on its lack of communicating news of the spill to down-river locations.  Then EPA took heat, too, for its under-estimating the size of the spill. The criticism coming from state and local governments and the Navajo Nation.  But UNM Law Professor Cliff Villa says it’s not unusual that initial estimates of a volume of such a spill change over time. And Villa speaks from experience--he has served as an attorney with the EPA, where his work emphasized cleanup of contaminated sites under the federal Superfund program. And Villa says the EPA seems to have recovered, adding that it helped to have the head of the agency in the affected area. *****082015-Villa-4 :25****** Villa says the Gold King spill is a situation where it would have been very helpful to have the site designated a superfund site in 1994. *****082015-Villa-2 :25****** Villa says it’s not unusual to see local opposition to Superfund listing—he’s seen that happen in numerous cases across the west.

Your next trip to the Regal Stadium 14 movie theater here in Santa Fe may feel more like a trip through airport security. That’s because Regal Entertainment Group has become the first national cinema chain to announce random inspections of bags and backpacks. The new policy, posted on its website, says "backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission.” National Regal spokesman Richard Grover did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. In addition to the Santa Fe theaters, the company also owns them in Albuquerque and Espanola among its 570 theaters around the country. On its website, the company says—quote: "security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America" and adds that bags and backpacks are subject to inspection before entering.

New Mexico's top finance official says declining oil and gas prices will continue to cut into revenues but the state has enough money to follow through with education reforms and public safety mandates. The head of the Department of Finance and Administration, Tom Clifford, updated members of the Legislative Finance Committee on the latest revenue outlook during a meeting Wednesday in Taos. Clifford's agency says revenues from oil and gas are expected to be around 840 million for the 2016 fiscal year. That's more than 16 percent less than the last fiscal year. With a slight hike in prices and increases in income and sales taxes, Clifford says New Mexico could see 293 million dollars’ in new revenue for the 2017 fiscal year. Federal energy analysts on Wednesday lowered their forecasts for crude oil through next year, citing uncertainty in the global market.

Public Service Company of New Mexico is asking the Public Regulation Commission for a protective order declaring certain documents confidential even before it files its latest request to increase electricity rates. The New Mexican reports a PNM spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday that the utility isn't trying to keep any documents secret, but wants the order in place to ensure that the discovery process runs smoothly as parties seek information related to the rate proposal. PNM, the commission and two mining companies recently sued The New Mexican over the release of "confidential documents" related to the company's controversial plans for the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. The commission hasn't yet decided on the protective order request. PNM plans to file its rate request by August 27th.

Days after the Public Regulation Commission was criticized for a public records lawsuit they quickly withdrew, the commission's chief of staff will resign. Vincent Martinez submitted his resignation Wednesday. He received criticism for his handling of a lawsuit filed against The New Mexican that sought to prevent publication of some confidential documents accidentally given to a reporter as part of a response to a public records request. Later, the commission voted to drop the lawsuit. Commissioners say Martinez's departure is unrelated to the lawsuit. They say the commission will immediately start the process of naming an interim chief of staff.

Santa Fe Weather: Mostly sunny today with the high, 85. Tonight: Partly cloudy with the overnight low 57. Tomorrow: Mostly sunny with a 20-percent chance for showers and thunderstorms after noon, tomorrow’s high, 86.

            In National News…

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Police in St. Louis say an 18-year-old black man they fatally shot Wednesday had just come from a house where they were serving a search warrant. Police say Mansur Ball-Bey pulled a gun on them before they fired. The shooting prompted protests in the streets, with demonstrators throwing glass bottles and bricks and police using tear gas. At least nine people were arrested.