Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will not be paying claims filed against it under the Federal Tort Claims Act in response to the Gold King Mine spill. The EPA says they are protected from the claims—which total in excess of $1.2 million and come from companies, individuals and four government agencies—because the Federal Tort Claims Act also prevents the agency from having to pay claims when their work—in this case, the investigation of the site—is considered a “discretionary function.” The spill happened in 2015, when a failed attempt to add a tap to the tailing pond resulted in the release of millions of gallons of waste into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado. The spread of the waste ended up polluting rivers in several states and had a large impact on the Navajo Nation, particularly the farmers and ranchers whose water was affected. The EPA has taken responsibility for the disaster. Those who have filed claims and have been denied may challenge the decision with the United States District Court within the next six months.
Report Ranks City Low in Recession Recovery
According to a report released by WalletHub, Albuquerque is ranked 54th out of the 62 largest cities in the nation in how well it has recovered from the Great Recession. The report was made to assess the economic progress of local economies since 2008. It used 18 metrics for comparison, including unemployment, labor participation and poverty rates. Of large cities, Austin ranked first, while Tucson ranked last. Of the total 505 cities studied, Albuquerque was ranked 411. Las Cruces was the highest ranking New Mexico city at 390.
Grant Brings Immigration Attorneys to N.M.
Equal Justice Works—a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that helps train attorneys to work with those in poverty—has received an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to launch the New Mexico Immigration Corps. The program will introduce attorneys and paralegals into New Mexico through August 2020 to offer civil legal aid to the large number of immigrants living in the state. The number of foreign-born citizens in New Mexico has been estimated at more than 203,000 (in 2013). According to a spokesperson for Equal Justice Works, immigrants need legal counsel to protect against unjustified deportation, and the state is dangerously lacking. They hope the program will attract law students to the state and create an avenue for future development.
Charter School Under Threat of Closure
The Public Education Commission voted to table their decision about the future of La Promesa Early Learning Center charter school until more information is available from the Public Education Department. Last week, the PED recommended that the PEC revoke the school's charter and close its doors permanently. According to the PED, La Promesa is having financial troubles due to poor management. In August, the PED completed an audit on the school which found numerous irregularities in purchase invoices. The investigation began after State Auditor Tim Keller reported that he had discovered receipts allegedly doctored by the school's founder, Dr. Analee Maestas to make it appear as though maintenance work done at her residence had been done at La Promesa. The PED completed a review of Maestas' conduct and have yet to decide if they will revoke her education license. Criminal charges may also be brought against her. Maestas is currently on paid leave.