Morning Word

“Rust” Armorer Trial Begins Today

PRC hearing examiner recommends against NM Gas Co proposed facility

Jury in place, Rust armorer trial begins today

Following many hours yesterday at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe of voir dire—an interview process for potential jurors in which they are asked to “speak the truth”—16 jurors, four of whom are alternatives, are in place to begin the trial for Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed this morning. Gutierrez-Reed faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering for her role in the Oct. 21, 2021 on-set fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Prosecutors, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney and First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer narrowed the jury pool down from 70 with a long day of questioning in a courthouse packed with media. Because of the case’s high-profile, those questions included a focus on prospective jurors’ knowledge of the case from media coverage, as well as their potential sympathy for Gutierrez-Reed, given her youth and inexperience: She was 24 at the time of the shooting. More than six hours of yesterday’s juror questioning, however, was inaudible to the press after Sommer allowed for individual juror questioning and muted a stream of the proceedings. Rust actor and producer Alec Baldwin, who was holding the gun that shot Hutchins but denies pulling the trigger, also faces involuntary manslaughter charges. The case against Gutierrez-Reed is expected to focus on her culpability for the presence of live ammunition on set. She faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Court TV will carry a live feed of the daily trial, expected to last approximately two weeks, on its YouTube channel, as will SFR on our website.

PRC Hearing Officer rejects NMGC proposal

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission staff yesterday recommended against New Mexico Gas Company’s proposal for a new liquified natural gas facility. The utility had proposed constructing the facility on an 160-acre parcel of land in southern Rio Rancho and northwest Bernalillo County to replace its current arrangement with the Keystone Storage Facility located in the Permian Basin in west Texas. Following a four-day hearing last month, PRC Chief Hearing Examiner Anthony F. Medeiros recommended against the PRC issuing what’s known as a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to the company, writing in the lengthy report that the “preponderance of the evidence weighs decisively against” approval: “The record lacks clarity on whether the primary rationale for the LNG Facility is to enhance NMGC’s reliability and thereby decrease the risk of supply disruptions like the 2011 severe winter event or to promote price spike mitigation like the extreme price volatility experienced during Storm Uri in 2021,” Medeiros’ report says. NM Gas Company spokesperson Tim Korte tells the Albuquerque Journal the company was disappointed by the recommendation and is reviewing the decision. The proposal faced opposition from residents, and several organizations, including New Energy Economy, Western Resource Advocates and Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, which intervened in the case. “Today the people of New Mexico can breathe a sigh of relief,” New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a statement. “We say again—now is not the time to be investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. Now is the time to invest in efficiency and alternative clean energy sources that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and protect New Mexicans from the ravages of climate change.” The PRC will review the decision after parties in the case have time to respond and decide whether to accept or modify the recommendation.

Oil versus nuclear in the Permian Basin

An oil field operator in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas doesn’t want nuclear waste buried in the area. Fasken Oil and Ranch is fighting Holtec International’s plans to store spent nuclear fuel underground in Lea County, the Wall Street Journal reports, as it delves into the “the war over burying nuclear waste in America’s busiest oil field.” The story opens in Lea County where Faskin Assistant General Manager Tommy Taylor discusses the threats he perceives from Holtec’s plans. “I’m not antinuclear,” Taylor tells WSJ. “We just don’t feel like siting all the nuclear waste in the middle of our biggest oil and gas resource is a good idea.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year issued Holtec’s license to construct and operate an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Lea County, prompting outcry from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Raúl Torrez, as well as state’s entire congressional delegation. Fasken, which is legally challenging federal approval of the project, WSJ reports, says Holtec’s proposal threatens its nearby gas facilities. Holtec, in turn, tells the newspaper its site would have no impact on oil and gas operations. Fasken also has allied with nearby property owners, such as Daniel Berry, who says he’s concerned about potential contamination to his cattle business. Regarding nuclear waste, he says: “If it’s so safe, leave it where it is.”

College boards remain in the governor’s hands

Inside Higher Ed unpacks the “thwarted” attempt during New Mexico’s most recent legislative session to depoliticize the nomination process for the state’s higher education boards of regents. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would have placed on ballots a constitutional amendment proposing an independent commission to vet board nominees and provide a list to the governor for consideration versus the current system in which the governor has sole authority for appointing such boards. “It’s really just an enhancement to our current system, not a replacement of it,” co-sponsor Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, tells Insider Higher Ed. The governor would still be able to recommend any appointee they wanted, “and if their appointees are great they’ll end up making it…But if they don’t, then that would mean that a broad-based, nonpartisan group of people collectively felt like there were better candidates.” This wasn’t the first year for the proposal, as the story notes, but the approach appeared to have gathered steam in the wake of New Mexico State University Board of Regents’ lack of response to the school’s expensive hazing and sexual assault lawsuits and Western New Mexico University’s regents’ ongoing support of President Joseph Shepard in the wake of revelations about his exorbitant expenses. But SJR2 never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a fellow Democrat from Las Cruces. Nominating commissions of the sort proposed by Steinborn and his co-sponsors generally have support from academics, the story notes, including from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. “If you want something other than past patronage to determine who is appointed to public governing boards, then there needs to be some kind of process,” said AGB Interim President and CEO Ellen Chaffee says. “It matters who is on the board.” But “at the end of the day, it’s political. Sometimes governors, or their party, simply don’t want their hands tied.”

Listen up

Poet and painter John Brandi reads from his new book Luminous Uplift, Landscape & Memory at 6 pm tonight in person at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St.), and online via Zoom (register here). The book, described as a “rich compendium” of Brandi’s “new and selected prose spanning four decades of investigative travels through the American Southwest to the far reaches of the Himalaya,” opens with a memoir “addressing his awakening to landscape and poetry during his upbringing in California, his counterculture years in the Sixties, his Peace Corps work with indigenous farmers in the Andes [and] his eye-opening travels in India.” Brandi has lived in New Mexico since 1971, and is the founder of a press here, Tooth of Time Books. Brandi also recently spoke with Coffee & Culture show host Matthew Chase-Daniel in an interview from Brandi’s home in El Rito.

On the road again

Hotels Above Par, “an expert-curated guide highlighting the world’s coolest boutique-style hotels and travel experiences,” offers a travel guide to White Sands National Park, which includes a recommendation for a stay at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, perhaps taking advantage of its special White Sands package that includes two sand sleds, bottled water and sunscreen. Traveling Lifestyle, meanwhile deems White Sands one of the country’s most “underrated national parks” worth visiting this year, describing it as “a beautiful deserted area created from glistening white dunes.” Traveling Lifestyle simply recommends staying in Alamogordo. Speaking of where to stay when on the road in New Mexico, writer Lynn Cline examines the lost motels of Route 66 in a story for New Mexico Magazine, with an expanded look at the Route 66-situated Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe’s rebirth as The Mystic, as well as an overview of the nostalgia and pastiche offered by New Mexico’s roadside culture (Route 66′s 100th anniversary is coming up in 2026). The motor lodge is once again cool, Cline writes, a phenomena with which New Mexico is firmly acquainted. “Mom-and-pop diners, curio shops, tourist attractions, and unique motels appeal as much to modern travelers as they did to the millions of Americans who drove this fabled highway during its prime.”

Photo op

“Photography remains alive and well in our creative community,” David Scheinbaum says. The photographer, College of Santa Fe professor emeritus and Scheinbaum & Russek LTD gallery co-owner served as one of three judges for SFR’s annual photography competition this year. You’ll find the eight winning photos in this week’s paper and online. Fellow judge Anne Kelly, photo-eye gallery director and one of Scheinbaum’s former students, says she saw a number of common threads in her favorite images from the 2024 submissions. “The element of mystery makes me revisit the photograph repeatedly, often discovering something new each time,” she says. “The other through-line in most images is that they convey the experience of living in Santa Fe without being images you would typically find on a postcard.” The contest included four categories: faces, places, movement and “odd.” For judge Whitney Wernick, programs manager for Center Santa Fe, the project provided an opportunity to consider photographers’ motivations. “The choice to stop and document a person, moment, view, pet, anything while the seconds and minutes spin fast around us makes your whole body and meaning tingle. Or, at least, mine does!” she says. Come see the winning images in large format at 6 pm tonight at Violet Crown in a pop-up gallery and silent auction to benefit student journalism training through SFR’s sister nonprofit.

It’s a breeze

The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day, with a high temperature near 50 degrees and northwest wind 10 to 15 mph. So, less windy than yesterday.

Thanks for reading! The Word finally read last week’s viral story on scams from The Cut; the accompanying New York Times story about the agencies the scammers referenced; and then played this Washington Post game to see if she could detect scams sufficiently (she missed one and was advised at the end of the quiz to “have a little less faith in humanity”).

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