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Balderas continues to fight Trump agenda

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Legal filings top 30 as AG challenges almost every issue

By Wren Propp

Since President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, New Mexico’s Attorney General Hector Balderas has filed legal challenges against the president’s agenda more than 30 times.

Balderas, a Democrat, has joined with attorneys general in several other states over the past several months to challenge Trump’s actions on the environment, affordable health care, travel bans and the status of young immigrants, among other issues.

At least one sector, the oil and gas industry, questioned Balderas’s opposition to Trump’s actions to deregulate energy production and use.

For the past several months, three attorneys who work for the office have been assigned to the federal filings, said James Hallinan, communications director for Balderas.

“They are public employees and this is one of many parts of their numerous job duties, handling these cases,” Hallinan said.

There is no cost to file the paperwork at the federal courts in Washington, New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, Hallinan said.

In the U.S. Supreme Court, New Mexico is among several other states with amicus – or friend – filings made in regards to redistricting, voting rights and gay rights, by Balderas and attorneys working for his office.

Balderas’ work has included writing letters to various federal actors and joining coalitions – one called AGs United for Clean Power – to question Trump’s rollback of various environmental protections, many of them put in place by President Barack Obama.

Balderas’ actions are being questioned by the state’s oil and gas industry, which is seeing a revival – to the benefit of state government’s coffers – under Trump’s looser regulatory reins.

“There is a concern that the attorney general is not familiar with the impact (fewer regulations are) having in New Mexico,” said Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

Oil and gas producers, primarily in the southeastern part of the New Mexico, are reviving and planning investments for a busy future under Trump, he said.

Balderas, a former state lawmaker and the state auditor, was elected to the state’s top attorney spot in 2014. Previous to his successful race for attorney general, he lost a primary bid against incumbent U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a fellow Democrat.

On Tuesday, responding to Trump’s announcement Monday that he would scale back the size of two national monuments in Utah – Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears – Balderas took aim again.

“President Trump simply has no legal authority to alter monument designations under the Antiquities Act,” he said in a prepared statement.

Balderas’ office wrote a letter to Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this year, asking him to drop his planned review of national monuments, including New Mexico’s.

He went on to note that if Trump goes after New Mexico’s newest national monuments, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks or Rio Grande del Norte: “I will fight him every step of the way,” according to a press release issued by his office on Tuesday.

In November, Balderas joined 19 other attorneys general filing a friend of a court brief – an amicus brief – in support of a legal challenge to Trump’s rollback to requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

They are opposed to allowing employers to bar employees’ health care coverage of contraceptives – a move Trump sought for the employers’ religious or moral objections.

Balderas said in a press release that his office will “work aggressively to protect a woman’s fundamental right to choose health options that are best for her.”

Last year, he joined a coalition of 19 Democratic attorneys general to support initiatives to slow climate change – including support of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have dramatic effects on use of U.S.-mined coal.

When states with coal-based economies challenged the plan, the AGs United for Clean Power filed amicus briefs supporting the president’s plan, according to a news story on a website for the New York attorney general, a leader in the coalition.

In another instance, in May, Balderas and 15 other state attorneys general filed a motion to intervene on the issue of Obama’s requirement that insurers receive subsidies to prop the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. House of Representatives challenged that requirement in court, saying it was an unfunded mandate.

The case is being considered in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, although it is currently in abeyance, according to the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Here are summaries of other issues Balderas has weighed in on:

• He sent a letter in mid-November – as part of the National Association of Attorneys General – to congressional leaders, urging them to repeal a 2016 federal law friendly to drug manufacturers’ called “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016.” The law has severely limited Drug Enforcement Administration’s response to the opioid crisis, according to critics. Balderas’ letter said that “on average, over 500 New Mexicans die annually of a drug overdose, and approximately 70 percent of those deaths resulted from either opioid pain relievers or heroin. In more than a third of NM counties, over 80 percent of every 100 citizens has a prescription for opioids.”

• He joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general for an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing Trump’s travel ban against the entry of nationals from six overwhelmingly Muslim countries, according to information regarding the case provided by Balderas. The brief was filed in two related cases ahead of arguments scheduled for earlier this fall. Preliminary injunctions were filed; in one case, the court lifted a part of the injunction recently. When announcing the filing, Balderas said, in a press release: “As the chief law enforcement office of a minority-majority state, I will continue to fight against President Trump’s illegal travel ban that not only violates our nation’s principles of religious freedom, but threatens real-world harm to New Mexico’s national labs, healthcare system, universities, tourism industry, and fragile economy.”

• In September, Balderas joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general to file a suit to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) grantees in New Mexico and across the United States, according to a press release from his office. The lawsuit claims the Trump administration violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution by discriminating against children of Mexican origin brought to the United States by parents or guardians, or “Dreamers,” who make up 78 percent of DACA recipients and other allegations on constitutional grounds. He said in a press release: “I filed suit against President Trump and his administration to protect DACA because Dreamers are just as American as First Lady Melania Trump.” The Trump administration closed DACA access in early October. Balderas said in a press release in September that 7,000 of the 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States live in New Mexico.

• He joined a coalition of 16 state attorneys general to file a lawsuit against EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for Pruitt’s decision to extend – by one year – the deadline of a study of air quality impacted by ozone pollution in areas seeking protection from it. Balderas called Pruitt’s action an “illegally stalling” maneuver, in a press release. He said that Pruitt’s action would impact the health of children in the areas seeking such designation, including El Paso, near New Mexico’s southern border. “Protecting the health of New Mexico families and seniors, our fragile economy and our beautiful natural environment is critical especially at time when President Trump continues to roll back regulations that protect New Mexico,” Balderas said in a press release.

The Los Alamos Monitor made repeated attempts to interview Balderas regarding the number and stance of the filings, but his communications director, James Hallinan, said he was not available for an interview following request on Friday, Monday or Tuesday.

In an interview with Hallinan on Friday, he said that Balderas is concerned with decisions that impact New Mexicans negatively.