TUES: Governor Thanks Trump For Mask Statement As State Reports 10 More Deaths From Virus , + More

Jul 21, 2020

New Mexico Governor Thanks Trump For Joining Mask MovementAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is thanking President Donald Trump for telling Americans that they should wear masks when they're unable to keep distance between themselves and other people.

The Democrat tweeted her appreciation Tuesday, saying: "Thanks for joining us, Mr. President."

Masks are mandated in New Mexico as the state has been dealing with an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Health officials are now reporting an additional 307 cases. That brings the statewide total to 17,517 since the pandemic began. Officials also reported an additional 10 deaths, bringing that tally to 588.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that is the most deaths in one day since mid-June.

McKinley saw the largest number of deaths with four. The others were in Bernalillo, Cibola, Grant, Lea, Lincoln and Sandoval counties.

Those who died ranged in age from the 40s to 90s and all but one had underlying health conditions that put them at more risk for serious complications from the virus.

The total number of COVID-19 cases recorded in the state is now 17,517.

Bernalillo County had the most new cases at 60, followed by Doña Ana County with 49. Rio Arriba and Lea counties saw a significant jump in cases.

Navajo Nation Reports 24 More COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials report 24 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 but no additional known deaths.

The total of infected tribal members on the vast reservation now stands at 8,617 with 422 known deaths as of Monday night. Health officials also say 73,684 people have been tested and 6,369 have recovered from the coronavirus.

Residents of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public.

The tribe also has daily, nighttime curfews and weekend lockdowns that include the closure of businesses. 

Feds Give 65 Acres Of Land For Border Wall Infrastructure - By Astrid Galvan, The Associated Press

The federal Bureau of Land Management says it has transferred over 65 acres of public land in Arizona and New Mexico to the Army for border wall infrastructure.

The agency says it handed over 53 acres in Yuma County, Arizona, that is needed to install power and other utilities around the border wall there. Another 12.7 acres in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, were transferred so that the Army could install power and other utilities along with engineering for roads that provide access to the border wall project there.

Critics say construction of the border wall and infrastructure around imperils wildlife and protected land. 

This marks the third time in the past year that the agency has transferred public land to the military for border wall-related construction. The first was in September 2019, when it transferred 560 acres in the same two states, and the second was last month.

The agency, which manages 245 million acres of public land total, says the land transfer is in part because of border security concerns and in response to environmental impacts it says are caused by illegal border crossings.

The Trump administration aims to build 450 miles of barriers along the southern border. Most of the new construction entails 30-foot steel fencing.

Environmental and conservation groups, along with Native American tribes, have criticized the government heavily for waiving laws to build on protected lands.

Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the land management bureau should be safeguarding the public lands, "not handing them over to be butchered for the border wall."

The center and others have sued the Trump administration over its use of military funds to build border barriers, saying it is illegal.

"The roads, lighting and other infrastructure being installed along the borderlands are a disaster for wildlife and communities and an absurd waste of money. The agency's attempt to spin it otherwise is laughable," Segee said in a statement.


This story was first published on July 21, 2020. It was updated on July 24, 2020 to correct the number of times the BLM has made such land transfers. The agency has made two prior similar land transfers since last year, for a total of three.

New Mexico Looks For 'Sweet Spot' In Crafting Methane Rules - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico regulators say they have taken best practices from around the U.S. and come up with new ideas as the state moves forward with mandating reductions in methane and other pollutants from the oil and gas industry.

State environment and energy officials on Tuesday provided more details about the proposed regulations. The public has 30 days to comment before regulators hammer out the final rules.

The proposal includes requirements for reporting emissions data and a path forward for collecting revenues on vented and flared gas, which could bring in millions of dollars annually to benefit public schools.

The effort to build a new regulatory system for methane pollution began last year and involved a special committee of experts that hosted hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and experts in the industry.

State officials said Tuesday that the proposed rules aim for the most reductions possible.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and others in the industry have said the rules need to be flexible and not so restrictive as to curtail the industry's ability to recover from what has been a historic drop in prices and reduced demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Supreme Court Grants Governor’s Request For Stay On Dining CaseKUNM, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The State Supreme Court has granted a stay requested by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after a district judge issued an order that would have allowed indoor dining despite a public health order issued by the governor.

The action by the state’s high court leaves the emergency public health order from July 13 in effect. The Albuquerque Journal reports the court ordered the parties to file their arguments within a week.

Judge Raymond Romero in Eddy County on Monday suspended the state's prohibition of indoor restaurant service that was reinstated this month in response to surging coronavirus infections.

Lujan Grisham filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court following Romero’s order.

A hearing is scheduled on July 30 to consider objections by several restaurants and the New Mexico Restaurant Association to the state's ban on indoor dining.

Local restaurants say the industry has not had a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus and that businesses that pose greater potential risks have fewer restrictions.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said restaurants present distinct risks and urged people to abide by the ban on indoor service.

Health orders from the administration of Lujan Grisham are being challenged in court on several fronts as businesses fight for economic survival amidst the pandemic and business restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

State health officials on Monday reported an additional 255 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 17,215 since the pandemic began. Another seven deaths also were reported, increasing that tally to 578.

Haaland Has More Than Twice Money Edge In Reelection Bid - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland has a more than a 2-to-1 money advantage over her Republican opponent for her central New Mexico seat. Federal campaign records show the first-term Albuquerque Democrat raised $205,663 from mid-May to June 30. 

She has more than $352,053 cash-on-hand but has already burned through $850,000 in her bid for re-election. 

Retired police officer and Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes reported raising $40,792 during the same time period. She reported having $145,363 following her GOP primary victory. 

Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo and is one of the nation's first Native American women in Congress.

Commercial Air Service In Four Corners Delayed To Next Year - Associated Press 

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted plans to bring air service to the Four Corners region. 

Farmington had been negotiating to bring regional service to and from Denver. But the city announced Monday that the effort will be delayed until at least next spring because of travel concerns. 

The Four Corners Regional Airport hasn't had commercial service since November 2017. 

Crews began upgrading the runway last year to meet federal guidelines for commercial service. The work was completed in May. 

The city says it's eager to resume the service when the time is right.

Study Finds More Money Likely Needed For Universal Health Care - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Consultants have outlined for New Mexico's Legislature the financial consequences of adopting a state-administered universal health insurance program for all residents.

They say in a final report released Monday that such a system would improve affordability for low-income households. However, premiums for other families, employer contributions and payroll taxes likely would go up to pay for what could be a multibillion-dollar shortfall over the first five years.

The analysis also says the state's uninsured rate would likely fall below 1% and that the use of health care services would likely increase as the vast majority of residents turn to public insurance. 

The analysis by Maryland-based KNG Health Consulting says New Mexico's effort to shift to a single-payer system would be the most ambitious state-based health reform ever carried out in the U.S. 

The study looked at four scenarios that included a range of premium and cost sharing alternatives. Two of the scenarios also relied on stemming the growth of provider and hospital reimbursement rates.

The effect on employers would depend on how policymakers implement contribution requirements, including the level of contribution and which employers would be exempt, the study notes.

While the goal is to have all New Mexicans insured, the study acknowledges that the gains in coverage may be overstated since many uninsured residents are already eligible for Medicaid.

Several states have contemplated universal health care as they deal with legal and financial hurdles while seeking to consolidate federal tax subsidies and spending on Medicare, Medicaid and health care exchanges.

New Mexico Rolls Out Draft Rules To Cut Methane Emissions - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are rolling out proposed rules aimed at reducing methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry. 

The proposed regulations are the culmination of a dozen meetings, hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and experts in the industry. 

Environmentalists call it a step in the right direction. 

An industry group says it's critical that the rules being considered by the state Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department allow for continued development since the state relies so heavily on revenue and jobs that stem from the industry.

The effort began last year as oil production was on pace to break more records and the state was awash in revenue from the boom in the Permian Basin — one of the most prolific plays in the United States. 

However, the industry now is looking to recover following a historic drop in prices that has been exacerbated by economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The agencies are planning a virtual public meeting on the rules on Aug. 6.

Albuquerque Zoo Selling Paintings By Animals To Raise Money - KOB-TV, Associated Press

A closed zoo in New Mexico is trying to raise money by selling paintings — by the zoo's animals. 

KOB-TV reports the New Mexico BioPark Society is offering artwork by the zoo's elephants holding  paint brushes in their trunks, snow leopards using their paws and other animals to buy zookeeper equipment. 

Art collectors can check out the paintings at the Art Gone Wild online gallery. 

The prices range from $25 to nearly $600. 

New Mexico BioPark Society development director Allyson Zahm says money raised from the art will be used to buy the zookeepers the things needed for animal enrichment. 

Zahm says buyers can also pick a color and have Alice, the elephant, paint it for them. She says the zoo will even capture the painting on video.

The goal for this month was $3,000. The society reached the goal and hopes to continue raising more.

The ABQ BioPark Zoo has been closed for weeks because of COVID-19.

States Try Again To Block Coal Sales That Trump Revived - By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

A coalition of states is renewing its push to stop the Trump administration from selling coal from public lands after a previous effort to halt the sales was dismissed by a federal judge.

Joined by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and several environmental groups, Democratic attorneys general from California, New York, New Mexico and Washington state filed a lawsuit challenging the administration's coal program in U.S. District Court in Montana.

They allege the administration acted illegally when it resumed coal sales that had been halted under Obama due to climate change and other concerns.

Under Trump, the Department of Interior lifted a moratorium on federal coal sales and concluded they have limited environmental impacts.

The case is among scores of legal challenges that environmentalists and their political allies have launched to counter the Trump administration's push for more domestic energy production and less stringent regulations.

Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson panned the lawsuit as a "laughable attempt" to revive an issue that the court already addressed.

Vaping Increases Among New Mexico Teenagers, Survey Says - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A state analysis says many New Mexico teenagers have stopped cigarette smoking but are vaping. 

That has erased progress anti-tobacco advocates said they achieved in getting high school students to avoid traditional tobacco use.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the findings were in the New Mexico Department of Health 2019 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. 

The survey found that overall use of tobacco products including e-cigarettes among young people increased by 23% since 2009, with 37.8% of high school students saying they use tobacco. 

Youth e-cigarette use rose nearly 42% from 2015 to 2019.