TUES: Recreational Pot Rules Proposed, Many NM Schools Reject Funds Tied To More School Days + More

May 25, 2021

New Mexico Proposes New Rules For Recreational Pot GrowersMorgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico on Tuesday took its first major regulatory steps toward legal production of recreational marijuana, publishing lengthy proposed ground rules for cannabis businesses that outline future licensing fees, quality controls, audit requirements and criminal background checks for producers.

The state Regulation and Licensing Department announced the start of a public comment period that will culminate with a June 29 hearing as the agency asserts control over the recreational marijuana legalization effort.

“Today’s proposed rules don’t mean the conversation is over," agency Secretary Linda Trujillo said in a statement. "Through public comment, public hearings and ongoing conversations, we will continue to strengthen these rules to ensure the best possible outcomes.”

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the legalization bill in September. It authorized recreational marijuana sales no later than April 1, 2022.

The law beginning June 29 will allow people age 21 and over to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana. By April 2022, people will be allowed to grow up to six plants at home, or 12 per household.

The state faces a Sept. 1 deadline to begin issuing licenses to marijuana producers. That should allow some time for growers to scale up production so they can meet initial market demand.

The proposed rules would apply to large-scale cannabis producers, tiny marijuana microbusinesses and specialized growers of medical cannabis.

Applicants must provide proof they have valid water rights, describe any past criminal convictions and provide assurances that their businesses will operate at least 300 feet  away from schools or daycare centers.

Local governments would have the power to limit the locations of marijuana business and their hours of operation under zoning ordinances, though current medical marijuana dispensaries will not have to relocate.

The Albuquerque City Council already is considering a proposal to bar cannabis businesses from the historic city center, the Route 66 corridor and within 300 feet of areas zoned for residential or mixed use.

The proposed state regulations would increase the cap on the number of plants per producer to 4,500 under a tiered licensing system. The largest producers that grow more than 3,500 mature plants at a time will pay a slightly higher annual per-plant fee of $22, versus $18 for lower-level industrial farms.

Microbusinesses that grow up to 200 plants would fall under a separate fee and oversight arrangement.

New Mexico Schools Reject Millions In Funding, Learning DaysCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Public schools across New Mexico have rejected state funding to increase learning time after parents and teachers pressured school boards to turn the funding down.

From Albuquerque to Carlsbad, schools are rejecting the addition of 25 days to elementary school calendars. Some school districts, like Santa Fe, have accepted a 10-day addition.

Still, resistance from parents and teachers to extended learning is a blow for the state Legislature after it funneled another $200 million to the effort to increase reading and math proficiency.

Based on years of research about how best to improve academic outcomes for children and narrow the achievement gap for struggling students, the plan takes aim at the three idle summer months that hold back many students. The research found that extending the school year with the same teacher is more effective than summer school.

 

The measure would add 25 more days to the elementary school calendar which lawmakers hoped would boost dismal reading and math scores.

 

But even parents of children who are behind opposed additional learning time, demanding that their summer be kept long.

New Mexico's education system routinely ranks last in the U.S. About 80% of its students are covered by a court ruling that found education falls short of constitutional standards, while two-thirds of its third graders are not proficient in reading and a similar fraction is behind in math.

Those statistics are expected to worsen due to the pandemic, as legislative analysts highlighted that students are behind anywhere from six weeks to nearly 30 weeks depending on the subject.

Firefighter Critically Injured Battling New Mexico WildfireAssociated Press

A wildland firefighter was critically injured while fighting a wildfire on private land in southwestern New Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border, state officials said Tuesday.

The firefighter works for the U.S. Forest Service and was injured Monday while fighting a fire in the Animas Mountains in Hidalgo County, the Forestry Division of the state Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department said in a statement.

The firefighter's identity wasn't released.

Division spokeswoman Wendy Mason said during a telephone interview that the firefighter is a member of an elite hotshots crew but that information on how the firefighter was injured wasn't immediately available.

The firefighter was in critical condition Tuesday at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, according to the statement.

The fire had burned 350 acres in very rugged terrain along the Continental Divide and its case was under investigation, the statement said.

New Mexico Rules To Curb Oil Industry Emissions Take EffectAssociated Press

New Mexico’s new rules to limit most venting and flaring in the oilfield as a way to reduce methane emissions are now in effect.

State officials are billing the rules, published Tuesday in the New Mexico Register, as some of the strongest gas capture requirements in the nation. Unlike other states, New Mexico’s rules also apply to the midstream sector, which collects natural gas from wells for processing.

It took nearly two years to develop the rules. Virtual public hearings were held and state regulators heard from environmental advocates and technical experts from the industry.

The first phase of implementation begins in October with data collection and reporting to identify natural gas losses at every stage of the process. With this information, regulators will then require operators — from those that manage pipelines to smaller wells and other infrastructure — to capture more gas each year.

The target is capturing 98% of all natural gas waste by the end of 2026. If operators fail, regulators can deny drilling permits.

The rules are one part of a two-pronged approach by the state to address climate change. Still pending are rules being drafted by the Environment Department that would target oilfield equipment that emits methane, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

Plan To Relocate Wolves Stirs Debate In Rural New MexicoSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Monday marked the last day for people to comment on plans by U.S. wildlife managers to relocate a pair of wolves and their pups to one of Ted Turner’s properties in New Mexico as part of a decades-long effort to return the endangered predators to the Southwest.

Environmental groups have been pushing for the release. They used a recent meeting of the New Mexico Game Commission to make public their support and urged followers via emails and social media to join the campaign and send letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before the deadline.

But ranchers have concerns given the wolf pair's previous conflicts with livestock. Some have sent their own letters to the federal agency, voicing frustrations that they did not learn about the plan until recently and that ranchers and residents who will be affected were not adequately notified.

The proposal for letting the wolves go on the Ladder Ranch comes as federal managers try to boost genetic diversity among the wild population in New Mexico and Arizona.

Ranchers argue that there’s nothing to keep the wolves from wandering to other parts of the Gila National Forest. They noted the previous conflicts happened about 15 miles from where the wolves would be released.

Officials with the Ladder Ranch welcome the plan, saying the offer to have wolves roaming the property was made years ago. Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, has said the pair and their pups deserve a shot at trying to make a go of it in the wild.

Plans called for releasing the wolves next month.

Under the proposal, the wolves and their pups would be moved from their temporary home at a wildlife refuge in central New Mexico to the Ladder Ranch, where they would be kept in a remote chain-link pen for a couple of weeks so they can acclimate to the area. 

Grim Western Fire Season Starts Much Drier Than Record 2020Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Scientists say the outlook for the western U.S. fire season is grim because it's starting far drier than 2020's record-breaking fire year. Measurements show soil and plants are much drier, making trees and brush more likely to ignite and fire to spread.

A climate change-fueled megadrought of more than 20 years is making conditions that lead to fire even more dangerous, scientists said. Rainfall in the Rockies and farther west was the second lowest on record in April, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Now more than 77% of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico is in either extreme or exceptional drought. Juniper trees are dying, and fire officials say their canopies of dead needles are like having gasoline out in the national forests.

This doesn’t necessarily ensure the 2021 fire season will be worse than 2020. Several scientists said last year’s fires were stoked not just by hot, dry conditions, but by unusual lightning barrages that are unlikely to occur two years in a row.

International Firm To Buy Power From New Mexico Wind Farms Associated Press

A California-based renewable energy company that is building a collection of wind farms in New Mexico announced Monday that an international firm has signed a 15-year deal to purchase power from the development.

Pattern Energy did not disclose the value of the transaction with Uniper but said it will involve up to 219,000 megawatt hours a year, or enough to supply electricity to more than 20,000 homes annually.

In North America, Uniper conducts sales, trading and marketing activities to help customers meet goals for reducing their carbon footprint. Company officials said the agreement with Pattern Energy will provide another option for accessing more renewable generation.

Spanning Guadalupe, Lincoln and Torrance counties, the Western Spirit Wind project will have a total capacity of more than a gigawatt when completed later this year — enough to power 590,000 homes. Developers have billed it as the largest single-phase renewable power build out in the U.S.

The wind project is being developed in conjunction with a transmission line that will be capable of funneling wind power from central New Mexico to other markets.

The line is being developed jointly by Pattern Energy and the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority. It will connect directly to the Public Service Co. of New Mexico system and will be operated by the utility once complete.

That is expected to be another boon for Avangrid — the U.S. subsidiary of global energy giant Iberdrola that is working to acquire PNM — as more states mandate higher percentages of renewable energy.

Navajo Nation Reports 2 New COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported two new confirmed COVID-19 cases but no additional deaths.

Tribal health officials said the latest figures pushed the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,780 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The known death toll remained at 1,301.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reiterated for people to continue getting vaccinated, wearing face masks and social distancing. 

"Our Navajo people and our frontline warriors have done so much to bring our numbers down, so please remain diligent and remain strong as we move forward," Nez said in a statement Monday. 

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