Vaccine Supplies Eclipse Demand In New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
Vaccine supplies have eclipsed demand in New Mexico even as the state makes a hard push toward meeting a key vaccination goal Thursday.
Health officials have confirmed to The Associated Press that New Mexico's inventory includes nearly 493,000 doses that are being stored in freezers around the state. Expiration dates range from this week through September. The state also has donated 372,600 doses of its undelivered allocation back to the federal government.
Health Department spokesman David Morgan has said New Mexico is adapting to shrinking demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in several ways. That includes ordering only a minimal number each week to cover requests from providers.
New Mexico is just shy of meeting its goal of having 60% of residents 16 and older fully vaccinated. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to hit that mark this week so she can follow through with plans to fully reopen the state by July 1.
The latest data from the state puts the vaccination rate at 58.5%. Meanwhile, about 67% of eligible residents have received at least one shot.
The state is offering cash incentives for people who get either their second shot or the one-time Johnson & Johnson shot by Thursday. Those who are vaccinated also can participate in a sweepstakes that includes a grand prize of $5 million.
The governor used social media Monday and Tuesday to promote the sweepstakes as various state agencies sent out emails encouraging people to get registered and vaccinated.
Vaccination rates have dropped off particularly in rural counties where some residents simply aren't interested in getting shots. In Roosevelt County, less than 30% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.
More than 80% of residents in Los Alamos County — home to Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of the more affluent counties in the U.S. — have been vaccinated, placing it ahead of New Mexico's other counties.
McKinley County, which has a high population of Native Americans, also is at the top of the list with a 77% vaccination rate. Overall, state data estimates that more than half of Native Americans have been inoculated.
State officials said the excess doses can be used to meet future demand over the coming months since they plan to continue with the vaccination push even after New Mexico meets its goal.
New Mexico Education Department Mistake Shuffles $35 Million - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report For America
New Mexico education officials accepted a federal decision barring them from taxing millions in federal aid sent to school districts near tribal areas and military bases.
Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart said Tuesday that the state will not appeal because it would likely fail in court.
The decision means more money for some school districts as they keep both their federal and state funding. The Legislature had planned to allow them to do so starting next year.
"We don't lose $1 of education funding in the state," Stewart said in an interview last week, in which he took some responsibility for his department missing a March 3, 2020 deadline for the application cited in the federal agency's decision. "Now the big problem that that presents, of course, is that's not how the Legislature budgeted for the FY 21 year."
Unless the state taps into reserve funding for at least $35 million, there will be a statewide education budget shortfall that could affect all school districts.
New Mexico is one of three states, along with Alaska and Kansas, that essentially redistribute federal Impact Aid, a supplement for school districts who can't tax the land around them because it is federal property. In New Mexico the lands range from Indigenous nations, to military bases and missile ranges, to federally owned forests.
State education agencies are allowed to take the so-called Impact Aid "credit" if they redistribute funding to reduce disparities between school districts. Other states simply allow massive funding inequities between poor and wealthy areas.
Federal officials rescinded approval of New Mexico's Impact Aid Credit application in a letter on April 15, citing the state's failure to meet a March 3, 2020, application deadline by three days.
"It's incumbent upon me as Secretary to have the kinds of redundancies in place to make sure that we can't miss a deadline like that," Stewart said last week.
But he added that the Department of Education hadn't provided the information needed to finish the application and that his staff received assurances over the phone that missing the deadline would be forgiven.
Federal officials also approved the application in writing last year, but then rescinded it this year, according to an April 15 letter from the U.S. Department of Education.
Impact Aid Director Faatimah Muhammad was not made available by the Department of Education to comment on the decision, and a spokesman declined to respond to Stewart's criticisms.
Stewart also criticized federal education officials for rescinding approval of the application on April 15, about four months after it had approved it and the state Legislature had passed the annual budget.
"We remain deeply troubled by the Department of Education's multiple errors, miscommunications and ultimate decision in this process," Stewart said Tuesday.
Federal Judge Blocks Biden's Pause On New Oil, Gas Leases - By Kevin McGill, Associated Press
The Biden administration's suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana who ordered that plans continue for lease sales that were delayed for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska waters "and all eligible onshore properties."
The decision is a blow to Democratic President Joe Biden's efforts to rapidly transition the nation away from fossil fuels and thereby stave off the worst effects of climate change, including catastrophic droughts, floods and wildfires.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. Doughty said his ruling applies nationwide. It grants a preliminary injunction — technically a halt to the suspension pending further arguments on the merits of the case.
"The omission of any rational explanation in cancelling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim," he wrote.
"We are reviewing the judge's opinion and will comply with the decision," Melissa Schwartz of the Interior Department said in an email. "The Interior Department continues to work on an interim report that will include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable energy future."
The moratorium was imposed after Biden on Jan. 27 signed executive orders to fight climate change. The suit was filed in March. The Interior Department later canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June — affecting Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the bureau's eastern region.
Biden's orders included a call for Interior officials to review if the leasing program unfairly benefits companies at the expense of taxpayers, as well as the program's impact on climate change.
The 13 states that sued said the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken, and that the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs. Doughty heard arguments in the case last week in Lafayette.
Federal lawyers argued that the public notice and comment period doesn't apply to the suspension, that the lease sales aren't required by law and that the Secretary of the Interior has broad discretion in leasing decisions.
"No existing lease has been cancelled as a result of any of the actions challenged here, and development activity from exploration through drilling and production has continued at similar levels as the preceding four years," lawyers for the administration argued in briefs.
But Doughty sided with the plaintiff states attorneys, who argued that the delay of new leasing cost states revenue from rents and royalties.
"Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake," wrote Doughty, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017.
"Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana's Coastline are at stake," he added, alluding to a possible loss of oil and gas revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands.
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia are the other plaintiff states.
"This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans," Landry said in a statement issued shortly after the ruling.
US West Swelters In Record-Busting Heat, Risking Wildfires - By Anita Snow, Associated Press
Dangerous, record-busting heat spread across the U.S. Southwest on Tuesday and into parts of Utah, Montana and Wyoming as a dome of high pressure hovered over a large swath of the region, pushing temperatures into the triple digits this week and intensifying the risk for wildfires amid a long-running drought.
Some of the highest temperatures were seen in bone-dry Arizona, where the National Weather Service forecast a record high of 117 degrees in Phoenix. The previous high for the date was 115 degrees, set in 1974.
"It is kind of early to see temperatures this high, that's for sure," said Marvin Percha, senior forecaster at the weather service's Phoenix office.
Percha said the high pressure dome combined with the land's lack of moisture caused by extreme drought has combined to create blistering heat expected throughout the entire week.
"What is unusual is the strength and the duration" of the high pressure system, he said.
The temperatures in Phoenix also could break records the rest of the week, with highs expected to reach 116 Wednesday and 118 Thursday and Friday.
Stations where people can get water and cool off in the shade opened across the Phoenix metro area at Salvation Army posts, city swimming pools, libraries and community centers. They will operate during the day amid the excessive heat warning declared by the weather service.
People were warned to stay inside, drink plenty of water and not leave children or pets unattended in vehicles.
The excessive heat stretched from southeast California across Arizona and Nevada and into New Mexico, where a high of 103 degrees Monday at Albuquerque's airport set a record. It was expected to hit near that Tuesday.
For the second day in a row, Salt Lake City set a heat record, hitting 105 degrees Tuesday, according to the weather service. That also tied the all-time hottest temperature recorded in the month of June. On Monday, Utah's capital reached 103 degrees to break a heat record for that date set nearly 50 years ago.
Some people cooled off at the Great Salt Lake outside Salt Lake City, floating in the water or playing along the shoreline.
Temperatures in the Las Vegas area also were rising toward possible records during what the weather service was calling the hottest spell in decades.
"It's just going up from here," said meteorologist Ashley Nickerson of the weather service's Las Vegas office.
The heat wave smashed daily temperature records in Montana and Wyoming and complicated the fight against several large wildfires. Strong winds with gusts up to 35 miles per hour were expected, threatening to stir up wildfires already burning and make it hard to stamp out new blazes.
A wildfire that broke out Monday near Yellowstone National Park in Montana grew quickly overnight and had burned more than 3 square miles by Tuesday morning, according to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Some people in the rural area were told to flee their homes, while other fires in the state also forced some evacuations.
Montana cities like Billings and Livingston and the Wyoming city of Sheridan at the base of the Bighorn Mountains set daily heat records, sometimes reaching as high as 108 degrees.
"This is happening in the middle of June. This is unprecedented," said Bill Murrell, a weather service meteorologist in Riverton, Wyoming.
The heat wave hit at the start of the Southwest's annual monsoon season, which runs through Sept. 30 and is supposed to be the region's rainy period, often contributing as much as 60% of annual precipitation.
But last year's monsoon was the driest in recorded history, with an average of just 1.5 inches of rain in Arizona.
Percha, the forecaster in Phoenix, said June is Arizona's driest month and that the state doesn't usually start seeing some rain until early July.
Report Finds New Mexico Threatens North Dakota's No.2 Oil Ranking – Bismarck Tribune, Associated Press
North Dakota has ranked as the nation's second-biggest oil producer for nine years, but it's on the verge of losing that status because oil production is soaring in New Mexico.
Texas continues to lead the nation in oil production. The Permian Basin spans parts of New Mexico and Texas, and it's arguably the biggest competition for North Dakota's Bakken oil patch. The southern oil-producing region is closer to major refineries and export terminals, and it attracts significant drilling and investment within the oil and gas industry.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Monday that New Mexico produced 1.16 million barrels of oil per day in March, the most recent month for which data is available from all states. North Dakota's daily oil output that month was 1.11 million barrels, according to data from the state Oil and Gas Division.
But the figures reported by the federal government for New Mexico differ from the numbers produced by the state's own regulators. A state agency there put New Mexico's output at 1.05 million barrels per day, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
It's unclear what accounts for the discrepancy. North Dakota officials say they believe the federal government takes estimates into account. Either way, the states are neck and neck.
"It's a horse race," said Lynn Helms, North Dakota's mineral resources director.
"At the rate that they're growing production, they're going to pass us unless our pace picks up," Helms said.
Aside from bragging rights, a state's position holds other implications. Rankings can affect an oil company's ability to find investors to fund a project in a state, Helms said. And North Dakota's ranking matters as the state seeks to "flex its muscle" with federal agencies on issues such as methane emissions rules and oil leasing on public lands, he said.
North Dakota became the nation's second-biggest oil producer early in the Bakken oil boom as horizontal drilling and fracking technology sent the state's oil production skyrocketing. It surpassed Alaska to take second place in 2012.
Longtime Sandia Labs Airline Safety Research Center Moving – Associated Press
A decades-old program at Sandia National Laboratories that focused on new innovations in airplane inspection will be taking flight elsewhere.
The Albuquerque-based weapons research and development facility announced Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration Airworthiness Assurance Center will relocate to Wichita State University in Kansas.
The program will be part of the university's National Institute of Aviation Research. Officials say the move follows structural shifts at both Sandia and the FAA.
Sandia Labs has operated the center for the FAA for 30 years.
Under the program, researchers worked alongside aircraft manufacturers, industry experts and regulatory agencies to enhance airplane inspection and maintenance systems. Priorities included expanding on ways to inspect aging airplanes.
Over the years, the center assisted with high-profile accident investigations for TWA Flight 800 and Swissair Flight 111.
Navajo Nation Reports Only 1 New COVID-19 Case, No Deaths – Associated Press
The Navajo Nation is reporting only one new COVID-19 case and no deaths.
Tribal health officials said it only confirmed one case as of Monday night.
The total number of virus-related deaths on the Navajo Nation remains 1,340. The total number of reported cases stands at 30,927.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the mask mandate will remain in place, especially as concern grows over virus variants.
More than half of residents on the reservation that stretches into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah eligible to get vaccinated are fully vaccinated. Health facilities are offering vaccines during drive-thru events or by appointment.
State Democrats Roll Out Same-Day Voter Registration Program - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
Democrat-backed efforts to expand voter access in New Mexico are coming to fruition with the delayed rollout of same-day voter registration.
The first trial run took place in a low-turnout special congressional election on June 1, allowing voters to register at early voting centers in the final weeks of balloting and Election Day. In all, 2,012 residents seized on the opportunity to register in the final four weeks of the election, according to the New Mexico secretary of state's office.
Previously, voter registration was halted 28 days before any election. Changes were brought on by a 2019 bill, approved on a party-line vote with Republicans in opposition, that opened the door to same-day registration — with a two-year delay for implementation.
This year, late-registering voters flocked primarily to the Democratic Party, accounting for about 53% of those registrations — and 50% of registrations on Election Day. About 32% of late registrations aligned with the Republican Party.
U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury won the election with 60% of the vote to fill the 1st Congressional District seat health by Deb Haaland.
Democrats account for 47% of registered voters statewide. Republicans account for 28%. Unaffiliated voter hold a 23% share.
Same day registration is likely to be an option in future elections, but it requires approval each time by a panel of voting systems regulators. Approval is pending for the November local election to pick mayors in cities including Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
"We're hopeful that they will because same-day registration is clearly a tool that allows more New Mexicans to participate, and its use would be even wider in a statewide election," said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.
Election reforms this year aimed at ensuring access to polling sites in Native American communities and providing public financing to state district court campaigns.
Pandemic lockdowns at many of the state's 23 federal recognized Indigenous tribes during the June 2020 primary election triggered the closure or consolidation of voting sites. That ensured outside voters would not be turned away, but also made it harder or impossible for some tribal residents to vote.
Poverty Pilot Program Sends Millions To Poorest Schools - By CEDAR ATTANASIO, Associated Press / Report for America
New Mexico education officials will send $15 million to 108 of the state's most impoverished schools as part of a pilot program passed into law earlier this year.
The Public Education Department created the list by drawing on anonymized tax records to measure each school by the percentage of students who come from households with low or very low incomes. That means annual incomes of around $34,000 for a family of four.
The Family Income Index will be used to issue awards over the next two years as part of the legislation.
The state already funds school districts based on what type of students they serve, offering more money for special education and others who require more expensive services. Poor school districts also receive more federal funding.
"Unlike most programs that funnel money through school districts, the Family Income Index gets extra aid directly to the schools that need it most to offset the effects of concentrated poverty," Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.
Schools have a broad mandate to use the money to help narrow academic achievement gaps in low-income communities by offering one-on-one tutoring services, at-home counseling and other services.
The largest award went to El Camino Real Community School in Santa Fe, which received $434,174 or around $500 for each of its 840 students.
Three schools in Taos, Quemado and Artesia received the minimum award of $20,000. With less than 20 students in each of those schools, the awards ranged from $1,000 to more than 1,500 per student.
New Mexico Governor Urges Limits On Fireworks Amid Drought – Associated Press
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging cities and counties across New Mexico to consider banning the sale of fireworks ahead of the July Fourth holiday.
She issued an executive order Monday, pointing to the drought that has blanketed much of the state and the fire restrictions that already are in place across New Mexico's five national forests.
While state statutes prevent the governor from imposing a statewide ban, the governor's office is encouraging municipalities to take action to limit fire danger by adopting fireworks restrictions over the coming weeks.
Rio Rancho and Farmington have warned residents that only permissible fireworks will be allowed — such as cone fountains, crackling devices and sparklers — in paved or otherwise barren areas. Doña Ana County recently approved restrictions that will span the holiday.
"We want to prevent fires in the dangerous conditions we are experiencing," County Fire Chief Shannon Cherry said, referring to the dry and windy weather.
Farmington's proclamation also will remain in effect for 30 days, but officials said the city council may extend it if extreme conditions continue.
Military Veteran Runs For New Mexico Governor As Republican – Associated Press
Investment adviser and West Point graduate Greg Zanetti of Albuquerque says he'll seek the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico in next year's election.
In a news release Monday, Zanetti said he wants to "restore some dignity and principled leadership to the governor's office."
Zanetti said he wants to work with local officials to reduce crime rates and improve schools, though he did not provide detailed proposals.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running for reelection in 2022 on her handling of the pandemic, tax breaks for working families and increases in spending on public education. She has signed legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana, emphasizes gun safety, shores up abortion rights and scales up financial incentives to businesses.
Zanetti lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1994 to Walter Bradley, who won the general election alongside Gov. Gary Johnson.
He sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2010 but dropped out before the primary. That was another good year for Republicans with the election of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez to succeed a termed-out Democrat.
In recent years, Zanetti has nurtured a public following on local radio with regular appearances to provide financial advice.
He was the Republican Party county chairman in the Albuquerque area, and he organized advocacy against abortion access and against labor-union membership requirements in collective bargaining.
Other contenders for the Republican nomination include Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block.
Zanetti grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1980 to serve six years on active duty. He later entered the National Guard and was deployed in 2005 as a brigadier general to a task force that oversees the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba.
New Mexico Banks On Cash Incentives To Meet Vaccine Goal - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
New Mexico residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 will now be eligible for a $100 incentive as the state began a hard push Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Health has announced the reward for anyone who gets their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Thursday.
State health officials are trying to reach a goal of having 60% of New Mexico residents age 16 and up fully vaccinated this week. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has vowed to end the state's color-coded risk system two weeks after the vaccination goal is reached, meaning businesses would be able to fully reopen.
The campaign included emails from various state agencies urging people to get their shots. The leader of the New Mexico Senate, Democrat Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, sent out her own emails declaring: "It's vaccine time!" Stewart's emails also included suggestions for social media posts and email language that could be shared with friends and family.
Republican lawmakers have long criticized the state's reopening framework as outdated. The Democratic governor also has faced heat from business owners over her handling of the pandemic, and from parents for what many have described as a lost year of learning after schools were forced to go virtual and for their children's inability to participate last year in extracurricular activities.
The latest incentive is on top of the state's "Vax 2 the Max" program, where vaccinated residents can win prizes from a pool totaling $10 million. The rewards include a $5 million grand prize.
New Mexico will hold its first drawings Friday for four prizes of $250,000 each.
Lujan Grisham says the lottery program is funded by federal pandemic relief money.
Vaccination rates have slowed over recent weeks. The latest data from the state puts vaccinations at about 58%.
The sweepstakes kept numbers from declining further but the boost was small. According to the state, the seven-day average of new vaccination registrations was 1,437 per day during the first week of the contest — just 85 more per day that the previous week.
The Health Department acknowledged Monday that there is more vaccine supply than demand.
Department spokesman David Morgan said in an email to The Associated Press that New Mexico is trying to adapt in several ways, including ordering only a minimal number of doses.
There is a large amount of inventory in freezers around the state, but Morgan did not say how many doses are in storage or how long it will be before they expire.
"We are working as hard as we can to get doses into arms all around the state," he said, pointing to the cash incentives.