State Environmental Improvement Board hears air quality permits appeal

The state Environmental Improvement Board heard arguments during a hearing on Thursday about air quality permits issued by the New Mexico Environment Department that an environmental group alleges are illegal. 

WildEarth Guardians appealed four permits issued by NMED for oil and gas facilities in Eddy and Lea counties, where ozone levels now exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). 

Ozone is the only pollutant under the NAAQS that is not directly emitted from any source. Instead, ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrous oxides (NOx) are exposed to sunlight and warmer temperatures. Summer months are usually when ozone levels reach their highest point. In addition to Lea and Eddy counties, ozone levels in five other counties in the state are at 95 percent of the NAAQ standard. Source: New Mexico Environment Department

NMED recently released draft rules targeting reductions in VOCs and NOx emissions at oil and gas facilities.

SOS: Big absentee request numbers could result in lengthier time counting ballots

In a press conference on Thursday Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse spoke about the voting efforts, as Election Day is just 40 days away and county clerks will begin sending absentee ballots to voters in less than two weeks. She also said that not every vote would be counted on election night, but that this is normal—and according to state law, all results are unofficial until the state canvassing board meets and certifies results on the third Tuesday after the election. The vote tallying by officials lasted for days after the election in some counties after the June primaries, but Toulouse Oliver said counties increased their boards that count absentee ballots to avoid this. She said that she believes a “majority” of votes will be tabulated and posted on election night. 

And it will be needed, since there will be much more absentee ballots than in any previous year in state history. The Secretary of State’s office announced that 247,725 voters had requested absentee ballots as of Thursday morning.

A massive hemp empire is accused of growing illegal marijuana and sowing violence on the Navajo reservation

SHIPROCK, N.M. — In the fertile northeast corner of the Navajo Nation, fields that only months ago were traditional open-air corn farms are now stuffed with hundreds of industrial-sized greenhouses, each glowing with artificial lights and brimming with emerald cannabis plants. Security cameras ring the perimeters and hired guards in flak jackets patrol the public roads alongside the farms.

Every weekday throughout the summer, a group of local kids woke at sunrise and arrived at the farm by 7:30, ready for a 10-hour shift of hard labor under the high desert sun. Many were teenagers, 13- and 14-year-olds lured by offers of quick cash. A few were as young as 10. Joining them were scores of foreign workers — an estimated 1,000 people, many of them Chinese immigrants brought to New Mexico from Los Angeles, according to Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco. 

Searchlight New Mexico reported and originally published this story, and it is republished with permission.

First day with 200 new COVID-19 cases in nearly a month

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Department of Health reported 200 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths related to the disease. This was the first day the state reported more than 200 cases in a single day in nearly a month, since August 26. The most cases came in Doña Ana County, with 33, followed by 28 new cases in Bernalillo County, 22 new cases in Chaves County, 22 new cases in Eddy County and 15 new cases in Curry County. DOH also reported 11 more cases among state Department of Corrections inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility, bringing the total in that facility to 48. DOH also reported the first case in the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County. 

COVID-19 has spread quickly throughout detention centers and prisons in New Mexico and elsewhere.

Tax expert says there could be significant revenues in cannabis legalization, some lawmakers still skeptical

Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January. 

Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use. 

While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact. 

“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom. 

Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.