Masks no longer required for those who are vaccinated (in most situations)

Those who are fully vaccinated can now go without masks in most situations in New Mexico—indoors or outdoors. The state Department of Health followed federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in making sweeping changes to its suggested mask use. Getting vaccinated is the ticket to a safe and healthy COVID-free future,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We are close and getting closer. But that all depends on New Mexicans continuing to protect themselves and their community by getting vaccinated – please find vaccines near you at vaccineNM.org and get your shot!”

The guidance does provide for some situations where those who are vaccinated will still need to wear masks, like on buses, trains or airplanes or other mass transit as well as health care settings and congregate settings like homeless shelters or correctional facilities.

Heinrich to introduce legislation to provide a ‘glide path’ for energy producing states

Sen. Martin Heinrich announced Thursday plans to introduce legislation that would help areas that depend on revenue from fossil fuels maintain balanced government and education budgets as the country moves toward a clean energy economy. Known as the Schools and State Budgets Certainty Act, the bill would provide funding to offset the loss of revenue if money from fossil fuel extraction drops. The bill would create a baseline minimal revenue for governments based on the historical average revenue the governments received from federal minerals. If the revenue drops below the baseline, the governments would receive an energy transition payment to offset that loss. These payments will be made to eligible states, counties and tribes and would provide some budget certainty during the transition away from fossil fuels.

New study looks at jaguar reintroduction possibilities

A big cat, largely absent from the United States since the 1960s after living in the southwest for thousands of years, could make a return to the area. Conservationists are now exploring reintroducing the jaguar to New Mexico and Arizona. A study published on Tuesday in the journal Conservation Science and Practice examines reintroduction, including how the jaguar could interact with livestock and other wildlife and the potential for ecotourism related to the cat. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate for Center for Biological Diversity, is one of the authors on the study. He said government programs aimed at protecting livestock from predators essentially eliminated the jaguar from the United States.

U.S. Health and Human Services stays restrictions on mifepristone

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to put a lawsuit on hold late last week that could have longer term implications for the abortion medication mifepristone. On Friday the HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, filed in Hawaii district court a request to stay a lawsuit that has been ongoing around mifepristone since 2017.  The ACLU, which also filed for the stay, is suing the U.S. Health and Human Services on behalf of a Hawaii clinician. The ACLU and the Hawaii clinician are suing because the FDA’s in-person pickup requirement for mifepristone requires patients in Hawaii to have to fly between islands to receive a single pill. Once a patient has picked up mifepristone at a clinic, they can go home to take it. The FDA requires abortion patients to travel to a clinic to pick up mifepristone because the abortion medication is under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), drug safety program intended for medications with serious safety concerns. 

Mifepristone has been in the FDA’s REMS program since the FDA approved the prescription drug in 2000.

‘America the Beautiful’ report outlines path toward 30 percent conservation by 2030

President Joe Biden has called for preserving 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030 and, on Thursday, his administration released a report outlining how this could be accomplished. The report released on Thursday, called Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021, states that three problems must be addressed to protect lands and waters—the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. The America the Beautiful report lists building more parks and outdoor spaces in areas with limited access to nature as one of the tools to reaching that goal. The America the Beautiful report released Thursday outlines eight principles:

Pursuing a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservationConserving lands and waters for the benefit of all peopleSupporting locally-led and designed conservation effortsHonoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nationsPursuing approaches that create jobs and support healthy communitiesHonoring private property rights and supporting voluntary stewardship efforts by landownersUsing science as a guideEmphasizing flexibility and adaptive approaches while building on existing tools and strategies

Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate for Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said in an email to NM Political Report that state action will be needed to make the 30 percent by 2030 goal a reality. Peters said New Mexico can build on the success of landmark legislation like the Energy Transition Act, the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division and the Outdoor Equity Fund.

Fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is found on bats in New Mexico caves

A fungus that causes the often-fatal white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in two caves in eastern New Mexico. These caves are located within the Bureau of Land Management’s Roswell Field Office in De Baca and Lincoln counties. BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey said New Mexico has not had any cases of white nose syndrome in bats in the past and the biologists will need to do further testing to determine if the disease is present in the state. That means euthanizing a bat and analyzing it in a lab. However, she said the fungus was found on cave walls and evidence of the disease were seen on certain bats.

NM Political Report wins nine regional awards

NM Political Report won nine awards at the regional Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 “Top of the Rockies” contest, including four first place awards. The annual awards include journalists from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. NM Political Report competed in the small newsroom group, except for in the podcast category, which NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS competed in the medium newsroom group for the ongoing Growing Forward podcast. Stories written by Kendra Chamberlain won two first place awards, in the Ag and Environment category for ‘Dereliction of duty’: 1.6 million gallons of produced water spilled so far in 2020 and in the Ag and Environment: News category for A river runs dry: Climate change offers opportunity to rethink water management on the Rio Grande. Susan Dunlap’s story Progressive Democratic challengers want new voices in the state legislature earned first place in the Politics News category. 

A story written by Andy Lyman called How Arizona’s cannabis legalization proposition might impact NM won first place in the Politics: Feature category.

Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to restore methane regulations that were instituted under President Barack Obama and rolled back under President Donald Trump. The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to push for the repeal of Trump’s rollbacks of the Environmental Protection Agency methane reduction rule. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to undo agency actions that were taken within the last months of the previous administration. The House of Representatives, which has a Democratic majority, is expected to vote on the measure next month. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, was one of the leaders of the effort and a companion resolution along with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Two transmission line projects in NM are listed in ‘ready to go’ report

A report released Tuesday by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid includes two New Mexico transmission projects that it says could move from advanced planning to construction if certain policies are changed. The report concludes that federal policy reform is needed in three areas: permitting, financing and planning. There are 22 projects listed in the “Transmission Projects Ready to Go” report as “shovel ready.”

This includes the more-than 500-mile long SunZia line and the 240-mile long Southline. Both projects are located in southern New Mexico and Arizona. A fact sheet released by President Joe Biden’s administration today states that new financing opportunities through the U.S. Department of Energy as well as the ability to use right of ways from the U.S. Department of Transportation could help move the 22 projects identified in the report forward.

Trust for Public Lands seeks to donate nearly 9,900 acres to expand Sabinoso Wilderness Area

A donation of nearly 9,900 acres of land in San Miguel County for the expansion of Sabinoso Wilderness could increase access to the remote landscape. The Trust for Public Lands is in the process of donating 9,855 acres known as Cañon Ciruela to the Bureau of Land Management. Public comments regarding the transfer are being accepted through May 21. This donation would increase the size of the wilderness area by approximately 50 percent. It will also add an additional access point.