State sees fewer COVID-19 cases as Delta surge wanes

The state’s current surge of COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant, appears to be slowing down in recent weeks, top health officials said in a press conference on Wednesday. Hospitalizations are still at a very high rate, with 375 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said they are still going through a “crunch of volume”—but will likely avoid the need to implement crisis standards of care if hospitalizations follow falling COVID-19 totals. One large reason why is the increasing number of vaccinations. As of Wednesday, the state reported that 79 percent of all New Mexicans 18 or older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 69.2 percent had completed their vaccination series (either with both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine). And among those 12-17, 62.5 percent had received at least one dose and 51.6 percent were fully vaccinated.

Environmental Improvement Board prepares to hear ozone precursor pollutants rule

With just days left before a public hearing of the ozone precursor pollutants rule, changes are still being made to the proposal that the New Mexico Environment Department plans to present to the board. The Environmental Improvement Board’s public hearing begins at 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. Among the changes has been a back and forth regarding inspections for wells that only have the potential to emit small amounts of pollutants. The ozone precursor pollutant rule is intended to address emissions of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas infrastructure.

Leger Fernández introduces bill to help communities’ economic transitions away from fossil fuels

When the transition away from fossil fuels occurs, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández told NM Political Report it is important not to “leave the communities that powered America’s growth behind.”

Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a bill, known as the Just Transition for Energy Communities Act, last week that would provide $4.5 billion in grants for states through 2031 and $500 million for tribes to implement plans for economic development. These grants will only be available to states and tribes that receive federal mineral revenue. Leger Fernández said she hopes the funding will be enough to begin the process of diversification. The grants, she explained, could provide “that extra investment sometimes it takes to get businesses going.”

When states and tribes apply for the grant funding, Leger Fernández said the expectation will be that the projects occur in the communities that will be impacted by the loss of fossil fuel extraction and will be most impacted by the transition. Projects that support fossil fuel development would not be eligible, nor would communities be able to use the funds for lobbying. 

The funds will be available through 2031 and Leger Fernández said the states and tribes will not be limited to a single application for funding.

‘Religious’ exemptions add legal thorns to looming vaccine mandates

In Northern California, the pastor of a megachurch hands out religious exemption forms to the faithful. A New Mexico state senator will “help you articulate a religious exemption” by pointing to the decades-old use of aborted fetal cells in the development of some vaccines. And a Texas-based evangelist offers exemption letters to anyone — for a suggested “donation” starting at $25. With workplace vaccine mandates in the offing, opponents are turning to a tried-and-true recourse for avoiding a covid-19 shot: the claim that vaccination interferes with religious beliefs. No major denomination opposes vaccination.

Recreational cannabis industry sparks struggle for water rights in parched New Mexico

When New Mexico’s recreational cannabis bill was signed into law in April, Mike Hinkle and Ryan Timmermans jumped at the chance to get into the industry. The two business partners, both recent transplants from the South, bought portable buildings, seeds, grow lights and a property in the village of Carson, with a domestic well they thought they could use to irrigate their plants. In total, they invested more than $50,000. “That’s actually the most money I’ve ever had in my life,” Hinkle said. “I was extremely excited because we thought we had a shot.”

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.