EPA finalizes sweeping changes to methane rule – Bryce Dix, KUNM News
Over the weekend, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham joined the Environmental Protection Agency to announce a final decision putting in place safeguards to slash methane and other harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry across the United States.
“New Mexico embarked on drafting our oil and gas rules at a time when the United States’ climate leadership was lagging. Thanks to President Biden and his administration, we are once again leading,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham during a press conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai on Saturday. “We are proud to have laid the foundation for this national rule, which will not only reduce emissions, but spur innovation and economic development across the country.”
The EPA’s analysis of the final standards say they have the potential to cut 58 million tons of leaked methane through 2038.
This would be done by strengthening leak detection and repair requirements for all oil and gas wells, the installation of non-polluting pneumatic equipment, a phased-in prohibition on routine flaring of gas at new wells, and a community monitoring program that would target problem areas emitting unusually high rates of methane.
Each year, the oil and gas emits 16 million metric tons of methane into our atmosphere.
Here in New Mexico, the industry releases enough methane to heat every home in the state.
Movie armorer in ‘Rust’ fatal shooting pleads not guilty to unrelated gun charge – Associated Press
The weapons supervisor on the film set where Alec Baldwin shot and killed a cinematographer in 2021 waived her arraignment in a separate case, pleading not guilty to a charge of carrying a gun into a Santa Fe bar.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed had been set to appear in court next week on the charge, but a state courts spokesperson said Friday that her attorneys opted instead to waive her appearance. Her attorneys did not immediately respond to a message that The Associated Press left Friday seeking comment.
The firearm charge against Gutierrez-Reed stems from an incident days before she was hired to work as the armorer on “Rust.” According to court records, a witness told authorities that she was carrying a gun when she walked into a bar in downtown Santa Fe.
Gutierrez-Reed also is awaiting trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering stemming from the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal on the “Rust” movie set on Oct. 21, 2021.
As part of their preparation for trial, special prosecutors have issued subpoenas for documents from producers of “Rust” and any audio and video recordings held by a Los Angeles film production company that might include Baldwin on the set or his comments about the film elsewhere.
Legal experts have said prosecutors could repurpose documents or records uncovered in case against Gutierrez-Reed if a grand jury were to indict Baldwin.
Prosecutors have said they will present evidence to a grand jury against Baldwin in the fatal set shooting, but it’s unclear when that might happen. It’s a secretive process without public access, as prosecutors present evidence and witnesses possibly testify without a cross-examination or immediate vetting by defense counsel.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists wolverines as ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act – Mia Maldonado, Idaho Capital Sun via Source New Mexico
After more than two decades of petitions by wildlife conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed wolverines as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The decision marks a win for conservation groups, who have petitioned for a federal listing since 1995 and have gone through six rounds of successful litigation to secure federal protections.
According to the Endangered Species Act, a “threatened species” is a species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Whereas, an “endangered species” is a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Under the new protections, Fish and Wildlife must prepare a wolverine recovery plan, identify protected critical habitat in the future, and possibly plan for reintroduction of the species into Colorado.
“Biologists estimate a loss of more than 40% of suitable wolverine habitat in Idaho by 2060 if we fail to act,” Jeff Abrams, wildlife program associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said in a press release Wednesday. “This decision allows us to move forward on recovery actions to prevent such extensive loss of wolverine habitat and recover wolverine populations.”
Wolverines were first petitioned to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1995, but Fish and Wildlife determined that the petition and the information within its records lacked evidence to suggest that listing the wolverine as threatened or endangered in the Lower 48 might be justified.
Then in 2014, Fish and Wildlife issued and then withdrew a proposal to list wolverines.
Western conservation groups then sued Fish and Wildlife in the District Court for the District of Montana challenging the agency’s decision to withdraw the proposal. In 2020, the groups went to court to compel the federal agency to complete a final Endangered Species Act listing determination on wolverines in the Lower 48.
As reported by WyoFile, Fish and Wildlife published a 100-page “species status assessment” on North American wolverines in September, which previewed the decision that federal wildlife managers had to make by the end of November — the deadline specified in the federal court order.
WOLVERINES IN THE LOWER 48
Wolverines are medium-sized, solitary carnivores that live in high-elevation habitats. The species relies on deep snowpack for rearing their young, and they are adapted for digging, climbing and traveling long distances during the winter.
Wolverine populations are naturally small in high-elevation alpine habitats. However, Fish and Wildlife predicts that human disturbance and the main threat of climate change affecting spring snow will further shrink and fragment their habitats.
“The science is clear: snowpack-dependent species like the wolverine are facing an increasingly uncertain future under a warming climate,” Michael Saul, program director for Defenders of Wildlife Rockies and Plains, said in the press release. “The protections that come with Endangered Species Act listing increase the chance that our children will continue to share the mountains with these elusive and fascinating carnivores.”
Wolverines were once found across the northern tier of the U.S, stretching from states like Montana and Idaho to regions as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range.
But after more than a century of unregulated trapping and habitat degradation, wolverines in the Lower 48 only exist in small populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.
There is limited population data on wolverines, but in 2014, Fish and Wildlife estimated a population between 250 to 300 in the Lower 48. While the latest species status assessment does not include an updated population estimate, research indicates the species are widely spread and move across state borders.
Conservationists from across the West expressed gratitude at the decision, including Andrea Zaccardi, the Center for Biological Diversity’s carnivore conservation legal director.
“I’m thrilled that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally followed the science and granted wolverines the federal protections they need to survive and recover,” she said in the press release. “Like so many other species, wolverines waited far too long for federal protections, but I’m overjoyed that they’re finally on the path to recovery.”
US proposes plan to help the snow-dependent Canada lynx before warming shrinks its habitat – By Matthew Brown Associated Press
U.S. officials proposed a $31 million recovery plan for Canada lynx on Friday in a bid to help the snow-dependent wildcat species that scientists say could be wiped out in parts of the contiguous U.S. by the end of the century.
The proposal marks a sharp turnaround from five years ago, when officials in Donald Trump’s presidency said lynx had recovered and no longer needed protection after their numbers had rebounded in some areas. President Joseph Biden’s administration in 2021 reached a legal settlement with environmental groups to retain threatened species protections for lynx that were first imposed in 2000.
Populations of the medium-sized wildcats in New Hampshire, Maine and Washington state are most at risk as warmer temperatures reduce habitat for lynx and their primary food, snowshoe hares, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documents indicate.
But declines for lynx would be seen in boreal forests across the contiguous U.S. under even the most optimistic warming scenario that officials considered, the newly-released documents show. That includes lynx populations in the northern and southern Rocky Mountains and in the Midwest.
The recovery plan says protecting 95% of current lynx habitat in the lower 48 states in coming decades would help the species remain viable. And it suggests lynx could be moved into the Yellowstone region of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — an area they don’t currently occupy — as a potential climate change refuge.
There are roughly 1,100 lynx in the contiguous U.S., spread across five populations with the largest concentrations in the northeastern U.S. and northern Rockies. Most areas suitable for lynx are in Alaska and Canada.
Those numbers are expected to plummet in some areas, and the proposal would aim for a minimum contiguous U.S. population of a combined 875 lynx over a 20-year period across the five populations, including 400 in the northeast and 200 in the northern Rockies, according to the proposal.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a November 2024 deadline to draft a related plan to protect land where lynx are found. That came out of a legal settlement with two environmental groups — Wild Earth Guardians and Wilderness Workshop.
U.S. government biologists first predicted in 2016 that some lynx populations could disappear by 2100.
However, under Trump officials shortened their time span for considering climate change threats, from 2100 to 2050, because of what they said were uncertainties in long-term climate models. A government assessment based on that shortened time span concluded lynx populations had increased versus historical levels in parts of Colorado and Maine.
The proposed recovery plan comes two days after the Biden administration announced protections for another snow-dependent species — the North American wolverine. That came in response to scientists’ warnings that climate change will likely melt away the wolverines’ mountain retreats and push them toward extinction.
N.M. ‘far above the national rate’ even as maternal deaths increase across the country – Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico
Public health experts said maternal deaths in New Mexico continue to be “overwhelmingly preventable” according to findings for an annual report from a committee reviewing deaths of people during and after pregnancy.
In a presentation last week before the Health and Human Services interim committee, public health experts said the state needs to ensure more access and expand health care to address disparities such as: age, race and substance use disorders.
TRACKING THE DEATHS
Between 2015 through 2020, 109 New Mexicans died during pregnancy or within the first year. Of those, 44 deaths were “pregnancy-related” which is defined by the CDC as deaths “from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
“86% of pregnancy-related deaths have been determined to be preventable by our committee,” said Abigail Reese, who manages the Maternal Health Program for the New Mexico Department of Health.
The New Mexico Maternal Mortality Review Committee is a volunteer board, which reviews every death occurring during pregnancy or within one year. The committee tracks causes, contributing factors, determines how preventable deaths are and makes recommendations to prevent more deaths.
State legislation passed in 2018 restarted the board after a long hiatus. The committee received five years of funding in 2019 from the federal government to address high maternal mortality rates, which are worsening in the United States.
Nationally, Black women are most impacted. This group reports maternal mortality related deaths at a rate 2.5 higher than other people, according to a 2021 report for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native American and Native Alaskan women are second highest nationally, with a death rate double that of other people.
Racism in health care, discrimination and structural factors such as higher rates of poverty and longer distances to travel for quality health services are all factors in Black and Indigenous people’s deaths across the U.S., researchers said.
THE GRIM FINDINGS
New Mexico has higher rates of maternal mortality per capita compared to the nation and more people unable to access adequate care during pregnancy, Reese said.
Nationally, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio through 2019 was 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. For New Mexico through 2020, the ratio is 31.2 deaths per 100,000 births.
“We’re far above the national rate, that it’s something we need to consider urgent,” Reese said.
Fewer people are dying from pregnancy-related causes, and most deaths are within the first year after giving birth, accounting for 79% of deaths. This includes deaths from suicide and overdoses – which are difficult to determine if intentional or accidental, Reese said.
“Mental health conditions, especially substance-use disorders, remain the most significant contributing factors to maternal mortality in our state,” Reese said.
Substance use was a factor in more than half of deaths, and was a “huge driver” in pregnancy related deaths.
“That means we need to do more to direct treatment and resources and support to people who are navigating substance use while pregnant and in the postpartum period,” Reese said.
Injuries including deaths in car crashes, overdoses and intimate partner violence were factors in 68 of the deaths between 2015 and 2020.
Other concerning trends are high mortality ratios for Native American women, and people over the age of 35.
The “significant discordance,” Reese said, was about Native American maternal deaths in New Mexico, a ratio of 129.3 deaths per births.
“There is no explanation, as we all know, based at all in biology, so we need to get to the bottom of why this is happening,” Reese said. “It is consistent with national data as well and is our responsibility to solve.
The committee is now reviewing how the coronavirus pandemic shaped maternal mortality in the state, Reese said, noting that she only had preliminary data for 2021, but that it was concerning.
“We have identified 48 deaths to review, and that is more than twice the number of any previous year,” she said.
INCREASING PREVENTION AND CARE
Preventing maternal deaths in New Mexico means addressing the system as a whole. Reese said it does not just mean increasing access to care, and addressing biases in a hospital or clinical setting.
The committee’s findings showed that many cases it reviewed had environmental stressors, such as intimate partner violence, unemployment and state welfare involvement.
“People are dealing with lots of stressors, and they go beyond their immediate health condition and health care needs, which helps us remember that our services need to be trauma-informed and comprehensive and think about people in the full context of their lives,” Reese said.
In 2025, the state will convene a new maternal health task force, under a five-year $981,000 federal grant for maternal health innovation to the state’s health department. The task force will be the “implementation space,” Reed said, for recommendations from the committee.
Requiring certified nurse midwives to take anti-bias training to keep their certifications, is another suggestion recommended by the study. Reese said adding that would not require additional state funding.
Alanna Dancis, a nurse practitioner and chief medical officer for New Mexico’s Medicaid program, said that recommendations will need to focus on increasing substance use and behavioral health treatments.
Most of the deaths reviewed between 2015 through 2020 were people covered by Medicaid, which Reese stressed was not a casual relationship. Medicaid is a federal program run by states which provides health care for low-income people and children, people with disabilities and older people.
The department of health, behavioral services and other state departments will offer more recommendations for how to use medicaid to reduce maternal deaths.
“This particular council that we are forming is going to be about pregnancy and pregnant people and their mortality, and really focusing in on that problem,” Dancis said.
In 2022, New Mexico expanded Medicaid coverage during pregnancy to cover appointments through 12 months after giving birth. This was funded partly by $14.4 million in the state budget and additional matching federal funds, said New Mexico Department of Human Services spokesperson Marina Piña.
New Mexico included the expansion in its latest waiver for Medicaid managed care, called Turquoise Care. That coverage begins in July 2024. Federal officials are still reviewing the application for the program but the state Department of Human Services expects partial approval before July and “a full approval” in January 2025, according to Piña.
The waiver request expands the Medicaid home-visiting programs to allow people who’ve already given birth to enroll. These programs include parent coaching and services for people with substance use and behavioral health issues.
Another concern is the patchwork of providers to give necessary care, whether for substance use, medical help or childcare support. In the past decade, at least six New Mexico hospitals closed their maternity wards, meaning many women have to travel farther to receive treatment and give birth.
There are hopes to pay hospitals to slow and stop closures of maternity wards, Dancis said. She told lawmakers the state is planning for payments to rural hospitals with obstetrics wards, saying that will try to address hospital concerns with higher overhead, and requiring specialized care for a low volume of patients.
She also said the state is in the beginning stages of a broader telehealth program to “reduce people’s need to be on the road and traveling for services.”
At the end of the presentation, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) asked if drugs used in medication-assisted treatments to treat opioid addiction – such as methadone and suboxone – impact a fetus if used during pregnancy.
Reese responded that she is “not a clinical expert in this issue,” but said that they are life-saving treatments.
“It is absolutely recommended and best practice for people who are navigating an opioid-use disorder to have this treatment made available to them,” she said.