/ Modified feb 23, 2021 3:55 p.m.

News roundup: Ducey pushes for drilling on fed land, flags fly at half mast for COVID victims

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Feb. 23.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 810,658 |Deaths 15,650

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, Arizona reported 1,184 new cases of COVID-19 and 148 additional deaths. Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags to fly at half mast for six days to honor COVID victims, the Associated Press reports.

Ducey “implores” Biden to allow oil leases on federal land


Governor Doug Ducey signed a letter, with 16 other Republican governors “imploring” President Joe Biden to “withdraw Executive Order 14008” which pauses federal issuance of new federal leases for oil and gas drilling on federal land and in offshore waters.

The executive order, signed by Biden on Jan. 27, is the outline for the administration’s climate plan and includes the rejoining of the Paris Agreement.

The order specifically pauses the leases until federal policy on oil and gas leases on federal land can be reviewed.

Learn more here.

Ducey orders flags lowered to honor those lost to COVID-19


PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has joined President Joe Biden in ordering the lowering of flags for five days starting Tuesday to honor the thousands of lives lost due to COVID-19.

Ducey said in a statement Monday that “every life is precious” and that Arizona was grieving and praying for all the lives lost to the disease, Arizona’s toll from the coronavirus passed 15,000 last week while COVID-19 as of Monday claimed over 500,000 lives nationwide.

Arizona on Tuesday reported 1,184 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 148 deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 810,658 cases and 15,650 deaths.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 15 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials on Monday reported 15 new confirmed COVID-19 cases with one additional death.

The latest numbers bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,551 since the pandemic began. There have been 1,145 reported deaths that were related to COVID-19.

Also on Monday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 21 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Feb. 5-18. That’s an increase from last week’s 15 communities, but down from 75 communities with uncontrolled coronavirus spread last month.

Learn more here.

Big Arizona utility to pay overcharged customers $24 million


PHOENIX — Arizona’s largest electric utility will pay $24 million to about 225,000 customers who were placed on new pricing plans that were not their cheapest available option after a 2017 rate increase approved by the state's utility regulators.

The settlement agreed to by Arizona Public Service was announced Monday by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. The attorney general launched an investigation after reports showed an online calculation tool customers used to choose their cheapest plan was giving erroneous recommendations. Investigators later learned some customers were misled by letters from the utility suggesting cheaper plans.

Learn more here.

Legislature mulls raising Arizona's low unemployment pay


PHOENIX — Arizona’s super-low $240 maximum weekly unemployment benefit would increase to $320 by mid-summer and employers would experience a small increase in premiums under a new proposal backed by Republican Senate President Karen Fann.

The proposal passed a Senate committee in a 9-1 vote Tuesday. But it differs from a plan backed by all House Democrats and some House Republicans. Rep. David Cook questioned how Fann can justify an additional $20 per week over his plan without further boosting premiums.

The state’s weekly unemployment pay is the 2nd lowest in the nation and would increase to $300 under Cook’s version and $320 under Fann’s plan.

Learn more here.

Energy Commission Approves Preliminary Permit For Pumped Hydro Project

Fronteras Desk

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has signed off on a preliminary permit for a project to create electricity with pumped water in northern Arizona.

The project would use water from Lake Powell to create electricity, which it would then route through transmission lines and other infrastructure at the shuttered Navajo Generating Station.

But the Navajo Nation would have to sign off on the project, since much of it would be on Navajo land. Conservationists say that the agency failed to take climate change and its effect on the Colorado River into consideration.

The agency has not yet ruled on another pumped water proposal on the Little Colorado River watershed, also on Navajo land

Indian Country gripped by Haaland hearing for top US post


FLAGSTAFF — For Native Americans, Deb Haaland is more than an elected official on track to become the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior Department. She is a sister, an auntie and a fierce pueblo woman whose political stances have been molded by her upbringing.

Haaland's confirmation hearing this week is being closely watched in Indian Country, with some virtual parties drawing hundreds of people. Tribal groups for weeks have urged people to write and call U.S. senators who will decide if she lands the job.

Haaland is in her second term representing New Mexico in Congress. Her confirmation hearing started Tuesday and will continue Wednesday.

Learn more here.

Air Force provides bottled water after chemicals detected


PHOENIX — The U.S. Air Force is distributing bottled water to Arizona residents and business owners near Luke Air Force Base whose drinking water showed high levels of contaminants.

A statement by the base says water testing detected levels of Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate above the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water. The so-called forever chemicals impacted the water supply for about 6,000 people in 1,600 residences in Glendale, Litchfield Park and unincorporated Maricopa County.

The compounds were widely used at one time in many industrial and consumer products and in foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Learn more here.

Cindy McCain memoir about late husband coming in April


NEW YORK — Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain, will have a memoir out this spring.

Forum, a Penguin Random House imprint, announced Tuesday that McCain’s “Stronger: Courage, Hope, and Humor In My Life With John McCain” will be released April 27. Forum is calling the book an “intimate memoir” in which McCain will reflect on her 38-year marriage to the Arizona Republican. John McCain died in 2018.

Cindy McCain made news in 2020 when she endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a close family friend, over the Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

Learn more here.

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