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AM News Brief: Pandemic “Endgame,” Rainwater Harvest & State Joins Oil And Gas Lawsuit

Photo of an oil well.
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Utah and 12 other Republican states are suing the Biden Administration over an indefinite ban on oil and gas leasing. This story and more in the Thursday morning news brief.

Thursday morning, March 25, 2021

State

Governor Signs Pandemic “Endgame”

Gov. Spencer Cox approved four more bills Wednesday including the pandemic “endgame” bill. That means the statewide mask mandate will end April 10, with exceptions for large gatherings and schools. Counties and private businesses will still be able to determine their own mask policies. Cox vetoed three bills, including one that would have required health departments to consult with school districts about mask mandates. He also let three bills become law without his signature, one of which prevents voters from participating in a party’s primary election if they switch their affiliation after a certain date. Thursday is the last day the governor can sign bills into law or veto them. — Emily Means

Utah Joins Oil And Gas Lawsuit

Utah and 12 other Republican states are suing the Biden Administration over an indefinite ban on oil and gas leasing. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, alleges the moratorium is illegal under federal law. Biden issued the ban in January, saying it would remain in place while the Interior Department reviews federal leasing policies. In the lawsuit, Utah claims it was financially harmed by the postponement of a March lease sale. The Interior Department is holding a panel Thursday as part of the review. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Northern Utah

Capturing Rainwater

A small number of cities and the Salt Lake County Watershed are bringing back a rain harvesting program this year. It follows a recent extreme drought declaration by Gov. Spencer Cox. Millcreek, Murray, Park City and the County Watershed offer discounted rain barrels for collecting rain water to use for residential garden watering. The program created by the Utah Rivers Council, a nonprofit in Salt Lake City, has already distributed more than 4,900 rain barrels. The URC said so far more than 247,000 gallons of water are being saved every time it rains enough to fill a 50-gallon barrel. Residents of the municipalities can pre-purchase rain barrels for $50, while supplies last. — Bob Nelson

Region/Nation

Navajo Nation Looks For Deadline Extension On Radiation Exposure Compensation

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez is asking Congress to extend the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act — or RECA. The program gives money to people who developed illnesses as a result of radiation exposure. Nez testified Wednesday in front of a House subcommittee that people needed more time to apply because most on the Nation don’t have standard addresses or internet access needed to file claims. He also urged Congress to expand the program to cover more people and to raise the compensation cap. The federal RECA program is set to expire at the end of 2022. — Ross Terrell

Nevada Bottled Water Company Faces Lawsuit

A Las Vegas-based bottled water brand ‘Real Water’ is facing a growing number of lawsuits alleging health problems related to the product. The company’s attorney said they are cooperating with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation. A Nevada man blamed the product for his liver transplant in September 2019. A federal class-action lawsuit was filed this week in Nevada, and another lawsuit in state court called the product unsafe and dangerous to human life. Company president Brent Jones has posted a message offering sympathy and concern. An attorney representing the company has declined to comment about the lawsuits. — Associated Press

USPS Cuts Could Hit Rural Areas Hard

Sweeping service cuts could be coming to the U.S. Postal Service. Embattled Postmaster General Louis Dejoy has proposed measures including shorter post office hours, increased postage prices, and longer delivery times for first-class mail.as part of a plan to keep the USPS afloat. Those changes would hit rural areas the hardest. Private shipping companies like FedEx and UPS provide limited or no service in some small, remote towns. That includes much of the tribal land in the Mountain West, where many residents rely on the post office to pay their bills, receive medication and cast ballots. — Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau