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PM News Brief: COVID-19 Spike, Conservative Climate Caucus & Justice Richard Howe Dies

A photo of Rep. John Curtis standing at a podium with others, a sign on the podium reads "Conservative Climate Caucus."
Screenshot of Conservative Climate Caucus Press Conference
Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, launched the Conservative Climate Caucus on Wednesday. He said the goal is to bring Republicans together to learn about climate policies without sacrificing their political ideologies. This story and more in Wednesday evening's news brief.

Wednesday evening, June 23, 2021

State

Utah Sees Highest COVID-19 Case Count In Nearly Two Months

Utah health officials reported the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases Wednesday since late April. Officials announced 527 new cases but say about 40 of those are due to a reporting delay. Still, it’s the most the state has seen since 518 were reported nearly two months ago. In a statement, Utah’s Department of Health said this is a reminder “we aren’t out of the woods yet” when it comes to the pandemic. Officials said it’s critical people get vaccinated and continue practicing social distancing. The state’s positivity rate continues to climb and is now nearly 6%. So far, nearly half of all Utahns have received at least one dose of the vaccine. — Ross Terrell

Former Utah Supreme Court Justice Richard Howe Dies

Former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice and Utah Speaker of the House Richard Howe has died. He served as house speaker in 1971 and 1972. Former Gov. Scott Matheson appointed him to the state’s Supreme Court in 1980, he served 22 years before retiring in 2002. In a statement, Utah’s current Chief Justice described Howe as a “model jurist” that was fair, thoughtful and treated everyone with respect and dignity. Howe passed on June 19 at the age of 97. — Caroline Ballard

69 Wildfires Started In Utah Last Week As Drought Worsens

Last week, 69 new wildfires started in Utah. Fewer than half of them were human caused and fire officials say they hope that trend continues. In the same period last year, only 48 fires started, but 96% of those were due to human behavior. The drop in man-made starts is good news as Utah’s drought situation worsens. Half of the state’s largest reservoirs are below 55% of available capacity. As for the Great Salt Lake, it’s just five inches away from its historic low recorded in 1963. Fire officials said abandoned campfires and vehicle starts have been the largest cause of new blazes dating back to early June. — Ross Terrell

Hurricane And Midvale Become Latest To Announce Fireworks Ban

Hurricane and Midvale are the latest cities in Utah to ban private fireworks. Salt Lake City announced similar restrictions Tuesday. The restrictions are because of extreme fire danger and the historic drought the state is in. Fireworks go on sale Thursday in Utah, but it is illegal to light them until July 2. Gov. Spencer Cox banned fireworks on all state and unincorporated lands earlier this month. They’re not allowed on federal land either. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Northern Utah

Park City Discuss How To Handle Its Toxic Soil

Park City officials met on Tuesday to answer questions about a proposed toxic soil repository near the outskirts of the town. Some residents are not on board with the idea citing potential health effects. Angela Moschetta lives in Park City and said there hasn’t been enough information given to residents about the safety of storing the soil nearby. “The reality that it could be a potentially environmental or public health catastrophe is concerning to everyone who wants to know they are breathing clean air,” Moschetta said. Read the full story. — Ivana Martinez

Region/Nation

Rep. John Curtis Announces Conservative Climate Caucus

Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, launched the Conservative Climate Caucus on Wednesday. He said the goal is to bring Republicans together to learn about climate policies without sacrificing their political ideologies. He believes the GOP should be the global leaders in offering solutions to climate change. “We, too, want to leave this earth better than we found it,” Curtis said. “We will offer multiple solutions that in many cases are far more impactful while enhancing economic prosperity.” There are over 50 Republican lawmakers serving on the caucus including Utah Reps. Chris Stewart, Blake Moore and Burgess Owens. — Tess Roundy

Interior Department Asking For Nearly $18 Billion Budget

The Interior Department is asking for $17.6 billion for 2022, about $2.5 billion more than this year. Lawmakers largely praised increased funding for the Bureau of Indian affairs and efforts to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. However, some Republican lawmakers were concerned about the future for mining in the West, and the U.S. relying on foreign materials and fossil fuels. A federal review of mining leases on public lands is expected to come out early this summer. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau