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On World AIDS Day, New Mexico activists say more money is needed for prevention; ND farmers still navigate corporate land-ownership policy maze; Unpaid caregivers in ME receive limited financial grants.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken urges Israel to protect civilians amid Gaza truce talks, New York Rep. George Santos defends himself as his expected expulsion looms and CDC director warns about respiratory illness as flu season begins.

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Congress has iced the Farm Bill, but farmer advocates argue some portions are urgent, the Hoosier State is reaping big rewards from wind and solar, and opponents react to a road through Alaska's Brooks Range, long a dream destination for hunters and anglers.

SCOTUS Narrows 50-Year-Old Clean Water Act, Affecting NM Rivers

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Friday, May 26, 2023   

Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it harder for the federal government to enforce clean-water rules has New Mexico environmental groups urging Congress to take the lead.

The 5-4 opinion by conservative justices, minus Bret Kavanaugh, is a blow to the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate wetlands and waterways. The court decided wetlands under the 50-year-old Clean Water Act can only be protected if they have a "continuous surface connection" to larger, regulated bodies of water. As a very arid state, said Tannis Fox, a staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said New Mexico doesn't have many, leaving it especially vulnerable.

"That could displace from federal protection just a multitude, perhaps a majority, of New Mexico surface waters," she said, "at least New Mexico perennial, ephemeral waters and wetlands."

The ruling stems from Sackett vs. EPA, a 14-year-old court case filed after the EPA halted construction on an Idaho home owned by Michael and Chantell Sackett, arguing that it jeopardized protected wetlands. In Thursday's ruling, all nine justices agreed the wetlands on the Sacketts' property are not covered by the Clean Water Act, essentially protecting property rights over clean water.

New Mexico is one of only three states without a surface water-quality permitting program, leaving its wetlands with the fewest protections. However, Jon Devine, a senior attorney and director of federal water policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, predicted that all communities across the country will pay the price.

"I would estimate that at least half of the wetlands in the country are now at risk of being destroyed without the federal safeguards the Clean Water Act provides," he said, "over 50 million acres of wetlands."

Environmental groups want Congress and states to beef up protections for water used for drinking, swimming, fishing, irrigation and more. In the court's minority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said much like a previous ruling limiting the EPA's ability to fight climate change, the court again has appointed itself the "national decisionmaker on environmental policy."


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