Navajo Nation Petitions Biden Administration to Leave Fossil Fuels Alone

Navajo Nation Petitions Biden Administration to Leave Fossil Fuels Alone

By Corinne Murdock |

The Navajo Nation spoke out again this week against the Biden administration’s efforts to undermine fossil fuel development. Their reservation is the largest of all, spanning across three states along the Four Corners Monument: Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. 

In an interview with Fox News, Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company CEO James McClure explained that fossil fuels earn them over $75 million in annual revenue — over half of the tribe’s annual budget — yet, the Biden administration hasn’t given support in recognition of that “very important” fact. 

“The current administration has worked to support the Navajo Nation on most clean energy initiatives,” McClure told Fox News Digital. “The same cannot be said of oil and gas development.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and the Navajo Nation Council oppose the Biden administration’s plans to eradicate fossil fuel development. The Department of Interior (DOI) will soon implement a 20-year ban on oil and gas leasing. President Joe Biden first announced the ban last November, as part of his ongoing pledge to counter climate change with fossil fuel eradication. 

The ban would jeopardize the $6.2 million annual royalties earned by the tribe. The DOI has told reporters repeatedly that the Biden administration would ultimately support tribes’ desired land use.

However, that promise stands in conflict with Biden’s rhetoric around fossil fuels. During a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in March, Biden said that those profiting off of fossil fuels needed to sacrifice for the greater good of the country. 

“My message is, it’s time in this time of war, it’s not a time of profit. It’s time for reinvesting in America,” said Biden. “This crisis is another indication why we need to get off dependency on fossil fuels.”

Conrad Stewart, the Crow Nation of Montana’s director of energy and water, also stressed to Fox News that their tribes’ economic well-being depends on fossil fuel development.

“A war on coal is a war on Crow,” said Stewart. 

That phrase, “war on coal,” refers to the continuation of former President Barack Obama’s policies within the Biden administration. During Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s confirmation hearing last January, Granholm disclosed that “jobs might be sacrificed” under these policies.

Around the time of Granholm’s confirmation hearing, the Ute Indian Tribe asked the U.S. Interior Department for an exemption to the suspension on federal and tribal land leases and permits for oil and gas.

Reservations produce over 3 percent of the country’s oil and gas reserves untapped; according to a 2014 report, their lands contain about 20 percent of the oil and gas reserves, and 30 percent of domestic coal reserves west of the Mississippi River. A report from S&P Global Platts estimated that 12 of the 326 tribal reservations produce significant oil. 

Another major tribe that relies heavily on fossil fuel development is the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Their chairman, Mark Fox, estimated in 2020 that oil accounted for 90 percent of their revenue. Last year, Fox told Fox News that fossil fuels ensured that their forthcoming generations would have a home.

Not all Native American tribes oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to curb fossil fuel development. Those tribes that don’t rely on those resources, such as the Standing Rock Sioux, support the Biden administration. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona’s Personal Income Tax Is Being Slashed One Year Early

Arizona’s Personal Income Tax Is Being Slashed One Year Early

By Terri Jo Neff |

Arizona will have just one personal income tax rate of 2.5 percent instead of four rates as of Jan. 1, Gov. Doug Ducey announced last week. That is an effective date one year sooner than was originally expected when the governor signed legislation in 2021 for what was designed as a three-year phase in.

“It’s time to deliver lasting tax relief to Arizona families and small businesses so they can keep more of their hard-earned money,” Ducey wrote to Arizona Department of Revenue Director Robert Woods on Sept. 29. “This tax relief keeps Arizona competitive and preserves our reputation as a jobs magnet and generator of opportunity.”

It is Arizona’s thriving economy and record revenues which allows for full implementation of the flat tax now instead of January 2024, according to Ducey. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting jointly informed the governor last week that Arizona’s General Fund revenues, excluding the beginning balance for Fiscal Year 2022, were at $16.7 billion.

This exceeded the statutory economic condition phase-in triggers written into the flat tax law in 2021. In addition, Arizona’s Rainy Day Fund is at its highest level ($1.4 billion) in state history and economists are forecasting Arizona will report at least a $4 billion budget surplus through 2024.

“It’s no secret that Arizona’s economy is booming,” Ducey added in his letter to Woods. “Over the last eight years, we’ve made responsible decisions to live within our means, reduce burdensome government regulations, lower taxes every year and ensure our state remains a great place to live.”

Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma was instrumental in getting personal income tax reform passed during the 2021 legislative session to eventually replace the state’s four-rate system of 2.59 to 4.5 percent with the 2.5 percent flat rate.

“I am happy to report that revenue thresholds have been exceeded one full year in advance, enabling the implementation of a single flat rate of 2.5% a year earlier, providing Arizonans with significant economic relief when they need it most,” he said in response to the governor’s announcement.

Several business groups and economic development organizations lauded the news, which will give Arizona the lowest flat tax in the country when it takes effect Jan. 1.

Americans For Prosperity – Arizona:

“This is a historic win for Arizona that couldn’t come at a better time,” said State Director Stephen Shadegg of AFP-Arizona. “Over time, Arizonans will continue to reap the benefits of more tax relief and the state will become even more attractive to businesses and investors, growing the state’s economy while letting hardworking taxpayers keep more of their paychecks.”

Common Sense Institute Arizona, a non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Arizona’s economy:

Arizona Chamber of Commerce:

Maricopa County Launches Disinformation Center, Limits Press Access

Maricopa County Launches Disinformation Center, Limits Press Access

By Corinne Murdock |

Just a month ahead of the November midterms, Maricopa County announced its new “Elections Command Center” to combat disinformation, and that it would limit press access on county property. 

The first line of the press release issued on Tuesday emphasized that county officials across different fields of expertise teamed up together for the greater good when instituting these changes.

“Six elected officials and a team of elections and communications professionals are coming together as one ahead of the 2022 November General Election in Maricopa County,” stated the county.

With this new command center will come tighter restrictions on press access to the county. The county now requires the media to have press passes to enter its facilities and cover election events.

“Because of logistical and security considerations, it is impossible to give the public and media limitless access to Members of the Board of Supervisors, the County Recorder and election experts for events such as press conferences and availabilities,” stated the signup page. 

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) Chairman Bill Gates indicated that the Elections Command Center would serve as an improved information dissemination platform compared to traditional social media and mainstream media outlets. 

“The Command Center will further deliver on that promise by creating a structure that allows us to reach more people, faster, with factual information about how elections are run and how people can successfully participate,” said Gates. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer added that the county’s decision to establish an additional communications hub wasn’t an indictment of their recent management of the primary election, but rather a commitment to improvement.

“We ran a terrific primary election, but because of our ‘continuous improvement’ work ethic, we will have an incredible communications team assembled that will allow us to better respond to constituent concerns and combat misinformation during the General Election,” said Richer.

The Elections Command Center will be responsible for informing voters about deadlines and election processes, engaging with media, addressing mass-spread rumors and false information, and issuing updates on election results. Additionally, the command center officials will host live-streamed press conferences in the upcoming months.

The county implemented a similar command center in April 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Maricopa County Unified Command Center.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Biden Administration Gives Arizona $20.8 Million For Mental Health Oversight in Schools 

Biden Administration Gives Arizona $20.8 Million For Mental Health Oversight in Schools 

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Department of Education (ED) announced the distribution of over $20.8 million to increase mental health oversight in Arizona schools.

The funds may be applied to a variety of mental, social, and emotional initiatives within schools. This includes school counseling, mentorships, and bullying and harassment prevention.

During a press call on Wednesday, the ED featured insight from Dr. Marty Pollio, the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent in Louisville, Kentucky. Pollio said that the SCG funds allowed for three means of school improvement:

  1. Identify students in need and in crisis who need mental health support like counseling; 
  2. Reduce the counselor-to-student ratio;
  3. Train teachers on how to identify troubled students and support school personnel.

Pollio suggested that mental health professionals, such as board-certified behavioral analysts, should be deployed to classrooms to identify problematic students. 

“Educators have to do more than ever,” said Pollio.

AZ Free News asked the Biden administration whether they would be providing guidelines for behavior analysis enabled by SCG funds, such as what students would be deemed problematic as Pollio suggested. The ED said they weren’t providing guidelines. Rather, the ED said that level of management would be up to the states and districts. 

“[The SCG] allows states and districts to tailor their funds to each district and school,” said one of the officials. 

The funds come from the Strong Connections Grant (SCG) within the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). Nationwide, grant funds totaled over $971 million.

ED Secretary Miguel Cardona asserted that teachers have been handling student behaviors on limited funding and resources, and that students behaved better with reduced disciplinary action and increased promotion of positive behavior. Cardona noted that in all, investments to improve mental health in schools through SCG total $1 billion. 

“We must broaden our focus beyond physically safe learning environments,” said Cardona. “If we’re serious about equity and opportunity, we must expand our definitions of learning and growth to include mental and emotional health.”

MORE ON THE STRONG CONNECTIONS GRANT

President Joe Biden’s special assistant for education policy, Maureen Tracey-Mooney, said that the SCG funds are designed for “high impact strategies” that would ultimately impact home life, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and summer learning.

Earlier this month, Cardona sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) notifying them of this recent investment. Cardona’s letter provides educators with suggestions and guidelines on how to implement the SCG funding.

The ADE will decide which school districts will receive the SCG funds and oversee their expenditure. However, the ED retains the authority to audit and investigate schools’ use of the SCG funds. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Death Of 9 In Drunk Driving Crash Prompts Call For Impairment Detection Systems

Death Of 9 In Drunk Driving Crash Prompts Call For Impairment Detection Systems

By Terri Jo Neff |

Last year’s fiery death of two adults and seven children in a head-on collision involving a drunk driver in California has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend all new vehicles in the U.S. be equipped with a device capable of preventing or limiting a vehicle’s operation if driver impairment by alcohol is detected.

The NTSB recommendation calls on the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to adopt new manufacturing requirements to include passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection systems, advanced driver monitoring systems, or a combination of both in an effort to prevent impaired drivers from getting on the road.

“Vehicle-integrated passive alcohol detection technologies that prevent or limit impaired drivers from operating their vehicles have significant lifesaving potential; however, development of the technologies has been slow, and additional action is needed to accelerate progress in implementing these technologies,” according to the NTSB report of the deadly 2021 California crash.

That report released in September argues such a device would have likely kept a heavily intoxicated driver off a highway the night of Jan. 1, 2021. The unidentified driver lost control of his SUV at speeds between 88 and 98 mph and crossed the centerline where the SUV crashed head-on with a pickup truck.

The pickup truck was occupied by an adult driver and seven children ages 6 to 15. The truck immediately caught on fire and was fully engulfed before other drivers could extricate the occupants.

The SUV driver and all eight people in the truck died at the scene.

But NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy says the “heartbreaking crash” could have been prevented with readily available technology, “just as it can prevent the tens of thousands of fatalities from impaired-driving and speeding-related crashes we see in the U.S. annually.”

The official findings in the California incident also included a renewed call for the NHTSA to incentivize passenger vehicle manufacturers and consumers to adopt Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) systems which alert a driver if a vehicle travels above the speed limit. Some newer ISA products can even automatically restrict the vehicle from traveling above a predetermined speed.

However, the five-member NTSB is not waiting for the NHTSA to adopt new manufacturing standards, which could take two or three years.

The agency has publicly called out the Alliance for Automotive Innovation—whose members manufacture nearly all new cars and light trucks sold in the United States—to encourage the development and deployment of technology to combat alcohol-impaired driving.

Data recently released by the NHTSA shows roughly one in three traffic fatalities in the U.S. resulted from crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. And the number of such impaired driver crashes is increasing.

Arizona is no different, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation, which shows the number of traffic fatalities in the state from all causes rose last year to 1,180, the highest level in 15 years. Of those, 243 deaths were alcohol related, up from six percent from 2020.

The full 2021 Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report is available here.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged by Congress to investigate a variety of transportation accidents, including aircrafts, railroads, boats, and pipelines. It also has authority to investigate “significant accidents” which occur on highways. Another responsibility of the NTSB is to issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.

Any of those recommendations concerning highways are made to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) within the U.S. Department of Transportation. Among its authorities is the setting of and enforcement of safety standards.