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Governor: 2 attackers kill 8, themselves at Brazil school

Denver Post Local News - 11 hours 41 min ago

SAO PAULO (AP) — The governor of Sao Paulo says two young men, wearing hoods and carrying several weapons, opened fire at a school in southern Brazil, killing eight people before taking their own lives.

Wednesday’s shooting happened in a public school in Suzano, a suburb of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

Gov. Joao Doria says the two attackers were believed to be between 20 and 25 years old. He says authorities don’t believe the two were former students.

Doria says the dead included two teachers and six students, and several more people had been hospitalized after sustaining injuries.

Latin America’s largest nation has the largest number of annual homicides in the world, but school shootings are rare.

Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro recently announced that gun ownership controls would be loosened.

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Obama officials failed to focus as fentanyl burned its way across America

Denver Post Local News - 11 hours 42 min ago

In May 2016, a group of national health experts issued an urgent plea in a private letter to high-level officials in the Obama administration. Thousands of people were dying from overdoses of fentanyl – the deadliest drug to ever hit U.S. streets – and the administration needed to take immediate action. The epidemic had been escalating for three years.

The 11 experts pressed the officials to declare fentanyl a national “public health emergency” that would put a laserlike focus on combating the emerging epidemic and warn the country about the threat, according to a copy of the letter.

“The fentanyl crisis represents an extraordinary public health challenge – and requires an extraordinary public health response,” the experts wrote to six administration officials, including the nation’s “drug czar” and the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration considered the request but did not act on it.

The decision was one in a series of missed opportunities, oversights and half-measures by federal officials who failed to grasp how quickly fentanyl was creating another – and far more fatal – wave of the opioid epidemic.

In the span of a few short years, fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroin, became the drug scourge of our time. Fentanyl has played a key role in reducing the overall life expectancy for Americans.

If current trends continue, the annual death toll from fentanyl will soon approach those from guns or traffic accidents. Among the dead are the anonymous and the famous, including musicians Prince and Tom Petty. It is so powerful that just a few flecks the size of grains of salt can cause rapid death.

Between 2013 and 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses – exceeding the number of U.S. military personnel killed during the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. The number of deaths, the vast majority from fentanyl, has risen sharply each year. In 2017, synthetic opioids were to blame for 28,869 out of the overall 47,600 opioid overdoses, a 46.4 percent increase over the previous year, when fentanyl became the leading cause of overdose deaths in America for the first time.

“This is a massive institutional failure, and I don’t think people have come to grips with it,” said John Walters, chief of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy between 2001 and 2009. “This is like an absurd bad dream and we don’t know how to intervene or how to save lives.”

Federal officials saw fentanyl as an appendage to the overall opioid crisis rather than a unique threat that required its own targeted strategy. As law enforcement began cracking down in 2005 on prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin, addicts turned to heroin, which was cheaper and more available. Then, in 2013, fentanyl arrived, and overdoses and deaths soared.

“Fentanyl was killing people like we’d never seen before,” said Derek Maltz, the former agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division in Washington. “A red light was going off, ding, ding, ding. This is something brand new. What the hell is going on? We needed a serious sense of urgency.”

But for years, Congress didn’t provide significant funding to combat fentanyl or the larger opioid epidemic. U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn’t have enough officers, properly trained dogs or sophisticated equipment to curb illegal fentanyl shipments entering the country from China and Mexico. The U.S. Postal Service didn’t require electronic monitoring of international packages, making it difficult to detect parcels containing fentanyl ordered over the internet from China. CDC data documenting fentanyl overdoses lagged events on the ground by as much as a year, obscuring the real-time picture of what was happening.

Facing hotly contested midterm elections in 2018, Congress finally passed legislation aimed at addressing the increasingly politicized opioid crisis, including a measure to force the Postal Service to start tracking international packages.

“How many people had to die before Congress stood up and did the right thing with regard to telling our own Post Office you have to provide better screening?” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sponsor of the legislation, asked on the Senate floor last fall.

Local and state leaders in hard-hit communities say the federal government wasted too much time at a cost of far too many lives.

“Everybody was slow to recognize the severity of the problem, even though a lot of the warning signs were there,” said Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, which has one of the highest fentanyl overdose rates in the United States.

In Sununu’s state, narcan, an opioid antidote, has become standard issue for some school districts. Addicts overdose on the sidewalks and in public parks of Manchester and are found slumped over the steering wheels of cars in traffic. Firefighters and paramedics are called nearly every day to fentanyl overdoses and have opened their station houses to addicts seeking treatment.

“In the city of Manchester, we saw 20 overdoses to 80 overdoses a month. We were like, ‘What the heck is happening with these overdoses?’ ” said Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan.

He said politicians and policymakers held numerous roundtable discussions to talk about solutions, but there was little action.

“I said, ‘If I had to go to another roundtable, I’m going to jump out the window myself because we’re going nowhere with these roundtables,’ ” he said.

Drug treatment experts compared the government’s slow response to an earlier failure to face the AIDS epidemic.

“There was a stigma about being gay,” said Luke Nasta, executive director of the largest drug treatment facility on Staten Island, New York. “There is also a stigma about being addicted to drugs. The entire society is suffering and the government can’t seem to get their arms around this epidemic.

“If it’s an epidemic, then treat it like an epidemic.”

– – –

The first wave of the opioid epidemic began in 1996 after drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma introduced what it claimed to be a wonder drug for pain – OxyContin, a powerful opioid that was aggressively marketed to physicians as less addictive than other prescription narcotics. As the medical community embraced the new drug, it became a blockbuster for Purdue, generating billions in sales.

Over the next decade, doctors and corrupt pain management clinics prescribed massive amounts of opioids. To meet the demand, drug manufacturers and distributors flooded communities across the country with opioid pills, including oxycodone and hydrocodone. Drug users and dealers diverted hundreds of millions of doses to the streets.

The DEA started to crack down on the illegal trade in 2005. Two years later, Purdue paid $600 million in fines and its executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for claiming the product was less addictive than other painkillers. The company agreed to make its marketing conform to federal rules and has launched programs to combat opioid abuse.

“It is deeply flawed to suggest that activities that last occurred 18 years ago are responsible for today’s complex and multi-faceted opioid addiction crisis,” the company said in a recent statement.

The federal government also fined the largest drug distributors and pharmacies tens of millions of dollars over allegations that they failed to report suspicious orders of pain pills.

As the supply of prescription opioids began to tighten, America’s pill addicts became desperate. Street prices soared. Mexican drug cartels saw an opening to sell more heroin, a cheaper, more potent way to get high. That set off the second wave of the epidemic by 2010 and a rise in overdose deaths.

Then fentanyl hit the streets. A synthetic opioid developed in 1960 by a Belgian physician, fentanyl is normally reserved for surgery and cancer patients. It is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, its chemical cousin.

For traffickers, illicit fentanyl produced in labs was the most lucrative opportunity yet, a chance to bypass the unpredictability of the poppy fields that produced their heroin. The traffickers could order one of the cheapest and most powerful opioids on the planet directly from Chinese labs over the internet.

It was 20 times more profitable than heroin by weight. By lacing a little of the white powdery drug into their heroin, the dealers could make their product more potent and more compelling to users. They called it China White, China Girl, Apache, Dance Fever, Goodfella, Murder 8 or Tango & Cash.

The third wave of the opioid epidemic was about to begin. Ground zero was Rhode Island, already reeling from a crippling prescription pill and heroin problem.

The first signs were detected in the spring of 2013 when overdose deaths spiked at the state morgue in Providence. Then-Rhode Island Health Director Michael Fine wondered: What was killing so many so quickly?

Fine was surprised to learn when the toxicology reports came back that 12 people who overdosed between March and May had died from fentanyl. They ranged in age from 19 to 57, and most were from the northern part of the state.

Fine notified the CDC about the cluster. On Aug. 30, 2013, the CDC in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlighted the unusual spike in Rhode Island. It didn’t attract much national attention.

Eighteen days before the CDC issued its “Notes from the Field,” then-Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the other side of the country to issue one of the biggest policy proclamations of his career.

Standing before hundreds of lawyers gathered for the American Bar Association’s annual conference in San Francisco, Holder announced that he was rolling back the aggressive prosecution strategy that had been launched to target the crack cocaine crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

Calling the new policy “Smart on Crime,” Holder said he was directing federal prosecutors to stop bringing low-level, nonviolent drug charges that would trigger mandatory-minimum sentences. The charges had resulted in harsh sentences for first-time offenders, many of them young black men. Holder told his prosecutors to focus on large drug-trafficking organizations.

He wanted a major reduction in the burgeoning federal prison population, but his initiative also was part of the Obama administration’s strategy to favor drug treatment over incarceration.

“Our system is, in too many ways, broken,” Holder said that day. “A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.”

Prison reform activists, civil rights groups and some federal prosecutors hailed the new policy, laid out in a three-page Department of Justice memorandum that became known as the “Holder Memo.”

– – –

Tim Pifer and his team at the state crime lab in Concord, New Hampshire, started to see the same pattern in 2014 that Fine had noticed in Rhode Island the previous year.

“We were thinking, why would anyone inject something that’s so potentially deadly?” Pifer, the veteran chief of the lab, said in a recent interview. “We saw this huge spike in drug deaths.”

To get the word out, state health and law enforcement officials in New Hampshire and Rhode Island joined with the DEA, which had been seeing the same pattern across New England.

In January 2014, the DEA issued a bulletin warning local authorities nationwide about “killer heroin” cut with fentanyl. First responders needed to “exercise extreme caution” because fentanyl could be absorbed through the skin. The bulletin resulted in a few local news stories. But, once again, there was little national attention.

In March, a month after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s heroin overdose generated national headlines, Holder released a video to notify the public of the rising number of heroin deaths across the country. He called heroin an “urgent and growing public health crisis.” Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths had increased by 45 percent.

“Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment,” Holder said in the video. “The Justice Department is committed to both.”

Holder made no mention of fentanyl; top officials in Washington were still focused on heroin and prescription pain pills.

Former DEA agents said they provided Holder with a personal briefing that included a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation about the dangers of fentanyl in June 2014, three months after Holder’s video. Several DEA officials were present, including then-DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

The PowerPoint, which The Washington Post reviewed, warned that heroin was being laced with fentanyl and there had been an “outbreak” of fentanyl overdoses in the Northeast. It also noted that the drug was being ordered over the internet. The agency had traced the source to Chinese drug-trafficking organizations.

While raising red flags, the PowerPoint presentation itself did not request any particular action.

“We were hoping and expecting a briefing to the nation’s number one law enforcement official would not only raise the level of awareness, but would cause him to take action within the department to direct people to make this matter a high priority since people were dying,” Maltz, the DEA’s former agent in charge of the Special Operations Division, later told The Post.

Maltz’s division prepared and delivered the PowerPoint. He said he and his agents believed that a national problem like fentanyl was “way bigger than the DEA,” and the attorney general could have taken a leadership role, urging other agencies to focus on the emerging threat.

Leonhart did not respond to requests for comment. Holder declined an interview request. His former spokesman said it was up to the DEA to ask the attorney general for specific action.

“It says something that the people pointing fingers at the attorney general can’t point to a single action they recommended that he declined to take,” said Matthew Miller, Holder’s former spokesman at DOJ. “Eric Holder made fighting the opioid crisis a major focus, he strongly supported the DEA’s work in this area, and if the officials trying to now lay the blame at someone else’s feet had asked for more assistance, he would have given it, as he did in nearly every instance a law enforcement agency made such a request.”

Ten months after the briefing, Holder left the administration.

By then, fentanyl was spreading across the country. Large increases in fentanyl seizures were being reported in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and Virginia.

At the same time, in the wake of Holder’s memo, federal drug cases were dropping. In a year, the number of people charged with federal drug crimes fell by more than 4,700 – from 27,106 in 2013 to 22,387 in 2014.

“There was a dramatic decline in drug prosecutions,” Rod Rosenstein, who served as the U.S. attorney in Baltimore during the Obama administration and is now the deputy attorney general, recently told The Post. “That was a reflection of administration policy to de-emphasize imprisonment and to shift focus away from prosecution into treatment.”

Then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in 2016 that U.S. Sentencing Commission data showed that the number of serious drug prosecutions – such as those involving firearms – increased.

But a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the sentencing data Yates used had “significant limitations” because it did not count the number of cases from drug agents that assistant U.S. attorneys turned down for prosecution. Horowitz concluded that there was no way to gauge the precise impact Holder’s memo had on drug prosecutions.

Holder’s former spokesman said the memo did not take away tools from prosecutors.

“It gave them discretion,” Miller said in a written statement. “They have the same ability to charge cases they have always had, they are just supposed to use discretion and not automatically trigger mandatory minimums when they aren’t appropriate. There are many reasons for the increase in fentanyl abuse, but there is no evidence that the Smart on Crime initiative is one of them.”

But out in the field, some drug agents and prosecutors said they noticed an immediate difference, just as fentanyl started to show up on the streets.

Dominick Capuano, a former veteran New York City narcotics supervisor who worked with federal task forces on Staten Island, said his agents traditionally launched their cases by arresting low-level dealers. Prosecutors would then offer plea deals for information about bigger traffickers. Law enforcement would work its way up to the kingpins. Federal laws carry long prison sentences and provide powerful incentives for people to talk.

After the Holder memo, Capuano said federal prosecutors would no longer take the lower-level cases and morale among his drug agents plummeted as heroin and fentanyl overdoses soared.

“The low-lying fish is where you start the cases,” said Capuano, who recently retired after 21 years on the job. “Those are the people who flip, who give information, and that’s what leads to these bigger cases.”

Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber, an Obama appointee who was renamed to the position by the Trump administration, said in a recent interview that the change in policy “took the edge off” drug prosecutions.

The message, he said: “This isn’t so important anymore.”

– – –

On March 18, 2015, nine months after its presentation to Holder, the DEA put out its strongest warning yet to law enforcement agencies and the public about the mounting threat, issuing a “Nationwide Alert on Fentanyl.”

The alert was a distillation of what the agency had learned about the drug in the previous two years. It was intended to sound the alarm, not only to the agency’s field offices, but also to federal and state officials, and to the public. The DEA warned that fentanyl was increasingly showing up in heroin.

DEA agents said fentanyl was being ordered by traffickers and users over the internet and the dark web. They paid for the drug with bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency. The agency noted that Mexican cartels were smuggling fentanyl through ports of entry along the Southwest border, hiding it in wheel wells and secret compartments in cars and trucks.

State and local labs reported that seizures had risen from 942 in 2013 to 3,344 in 2014.

The rise in deaths was disturbing: 80 fentanyl deaths in the first six months of 2014 in New Jersey and 200 deaths in Pennsylvania over 15 months.

The same month that the DEA issued its alert, Congress directed the Justice Department and the White House drug czar to convene a National Heroin Task Force to develop strategies to confront the “heroin problem” and “curtail the escalating overdose epidemic and death rates.”

This was meant to be the administration’s big effort, bringing together 25 agencies to develop a “comprehensive” national response to the crisis.

The focus was still on heroin and prescription pills.

The task force’s 23-page report was delivered to Congress by the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Five sentences were devoted to fentanyl.

The report said the surge in opioid deaths “may be related” to a rise in heroin being laced with fentanyl. It called for the creation of response teams to warn police and the public about overdoses, some of which may involve fentanyl, and said there should be more research into “opioid use disorder,” including the use of fentanyl.

No mention was made of the role of China and orders of fentanyl over the internet, the smuggling of fentanyl through the U.S. mail or the lack of resources devoted to fighting fentanyl trafficking at the border and ports of entry.

“In retrospect, it should have been a focus of the report,” Michael Botticelli, the White House drug czar at the time, said in a recent interview.

A task force leader saw fentanyl as an extension of the prescription pill and heroin crisis, not as the beginning of a new and far deadlier drug epidemic.

“It was not ignored and it was on the radar and we did talk about it, but it was sort of like another problem on top of everything else,” said David Hickton, former U.S. attorney of the Western District of Pennsylvania, who co-chaired the task force. “The big problem at the time was opioids in pill form. Fentanyl was episodic at that time. It looks so different to me today than it did then. Now, it looks like its own problem. At the time, it looked like a spike problem.”

Hickton said he was frustrated that the report didn’t fault Congress for failing to provide funding to fight the epidemic. He said the task force believed that at least $1 billion was needed immediately for law enforcement efforts and treatment programs.

“We were very clear about what we needed,” said Hickton, who later created his own state task force to focus on heroin and fentanyl traffickers. “We didn’t get half. We got zero.”

At the same time, the state of Rhode Island launched its own task force after newly elected Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo declared opioid overdoses to be a “public health crisis” in 2015.

Two experts advising the task force visited the state morgue in Providence. Josiah Rich and Traci Green, epidemiologists from Brown University, pored over the autopsy reports that had so alarmed Michael Fine two years earlier.

“There’s a fentanyl, there’s another fentanyl,” Rich recalled in a recent interview.

As they sifted through the reports and the photographs of the dead, one stood out: a pregnant woman, slumped over, surrounded by the presents she had recently received for her baby shower.

“It hits you in the heart,” Rich said. “You read through a two-foot stack of those and you’re a different person.”

Rich and Green began to contact their colleagues around the country and discovered that others had also seen troubling spikes of fentanyl deaths.

“We said, ‘Oh my goodness, this fentanyl is really starting to take off,’ ” Rich said. “Nobody’s doing anything about it. Nobody’s saying anything about it.”

Lynch, the attorney general, did mention fentanyl in one sentence during a keynote address she delivered at the Opioid Misuse and Addiction Summit in Massachusetts that fall. Lynch said the DEA had recently taken “several major actions” against drug traffickers and was “raising awareness about the growing presence of fentanyl in heroin sold on the streets, which substantially and tragically increases the risk of overdose.”

In Washington, Tom Frieden, the CDC chief during the Obama administration, notified several senior administration health officials about the increasing fentanyl overdoses, including a doubling of deaths in New Hampshire in one year.

Frieden believed one of his roles was to alert government officials to dangerous trends in the field. In October 2015, the CDC issued a nationwide health advisory about the increasing dangers of fentanyl. It was up to the various agencies to take action, he said.

“I felt like I was a bit of a voice in the wilderness,” Frieden recalled in a recent interview. “I didn’t have the sense that people got this as a really serious problem.”

One of the people Frieden contacted was Botticelli, the drug czar.

“I had many conversations with him, encouraging law enforcement to take rigorous action,” Frieden said. “He assured me they were.”

The drug czar’s office depended on overdose data from the CDC. But data from the field was sometimes a year behind, and local coroners and medical examiners were not always testing for fentanyl.

“It’s incredibly frustrating when you feel like, given the resources of the United States, that we can’t harness those resources in ways that help us see around the corner,” Botticelli said.

He said he pressed for faster overdose reporting from medical examiners. He also worked to increase funding for drug task forces around the country.

That same year, Kemp Chester was named the associate director of the National Heroin Coordination Group in Botticelli’s office. Chester said the government was focused on pain pill and heroin overdoses; fentanyl was still seen as an outlier.

“There was not an interagency understanding of what this drug is, where it’s coming from and how it’s getting into the country,” Chester recalled.

Chuck Rosenberg, the DEA administrator at the time, declined a request for an interview.

That November – eight months after the DEA issued its national fentanyl alert – the Obama administration sent its annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. The 107-page report devoted one sentence to fentanyl, noting that it was showing up in heroin.

“It caught a lot of people by surprise,” said Jon DeLena, the associate special agent in charge of the DEA’s New England Field Division. “People didn’t understand until it was really put in their face. People weren’t paying attention to how rapidly this evolved and they weren’t prepared for it.”

– – –

On March 29, 2016, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., joined President Barack Obama on Air Force One for a trip to Atlanta, where both were scheduled to speak at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.

By then, Markey said, the “fentanyl story was still masked in the prescription drug and heroin epidemic” and he felt like “Paul Revere, warning that even greater danger was coming.” He and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had requested the previous year that the U.S. surgeon general provide Congress with a report to highlight the seriousness of the overall opioid epidemic.

The senator used the rare one-on-one time to tell the president about fentanyl.

“I mentioned to him how this was morphing into increasingly a fentanyl epidemic and that’s what was hitting Massachusetts and we were the canaries in a mine shaft,” Markey recalled. “He was very concerned about it.”

During Obama’s hour-long appearance as part of a panel, the president discussed pills, heroin and efforts to provide treatment to opioid addicts. He made an oblique reference to fentanyl without mentioning the drug by name.

“We are now seeing synthetic opioids that are oftentimes coming in from China through Mexico into the United States,” Obama said. “We’re having to move very aggressively there, as well.”

The situation had become so desperate that health experts from around the country banded together to make an impassioned plea to the highest levels of the Obama administration.

On May 4, 2016, a month after Obama’s Atlanta appearance, the 11 public health experts wrote to the six administration officials, requesting the emergency declaration. Among the experts were Rich and Green, the two Rhode Island epidemiologists who had seen the devastation firsthand.

“What was happening was not enough given the scale of the challenge,” said another of the authors of the letter, Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In their 14-page letter, the experts pointed out that the fentanyl epidemic appeared “to be intensifying after two years.”

It was far more dangerous than an earlier fentanyl outbreak in several states between 2005 and 2007, when nearly 1,000 people died. In that case, quick action had saved lives: The DEA had traced the fentanyl to a clandestine lab in Toluca, Mexico, and shut it down immediately.

Now, fentanyl deaths were spreading across the nation. In Maryland, the toll had jumped by more than 800 percent from 2013 to 2015.

“Like a light switch turning on,” they wrote, referring to Maryland.

Traffickers were now buying pill presses from China and lacing fentanyl into counterfeit pain pills such as Vicodin, Xanax and oxycodone.

The experts asked the administration to take several steps to immediately address the crisis.

To start, they requested an emergency public health declaration from the Department of Health and Human Services that would sound the alarm. “An emergency declaration would clarify the public health nature of the crisis and bring needed focus to a new threat that is claiming thousands of lives,” the experts wrote.

But an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter dismissed the idea of a declaration, saying it would have been “largely symbolic” and required emergency funds from Congress.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell was then the HHS secretary who would have had to approve the declaration. She declined an interview request.

Two months after the emergency request, Burwell spoke at the National Governors Association’s summer meeting on opioid addiction in Des Moines, Iowa. She said she had put together a “working group” at HHS and asked the audience for help.

“I’m sure you all know better than I do, fentanyl is the problem on steroids,” she said. “If you’re seeing things that are working in your states, please let us know.”

Botticelli, the drug czar and another recipient of the request, said the Obama administration’s priority was getting more money from Congress for treatment.

“Quite honestly, I think our focus at that point was not just to declare a public health emergency, but really to get additional resources out to states,” he said.

But many leading voices in the field feel an emergency declaration could have saved lives by shining a bright spotlight that would have galvanized the administration, awakened the public and warned users of the danger they faced.

“A great deal would have been done by the White House simply saying we have this horrible danger out there,” said Walters, the earlier drug czar. “We saw more action by the White House over an outbreak of tainted food, giving out news releases telling people what to look for, telling people to protect their friends and family, than you did for fentanyl. It’s a little ridiculous that we don’t use the bully pulpit to at least provide a national warning.”

In the summer of 2016, a few months after the fentanyl letter, the Obama administration declared the Zika virus to be a public health emergency and had already requested $1.9 billion from Congress to address it. Two people in the United States died of Zika-related illnesses.

At the same time, the DEA warned, counterfeit pain pills laced with fentanyl were posing a “global threat.”

That fall, with the presidential campaign in full swing, the White House proclaimed “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.” It had been three years since the CDC issued the first fentanyl warning in its morbidity report.

The administration announced several fentanyl initiatives. It would continue to work with China and Mexico to stem the flow into the United States, make the anti-overdose medication naloxone more widely available and give additional money to drug task forces. The administration said it was adding money to accelerate data collection on overdoses. Finally, it planned to hold a “roundtable” with grieving parents.

As part of the “awareness week,” Attorney General Lynch traveled to the University of Kentucky, where she highlighted the rise of opioid overdoses and said “more than a third were caused by fentanyl.”

Lynch said the Justice Department would fund research into fentanyl, and she directed her prosecutors to focus on “the greatest threats, including but not limited to individuals and institutions responsible for the trafficking of heroin and fentanyl.” A report issued much later highlighted five fentanyl cases federal prosecutors had brought across the country under Lynch.

Lynch declined a request for an interview.

Obama also declined to be interviewed.

Katie Hill, Obama’s communications director, said any story about “our administration’s fentanyl response” should be put in the context of “our comprehensive approach to the opioid crisis,” which included passage of the Affordable Care Act, a push for funding to expand treatment and the updating of guidelines for prescribing opioids.

“It’s impossible to divorce fentanyl from the broader opioid use epidemic and how we responded,” Hill said.

After the 2016 election, at the urging of Obama, Congress approved nearly $1 billion for opioid treatment programs. Drug policy experts called that figure “a drop in the bucket.”

On Nov. 17, the surgeon general released the opioid report Markey and McConnell had requested the previous year. “As the nation struggles with an unprecedented opioid epidemic, this report is a missed opportunity,” Markey said in a statement at the time. “The deaths caused by prescription drug, heroin and fentanyl overdoses are growing exponentially every year, yet this report fails to provide any detailed roadmap for how best to curb opioid addiction.”

On Jan. 11, 2017, in the waning days of the administration, Obama delivered his annual National Drug Control Strategy to Congress. Four years after the epidemic began in Rhode Island, the White House called fentanyl a national crisis.

The report said fentanyl overdoses and seizures were soaring. Members of the outgoing administration said they had been meeting with Chinese and Mexican officials to stop the flow. The administration was also working to break up drug trafficking rings and trying to improve communication between agencies to fight the spread of heroin and fentanyl.

On page 73 of the 76-page report, the drug czar’s office issued one of its strongest statements yet: “The dramatic increase in the availability and use of heroin and fentanyl is a national security, law enforcement, and public health issue, and it has become the highest priority illicit drug threat to the Nation.”

There were no news conferences or releases to announce the report’s findings. There were no news stories written about the report. No one in Congress issued public statements or calls for action. Nine days later, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president and Obama officials stepped down from their posts, leaving the next administration to confront the deadliest drug crisis in American history.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Steven Rich, Colby Itkowitz, Alice Crites and Shelby Hanssen contributed to this report. Hanssen is attached to The Washington Post’s investigative unit through a program with American University.

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President Trump says late-night hosts show “one-sided hatred” toward him

Denver Post Local News - 11 hours 49 min ago

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused hosts of late-night talk shows of “one-sided hatred” directed at him, seizing on comments this week by former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno that the job has become more difficult in the Trump era.

In a morning tweet, the president also called the shows “unwatchable” and “very boring.”

He cited an interview Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show in which Leno said he doesn’t miss hosting a late-night show because these days “everyone has to know your politics.”

Leno, who hosted his last episode in 2014, said he liked the model of his long-running “Tonight Show” predecessor, Johnny Carson.

“People couldn’t figure out,” Leno said. ” ‘Well, you and your Republican friends’ or ‘Well, Mr. Leno, you and your Democratic buddies.’ And I would get hate mail from both sides equally.”

“But when people see you as one-sided, it just makes it tough,” Leno continued. “Now it’s all very serious. I’d just like to see a bit of civility come back to it, you know?”

Leno also said it’s more difficult for hosts to deliver jokes about Trump.

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“People say, ‘Oh, it must be easy to do jokes with Trump,’ ” he said. “No, it’s actually harder, because the punchline of the joke used to be, ‘That’s like the president with a porn star.’ Well, now the president is with a porn star. Where do you go with that? How do you get more outrageous than that?”

Leno was referring to an alleged a sexual encounter that Trump had with adult-film star Stormy Daniels more a decade earlier that he has denied. Daniels was paid hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump has lashed out at other comedy directed at him, including on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which he called “very unfair” in a tweet last month.

“Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?” he wrote.

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Bomb cyclone officially takes place over Colorado

Denver Post Local News - 11 hours 52 min ago

The hype translated to reality.

A bomb cyclone, a term used to describe a rapidly deepening area of low pressure, has taken place over Colorado. No, you didn’t hear any loud noises to accompany this rapid pressure drop, but if you’ve got arthritis, you may have some extra aches from this unusual occurrence.

The official definition of a bomb cyclone, or bombogenesis, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a 24-hour, 24-millibar drop in the pressure of a midlatitude storm. Observations on Wednesday morning showed that this took place in several locations, and data from the NOAA-run Weather Prediction Center (WPC) appears to clearly show this took place as well.

At Denver’s official observation site at Denver International Airport, the sea level pressure fell from 1009.6 millibars at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning down to 979.6 millibars at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. That’s a full 30-millibar drop in 24 hours, more than enough to meet the definition of a bomb cyclone.

In Pueblo, that number tumbled even further, with Pueblo’s Memorial Airport recording a 35.6 millibar drop in 24 hours between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Pressure is used to define the strength of a storm. A pressure drop of this magnitude is extremely rare for Colorado. So is the overall strength of this storm.

In addition to the rapid drop in pressure that defines a bomb cyclone, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not Colorado saw its lowest sea level pressure in recorded history on Wednesday. There is no official record, but the lowest recorded pressure in Colorado is estimated to be between 972 and 975 millibars.

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Pueblo recorded a sea level pressure of 974.2 millibars on Wednesday morning.

Chris Bianchi is a meteorologist for WeatherNation TV.

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Gang member in country illegally arrested in woman’s slaying

Denver Post Local News - 11 hours 56 min ago

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Authorities in Northern California are criticizing sanctuary policies they say prevented federal authorities from detaining a gang member in the country illegally before he allegedly killed a woman inside her home.

San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia says Carlos Eduardo Arevalo Carranza “stalked” Bambi Larson’s San Jose neighborhood before allegedly beating and stabbing her to death.

Garcia said Tuesday Arevalo has a long criminal history in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Garcia says ICE had previously asked to take custody of him six times — four times in Santa Clara County and two times in Los Angeles County.

Garcia and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo criticized the county’s sanctuary policy, saying it is time for Santa Clara County officials to reconsider a policy that ignores ICE hold requests for predatory felons.

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Trump vs. California immigration suit heads to appeals court

Denver Post Local News - 12 hours 4 min ago

SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration will try to persuade a U.S. appeals court on Wednesday to block California laws aimed at protecting immigrants, seeking a win in one of numerous lawsuits between the White House and the Democratic-dominated state.

At issue in the hearing before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a 2018 administration lawsuit over three California laws that extended protections to people in the country illegally.

The legal challenge was part of the administration’s broader efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that it says allow criminals to stay on the streets.

California officials say their policies limiting cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement and encourage witnesses and victims to report crime.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued in court documents that the Constitution gives the federal government pre-eminent power to regulate immigration, and the three laws obstruct those efforts.

“The bills, individually and collectively, mark an extraordinary and intentional assault on the federal government’s enforcement of the immigration laws,” Justice Department attorneys said in a filing.

U.S. Judge John Mendez in Sacramento kept two of the laws in place in July but blocked part of a third.

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He ruled that California could limit police cooperation with immigration officials and require inspections of detention facilities where immigrants are held, but the state could not bar private employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises without a warrant.

The Trump administration is asking a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit to entirely block all three laws. The panel will hear arguments but will not immediately rule.

The three state laws were aimed at preserving “state resources for state priorities and to safeguard the health and welfare of state residents,” the California attorney general’s office said in a brief to the 9th Circuit. “Nothing in the Constitution or federal immigration law divests the State of the authority to make those choices.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the 9th Circuit for ruling against several of his policies. California has sued his administration dozens of times, mostly over immigration, the environment and health care.

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Alaskan Native Pete Kaiser wins Iditarod sled dog race

Denver Post Local News - 12 hours 7 min ago

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Pete Kaiser won the Iditarod early Wednesday, throwing his arms over his head and pumping his fists as he became the latest Alaska Native to claim victory in the iconic sled dog race.

Kaiser, 31, crossed the finish line in Nome after beating back a challenge from the defending champion, Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom.

Ulsom was about 40 minutes behind Kaiser and made up ground in the final 77 miles (124 kilometers) to Nome but couldn’t overtake him. Ulsom placed second, coming across the finish line before Kaiser could get his picture taken on the winner’s podium.

Kaiser’s winning time was 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and six seconds. Ulsom finished the 1,000-mile (1,600 kilometer) race 12 minutes after Kaiser.

Kaiser greeted Ulsom under the finish line and shook his friend’s hand.

It’s the first Iditarod victory for Kaiser in his 10th attempt. He said he wasn’t sure what made everything come together this year for him.

“Just years of knowledge gained and trying to put it all together to have a better race, better dog team this year, every little detail coming into play,” he said in a post-victory interview televised statewide from the finish line, adding that a little luck didn’t hurt either.

Crowds cheered and clapped as Kaiser came off the Bering Sea ice and mushed down Nome’s main street with a police escort to the famed burled arch finish line. His wife and children greeted him, hugging him at the conclusion of the race, which began March 3 north of Anchorage.

Kaiser, who is Yupik, is from the southwest Alaska community of Bethel. A large contingent of Bethel residents flew to Nome to witness his victory. Alaska Native dancers and drummers performed near the finish line as they waited for Kaiser to arrive, even though it was past 3 a.m. local time.

“I’ve always said that I’m very fortunate to have the support system I have, the whole community of Bethel, and the whole Kuskokwim River and all of western Alaska,” he said.

Kaiser called that support “extremely humbling and it motives me every to perform to my best, and I just want to thank them for coming out here tonight. This is just awesome.”

Kaiser will receive $50,000 and a new pickup truck for the victory. Four other Alaska Native mushers have won the race, including John Baker, an Inupiaq from Kotzebue, in 2011.

This year’s race was marked by the stunning collapse of Frenchman Nicolas Petit, who was seemingly headed for victory as late as Monday.

Petit, a native of France living in Alaska, had a five-hour lead and was cruising until his dog team stopped running between the Shaktoolik and Koyuk checkpoints.

Petit said one dog was picking on another during a rest break, and he yelled at the dog to knock it off. At that point, the entire team refused to run.

Petit had to withdraw, and the dog team had to be taken back to the previous checkpoint by snowmobile.

Petit’s downfall came near the same spot on the Bering Sea coast where he surrendered the lead in the 2018 race after getting lost in a blizzard. He recovered in time to finish second last year.

Fifty-two mushers began the race in Willow. Petit was among 10 racers who withdrew during the race.

The race took mushers and their dog teams over two mountain ranges, along the frozen Yukon River and then across the treacherous, wind-swept Bering Sea coast to the finish line in Nome.

This year’s race came during a bruising two-year stretch for the Iditarod that included a dog doping scandal and the loss of national sponsors amid protests by animal rights activists.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is the biggest critic of the race.

“Hundreds of dogs (including six from Pete Kaiser’s team) were so sick, exhausted, or injured that they were pulled from the race, forcing the ones remaining to work even harder, struggling on in what is a grueling test — not of human endurance but of a dog’s ability to survive extreme cruelty,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement issued immediately after Kaiser’s victory.

“As the Iditarod draws to a close, PETA makes the point that the mushers’ prize money comes at the expense of exhausted dogs’ broken bones, bruised paws, and bloody ulcers and says that the race must end,” Reiman said.

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John Hickenlooper will have a CNN town hall in Atlanta

Denver Post Local News - 12 hours 35 min ago

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will participate in a CNN town hall in Atlanta on March 20, the news channel announced Wednesday morning.

The Democrat has been on a media tour since announcing his presidential run March 7, most recently appearing on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” Tuesday night. Dana Bash will moderate the town hall at 10 p.m. Eastern at the CNN Center.

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CNN has held town halls with a number of the declared candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s longshot candidacy got a boost after his recent town hall.

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Pedestrian seriously injured in Denver vehicle crash during storm

Denver Post Local News - 13 hours 9 min ago

A vehicle struck and seriously injured a pedestrian amidst a driving rainstorm early Wednesday morning, authorities say.

The person was taken to a hospital for care, according to a 7:32 a.m. Denver police tweet.

The collision happened at the intersection of Federal Boulevard and Evans Avenue, the report says.

Denver police are investigating the circumstances of the crash.

Police have issued warnings about dangerous driving conditions as a sheets of rain pound Denver streets and a blizzard approaches.

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#HeadsUP: #DPD is investigating a vehicle vs pedestrian crash with serious injuries at Federal & Evans. On victim transported to the hospital. #Denver #cotraffic pic.twitter.com/GLtVkpClLR

— Denver Police Dept. (@DenverPolice) March 13, 2019

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Denver traffic: Accidents pile up during metro area rush hour as blizzard approaches

Denver Post Local News - 13 hours 40 min ago

Sloppy, wet driving conditions have already triggered several accidents across the Denver metro area and within a few hours blizzard conditions will make Colorado roads and highways nearly impenetrable.

Among the numerous accidents reported in Denver are those that have stopped or significantly delayed traffic on major highways.

Several lanes of northbound Interstate 25 are blocked near 120th Avenue because of an accident.

The eastbound express lane of U.S. 36 between Colorado 170 and West Flatiron Crossing Drive is closed following a 7 a.m. crash.

RELATED: Bomb cyclone to hit metro area during morning rush hour, up to 10 inches of snow expected

Many police departments across the state have sent out blizzard survival tips, urging people to carry emergency kits with them if they venture out into the formidable weather.

Now is a good time to re-evaluate your winter weather vehicle survival kit. #cowx pic.twitter.com/IJbUPvXpMJ

— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) March 12, 2019

The Colorado Department of Transportation has also issued travel alerts linked to avalanche mitigation work and is warning of long delays at U.S. 160 on Wolf Creek Pass, beginning at 6 a.m.; and U.S. 550 on Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass starting at 7 a.m.

#SWCODOT ALERT: Av Mitigation Ops this morning. Expect lengthy delays. #US160 #WolfCreekPass starting at 6 AM. #US550 #CoalBankPass & #MolasPass starting at 7 AM. For updates visit CDOT’s ONLY web resource https://t.co/bjBVfk3ydg and follow us on FB & Twitter. pic.twitter.com/0MY3fhzZc4

— CDOT (@ColoradoDOT) March 13, 2019

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Get Cooking: Subji proves vegetable dishes can be filling

Denver Post Local News - 14 hours 12 min ago

Twinned observations: Many meat-eaters kvetch that vegetarian food doesn’t have enough taste, while many vegetarians (vegans especially, it appears to me) are ever manipulating plant-based foodstuffs to resemble meat or fish. Tofurky is the elder of this clan.

Another observation, itself the twin of my own cooking extraordinarily flavorful vegetable-based Indian recipes for years and the discovery that around 30 percent of the population of the Republic of India eats vegetarian: 446 million Indians cannot be wrong.

Those are a lot of votes that vegetables, just as but also rightly prepared, can satisfy. Subji, today’s recipe, is one such preparation.

My Indian grocer (the very user-friendly Bombay Bazaar on South Parker Road in Aurora) tells me that “subji” means merely “vegetable dish.” (It is also spelled sabji, bhaji and, in Persian cooking, sabzi or sabzi khordan).

In Indian cooking subcontinent-wide, it is prepared as a wet, stew-like dish, or drier, all depending on how much moisture remains. The Iranian sabzi khordan is a platter of raw, cut-up vegetables, adorned
with a profligate fan of fresh green herbs such as basil, mint, cilantro or dill, and radishes and cress.

Served with rice, an Indian bread such as naan or roti, subji is not only eminently nutritious, it is as flavorful and filling — aromatically and sensually — as any non-vegetarian dish from any of the world’s many menus.

To my recipe, you may add the contents of a can or two of garbanzo beans, or a final flourish of a bag of baby spinach leaves, or certainly any combination of starter vegetables that you fancy. Many subji are made with merely one or two vegetables, that’s all. As such, it is an extremely flexible recipe, save for the obligation to utilize the many Indian-based spices, garlic, ginger, and pepper heat.

Without them, no subji; just another vegetarian dish that eaters of steer rightly might complain about.

Subji

Serves 10-12

To make this dish vegan, merely use plant-based oil instead of ghee. Ginger-garlic paste is readily available at all Indian grocers, and now at many Asian and other grocers too. It’s one of the great inventions for the kitchen for cooks unused to Indian cooking.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup canola oil or ghee, plus more of either in reserve
  • 2 large onions, peeled and cut thinly
  • 4 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (or 8 cloves of mashed, peeled garlic cloves and 4 tablespoons finely grated fresh, peeled ginger)
  • 2 serrano peppers (or peppers of equivalent heat), seeded and minced
  • 4 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander powder
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek powder (optional)
  • 2 14-ounce cans small diced tomatoes or the equivalent seeded and chopped fresh
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cut along the bias into 1-inch thick chunks
  • 3 cups waxy potato, peeled if desired, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3-4 cups summer squash (such as zucchini, chayote, yellow or grey squash), lightly peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets, thick large stems omitted
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen cubed butternut squash (optional)
  • Garnishes of cilantro leaves and wedges of lime

Directions

In a very large pot, heat the oil or ghee and, in it, lightly brown the cut onions over medium-low heat, 15-20 minutes. Don’t burn or darkly brown the onions, but you want them very soft and golden. Remove them from the pot and set aside. Add a small amount (2-3 tablespoons) of oil or ghee to the pot if none remains from the onion browning.

Add the ginger-garlic paste and the minced peppers and stir for 1 minute over medium-high heat; add back the onions and all the spices and flavorings and mix well, stirring together for another minute. Add the tomatoes and stir everything together, then let the mix bubble for 5-7 minutes or until the mix thickens noticeably.

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In steps, add the cut-up vegetables; stir in and coat with the sauce after each addition. Begin with the carrots and the potatoes, letting them cook for about 10 minutes; then the squash and cauliflower, letting everything cook for another 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. If, at any time, the liquid dries up, add a healthy splash of water or vegetable broth, scraping up the bottom of the pot.

At this point, you may put the pot on a super-low burner for another 45 minutes of cooking, covered, stirring occasionally; or into a slow (275-degree) oven for the same amount of time, covered; or into a large slow cooker on High, then Low when the subji begins to simmer there.

It’s now up to you how you want the final subji: the vegetables still a bit crunchy, or softened and beginning to break down into each other. Whichever, about 15 minutes before serving, add the frozen
peas and butternut squash (if using) and stir them in so that they cook as well, being sure the flame or heat on the subji is sufficient to do that. Before serving, check for salt.

Serve with the garnishes, and with steamed basmati rice and bread, if desired.

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Nearly 1,000 Denver International Airport flights canceled ahead of bomb cyclone

Denver Post Local News - 14 hours 25 min ago

Airlines at Denver International Airport have already canceled 973 flights in anticipation of a blizzard so nasty it’s being called a bomb cyclone.

“Some airlines have already canceled or delayed flights. We expect flight delays and cancellations throughout the day,” said Emily Williams, DIA spokeswoman.

She said the airport is expecting anywhere from between 5 to 10 inches of snow.

RELATED: Bomb cyclone to hit metro area during morning rush hour, up to 10 inches of snow expected

Southwest Airlines alone has canceled 372 flights or 90 percent of all its flights, according to FlightAware. SkyWest has canceled 204 flights or 73 percent of its DIA flights.

Frontier, United, Trans States, GoJet, Republic, American Airlines, Delta, Spirit, Jazz Air, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air Canada and JetBlue have also canceled flights ahead of the storm.

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Denver weather: Bomb cyclone to hit metro area during morning rush hour, up to 10 inches of snow expected

Denver Post Local News - 14 hours 49 min ago

As a bomb cyclone sweeps into Denver, winds are intensifying and rain is coming down in sheets, making a difficult morning commute that will only get much worse.

“Rain is expanding in intensity and coverage this morning across the plains with snow continuing in the mountains,” according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Travel conditions that are already bad in the driving rain will deteriorate rapidly once the rain transitions into snow, according to the weather service.

RELATED: Denver metro area school closures, March 13, 2019

A rain and snow mix is expected to become all snow after 8 a.m. Heavy snowfall is expected at times. Widespread blowing snow will make roadways difficult to drive, mostly after 1 p.m., the weather service says.

The temperature will plummet from about 41 degrees to 25 degrees by 3 p.m., the weather service says.

Steady northerly winds will increase from up to 19 mph to 39 mph with wind gusts up to 60 mph in the afternoon.

Between 6 and 10 inches of snow will fall in the Denver metro area. Up to 20 inches of snow is expected for the mountains and a foot of snow is possible on the Eastern Plains.

It will continue to snow until early Thursday morning. Another inch of snow could fall in the early morning hours, the NWS says.

Patchy blowing snow will be a problem before 11 a.m., with wind gusts reaching 37 mph.

Rain is expanding in intensity and coverage this morning across the plains with snow continuing in the mountains. The rain will transition to snow from north to south during the late morning across the urban corridor and travel conditions will quickly deteriorate. #COwx #Blizzard pic.twitter.com/ocIXOBmfL3

— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) March 13, 2019

A gradual warming trend follows the storm.

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Under sunny skies, temperatures will increase from around 40 degrees on Friday to about 51 by Monday, the NWS says.

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Why Isaiah Thomas’ DNP vs. Minnesota casts doubt on his Nuggets future

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 3 min ago

For once, the most interesting wrinkle of Michael Malone’s latest Nuggets rotation wasn’t who he played. It was who he didn’t.

Offensively, Denver’s 133-107 win over Minnesota late Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center was a banner evening: A barrage of 3-pointers — 18 makes on just 30 attempts. Crisp passing and an even crisper tempo. A 19-8 advantage in second-chance points. The most assists — 40 in all — recorded in a single game by a Nuggets crew since 2013.

It had a little bit of everything.

Everything, that is, except for Isaiah Thomas.

Coach Michael Malone may have dropped a tiny hint as to his possible postseason rotation versus the Timberwolves, which was notable on two fronts. First, that said minutes were primarily split among eight guys. And second, that Thomas, the 30-year-old point guard who only returned to the fold last month, wasn’t one of those eight.

“Obviously, 16 (regular-season) games to go, (we’re going to) try to find a rhythm,” said Malone, who didn’t play Thomas in the 26-point victory. “And a rotation that I feel gives us the best chance to win now, and into the playoffs.”

Thomas, who had appeared in each of the Nuggets’ nine previous games in which he averaged 15.6 minutes, 8.6 points, 1.7 assists and 1.8 turnovers off the bench, was the only active player not to appear for the home side, even after Denver extended its margin in the fourth period.

Malone said he plans on keeping the rotation smaller down the final few weeks of the regular season, and had explained the rotation to Thomas, whom he’d previously coached in Sacramento, before the game.

“Oh, you definitely talk to him (about the decision), and I’ll keep that conversation between IT and myself,” Malone said. “(It’s) not an easy conversation, but that’s my job.”

A two-time All-Star, Thomas had made his Nuggets debut on Feb. 13 against Sacramento to a delighted Pepsi Center, which celebrated his return to an NBA floor after March 2018 hip surgery. But the 5-foot-9 vet has struggled with his shot, and his rhythm, in the eight games since — connecting on just 36.2 percent from the floor and on only 25 percent (7-for-28) from beyond the 3-point arc after his initial Denver appearance.

“It’s never about Isaiah. It’s never about any individual,” Malone explained. “It’s about what I think is best for our team. And I made the decision to shorten the rotation, only played eight guys in the first quarter. And I’m going to continue to do that for the time being.”

The return of I.T. also created a problem that neither Malone nor Nuggets brass likely anticipated last summer: That Thomas would cut into potential minutes for breakout guard Monte Morris, who emerged as one of the best young backups in the NBA over his first full season in the league.

“Me and (starting point guard) Jamal (Murray) have got great chemistry,” noted Morris, who finished with 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and four 3-point makes off the bench against the Wolves. “(We) played a lot together in the summer, as (you) know. So when he comes in, we’ve just got a good feel for each other.”

Tuesday was the second straight contest of at least 15 points and five dimes for the former Iowa State star. It was the first time Morris has produced stat lines at least 15 points and 5 assists in back-to-back appearances since Feb. 1-2, with that second performance highlighting a 107-106 victory in Minnesota. For the time being, Morris is likely to continue to get major minutes going forward, health permitting. With Thomas, the short-term plan — like his post-surgery form — looks to be more of a wait-and-see affair.

“Isaiah is a pro,” Malone said. “He was into the game, he was supporting his teammates, he is a competitor. I know it’s not easy for him. But I admire his response and being such a pro (Tuesday).”

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Colorado landscape for big oil shifts with extra drilling reviews, looming new regulatory mission for COGCC

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 11 min ago

Fossil-fuel drillers operating along Colorado’s Front Range are navigating increasingly turbulent conditions, with added state scrutiny of projects near people and the imposition of an $800,000 penalty on Extraction Oil and Gas for failing to conduct proper pressure tests of wells to prevent potentially catastrophic blowouts.

But those drillers still are getting the green lights that have led to more than 53,000 active wells in Colorado. And the industry prevailed at a hearing Tuesday over a 1951 state law that clears the way for Extraction to begin a contested large-scale multi-well operation in Broomfield over the protests of mineral property owners who object to the drilling.

Colorado’s emerging tougher oversight of industrial expansion reflects a shift in priorities under Gov. Jared Polis for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency long charged with “fostering” efficient industry exploitation of natural resources. The COGCC recently faced a backlog of 10,215 applications for new wells that companies plan to drill closer than ever to Front Range cities just north of metro Denver.

As commissioners dove into Extraction’s use of the “forced pooling” law to compel property owners to grant access to oil and gas under their homes in Broomfield, state lawmakers were considering legislation that would overhaul the COGCC’s mission.

The bill given preliminary approval by the Senate on Tuesday night includes an update of the drilling-without-consent law designed to suit modern conditions in which companies use horizontal drilling as far as two miles from a central industrial pad to reach hundreds of mineral properties.

RELATED: A tenacious bald eagle in Frederick illustrates wildlife’s fight to survive along Colorado’s increasingly developed Front Range

Colorado’s tussle over this forced drilling recently spilled into federal court, where U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson ordered state officials to hold a hearing for residents that COGCC officials last year repeatedly delayed.

State lawmakers’ proposed overhaul also would convert the COGCC’s mission, replacing the current fostering of development with a mandate to protect public health and the environment.

Increased review of drilling permits

Over the past six weeks at the COGCC, acting director Jeff Robbins — appointed by Polis — has launched a new protocol that requires extra scrutiny of industry projects within 1,500 feet of houses, those inside municipal boundaries and those that could damage environmentally sensitive terrain such as wildlife habitat.

“I wanted an additional level of review for permits that meet the criteria,” Robbins said during COGCC’s hearings this week.

Last week, Robbins signaled broader changes at COGCC when he testified to state lawmakers. “I see the commission becoming more involved with local governments,” he said, acknowledging his previous work representing communities before the commission.

The $803,800 fine that the COGCC imposed on Extraction on Monday for its conduct at wells in Weld and Larimer counties contrasts with fines on companies in the past that typically ranged less than $10,000.

On Monday, the COGCC granted special protection for greenspace in Broomfield used by thousands of residents — granting an “outdoor activity area” designation that city and county officials had requested so that drillers will not intrude near soccer fields and recreational hiking and biking trails.

Compared with previous COGCC oversight, local communities clearly can have more influence now on decisions, said Matt Lepore, the former COGCC director who now serves as an industry consultant, as he grabbed a burrito during the commissioners’ lunch break Tuesday.

“I don’t know if it is better. But is the COGCC more responsive and open to questions that haven’t been allowed in the past? I think so,” said Joe Salazar, former state lawmaker and director of the anti-industry group Colorado Rising, who was representing aggrieved residents of Broomfield’s Wildgrass subdivision.

“That federal order from Judge Jackson probably has shaken the COGCC a little. It also has shaken their culture a bit. We are now, as protesters, able to ask questions that clearly have not been allowed in the past and present evidence and documents that clearly were not allowed for a protester to even gather, let alone present,” Salazar said.

Before the COGCC Tuesday, Salazar raised concerns about the financial condition of Extraction and alleged a lack of sufficient insurance for their massive project in Broomfield.

The problem is that oil and gas companies carrying high debt “could abandon their projects,” he said. “Or, if a disaster occurs, they’re not going to have the money on hand to fix the mess. Right now, Extraction’s insurance is extremely low. It is a million bucks. These companies should be insured for tens of millions in case there’s an accident where people get hurt or killed. These companies file for bankruptcy and the public would get left in the cold.”

Yet in Colorado’s shifting regulatory environment, the COGCC still has issued permits allowing 22 of the 23 drilling applications that commission staffers so far have flagged for extra scrutiny.

And the COGCC’s decision Tuesday clearing Extraction to begin drilling in Broomfield after overriding protests by mineral property owners complied with industry wishes. Colorado’s existing forced pooling law lets companies drill under multiple properties to extract oil and gas as long as they win the consent of a single owner.

Forced pooling in Broomfield

Broomfield residents went home in dismay after imploring commissioners to take a stand on a practice they called coercive.

Extraction’s initial approach triggered outrage, Mark Lindner said. “Then when just a single person signs, that outrage turns to fear.” Lindner said telephone calls to residents at that stage began to reveal “capitulation,” followed by “shame” as residents who’d signed deals to win payments around $1,500 stopped talking. “I went back to outrage,” he said. “I refused to sign…”

“This isn’t a bargain. You take it or leave it. There is no room for debate. That’s how they present it… There isn’t anything you can negotiate. You are just forced… The deck was stacked against me. I had no power to negotiate.”

When Kathy Plomer bought her home in Broomfield in 2008, she had no idea a company would come knocking to drill for oil and gas.

“I own the mineral rights under my home, yet I have no say when they are used… I have no option to say no. And no vote.” She has refused to sign a deal with Extraction. “I do not want to be a partner with the oil and gas industry. … The most important thing to me is the safety of my family.”

In federal court, Judge Jackson has scheduled a time to review the constitutionality of Colorado’s law “if necessary” to resolve issues. Salazar said residents plan to press their case: “It will be necessary.”

COGCC members deliberating on the case Tuesday said they were uncomfortable applying the old law. “There’s a fundamental inequity in the bargaining power,” Commissioner Erin Overturf said before casting the lone vote against approval for Extraction.

Commissioner Kent Jolley remarked that “our pooling statute is gonna get tweaked and it probably needs to be tweaked, but we are dealing with it as it is now… Every effort should be made to get people on board. It shouldn’t just be a business strategy to grab minerals.”

For more than 25 years, Commissioner Howard Boigon said in an interview, the COGCC “has been dedicated to protecting public health, safety and welfare as part of its mission. In that sense, I don’t think it is changing. There are concerns in many quarters, but we’ve had these concerns expressed before and we’ve undergone many rulemakings and battles.”

“Committed to working with local communities”

Industry lobbyists, closely engaged in Colorado’s statehouse and before the COGCC, observed the increasing turbulence and have put out new pro-industry television ads opposing reform. Six months ago, the industry spent tens of millions in an election campaign blitz to defeat a voter initiative to increase local control over oil and gas development near people.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Dan Haley on Tuesday acknowledged a shifting landscape and defended the industry.

“Our industry remains committed to working with local communities, regardless of whatever changes happen at the COGCC,” he said in a prepared response to emailed queries. “Our commitment to meeting each community’s unique needs will remain fundamental to our mission.”

Industry lobbyists at the American Petroleum Institute, which runs the Colorado Petroleum Council, declined to discuss Colorado’s evolving approach.

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Extraction officials declined to discuss their project. “We’re pleased with the commission’s ruling consistent with established regulatory standards, state statute and commission practice,” company spokesman Brian Cain said in a texted response to queries.

At the hearing, Extraction officials told the COGCC their drilling inside Broomfield won’t worsen air pollution significantly compared with “background” benzene pollution measured north of metro Denver at Platteville. They said company crews had secured leased access to 87 percent of Wildgrass mineral properties by offering bonus payments, often around $1,500, and up to 20-percent shares of royalties while wells produce.

Eric Christ, Extraction’s vice president and corporate secretary, defended his company’s financial health.

“We’ve got readily accessible capital through our commercial lending arrangements,” he told the commissioners, referring to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

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Rockies pitcher Jon Gray lost command of his nasty 90 mph slider. But there’s hope for No. 1 draft pick

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 11 min ago

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jon Gray — the pitcher and the person — has been dissected, evaluated and psychoanalyzed ever since the Rockies selected him with the third overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Gray, 27, says he doesn’t read or pay attention to any of that. His focus, he insists, is on pitching.

This spring, Gray’s focal point is his slider. It was a nasty, 90 mph, much-celebrated, put-away pitch when he was drafted out of Oklahoma, but it has caused him considerable consternation over the last two seasons.

“I would say that the most frustrating thing about big-league baseball for me is losing the pitch that worked so well for me in 2016. It was money,” Gray said. “It was great then, and it seemed like I always had something to go to when I was behind in the count. I fully trusted that pitch.”

The 2016 statistics back up Gray’s faith. His 9.91 strikeouts per nine innings led all major-league rookies. On Aug. 17 of that year, his sharp slider was showcased when he set a Coors Field record by whiffing 16 Padres in a complete-game shutout.

According to Fangraphs, his slider was one of the best pitches in baseball that season, generating a 24 percent swinging-strike percentage. By comparison, Nationals ace Max Scherzer’s rate was 27 percent as he won the National League Cy Young Award.

In 2017, however, Gray began losing some of the feel for his go-to pitch, explaining that his command would come and go. Last season, the pitch became even more problematic. He wasn’t able to keep it consistently low in the zone and the once-biting pitch often had no teeth.

“The break was so short and sometimes it didn’t work at all,” he said. “It was more like a cutter than a slider, it would backspin.”

Failure to command that pitch was one of the reasons Gray went 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA and was left off Colorado’s postseason roster. He pitched so poorly early in the first half that he was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on June 30, saddled with a 7-7 record and a 5.77 ERA. The short tune-up did him some good and upon his return the Rockies won Gray’s next four starts, during which he went 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA, pitching at least seven innings in each outing.

Still, consistent command of his slider eluded him the rest of the way and Gray knew he had to discover why.

“It’s always been a feel pitch for me,” Gray said. “But last year I couldn’t find the issue.”

A January trip to Driveline Baseball, a high-tech training and analysis facility in Kent, Wash. helped solve the mystery. Plus, Gray started watching a lot of video of his delivery.

“When I saw my delivery in slow motion, I was able to figure it out and make some adjustments,” he said, noting that he examined his release point and his direction toward the plate. “I’m at a point now where I understand it more completely. I know what I have to do now, what I have to adjust, and that’s making it a lot easier to find answers.”

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Gray’s spring performance has been encouraging. After 14 ⅔ innings, his Cactus League ERA is 2.13 and he’s struck out 14 and walked only one.

“We’re still in spring training, it’s still March, but Jon has looked good,” manager Bud Black said after Gray allowed two runs on five hits, struck out four and walked none in four innings vs. Oakland on Monday. “What we want to see is the delivery repeated. We want to see consistent throwing mechanics, release point and finish, all of those things.

“But his stuff is fine. His velocity is there. I thought his breaking pitches were solid. Overall, the quality was pretty good. There were a lot of swings and misses and the shape to it was good. I thought he threw the ball fine. Jon is in a good spot.”

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Kiszla: As NBA playoffs approach, how great do Nuggets want to be? “I want to be Michael Jordan,” Nikola Jokic insists.

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 11 min ago

What do the Nuggets want to be?

“You want the real answer?” Nikola Jokic said.

Yes, please.

“Michael Jordan,” Jokic said. “That’s who I want to be.”

Hey, we all can dream. But I suggested Jokic might have to jump a little higher to be like Mike.

“No, I want to be Michael Jordan right now,” insisted Jokic, whose dream is to have the life and the $1.9 billion net worth Jordan enjoys right now, at age 56.

He’s always the Joker, especially in a season full of grins and giggles. Basketball is a hoot again in Denver. So is that sufficient? Or is this team tough enough to be the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed?

Coach Michael Malone stood early Tuesday evening in a Pepsi Center hallway, feeling the coming storm in his bones, and issued a warning.

“Watch out for that cyclone bomb,” Malone said.

Cyclone bomb? Is that what the Nuggets were fixing to drop on Minnesota in a 133-107 victory?

“No, it’s not. It’s when it (the barometric pressure) drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. We call that a cyclone bomb,” said Malone, pausing a beat to set up his punch line. “I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.”

Malone is not only a strong candidate for NBA coach of the year, he dreams of being a great meteorologist, even if his terminology could use a little tweaking.

“I do it all,” said Malone, who figures predicting a blizzard has to be easier than winning basketball games. “Hey, if you’re a weatherman and get it 50 percent right, you’re a Hall of Fame weatherman.”

So tell us, Mr. Weatherman. Which way is the wind blowing with this team?

If the Nuggets take care of business in upcoming home games against Dallas and Indiana, they could be sitting atop the conference standings by week’s end, with a little luck, not to mention assists from Houston and Oklahoma City, tough stops on the road ahead for the Golden State Warriors.

But it takes more than being quick on the draw with three-point shots to survive in the wild West. While scuffling to a 9-7 record since Feb. 1, with every foe aiming for them, the Nuggets have discovered they need is to be tougher sons of a gun.

Does this Denver team have the faith it has what’s required to stare down James Harden or Russell Westbrook, much less Kevin Durant, in the playoffs, where the timid get chewed up and spit out?

Who do the Nuggets want to be?

The firepower in Golden State’s arsenal can’t be matched by any challenger. But every sports dynasty begins to rot from within. The Warriors look bored and ready for a nap until the playoffs begin. Rather than trying to hold off the Rockets and Thunder for the No. 2 seed in the West, Denver’s lone goal in the final 16 games of the regular season should be to chase and catch the Warriors.

“That’s one of my questions to our group: Who do we want to be?” Malone said. “Do we want to chase the No. 1 seed? Do you want home-court advantage? Do you just want to sneak into the playoffs? Who do we want to be?”

We’re on the verge of the NBA’s mean season, when the elbows grow sharper. Are these Nuggets prepared to jump in the gutter for playoff brawls? I trust Malone won’t back down from a fight, and the time has come for the coach to do what’s best for the team, even if it means telling a proud athlete to take a seat.

“Try to find a rhythm and rotation that I feel will give us the best chance to win now and into the playoffs,” said Malone, explaining his tough task at hand.

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Jokic was his usual triple-double threat against the Timberwolves, but what was most notable about this game is Malone seems to have settled on an eight-man rotation as Denver heads into the stretch run.

The starting five, which we’ve all been waiting all season to see at full health, is Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Jokic. This group dropped 69 points on Minnesota while collectively shooting 54 percent from the field. Now that’s a cyclone bomb.

Malik Beasley has established himself as the instant offense and relentless energy off the bench.  Monte Morris runs the point with efficiency and proficiency when Murray needs a blow. Mason Plumlee gets the minutes that Millsap or Jokic can’t handle in the front court.

So Malone has his eight guys with which the Nuggets will live and die. And where does that leave everyone else on the team? Torrey Craig, who injured his left arm late in the fourth quarter, can grab scattered minutes as a defensive specialist.

And Isaiah Thomas? He’s exactly where he belongs, at the end of the bench.

“I know it’s not easy for him,” Malone said.

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Slip-and-fall injuries in Colorado way up in 2019

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 12 min ago

Avalanches aren’t the only things cascading in large numbers in Colorado this year. Pinnacol Assurance, the state’s largest provider of workers compensation insurance, is reporting a big jump in slip-and-fall claims.

In the first two months of 2019, those kind of claims, related mostly to snow and ice, are up 46.3 percent compared to the same two months in 2018. And that’s not counting March and April, two of the snowier months on the calendar.

“We went from a little over 770 claims last year to over 1,100 claims this year,” said Jim McMillen, director of safety services at Pinnacol.

The increased claims aren’t coming out of the resort towns buried under feet of snow this year or from outdoor workers exposed to the elements for hours on end.

Rather, office workers in Front Range counties are slipping in larger numbers on their way in or out of buildings or in parking lots, McMillen said.

Maybe it is all those transplants from warmer climates who aren’t used to what a Colorado winter can deliver. Or more likely, McMillen said, people have let their guard down after a couple of tame seasons.

“The last two winters we have had have been extremely mild. We haven’t had the type of slip-and-falls claims that we have had over the years prior,” McMillen said. Although claims this year are tracking much higher than last, they are on par with snowier winters like 2016.

The average cost of a work-related slip-and-fall claim is just under $13,000, McMillen said. And a bad fall can leave someone out of commission for weeks.

And the most common fall-related injuries reported this year, in order, are contusions, strains, sprains, fractures, concussions, dislocations, and hernias, said Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman with Pinnacol.

Head injuries, in particular, can prove life-altering, one reason Pinnacol is eager to share some safety tips.

Employers should have a plan in place to keep their parking lots and walkways clear of snow and ice. Beyond that, they should understand where the runoff from piled up snow will run, so the parking lot doesn’t turn into a skating rink.

On really bad weather days, employers, when it can be done, should consider allowing employees to work from home. That will reduce the chances of injuries and allow crews to do a better job in clearing sidewalks and parking lots.

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Getting into a building doesn’t guarantee safety. Entryways, lobbies and stairs are other danger zones. Consider having huge mats or carpets that allow visitors to dry their feet. Make sure any excess water gets constantly mopped up, and sand and gravel swept up.

And for employees, wearing the right footwear is key. Forget the corporate dress code or self-imposed fashion vanity.  Don’t wear slick leather dress shoes or high heels when snow and ice are on the ground.

Always have three points of contact when getting in or out of a vehicle, McMillen advised. And Colorado workers need to get their penguin walk going — small, short steps, almost a waddle. They will need to master it Wednesday and Thursday if the forecasts pan out.

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Denver Sports Omelette: Coors Field is great, but not “The Best Place On Earth”

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 12 min ago

The Colorado Rockies on Tuesday tweeted out a photo of Dinger standing next to Todd Helton with a home scoreboard caption that read, “Coors Field. The Best Place On Earth.”

While we love hanging out at 20th and Blake on a cool summer night, Coors Field is far from the best place on earth. My vote is going to Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

Augusta National plays host to golf’s first major of the year each April and the grounds at this historic club are considered hallowed. Augusta National is one of the most well known and beautiful golf courses in the world.

As far as other sporting venues are concerned, here are five honorable mentions ahead of Coors Field.

  1. St. Andrews
  2. Wrigley Field
  3. Churchill Downs
  4. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
  5. Mile High Stadium (which is now a parking lot)

Fact: pic.twitter.com/npyUzthpyo

— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) March 12, 2019

Jeff Bailey, The Denver Post

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This chili-rubbed salmon dinner makes the most of sheet-pan cooking

Denver Post Local News - 15 hours 12 min ago

Who doesn’t love a good Sheet Pan Dinner? It’s the one-pan meal you might even get away with not cleaning up after, as long as you park that empty baking sheet in the oven till morning. (Raises hand: Guilty.) Well, maybe you don’t always love an SPD, if your efforts to combo-cook protein, carb and vegetable fall short now and then. And by that I mean potatoes that are underdone, meat that is unevenly done and greens whose moisture has left the building.

Doneness has to do with timing, of course, and SPD experts will point out that cooking those food groups in stages is key. Same single pan, but give some ingredients more time in the oven.

Here are the three top reasons to love this particular Sheet Pan Dinner: minimal prep and cleanup (see above); the sweet-and-spicy rub for the fish; the potatoes will be cooked through by the time the fish is done. And a close fourth reason: The spring onions, or scallions, roast to a melting tenderness. A final spritz of lime juice is your citrus “sauce” that ties it all together.

TIP: Sometimes, a center-cut piece of salmon will have an inch or two of thin belly on one side. For even cooking, we like to tuck that flap under the fillet, or cut it and save it for a very deserving cat.

Brown Sugar and Chili-Rubbed Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces young/thin spring onions or fat scallions
  • 1 lime
  • Four 6-ounce skin-on salmon fillets, center-cut
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Steps

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rinse the potatoes; if they are 2 inches or more across, cut them in half. Place them on the baking sheet; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season lightly with salt. Toss to coat, then spread out evenly, with cut sides facing down. Roast (upper rack) for 10 minutes; they will not be cooked through.

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Meanwhile, trim and discard the root ends of the spring onions or scallions, then peel and discard any thin outer layers. Drizzle with another tablespoon of the oil and toss lightly to coat. Zest the lime, then cut it in half.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven. Push the potatoes to one side, to clear room for the salmon. Add the spring onions or scallions to the pan, either around the edges or in a separate cleared space. Season them lightly with salt. Sprinkle them with the lime zest.

Use a fork to stir together the brown sugar, chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Brush the tops of each salmon fillet with the remaining tablespoon of oil, then rub the brown sugar mixture evenly over each one.

Return the pan to the oven; roast (upper rack) for about 12 minutes; there will still be some slightly translucent flesh at the center of the fish, or you can keep roasting the salmon until it is done to your liking. The onions or scallions and potatoes should be cooked through.

Squeeze the lime’s juice over everything in the pan. Serve hot.

Adapted from “Oven to Table: Over 100 One-Pot and One-Pan Recipes for Your Sheet Pan, Skillet, Dutch Oven and More,” by Jan Scott (Penguin/Random House, 2019).

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