US regulators OK spent nuclear fuel storage facility
ALBUQUERQUE — U.S. nuclear regulators licensed a multibillion-dollar complex to temporarily store tons of spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico from commercial power plants around the nation, a decision likely to be challenged in court.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its decision on May 9, saying it will allow the energy company Holtec International to build and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. New Jersey-based Holtec may still need to acquire permits from the state, and top New Mexico officials have vowed to fight the project.
The New Mexico project would have capacity to temporarily store up to 8,680 metric tons of used uranium fuel. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters over six decades. The material would be transported to New Mexico via rail.
Critics say most would be brought from East Coast sites, prompting concern after recent railway accidents involving other chemicals and cargo.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state's congressional delegation say they fear New Mexico will become the nation's dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel because the federal government has no permanent solution for the waste piling up at commercial reactors around the country.
New Mexico approved legislation in March aimed at stopping the project.
Holtec has argued that the New Mexico measure is pre-empted by federal law and that a court fight would only delay the economic boon that would come from building the complex. The company has spent an estimated $80 million pursuing the 40-year license to build and operate the facility.
State proposal would extend free child care, boost pay
SANTA FE — New Mexico would extend indefinitely no-pay child care for most children up to age 5 with increased payment rates to private and public child care providers under proposed regulations announced May 8.
New Mexico's current child care subsidies — among the most expansive in the nation — were initiated with federal coronavirus relief money. Education officials are now grappling with financial strategies to sustain efforts to expand the reach and quality of child care services in a state with low rates of workforce participation and high rates of childhood poverty.
New Mexico in April 2022 expanded eligibility and waived co-payments for child care assistance to families earning as much as four times the federal poverty rate — equal to about $120,000 for a family of four. But the provisions are set to expire in August.
The proposed regulatory change from the Early Childhood Education and Care Department would extend those guidelines and ensure that service taxes on child care assistance are not paid by parents.
Enrollment in the assistance program has increased over the past year by nearly one-third to roughly 19,340 children under age 6, according to the department. Children ages 6 and over receive financial assistance for before-school and after-school programs.
About 72,000 children in 43,000 families are eligible for child care assistance under current rules.
Surging state spending on early childhood education is underwritten in part by a roughly $2 billion trust sustained by taxes on oil and natural gas production and investment income.
Additionally, voters in 2022 approved increased annual withdrawals from the state's land grant permanent fund to pay for early childhood education initiatives.
Governor signs law protecting tribal adoptions
North Dakota's Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has signed a bill into law to protect tribal cultures by codifying the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law, Burgum's office announced May 8.
The federal Indian Child Welfare Act, enacted in 1978, gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings of Native children.
Also known by the acronym ICWA, it was created in response to the alarming rate at which Native American and Alaska Native children were taken from their homes by public and private agencies.
Several other states — including Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have considered codifying the act this year, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to the federal law.
A handful of white families have claimed the law is based on race and is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. They also said it puts the interests of tribes ahead of children. Lower courts have been split on the case.
Supporters of the law include Native American leaders who have long championed it as a way to preserve Native families and culture.
Mike Nowatzki, a spokesperson for the governor, said the new state law ensures "that these important protections for Native American children and families will remain in place in North Dakota regardless of what happens with the ICWA in the federal court system."
Ponca tribe Chief Standing Bear honored with stamp
A Ponca tribe chief whose landmark lawsuit in 1879 established that a Native American is a person under the law was honored on May 12 with the unveiling of a U.S. Postal Service stamp that features his portrait.
The release of the stamp of Chief Standing Bear comes 146 years after the Army forced him and about 700 other members of the Ponca tribe to leave their homeland in northeast Nebraska and walk 600 miles to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Chief Standing Bear was arrested and imprisoned in Fort Omaha when he and others tried to return. This prompted him to file a lawsuit that led to an 1879 ruling ordering his release and finding that a Native American is a person with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Postal Service, which released the stamp at a ceremony in Lincoln, Nebraska, has printed 18 million stamps. The stamp features a portrait of Chief Standing Bear by illustrator Thomas Blackshear II, based on a black and white photograph taken in 1877, the Postal Service said.
More than 100 members of the Ponca tribe died during or soon after the forced journey to Oklahoma, including Chief Standing Bear's only son. It was a desire to have his son buried in their homeland in Nebraska's Niobrara River Valley that resulted in the return of Chief Standing Bear and 29 others and their subsequent arrest.
A congressional investigation later determined the government wrongly gave away the Ponca homeland and removed the tribe, leading to congressional legislation in 1881 that gave some compensation to members of the tribe. In 1924, an issue that arose in the 1879 trial was resolved when Congress approved a law that conferred citizenship on all Native Americans born in the United States.
Police rush to respond to cries for help ... from a goat
ENID — Sometimes a wrong call can really get your goat.
Police in Enid, Oklahoma at first walked slowly and cautiously through the grassy, wooded area of a farm seeking the source of faint cries in the distance.
"That's a person," one of the officers said to the other on a video that has been widely shared from a Facebook post by the police department in the city about 70 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The distressing noise that sounded like human cries for help escalated as officers David Sneed and Neal Storey began running to help who they thought was perhaps a person trapped under farm equipment.
Instead, it was a goat.
"The farmer said he had two male goats in the barn, and he took one out and he wasn't happy," according to police spokesperson Cass Rains.
Now the town and the police department are enjoying the tale of the rescue that wasn't.
All in all, as the department wrote: "You really can't say it was that baaad of a call."
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