Feds delay oil-and-gas lease sale near sacred tribal land
ALBUQUERQUE — U.S. land managers no longer plan to move forward next month with selling oil and gas leases near a national park, saying they need to gather more information before they put up the land for bidding in New Mexico.
The decision by the federal Bureau of Land Management reverses a notice that showed the agency intended to proceed with drilling permit reviews and energy lease preparations for the site near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in March. The lease parcels lie within 10 miles of the remote park in northwest New Mexico that is a globally recognized historical site and considered sacred by tribes.
Historians say the remains of dwellings and stone structures where the park is located were a ceremonial and economic hub for Pueblo people 1,000 years ago. In recent years, it has been a part of ongoing debate as federal officials repeatedly decline oil and gas exploration in what has become an informal buffer zone around the park.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, and others, including tribal leaders, had criticized the Trump administration for scheduling the lease sale for the area amid the government shutdown.
They argued opponents were blocked from the decision-making process because federal officials did not release information about the planned sale. They also questioned whether federal officials would be able to adequately review the land up for bid.
The government still plans to sell oil and gas leases next month for other land parcels in the New Mexico, including the Four Corners area, said Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.
Conservation group sues over federal oil, gas leases
SALT LAKE CITY — A conservation organization has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior over oil and gas leases offered in southeast Utah, claiming the parcels are packed with ancient cultural relics.
Advocates for the West filed the suit in federal court in Utah on behalf of Friends of Cedar Mesa, the Deseret News reported.
The lawsuit targets the first of three oil and gas lease sales held in March 2018. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet issued the leases.
The parcels are between Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado and the former boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The organization claims the area contains dozens of ancient community centers and Chacoan Great Houses.
The federal government has acknowledged the existence of 1,700 archaeological sites on the parcels, said Josh Ewing, executive director of the organization. More than 900 sites in the area are eligible for listing on the national register, according to the lawsuit.
Lawmakers seek to scale back voter-approved Medicaid expansions
Three months after voters in Utah and Idaho defied their state legislatures to expand Medicaid through ballot initiatives, Republican lawmakers in those states are hitting back.
A bill is quickly moving through the statehouse in Utah — where 53 percent of voters favored the ballot question last November — that would limit the number of people eligible for an expanded Medicaid program and require that most adults qualifying for the program have a job.
In Idaho, where 61 percent of voters in November approved full Medicaid expansion, a group of 15 conservative state lawmakers is drafting legislation to add a work requirement and monthly premiums for newly eligible adults.
Republican lawmakers say they want to meet the will of voters but are trying to control state spending at same time.
Utah and Idaho are among the 17 states that have not accepted federal funds provided by the Affordable Care Act to expand their Medicaid program to all adults earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $17,000 for an individual).
Under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, the federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of coverage for people added through the expansion, compared with about 60 percent for people in the traditional Medicaid programs.
Utah’s ballot initiative included a 0.15 percent sales tax increase to pay for the expansion but did not include a work requirement.
Casper cops probe bare-knuckle fighting outfit
Casper police are investigating an Illinois-based bare-knuckle fighting company that held its inaugural event in Casper on allegations it failed to pay fighters as much as $40,000.
The World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation held its “Rise of the Titans” event Nov. 9 at the Casper Events Center. Three fighters later contacted the Casper Police Department after they were unable to cash their checks because of insufficient funds, according to a sworn statement filed by police. CEO Tomasz Stankiewicz allegedly gave the fighters checks valued at $40,000, $14,000 and $5,000.
Eleven fights were held at the event, and according to the investigator’s statement, “there are indications” none of the checks were honored. Some fighters’ contracts contained a percentage of the profits from the event’s pay-per-view broadcast.
Stankiewicz recently pleaded guilty in a separate federal case to wire fraud in Illinois. According to the plea agreement, he was responsible for financial institutions losing an estimated $1.98 million.
The November event followed a June bare-knuckle fight held by a different organization in Cheyenne — the sport’s first-ever sanctioned event. Wyoming became the first state to sanction bare-knuckle fighting in March when the combat sports commission added the sport to its rules.
A representative for the company declined to comment.
Revenue from oil boom could be used for state roads
SANTA FE — A sizable portion of New Mexico's projected budget surplus would be funneled to road projects under proposals by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a key legislative committee.
The state is on track to end the current budget year in June with a surplus of more than $1.2 billion due to surging oil production. Between $300 million and $400 million of that could be included in an annual infrastructure bill to repair roads and make improvements in areas that are overwhelmed, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
It would be up to the state transportation department to decide which projects receive funding, with a focus on projects with the potential to create economic growth.
Some lawmakers are already advocating for road funding in a state that has identified more than $1 billion in road repair needs.
Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad said much of the available budget surplus should go toward roadwork in southeastern New Mexico, where the oil boom is concentrated.
She said increased traffic on area roads — including numerous trucks hauling oilfield equipment — regularly leads to delays and has created public safety problems.
New Mexico has struggled to keep up with maintenance on more than 30,000 of roadways in recent years, in part because more fuel-efficient vehicles have led to lower tax collections.