Pueblos, lawmakers ask for pause on drilling plan
ALBUQUERQUE — A coalition of Native American tribes and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation are asking federal officials for more time to consider a proposal that would govern oil and gas drilling and other development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site has served as a rallying cry for environmentalists and pueblos that have been trying to stop drilling in the San Juan Basin. They say there are culturally significant sites outside the park's boundaries that could be compromised if more development is allowed.
The Navajo Nation has come out in support of creating a permanent buffer around the park, albeit smaller than what the pueblos and environmentalists are calling for since royalties from development are an important source of revenue.
The All Pueblo Council of Governors during an Aug. 27 virtual meeting called for the U.S. Interior Department to pause all activities and deadlines related to the proposed management plan until the coronavirus pandemic ends.
Within the boundaries of Chaco park, walls of stacked stone jut up from the canyon floor, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon. Circular ceremonial subterranean rooms called kivas are cut into the desert, surrounded by the remnants of what historians say was once a hub of indigenous civilization.
The state’s congressional delegation, in a letter sent Aug. 26 to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, said the pandemic continues to affect the lives of New Mexicans and their ability to participate in a public process.
They also wrote that the process is "hurtling forward" despite low oil prices, decreased demand and uncertainty in the market.
Nuclear agency's new facility to be named after 1st leader
ALBUQUERQUE — The federal agency that oversees the nation's nuclear weapons cache and key deterrence initiatives around the globe will name its new facility in Albuquerque after a retired Air Force general who was the agency's first administrator.
The facility now under construction will be named after Gen. John A Gordon, who died April 19, the National Nuclear Security Administration's current leader announced Aug. 21.
NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, who is also the Department of Energy's under secretary for national security, said the agency continues to build upon the "strong foundation" that Gordon left after serving as the first administrator from 2000 to mid 2002.
After leaving NNSA, Gordon's final federal leadership position was as President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser.
Gordon began his career as a physicist at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and went on to serve in posts with the Air Force Space Command, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council at the White house.
Mayors push for tax options amid budget crisis
CHEYENNE — With Wyoming facing a projected $1.5 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years, a few mayors from across the state asked lawmakers on Aug. 24 to start seriously considering new taxation options.
In response to the budget crisis — which emerged from long-term declines in Wyoming's energy industries and was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic — the state has already cut about 10% of its state agency budgets, totaling about $250 million.
But for mayors who testified to the state Legislature's Joint Revenue Committee, cuts alone won't be enough.
Cody Mayor Matt Hall told lawmakers that leveraging the state's savings account was "an untenable answer to our problems," noting the volatility of global oil markets that often dictate Wyoming's revenue streams.
Other elected leaders offered specific proposals to help the state's ailing local governments, most of which have cut between 10% and 40% from their upcoming budgets due to the pandemic.
Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said removing sales tax exemptions on items such as groceries as a step that would be beneficial for local governments.
Though most tax policy remains under the purview of state legislators, the mayors also mentioned some local revenue options that could be expanded.
The state's budget shortfall could also spell the end of local government distributions from the state, which totaled $105 million divvied between counties and municipalities in its most recent budget.
Despite the mayors' testimony, lawmakers on the committee rejected every tax proposal on the agenda during the second portion of their meeting the next day.
FBI investigating COVID-19 data breach
RAPID CITY — The FBI is investigating a data breach that may have compromised the identity of people with the COVID-19 virus in South Dakota.
Paul Niedringhaus, who directs the South Dakota Fusion Center that handles emergency calls, sent a letter to people who may have been affected by the June 19 breach, the Rapid City Journal reported Aug. 21.
The letter says the state's fusion center used Netsential.com's services to build a secure online portal this spring to help first responders identify people who had tested positive for the coronavirus so they could take precautions while responding to emergency calls.
The South Dakota letter said police in the state weren't given names but could call a dispatcher to verify positive cases. Houston-based Netsential added labels to the files that might allow a third-party to identify patients, the letter said, and the breach could have compromised people's names, addresses and virus status.
Netsential hosted the websites of more than 200 U.S., law enforcement agencies, most of them fusion centers like the South Dakota one affected.
The server was the source for a trove of files, dubbed BlueLeaks, that were shared online by a transparency collective called DDoSecrets.
The letter from the state agency said the files didn't include any financial information, Social Security numbers or passwords.
Public officials in at least two-thirds of states share addresses of people who have tested positive with first responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs. An Associated Press review in May found at least 10 states also share patients' names.
Commission adds LGBT nondiscrimination protections
MISSION — The commission that enforces Kansas' nondiscrimination laws will begin hearing claims from people who allege they are being mistreated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Kansas Human Rights Commission said Aug. 21 that the decision is in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment.
But the commission expanded the ruling beyond employment cases, offering protections for people alleging discrimination in housing and public accommodations, such as retail stores and educational institutions. In, Kansas, any business with four or more employees will be covered; the Supreme Court ruling affects businesses with at least 15 employees.
The LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas has been pushing for more than a decade to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a state law that includes protections based on race, religion, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry and in housing because of familial status.
The conservative Family Policy Alliance of Kansas chastised the decision, tweeting that the commission had “shown contempt for Kansans, for their duly elected representatives, and for the law itself” and vowing to reverse the protections.