Chetro Ketl Ruins - Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chetro Ketl Ruins in Chaco Canyon at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico. (iStock)

NEW MEXICO

Tribes urge drilling ban around sacred Chaco Canyon site

ACOMA PUEBLO — Native American leaders are banding together to pressure U.S. officials to ban oil and gas exploration around a sacred tribal site that features massive stone structures and other remnants of an ancient civilization but are facing the Trump administration's pro-drilling stance.

Creating a formal buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been a long-running issue, but tribes are pushing for further protections as U.S. officials revamp the management plan for the area surrounding the world heritage site as well as large portions of northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Federal officials repeatedly have denied drilling leases within a 10-mile radius of the park as tribes, environmentalists and archaeologists have raised concerns about the potential effects on culturally significant sites like ceremonial structures called kivas outside Chaco's boundaries.

A thousand years ago, the site was a ceremonial and economic hub for the Pueblo people, historians say.

Tribes gathered at an All Pueblo Council of Governors meeting want specific language in a U.S. Bureau of Land Management plan that would prevent drilling near the park, instead of having to protest four times a year when the energy industry requests lease sales.

Lawmakers and tribal leaders said at a recent congressional committee hearing that a 2017 Trump administration review of lands protected nationwide by past presidents didn't take tribal interests into account despite some of the lands being sacred to them.

WYOMING

Federal judge blocks oil, gas drilling over climate change

A judge has blocked oil and gas drilling across almost 500 square miles in Wyoming and said the U.S. government must consider climate change impacts more broadly as it leases huge swaths of public land for energy exploration.

The order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington appeared to go a step further than other judges in his order, issued March 19.

Previous rulings focused on individual lease sales or permits. But Contreras said that when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management auctions public lands for oil and gas leasing, officials must consider emissions from past, present and foreseeable future oil and gas leases nationwide.

The ruling coincides with an aggressive push by President Donald Trump's administration to open more public lands to energy development.

Contreras' ruling blocks federal officials from issuing drilling permits until they conduct a new environmental review looking more closely at greenhouse gas emissions.

The case was brought by two advocacy groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

WildEarth Guardians climate program director Jeremy Nichols predicted the ruling would have much bigger implications than a halt to drilling in some areas of Wyoming, calling it “the Holy Grail ruling we've been after.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon criticized the ruling, saying carbon emissions shouldn't be reduced at the expense of workers who provide reliable and affordable energy.

KANSAS

ACLU: Black man detained while moving into own home

The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking state officials to investigate after a black man was detained by police while moving into his home, then allegedly harassed for weeks and blocked by the police chief from filing a racial bias complaint with the department.

Karle Robinson, a 61-year-old Marine veteran, was held at gunpoint and handcuffed in August 2018 as he was carrying a television out of a rented moving van into the home he had bought a month earlier in Tonganoxie, about 30 miles west of Kansas City.

The ACLU of Kansas said in a news release that it was a case of "moving while black" and that the organization has asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to investigate the matter.

Tonganoxie Police Chief Greg Lawson said the safety of people who live in the town and those visiting it is important to the department, and the officers and other staff have all "pledged to serve the community with honor and the highest degree of professionalism."

The town of 5,400 in northeastern Kansas is 97 percent white, census figures show.

After reviewing Robinson’s paperwork and removing his handcuffs, police told the new homeowner there had been a string of burglaries in the area. An officer can be heard on a body camera video apologizing to Robinson, adding: "If you look at the situation, I think, I think you get it."

The ACLU contends that public records show no reported burglaries in the area.

OKLAHOMA

State moves to stop towns from fees, bans on plastic bags

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers are considering legislation to prevent cities and towns from imposing a fee on single-use plastic and paper bags, a measure that officials in one Oklahoma community say encroaches on their search for an innovative way to protect the environment from the problems of carelessly discarded bags.

The measure was proposed as leaders in Norman, a town south of Oklahoma City, consider imposing a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags as city leaders explore ways limit a leading source of litter and pollution.

Norman’s mayor-elect Breea Clark said the city leads the state in participation in curbside recycling but that recyclers statewide are refusing to accept single-use plastic bags because they get stuck in the recycling equipment.

He said a fee offers a way to change consumer habits. In Boulder, Colorado, where a 10-cent fee was imposed on plastic bags in 2012, city officials say plastic bag usage declined 70 percent.

But allowing hundreds of Oklahoma cities and towns adopt their own guidelines would create a hodgepodge of rules that would make buying food and beverages more costly and inconvenient and create compliance problems for manufacturers and retailers, said Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, the pre-emption bill's author.

Plastic-bag pollution is a problem statewide, even in rural Oklahoma communities, said Mike Fina, executive director of the Oklahoma Municipal League, who added, "They joke that that's the new tumbleweed, they blow everywhere.”

WYOMING

Variable speed limit signs being installed on I-25 in Casper

Electronic variable speed limit signs are being installed along Interstate 25 in Casper, allowing the speed limits to change based on road conditions.

Nineteen such signs are being installed for both directions of traffic from about a mile east of the Brooks/Hat 6 Road interchange to just past the Poplar Street exit, said a spokesman for Wyoming Department of Transportation.

The electronic signs will allow WYDOT to lower speed limits through Casper based on weather conditions, crashes and traffic flow. The default speed limits of 60 mph through town and 80 mph east of Wyoming Boulevard will remain the same. The signs will not be used to increase speed limits past those numbers.

Casper has had electronic variable speed limits in other parts of town for a number of years.

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