Forest Service wants to trim habitat for sage grouse
CHEYENNE — A U.S. Forest Service plan would reduce designated sage grouse habitat in Wyoming and Nevada while easing grazing rules intended to protect the ground-dwelling birds in five Western states.
The plan would target 300 square miles now set aside for sage grouse in Wyoming and Nevada. Nearly all of the reduction would come in Wyoming, the state with the West's largest share of sage grouse in its wide, sagebrush-covered basins.
Supporters say the move would more closely align state and federal habitat designations.
Environmentalists, however, see it as the latest move by the Trump administration to ease obstacles for ranchers and energy developers in sage grouse habitat regions.
A plan released in March would make oil, gas and other development easier on 13,000 square miles of sage grouse habitat on lands controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The change would allow more waivers for drilling in those areas.
More than 8,000 square miles of national forest land has been set aside as protected habitat for the birds on Forest Service lands in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
Environmental groups worry the changes could further imperil the chicken-sized bird known for its elaborate mating rituals. Sage grouse numbers have dwindled from an estimated 16 million before European settlement of the West to no more than 500,000 today.
Brothers who sold deadly cantaloupe face hemp charges
TOPEKA — Two brothers from Colorado whose contaminated cantaloupe killed 33 people and hospitalized many more in 2011 are facing drug charges in Kansas related to an industrial hemp shipment.
Eric and Ryan Jensen grow industrial hemp — a non-intoxicating cannabis plant — at a farm run by Eric's son in Holly, Colorado, where industrial hemp is legal. They are accused of attempting to ship industrial hemp by FedEx through Kansas, where the crop is illegal, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The Jensens pleaded guilty in 2013 to causing a nationwide outbreak of listeria through infected cantaloupe grown at their farm. They were sentenced to home detention and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution.
In January 2017, a FedEx truck picked up about 300 pounds of boxed up hemp from the Jensen farm in Holly, about 10 miles from the Kansas border for shipment to California. The shipment went to a FedEx warehouse in Liberal, Kansas, to California. The Kansas Highway Patrol seized the shipment after employees reported that the shipment smelled like marijuana.
That seemed to be the end of it, but in January of this year, the Seward County Attorney's Office charged the brothers with four drug offenses, including three felonies, that accuse them of distributing marijuana or possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.
Kade Goodwin, an assistant county attorney prosecuting the case, said he couldn't explain why two years passed before the charges were filed.
Colorado requires industrial hemp to have less than 0.03% of THC, the chemical that produces a high in marijuana. Eric's attorney, Dodge City lawyer Van Hampton, is meeting roadblocks in his effort to have the THC concentration tested.
Hampton said Kansas authorities wouldn't let an independent lab in Denver test a sample. He said the Colorado Bureau of Investigation would conduct a test if Kansas requests it, but Kansas hasn't asked. And the judge in the case, Seward County District Court Judge Clint Peterson, is refusing to hear a motion to order testing, he said.
Judge broadens state’s medical marijuana program
SANTA FE — A New Mexico judge has ordered state officials to issue identification cards for the medical marijuana program to all qualifying patients, including people who live outside the state.
The judge's Aug. 5 order was in response to an emergency petition filed by three out-of-state residents after the state Department of Health denied their applications to enter the cannabis program, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The judge set an Aug. 19 deadline for the state agency to argue why the ruling should not be made permanent.
A state law that took effect in June removed the requirement that only New Mexico residents are qualified to enroll in the cannabis program.
Agency officials have argued that the change was not intended to allow nonresidents to obtain medical marijuana cards. They claim allowing nonresidents in the program would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines — a violation of federal and state laws.
Energy Department wants to build nuclear test ‘fast’ reactor
BOISE — A new nuclear test reactor is needed as part of an effort to revamp the nation's fading nuclear power industry by developing safer fuel and power plants, the U.S. Department of Energy said Aug. 5.
The federal agency said it will prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the process to build the test reactor in Idaho or Tennessee by the end of 2025. Public comments on the environmental review are being taken through Sept. 4.
The Versatile Test Reactor would be the first new test reactor built in the U.S. in decades and give the nation a dedicated "fast-neutron-spectrum" testing capability. Such reactors are called fast reactors.
Federal officials say the proposed test reactor would help create new and safer fuels, materials and reactors being developed by civilian companies in the U.S.
Most nuclear reactors in use now are "light-water" reactors fueled by uranium and cooled with water. The test reactor will be cooled with harder to control liquid sodium and likely fueled by plutonium, which critics say increases potential nuclear terrorism risks because plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons.
2 polygamous group members plead guilty in tax scheme
SALT LAKE CITY — Two executives of a Salt Lake City biodiesel company linked to a polygamous group have pleaded guilty to charges filed in what prosecutors have called a $511 million tax credit scheme, according to documents.
Washakie Renewable Energy once described itself as the largest producer of clean burning and sustainable biodiesel in Utah, but prosecutors said the company was actually creating fake production records to get renewable-fuel tax credits, then laundering the proceeds from 2010 through 2016.
Prosecutors plan to seize items including a $3.6 million home in Huntington Beach, California, as well as a Bugatti and Lamborghini as a result of the pleas.
Company CEO Jacob Kingston pleaded guilty to more than three dozen counts, including mail fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. His brother and company CFO Isaiah Kingston pleaded guilty to more than a dozen similar counts.
Prosecutors have said both men are members of the northern Utah-based Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group, which practices polygamy and owns hundreds of businesses. Group leaders have condemned fraudulent business practices.
The brothers are accused of rotating the same fuel between tanks in Texas, Louisiana and Panama to create the false appearance of buying biodiesel.