Spent Nuclear Fuel

In this April 29, 2015, file photo, an illustration depicts a planned interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico as officials announce plans to pursue a project by Holtec International during a news conference at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, N.M. The state is suing the federal government to block the facility.

NEW MEXICO

State sues US over proposed nuclear waste storage plans

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico sued the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 29 over concerns that the federal agency hasn't done enough to vet plans for a multibillion-dollar facility to store spent nuclear fuel in the state, arguing that the project would endanger residents, the environment and the economy.

New Jersey-based Holtec International wants to build a complex in southeastern New Mexico where tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants around the nation could be stored until the federal government finds a permanent solution. State officials worry that New Mexico will become a permanent dumping ground for the radioactive material.

The complaint filed in federal court contends the commission overstepped its authority regarding Holtec's plans and that granting a license to the company could result in "imminent and substantial endangerment" to New Mexico. The state cited the potential for surface and groundwater contamination, disruption of oil and gas development in one of the nation's most productive basins and added strain on emergency response resources.

The nuclear commission did not respond to questions about New Mexico's complaint. However, it issued an order last year that denied appeals from several groups with arguments similar to the state’s.

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Holtec is seeking a 40-year license to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad, which already is home to the federal government's only underground repository for Cold War-era waste generated by decades of nuclear research and bomb-making.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, nuclear reactors across the country produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, with most of it remaining on-site because there's nowhere else to put it.

State to issue $600 one-time tax rebates amid pandemic

ALBUQUERQUE — The New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department has started issuing $600 one-time rebates for taxpayers who are not dependents and who receive the Working Families Tax Credit.

The department said on March 23 that recipients must have an adjusted gross income of no more than $39,000 if they are married and filing as the head of a household, or $31,200 or less if they are single filers, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The Legislature authorized the rebates earlier this year, more than 110,000 rebates worth more than $66 million have already been issued.

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New Mexico's Working Families Credit is worth 17% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit this year, department officials said. Qualifications for the state and federal credits are the same.

Taxpayers who filed their 2020 tax returns and are eligible for the rebates do not need to take further action. Rebates are expected to be either mailed or delivered by direct deposit.

Taxpayers who filed their 2020 tax returns without claiming the tax credit but who believe they qualify must file an amended return.

UTAH

Governor signs measure to require porn filters

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is a step closer to requiring all cellphones and tablets sold in the conservative state to automatically block pornography after the Republican governor signed legislation on March 23 that critics call a significant intrusion of free speech.

Gov. Spencer Cox has said the measure would send an "important message" about preventing children from accessing explicit online content.

The measure won't go into effect unless five other states enact similar laws, a provision that was added to address concerns that it would be difficult to implement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said the constitutionality of the bill was not adequately considered and that it will likely be argued in court.

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Critics of the measure, including adult film star Cherie DeVille, had called on the governor to veto the measure because it could violate residents' First Amendment rights.

Cox has said he isn't as worried about constitutional concerns because the proposal won't be immediately enacted.

Rep. Susan Pulsipher, the bill's sponsor, said she was "grateful" the governor signed the legislation, which she hopes will help parents keep their children from unintended exposure to pornography. She asserts that the measure passes constitutional muster because adults can deactivate the filters, but experts said it still raises several legal concerns.

WYOMING

Election changes pushed by Donald Trump Jr. fail

CHEYENNE — Wyoming lawmakers rejected a measure that would have required candidates to win a majority of votes in primary elections to avoid runoffs — a change endorsed by Donald Trump Jr. in his campaign to undermine Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.

The state Senate defeated the proposal with a 15-14 vote March 24 after lawmakers raised concerns over the cost of adding more elections and the burden that doing so would put on voters and local officials.

Trump Jr. called for Cheney's defeat after she voted to impeach President Donald Trump over the storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

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A primary runoff for Cheney could have consolidated Republican opposition to her re-election. She didn't take a position on the proposed election law changes.

The state GOP central committee censured Cheney in February for her impeachment vote. But for the most part, Wyoming's Republican elected officials have continued to support her.

Two Republican state legislators —- Sen. Anthony Bouchard, of Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, of Casper — already have announced they are running against Cheney, Wyoming's lone congresswoman. Bouchard voted for changing the primary.

The cost of the measure was a turnoff for lawmakers confronting declining state revenue from Wyoming's key coal, oil and gas sectors.

One lawmaker said his constituents were "appalled" that could be subjected to more elections.

MONTANA

Governor gets warning after killing Yellowstone wolf

BILLINGS — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte received a warning from wildlife officials after killing a radio-collared wolf near Yellowstone National Park without first taking a mandated trapper education course — a violation of state hunting regulations, officials said March 23.

It's legal to kill wolves in Montana with a license, but trappers must first complete a three-hour online course that includes instruction on how to take the animals ethically and lawfully.

Gianforte had a valid wolf license, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said.

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News of the governor's violation comes as lawmakers in Montana and Idaho have been considering proposals to make it much easier to kill wolves in a bid to drive down the predators' numbers.

Just weeks after taking office, Gianforte trapped and shot the male wolf on Feb. 15 about 10 miles north of the park, on a ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, director for the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group and a Gianforte campaign donor, according to The Mountain West News Bureau, which first reported the violation.

Officials determined Gianforte had broken the trapping certification rule a day later, when the Republican governor brought the animal's remains to a state game warden in Helena to report the kill as regulations require, Lemon said.

Gianforte "immediately rectified the mistake" and enrolled in a wolf-trapping certification course scheduled for March 24, Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said. He was allowed to keep the animal's skull and hide.

The male wolf was 6 to 7 years old and had been born in Yellowstone National Park. It was fitted with a radio collar to track its movements in 2018, park spokesperson Morgan Warthin said. The animal was a member of the park's Wapiti Lake and 8 Mile packs, then went off on its own to find a mate.

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