NEW FEDERAL POLICY AIMS TO PROTECT WATER
Federal environmental officials say a new policy should shield outside groups from liability if they try to mitigate dangerous chemicals leaking from abandoned mines in the Colorado mountains and beyond. The Environmental Protection Agency tweaked its policy after years of prodding by Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall. Udall visited an abandoned mine on Friday and said the region’s water and air quality, wildlife and travel industry are at risk unless leaks are contained. In Colorado, leaks from an estimated 7,300 mines have tainted 1,300 miles of streams. The new policy says “good Samaritans” no longer need a federal permit to do cleanups and offers the groups an understanding with the EPA that they would not be liable under the Clean Water Act.
FEDS CHALLENGE 1ST AMENDMENT
The federal government is seeking to overturn an order blocking it from penalizing a Colorado company whose health care coverage doesn’t include birth control. The health care package pushed by President Barack Obama’s administration generally requires no-cost preventive care coverage to women for items including contraceptives. Hercules Industries Inc. is run by the Newland family, whose Roman Catholic beliefs condemn contraception. Last year a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking Hercules from having to offer contraceptive coverage while its lawsuit challenging the mandate proceeds. The company says it should be exempt on religious grounds. In a brief filed Friday in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal government contends the for-profit heating and cooling company isn’t a religious organization that qualifies for an exemption.
SKI RESORTS REPORT DIP IN VISITS
Colorado ski resorts are reporting a dip in early-season skier visits, after a dry autumn prompted some resorts to delay their seasons. More snow did fall in time for the traditionally busy December holiday period though. The trade group Colorado Ski Country USA said Friday that skier visits at its 21 member resorts through Dec. 31 were down 11.5 percent compared with the same period last season. That figure doesn’t include the four Colorado resorts run by Vail Resorts Inc., which has said skier visits at its seven resorts in Colorado and the Lake Tahoe area through Jan. 13 were up 2 percent from a comparable period last season. It didn’t break down results for just its Colorado resorts, which haven’t had as much snow.
XCEL DENIED REQUEST TO RAISE RATES
A judge has rejected a request from Xcel Energy to recover $16.6 million from the company’s completed SmartGridCity project in Boulder by charging Colorado ratepayers. The city of Boulder, the Colorado Consumer Counsel and two of Xcel’s industrial customers opposed the request, which was rejected Thursday. PUC officials ruled Xcel could recoup about $30 million of its costs but that $16.6 million more could not be recovered until the utility showed it had completed the project and that the project would help all of its Colorado customers. The case now goes back to the PUC to make the final decision. Xcel officials say they may renew their request. The project connects 23,000 homes in Boulder with smart meters using computers to manage electricity distribution.
SMALL PLANE CRASHES AT WYOMING AIRPORT
A private light plane crashed at the Rock Springs – Sweetwater County Airport Friday afternoon. In a special bulletin, Sweetwater County Sheriff Rich Haskell said the aircraft’s pilot and sole occupant, Robert Neuwirth of Gillette, Wyoming, crashed his aircraft, a 1976 Piper PA-28-35 single engine, during an attempted landing at around 2:30 PM. Neuwirth suffered only minor injuries and was not hospitalized. Haskell said federal authorities will be investigating the crash, and had no information on its cause.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS, AS DOES NUMBER OF COLORADO JOBS
The most recent economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show a decrease in the state unemployment rate from 7.7 percent in November to 7.6 percent in December, which is the lowest unemployment rate since February 2009 when the state’s unemployment rate was 7.2 percent. Furthermore, the most recent decline in the unemployment rate seems to be a result of positive movement in the labor market. During the month of December workers entered the labor force, and according to one measure, employment increased. That said, the other common measure of employment showed a slight decrease in the number of jobs in Colorado. The national unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent through the month of December. Also, enrollment in public assistance programs increased during December as Medicaid, CHP+ and the SNAP program saw increases in enrollment.
ACTIVISTS CALLING FOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE LIMITS
A group of campaign finance activists are rallying in Denver to call for new limits on campaign funding. The activists are marking the third anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that declared that corporations enjoy the same First Amendment rights to free speech as individual citizens and can therefore spend as much as they want to try to influence elections. Colorado voters last year overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure seeking an amendment to the U.S. constitution to address the finance ruling. So far, most members of Colorado’s congressional delegation haven’t brought up that idea. The Saturday rally starts at the Capitol building. Participants planned to walk to a plaza of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
STATE TO LOSE MILLIONS OVER FISCAL CLIFF DEAL
Colorado state government stands to lose $45 million in the current fiscal year and $100 million in the next one because of tax changes included in the federal fiscal cliff agreement. The revenue cuts will come in estate tax revenue. Last month, state officials projected that state tax revenue would be $159 million more than expected in the current fiscal year as the economy improves and $142 million more than expected in the next year. Officials say the decline in estate tax revenue means this year’s revenue will be $114 million more than projected and next year’s would be $42 million. That will affect discussions over which programs should get additional revenue, including education and tax relief for the poor.
In high school sports:
Over the weekend:
The Steamboat boys and girls lost to Eagle Valley (boys= 37-36; girls= 41-40), and then beat Battle Mountain (boys= 42-41; girls= 53-18)
The Hayden boys beat Hotchkiss (58-44) and Paonia (67-66), while the girls lost to both (56-19; 59-18).
The Soroco boys defeated Paonia (71-70) and lost to Hotchkiss (63-56), while the girls lost to both (74-36; 62-36).
The Meeker boys and girls beat West Grand (boys= 60-54; girls= 68-28). The girls also beat North Park (55-29).
The Moffat County boys and girls topped Basalt (boys= 75-50; girls= 72-28), and Cedaredge (boys= 71-41; girls= 59-33).
The Little Snake River Valley boys and girls beat Rangely (boys= 60-50; girls= 46-32). The boys also beat Saratoga (59-49).
The Rangely boys beat West Grand (37-33).
At the Green River Duals, Moffat County lost to Lander Valley (46-36), Riverton (59-18), Uintah (70-12) and Central (63-12). They beat East (48-33).
Steamboat topped Battle Mountain (2-1) and Kent Denver (6-3).