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Barrasso attacks Democratic obstructionism in Senate; led similar obstruction under Obama

Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is seeking to shorten the amount of Senate debate allowed on many presidential nominees amid Democratic obstruction that he says has slowed President Donald Trump’s ability to implement policy.

Barrasso acknowledges that he obstructed some nominees during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, but said that the current Democratic opposition is more pronounced.

“Senator Barrasso has in the past slowed down debate on a very limited number of nominees. In nearly every case in order to get back sufficient answers to relevant questions put to the nominee,” Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp said in an email.

Under Obama

Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso led a boycott of President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. After asking Gina McCarthy an unprecedented 1,075 questions over multiple weeks, Republican senators simply refused to show up for committee meetings, avoiding quorum for the votes necessary to move along her nomination.

Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, had an explanation.

“The new nominee to be EPA Administrator has been extremely unresponsive with the information we requested,” Barrasso said in a statement at the time.

This came one year after an outraged Barrasso declared that Senate Republicans would no longer work with Obama.

“Business as we know it in the Senate is over for this administration in terms of accomplishing anything legislatively or finding any cooperation from this side of the aisle,” Barrasso said in 2012. “He has poisoned the well.”

Barrasso was specifically upset over recess appointments made by Obama, arguing that they were an abuse of the president’s power because the Senate was not in recess.

His comments aligned with those of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said after Obama’s first election that his goal was to ensure the president was not reelected.

Under Trump

Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, Senate Democrats have obstructed many of Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions and other administration posts.

In the last two weeks, Barrasso has made ending Democratic obstructionism a top priority.

“The president has laid out his agenda to create jobs, to grow the economy and to help hard-working American taxpayers,” Barrasso said in a speech on Oct. 25. “Yet, Democrats will do anything they can to stop the president from putting his team in place to accomplish these goals.”

The speech came about two weeks after it was reported that the founder of private security contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, is considering a run against Barrasso. Former Trump adviser and right-wing media mogul Steve Bannon is recruiting Prince as part of his effort to unseat Barrasso for being insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Barrasso repeated his criticism of Democratic obstructionism at a Halloween press conference and the day after he delivered another speech on the Senate floor calling for a change to rules governing approval of nominees to make it harder for Democrats to block Trump’s picks.

This time Barrasso, the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate, focused on the president’s judicial nominees.

“The United States Senate used to be called the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Barrasso said. “Democrats have turned it into the world’s most paralyzed deliberative body.”

As of late October, the Senate had confirmed seven judges appointed by Trump. Obama had just three judges confirmed by the same point during his first term.

‘It’s time’

Barrasso is seeking to shorten the 30 hours of debate currently allowed for the Senate to consider non-cabinet presidential nominees. One proposal would change the maximum debate time allowed to eight hours, a standard that was temporarily used from 2013 to 2015 under an agreement between Barrasso and now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Barrasso has noted that Democrats have insisted on using the full 30 hours of debate even when they are not actively speaking for or against a nominee, simply to delay the process.

But to change the rules surrounding debate in the typical manner, Republicans would need to secure a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which would mean winning over several Democrats. Another option would be to change the rules by a simple majority vote, though that tactic is controversial and some Republican senators might refuse to go along.

“It’s time for senators to stop abusing the rules of the Senate just to delay work that needs to be done,” Barrasso said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “If senators won’t relent and accept the reform that was set in the previous Congress, then it’s time for us to force that change.”

Trump has yet to nominate anyone to fill many positions within the federal government, though he still lags behind the total number of appointees who have been confirmed when compared to President Obama or President George W. Bush.

As of Thursday, Trump was awaiting confirmation on 227 nominees. At the same point in his presidency, Obama was awaiting confirmation on 164 and Bush on 124.


State-and-regional
Growing up: Mills may become a city by 2020

The Mountain View Plaza strip mall in Mills was largely empty when Sarah Campbell opened her pet grooming business in the shopping center seven years ago.

“I was the only one on this end, other than the doughnut shop,” she recalled.

But that’s no longer the case. Campbell, the owner of Sarah’s Grooming, is now surrounded by neighbors, such as Expressions School of Theatrical Dance and 307 Healing Waters.

Although no one is likely to confuse Mills with Manhattan anytime soon, Mayor Seth Coleman confirmed Tuesday that the town is experiencing significant growth. The town’s population was roughly 2,000 at the start of the millennium, and had grown to about 3,400 by the 2010 census, according to the mayor.

Considering that about 300 new residences have been built in the last few years, Coleman said he expects Mills will reach the 4,000 mark by 2020, which means the municipality would then be classified as a first-class city by the state.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “Even through the boom or bust cycles that we’ve had the last few years, the population has [likely] more than doubled.”

Coleman credited private development for the town’s growth spurt, and said the council tries to “stay out of the way” when it comes to private business.

Rick Kaysen, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said Tuesday that any town that reaches a population of 4,000 is identified as a first-class city in Wyoming.

first-class city designations are mostly a symbolic milestone — like becoming a teenager or reaching a silver anniversary — but it does come with a few perks such as the ability to apply for more types of federal grants.

It also means the city will be required by law to hire a CPA annually to audit their finances, according to Kaysen.

Given the town’s growth, Coleman said the Council already decided it would be wise to create a town administrator position to oversee the different departments.

Mike Coleman was officially appointed to the new position at the Mills Town Council in October, he added. Coleman has been working for the city for about 15 years, and will continue to serve as the director for the Public Works Department, despite his new position.

“Like all of us in small organizations, you have to wear different hats at different times,” said the mayor, even with the town’s recent growth.

Everyone on Council concurred that establishing a town administrator position is in the town’s best interest, said Councilwoman Sara McCarthy.

“We really wanted to strengthen the management structure of the town government,” she explained. “We needed someone who could be heavily involved with the operation of all departments and then provide feedback to the mayor and council.”

McCarthy is enthused about the possibly of Mills becoming a first-class city, but not everyone is eager for the town to reach that milestone.

Dean Dickerson, the manager of Bid’s Place Pizza in Mills, said he’s hoping the Mill’s population will stay on the smaller side.

“Otherwise you get more government,” he said. “And more rules.”


National
AP
26 killed in church attack in Texas' deadliest mass shooting

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force "at one point." Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge. 

Stefanek said Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child and discharged two years later. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months' confinement and a reduction in rank.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.

He said 23 of the dead were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Addressing the news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. "There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today," Abbott said. "Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who've lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities."

In Japan, President Donald Trump called the shooting "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief "Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong."

Trump ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor those killed in the mass shooting at the Texas church.

Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.

"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.

At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.

Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.

"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," Berlanga said. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected."

Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn't at Sunday's service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.

"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said, shaking his head. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school. Somebody went in and started shooting."

"We're shocked. Shocked and dismayed," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, a rural community known for its peanut festival, which was held last month. "It's especially shocking when it's such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving."

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the "wicked nature" of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.


Energy
Report: Developing a wind farm is cheaper than ever

Building a new wind farm is getting cheaper and cheaper, according to an annual study that documents the cost of new power generation.

New wind power costs between $30 and $60 dollars per megawatt hour, not counting a federal tax subsidy. It’s cheaper than solar, gas and coal. Add in the federal helping hand and the cost of new wind falls to between $14 and $52, according to the most recent Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis, an annual report of what different energy sources cost to develop from Lazard, a financial firm.

And Wyoming is on the cheap end of the range, said Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

The quality of the wind has a big impact on that cost, and Wyoming wind is that good, he said.

Places where the wind doesn’t blow as often or as hard as Casper and Rawlins won’t reap that low cost over the lifetime of the wind farm, or beat out the next cheapest generations source, he said.

So what does this mean in Wyoming? Well, it explains why the wind industry is booming and one of the reasons power producers keep investing in turbines in the Cowboy State.

Developers Power Company of Wyoming and Viridis Eolia both have significant wind projects proposed in the state. Power Company’s Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind farm is under construction for the first phase of a 1,000 turbine farm near Rawlins. And Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, would like to repower their entire wind fleet in the state, as well as bring 1,100 new megawatts online.

“[The report] is further evidence that renewables are by far the cheapest form of new generation that a utility building out here might consider,” Godby said.

***

The federal tax subsidy that the wind industry receives has been a point of contention in Wyoming, the only state that levies a tax on wind production. The state’s coal sector is the largest in the country, and it’s facing considerable pressure from cheaper fuel sources both traditional and renewable.

For those opposed to the subsidy and supportive of the coal sector, wind gets an unfair deal.

And though wind is cheaper than coal, the tax help is indeed fueling a more rapid wind build out right now in Wyoming. The credit sunsets in 2020, and that deadline has a number of utilities and independent wind developers rushing to grab the tax credits before they’re gone.

If a number of criteria and deadlines are met, they keep the tax credit for another 10 years.

Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, has nearly $3 billion on the line to invest in Wyoming wind and transmission before the deadline.

They are arguing that it will lock in long-term cost savings to customers, even though they don’t need the new energy to serve demand right now, Godby said.

***

Levelized cost is the dollar figure at the bottom of, frankly, a lot of math. But the idea is pretty straightforward.

It determines the break-even point, the dollar amount per hour of power produced that says the investment equals the return.

The report takes the average of the total amount of money a power plant costs to rise from the ground, operate, finance and then decommission, and divides that figure by the total amount of power the farm or plant is expected to produce over its lifetime, whether that is 30 years of wind farm or 50 years of burning coal.

There is an additional cost associated with the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow or the sun doesn’t always shine: It’s only about $5 per megawatt hour, $10 if you’re generous, Godby said.

Wind is simply beating traditional power sources on its own, according to Lazard. Last year, coal would have had a break-even of between $60 and $143 per megawatt hour, if anyone were building new coal plants in the U.S.

A combined cycle natural gas plant’s break-even cost is between $42 and $78 per megawatt hour. Nuclear? It’s skyrocketed by about 35 percent compared to earlier estimates. Its levelized cost is between $112 and $183.

One surprising takeaway from the Lazard numbers shows just how far renewables have surpassed traditional sources on cost.

“In some scenarios the full lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear,” according to the report.

Repeating its common refrain from earlier years, the report’s authors advise diversity in the energy mix to meet demand. Cost isn’t everything and ways to effectively and economically store power from intermittent sources haven’t fully developed.

“Although alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future,” the report states. “Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions of the world is to use complementary conventional and alternative energy resources in a diversified generation fleet.”


Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune  

Morgan Legerski, pictured Thursday at her Casper office, is the CEO of Make-A-Wish Wyoming. The nonprofit’s Stories of Light Gala is Saturday at The Hangar in Bar Nunn.


Crime-and-courts
Casper Police Department
Review shows evidence backlog at Casper Police Department

The Casper Police Department is accumulating evidence far more quickly than it is disposed of, which means a department that already has six evidence storage facilities will need to add storage space if things don’t change.

An external review of the police department conducted by the Center for Public Safety Management indicates that the department is still holding onto evidence that’s more than 20 years old and the department does not have an accurate count of evidence in custody.

The department switched to a computerized evidence tracking system in the early 1990s. Older evidence did not make it into the computer system at the time of the changeover, and the index cards used to catalog evidence were thrown out. The department did not begin accurately tracking evidence disposal until 2014, according to the review.

Between 2015 and 2016, the department cataloged more than 18,000 new pieces of evidence and disposed of about 9,000. At this rate, the department will have to expand its evidence storage facilities, the report states. Instead, the report recommends that the police department purge old, unnecessary evidence.

Evidence cataloging in 2015 and 2016 was comprehensive, according to the report.

“Without the commitment to stay on top of this issue, the department will again find itself in the position of needlessly storing obsolete property and evidence,” the report states.

The department already has six evidence storage facilities spread across three different city properties. One of those facilities smells like mold or mildew, as a result of historical flooding, according to the report.

Another of those facilities is secured by old technology that needs to be updated, the report states. The main storage facility is not monitored by video cameras and is secured by a lock that does not record entrances. The report recommends that the department install video cameras and an updated lock system to improve security.

The review has been in the works since March. A 155-page report published as a result of the review used data, officer interviews, a site visit and more to assess all aspects of the department, from staffing levels to the handling of investigations. It was released Sept. 27 by the City Manager’s office.

A spokesman for the police department said that Interim Chief Steve Schulz is still looking at the report and is not ready to comment on it.