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Steve Conner for the Star-Tribune 

Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson turns up field after scooping up a Central Michigan fumble in the fourth quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22, 2017 in Boise, Idaho.

Natrona County School District, UW under federal investigations for sexual violence, retaliation

The Natrona County School District is under two separate federal investigations, one for sexual violence and another for retaliation related to disability discrimination, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The University of Wyoming and Northwest Community College are also facing two investigations each, both for sexual violence and retaliation, according to the department.

The investigations are being conducted by the department’s Office of Civil Rights. According to the office’s website, the district here has been under investigation for sexual violence since July 2016 and disability discrimination since Dec. 29.

Verba Echols, the district’s associate superintendent for human resources, said that she wasn’t sure when the incident related to the sexual violence investigation occurred. Citing the ongoing federal investigation, she declined to provide specific details — such as the school or the ages of those involved — but said it was not related to rape.

The Office of Civil Rights provides no details of active investigations.

She said the incident of sexual violence was fully investigated by the district and a school. Echols said district officials were later told that a complaint had been filed with the Office of Civil Rights. Officials have been cooperating with investigators since, she said.

She said the investigation went beyond the specific complaint, into the district’s protocols and guidelines. Federal investigators interviewed staff members and administrators, she said.

“We were – you’re surprised,” Echols said. “You certainly want to do the right thing, all the time, and when someone questions that, you pause and you ask, ‘How do you we get better?’”

The University of Wyoming’s sexual violence and retaliation investigations were both opened on July 6. Northwest Community College’s retaliation investigation was opened on July 26, 2017, and its sexual violence inquiry began a year earlier, on July 22, 2016.

A spokesman for the university was unable to comment Monday. A message sent to a spokesman at Northwest Community College was not returned.

All five Wyoming investigations are listed as pending.

The sexual violence and retaliation investigations are related to Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. The disability-related investigation falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, according to the website.

Echols said the disability investigation was related to a complaint from earlier this school year made by an employee about another staff member. The school’s principal contacted district officials, who became involved. A complaint was later filed to the Office of Civil Rights.

Institutions that receive federal funding are required to have a Title IX coordinator, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Both the university and Northwest Community College list coordinators on their websites.

Echols serves as Natrona County’s Title IX coordinator, she said.

Wyoming Public Media reported in August that in addition to the Natrona County, both Laramie No. 1 and Albany County school districts were under investigation for sexual violence. Neither of those two inquiries are listed as active, but any resolution is also not listed on the site.

A spokeswoman for the Laramie County district said as its schools are on spring break, officials were unavailable to provide comment. A message sent to Albany County officials was not returned Monday.

Wyoming coal country may experience steady demand for up to 30 years

Wyoming’s coal mines may experience steady demand for the next 30 years, despite the planned retirement of many power plants that burn Powder River Basin coal, according to an article from the Energy Information Administration Friday.

The possibility that thermal coal demand will face a short-term decline until about 2022 before stabilizing until 2050 is not a new one from the EIA, an independent federal agency that collects and analyzes national energy data. Flat coal demand is one of a number of potential outcomes for the coal industry that the agency laid out in its Annual Energy Outlook published in early February. The article last week focused on one possible future for coal — stable demand.

It’s certainly the outlook that many in Wyoming coal country want to hear. The state’s coal industry supplies about 40 percent of national demand, with customers in coal-burning plants located across the west and Midwest.

A number of utilities that burn Wyoming coal have announced their intention to phase out coal in favor of natural gas or renewable power.

That trend has shaken the coal industry in recent years, though many companies say they are accounting for the reduced demand and can still compete in a leaner market. But the trend away from coal has a number of experts doubting that coal demand will indeed remain flat for decades to come.

The EIA’s report makes a point to caution reading too much into any one scenario. The projection that coal demand will remain flat is an all-things-being-equal outlook, as in a scenario where there is no Clean Power Plan pressuring utilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, no sudden spike or dive in the price of natural gas to out compete coal and no unforeseen spate of early retirement in the coal fleet.

In the scenario where coal demand remains flat, current energy trends play out as expected and no wrenches are thrown into the gears.

Most look at these potential paths for coal with caution.

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said it’s simply difficult to predict a clear picture of coal’s outlook.

“You take these reports for what they are,” he said when the Energy Information Administration released its annual outlook. “A snapshot of where we are, what the markets look like and some predictions on the markets.”

Wyoming’s coal industry has stabilized after a two-year downturn, but it has contracted. Production is lower, jobs are fewer and outlooks are more tenuous.

The Wyoming State Mine Inspector reported recently that only five full-time coal jobs were added in 2017. Two years after a series of layoffs from the largest mines, it appears that the job numbers are settled, with companies depending more on overtime and contract workers than they did previously, experts say.

Production last year rose about 6 percent from the previous year, landing at more than 300 million tons. Those numbers are not expected to rise to former heights, industry and industry-watchers agree.

“I’m not sure we’re ever going to see the days of 400 to 450 million tons,” Deti said when the federal production figures were released. “We just have to get used to where we are.”

Political support for the coal industry has centered around de-regulation and support for carbon capture to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection agency, recently made a visit to Wyoming coal country following a public meeting about repealing the Clean Power Plan.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso recently sponsored two bills to help the carbon capture industry and criticized the Trump Administration’s suggestions to cut the majority of its Department of Energy spending on carbon capture research and development.

All of Wyoming’s delegates to Washington speak highly of coal and unfavorably of regulations that would pressure the industry. The majority of coal’s woes, most experts agree, are market pressures.

US vs. China: a 'slap-fight,' not a trade war. So far (copy)

WASHINGTON — First, the United States imposed a tax on Chinese steel and aluminum. Then, China counterpunched Monday by raising import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. pork, apples and other products.

The government of President Xi Jinping said it was responding to a U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum. But that is just one facet of sprawling tensions with Washington, Europe and Japan over a state-led economic model they complain hampers market access, protects Chinese companies and subsidizes exports in violation of Beijing's free-trade commitments.

Forecasters say the impact of Monday's move should be limited, but investors worry the global recovery might be set back if other governments respond by raising import barriers.

On Wall Street, the stock market buckled on the prospect of an all-out trade war between the world's two biggest economies. But it hasn't come to that — not yet, anyway.

"We're in a trade slap-fight right now," not a trade war, said Derek Scissors, resident scholar and China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

China is a relatively insignificant supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States. And the $3 billion in U.S. products that Beijing targeted Monday amount to barely 2 percent of American goods exported to China.

But the dispute could escalate, and quickly. Already, in a separate move, the United States is drawing up a list of about $50 billion in Chinese imports to tax in an effort to punish Beijing for stealing American technology or forcing U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets.

China could respond by targeting American commercial interests uniquely dependent on the Chinese market: the aircraft giant Boeing, for example, and soybean farmers.

The possibility that the U.S. and China will descend into a full-blown trade war knocked the Dow Jones industrial average down as much as 758 points in afternoon trading. The Dow recovered some ground and finished down 458.92 points, or 1.9 percent, at 23,644.19.

For weeks, in fact, President Donald Trump's aggressive trade actions have depressed the stock market.

But many trade analysts suggested that the Wall Street sell-off may be an overreaction.

China's swift but measured retaliation to the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs is meant to show "that it will not be pushed around but that it does not want a trade war," said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade department at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed. "It is possible for the countries to pull back from the brink."

"It seems to be pretty measured and proportional," agreed Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade official who is now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. "They didn't seem to overreach, and they didn't hit our big-ticket items like planes and soybeans."

Even if China's tariffs don't have a huge impact on America's $20 trillion economy, they will bring pain to specific communities.

Take Marathon County in Wisconsin, where 140 local families grow ginseng, a root that is used in herbal remedies and is popular in Asia. Around $30 million — or 85 percent — of the area's ginseng production went to China as exports or gifts. The county, which gave Trump nearly 57 percent of its vote in 2016, holds an international ginseng festival in September, crowning a Ginseng Queen and drawing visitors from China and Taiwan.

China's new 15 percent tariff on ginseng is "definitely going to hit the growers hard if this happens," said Jackie Fett, executive director of the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin. "It is the livelihood of many people. ... We're still holding on to a little bit of hope" that the tariffs can be reversed.

Jim Schumacher, co-owner of Schumacher Ginseng in Marathon, Wisconsin, said the 15 percent tax will hurt: "You've got to be price-competitive, even if you have the top-quality product. We're definitely concerned. We hope something can be resolved."

Trump campaigned on a promise to overhaul American trade policy. In his view, what he calls flawed trade agreements and sharp-elbowed practices by China and other trading partners are in part responsible for America's gaping trade deficit — $566 billion last year. The deficit in the trade of goods with China last year hit a record $375 billion.

In his first year in office, Trump's talk was tougher than his actions on trade. But he has gradually grown more aggressive. In January, he slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. Last month, he imposed duties on steel and aluminum imports — but spared most major economies except China and Japan.

Now he is moving toward steep tariffs to pressure Beijing into treating U.S. technology companies more fairly. In the meantime, his administration has lost two voices that cautioned against protectionist trade policies: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.

University of Wyoming diver pens essay about being openly gay college athlete

Outsports, an SB Nation site dedicated to LGBT issues in sports, published an essay Monday written by Wyoming sophomore diver Scotia Mullin about competing as an openly gay athlete at the University of Wyoming.

Titled “Far from home, gay college diver finds a second family in Wyoming,” the essay details Mullin’s experiences coming out as gay and being embraced by the Wyoming swimming and diving team. Mullin, who came to Wyoming from Melbourne, Australia, wrote that he was initially nervous about coming to conservative Wyoming but that his experience has been “totally different” from what he expected.

“With other gay teammates like my close friend Ryan Russi,” Mullin wrote, “Wyoming has created a safe space for all LGBT athletes and instilled the fact that you are valued by what you can bring to the table and what you can give to your sport and community instead of your sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity.”

Russi is a junior diver at Wyoming. Mullin also commended head coach Kyle Bogner for his support in the essay.

Mullin was named the Western Athletic Conference Diver of the Year as a freshman, when he finished 14th at the NCAA Championships.

This past season, after the Cowboys won the WAC conference championship and Mullin was again named the WAC Diver of the Year, he finished 16th at nationals.

He is the second Cowboy diver to qualify for the NCAA Championships in back-to-back years, the first to twice earn all-America honors.