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In this Jan. 24 file photo, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen looks to throw a pass during the first half of the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. The Bills exercised the quarterback's fifth-year option.

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Cheney pushes back on Trump's latest claims of a stolen election
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Rep. Liz Cheney and President Donald Trump’s feud continued Monday, with Wyoming’s lone congresswoman pushing back on Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

Monday saw three public exchanges between Cheney and the former president.

Trump issued a statement Monday morning that read, “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”

Around an hour later, Rep. Liz Cheney responded.

“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” Cheney wrote.

Trump issued yet another statement, this time going for Cheney directly: “Heartwarming to read new polls on big-shot warmonger Liz Cheney of the great State of Wyoming. She is so low that her only chance would be if vast numbers of people run against her which, hopefully, won’t happen. They never liked her much, but I say she’ll never run in a Wyoming election again,” he wrote.

The exchange is another in a slew of public statements between the two. The feud was stoked by Cheney’s vote to impeach following the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Cheney was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, as well as the highest-ranking Republican.

Cheney’s decision to impeach Trump and her continued criticism of the former president has brought on a number of outspoken critics in the Republican party as well as possible threats to her seat in the House. In February, Cheney safely survived a secret ballot to remove her as Republican Conference Chair 145-61. Following the vote, it seemed that Cheney might emerge as a leader of an overtly anti-Trump faction of the Republican Party, but that did not pan out.

On Friday, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump, even went as far as to tell The Hill, “If a prerequisite for leading our conference is lying to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit.”

“Rep. Gonzalez’s quote sums things up well,” a Cheney spokesperson said.

Cheney is up for reelection in 2022. She is facing primary challenges from two state lawmakers — Sen. Anthony Bouchard and Rep. Chuck Gray — who are both running as the anti-Cheney candidate while heavily appealing to Trump’s large Wyoming base and the former president himself. Trump has yet to endorse a candidate for the race.

Despite the challenges, Cheney’s latest exchange with Trump is a sign that she has no intentions to back down, even if it may make her 2022 election more challenging.

Photos: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney

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Department of Energy awards tenant at Integrated Test Center $64 million
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The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Membrane Technology and Research, a tenant at Wyoming’s Integrated Test Center in Gillette, $64 million in research funding toward a carbon capture project.

The ITC, connected to an operating Wyoming power plant, Dry Fork Station, will also host of one of the two carbon capture projects. The announcement comes weeks after winners were announced for the Carbon XPRIZE competition, where two teams — CarbonBuilt operating out of the Integrated Test Center and CarbonCure out of Alberta, Canada — split a $15 million cash prize after the five-year project.

The department awarded Membrane Technology and Research $51,699,939 after it announced it would be awarding $99 million to two projects for Phase III of the carbon capture project.

“I am delighted that Membrane Technology and Research has been selected to move forward in this process, and that Wyoming has been chosen to host this important demonstration of cutting edge carbon capture technology,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a news release. “This is exactly the type of research that was envisioned when the ITC was developed and Wyoming will continue to support these efforts.”

Membrane Technology and Research chose the center as its testing site during Phase II of the project. The two sides have been working collaboratively since 2018.

“We could not be more thrilled for MTR and we are excited to welcome them onsite as they start working on this next phase of testing,” Jason Begger, managing director of the Integrated Test Center, said in a statement. “At this scale, we will be able to demonstrate carbon capture technology at a sufficient level to demonstrate to utilities the next step can be a commercial version.”

The center is located on the site of the Dry Fork Station power plant in Gillette.

With the cheap cost of natural gas and a push for renewable energy, coal production has been down 30% since last year, causing Wyoming’s budget to suffer enormously.

Still, the state has doubled down with support for the coal industry and is banking on carbon capture to help keep coal production going by restricting the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants released into the air.

CarbonBuilt was awarded $7.5 million for its work on using flue gas from power plants or cement factories into concrete mixtures, reducing the carbon footprint of cement by 50%.

CarbonCure was also awarded $7.5 million in the Alberta, Canada, track of the contest for its work with concrete technology.

Later this year, the Integrated Test Center plans to start a $16 million project, according to Begger, and a collaboration project with Japan and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Restrictions easing in US, Europe
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom,” he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts’ governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.

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Wyoming backs coal with $1.2M threat to sue other states
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CHEYENNE — While most states pursue ways to boost renewable energy, Wyoming is doing the opposite with a new program aimed at propping up the dwindling coal industry by suing other states that block exports of Wyoming coal and cause Wyoming coal-fired power plants to shut down.

The law signed April 6 by Republican Gov. Mark Gordon creates a $1.2 million fund for an initiative that marks the latest attempt by state leaders to help coal in the state that accounts for the bulk of U.S. coal production, which is down by half since 2008.

“Wyoming is sending a message that it is prepared to bring litigation to protect her interests,” Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman said of the fund signed into law April 6.

The law puts West Coast states and Colorado on notice — all seek to get a large share of their electricity from renewables but still get juice from aging Wyoming coal-fired power plants. The approach may run into legal troubles, though, according to one constitutional expert.

Lawsuits between states aren’t unusual and often involve natural resources, such as water rights. Such cases can go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, if the justices agree to hear them.

Last year, Wyoming and Montana — another major coal state — asked the Supreme Court to override a decision by Washington state to deny a permit to build a coal export dock on the Columbia River. The interstate lawsuit followed years of unsuccessful attempts by the dock’s developer, Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, to contest the permit denial in federal court.

The Supreme Court hasn’t said yet if it will hear the case but the new legal fund approved resoundingly by the Wyoming Legislature and overseen by Gordon could help cover the cost of that litigation, Pearlman said.

All the while, prospects for Wyoming’s coal industry are as dim as ever, even after President Donald Trump rolled back regulations on mining and burning the fossil fuel.

Wyoming coal production, which accounts for about 40% of the nation’s total, has been in decline as utilities switch to gas, which is cheaper to burn to generate electricity. Solar and wind power also are on the rise as coal’s share of the U.S. power market shrinks from about half in the early 2000s to less than 20% now.

Hope that other countries will use more U.S. coal, meanwhile, are fading fast. Lighthouse Resources filed for bankruptcy in December, further setting back the coal dock proposal.

So can state vs. state lawsuits help the coal industry?

“We’re supportive of all the efforts of the state right now to protect and defend the industry,” Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti said.

Wyoming could waste a lot of money trying to convince courts to help coal, countered University of Maryland environmental law professor Robert Percival.

“I don’t think they have a legal leg to stand on,” Percival said.

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibits states from barring goods and services based on their state of origin. States are free, however, to regulate or outright prohibit certain goods and services — coal and coal-fired electricity included — as long as they don’t intentionally target other states, Percival said.

Who might be targets of future Wyoming coal litigation isn’t yet known. Pearlman declined to speculate, saying Gordon and Attorney General Bridget Hill would need to study their chances of success, but they could include West Coast states including, again, Washington.

Portland, Oregon-based utility PacifiCorp plans to reduce its coal-fired generation by two-thirds by 2030, partly by retiring generators at two southwestern Wyoming power plants starting in 2023, as much as five years sooner than envisioned just a few years ago. The utility serves four states with renewable energy standards or goals — California, Oregon, Utah and Washington — and two that don’t: Idaho and Wyoming.

PacifiCorp has been meeting renewable standards by getting electricity from the lowest cost and least risky sources like it has always done, so the standards haven’t factored into its decisions to retire coal-fired power, company spokesman David Eskelsen said.

PacifiCorp has no position on the legal fund but the Wyoming Rural Electric Association supports the message it sends to states such as Colorado, which has renewable energy standards and gets coal-fired electricity from southeastern Wyoming, Executive Director Shawn Taylor said.

“It’s just kind of part and parcel of folks feeling that states and state agencies and entities outside Wyoming are having more of an impact on our energy resources than we do,” Taylor said.

The coal litigation fund followed a 2020 bill that established a $1 million fund to promote Wyoming coal. Wyoming is paying a nonprofit, the Energy Policy Network, $250,000 a year from the fund to contest plans in other states to shut down coal-fired power.

“I will not waiver in my efforts to protect our industries, particularly our coal industry. The use of coal is under assault from all directions. And we have stood firm in our support of it throughout,” Gordon said in his state of the state address in March.

He called for Wyoming to be carbon negative — capturing more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than it emits — by investing in technology and infrastructure to trap carbon dioxide at power plants and keep the gas out of the atmosphere.

Carbon capture remains economically unproven on a scale needed to meaningfully reduce current carbon dioxide emissions. Wyoming has been funding research into the technology, however, including $10 million in a just-approved bill that slashed Wyoming’s budget by over 10% amid weak revenue from oil, gas and coal extraction.

The state should put its tight budget to more productive use than coal lawsuits, said Connie Wilbert, director of the Sierra Club’s Wyoming chapter.

“Coal is on the way out,” Wilbert said. “The sooner our elected leadership acknowledges that and starts looking for things the state can do to actually help us through the transition, the better.”