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Wyoming’s Republican senators can’t wait to go from being in the minority to the majority party come January. In the new year the GOP will hold all the gavels - and with them, most of the power - on Capitol Hill. But Republicans are still locked out of the White House, which Senator John Barrasso is keenly aware of. He's not happy the president is using his pen on immigration reform or to agree to carbon emission targets with China. 

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The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission introduced a rule this week designed to head off conflict between landowners and companies as drilling activity moves into populated areas of the state. But so far, reaction to the proposal has been less-than-positive. Wyoming Public Radio’s energy reporter, Stephanie Joyce, joins Bob Beck to talk about what’s been proposed and why landowners aren’t happy with it.

Bob Beck: At the center of this debate are something called “setbacks” – what is a setback and why is it so important?

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As Republicans prepare to take charge of the U.S. Senate, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is chairing the committee that sets up the Republican agenda. Senator Barrasso says they have a number of topics to get started on.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The oil and gas boom in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas has not only brought jobs and prosperity but also a dangerous spike in traffic and accidents. These states have reacted with a variety of fixes, but not one has been able to prepare in advance for the traffic boom. That is partly because a large slice of transportation funding in most states comes from the oil and gas industry itself. Jim Willox is a local official in Wyoming’s Converse County, where much of the oil and gas boom is taking place:

Melodie Edwards

More people all the time are embracing the urban homesteader’s lifestyle. They’re raising backyard chickens, canning sauerkraut and knitting scarves. The number of backyard goats has also been on the uptick. That’s because they take up so little space and have so many uses-- milk, cheese, weed control, wool...and meat. But it’s that last item most Americans are a bit squeamish about. Which is odd since goat is the number one most eaten meat in the world. Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards decided to give it a nibble.

If you're in Casper and you’ve too drunk too much to drive home, you now have options. You can call a cab, or you can call Hammered Helper: a car service that will ferry you around town free of charge--although they do take tips. Hammered Helper is the brainchild of Tyler Peters, a 24 year old Casper native. Peters started the service in selling pot. Now clean and sober, Peters dedicates five nights a week to Hammered Helper. Wyoming Public Radio’s Miles Bryan spent a Friday night with him, and has this postcard.

Aaron Schrank

The number of students experiencing homelessness in Wyoming has gone way up in recent years, but there are few resources for homeless Wyomingites—and almost none specific to youth. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, public schools are on the front lines of identifying and advocating for these vulnerable young people.

Kindness Ranch

Just outside of Hartville nestled in virtually the middle of nowhere rests the only sanctuary in the United States that takes in horses, pigs, sheep, cats and dogs that were used as research animals. The Kindness Ranch has been in existence since 2006 and has provided sanctuary to over 250 animals. 

phideltatheta.org

When the renovations to the double A are complete, the main feature of the grand entrance will be a monument to one of Wyoming’s most prominent athletes.

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Farm Bureau is looking to the January legislative session as an entry-point to address issues surrounding trespassing, liability, and transportation.

University of Wyoming

For kids who have grown up using smartphones, navigating apps like google maps is second nature to them. But a new initiative from the University of Wyoming is trying to get 5-thousand tangible, paper atlases into the hands of students in every Wyoming school district. Jeff Hamerlinck is the director of the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center and was one of the co-editors on the atlas project. He joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard to discuss the project.

Courtesy of Kate Christman Nagel

Local business and one school were evacuated today after an explosion and fire at a propane distribution station in Jackson.

Safety officials reported an explosion just after 1 p.m. at an AmeriGas facility two miles from downtown Jackson.  A nearby high school, grocery store, and gym were evacuated but students in other area schools were told to stay in place.  Teton County Public Information Officer Charlotte Reynolds said in the afternoon that the fire activity has diminished but asks that the public stay away.

Associated Press

Wyoming’s only death row inmate had his death sentence overturned in Federal Court Thursday. Dale Wayne Eaton was convicted of kidnap, assault and murder Lisa Marie Kimmel of Billings in 1988. 

Federal Judge Alan Johnson overturned Eaton’s death penalty due to lack of proper representation during Eaton’s trial. Eaton will remain in prison, but it is unclear if Wyoming’s attorney general will appeal the ruling.  

Michael Blonigen is the Natrona County District Attorney and the person who originally prosecuted Eaton. He says the victim’s family is distraught over the ruling.

Angus Thuermer / WyoFile

Last week, the Board of Trustees at the University of Wyoming approved a 5 percent tuition hike for the next academic year—and 4 percent increases for each year after that. Most of that extra revenue will be used to fund employee salary increases.

Some employees and students question the move.

Faculty Senate Chair Ed Janak says the raises are much-needed, but he isn’t sure tuition hikes are the right idea.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says that Sage grouse chick production was unusually high this year.

The agency has discovered that grouse hens had more chicks this year than usual, over two per hen.  That’s over double from last year.

Chief Game Warden Brian Nesnik says hunters submit wings of grouse they harvest to the department for analysis.  That’s how they determine what is happening with the bird.

Wyoming Department of Health

Diabetes in Wyoming has spiked in recent years. The Wyoming Department of Health says almost 9% of adults in Wyoming now have the disease, up from 4.5% in 2001.

Joe Grandpre is an epidemiologist with the Department of Health and says while that rate is already high, some areas of the population have been affected even more.

“So we have about 7.9 percent in white non-Hispanics in Wyoming," says Grandpre. "But in our American Indian population it’s 19.5, so almost one on five of our American Indian adults has been told they have diabetes. And with Hispanics it’s 13.7.”

A federal judge has overturned the death penalty for Dale Wayne Eaton, Wyoming's lone death row inmate.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne on Thursday stated Wyoming has a choice of either granting a new sentencing proceeding for Eaton within 120 days in Natrona County or keeping him locked up for life without parole.

The 69-year-old Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 in state court for the 1988 rape and murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave a company permission to continue burning off large volumes of natural gas from its oil wells in Laramie County this week, but not before expressing its disapproval. Cirque Resources asked the Commission for permission to continue flaring more than 1.4 million cubic feet of natural gas per day -- enough to heat more than 7000 homes.

NETL/DOE

A deeply in-debt company that wanted to revive the coal bed methane industry in Wyoming had its wells seized by the state Tuesday after failing to post an overdue reclamation bond. The seizure follows years of back and forth with High Plains Gas. Wells that aren’t producing need to be bonded, in order to cover the cost of reclamation and High Plains owed almost $7 million.

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has proposed increasing the buffer, or “setback,” between oil and gas wells and places like schools, hospitals and homes.

The current setback distance is 350 feet. Under the proposal that would increase to 500 feet. Companies would also have to comply with a new requirement to notify people living within 1000 feet of a well of any planned drilling activity and come up with a plan to mitigate potential impacts.

State of Wyoming

Wyoming legislators will look to amend the state constitution in order to invest reserve account money in the stock market.  While there is risk associated with the move, State Treasurer Mark Gordon says that risk can be minimized with proper investing.

“Take some of those savings and invest them more broadly, into stocks not only bonds, so balancing the risks to make sure that the state’s savings actually not only return a little bit more…but are more defensibly invested.”

He says Wyoming’s investments overcame the economic downturn in the last decade.

Large numbers of Elk have been seen migrating near Jackson and across major roadways last weekend. The National Elk Refuge is urging drivers around the Jackson area to be especially careful in the coming week as hundreds of elk make their way across the area.

The refuge says a winter storm that brought colder temperatures and more than a foot of snow likely kicked off the migration. Elk mainly move at dawn and dusk which makes sighting them more difficult. Refuge spokesperson Lori Iverson says migrations, wintery conditions and drivers take a toll on animals in the area.

Former World Chess Champion and Russian political activist Garry Kasparov was in Cheyenne and Laramie last Friday to discuss global politics and American leadership. Kasparov says under President Vladimir Putin, Russia presents the greatest threat to global security.

“It seems that he believes, and his cronies keep repeating it, that Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin, which means his personal failure he may consider as a signal to bring the entire country down with him.”

Jordan Cooper via Flickr

Construction of new affordable housing units in Riverton, Casper, and the Wind River Reservation will begin in next few months: courtesy of 2.8 million dollars in new funding for affordable housing recently allocated by the Wyoming Community Development Authority. The federal funds are distributed to developers as an incentive to build units that rent for less than two thirds of market price in the respective counties. Community Development Authority Director Gayle Brownlee says all kinds of people need housing help.

Wikipedia

A number of migrating horned grebes found themselves grounded in southwestern Wyoming last week. The small waterbirds spend summers in Canada and Alaska and winters in the southeastern United States, but a handful of them almost didn’t make it this year, after they ended up stranded on lawns, tennis courts and streets in Green River. As Green River Game and Fish office manager Regina Dickson explained, the birds can only take off from water.

Wyoming now has four major political parties. That’s according to the Secretary of State’s office. The Libertarian and Constitution parties received more than ten percent of the vote in the Secretary of State race during the 2014 midterms, which means they are now considered major parties by the Wyoming Government.

Stephanie Joyce

It’s lunchtime in Douglas, Wyoming and the line of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window and the parking lot is full. Leaning out the window of his black pick-up truck, Troy Hilbish says he had no idea oil prices have fallen more than a quarter in recent months. But he knows what falling oil prices mean. 

“If the oil prices go up, we drill more," he says. "If they go down, we don't drill as much.”

Prior to election night the University of Wyoming conducted a survey of state residents about their views on candidates and their attitudes about some key issues. University of Wyoming Professor Jim King joins Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck to discuss what they found.

In 1994 University of Wyoming Botany Professor Dennis Knight wrote a book about Wyoming’s landscapes and some of the challenges they may be facing. Now 20 years later, Knight is joined by other authors to provide an update. The book is called Mountains and Plain: The Ecology of Wyoming Landscapes. We spoke with Knight when he wrote his first book and today he admits to Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that some of the challenges the state faces today were not on his radar.

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