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New West Daily Roundup for Mar. 25, 2016

Today in New West news: lawmakers on the offensive against OSMRE, lawsuit alleges Mormon Church members sexually abused Navajo youth, and a Boise-based company sues Idaho over Paylocity.

The Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE), created under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, regulates surface mining across the United States as well as reclamation efforts once mines are exhausted, a responsibility most mining companies are loath to undertake. Indeed, the OSMRE has been at the heart of a series of controversies over self-bonding deals between companies such as Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources and the state of Wyoming.

And lawmakers have taken notice. According to the Durango Herald, U.S. Representatives on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources grilled the agency on their proposed 2017 budget, with Chairman Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) saying the agency was engaged in a “war on coal” to the detriment of both the industry and involved states:

“One such proposal reallocates $1 billion to a community reinvestment program from its intended purpose of addressing abandoned mine lands, or AML sites, that pose the most serious threats to human health and safety,” Lamborn said.

“Essentially, this proposal takes money that would protect people and communities away from hazardous AML sites.”

The stream-protection rule, announced earlier this year, has earned the ire of Republicans for what they perceive as a rewrite of coal regulations and their impact on the surrounding environment without any public or industry input.

Lamborn likened the agency’s legislative proposal to a “buy off” of workers impacted by what he called the agency’s federal overreach, saying that the proposal took remediation funding and invested it in unnecessary economic programs.

“If OSMRE really cared about economic development, they would stop pushing job-killing regulations, like the stream-protection rule, and let these hardworking Americans get back to what they’re good at – providing our nation with the energy that made it a world power,” Lamborn said.

But Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, the ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said the rule was “a major step on this long and arduous road to provide better protection to people and the environment around mountain-top coal mines.”

The 2017 budget request from the surface mining office totals $157.9 million in discretionary spending, down from the 2016 level of $240.6 million that included $90 million in one-time grants for Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to undertake reclamation projects. The proposed budget also includes an estimated $914.4 million in mandatory funding.

Lamborn criticized the proposed budget’s legislative recommendation to expand the agency’s abandoned mine lands reclamation activities to abandoned hard-rock mines.

“OSMRE’s proposed budget would terminate payments to certified states and tribes, raise AML fees on coal production and expands OSMRE’s abandoned mine land’s activity to hard-rock mining,” Lamborn said.

Over in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, a new lawsuit filed in Navajo Nation court against the Mormon Church alleges several young Navajos were abused during their time in the Indian Student Placement Program in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Further, the suit seeks not only redress for the abuse (in the form of damages paid and written apologies) but also change church policy regarding sexual abuse and create a task force to address other cases under the ISPP. From the Tribune:

Attorney Billy Keeler said at least two program leaders were told of the abuse but nothing was done to protect his clients, who were 10 and 11 when they were baptized into the Mormon church and moved from Sawmill, Arizona, on the reservation to live with foster families for the school year.

Thousands of American Indian children participated in the church program from the late 1940s to around 2000. Some Mormon families sought to convert American Indians, others raised Native children to be household servants and some worked to maintain the children’s Native heritage while providing better opportunities for school, food and clothing, said Jan Shipps, an expert on the Mormon church.

The two Navajo siblings — a brother and sister — lived with 10 other siblings when their mother volunteered to put them in the Indian Student Placement Program for a better education, Keeler said. The lawsuit says the sexual abuse started in their first foster families and continued as they were moved to other homes.

They also witnessed the abuse of other siblings by members of their foster families or associates, the lawsuit says.

“Our clients’ cries for help fell on deaf ears as they were placed in homes where they were abused again,” Keeler said.

Kristen Howey, a spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church doesn’t tolerate abuse of any kind. She said the church will examine the lawsuit and respond appropriately.

A posting on the church’s website regarding child abuse hints at the viability of such cases.

“No court in the United States has held a religious institution responsible for failing to protect its members from abuse by other members,” the posting reads. “To do so would turn religious institutions into police instruments, its leadership into law enforcement officers.”

Finally, up in Idaho, we previously reported on Paylocity’s decision to open a facility in Boise, after concerted effort from the Boise Valley Economic Partnership. Now, according to the Idaho Statesman, one Boise business is suing the state, saying they behaved improperly in courting Paylocity:

George Gersema, owner and CEO of Employers Resource, said he sued to protect his company against Paylocity, which he said could use its reimbursed tax money to offer higher salaries and lure Employers Resource employees. Gersema said he also hopes to strike a larger blow to the state’s Tax Reimbursement Incentive, created in 2014.

The incentive repays qualified companies up to 30 percent of their income, sales and payroll tax for up to 15 years. The companies must meet job creation and wage thresholds to receive reimbursement.

Paylocity said it would create 551 jobs paying an average of $46,200 a year in exchange for the tax break.

“This is just bad public policy,” Gersema said. “This is now how we should treat taxpayer money.”

Gersema told the Statesman in January that Idaho was giving an unfair advantage to a competitor.

The Statesman adds that Megan Ronk, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, was named as defendant. She declined to comment. And it’s worth noting: Ronk took over the position from Jeff Sayer in January i.e. after the Paylocity deal was announced—back in November.

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