To fund rural schools and services, President Bush’s 2007 budget proposes putting thousands of public acres on the auction block (HCN, 3/6/06: Public acres for sale). But two Democratic senators have a better idea: Close a legal loophole that lets some government contractors skip out on taxes. Montana’s Max Baucus and Oregon’s Ron Wyden proposed a bill to withhold 3 percent up-front from what Uncle Sam pays private contractors for goods and services. That money would be applied to taxes the contractor owes, which usually far exceed 3 percent of the contract. The representatives say the change would raise $2.6 billion over the next 10 years for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

 

Yates Petroleum has dropped its plans to drill two wells in New Mexico’s Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The company had not yet applied for a permit, but it recently told refuge manager Jeff Howland that it would no longer pursue drilling. Biologists had been concerned about drilling’s potential impacts on endangered snails and fish (HCN, 3/6/06: Energy company stakes out wildlife refuge). Yates offered no explanation for its change of course.

 

Montana to Wyoming: Keep your coalbed methane discharge to yourself. In late March, the Montana Board of Environmental Review accepted a proposed rule change prohibiting any decline in water quality in the state’s rivers (HCN, 3/20/06: U.S. Department of Energy elbows in on Clean Water Act). If the federal Environmental Protection Agency accepts Montana’s change, Wyoming will have to make sure that none of the salty wastewater from coalbed methane production contaminates northbound streams and rivers. Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality says the agency will continue to "make its case" with the EPA that it, not neighboring states, should regulate the state’s energy industry, including its pollution.