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The Two Elk Saga: How one man’s dream became state, federal nightmare

WyoFile is featuring a special investigative series, “The Two Elk Saga,” by former Los Angeles Times correspondent and regular WyoFile contributor Rone Tempest. Wyoming has a long history of uncritically embracing, then giving public money to, dubious and expensive energy projects. The proposed $2 billion DKRW Advance Fuels — coal-to-liquids — plant near Medicine Bow is the latest example. The aborted $100-million GE-UW High Plains Gasification project — which cost the state $7 million before GE abruptly backed out in 2011 — is another.

This Two Elk series, supported by grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and WyoFile founder Christopher Findlater, is an extensive case study of one such troubled project; its audacious Colorado-based promoter, and the state and federal officials who kept the project alive despite numerous warning signs that it was a scheme beyond saving. It is also a human story of dreams — outsized American dreams — and of one man’s ingenious but fruitless 20-year quest to build an energy empire in the heart of Wyoming coal country. In this regard it is an example of WyoFile’s continuing commitment to report fearlessly on the people, places and policies of our mountain state. Stories in “The Two Elk Saga” have appeared on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the series concludes on Tuesday, June 10

Part 5 runs today. Read the entire series here.

Despite hundreds of oil field fatalities, federal government does little to monitor or safeguard onshore workers.

An oil boom is underway at the Eagle Ford Shale in Karnes County, Texas, but the development is diminishing the quality of life of the inhabitants of the rural county and possibly endangering their health, according to reporting by the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and the Weather Channel.

Residents' complaints are going unaddressed and air quality monitoring is patchy. Though officials have said there is no cause for worry, experts say that the lack of monitoring and research into the health effects of pollutants has resulted in a poor understanding of how oil and gas development impact public health.

Compounding these weaknesses is the political backing of oil interests in the state with many industry regulatory officials doubling as its strongest supporters.

Sex Predators Unleashed | Sun-Sentinel
"Another child is dead. This time, a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, a year younger than Jimmy Ryce. A 1999 law passed after Jimmy was raped and murdered at age 9 is meant to protect Floridians from sex offenders by keeping the most dangerous locked up after they finish their prison sentences. But an eight-month Sun Sentinel investigation into the law named in Jimmy’s memory has uncovered shocking failures. Florida’s safeguards have broken down at every stage, setting hundreds of rapists and child molesters free to harm again."

Taken | The New Yorker
"The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime. But the system has also given rise to corruption and violations of civil liberties. Over the past year, many have expressed concern that the state laws designed to go after high-flying crime lords are routinely targeting the workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime."

New York Promised Help for Mentally Ill Inmates – But Still Sticks Many in Solitary | WNYC/ProPublica
"In New York, inmates diagnosed with “serious” disorders should be protected from solitary confinement. But since that policy began, the number of inmates diagnosed with such disorders has dropped."

Costly perk forces DWP to shell out extra if it gives work to outside contractors | Los Angeles Times
"It's no secret Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees are paid well. But a little-known clause in their union contract ensures they can work extra hours and collect even higher wages when private contractors are hired to help them get the job done."

Locked in Terror | Fresno Bee
"The Fresno County Jail has been a place of terror and despair for mentally ill inmates who spiral deeper into madness because jail officials withhold their medication. About one in six jail inmates is sick enough to need antipsychotic drugs to control schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other psychiatric conditions, but many sit for weeks in cells without medication previously prescribed by private doctors, say family members, lawyers and psychiatrists. If the inmates do get medication, it’s often at a lower dose or is a cheaper generic substitute that doesn’t work as well, they say."

Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction | The New York Times
"Aiming to save neighborhoods from blight and to ease burdens on the police, municipalities have adopted ordinances requiring landlords to weed out disruptive tenants."

At DCF, an untold epidemic of abuse, neglect and death | Miami Herald
"A Miami Herald investigation — which included a review of hundreds of pages of agency emails, incident reports and other documents obtained through Florida’s public records law — shows the number of children who died is nearly four times what had been acknowledged."

Portland drug informant's cases fall apart after questions about his credibility, whereabouts | The Oregonian
"Police and prosecutors say checks-and-balances ensure the integrity of the system. But defense attorneys -- whose clients faced years in prison because of Jackson's work -- say police wasted thousands in taxpayer dollars putting so much faith in a dubious undercover source."

Truck company vehicles were taken out of service for maintenance problems | San Antonio Express-News
"Defective brakes, axle problems and cracked wheel rims were among the most serious maintenance problems state inspectors found on trucks owned by B&E Transport, the firm involved in last week's crash that damaged a bridge over U.S. 281."

Nevada chief justice orders courts review after potentially more than 2,400 ruled mentally ill not reported to gun database | Reno Gazette-Journal
"An RGJ report this week found that Washoe District Court in Reno did not send 179 names to the Department of Public Safety’s database of people prohibited from possessing a gun. When the RGJ asked the department how many reports it had received from other courts in the state, the director said only 13 in the past year: five from Lyon County; five from White Pine County and three from Reno Municipal Court."

Before Bakken well violation, a $22M fraud case in the Texas oil patch | EnergyWire
"A little-known company called Halek Operating ND LLC is facing the largest fine North Dakota has ever levied against an oil and gas producer -- $1.5 million -- for jeopardizing drinking water near Dickinson. But even before the company drilled its first well in North Dakota, federal officials say the man behind it had swindled $22 million out of 300 investors in a Texas oil and gas project."

Shortcomings seen in response to missing Iowans | Des Moines Register
"A Des Moines Register examination of missing-person cases revealed ongoing shortcomings in how Iowa responds when its residents vanish."

Woman says KCMO councilman’s sexting scandal connected to taxpayer money, shares story with FBI | 41 Action News (Kansas City)
"41 Action News has spoken exclusively with a woman who is convinced the taxpayer money was used to help keep a sexting scandal out of the public spotlight. And she’s shared her story with the FBI."

Even Small Amounts of Precipitation Dump Raw Sewage into Potomac River | Alexandria Gazette Packet
Don't believe the signs city officials have posted at the four outfall spots that dump raw sewage into the Potomac River. The truth is much worse.

In Afghanistan, redeployed U.S. soldiers still coping with demons of post-traumatic stress | The Washington Post
"A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is not a barrier to being redeployed. Not when the Army needs its most experienced soldiers to wrap up the war. Instead, the Army is trying to answer a new question: Who is resilient enough to return to Afghanistan, in spite of the demons they are still fighting?" 

Poway schools rely on Mello-Roos tax machine – For lunches, signs and old school repair | inewsource
There is no legal limit and no standardized formula for calculating Mello-Roos Taxes. In some cases, the formulas are so convoluted that homeowners have virtually no way of knowing whether they’re paying the correct amount. What’s more there is no state oversight over the funds: at a minimum, the system is far from transparent to those who are footing the bill. Some are asking whether it’s even legal.

Even Odds | The San Francisco Chronicle
Being male and black in Oakland means being about as likely to be killed as to graduate from high school ready for college

Know of a story we should add to the list? Send it to extraextra@ire.org

"It was one of the more than 6,000 spills and other mishaps reported at onshore oil and gas sites in 2012, compiled in a months-long review of state and federal data by EnergyWire. That's an average of more than 16 spills a day. And it's a significant increase since 2010. In the 12 states where comparable data were available, spills were up about 17 percent."

The Star Tribune reports Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin has repeatedly voted for multimillion-dollar trash-disposal agreements tied to the law firm where his wife works — and never disclosed the connection. Minnesota law says that officials taking action on a matter that would “substantially affect the official’s financial interests or those of an associated business” must submit a written statement describing the nature of the potential conflict of interest to a superior. But the regulations don’t offer many specifics and omit detailed guidance in the case of a spouse’s relationship. “Our statute is very weak,” said Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations | The Guardian
The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows. See more coverage of the NSA surveillance.

High prices are driving more motorists to rent tires | Los Angeles Times
Chains such as Rent-a-Wheel and Rimco are seeing business boom. Many consumers pay double or triple the cost of buying and face aggressive repossession policies.

Star witness in Debra Milke case accused of ongoing misconduct as constable | KPNX Phoenix
Condemned killer Debra Milke still sits on Arizona's death row. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed her conviction largely on the testimony of Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate who claimed Milke confessed. He didn't record it, write it down or have it witnessed. Investigative ReporterWendy Halloran from KPNX (NBC) Phoenix uncovered Saldate had a history of misconduct documented in his personnel file. What’s more, other officers who worked with Saldate knew he regularly engaged in misconduct as a detective. And when he was elected Constable, the misconduct did not appear to end.

Drillers Silence Fracking Claims With Sealed Settlements | Bloomberg News
In cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet.

At least 74 Texas sites report large stores of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate | Dallas Morning News
Some 20,000 people live within a half mile of the more than 70 sites in Texas that reported having large stores of ammonium nitrate, a Dallas Morning News analysis of state data found. In West, now the site of one of the worst chemical accidents in recent U.S. history, about 800 people lived within the half-mile area that sustained the heaviest damage.

Fulton DA spent forfeiture funds on charity galas, office parties | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has used thousands of dollars from a little-known stash of public money to buy things that did not have much to do with putting crooks behind bars, but that burnished his image, let him hobnob with power brokers and even upgraded his home.

OSHA Inspected Philly Building Collapse Site, But Did Not Shut It Down | In These Times
According to Pat Gillespie, the business manager for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, union workers employed at a construction site across the street from the collapsed building called OSHA on four different occasions to report problems at the site.

America's Worst Charities | The Center for Investigative Reporting, The Tampa Bay Times, CNN
Hundreds of charities now operate, not to help the needy, but to turn donations made to paralyzed veterans, dying children and cancer victims into profit for private fundraising companies. An investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting, CNN and the Tampa Bay Times revales that the top 50 worst charities collected more than $1 billion used for corporate fundraisers. CIR and the Tampa Bay Times published reports today. CNN will air broadcast reports on June 13 during the AC360 show at 8 pm and 10 pm ET.

Navy uniforms are flammable, and military knows it | Virginian-Pilot
The Navy's standard-issue blue camouflage uniforms are highly flammable and will melt onto the skin when burning, a recent Navy test revealed. A second revelation: This comes as no surprise to the Navy.

LP’s world: What the documents reveal | The Kansas City Star
An examination of the documents obtained by The Star found what those involved in the case didn’t do: The Family Court commissioner in 2006 didn’t allow a psychological examination that had been ordered for Prince, almost a year before LP was returned to her mother’s custody. He canceled the exam the day before it was scheduled to happen. LP’s school didn’t call the state hotline to report that she had stopped attending kindergarten, the records indicate. As The Star reported May 5, Kansas City Public Schools leaders say they don’t know what happened years ago, but today the school would call the parent and, if necessary, make a home visit. No one working with the case visited the Prince home after LP was legally reunited with her mother in March 2007. No worker saw them together once they had settled in their new apartment.

As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester  | The New York Times
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency that many Americans love to hate and industry calls overzealous, has largely ignored the slow, silent killers that claim the most lives.

Corporations, pro-business nonprofits foot bill for judicial seminars | Center for Public Integrity
Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.

Back-door school handouts | Chicago Tribune
Rolled into the usual state aid sent to districts, the subsidies are all but hidden and have been skyrocketing, starting at $46 million and increasing more than 1,000 percent in the years since lawmakers approved them, state data show. At its peak in 2008, the program cost taxpayers $805 million, with the majority of school districts not getting a penny.

Old gas pipelines: A danger under our feet | Detroit Free Press
Crisscrossing Michigan are more than 3,100 miles of old wrought- and cast-iron natural-gas pipelines -- the type federal regulators consider the most at risk of corrosion, cracking and catastrophic rupturing. The state's two largest utilities have replaced less than 15% of these pipelines -- 542 miles -- in the past decade.

Welcome to IRE's roundup of the weekend’s many enterprise stories from around the country. We'll highlight the document digging, field work and data analysis that made their way into centerpieces in print, broadcast and online from coast to coast. Did we miss something? Email tips to web@ire.org


Title loans hurt poor, critics say | Arizona Republic
More than 430 auto-title-lending branches have been licensed in Arizona since 2009, the year after voters rejected payday lending, state figures show. By comparison, from 2000 to 2008, about 160 title-lending branches were licensed with the state. The rise of title lenders has rekindled a debate over whether these kinds of high-interest loans ultimately help or take advantage of low-income borrowers.

Lame-duck Cravaack handed out large raises to his staff | Star Tribune
Former U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) awarded his staff some of the largest salary increases in Congress last year as he left after one term in office. For the first three quarters of 2012, the Minnesota Republican’s staff payroll averaged a little over $197,000. In the final three months of the year, it shot up to $354,000, an 80 percent increase. For decades, departing members of Congress have awarded large bonuses and salary increases to longtime staff, but these raises were of a magnitude typically awarded by senior members of Congress.

For Boston cabbies, a losing battle against the numbers | The Boston Globe
Boston’s cabbies can be a surly lot, but consider what they endure. A Globe investigation finds a taxi trade where fleet owners get rich, drivers are frequently fleeced, and the city does little about it.

Athlete charities often lack standards | ESPN
An "Outside the Lines" investigation of 115 charities founded by high-profile, top-earning male and female athletes has found that most of their charities don't measure up to what charity experts would say is an efficient, effective use of money.

Parolee GPS ankle monitors: Major flaws found in vendor's system | Los Angeles Times
The electronic ankle monitors California used for several years to monitor more than 4,000 high-risk sex offenders and gang members were so inaccurate and unreliable that corrections officials said that the public was “in imminent danger.”

Santa Clara County workers ignored red flags in Shirakawa case | San Jose Mercury News
A trail of embarrassing inaction at numerous levels of county government enabled the years-long crime spree of disgraced former Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., who will be sentenced in the coming weeks for perjury and misuse of public funds.

Many Low-Income Students May Fail Because of Reading Law | Oklahoma Watch
Among thousands of Oklahoma students who could be held back in third grade for failing a state reading test next year, a disproportionate share will likely be low-income children, anOklahoma Watch analysis of state data found.

Making the grade: Inside the college admissions process | Philadelphia Inquirer
During the last month, on two occasions, The Inquirer has spent a total of about eight hours in the room with Lehigh staff members as they made sometimes difficult and agonizing decisions. It was a window into a highly competitive, emotionally charged process, often kept secret. The Inquirer agreed not to identify applicants.

"Crisscrossing Michigan are more than 3,100 miles of old wrought- and cast-iron natural-gas pipelines -- the type federal regulators consider the most at risk of corrosion, cracking and catastrophic rupturing. The state's two largest utilities have replaced less than 15% of these pipelines -- 542 miles -- in the past decade," according to an investigation by the Detroit Free Press.

 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Wrong-Way River
“Biologists predict the number of unwanted organisms moving on the Chicago canal will only grow until the waterway is somehow plugged. And it is much more than a Great Lakes problem because biological pollution travels both directions on this invasive species superhighway.”

The Morning Call
Amazon warehouse workers fight for unemployment benefits
“Its relationship with Amazon has made Integrity Staffing Solutions the biggest temporary-employment firm in the Lehigh Valley and one of the fastest-growing agencies of its kind in the country. Part of its role is fighting to keep its workers from collecting unemployment benefits after they have lost a job at Amazon.”

Welcome to IRE's roundup of the weekend’s many enterprise stories from around the country. We'll highlight the document digging, field work and data analysis that made their way into centerpieces in print, broadcast and online from coast to coast.Did we miss something? Email tips to web@ire.org

The Atlantic
In Southern Towns, 'Segregation Academies' Are Still Going Strong
“In the 1960s and '70s, towns across the South created inexpensive private schools to keep white students from having to mix with black. Many remain open, the communities around them as divided as ever.”

The Indianapolis Star
The China Letter
“Now the one person who knew the whole truth was dead, leaving a trail of documents and stories on two continents. They provide a few answers. But they raise plenty of questions, not least of which is why a state agency hired a highly persuasive but not particularly accomplished interpreter for the delicate task of luring international investment and jobs to Indiana.”

The Orange County Register
Universities with connections win most stem cell money
Repeated independent reviews of the agency, including one by the Institute of Medicine released this month, have found that its board is rife with conflicts of interest. In fact, of the $1.7 billion that the agency has awarded so far, about 90 percent has gone to research institutions with ties to people sitting on the board, according to an analysis by David Jensen at the California Stem Cell Report, which closely follows the agency's operations.

PublicSource
Shale drillers eager to move wastewater on barges
The shale gas drilling industry wants to move its wastewater by barge on rivers and lakes across the country. But the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s waterways, must first decide whether it’s safe.

Bloomberg
BP’s U.S. Suspension Allows Airport-Fuel Exception for Pentagon
“BP Plc (BP/)’s temporary ban from new U.S. government work now includes a bit of wiggle room for the Defense Department.

ProPublica
Karl Rove’s Dark Money Group Promised IRS It Would Spend ‘Limited’ Money on Elections
“In a confidential 2010 filing, Crossroads GPS — the dark money group that spent more than $70 million from anonymous donors on the 2012 election — told the Internal Revenue Service that its efforts would focus on public education, research and shaping legislation and policy.”

The Dallas Morning News
The Burden of Lead: West Dallas deals with contamination decades later
“The low-income neighborhood of older wood-frame homes in West Dallas is a far cry from the suburb of newly built brick houses in Frisco 30 miles to the north. But the two North Texas communities share a bond: Both were contaminated by industrial lead for nearly half a century.”

The Statesman Journal
When politicians gamble on developers with taxpayer money, who ends up paying?
“Public agencies often use tax-based resources to partner with private developers. Those deals can help transform blighted areas, but they also can become costly projects with dubious results. In a two-day series, the Statesman Journal explores local examples of how public-private partnerships have worked.”

The Columbus Dispatch
Federal student loans become constant burden
“But millions of others also are in default, and some have been there for years. To gauge the lingering consequences, The Dispatch collected and analyzed a random sample of 394 cases from the nearly 16,000 lawsuits that the U.S. government has filed against defaulted student-loan debtors since 2007.”

The Pioneer Press
Hooked on Opiates: More legal use leads to more addiction, crimes, deaths
“Last year, enough of the two leading painkillers -- oxycodone and hydrocodone -- was distributed in the state to provide 18 pills for every man, woman and child. That's up from two pills per person in 1997.”

Doctors face quandary of relieving pain, without feeding addiction
A growing number of health care groups in the Twin Cities are investing in strategies to make sure doctors don't serve as unwitting spigots of medications for addicts. But there's also concern that increased regulation could prompt physicians to stop prescribing medications to patients with legitimate pain-control needs.

The Charlotte Observer and the (Raleigh) News & Observer
Prognosis: Profits, The rising fortunes of Charlotte hospitals haven't always helped patients

"In the latest installment of their ongoing investigation into nonprofit hospitals, the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday that N.C. patients are likely to pay more for routine health care if their doctors are employed by a hospital."
You can find Charlotte's stories here and Raleigh's stories here.

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