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PM News Brief: Lauren McCluskey Investigation, Gold King Mine Spill & Utah Rental Assistance

Pollution from the Gold King Mine
Eric Vance
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Utah and the EPA settled a lawsuit Wednesday over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

Wednesday evening, August 5, 2020


Utah Advocates Call For More Affordable Housing Options

During a panel discussion Wednesday, affordable housing advocates said Utah needs more housing options through physical units and subsidies. Michelle Flynn is the executive director of The Road Home, which works with people experiencing homelessness. She said the state needs to expand available units to a wider variety of locations to offer more affordable options near workplaces, schools and transportation locations. Flynn also said to prevent homelessness, housing programs need to offer more case management and support services for mental health and addiction. — Jessica Lowell

Six More People Die From COVID-19

Utah health officials reported another 421 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. Officials also announced six more people have died due to the disease. Five of them were hospitalized and one was a long-term care facility resident. So far, more than 550,000 Utahns have been tested for COVID-19. And the state has now seen over 42,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. — Ross Terrell

Utah Rental Assistance Expands Eligibility Requirements

Utah is expanding who can get rental assistance if they have been struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, only those who were not receiving unemployment benefits were eligible for help. Now, Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division has adjusted the eligibility requirements to include those getting benefits, after the federal government payments of an extra $600 a week expired last month. The state’s rental assistance funding came from the federal CARES Act, and can pay for up to $2,000 in monthly rent and utilities. State officials said there’s still $20 million available to help Utahns. — Caroline Ballard 


Two More Salt Lake City Protesters Charged With Felonies

The ACLU of Utah and Alliance For A Better Utah are condemning Salt Lake County’s response to protests against police brutality. That comes after two more Salt Lake City protesters were arrested and charged with first-degree felonies Tuesday for painting the street in front of the district attorney’s office. District Attorney Sim Gill said he supports protesters, but the alleged actions cross the line into “criminal behavior,” and, from his perspective, that “is not protest.” The charges could be punishable by up to life in prison, though Gill said that’s unlikely to happen. He said an outside prosecutor will take over the case from here. In a video posted to Twitter, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she thinks there should be consequences but a life sentence is too extreme for the offenses. — Emily Means

Investigation Finds Officer Shared Explicit Photos of Lauren McCluskey

A report released Wednesday by the University of Utah found that an officer showed explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey to colleagues and that some officers made inappropriate comments about them. McCluskey emailed the photos to University Police Officer Miguel Deras as part of a case against her ex-boyfriend for extortion. McCluskey was later killed by that man on campus. But the investigation found no evidence that Deras inappropriately downloaded the photos. In a statement, McCluskey’s parents called the report “incomplete and disingenuous” and are asking for the University to do another investigation into their daughter’s murder. — Ross Terrell

Jennifer Napier-Pearce Resigns As Salt Lake Tribune Editor

The executive editor of the Salt Lake Tribune has resigned. A press release from the board of directors said that Jennifer Napier-Pearce’s last day will be August 14. She took over as editor in 2016, after joining the paper as a reporter in 2013. During her tenure, the Tribune made national headlines by becoming the first newspaper in the country to transition to a non-profit model. In her resignation letter, which was cited in a Salt Lake Tribune article about her departure, Napier-Pearce said that she and board chair Paul Huntsman had differences of opinion about “newsroom coverage, management and policies.” — Elaine Clark


Environmentalists Sue Over Uinta Railway Project

Environmental groups are suing a Utah state board that distributes oil and mining royalties to communities impacted by natural resource extraction. The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers, cites the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, which established a framework for spending the royalties generated by drilling and mining on public lands. The suit says the money must be spent on projects that alleviate the impacts of extraction in the communities where they occur. It involves a proposed railroad that could increase oil production in the Uinta Basin. The lawsuit is the first of its kind brought against the state board and it seeks the return of the money to the Community Impact Fund.Read the full story. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

Utah Settles With EPA On Gold King Mine Spill

Utah and the Environmental Protection Agency settled a lawsuit Wednesday over the Gold King Mine spill. In 2015, EPA workers were sent to mitigate pollutants at the closed mine. Instead, they accidentally released about three million gallons of contaminated mine water into the Animas River, which is part of the Colorado River system. That flowed downstream into the San Juan River. As part of the settlement, the EPA will spend $220 million reclaiming abandoned mine sites, including the Superfund district that contains the Gold King Mine and continues to pollute the Animas River. The state of Utah will also receive $3 million to spend on clean water projects. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff


Indigneous Communities Could Suffer From Census Being Cut Short

The Census Bureau announced it’s ending the 2020 count a month early. That could have a big impact on the region’s Indigenous communities. Some reservations in Montana, for example, are drastically undercounted. Only around 7% of households on the Crow reservation have filled out the census. Marci McLean, with the grassroots voting organization Western Native Voices, said they are helping out with the census and plan to ramp up efforts ahead of the early deadline. A low count will lead to a reduction in federal funding and it affects legislative representation for native communities. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

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