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AM Brief: Big Utah Ponzi scheme, Rep. Curtis’ bill repeals oil and gas regs & low western taxes

Utah BLM Gas Well Heads, March 2019
Jonathan Moor
/
BLM Utah
Gas is captured in the BLM Utah, Vernal Field Office in 2019.

Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2022

State

Recent snow isn’t easing the drought

Parts of Utah have seen recent snow totals increase over the past few days, but experts say the recent storms aren’t making a significant impact on the drought. The outlook for the coming months is most likely above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation, according to meteorologist Alex DeSmet with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. He said that “we’ll take what we can get,” but recent storms haven’t changed the “overall picture” of the drought. It’s still fairly early to know what this all means for wildfires this year. Kayli Yardley, with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said it depends on drying conditions and trends. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery

Northern Utah

Layton man sentenced to prison for Ponzi scheme

Antique coin salesman Gaylen Rust of Layton has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for running a $200 million silver trading Ponzi scheme. Judge Ted Stewart called the case one of the largest Ponzi schemes in Utah history. Rust solicited funds from hundreds of people and pleaded guilty to using investors' money to lure additional backers. He also used the money to fund purchases, including a $2 million home. — Pamela McCall

New College of Veterinary Medicine

Utah State University will create a new College of Veterinary Medicine through $18 million of new annual funds from the Utah legislature. USU officials said it will be the first of its kind in Utah and will ease the state’s shortage of veterinarians. USU currently offers a veterinary medicine program in partnership with other universities — but this funding establishes a four-year program based entirely in Utah. The school will welcome its first class in fall 2024. — Leah Treidler

Region/Nation

Russian oil import ban sparks debate over federal regulations

Utah Rep. John Curtis said federal restrictions are getting in the way of American oil production. Curtis introduced a bill Tuesday that aims to reduce European allies’ reliance on Russian oil and gas by increasing American production and exports. That announcement came the same day President Joe Biden banned Russian oil imports. Curtis’ bill would also, in part, repeal regulations on oil and gas leasing, but a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity said the industry is already sitting on thousands of undeveloped leases on public lands, including many in Utah. Taylor McKinnon said the industry doesn't have an incentive to develop them right now because inflated oil and gas prices lead to bigger profits. He added the federal government should instead use this moment to accelerate the race to green energy. In Utah, the average cost of gas topped $4 this week, according to AAA — nearly 50% more than a year ago. — Leah Treidler

Boosting Indigenous voices in public lands decisions

In a congressional hearing Tuesday, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said he and other federal officials are committed to boosting the role Native American tribes play in managing public lands. He said the effort includes integrating Indigenous knowledge into management plans and recognizing that federal lands once belonged to the tribes. Tribal officials from New Mexico, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest who testified stressed the importance of including Native American voices when weighing decisions that could impact cultural sites, water supplies and forest health. Sams said his agency has several dozen cooperative agreements in place with tribes now and he expects that number to grow. — Associated Press

Low Mountain West tax rates are a double-edged sword

A new analysis shows that many states in the Mountain West have the lowest overall tax rates in the country. According to rankings by Wallethub, Western states represent six of the 10 lowest-tax jurisdictions in the U.S. While taxpayers might celebrate lower bills in Montana, Nevada or Wyoming, analysts say states with higher taxes tend to have better public schools and health care. Utah ranked seventh in the nation for its low tax rates. — Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

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