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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Agency Scales Back Oil, Gas Drilling Leases

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Bureau of Land Management has dropped more than half the parcels it had proposed for an oil and gas lease sale this week, after criticism that many of them were too close to southern Utah national parks. The federal agency's final list for the Dec. 19 sale was released Friday and incorporates 132 parcels totaling 164,000 acres. The sale has been controversial since details were first announced Nov. 4. The BLM at that time proposed lease sales on 359,000 acres in Utah.

After the proposal was criticized by the National Park Service and environmental groups, the BLM removed more than 37,000 acres near Utah's national parks. The agency also dropped 80,000 acres in western Utah to conduct an environmental analysis.

Other parcels were taken off the list out of concern for wildlife, cultural resources and potential conflicts with coal mines, said Megan Crandall, a BLM spokeswoman.

One of the remaining parcels in the sale is adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument, near Vernal, Crandall said. The Park Service has agreed to it.

Blast at Oregon Bank Kills Officer, Technician

WOODBURN, Ore. -- A bomb explosion at a bank killed a police officer and a state bomb-disposal technician, officials said Saturday. No arrests have been made.

The blast occurred Friday afternoon at a West Coast Bank branch office in the agricultural town of Woodburn.

Police found a suspicious device when they responded to a report of a telephoned bomb threat received by a Wells Fargo branch bank, but the device was determined to be harmless. However, police said, the investigation there led them to the nearby West Coast Bank office, where the bomb was found.

Police would not discuss a motive for the bombing. Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings said he did not know of any grudges against West Coast Bank.

No Chance of Parole for Shooter

ATLANTA -- A judge sentenced the man who killed four people in a brazen courthouse escape to multiple life terms with no chance of parole. Brian Nichols, 37, was found guilty last month of murder and dozens of other counts for the March 2005 rampage that started in a downtown courthouse, led to an Atlanta neighborhood and ended with his capture the next day in a suburban county. He is expected to die in prison after Superior Court Judge James G. Bodiford handed down the maximum sentence on each charge. District Attorney Paul Howard said he has spoken with U.S. attorneys about a possible death penalty trial against Nichols in federal court for the killing of an off-duty federal agent.

In Parts of N.E., Power Still Out

CONCORD, N.H. -- Utility crews worked through a night of hand-numbing cold in the Northeast, but they still had a long way to go before restoring power to all of the more than 1 million residences and businesses blacked out by a huge ice storm.

In New Hampshire, where more than 370,000 customers remained without electricity, Gov. John Lynch (D) urged residents without power to make overnight plans early. Utilities say it will be days before all service is restored. More than half the state -- 400,000-plus houses and businesses -- was without power at the peak of the outage. People lost power as far south as Pennsylvania, but most of the outages were in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and New York.

VA Glitch Hits War Widows

Widows of war veterans have been wrongfully denied as much as millions of dollars in government benefits over the past 12 years because of computer glitches that often resulted in money being seized from the elderly survivors' bank accounts.

The Veterans Affairs Department said it was not fully aware of the problem. It pledged to work quickly to give back the pension and disability checks -- ranging from $100 to more than $2,500 -- that hundreds of thousands of widows should have received during the month of their spouse's death. The department indicated in an "action plan" that millions of dollars in back payments could be given to veterans' widows sometime after February, once it identified them.

— From News Services

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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