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Jun 13, 2013 - The Associated Press

Woman sentenced for fatal wreck

BILLINGS, Mont. -- A south-central Montana woman has been sentenced for a drunken driving crash near Broadview that killed an elderly Wyoming woman and seriously injured a Wyoming man who died three months later.

District Judge Mary Jane Knisely on Wednesday sentenced 54-year-old Mary Stahl Ahern of Broadview to three years with the Department of Corrections for a September 2011 crash that killed 80-year-old Muriel Alderson of Basin. Ahern received a concurrent three-year suspended sentence for injuries suffered by 77-year-old Thomas Alderson. He died three months after the crash in an advanced-care treatment facility.

Ahern pleaded no contest in April to negligent homicide and negligent vehicular assault. She paid $350,000 in restitution as a result of a separate civil case.

Enzi favors dollar coin conversion

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi has joined four other senators in promoting the replacement of dollar bills with coins.

Enzi joined fellow Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa and Mark Udall of Colorado in introducing legislation to promote the $1 coin as a way to save money and reduce the federal deficit.

Enzi says making the change to dollar coins is one step toward fiscal responsibility.

A Government Accountability Office study estimates the savings of moving from paper to coin at between $200 million and $500 million a year.

Supporters of the change say the $1 coin is also environmentally friendly because the coin will last an estimated 30 years while a $1 bill lasts about three years.

Roads face funding troubles

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming Department of Transportation officials say uncertainty remains about how much highway money the state can expect to receive after the current federal transportation bill expires next year.

There are concerns that the federal government could cut its funding to states. Wyoming gets about $244 million a year.

WYDOT chief engineer Del McOmie said Congress will have to find a new revenue source or drastically cut its funding levels because the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that even with a new 10-cent fuel tax increase, WYDOT officials say they need an additional $62.1 million per year just to maintain the highway system in its current condition.

McOmie says WYDOT is being proactive in case its federal share is cut.

Coal leases may be undervalued

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Undervalued coal sales have cost the U.S. an estimated $62 million in potential lost revenues in recent years, according to a Tuesday report from federal investigators who recommended broad changes to the government's coal leasing program to stem further losses.

The report from the Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General comes amid rising pressure from Congress and environmentalists to make sure taxpayers are getting their fair share from coal sales on public lands.

Critics of the leasing program seized on the Inspector General's findings and called for a temporary halt in sales until changes can be made.

In 2011 alone, companies with leases on federal lands produced 473 million tons of coal, and the report said undervaluing sales by even a penny per ton can result in millions of dollars in lost revenue.

But the Interior Department disputed the scale of the losses, and industry representatives noted that they were relatively small in the context of a program that brought in almost $4 billion in revenue during the last two years alone.

"It's a rounding error," National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said of the government losses detailed in the report.

About 40 percent of U.S. coal is extracted from federal lands in 10 states, with money derived from leases and royalties equally split between federal and state governments. A separate government investigation into royalties is pending.

The Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana accounts for the overwhelming majority of the public coal sales, 90 percent of which involve just four industry giants: Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, Alpha Natural Resources and Cloud Peak Energy.

Most of the fuel is burned in U.S. power plants. But as domestic sales lag due to competition from cheap natural gas, increasing volumes of U.S. coal are being shipped abroad -- a trend that the government has failed to keep pace with, the Inspector General's report suggested.

Mushrooms available in MBNF

LARAMIE -- The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is offering permits for harvesting wild mushrooms at all six district ranger offices.

Permits for both personal and commercial mushroom collecting are available for forest lands.

The personal-use permits are free and allow people to gather up to one gallon of mushrooms a day or up to five gallons per calendar year. One gallon of non-dried mushrooms equals approximately five pounds.

Commercial permits cost $20 each and allow permit holders to harvest up to 50 pounds, or about 10 gallons, in a seven-day period. People may buy up to five commercial permits each calendar year.

Commercial permits are only available on the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Harvesting mushrooms is prohibited in Wilderness Areas, Research Natural Areas and Special Interest Areas.

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