Senators urge oversight of nuclear energy illness benefits

An independent advisory panel is needed to oversee a federal program that provides benefits to Cold War nuclear industry workers made ill by their work, two senators said.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., re-introduced legislation to set up the panel, which would advise people how to get help available under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.

The program has been plagued by procedural inconsistencies and delays that have prevented or slowed efforts by former nuclear workers from gaining benefits, the senators said.

The federal government estimates that about 600,000 workers were exposed to radioactive and toxic substances while working at mines, mills and nuclear weapons facilities.

Many of them now suffer from diseases related to their exposure, but their benefit claims have been delayed for years.

“Workers at Rocky Flats and other nuclear facilities put their health on the line to preserve our national security during one of the most uncertain times in our nation’s history,” Udall said. “Our country made a commitment to these patriots, but so far that promise has not been kept.”

A companion measure has been introduced in the House.

The program provides compassionate payments to affected employees and pays for the treatment of related conditions.

Cedaredge man pleads guilty in death

A Cedaredge man who was accused of killing his wife after she died in a hot tub pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single felony charge of manslaughter.

Billy David Kissner, 47, had faced a second-degree murder charge in connection with the 2010 death of his wife, Raelynn Kissner.

Billy Kissner will be sentenced in court on the charge of reckless manslaughter as an act of domestic violence on Oct. 11, according to the Delta County Combined Court.

Billy Kissner had told authorities that he found his wife not breathing in a hot tub at their home but he removed her from the hot tub before police arrived.

Raelynn Kissner was pronounced dead at the Delta County Memorial Hospital, but the cause of her death was not determined.

Protection sought in mine cleanup effort


A measure that would insulate individuals and organizations hoping to clean up abandoned mines was introduced Thursday by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

The measure would offer binding legal protections for “Good Samaritans” and aid in the cleanup of more than 7,000 abandoned hard-rock mines in Colorado and thousands more throughout the West.

The bill, which U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is co-sponsoring, is similar to legislation Udall introduced in 2009. It would establish a program under the Clean Water Act to promote Good Samaritan efforts of those who have no legal responsibility for abandoned hard-rock mines by allowing them to qualify for cleanup permits.

It also would offer some liability protections for those who complete volunteer cleanups of abandoned mine sites. The Environmental Protection Agency, state government or tribal agencies could issue cleanup permits under the legislation.

Cave restrictions meant to protect bats


DENVER — The U.S. Forest Service is letting people visit caves in national forests and grasslands in the Rocky Mountain region again, but there are restrictions as officials work to halt a disease that has killed 5.5 million bats since 2006.

The agency issued a closure order in 2010 to keep white-nose syndrome from spreading. So far, the disease and the fungus that causes it haven’t been confirmed in the region, which covers Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

As of Thursday, people can visit the region’s caves but have to register first. They must decontaminate clothing and gear before and after entering caves. Gear used in caves or mines in states affected by white-nose syndrome is prohibited.

Caves used for winter hibernation will close from roughly 
Oct. 15-April 15.

2 soldiers in hospital after lightning hit


FORT CARSON — Two of the 12 soldiers who were hurt when lightning struck near them during a training exercise in Colorado are still in the hospital.

Officials at Fort Carson said Thursday that one soldier is in serious condition and the other is in stable condition.

The 10 other soldiers who were injured when lightning struck at the Army post near Colorado Springs on Wednesday afternoon were released from the hospital later that evening.

The soldiers had been in training but were heading toward shelter when the lightning struck. Medics who were present for the training treated them until emergency responders arrived.

As of last week, 14 people have died from lightning strikes in the U.S. this year, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service advises people to stay indoors for 30 minutes after the first flash of lightning or clap of thunder.

No evidence pot shops driving crimes


DENVER — The latest Denver crime figures show there is no evidence marijuana dispensaries are driving higher crime rates.

Nearly one-third of the crimes committed in Denver occurred within 1,000 feet of a medical marijuana dispensary. However, the statistics provide no evidence that dispensaries are to blame for any increases.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey created controversy Monday when he told city councilors that there had been 12 homicides and more than 100 aggravated robberies directly related to medical marijuana though later he said they were “loose figures.”

His spokeswoman, Lynn Kimbrough, said Thursday he was referring to incidents from the metro area, not just in Denver, and that most of the violence occurred in homes where marijuana was grown, rather than in dispensaries.


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