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US proposes looser protections for the greater sage grouse, to boost drilling, mining

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The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday proposed easing Obama-era protections for a bird, the greater sage grouse, to boost oil drilling and mining across Western states, a win for energy companies but a setback for conservationists.

The proposal, announced by the department’s Bureau of Land Management, fits within the Trump administration’s broader plan to increase energy production on federal lands by rolling back environmental regulation.

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The BLM said the proposal would open up hundreds of thousands of acres of grouse habitat in states like Colorado and Utah to oil and gas leasing, allow for changes to grouse habitat boundary maps, and remove obstacles to new coal leasing.

Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a Colorado native and a former energy lobbyist, said the proposals reflected the interests of Western States that host the chicken-sized prairie fowl, which is considered by conservationists to be a key indicator species for America’s dwindling sagebrush ecosystem.

“With today’s action we have leaned forward to address the various states’ issues, while appropriately ensuring that we will continue to be focused on meaningfully addressing the threats to the Greater Sage-Grouse,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama’s 2015 plan to protect the ground-dwelling bird imposed restrictions to development in their habitat, but in a concession to business groups fell short of placing them on the endangered species list – a move that would have imposed far more rigid rules.

But miners, oil drillers and ranchers in some Western states have said the plan unnecessarily hurt economic development.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year had ordered a review of protections for the sage grouse to “ensure conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities” – one of numerous reviews of Obama-era environmental protections launched by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Bobby McEnaney, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the move a “bald-faced giveaway to the oil and gas industry.”

“This rolls back a conservation plan that was carefully crafted by states, ranchers, conservationists and public officials to protect this iconic Western bird and the unique sagebrush landscape it inhabits,” he said.

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Sage grouse are now believed to number between 200,000 and 500,000 birds across 11 Western states and southern Alberta.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Frances Kerry

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Louisiana Democrat re-elected governor — despite Trump’s rallies for the Republican candidate

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The Associated Press has called the Lousiana's governor's race for incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards.

Edwards triumphed over Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, who called to concede.

The outcome is another major political loss for President Donald Trump, who had held multiple campaign rallies for Rispone.

During his most recent rally, Trump begged the crowd to give him a "big win" in the election.

Eddie Rispone has conceded the #lagov race to Gov. John Bel Edwards, giving the Democrat four more years in ruby red Louisiana despite Trump’s best efforts to flip the seat. Edwards camp says Rispone called minutes ago to concede. #lagov #lalege

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Press secretary says it is ‘dangerous for the country’ to question whether she is putting out honest info

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Press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Saturday argued it was "dangerous for the country" for anyone to challenge the veracity of her claims.

Grisham made her argument after President Donald Trump went to Walter Reed Hospital for an unannounced doctor's visit, resulting in a great deal of speculation.

Following the visit, Grisham claimed Trump was "healthy" and "without complaints" -- a claim many found unlikely as the president has spent a good deal of time as president airing his many grievances.

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Sondland used WhatsApp to communicate with Ukraine — and won’t turn over the messages: report

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Ambassador Gordon Sondland used WhatsApp to send encrypted messages to a top Ukranian official, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The communication occurred with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to President Volodymr Zelensky, when Sondland was in Kyiv, the newspaper reported.

"Sondland was also texting back and forth on WhatsApp with Yermak throughout the trip, and had been communicating with other Ukrainian officials over the messaging app in the preceding and subsequent months, according to people familiar with his interactions," The Post reported.

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