The Range

Fill 'Er Up

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality socked Kinder Morgan Energy Partners with a half-million petrodollar fine following the 2003 pipeline break that showered gasoline across a westside subdivision and cut off a major source of fuel to Phoenix, wreaking havoc throughout the state capital.

Besides paying the biggest groundwater pollution penalty in state history, Kinder Morgan is also required to mop up the mess, which is expected to cost $5.5 million. More than 52,000 gallons of gas had been cleaned from the soil as of last month.

DEQ Director Steve Owens announced that Kinder Morgan will be required to file a great deal more paperwork with the state in the future. Noting that company officials originally suggested that only 10,000 gallons had spewed from the pipe, Owens busted Kinder Morgan on its lack of candor.

"These strict notification requirements will eliminate any guessing games about how much gasoline is involved in any future releases from the Kinder Morgan pipeline," thundered Owens in a press release likely penned by someone else. "The fact that we couldn't get a straight answer from Kinder Morgan about the volume of fuel involved in this release was simply unacceptable."

And They're Off!

During a damp and muddy weekend, The Range traveled on assignment to Rillito Racetrack, where a healthy crowd turned out for the opening weekend of the sport of kings. We lost two quinellas in the sixth race on Sunday, but were able to get a close look at the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales, whose horseman gave us the skunk eye after our brother-in-law dropped an empty Coors can next to the big red wagon.

In other horse-race news, Congressman Jim Kolbe once again finds himself rumored as a leading candidate for appointment to the Bush administration's U.S. trade representative slot.

The rumor has pols across the valley musing about their own congressional timber. On the Republican side, the all-star cast includes Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll (the charm), City Councilman Fred Ronstadt (the name), former state Rep. Randy Graf (the nut), State Rep. Steve Huffman (the brain), state Sen. Keith Bee (the Good Lord willing), City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar (the royal blood) and state Sen. Toni Hellon (the superiority complex).

Potential Democrats: Sen. Gabrielle Giffords (the goodie-goodie), Tim Sultan (the oil), Tom Volgy (the professor), Mary Judge Ryan (the has-been) and Eva Bacall (the doomed).

The next round of parlor games: Figuring out who gets appointment to the offices vacated by the elected officials who have to resign to run for the congressional seat.

Obligatory Inaugural Mention

You probably missed it, but President George W. Bush took the oath of office last week with a speech that promised to spread freedom and end tyranny around the globe.

Bush's dad, George H.W. Bush, clarified his son's address a few days later, saying W. didn't wasn't serious about the whole ending-tyranny thing.

Note to W: When even Peggy Noonan says you're talking about God a little too much, it's probably time to tone it down.

Speaking of religion, The Associated Press reports that "Bush's 'Hook 'em' horns salute got lost in translation in Norway, where shocked people interpreted his hand gesture during his inauguration as a salute to Satan." And who's to say it wasn't?

And thanks to CNN for this Onion-flavored headline: "Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider." As a wise man once noted: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." How long before Jon Stewart is anchoring the CBS Evening News?

Welfare Abuse

Need some extra cash? Sign up for welfare benefits in Arizona! An review of Arizona's unemployment benefits programs by Arizona Auditor General Debra Davenport revealed that the state's accuracy rate in determining eligibility for benefits was only 43 percent in 2003, compared to a national average of 71 percent. A second audit found that the estimated overpayment rate was 22 percent--the third-highest in the United States.

The report blamed the problems on a failure to review errors carefully, a complex eligibility process and high staff turnover.

The audit also showed that state workers often screw up calculations of the unemployment liabilities of Arizona companies, leading to both higher taxes and denial of benefits.

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