Saturday, July 03, 2010

World's largest oil skimmer heads to Gulf spill By Tom Breen & Jay Reeves


NEW ORLEANS — With hurricane-whipped waves pushing more oil onto the Gulf of Mexico's once-white beaches, the government pinned its latest cleanup hopes Wednesday on a huge new piece of equipment: the world's largest oil-skimming vessel.

The Taiwanese-flagged former tanker named the "A Whale" is the length of 3 1/2 football fields and stands 10 stories high. It just emerged from an extensive retrofitting to prepare it specifically for the Gulf, where officials hope it will be able to suck up as much as 21 million gallons of oil-fouled water per day.

"It is absolutely gigantic. It's unbelievable," said Louisiana State University environmental sciences professor Ed Overton, who saw the ship last week in Norfolk, Va.

As the monstrous vessel made its way toward the Gulf Coast, large waves churned up by distant Hurricane Alex left Alabama beaches splattered with oil and tar balls the size of apples. The rough seas forced most smaller skimming boats into port for a second consecutive day, putting many cleanup crews at a standstill.

The ship looks like a typical tanker, but it takes in contaminated water through 12 vents on either side of the bow. The oil is then supposed to be separated from the water and transferred to another vessel. The water is channeled back into the sea.

But the ship has never been tested, and many questions remain about how it will operate. For instance, the seawater retains trace amounts of oil, even after getting filtered, so the Environmental Protection Agency will have to sign off on allowing the treated water back into the Gulf.

"This is a no-brainer," Overton said. "You're bringing in really dirty, oily water and you're putting back much cleaner water."

The vessel, owned by the Taiwanese shipping firm TMT Group, was completed as a tanker earlier this year in South Korea. But after the Gulf spill, the company's CEO and founder, Nobu Su, ordered it changed into a giant skimmer. The vessel was sent to Portugal for the refit and embarked for the Gulf as soon as it was finished.

The ship arrived Wednesday in Louisiana coastal waters, where TMT officials planned to meet with the Coast Guard to plan a tryout of the ship.

The Coast Guard will have the final say in whether the vessel can operate in the Gulf. TMT will have to come to separate terms with BP, which is paying for the cleanup.

"I don't know whether it's going to work or not, but it certainly needs to be given the opportunity," Overton said.

Meanwhile along parts of the Gulf, red flags snapped in strong gusts, warning people to stay out of the water, and long stretches of beach were stained brown from tar balls and crude oil that had been pushed as far as 60 yards from the water.

Oil deposits appeared worse than in past days, and local officials feared the temporary halt to skimming operations near the coast would only make matters worse ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend.

"I'm real worried about what is going to happen with those boats not running. It can't help," said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, Ala.

As of Wednesday, between 71.2 million and 139 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from the leak caused by the April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The blast killed 11 oil workers on the platform, which was owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC.

To try to raise spirits, singer Jimmy Buffett put on an impromptu free show at his sister's restaurant in Gulf Shores, Ala. Word spread quickly through Facebook and the grapevine and hundreds of people showed up at Lulu's, owned by Lucy Buffett.

The singer known for his love of the beach life grew up in the area. He and other singing stars were supposed to do a free show on Thursday to bring tourists to the oil-stained beaches. But the show was postponed until July 11 because of high surf kicked up by the hurricane.

That storm halted skimming operations and the laying of oil-corralling booms across the Gulf. But vessels that collect and burn oil and gas at the site of the explosion were still operating. Efforts to drill relief wells that experts hope will stop the leak also continued unabated.

The weather delayed efforts to bring a third vessel, the Helix Producer, out to the broken well head. The ship can capture up to 25,000 barrels of oil a day and connects to the leak through a flexible hose that allows it to leave the site quickly in case of a hurricane.

Officials had hoped the vessel would be connected Wednesday, but in a news briefing Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the choppy conditions were too perilous for now. The ship was expected to get to work next week.

In Florida, lumps of tar the size of dinner plates filled a large swath of beach east of Pensacola after rough waves tossed the mess onto shore.

"The weather has hampered the cleanup. Our night crews went out there to try and verify exactly how much it was, and it's about half a mile," said Santa Rosa County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka.

Streaks of the rust-red oil could be seen in the waves off Pensacola Beach as cleanup crews worked in the rough weather to prepare the beach for the holiday weekend.

In Louisiana, heavy rains pounded the Grand Isle region, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas. Long bolts of lightning streaked the dark skies, keeping oil-cleanup operations locked down. A pounding surf had moved some of the boom that lines the beach.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgens said the booms protecting the region would probably take a beating because of heavy seas and storm surge, and workers will start putting the barriers back in place once the weather clears.

Richard Ambrose, director of the environmental science and engineering program at UCLA, said the decision to halt cleanup and containment efforts presents two distinct threats: That much more oil will wash up on beaches, and that the storm will be strong enough to push oil farther inland into vulnerable wetlands.

"Stormy weather can bring oil places it wouldn't have gone otherwise," Ambrose said.

On Wednesday evening, Alex strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 100 mph. The National Weather Service predicted the storm would make landfall on the Mexican Gulf Coast and south Texas later Wednesday night.

Reeves reported from Orange Beach, Ala. Associated Press writers Mary Foster in Grand Isle, La., and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.

Obama Was NOT Born In U.S. By The Globe


Title of full article in July 12, 2010 print edition (pp. 16-17) is:
Hawaiian state records clerk reveals:

No Proof Obama Was Born in the U.S.A.
Now his critics insist his presidency is totally illegal
This is about the recent story:

"A former Hawaii records official is sending shock waves through Washington, D.C. by revealing there is absolutely no birth certificate for Barack Obama!

"The bombshell revelation backs up long-standing claims that Obama--who insists he was born in a Honolulu hospital--really took his first breath in Kenya and, as a result, violates the U.S. Constitution's requirements for the President to be a 'natural born' American.

"'I had direct access to the Social Security database, the national crime computer, state driver's license information, international passport information, basically just about anything you can imagine to get someone's identity,' said Timothy Adams, who served as senior government records clerk in Honolulu in 2008. 'There is no birth certificate. I was informed by my boss that we did not have Obama's birth record."

Monday, June 28, 2010

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 12 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a fiery orator versed in the classics and a hard-charging power broker who steered billions of federal dollars to the state of his Depression-era upbringing, died Monday. He was 92.

A spokesman for the family, Jesse Jacobs, said Byrd died peacefully at about 3 a.m. at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va. He had been in the hospital since late last week.

At first Byrd was believed to be suffering from heat exhaustion and severe dehydration, but other medical conditions developed. He had been in frail health for several years.

Byrd, a Democrat, was the longest-serving senator in history, holding his seat for more than 50 years. He was the Senate's majority leader for six of those years and was third in the line of succession to the presidency, behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a fellow West Virginian in the Senate, said it was his "greatest privilege" to serve with Byrd.

"I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone," Rockefeller said.

In comportment and style, Byrd often seemed a Senate throwback to a courtlier 19th century. He could recite poetry, quote the Bible, discuss the Constitutional Convention and detail the Peloponnesian Wars — and frequently did in Senate debates.

Yet there was nothing particularly courtly about Byrd's pursuit or exercise of power.

Byrd was a master of the Senate's bewildering rules and longtime chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls a third of the $3 trillion federal budget. He was willing to use both to reward friends and punish those he viewed as having slighted him.

"Bob is a living encyclopedia, and legislative graveyards are filled with the bones of those who underestimated him," former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, once said in remarks Byrd later displayed in his office.

In 1971, Byrd ousted Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts as the Democrats' second in command. He was elected majority leader in 1976 and held the post until Democrats lost control of the Senate four years later. He remained his party's leader through six years in the minority, then spent another two years as majority leader.

"I have tangled with him. He usually wins," former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., once recalled.

DeConcini supported Byrd's bid for majority leader. "He reciprocated by helping me get on the Appropriations Committee," DeConcini said. Years later, DeConcini said, he displeased Byrd on another issue. "I didn't get on the Intelligence Committee when I thought I was up to get on it."

Byrd stepped aside as majority leader in 1989 when Democrats sought a more contemporary television spokesman. "I ran the Senate like a stern parent," Byrd wrote in his memoir, "Child of the Appalachian Coalfields." His consolation price was the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, with control over almost limitless federal spending.

Within two years, he surpassed his announced five-year goal of making sure more than $1 billion in federal funds was sent back to West Virginia, money used to build highways, bridges, buildings and other facilities, some named after him.

In 2006 and with 64 percent of the vote, Byrd won an unprecedented ninth term in the Senate just months after surpassing South Carolinian Strom Thurmond's record as its longest-serving member. His more than 18,500 roll call votes were another record.

But Byrd also seemed to slow after the death of Erma, his wife of almost 69 years, in 2006. Frail and at times wistful, he used two canes to walk haltingly and needed help from aides to make his way about the Senate. He often hesitated at unscripted moments. By 2009, aides were bringing him to and from the Senate floor in a wheelchair.

Though his hands trembled in later years, Byrd only recently lost his grip on power. Last November he surrendered his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee.

Byrd's lodestar was protecting the Constitution. He frequently pulled out a dog-eared copy of it from a pocket in one of his trademark three-piece suits. He also defended the Senate in its age-old rivalry with the executive branch, no matter which party held the White House.

Unlike other prominent Senate Democrats such as 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry of Massachusetts, who voted to authorize the war in Iraq, Byrd stood firm in opposition — and felt gratified when public opinion swung behind him.

"The people are becoming more and more aware that we were hoodwinked, that the leaders of this country misrepresented or exaggerated the necessity for invading Iraq," Byrd said.

He cited Iraq when he endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in May 2008, calling Obama "a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure."

Byrd's accomplishments followed a childhood of poverty in West Virginia, and his success on the national stage came despite a complicated history on racial matters. As a young man, we was a member of the Ku Klux Klan for a brief period, and he joined Southern Democrats in an unsuccessful filibuster against the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

He later apologized for both actions, saying intolerance has no place in America. While supporting later civil rights bills, he opposed busing to integrate schools.

Byrd briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 and later told associates he had once been approached by President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, about accepting an appointment to the Supreme Court.

But he was a creature — and defender — of Congress across a career that began in 1952 with his election to the House. He served three terms there before winning his Senate seat in 1958, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.

He clashed with presidents in both parties and was implacably against proposed balanced budget amendments to the Constitution.

"He is a fierce defender of the Senate and its prerogatives in ways that I think the founding fathers really intended the Senate to be," said one-time rival Kennedy.

In a measure of his tenacity, Byrd took a decade of night courses to earn a law degree in 1963, and completed his long-delayed bachelor's degree at West Virginia's Marshall University in 1994 with correspondence classes.

Byrd was a near-deity in economically struggling West Virginia, to which he delivered countless federally financed projects. Entire government bureaus opened there, including the FBI's repository for computerized fingerprint records. Even the Coast Guard had a facility in the landlocked state. Critics portrayed him as the personification of Congress' thirst for wasteful "pork" spending projects.

Robert Carlyle Byrd was born Nov. 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, N.C., as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr., the youngest of five children.

Before he was 1, his mother died and his father sent him to live with an aunt and uncle, Vlurma and Titus Byrd, who renamed him and moved to the coal-mining town of Stotesbury, W.Va. He didn't learn his original name until he was 16 and his real birthday until he was 54.

Byrd's foster father was a miner who frequently changed jobs, and Byrd recalled that the family's house was "without electricity, ... no running water, no telephone, a little wooden outhouse."

He graduated from high school but could not afford college. Married in 1936 to high school sweetheart Erma Ora James — with whom he had two daughters — he pumped gas, cut meat and during World War II was a shipyard welder.

Returning to meat cutting in West Virginia, he became popular for his fundamentalist Bible lectures. A grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan suggested he run for office.

He won his first race — for the state's House of Delegates — in 1946, distinguishing himself from 12 rivals by singing and fiddling mountain tunes. His fiddle became a fixture; he later played it on the television show "Hee Haw" and recorded an album. He abandoned it only after a grandson's traumatic death in 1982 and when his shaky hands left him unable to play.

At his 90th birthday party in 2007, however, Byrd joined bluegrass band Lonesome Highway in singing a few tunes and topped off the night with a rendition of "Old Joe Clark."

After six years in the West Virginia legislature, Byrd was elected to the U.S. House in 1952 in a race in which his brief Klan membership became an issue. He said he joined because of its anti-communism.

Byrd entered Congress as one of its most conservative Democrats. He was an early supporter of the Vietnam War, and his 14-hour, 13-minute filibuster against the 1964 civil rights bill remains one of the longest ever. His views gradually moderated, particularly on economic issues, but he always sided with his state's coal interests in confrontations with environmentalists.

His love of Senate traditions inspired him to write a four-volume history of the chamber. It also led him to oppose laptops on the Senate floor and to object when a blind aide tried bringing her seeing-eye dog into the chamber.

In 2004, Byrd got Congress to require schools and colleges to teach about the Constitution every Sept. 17, the day the document was adopted in 1787.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gov. Bobby Jindal: Taking matters into our own hands


June 21, 2010

We are fighting a war. There is no doubt that the ongoing BP oil spill is a full frontal assault on our Louisiana way of life.

From the beginning of this disaster more than 50 days ago, there have been many sorrowful sights of devastation in our wetlands and wildlife habitats. But there also have been true heroes emerging in the battles to protect our coast.

In the first weeks of the spill, we asked BP and the Coast Guard for their detailed plan for responding to an oil spill of this magnitude. As the oil started to come ashore and boom was late arriving in many areas, we again appealed to BP and the Coast Guard to meet the requests for resources outlined in our detailed parish plans. We were told to wait while they found more boom. Again, we did not wait. We moved ahead on our own, mobilizing the Louisiana National Guard to begin filling dozens of gaps in barrier islands along our coast.

Wind and weather conditions moved the oil into our coast again and again. We knew this oil spill was not going to be a single event for Louisiana; it is a war we will need to fight on many fronts.

We proposed 24 segments of sand booms to fortify against the oil. While the Corps' review process drug on, we took matters into our own hands and redirected our state-operated dredger on East Grand Terre to begin creating a sand boom wall of protection on that island. Only days after we directed this work, oil hit that area and today the sand boom on East Grand Terre is actively holding oil back from entering interior wetlands and waterways.

After weeks of delay, the Corps finally approved six segments in our plan. But the Coast Guard announced it would only call on BP to pay for one segment. We wouldn't take no for an answer. We got together again with coastal parish leaders and met with the president and National Incident Commander Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

We told BP to stop sending us lawyers and lobbyists; they had two choices — either begin work on the segments or get out of the way and let us begin the dredging work ourselves. We chose option two for them and signed an emergency contract to begin work on the sand boom segments ourselves — again taking matters into our own hands to protect our coast.

The war against this oil spill continues today, and our commitment to winning this war has only grown stronger. We will not wait on bureaucracy or wishful thinking. We will continue to move forward on our own to implement our own ideas for protecting coastal Louisiana, even when BP and the Coast Guard don't agree with our plans.

I know we can do this because of the many heroes we have fighting in this war alongside us — our coastal parish presidents, our National Guard troops, the fishermen who are laying out boom and the communities that are banding together to help one another in their time of need. We will protect our people and our communities and industries that make Louisiana the greatest state in the world.

And we will not rest until every drop of oil is off of our coast and out of our marshes and our water — and our seafood and our coastline are 100 percent whole again.

Bobby Jindal is Louisiana's governor.

Bureaucratic Berms



A partly built berm halted June 22.

A partly built berm halted June 22. View Enlarged Image

Government: After President Obama's dramatic BP address to the nation, there was reason to think federal red tape would be cut to save the Gulf Coast. Silly us. Bureaucrats are back at it, halting Louisiana's sand berms.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday shut down a critical dredging operation off the Chandelier Islands in the Louisiana Delta. The dredge pumped 50,000 cubic yards of sand used to create protective barriers between the region's islands so that crude oil from BP's April 20 oil spill washing forward would be absorbed before it could hit the coast. So far, 34.2 miles of Louisiana coastline have been dirtied and the rest is in peril.

"Please don't let them shut this dredge down — this requires your immediate attention," wrote Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser in his last-ditch letter to the White House.

The Associated Press reported that pelican nesting grounds were threatened by this dredging and the operation had to be moved two miles inland, a change that would take seven days. Nungesser asked Obama to let the emergency dredging continue to protect the coast, but all he got was ignored.

This is emblematic of the bureaucratic mind-set that's making the clean-up operations so costly and inefficient. Instead of everyone pulling together in an emergency, the petty federal fiefdom in charge of pelican nests gets absolute veto power over a community's efforts to protect an entire ecosystem (including pelican nests), in the name of business as usual.

For Plaquemines Parish, the consequences could be awful.

The parish is trying to save its $39.7 million seafood industry, which includes the top grounds for Louisiana's famous oysters and other kinds of fish (which pelicans can't survive without) from ruinous oily goo that could wash in with the next wave.

Meanwhile, the seven-day shutdown on berm construction is enough time for an Exxon-Valdez tanker-size amount of oil to spew from the still-crippled BP well.

Gov. Bobby Jindal warned in an op-ed for the Shreveport Times that only fast action on berms had saved the coast near East Grand Terre Island which were hit with oil a day after a berm went up.

Now he faces the same bureaucrats over again in the delta case with no sense of emergency whatsoever.