Posts Tagged ‘Congress

07
Aug
10

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

NEWS
Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform
President Obama Highlights Benefits to Seniors Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Saturday, August 07, 2010

In his weekly address this week, President Obama highlighted a Medicare Trustees report noting the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing, which will help to preserve Medicare for generations to come. Additionally, America’s seniors are already seeing more benefits as a result of health reform, including a rebate to cover the cost of their prescriptions if they fall into the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap. In the coming years, as we continue to ramp up reform, we expect seniors to save in premiums and out of pocket costs. And the President will continue to make Medicare stronger to ensure our seniors have access to affordable and quality healthcare.

Forty-five years ago, we made a solemn compact as a nation that senior citizens would not go without the health care they need. This is the promise we made when Medicare was born. And it’s the responsibility of each generation to keep that promise.

That’s why a report issued this week by the Trustees who oversee Medicare was such good news. According to this report, the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing. Reform has actually added at least a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare – the single longest extension in history – while helping to preserve Medicare for generations to come.

We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits. In fact, seniors are starting to see that because of health reform, their benefits are getting better all the time.

Seniors who fall into the “doughnut hole” – the gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage – are eligible right now for a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescriptions. Now, I know for people facing drug costs far higher than that, they need more help. That’s why we negotiated a better deal with the pharmaceutical companies for seniors. So starting next year, if you fall in the doughnut hole, you’ll get a 50-percent discount on the brand-name medicine you need. And in the coming years, this law will close the doughnut hole completely once and for all.

Already, we have put insurance companies on notice that we have the authority to review and reject unreasonable rate increases for Medicare Advantage plans. And we’ve made it clear to the insurers that we won’t hesitate to use this authority to protect seniors.

Beginning next year, preventive care – including annual physicals, wellness exams, and tests like mammograms – will be free for seniors as well. That will make it easier for folks to stay healthy. But it will also mean that doctors can catch things earlier, so treatment may be less invasive and less expensive.

And as reform ramps up in the coming years, we expect seniors to save an average of $200 per year in premiums and more than $200 each year in out of pocket costs, too.

This is possible in part through reforms that target waste and abuse and redirect those resources to where they’re supposed to go: our seniors. We’re already on track to cut improper payments in half – including money that goes to criminals who steal taxpayer dollars by setting up insurance scams and other frauds. And we won’t stop there. Because by preventing the loss of these tax dollars, we can both address the runaway costs of Medicare and improve the quality of care seniors receive – and we can crack down on those who prey on seniors and take advantage of people.

So we are no longer accepting business as usual. We’re making tough decisions to meet the challenges of our time. And as a result, Medicare is stronger and more secure. That’s important. Because Medicare isn’t just a program. It’s a commitment to America’s seniors – that after working your whole life, you’ve earned the security of quality health care you can afford. As long as I am President, that’s a commitment this country is going to keep.
Thank you.

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24
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward

NEWS
Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward
President Obama Praises New Wall Street Reform Law; Says GOP Plan Will Take Us Backward

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In this week’s address, President Obama praised the Wall Street reform bill that he signed into law on Wednesday and explained how it fits into the greater strategy to bring the country out of recession and build an economy for the long run. The president’s plan is aimed at strengthening the middle class and gives tax breaks to small businesses that creates jobs here, invests in homegrown, clean energy, and cuts taxes for working families. Unfortunately, when the Republican leader in the House offered his plan to create jobs this week, he presented the same policy ideas that led to this recession – ideas that will kill jobs instead of create them, and will add $1 trillion to the deficit, not reduce it.

This week, I signed into law a Wall Street reform bill that will protect consumers and our entire economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility that led to the worst recession of our lifetime. It’s reform that will help put a stop to the abusive practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies. It will end taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street firms. And it will finally bring the shadowy deals that caused the financial crisis into the light of day.

Wall Street reform is a key pillar of an overall economic plan we’ve put in place to dig ourselves out of this recession and build an economy for the long run – an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle-class more secure. It’s a plan based on the Main Street values of hard work and responsibility – and one that demands new accountability from Wall Street to Washington.

Instead of giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, we want to give tax breaks to small business owners who are creating jobs right here in America. Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, and have expanded lending to more than 60,000 small business owners.

We’re also investing in a homegrown, clean energy industry – because I don’t want to see new solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars manufactured in some other country. I want to see them made in America, by American workers. So far, we’ve provided new tax credits, loan guarantees, and investments that will lead to more than 800,000 clean energy jobs by 2012. And throughout America, communities are being rebuilt by people working in hundreds of thousands of new private sector jobs repairing our roads, bridges, and railways.

Our economic plan is also aimed at strengthening the middle-class. That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions of students, and why we’re making a new commitment to our community colleges. And that’s why we passed health insurance reform that will stop insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage based on an illness or pre-existing condition.

This is our economic plan – smart investments in America’s small businesses, America’s clean energy industry, and America’s middle-class. Now, I can’t tell you that this plan will bring back all the jobs we lost and restore our economy to full strength overnight. The truth is, it took nearly a decade of failed economic policies to create this mess, and it will take years to fully repair the damage. But I am confident that we are finally headed in the right direction. We are moving forward. And what we can’t afford right now is to go back to the same ideas that created this mess in the first place.

Unfortunately, those are the ideas we keep hearing from our friends in the other party. This week, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives offered his plan to create jobs. It’s a plan that’s surprisingly short, and sadly familiar.

First, he would repeal health insurance reform, which would take away tax credits from millions of small business owners, and take us back to the days when insurance companies had free rein to drop coverage and jack up premiums. Second, he would say no to new investments in clean energy, after his party already voted against the clean energy tax credits and loans that are creating thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses. And third, even though his party voted against tax cuts for middle-class families, he would permanently keep in place the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans – the same tax cuts that have added hundreds of billions to our debt.

These are not new ideas. They are the same policies that led us into this recession. They will not create jobs, they will kill them. They will not reduce our deficit, they will add $1 trillion to our deficit. They will take us backward at a time when we need to keep America moving forward.

I know times are tough. I know that the progress we’ve made isn’t good enough for the millions of Americans who are still out of work or struggling to pay the bills. But I also know the character of this nation. I know that in times of great challenge and difficulty, we don’t fear the future – we shape the future. We harness the skills and ingenuity of the most dynamic country on Earth to reach a better day. We do it with optimism, and we do it with confidence. That’s the spirit we need right now, and that’s the future I know we can build together.
Thank you.

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21
Jul
10

Obama signs historic finance reform bill

NEWS
Obama signs historic finance reform bill
Historic financial overhaul signed to law by Obama

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the most sweeping reform of the U.S. finance industry since the 1930s, promising U.S. taxpayers would no longer get the bill for Wall Street excess.

The legislation, which some Republicans have pledged to repeal, introduces new consumer protections, checks the power of big banks and cracks down on deceptive practices by credit card firms.

“Because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes. There will be no more tax-funded bailouts,” Obama promised.

Seeking to restore public confidence in his economic leadership as unemployment flirts with double digits, Obama said the bill would repair the fractures and abuses of which the financial meltdown was born.

“It was a crisis born of a failure of responsibility from certain corners of Wall Street to the halls of power in Washington,” said Obama, before adding the legacy-boosting law to his huge health care reform passed earlier this year.

“These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” Obama said, before signing the new law, passed by Congress last week.

“These protections will be enforced by a new consumer watchdog with just one job: looking out for people – not big banks, not lenders, not investment houses.”

The financial reform bill finally squeezed through Congress with just a handful of Republican votes, as the opposition party continued with its policy of trying to block Obama’s ambitious reform program at all costs.

Republican leaders on Wednesday condemned the new law, saying it would crimp growth, and handcuff the might of America’s financial titans.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele accused Obama of trying to convince “sceptical Americans that he is doing everything he can to lower unemployment.”

“President Obama has signed into law a 2300 page behemoth that will saddle the business community with innumerable unintended consequences, tighter credit, and countless job-killing regulations,” Steele said.

Obama, facing record low approval ratings in some polls, hopes the financial reforms will eventually become popular, but much of the bill, like the health care bill, is so complicated that it will not come into force for months.

For instance, it will be up to a year before a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is set up to protect American consumers from hidden fees and deceptive lending practices when they get a new mortgage or credit card.

It could be 18 months before new regulations emerge to stop banks from engaging in impermissible proprietary trading and investment in hedge funds – under the Volcker rule, named after former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.

In a bid to highlight the help the bill will grant to the middle classes, Obama was joined at the signing ceremony by several Americans who suffered unfair treatment at the hands of credit card firms and banks.

The legislation closes loopholes in regulations and requires greater transparency and accountability for hedge funds, mortgage brokers and payday lenders, as well as arcane financial instruments called derivatives.

The measure has drawn praise but also skepticism from economists and analysts.

The bill “addresses a number of key weaknesses in the U.S. financial regulatory structure that led to the financial meltdown in 2008 and early 2009,” said Brian Bethune at IHS Global Insight.

But Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial warned that much of the impact is not known.

“We will have more regulators overseeing – but not necessarily averting – risk, and with a bill so large and undefined, we are likely to get more, in terms of unintended than intended consequences, going forward,” she said.

The law is likely to generate heated debate ahead of congressional elections in November as Republicans call for its reversal.

House Republican leader John Boehner said recently the law “ought to be repealed” and replaced with “common-sense things that we should do to plug the holes in the regulatory system.”
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19
Jul
10

Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now

NEWS
Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now
President Obama Pushes for Up-or-Down Vote on Help for Our Laid Off Friends & Neighbors

Monday, July 19, 2010

President Barack Obama tore into congressional Republicans on Monday for blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, arguing that a “partisan minority” had allowed short-term political calculations to trump genuine economic need.

The Senate is set to consider a bill Tuesday that would extend the deadline to file for unemployment benefits through the end of November. The bill would cost $33 billion in additional deficit spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s time to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work and extend unemployment insurance,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

He accused Senate Republicans for “holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.”

The bill, formally known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation, is a U.S. federal government program which assists states in providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who have been laid off due to no fault of their own.

The legislation, which has already cleared the House of Representatives on July 1, would retroactively restore benefits to recipients who as early as the end of May may have started losing their benefits. The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure on Tuesday.

Republicans have successfully blocked the bill from clearing the Senate for three times, quoting the additional budgetary burden as their main concern.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stressed Sunday that Republicans are “all for extending unemployment insurance” but not in favor of deficit spending.

“They’ve taken the deficit as a percentage of GDP from 3.2 percent to almost 10 percent in a year and a half,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Somewhere in the course of spending a trillion dollars, we ought to be able to find enough to pay for a program for the unemployed.”

Obama also urged the Senate to act this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, the two other legislative priorities Obama and Democrats agreed to last week following the passage of the financial regulation bill.

Good morning, everybody. Right now, across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, they’re scanning the classifieds, they’re updating their resumes or sending out another job application, hoping that this time they’ll hear back from a potential employer. And they’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will entirely free them of those worries – the only thing that will fully lift that sense of uncertainty – is the security of a new job.

To that end, we all have to continue our efforts to do everything in our power to spur growth and hiring. And I hope the Senate acts this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, where most of America’s jobs are created.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that we are digging ourselves out of this tough economic hole that we’ve been in. But even as we work to jumpstart job growth in the private sector, even as we work to get businesses hiring again, we also have another responsibility: to offer emergency assistance to people who desperately need it – to Americans who’ve been laid off in this recession. We’ve got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families even as they’re looking for another job.

That’s why it’s so essential to pass the unemployment insurance extension that comes up for a vote tomorrow. We need to pass it for men like Jim Chukalas, who’s with me here today. Jim worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. He’s posted resumes everywhere. He’s gone door-to-door looking for jobs. But he hasn’t gotten a single interview. He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do.

We need to pass it for women like Leslie Macko, who lost her job at a fitness center last year and has been looking for work ever since. Because she’s eligible for only a few more weeks of unemployment, she’s doing what she never thought she’d have to do – not at this point, anyway. She’s turning to her father for financial support.

And we need to pass it for Americans like Denise Gibson, who was laid off from a real estate agency earlier this year. Denise has been interviewing for jobs – but so far nothing has turned up. Meanwhile, she’s fallen further and further behind on her rent. And with her unemployment benefits set to expire, she’s worried about what the future holds.

We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven’t been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening; who need emergency relief to help them pay the rent and cover their utilities and put food on the table while they’re looking for another job.

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition – under both Democratic and Republican Presidents – to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits – benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work – are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried – not once, not twice, but three times – to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings – Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise – they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now – and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right – not for the next election but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times. And that’s what I hope members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will do tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

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19
Jul
10

Engineers detect seepage near BP oil well

NEWS
Engineers detect seepage near BP oil well

Monday, July 19, 2010

Earth

••• The U.S. government has raised concern over seepage near the Gulf of Mexico oil well but stopped short of asking BP to remove the cap which has halted the gushing crude for the first time since April.

BP had earlier acknowledged some bubbles appeared near the wellhead but expressed optimism that the cap could stay on, saying tests were ‘encouraging’ after three days and that a final solution was in sight.

But tensions emerged as the government’s pointman on the worst environmental disaster in US history ordered the energy giant to report swiftly on a ‘detected seep’ and ‘anomalies’ near the well head as experts monitored the seabed for cracks.

‘Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period,’ Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said in a letter to BP chief managing director Bob Dudley.
Allen ordered BP to report to the government in no more than four hours when seeps are detected, and said BP must lay out its next steps in writing for ‘opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed’.

Hydrocarbons occur naturally in crude oil, and their detection could mean that oil is seeping out from the area around the well, which began gushing oil after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 and capsized two days later, killing 11 workers.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, BP’s chief operating officer Doug Suttles said pressure was rising slowly in the well, as expected, and touted ‘encouraging signs’ that would allow the newly placed cap to remain on the well until a permanent ‘kill’ operation takes place in August.

‘In two different locations we’ve seen a few bubbles. This is not uncommon but clearly it’s important that we check everything very closely so we’re monitoring that,’ Suttles said.
The U.S. government was granting extensions to exhaustive well tests on a 24-hour basis, while BP said the valves on the containment cap that is staunching the flow would remain shut as long as no leaks are discovered.

‘Clearly we don’t want to reinitiate flow into the Gulf if we don’t have to,’ said Suttles.

Three days of respite from the unsettling images of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico raised hopes among residents that this could mark the beginning of the end of what estimates suggest is the biggest oil spill ever.

The start of the two-week operation to plug the well permanently by pumping in heavy drilling fluids and then cement is now less than two weeks away as engineers have only 98 feet left vertically to drill.

Gulf residents, who have seen the relentless flow of crude tarnish their shorelines and cripple the local economy, reacted cautiously to news that the cap was holding back the crude, wary of being given false hope after weeks of botched BP operations.

‘I don’t know if it’s going help. It’s still a short-term fix,’ New Orleans resident and medical researcher Ashok Pullikuth told AFP. ‘The permanent fix is the relief wells. This cap has saved a month’s worth of spill damage.’
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17
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress

NEWS
Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress
President Obama Says GOP Senate Leadership Choosing to “Filibuster Our Recovery and Obstruct Our Progress”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In this week’s address, the President criticized the Republican leadership in the Senate for opposing initiatives which that would create jobs and strengthen the economy like cutting taxes for small businesses and extending unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession. Aiding small businesses and renewing unemployment insurance are not just the right things to do for those hit hardest by the recession, they are steps that will help strengthen the recovery. When crises strike Main Street, the President believes it’s important to put aside politics and act in the best interests of American families and small businesses.

This week, many of our largest corporations reported robust earnings – a positive sign of growth.

But too many of our small business owners and those who aspire to start their own small businesses continue to struggle, in part because they can’t get the credit they need to start up, grow, and hire. And too many Americans whose livelihoods have fallen prey to the worst recession in our lifetimes – a recession that cost our economy eight million jobs – still wonder how they’ll make ends meet.

That’s why we need to take new, commonsense steps to help small businesses, grow our economy, and create jobs – and we need to take them now.

For months, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. But too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences.

Consider what that obstruction means for our small businesses – the growth engines that create two of every three new jobs in this country. A lot of small businesses still have trouble getting the loans and capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. So we proposed steps to get them that help: Eliminating capital gains taxes on investments. Establishing a fund for small lenders to help small businesses. Enhancing successful SBA programs that help them access the capital they need.

But again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said “no,” and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote.

Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who’ve lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire. For many, it was the only way to make ends meet while searching for work – the only way to cover rent, utilities, even food.

Three times, the Senate has tried to temporarily extend that emergency assistance. And three times, a minority of Senators – basically the same crowd who said “no” to small businesses – said “no” to folks looking for work, and blocked a straight up-or-down vote.

Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it’s a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I’ve met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven’t met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already knows how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.

Now in the past, Presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is – an emergency expenditure. That’s because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado.

Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn’t provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help. And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.

Well, I think these Senators are wrong. We can’t afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess. We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess.

The fact is, most economists agree that extending unemployment insurance is one of the single most cost-effective ways to help jumpstart the economy. It puts money into the pockets of folks who not only need it most, but who also are most likely to spend it quickly. That boosts local economies. And that means jobs.

Increasing loans to small business. Renewing unemployment insurance. These steps aren’t just the right thing to do for those hardest hit by the recession – they’re the right thing to do for all of us. And I’m calling on Congress once more to take these steps on behalf of America’s workers, and families, and small business owners – the people we were sent here to serve.

Because when storms strike Main Street, we don’t play politics with emergency aid. We don’t desert our fellow Americans when they fall on hard times. We come together. We do what we can to help. We rebuild stronger, and we move forward. That’s what we’re doing today. And I’m absolutely convinced that’s how we’re going to come through this storm to better days ahead.

Thanks.

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• Source(s): The White House
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13
Jul
10

BP confirms placing new cap over oil leak in Gulf of Mexico

NEWS
BP confirms placing new cap over oil leak in Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Earth

••• BP has confirmed it has successfully placed a new cap over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, hoping the giant valve will seal the well or contain all the gushing crude.

BP officials said on Monday evening the cap was mounted on the well after two days of preparing the site and a day of slowly lowering it into place.
The company plans to run tests, starting on Tuesday, to see if the cap can withstand pressure.

‘It is expected, although cannot be assured, that no oil will be released to the ocean for the duration of the test,’ the oil giant said in a statement, adding however that it would not indicate if the flow had permanently stopped.
The old cap, removed on Saturday, did not have a tight fit and allowed crude to escape.

The new cap will enable BP to capture all the oil and funnel it up to ships.

BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well for a permanent fix.
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