Posts Tagged ‘Democrats



12
Jul
10

Oil spill hopes raise with BP’s latest effort to fix it

NEWS
Oil spill hopes raise with BP’s latest effort to fix it

Monday, July 12, 2010

Earth••• BP reported good progress on its high-stakes effort to fully contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak by fixing a tighter cap over the giant gusher.

Operations have reached a critical phase as engineers race to take advantage of a stretch of fine weather in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season to install a new system with the potential to capture all the leaking crude.

Expected to take between four and seven days, the round-the-clock work began at midday on Saturday when the old, less efficient cap was ripped off a fractured pipe 1.6km down on the sea floor by robotic submarines.

‘We are pleased with our progress,’ BP Vice President Kent Wells told journalists almost 24 hours in. ‘We have carefully planned and practised this whole procedure. We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can.’

Sunday’s operations saw a transition spool being lowered into place which must be bolted onto the leaking pipe before a gigantic funnel – weighing 68 tonnes and dubbed the ‘Top Hat 10’ – can be installed.

The old ‘Top Hat’ system collected roughly 25,000 barrels of crude every day, but estimates suggest that could be less than half the leak.

BP says the new cap and the deployment of a third containment ship called the Helix Producer will raise the system’s capacity to between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels a day, enough to capture all the leaking oil.

The new system has also been designed so it can be disconnected and reconnected more easily in the case of a hurricane and has a built-in device that should give the first precise estimate of the overall flow.
No permanent solution is expected until mid-August at the earliest when the first of two relief wells is due to be completed – allowing drilling fluids to be injected into the well, which would then be sealed with cement.

The decision to remove the old cap and allow most of the oil to pour unchecked into the sea was approved by Admiral Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief leading the US government’s response to the disaster.

Although the removal of the cap forced the suspension of the main containment operation, a separate siphoning system is taking a smaller proportion of the oil to be flared off on a surface vessel.

Wells said two more ships would join a fleet of 46 skimming vessels scooping up oil off the sea and said 15 controlled burns of the surface crude had been carried out on Saturday.

Oil has washed up on beaches in all five Gulf states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – forcing fishing grounds to be closed and threatening scores of coastal communities with financial ruin.

The man charged with doling out compensation to victims of the spill said he could not estimate whether the initial $20 billion fund set up by BP would be enough to pay compensation claims.

‘If they are eligible, we will give them up to six months emergency (compensation),’ Kenneth Feinberg told CNN, adding: ‘I can’t help people if they don’t file.’

Many fishermen and others who work in the Gulf get paid in cash and do not have paperwork to back up their claims. Some are also worried that if they ask for compensation, the government will seek taxes for previous income.
While the containment effort and the claims process continued apace, the attorney general said the Justice Department was also still considering whether to bring criminal charges against the culprit or culprits.

‘The investigation is ongoing. We are in the process of accumulating documents, talking to witnesses on both the criminal side and the civil side,’ Eric Holder told CBS’s Face the Nation program.

Holder was quick to stress that when he announced the probe on June 1, he had been careful not to mention BP by name as it was not the only party involved with the Deepwater Horizon rig.

At congressional hearings back in May, BP, rig owner Transocean and oil services provider Halliburton blamed each other for the spill as executives from all three oil titans were grilled by U.S. lawmakers.

The man charged with doling out BP’s compensation to victims of the Gulf oil spill said on Sunday he is prepared to pay up to six months of expenses in advance, but getting people to file claims is a struggle.

Kenneth Feinberg told CNN he wanted to provide ‘some degree of financial certainty’, to people who have found their livelihoods hurt by the massive oil spill. ‘If they are eligible, we will give them up to six months emergency (compensation).’

But, he lamented, ‘I can’t help people if they don’t file.’

Many of the fishermen and others who work in the Gulf region regularly get paid in cash and do not have paperwork to back up their claims of lost income. They are also worried that if they ask for compensation, the government will seek taxes for previous income.

The BP-leased rig exploded on April 20 killing 11 workers. It sank two days later, unleashing the nation’s worst ever environmental disaster.
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07
Jul
10

Oil comes ashore in Texas as BP dismisses money fears

NEWS
Oil comes ashore in Texas as BP dismisses money fears

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Earth••• Clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill extended Tuesday to Texas and Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, as BP dismissed reports of deeper financial woes.

Officials said crews collected tar balls and waste from Lake Pontchartrain, the vast estuary near New Orleans, as rough weather continued to hamper the containment and skimming effort near the spill site in the Gulf.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the huge spill was now threatening all the states along the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas and that rough seas since the passage of Hurricane Alex had hurt the effort.

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year passed through the Gulf of Mexico last week without too much alarm for the oil containment efforts, but Allen said two nearby storm systems were being closely watched.

‘We’re watching very, very closely the swells and waves that might be generated by this current storm system,’ he said.

‘Sometime in the seven to 10 days we’ll look for a window of opportunity to put the containment cap on at the same time we will go on and continue with the drilling of the relief well.’
A BP spokeswoman in London denied the firm was planning to sell new stock to a strategic investor to raise money, amid reports the British government is working on a crisis plan if the company is sunk by the disaster.

‘We are not issuing any new equity,’ she said. ‘We welcome new shareholders to come onto the shareholder register and we welcome existing shareholders who want to take a bigger amount of shares.’

The Times newspaper in London reported that officials at the Department of Business and the Treasury were already considering contingencies for BP’s potential collapse.

‘It is not clear how bad this will get, but the government needs to be prepared for any eventuality,’ an anonymous source said to be familiar with the talks was quoted as saying.

BP has forked out some $3.12 billion in spill-related costs and has promised to pay another $20 billion into an escrow fund to compensate Americans affected by the spill.

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers, unleashing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
On Sunday, tar balls from the spill arrived on beaches in Texas, more than 310 miles away, though it was unclear how the crude got there.

Tests showed they did come from the BP Deepwater Horizon well but scientists and officials were working to determine if they arrived in Texas by currents or via ships operating in the vicinity of the well head.

The tar balls in Lake Pontchartrain were also being tested.

Some 492 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline has been oiled, and fishing ground closures and tourist cancellations threaten financial ruin for residents who have reacted angrily to BP’s failure to cap the spill.

Up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day is believed to be leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, far outpacing the collection efforts of a system that is capturing around 25,000 barrels a day.

Officials hope to more than double that capacity to some 53,000 barrels a day by hooking up a third containment vessel, the Helix Producer, to the system that captures and siphons away the crude.

‘There is a partial hookup right now and they can sustain that unless they have really severe sea states,’ said Allen, the U.S. official coordinating the spill response.

‘We won’t know for several hours whether they’re able to do it. It currently is a work in progress.’
Officials were also testing a mega-tanker, A Whale, which could boost efforts to skim spilled crude from the sea surface.

The ship is believed to be able to suck up to 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through its ‘jaws’, a series of vents on the side of the ship.

By comparison, more than 500 smaller vessels in 10 weeks have only managed to collect some 31.3 million gallons of oil-water mix between them and high waves forced most of the boats to halt operations on Tuesday.

It will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the ruptured well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.

The high end of the oil leak estimates means it has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout, which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.
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04
Jul
10

Rough seas halt U.S. spill clean-up as crews test mega-skimmer

NEWS
Rough seas halt U.S. spill clean-up as crews test mega-skimmer

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Earth••• Clean-up work resumed in some areas of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but heavy swells kept many boats docked, halting efforts to fight the ecological disaster.

A Taiwanese mega-skimmer dubbed the ‘A Whale’ was in position near the site of the leak and set to undergo 48 hours of ‘proof of concept’ testing, Coast Guard spokeswoman Ayla Kelley said.
The 903 feet long tanker can vacuum up 21 million gallons of oily water a day, separating oil from water and spitting the seawater back out.

Small skimming boats that have been patrolling the Gulf for the past 10 weeks have only collected 28.2 million gallons of oily water to date, and rough weather made seas off Louisiana too choppy for them to even go out on Saturday.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker at a Houma, Louisiana information centre said crews were resetting protective booms along fragile coastal areas, but skimming and controlled burns of spilled crude had been halted.

However, around the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of uninhabited barrier islands and wildlife refuge at Louisiana’s easternmost point, boom and skimming operations resumed on Friday, said a representative of Admiral Thad Allen, the top official overseeing the spill response.

‘These are the most environmentally sensitive areas. The good news is that we saw only light oil and there were hundreds of boats working in the area resetting boom and skimming,’ rear admiral Paul Zunkunft told reporters after he flew over the islands.

‘The areas are critical to defend because they are home to turtles, shrimp and other wildlife,’ Zukunft said.
Despite containment efforts, he warned: ‘We are not out of the woods yet.’

An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day has gushed from the ruptured well since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank on April 22, some 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

A containment system has captured about 557,000 barrels of oil, but rough seas delayed the deployment of a third vessel that could boost capacity from 25,000 barrels to 53,000 barrels a day.

That means an estimated 1.9 to 3.6 million barrels – or 79.5 to 153 million gallons – of oil has now gushed into the Gulf.

Using the high end of that estimate, the spill has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout, which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels (140,000 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.
And it will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the Gulf well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.
Skimmers had been collecting about 12,000 barrels of oil a day before they were sent back to port after Hurricane Alex whipped up waves earlier this week, while about 8,000 barrels of oil was being burned off the surface.
But the spill has so far oiled at least 450 miles of U.S. shorelines, 74 days into the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Admiral Allen said he hoped to have the third containment vessel, the Helix Producer, in place by Wednesday.

Once the Producer is working, officials will also have a better sense of just how much crude is leaking, ‘just by the visual evidence of how much oil is actually coming out around that cap’, Allen said.

They will then have to decide if the existing system should stay in place, or if it would be best to undergo a risky procedure to replace the cap with another system capable of capturing up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.

‘The decision window associated with that would be sometime in the next, I would say, seven to 10 days,’ Allen said in a conference call on Friday.

In addition to boosting capacity, the new system would also greatly reduce the amount of time oil could gush freely into the sea if crews had to evacuate due to a bad storm.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson was headed to Pensacola, Florida to oversee coastal clean-up operations in the state, where tourist draws Miami and the Florida Keys face the likelihood of fouled beaches.
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30
Jun
10

Obama slams Republicans over BP ‘apology’ and economy

NEWS
Obama slams Republicans over BP ‘apology’ and economy

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

••• U.S. President Barack Obama lampooned Republicans over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Wednesday, seeking to turn a disaster that has been a political liability for him into a political weapon.

Obama cited a gaffe by a leading Republican politician who said the US government’s hardline tactics were a ‘tragedy’ for BP, to lambast the opposition party as the pace heats up ahead of November’s mid-term elections.

He said some Republicans opposed raising the legal cap on liabilities BP must pay to clean-up America’s worst environmental disaster and a $20 billion BP escrow compensation fund for businesses victimised by it.

‘The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologise to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund,’ Obama said in remarks released by the White House prior to a presidential event in Wisconsin.

‘Apologise to BP! He actually called the fund a tragedy. A tragedy? A tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now.

‘That’s the tragedy. And our government has a responsibility to hold the corporations accountable that caused it. They want to take us backwards. We want to move forward.’

Democrats are mercilessly using comments by Republican Representative Joe Barton, who offered them a golden opening by apologising to BP for the escrow fund, which he called a $20 billion White House ‘shakedown’ of BP.

Barton has retracted the remarks, and his party leaders have condemned them, but the comments are bound to be seized upon often by Democrats in the run-up to November’s congressional polls, in which the party fears heavy losses.
Obama’s switch to full bore politicking mode over the oil spill reflects the way both political parties will try to use the disaster for political advantage. Republicans have accused Obama of being too passive in the crisis.

Recent polling give the president poor to moderate ratings on how he has handled the oil spill, though his management of the crisis is much preferred by Americans to the performance over BP during the disaster.

Forty-four per cent of those asked in a Gallup poll this month approved of Obama’s efforts, while 48 per cent disapproved.

BP and other oil firms are currently bound under U.S. law to pay all related clean-up costs from a spill, but the limit on liability for compensation and other claims is set at $75 million.

Democratic efforts to raise the cap took another step forward on Wednesday as the Senate Environment and Public Works committee approved a bill retroactively removing the cap for BP.

The bill now heads to the full chamber for debate.

‘As we see the images and read the stories from the Gulf Coast night after night, it could not be clearer that coastal families and taxpayers are the ones who need protection, not oil companies,’ the bill’s sponsor Robert Menendez said.
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15
May
10

Weekly Address: Wall Street Reform & Main Street

NEWS
Weekly Address: Wall Street Reform & Main Street

President Obama “Wall Street Reform Will Bring Greater Security to Folks on Main Street”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama discussed how reforming Wall Street will strengthen Main Street. The reform bill moving through Congress will empower and protect American families with the strongest consumer financial protections in history, level the playing field for community banks by making sure all lenders are subject to tough oversight, and strengthen small businesses by curbing excessive risk taking on Wall Street, which will help protect credit for our small businesses. As the economy recovers in the short term, we need to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity for the long term. This bill helps to do just that.

On Thursday, I paid a visit to a small business in Buffalo, New York, a town that’s been hard hit in recent decades. I heard from folks about the struggles they’ve been facing for longer than they care to remember. And I talked with them about what my administration is doing to help our families, our small businesses, and our economy rebound from this recession.

Jumpstarting job creation in the private sector and fostering a climate that encourages businesses to hire again is vitally important – and I’ll continue working hard to make sure that happens. But my responsibility as President isn’t just to help our economy rebound from this recession – it’s to make sure an economic crisis like the one that helped trigger this recession never happens again.

That’s what Wall Street reform will help us do. In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the reform bill currently making its way through Congress. There’s been a lot of discussion about technical aspects of the bill, and a lot of heated – and frankly, sometimes misleading – rhetoric coming from opponents of reform.

All of this has helped obscure what reform would actually mean for you, the American people. So, I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about why every American has a stake in Wall Street reform.

First and foremost, you have a stake in it if you’ve ever been treated unfairly by a credit card company, misled by pages and pages of fine print, or ended up paying fees and penalties you’d never heard of before. And you have a stake in it if you’ve ever tried to take out a home loan, a car loan, or a student loan, and been targeted by the predatory practices of unscrupulous lenders.

The Wall Street reform bill in Congress represents the strongest consumer financial protections in history. You’ll be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make the choices that are best for you. We’ll help stop predatory practices, and curb unscrupulous lenders, helping secure your family’s financial future.

That’s why families have a stake in it. And our community banks also have a stake in reform. These are banks we count on to provide the capital that lets our small businesses hire and grow.

The way the system is currently set up, these banks are at a disadvantage because while they are often playing by the rules, many of their less scrupulous competitors are not. So, what reform will do is help level the playing field by making sure all our lenders – not just community banks – are subject to tough oversight. That’s good news for our community banks, which is why we’ve received letters from some of these banks in support of reform.

What’s true for our community banks is also true for small businessmen and women like the ones I met in Buffalo. These small businesses were some of the worst victims of the excessive risk-taking on Wall Street that led to this crisis. Their credit dried up. They had to let people go. Some even shut their doors altogether. And unless we put in place real safeguards, we could see it happen all over again.

That’s why Wall Street reform is so important. With reform, we’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy. And we’ll give shareholders more of a say on pay to help change the perverse incentives that encouraged reckless risk-taking in the first place. Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street.

The stories I heard in Buffalo this week were a reminder that, despite the progress we’ve made, we need to keep working hard, so we can build on that progress and rebound from this recession in the short-term. But even as we do, we also need to lay a new foundation for growth and shared prosperity over the long-term.

Next week, we have a chance to help lay a cornerstone in that foundation. The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system – no bill could. But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century.

• Source(s): The White House
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01
May
10

Weekly Address: Giving Government Back to the American People

NEWS
Weekly Address: Giving Government Back to the American People

President Obama Calls on Congress to Enact Reforms to Stop a ‘Potential Corporate Takeover of Our Elections’

Saturday, May 1, 2010

In the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, which gives special interests, corporations – and potentially foreign nationals – the power to spend unlimited money to influence the outcome of elections, President Barack Obama called on Congress to enact reforms to limit this power and protect the integrity of our democracy. With these reforms, campaign committees will have to reveal who is funding them, and their leaders or financers will have to claim responsibility for their ads. Also, the reforms will restrict foreign corporations and foreign nationals from spending money in American elections. These reforms will help ensure the government works for the American people, not the special interests.

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve debated reforms to hold Wall Street accountable and protect consumers and small businesses in our financial system, we’ve come face-to-face with the great power of special interests in the workings of our democracy. Of course, this isn’t a surprise. Every time a major issue arises, we’ve come to expect that an army of lobbyists will descend on Capitol Hill in the hopes of tilting the laws in their favor.

That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington. And that’s why, since the day I took office, my administration has been taking steps to reform the system. Recently, however, the Supreme Court issued a decision that overturned decades of law and precedent – dealing a huge blow to our efforts to rein in this undue influence. In short, this decision gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money – literally millions of dollars – to affect elections throughout our country. This, in turn, will multiply their influence over decision-making in our government.

In the starkest terms, members will know – when pressured by lobbyists – that if they dare to oppose that lobbyist’s client, they could face an onslaught of negative advertisements in the run up to their next election. And corporations will be allowed to run these ads without ever having to tell voters exactly who is paying for them. At a time when the American people are already being overpowered in Washington by these forces, this will be a new and even more powerful weapon that the special interests will wield.

In fact, it’s exactly this kind of vast power that led a great Republican President – Teddy Roosevelt – to tackle this issue a century ago. He warned of the dangers of limitless corporate spending in our political system. He actually called it “one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.” And he proposed strict limits on corporate influence in elections. “Every special interest is entitled to justice,” he said. “but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.”

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, we face a similar challenge. That’s why it’s so important that Congress consider new reforms to prevent corporations and other special interests from gaining even more clout in Washington. And almost all of these reforms are designed to bring new transparency to campaign spending. They are based on the principle espoused by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis – that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Shadowy campaign committees would have to reveal who’s funding their activities to the American people. And when corporations and other special interests take to the airwaves, whoever is running and funding the ad would have to appear in the advertisement and claim responsibility for it – like a company’s CEO or an organization’s biggest contributor. This will mean citizens can evaluate the claims in these ads with information about an organization’s real motives.

We know how important this is. We’ve all seen groups with benign-seeming names sponsoring television commercials that make accusations and assertions designed to influence the public debate and sway voters’ minds. Now, of course every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard. But the American people also have the right to know when some group like “Citizens for a Better Future” is actually funded entirely by “Corporations for Weaker Oversight.”

In addition, these reforms would address another troubling aspect of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Under the bill Congress will consider, we’ll make sure that foreign corporations and foreign nationals are restricted from spending money to influence American elections, just as they were in the past – even through U.S. subsidiaries. And we’d keep large contractors that receive taxpayer funds from interfering in our elections as well, to avoid the appearance of corruption and the possible misuse of tax dollars.

Now, we can expect that these proposed changes will be met with heavy resistance from the special interests and their supporters in Congress. But I’m calling on leaders in both parties to resist these pressures. For what we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections. And what is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy. This shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an issue that goes to whether or not we will have a government that works for ordinary Americans – a government of, by, and for the people. That’s why these reforms are so important. And that’s why I’m going to fight to see them passed into law.

Thanks so much.

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28
Apr
10

Goldman’s defense? We’re misunderstood

NEWS
Goldman’s defense? We’re misunderstood

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Goldman Sachs on Tuesday denied reaping vast profits from the collapse of the U.S. housing market as its top executive and a star trader faced hostile questions in Congress over the 2008 financial meltdown.

In angry exchanges before a Senate investigative committee, the storied Wall Street firm was accused of fuelling a crisis that forced thousands of Americans from their homes and continues to ravage the U.S. economy.

Top Goldman Sachs officials have defended their conduct in the financial crisis, flatly disputing the government’s fraud allegations against the giant financial house. I did not mislead investors, insisted a trading executive at the heart of the government’s case.

But they ran into a wall of bipartisan wrath before a Senate panel investigating Goldman’s role in the financial crisis and the Securities and Exchange Commission fraud suit against it and one of its traders. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) accused Goldman on Tuesday of making risky financial bets.

About a half dozen protesters were in the committee room, dressed in prison stripes with names on signs around their necks of Fabrice Tourre, the only company official directly accused in the SEC suit, and Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who was also scheduled to testify.

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