August 5, 2010

  • Senate confirms Kagan for US Supreme Court
  • Republicans push to strip birthright citizenship in constitution
  • Study says health care reform to save billions in Medicare
  • Fight over California same sex marriage ban set for higher courts
  • Report says oil companies played role in war crimes during Sudan’s civil war

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BP moves ahead with static kill; clean-up efforts continue at Enbridge oil spill site in Michigan
BP today began pumping cement into its Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is the second phase in the so-called static kill method of stopping the flow of oil into the gulf.  So far government and oil officials say the latest kill attempt has been successful.

Workers in Michigan are still attempting to contain the oil spilled two weeks ago into the Kalamazoo River.  The leak began in the small town of Marshall when an oil pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge breached.  More than 1 million gallons of crude oil spilled into a creek, then flowed into the Kalamazoo River.  EPA officials say that the spill has spread 30 miles.

“We’re moving from crisis to clean up, again slowly, day by day here.”

Mark Durno is with the EPA.  He says Enbridge has managed to remove 2 acres of highly contaminated soil from the immediate spill site.

“Two out of five acres have been reported to be excavated.  And again this is gross contamination-this isn’t full clean up.  This is just getting the heavily oiled soil moved so it no longer threatens water.  Right now in the emergency phase, we are primarily concerned with human health and protecting the river and the stream.”

The EPA has twice rejected the company’s plan for analyzing and sampling the spill.

Lawyers in Michigan have now launched a class action lawsuit against Enbridge.  The company has offered to buy affected properties along the river.


Environmentalists file suit to block construction of new coal plant in Arkansas
Environmentalists are asking a judge to halt construction of a $1.7 billion coal-fired power plant in southwest Arkansas.  The groups are contesting a water permit they say was issued without proper environmental consideration.  For FSRN, Malcolm Glover in Little Rock has the details.

Lawyers for Audubon Arkansas and the Sierra Club were in federal court Wednesday to request a temporary restraining order for the plant being built by Southwestern Electric Power Company, or SWEPCO.  Plant opponents want the court to overturn the water permit issued to SWEPCO by the US Army Corps of Engineers because they say continued construction would harm surrounding wetlands and endangered species.  Richard Mays, the lawyer for the environmental groups, says even though the plant is already half-built, the permit can still be invalidated.

“If the permits invalidated that’s because SWEPCO assumed the risk of that being done when they started construction.  There are a lot of cases that say that if construction is started before permits are issued then they have to tear it down if the court finds it was not authorized.”

SWEPCO’s President and CEO Venita McClellan-Allen says the suit is a sign of desperation.

“The review of the permit went on for two and a half years. There was full participation by the public and the parties.”

This hearing was the latest battle for the plant, which was chastised by the state Supreme Court in May for not going through the proper permitting process.  Since then, SWEPCO has said it will not seek Arkansas regulatory approval of the plant and instead sell electricity to customers in Louisiana and Texas.  Even though the plant is on Arkansas soil, the state’s regulatory law allows power companies to avoid certain permitting processes if they plan to sell their product out of state.  Malcolm Glover, FSRN, Little Rock.

Florida hopes to buy 27k acres of private land for Everglades restoration
The state of Florida has once again scaled back a plan to purchase fragile Everglades land from a sugar manufacturer.  The new compromise would transfer 27,000 acres from US Sugar Corporation to the state – that’s down from the 180,000 acres proposed by Florida in 2008.  The newest deal sill gives the state the option to buy the entire acreage.  The state cut back on the amount it would purchase because of declining tax revenues and legal challenges.

Just last week, UNESCO returned the Everglades to its “World Heritage in Danger” list.  Agriculture and other development has led to a 60% loss of water flow, according to Audubon of Florida, and the resulting pollution levels have caused the decline of local ecosystems.  The land purchase by the state of Florida would allow for restoration of at least some of that water flow and filtration.  Final vote on the deal will come next Thursday.


Kenya’s constitutional referendum passes
Results from yesterday’s referendum vote in Kenya show voters there approved a new constitution by a landslide.  FSRN’s Mohammed Yusuf reports from Nairobi.

Partial results announced by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission show 68% of voters have backed the new constitution.  Earlier today opposition groups conceded defeat, paving way for a peaceful transition.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga led government ministers and members of parliament in a victory celebration today.  The President promised to complete the journey.

“The successful and peaceful conclusion of this referendum shows our democratic institution has come of age.”

The new constitution would go into effect 14 days after the Electoral Commission confirms the result.  Mohammed Yusuf, FSRN, Nairobi.



Senate confirms Kagan for US Supreme Court
The Senate has confirmed Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court. The vote was 63-37. And it was largely partisan.

Kagan is the current solicitor general and former dean of Harvard law school. A position that has caused some consternation among Republicans. While there, Kagan banned military recruiters from the law school’s campus during a period of time when an appeals court ruled that it was unconstitutional to provide federal funding in exchange for military access to campus.

Republicans who opposed her nomination also cited the second amendment. Ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee Jeff Sessions:

“Most Americans are totally unaware, perhaps, that the second amendment and the power of the second amendment hangs by a mere thread. Two five to four decisions recently have affirmed the second amendment but had that vote been different, one justice voting a different way.”

Senator Chris Dodd says Kagan is the 13th Justice he has voted on.

“Across the entire spectrum, during her nomination process I think revealed her to be a person of upmost integrity, professionalism and sound judgment. They also revealed I think a key aspect of her legal philosophy, a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law.”

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to come out against Kagan.

With the confirmation, Kagan will sit on the court when it convenes in the fall and join Ruth Ginsberg and Sonya Sotomayor as the third woman on the court.


Republicans push to strip birthright citizenship in constitution
The debate over immigration has reached a new level. Some Republican Senators are calling for the repeal of part of the Constitution. They propose removing the right to citizenship for those born in the US, which is part of the 14th amendment. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell takes a look at the history of the amendment and the politics around the latest call.


Study says health care reform to save billions in Medicare
As lawmakers in both parties are trying to tackle the nation’s growing deficit, a new report shows the health care reform law will save Medicare billions of dollars. That brought muted cheers from officials in the Obama Administration because they know tough choices lie ahead for trimming the deficit. Matt Laslo reports from Washington.


Fight over California same sex marriage ban set for higher courts
Today, opponents of same sex marriage in California formally filed an appeal to a ruling by a federal judge that overturned the state’s Proposition 8. On Wednesday, US District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the state’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The decision led to celebrations for some, including Robin Tyler and Diane Olsen, the first gay couple to get married in Los Angeles County. They spoke to reporter Dan Fritz in West Hollywood.

“When I heard I just broke down crying because it was the correct decision. It’s unconstitutional for a majority to vote away the rights of a minority.”

The appeal to Judge Walker’s decision today was expected and sets up a court battle that could find its way to the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Walker ordered both sides to submit written arguments by Friday, before he requires a stay of the ban, which would allow same sex marriages to take place.

To get more details of the ruling and the process ahead we’re joined by Herma Hill Kay, Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert in marriage law and civil unions.



Report says oil companies played role in war crimes during Sudan’s civil war
Several international oil companies may have had a role in war crimes during Sudan’s two decade long civil war. That’s according to a report released by a coalition of 50 non-governmental organizations belonging to The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan. The report details international crimes committed during a military campaign to secure oil fields led by Sudan’s government. FSRN’s Miles Ashdown reports from Sudan.