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States Progressing With Hurricane Sandy Relief, As Congressional Vote Looms On Federal Aid

A ray of hope from the dysfunctional – though the U.S. House of Representatives has been dragging its feet over the last few months in making any decisions on Hurricane Sandy relief appropriations, there is a vote pending in the House next Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 regarding several extensive appropriation measures for long-term relief and rebuilding efforts.

Some the strongest appeals to Congress, especially to the House, to pass an appropriations package have come from New York and New Jersey – two of the hardest hit states.

Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sent several joint appeals (more like scathing criticism) to the House, among them saying that the “continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives [was] inexcusable” and that “President Obama put forth a responsible aid proposal that passed with a bi-partisan vote in the Senate while the House has failed to even bring it to the floor.”

As for the upcoming vote next week, the governors sent a joint letter to the House saying they are “trusting Congress to act accordingly on January 15th and pass the final $51 billion instrument for long-term rebuilding.”

Cataloging the damage caused by the hurricane across multiple states, Cuomo said:

Twenty-four U.S. states were in some way affected by Sandy. The storm killed at least 131 people in eight states, including at least 60 in New York, at least 35 in New Jersey, and dozens in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina combined.

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in our region, leading to billions in economic disruptions and losses.

Cuomo also rallied at the House that, “Every time there has been a storm or disaster even close to the size and scope of Sandy regardless of the region of the country, the House has approved billions of dollars in supplemental aid – $290 billion in total since 1989 as part of 35 separate supplemental appropriations bills. North, South, East, West, the House has always acted and acted quickly. Expect now.”

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Testing Of Self-Driving Vehicles On California Public Roads To Be Regulated By New State Law

The things of science fiction are increasingly becoming a reality, and if you’re anything like me, you keep an open mind, while still being a little wary.

The testing of automated (basically robotic) self-driving vehicles has quietly been going on in California for last several years, and only within the last few months has California Governor Edmond Brown signed a bill to regulate the activity.

The state says that it encourages the continued development, testing, and operation of these vehicles on state roads, but wants to ensure that it’s done “in a safe manner.”

The new regulations which are to be adopted “as soon as practical, but no later than Jan. 1, 2015,” are basically designed hit manufacturers in the wallet to ensure that they stay careful on the roads.

The new regulations would require the manufacturers of these vehicles – whose technology has been developed by Google – to meet obligations, including:

  • Submitting to the Department of Motor Vehicles evidence of either insurance, surety bond, or self-insurance in the amount of $5 million.

To understand a little more about these vehicles, they use computers, sensors, and other systems to allow them to operate without “the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.”

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EPA Seeking Public Comments On Proposal To Ban Boats From Dumping Sewage Into Lake Erie

In an effort to improve the water quality in Lake Erie and taking boaters needs account, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said, last week, that it has explored the issue and has made some “tentatively” determinations.

The EPA said that “there are adequate facilities around Lake Erie for boats to pump out their sewage, allowing for the establishment of a ‘no discharge zone’ for 593 square miles of the lake, its tributaries and bays, and 84 miles of shoreline that comprise the New York State portion of the lake.”

A small boat harbor on Lake Erie in Buffalo, NY. Stock photo from 123rf.com.

In more detail, the proposed no discharge zone includes waters from the Pennsylvania-New York State boundary, as well as the Upper Niagara River and harbors including Barcelona Harbor, Dunkirk Harbor, and the Buffalo Outer Harbor.

The no discharge zone – which was proposed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation – means that boats would be banned from discharging sewage into the water, and instead would have to dispose of their sewage at specially-designed pump-out stations.

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Despite Temporary Freeze, EU Regs on Foreign Airline Emissions Still Causing Worldwide Worries

Even with the European Union’s recent decision to defer airline emissions trade requirements for foreign flights coming and going from the EU until the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meets again September, many countries around the world haven’t put much stock in any potential outcomes, and have been coming up with their own alternative contingency plans.

Cartoon courtesy of China Daily.

In the United States, President Barrack Obama signed into law, last week, the “European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011,” which gives the U.S. Transportation Secretary the authority to prohibit U.S. civil aircraft operators from participating in the EU’s emissions trading scheme, where the Secretary feels it would negatively impact U.S. interests.

In imposing prohibitions regarding U.S. aircrafts, the Secretary would be required to take into account:

  • the impacts on U.S. consumers, U.S. carriers, and U.S. operators.
  • the impacts on the economic, energy, and environmental security of the United States.
  • the impacts on U.S. foreign relations, including existing international commitments.

The Secretary would also be required to hold a public hearing at least 30 days before enacting any U.S. prohibitions of EU regulations.

The new law also gives the Secretary, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and “other appropriate officials of the United States Government” negotiating power related to aircraft emissions, including their environmental impacts, but prohibiting the right to impose any taxes or penalties related to the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

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Seattle Still Debating Design Plans For A Project To Rebuild Its Crumbling Downtown Seawall

In the recent aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating destruction on the East Coast of the United States, citizens in the City of Seattle on the West Coast have decided to take preventative measures to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to them – they just haven’t hammered out all the details yet!

The Elliot Bay Seawall (also called the Alaskan Way Seawall) originally being built in 1934. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Earlier this month, Seattle residents overwhelmingly approved city funding for a new seawall for the city’s downtown district.

On Election Night, 77 percent of Seattle residents voted in support of the seawall measure – also known as Proposition 1 – to approve “a $290 million, 30-year bond measure and excess property tax levy for the purpose of replacing the Alaskan Way Seawall and associated infrastructures, including city-owned waterfront piers,” says the project’s budget legislation fiscal notes.

For years, city officials had been trying to gain public support to finance the project, warning of the danger of the now heavily deteriorating seawall.

The day of the vote, Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council’s transportation committee, urged citizens to pass the measure in a statement telling them that the “aging seawall” had been considered vulnerable to an earthquake collapse ever since the Nisqually earthquake hit Washington State in 2001.

The Nisqually earthquake was one of the state’s largest quakes on record, registered at a 6.8 and lasting about 45 seconds. The Nisqually earthquake violently shook the Puget Sound region from Olympia to Everett 10 years ago, caused roughly $2 billion in damage, injured 400 people and was blamed for one fatal heart attack, said The Olympian in 2011 on the 10-year anniversary of the quake.

Rasmussen warned voters that if the seawall collapses it will have “grave effects” on the businesses, utilities, and roads along the waterfront and into downtown Seattle.

An even more graphic picture was illustrated in the project’s legislative fiscal notes, saying:

The existing Alaskan Way Seawall was not designed to withstand earthquakes and has been structurally weakened due to tidal forces (of Elliot Bay), aging materials and marine borer damage. There is a one in ten chance of an earthquake leading to liquefaction and seawall failure, within the next ten years.

Failure of the seawall could disrupt public transportation and utilities, damage regional commerce and potentially lead to loss of life.

In addition, Pier 58 and 62/63, which are publicly owned, have reached dangerous levels of deterioration. Pier 58 is seismically vulnerable, and Pier 62/63 is structurally compromised to the degree that limited physical activity is now permitted.

“Approximately 50 percent of the existing wall (is) currently damaged,” says the project’s ordinance.

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