Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Last minute exemption from minimum wage increase sought by LA union leaders. "Once again, the soaring rhetoric of helping the working poor is just a cover for city government acting as a tool of organized labor." Gonzalez-LA Times

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5/27/15, "L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers," LA Times,

of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.
The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

"With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them," Hicks said in a statement. "This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing."

Coalition representatives said the proposed exemption would ensure the city complies with federal laws which they say give collective bargaining agreements precedence over local ordinances. They also contend that it would keep L.A.'s ordinance consistent with previous city wage laws.

Some business leaders criticized the proposal, however, calling it ironic in light of union leaders' past opposition to special considerations for some employers.

"I'd refer everyone back to the statements of labor leaders over the past seven months that no one deserves a sub-minimum wage," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president for public policy and political affairs with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the minimum wage increase passed by the City Council.

Gonzalez said the change sought by labor officials could pressure companies into letting employees unionize as a way to seek relief from the mandated wage hike.

"Once again, the soaring rhetoric of helping the working poor is just a cover for city government acting as a tool of organized labor," he said.  

The City Council voted last week to gradually increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 over the next five years. Since then, City Atty. Mike Feuer has prepared an ordinance that would put the increases into effect. The council's Economic Development Committee is scheduled to review the language on Friday.

Last fall, the council approved an ordinance increasing the minimum wage at large hotels to $15.37 per hour. That law says that provisions of the hotel wage hike may be waived in workplaces that have collective bargaining agreements." via Free Rep.




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Hamas tortured and killed its own people during and leading up to 2014 war in Gaza Strip per Amnesty International-AP

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5/26/15, "Amnesty International says Hamas tortured and killed Palestinians during 2014 Gaza war," AP, Ian Deitch

"A leading international watchdog on Wednesday accused the militant Hamas group of abducting, torturing and killing Palestinians during the war in the Gaza Strip last year, saying some of the actions amount to war crimes.

Amnesty International detailed the abuses in a report entitled "Strangling Necks': Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict."

According to the London-based human rights group, some 23 Palestinians were shot and killed and dozens more were arrested and tortured by Hamas, which rules Gaza. The Palestinians targeted were either political rivals of Hamas, including members of the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, or people the militant group had accused of cooperating with Israel, Amnesty said.

Wednesday's report highlighted a particularly brutal incident, which it said took place in Gaza on Aug. 22.

"In one of the most shocking incidents, six men were publicly executed by Hamas forces outside al-Omari mosque ... in front of hundreds of spectators, including children," Amnesty said. Hamas had announced the men were suspected "collaborators" who had been sentenced death in "revolutionary courts," the rights group added.

"The hooded men were dragged along the floor to kneel by a wall facing the crowd, then each man was shot in the head individually before being sprayed with bullets fired from an AK-47," the report said of the August incident.

Hamas violently seized Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, leaving Palestinians bitterly divided — Hamas ruling Gaza and Abbas governing parts of the West Bank. Since then, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israel and fought three wars with the Jewish state. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the 50-day war last summer. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

Hamas used the war to "ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses," Amnesty's Philip Luther said. "These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip."

The report said 16 of the people killed by Hamas were already being held by the militant group when the conflict erupted and many of them were waiting to hear the verdict of their Hamas-organized trials. "Many had been sentenced after trials before courts whose proceedings are grossly unfair. A number had said they had been tortured in order to extract 'confessions,'" the report said.

Amnesty's report also said that Hamas abducted and tortured people in an outpatient clinic that was no longer in use, within the grounds of Gaza City's main hospital, Shifa.

"Hamas forces have displayed a disregard for the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law," Luther said. "Torture and cruel treatment of detainees in an armed conflict is a war crime. Extrajudicial executions are also war crimes."

This was not Amnesty's first report on the 2014 Gaza war.

In March, the group accused Hamas of war crimes for launching unguided rockets and mortars from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel, saying that was a breach of international law. 

And in December, Amnesty condemned Israel for flattening four landmark buildings in the final days of the war. Israel dismissed that report, saying Hamas was using the buildings as command centers.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza, said the incidents mentioned in the report took place 'outside the framework of the law' and Hamas was investigating them."
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5/27/15, "Amnesty International: 'Hamas killed and tortured Palestinians'," BBC

"Amnesty International has accused the Palestinian group, Hamas, of a brutal campaign of abduction, torture and killings against its own people.

Amnesty documents more than 20 cases of what it says were extra-judicial executions during last year's conflict with Israel

The organisation says many victims of torture were members of the rival Palestinian movement, Fatah."
  




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FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges and face extradition to US. Among 10+ officials named in indictment are Jeffrey Webb of Cayman Islands and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago-NY Times

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5/26/15, "FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to U.S." NY Times,
Swiss authorities began an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.

As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich.

The officers went to the registration desk to get keys, then headed upstairs toward the hotel rooms.

The charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, which wields enormous power and does its business largely in secret. 
The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give him a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday.

Prosecutors planned to unseal an indictment against more than 10 officials, not all of whom are in Zurich, law enforcement officials said. Among them are Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, a vice president of the executive committee; Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who is also an executive committee vice president and until recently was the president of South America’s soccer association; and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former member of the executive committee who has been accused of numerous ethical violations.

“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did,” said a law enforcement official. “It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.”

The case is the most significant yet for United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who took office last month. She previously served as the United States attorney in Brooklyn, where she supervised the FIFA investigation.

With more than $1.5 billion in reserves, FIFA is as much a global financial conglomerate as a sports organization. With countries around the world competing aggressively to win the bid to host the World Cup, Mr. Blatter has commanded the fealty of anyone who wanted a piece of that revenue stream. He and FIFA have weathered corruption controversies in the past, but none involved charges of federal crimes in United States court.

United States law gives the Justice Department wide authority to bring cases against foreign nationals living abroad, an authority that prosecutors have used repeatedly in international terrorism cases. Those cases can hinge on the slightest connection to the United States, like the use of an American bank or Internet service provider.

Switzerland’s treaty with the United States is unusual in that it gives Swiss authorities the power to refuse extradition for tax crimes, but on matters of general criminal law, the Swiss have agreed to turn people over for prosecution in American courts.

The case will further mar the reputation of FIFA’s leader, Mr. Blatter, who has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.

Critics of FIFA point to the lack of transparency regarding executive salaries and resource allocations for an organization that, by its own admission, had revenue of $5.7 billion from 2011 to 2014. Policy decisions are also often taken without debate or explanation, and a small group of officials — known as the executive committee — operates with outsize power. FIFA has for years operated with little oversight and even less transparency. Alexandra Wrage, a governance consultant who once unsuccessfully attempted to help overhaul FIFA’s methods, famously labeled the organization “byzantine and impenetrable.”

Law enforcement officials said much of the inquiry involves Concacaf, one of the six regional confederations that compose FIFA. Concacaf — which stands for Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football — includes major countries like the United States and Mexico, and also tiny ones like Barbados and Montserrat.

Concacaf was led from 1990 to 2011 by Mr. Warner, the longtime head of Trinidad & Tobago’s federation. A key powerbroker in FIFA’s governing executive committee, Mr. Warner had been dogged by accusations of corruption. He was accused of illegally profiting from the resale of tickets to the 2006 World Cup, and of withholding the bonuses of the Trinidad players who participated in that tournament.

Mr. Warner resigned his positions in FIFA, Concacaf and his national association in 2011 amid mounting evidence that he had been part of an attempt to buy the votes of Caribbean federation officials in the 2010 FIFA presidential election. A 2013 Concacaf report also found that he had received tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated funds.

But according to the rules of FIFA at the time, Mr. Warner’s resignation led to the immediate closure of all ethics committee cases against him. “The presumption of innocence is maintained,” FIFA said in a short statement announcing his departure.

No recent incident better encapsulated FIFA’s unusual power dynamic than the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, which many observers found to be flawed from the start: the decision to award two tournaments at once, critics said, would invite vote-trading and other inducements.

Since only the 24 members of the executive committee would decide on the hosts, persuading even a few of them might be enough to swing the vote. Even before the vote took place, two committee members — Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti — were suspended after an investigation by The Sunday Times caught both men on tape asking for payments in exchange for their support. It was later revealed by England’s bid chief that four ExCo members had solicited bribes from him for their votes; one asked for $2.5 million, while another, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, requested a knighthood.

As new accounts of bribery continued to emerge — a whistleblower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support Qatar FIFA in 2012 started an investigation of the bid process. It was led by a former United States attorney, Michael J. Garcia, who spent nearly two years compiling a report. That report, however, has never been made public; instead, the top judge on the ethics committee, the German Joachim Eckert, released a summary of the report. In it, he declared that while violations of the code of ethics had occurred, they had not affected the integrity of the vote.

Within hours, Garcia had criticised Eckert’s summary as incorrect and incomplete, charging that it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts.” Nonetheless, FIFA moved quickly to embrace the report’s absolution of the bid process. Qatar World Cup officials said the review had upheld “the integrity and quality of our bid,” And Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, told reporters, “I hope we will not have talk about this again.”"




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

China solar company founder and country's richest man now under investigation for stock manipulation, Hanergy ranked #23 on MIT list of world's 50 smartest companies-News.com

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5/26/15, "CEO ‘profited’ from $24 billion loss," News.com.au, Frank Chung and wires

"Remember the CEO who lost $24 billion in the space of an hour? It turns out, he might have had the last laugh after all. Last week, it was widely reported that Chinese billionaire Li Hejun lost nearly $24 billion as stocks in his solar energy company crashed.

Beijing-based solar Hanergy Thin Film Power Group (HTF), of which Mr Li owns 80 per cent, saw its share price plummet by 47 per cent last Wednesday, wiping $A23.64 billion of its value.

Its founder and chairman, who was named China’s richest man in February ahead of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, did not attend HTF’s annual meeting in Hong Kong that day.
 
It has now emerged that Mr Li is under investigation by Hong Kong regulators over allegations of market manipulation in Hanergy shares, The Independent reports.

Mr Li reportedly bet against his own company, increasing his “short” — effectively betting on a fall in the share price — in Hanergy by 796 million shares just two days before the price crashed. It’s unclear how much he stood to profit from the trade.

Before last week, HTF, which develops “thin-film” solar panels that can be used as tinted windows on buildings or integrated into building materials for use on rooftops, saw its share price increase more than 600 per cent in the past year.

That made it the world’s largest solar power company by market value, but questions had been raised about its valuation and revenue sources, according to Bloomberg. An earlier report by the Financial Times said HTF parent company Hanergy Group made its fortune largely through unconventional sales between HTF and itself.

Li set up Hanergy in 1994 to build hydropower projects. It became the first private company to be awarded a contract to build a dam in China when it was picked in 2002 to construct the 2,400-megawatt Jin’anqiao dam.

The company also invested in wind farms but shifted its emphasis in 2009 to solar power. In 2012, it acquired Germany’s Solibro and California’s MiaSole
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Last year, Hanergy was ranked No. 23 on the MIT Technology Review’s list of the world’s 50 “smartest companies”.

Li saw his personal wealth nearly triple compared to a year before, according to the Hurun Report’s Global Rich List 2015, which valued his personal fortune at $A26.42 billion ($US20.8 billion). Hanergy’s shares remain suspended on the Hong Kong stock exchange and the company has not commented publicly."


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Big Banks closing branches on US Mexico border to avoid money laundering charges-Wall St. Journal

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5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," Wall St.Journal, Emily Glazer, Nogales, Arizona

"Chuck Thomas each day ships around 6,000 boxes of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables to U.S. grocery stores from his third-generation family business, which is a stalwart of this border town’s thriving produce industry.

It was a surprise, then, when his longtime bank, J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.27 % & Co., notified him it didn’t want his business anymore.

“First I was pissed off, then I steamed about it for a few days,” he said. “I’ve been with them 40 years and then they have this? It’s a pain.”

Mr. Thomas, 59 years old, isn’t the only one having banking problems in Nogales, a city with a population of about 21,000 and a steel fence separating it from Mexico. In the past several months, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America Corp. BAC 0.12 % and Citigroup Inc. C 0.24 % -owned Banamex USA have shut a total of four branches in Nogales, almost halving the number in town owned by big U.S. banks. Separately, hundreds of Chase and Wells Fargo WFC -0.02 % & Co. customers, some of them second- and third-generation business owners, have had their bank accounts closed.

The bank moves come amid a recent industrywide focus on money laundering. Wall Street wants to avoid the huge fines that could result if financial firms are drawn into the flow of dirty money.

Nogales may be the highest-profile example of how those efforts are playing out in cities along the Mexico border, where drug and human trafficking is a constant worry and money laundering is prevalent.

The trafficking fears aren’t hypothetical here: Authorities have discovered a number of cross-border tunnels in recent years, including a roughly 480-foot passageway found last year that was considered one of the longest and most sophisticated ever detected in Nogales. This activity can unwittingly draw in local banks if traffickers pay their associates and other service providers on the U.S. side of the border. Such deposits are often disguised as being related to legitimate business activities, say bank executives and other experts.

Banks have paid billions of dollars in recent years for transgressions involving everything from mortgage securities to foreign-exchange trading, and have invested heavily in compliance systems, new employees and other steps to head off future problems. While banks have long maintained anti-money-laundering measures, those efforts have taken on fresh urgency in light of updated regulation in November from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, an interagency regulatory body that monitors potential money laundering and terrorist financing.

The update, the first in almost five years, puts greater pressure on banks to flag suspicious customers and shut down risky accounts.

Many in Nogales, though, complain that the crackdown is taking a toll on their economy. A number of local cattle ranchers say they are having trouble paying their employees, many of whom are Mexican nationals and have had their accounts closed in recent months.


“It’s killing our business,” said one rancher. Other businesses say they are being unfairly targeted merely because of their proximity to Mexico.

“I don’t send any money across the border.…All the banking I do is within the United States,” said Mr. Thomas, adding that his grandfather banked with Chase or its predecessors as early as the mid-1960s.

The issue is drawing increased attention. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, asked for hearings and sent letters to banks, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. staffers flew to Nogales earlier this spring to meet local officials and business owners.

Bank executives say Arizona is one of three risky border regions, with the other two being Southern California and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In Nogales, banks are worried about persistent drug smuggling despite efforts by law enforcement to stem the flow, said one bank executive involved in money-laundering issues.

Banks as a result are conducting greater due diligence to understand who their customers are and their stated business. In some cases, it is easier to close accounts than spend the time and money necessary to achieve certainty that an account is safe.

We are picking on Nogales in a way because the drug traffickers are picking on Nogales,” the executive said. “They’re using Nogales to bring their stuff in.…We can only get into trouble for failing to bank them perfectly.”

As in many border towns, the economy in Nogales is intertwined with its Mexican counterpart, a city of roughly 300,000 also called Nogales. Roughly 1,500 trucks pass daily through one of three ports of entry, shuttling produce worth nearly $3 billion in 2013, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, not to mention business from manufacturing companies and the cattle industry.

On what is known as Produce Row on the U.S. side of the border, roughly 180 warehouses line the street between Nogales and nearby Rio Rico, Ariz., loaded with everything from peppers to watermelons to be shipped across the U.S. and sometimes to Canada.

Chris Ciruli’s family company, Ciruli Brothers Inc., which specializes in champagne mangoes, distributes to major retailers such as Safeway Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. WFM -0.61 % Mr. Ciruli says his company recently has had to lend money to employees who had their bank accounts closed and didn’t have access to cash while they searched for new banks.


Worse, he says, his family is stuck with more than 100 acres of raw land it can’t develop because large banks are no longer willing to finance projects in Nogales and smaller banks in the area have what he called “unreasonable” interest rates.

Mr. Ciruli said his father put together commercial real-estate deals with local banks years ago. “Those opportunities certainly don’t seem like they’re here now,” he said.

Many locals have moved their business to Washington Federal Inc., WAFD -0.36 % a bank based in Seattle that bought Bank of America’s two branches and related deposits in Nogales. Other remaining banks include several branches of regional banks, one Chase branch and two Wells Fargo branches.

But many Mexican nationals who work and shop in Nogales are having difficulties. There are more restrictions for U.S. employers, whose banks may limit or prohibit wire transfers to Mexico. Most employers don’t give workers checks, because they often have a hard time cashing them at Mexican banks. Some cattle ranchers use a money-exchange service, which often charges high rates and takes a cut through fees. Or the cattle ranchers sometimes wire money to CIbanco, a Mexico-based bank that has allowed such transfers.

Bruce Bracker, 51, the third generation to run retailer Bracker’s Department Store, which sits about 250 feet from the Mexico border, has seen a drop-off in business over the past several months as banks have closed Mexican nationals’ accounts.

Banks “can’t keep cutting off access to capital and access to banking and expect the economy to grow and communities to thrive,” he said. “Don’t paint us all in the same brush of drug dealers and money launderers. There are legitimate business owners, too.”"

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

Image: Edomexico

5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," WSJ, Emily Glazer (subscrip.)




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Monday, May 25, 2015

Islamic State takeover may mean extinction for rare bird in Syria. Guards who were watching three birds fled to escape ISIS leaving fate of birds unknown-BBC

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5/25/15, "IS threat to Syria's northern bald ibis near Palmyra," BBC

"A rare bird may become extinct in Syria because of the capture of Palmyra by Islamic State, experts say.

A tiny breeding colony of the northern bald ibis was found near the city in 2002.

Three birds held in captivity were abandoned last week after their guards fled the fighting. Their fate is unknown.

Officials have offered a reward of $1,000 (£646) for information about the whereabouts of a fourth bird.

'Extinction'

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon told the BBC that finding the missing female, called Zenobia, is crucial. 

She is the only bird who knows the migration routes to wintering grounds in Ethiopia and without her other captive birds cannot be released.

Then the species could go extinct in the wild in Syria, said ornithologists. 

"Culture and nature they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction," said head of the society Asaad Serhal.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says that the species was thought to have been extinct in the region until seven birds were found nesting near Palmyra more than 10 years ago

But despite being protected, their numbers dwindled to just four wild birds. Our correspondent says that this year only Zenobia made it back to the site

Another three captive birds were being kept nearby but it is not clear if they are still safe. 

The fall of Palmyra came just days after IS captured the major Iraqi city of Ramadi.

The capture of the World Heritage site next to the modern city of Palmyra has raised international alarm.

IS militants have destroyed several sites in Iraq - most recently the ancient city of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological treasures."

Image caption: "A small breeding colony of the northern bald ibis was found near Palmyra in 2002," via BBC



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Pipeline that leaked didn't have auto shut-off valve though it's not known if such a valve would've detected leak and reduced size of spill-AP

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5/23/15, "Pipeline that leaked wasn't equipped with auto shut-off," AP, Brian Melley, Los Angeles

"The pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of oil on the California coast was the only pipe of its kind in the county not required to have an automatic shut-off valve because of a court fight nearly three decades ago, a county official said.

The original owner of the pipeline skirted the Santa Barbara County requirement by successfully arguing in court in the late 1980s that it should be subject to federal oversight because the pipeline is part of an interstate network, said Kevin Drude, deputy director of the county's Energy and Minerals Division. Auto shut-off valves are not required by federal regulators.
 
"It's the only major pipeline that doesn't have auto shut-off," Drude said. "For us, it's routine."

Federal regulators are investigating the cause of Tuesday's leak that spilled up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil from an underground pipe into a culvert and as much as 21,000 gallons into the ocean at Refugio State Beach. The spill killed untold numbers of fish, at least five pelicans and a sea lion. It also mired other wildlife, including an elephant seal, in the muck.

Plains All American Pipeline was still draining the pipe and trying to locate the leak Saturday. 

Federal regulators ordered the company to remove the damaged section and send it to a lab for tests on the metal, along with a series of other steps before it could resume pumping oil through the pipe to inland refineries.

Plains said the pipeline had one valve to shut it down if oil flowed in the opposite direction and three valves controlled by operators in its Midland, Texas, control room. Plains defended its people approach to manually shutting down the system, saying it's the standard across the country for liquid pipelines.

"It is much safer for operators who understand the operations of the pipeline to shut it down following a planned sequence of steps than for computer to automatically close a valve on oil that is traveling in confined space at high pressure," Patrick Hodgins, the company's senior director of safety, said Saturday. "This is all standard operating procedures within our industry."

While it's not known if an auto shut-off valve would have detected the leak and reduced the size of the spill, environmentalists have criticized the lack of such a device, saying it could have averted or minimized the disaster.

"Everyone is pretty mystified why the pipeline didn't automatically shut down when the leak occurred," said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center.

Santa Barbara County regulations sometimes exceed state and federal standards, requiring additional environmental analysis or imposing conditions to further protect health and the environment, Drude said. One additional requirement is a valve that can detect changes consistent with a leak and automatically shut down.

The county successfully fought another operator that didn't want to install automatic shutdown valves on a pipeline from an offshore drilling platform, Drude said.

However, when there was a leak on that line in 1997, an operator overrode the automatic shutdown, and it continued spewing crude into the Pacific Ocean a couple miles from shore. The 10,000 gallon spill fouled 21 miles of shoreline and killed more than 150 birds.

Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., which investigates pipeline incidents, said such valves aren't always effective, though newer, more sophisticated "smart" models provide more accurate signals that can trigger shutdowns.

A Plains employee discovered the leak early Tuesday afternoon, about three hours after mechanical issues with the pipeline, according to the company. The pipe was restarted for about 20 minutes before a pump failed and then it was shut down because of changes in pressure.

The company said it was looking into whether those earlier problems led to the leak. A surge in pressure from starting up a system could cause a leak or exacerbate one, but it's too soon to tell, Kuprewicz said.

"In the past, surge pressures have caused pipes to rupture. But there were other failures, too," he said, speaking in general and not about the Plains incident. "If that were the case, that would become fairly evident ... pretty quickly."

Plains All American subsidiaries have reported at least 223 accidents along their lines and spilled a combined 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquids since 2006, according to federal records. The company has been subject to 25 enforcement actions by federal regulators and tallied damages topping $32 million.

The company has defended its record, saying accidental releases have decreased as its pipelines have increased to 17,800 miles." Hockey Schtick




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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Railway across Amazon rainforest planned by China, Peru, and Brazil will link Atlantic and Pacific oceans-BBC

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5/23/15, "China, Peru and Brazil mull Amazon railway," BBC
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"A Chinese scheme to build an east-west railway across South America, cutting across parts of the Amazon rain forest, has moved a step closer after Peru agreed to study the proposal. 

The scheme would link Peru's Pacific coast with Brazil's Atlantic shores. The decision came after talks between the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.

If completed, the railway would stretch 5,300km (3,300 miles) but campaigners fear the impact on indigenous people.

Brazil, China and Peru will now begin feasibility studies into the railway. Mr Li secured Brazil's consent earlier this week, as part of his tour of Latin America.

The railway would "consolidate Peru's geopolitical position as a natural gateway to South America", President Humala said.

For China, it would reduce the cost of shipping raw materials and farm products. But campaigners are concerned it might destroy untouched parts of the Amazon rainforest, affecting hundreds of indigenous communities.

Mr Li sought to ease fears, saying "to create the infrastructure, it is necessary to protect the environment" in a declaration with Mr Humala, AFP reported.

It is likely to cost more than $10 billion (£6.5 billion). The route is still being examined, but would begin in the gigantic Brazilian port of Acu and ending at a Peruvian port.

The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, pledged earlier this year to invest $250 billion (£161 billion) in Latin America over the next decade."


 
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