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MARSHALL, Mo. (AP) -- A Canadian company's plan to build an oil pipeline that will stretch for hundreds of miles through the Midwest, including through many sensitive waterways, is quietly on the fast-track to approval - just not the one you're thinking of.

As the Keystone XL pipeline remains mired in the national debate over environmental safety and climate change, another company, Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, is hoping to begin construction early next month on a 600-mile-long pipeline that would carry tar sands from Flanagan, Ill., about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, to the company's terminal in Cushing, Okla. From there the company could move it through existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.

The company is seeking an expedited permit review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its Flanagan South pipeline, which would run parallel to another Enbridge route already in place. Unlike the Keystone project, which crosses an international border and requires State Department approval, the proposed pipeline has attracted little public attention - including among property owners living near the planned route.

Enbridge says it wants to be a good neighbor to the communities the pipeline would pass through, and it has been touting the hundreds of short-term construction jobs it would create. The company also scheduled a series of "open houses" for this week in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois in which it invited the public to come discuss and learn about its plans.

A session Tuesday in Marshall, 90 miles east of Kansas City, drew a handful of Sierra Club protesters armed with fliers denouncing what's been called one of the country's costliest oil spills. It also attracted local politicians, concerned landowners and prospective pipefitters looking for work.

Enbridge responded with an array of free products, from tote bags and tape measures to cookies and key rings.

Wayne McReynolds, one of the 55 people who stopped by the open house in Marshall, said he hoped to learn more about the company's plans to prevent construction runoff from flooding valuable farmland. He said he left the event with only vague assurances, not specific answers.

"You never put the soil back in the trench to the same extent it was taken out," said McReynolds, a retired soil and conservation worker. "It can't be done."

Mike Diel of Macon, Mo., said he's had no luck getting Enbridge or the corps to give him specific details about the project, including a precise pipeline map and copies of emergency response plans.

"We're all worried about oil spills and the tar sands getting into the drinking water," Diel said.

"Until I know where the pipeline is going, how am I supposed to know what I'm supposed to be worried about?" he said.

Enbridge spokeswoman Katie Lange said fears about the pipeline's safety are overblown. She described routine aerial patrols of the pipeline and its seven pump stations and round-the-clock computer monitoring in Calgary that "can shut it down from just a touch of a button" if necessary.

"Once the pipeline is in the ground, there's a very rigorous and robust operations and maintenance program," Lange said.

But Sierra Club lawyer Doug Hayes said those assurances are insufficient, given recent history. A July 2010 rupture of an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan dumped an estimated 1 million gallons of the heavier diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, a 35-mile portion of which remained closed to public access for two years. The U.S. Department of Transportation subsequently fined Enbridge $3.7 million.

More recently, an ExxonMobil pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark., led to the evacuation of 22 homes and further scrutiny of the long-distance transportation of tar sands oil, a denser substance that is more difficult to clean up.

Lange confirmed that Enbridge is seeking regulatory approval under the Nationwide 12 permit process, which would mean the company wouldn't be obligated to follow more rigorous Clean Water Act requirements such as public notification or lengthy environmental reviews. Those permits are limited to utility projects in which each water crossing disrupts no more than one-half acre of wetlands. The Flanagan South pipeline would cross the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as well as hundreds of smaller tributaries.

"This is a 600-mile project that will clear everything in its path for a 100-foot right of way," Hayes said. "And they're treating it as thousands of separate, little projects."

The Sierra Club lawyer said the Army Corps rejected several Freedom of Information Act requests seeking more project details, citing an exemption for "deliberative process privilege" designed to protect internal decision-making.

TransCanada of Calgary is also seeking Nationwide 12 status for the Keystone XL project, prompting the Sierra Club to file suit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Hayes declined to discuss whether the environmental group also plans a legal challenge to the Flanagan South project.

A spokeswoman in the Army Corps' Kansas City office on Tuesday referred questions about the project's permit status to a regulatory colleague who did not respond.

In western Illinois, local officials eagerly anticipate Enbridge's arrival, said Kim Pierce, executive director of the Macomb Area Economic Development Commission. The company plans to build four pumping stations in the state, including one near Quincy along the Missouri border. In addition to the temporary construction jobs, the region can also expect a purchasing boost at area restaurants, hotels and in equipment sales, she said.

"Come Saturday at quitting time, we can expect a lot of people out, relaxing and purchasing things," she said. "We truly see this as an opportunity. You don't always get that handed to you."

Count Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon among the project's supporters. The two-term Democrat said in March 2012, when Enbridge announced its plans, that the company could add "thousands of jobs" to the state while also providing "a boost to America's energy independence."

--- Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/AZAGIER

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — In one of the most harrowing spacewalks in decades, an astronaut had to rush back into the International Space Station on Tuesday after a mysterious water leak inside his helmet robbed him of the ability to speak or hear at times and could have caused him to choke or even drown.

Italian Luca Parmitano was reported to be fine after the dangerous episode, which might have been caused by an unprecedented leak in the cooling system of his suit. His spacewalking partner, American Christopher Cassidy, had to help him head inside after NASA quickly aborted the spacewalk.

No one — neither the astronauts in orbit nor flight controllers in Houston — breathed easier until Parmitano was back inside and his helmet was yanked off.

"He looks miserable. But OK," Cassidy assured everyone.

It was the first time in years that a spacewalk came to such an abrupt halt and the first time since NASA's Gemini program in the mid-1960s that a spacewalker became so incapacitated. Spacewalking always carries high risk; a puncture by a micrometeorite or sharp edge, if big enough, could result in instant death.

In a late afternoon news conference, NASA acknowledged the perilous situation that Parmitano had found himself in, and space station operations manager Kenneth Todd promised to "turn over every rock" to make sure it never happens again.

Spacewalking is dangerous already, noted flight director David Korth. Then on top of that, "go stick your head in a fishbowl and try to walk around. That's not anything that you take lightly," he said. "He did a great job of just keeping calm and cool" as the amount of water ominously increased.

"Grace under pressure," Korth said.

The two astronauts were outside barely an hour, performing routine cable work on their second spacewalk in eight days, when Parmitano reported the leak. It progressively worsened as the minutes ticked by, drenching the back of his head, then his eyes, nose and, finally, mouth by the time he was in the air lock, the pressure chamber. He could have choked or drowned on the floating globs of water, NASA officials said.

Between 1 and 1½ liters of water leaked into his helmet and suit, NASA estimated.

The source of the leak wasn't immediately known, but the main culprit appeared to be iodine-laced water that is piped through the long underwear worn under a spacesuit, for cooling. The system holds nearly 4 liters, or 1 gallon. Less likely was the 32-ounce (about 1 liter) drink bag that astronauts sip from during lengthy spacewalks; Parmitano reported the leaking water tasted odd.

At first, Parmitano, 36, a former test pilot and Italy's first spacewalker, thought it was sweat accumulating on the back of his bald head. But he was repeatedly assured it was not sweat. He agreed. "How much can I sweat?" he wondered aloud.

It was only his second spacewalk; his first was last Tuesday, six weeks after moving into the space station.

The water eventually got into Parmitano's eyes. That's when NASA ordered the two men back inside. Then the water drenched his nose and mouth, and he had trouble hearing on the radio lines.

Cassidy quickly cleaned up the work site, then joined Parmitano in the air lock.

The three Russians and one American who anxiously monitored the drama from inside hustled to remove Parmitano's helmet. They clustered around him, eight hands pulling off his helmet and using towels to mop his head. Balls of water floated away.

Parmitano blinked hard several times but otherwise looked fine as he gestured with his hands to show his crewmates where the water had crept around his head.

Cassidy told Mission Control: "To him, the water clearly did not taste like our normal drinking water." A smiling Parmitano then chimed in: "Just so you know, I'm alive and I can answer those questions, too."

He later tweeted: "Thanks for all the positive thoughts!"

Mission Control praised the crew for its fast effort and hooked them up with flight surgeons on the ground.

Parmitano used the same suit during last week's spacewalk without any problems. Before the gush of water made its way into his helmet, the astronaut reported a bad sensor for measuring carbon dioxide in his suit. NASA managers concluded the sensor likely failed due to all the water.

Spare spacesuits and equipment are on board for future NASA spacewalks.

The four remaining spacewalks planned for this year involve Russian astronauts wearing Russian suits, different than the U.S. models. They're preparing for the arrival later this year of a new Russian lab. The year's previous four spacewalks encountered no major snags. This was the 171st spacewalk in the 15-year history of the orbiting outpost.

There was no immediate word on when Tuesday's undone tasks might be attempted again. None of the chores was urgent, simply things that had piled up over the past couple years.

It was the fastest end to a spacewalk since 2004 when Russian and American spacewalkers were ordered back in by Mission Control outside Moscow because of spacesuit trouble. That spacewalk lasted a mere 14 minutes. Tuesday's spacewalk lasted one hour and 32 minutes.

During NASA's old shuttle program, spacewalks occasionally were stymied by stuck hatches and ripped gloves. By coincidence, Cassidy had to end a 2009 station-building spacewalk early because of a potentially dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide in his suit. This marked the sixth spacewalk for the 43-year-old former Navy SEAL, who's midway through a half-year station stint.

In 1966, two Gemini flights ended up with aborted spacewalks. Gemini 11 spacewalker Richard Gordon, was blinded by sweat. Gemini 9 spacewalker Gene Cernan breathed so heavily and sweated so much that fog collected inside his helmet visor and froze.

On the Russian side, the world's first spacewalker, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, could barely get back into his spacecraft in 1965. He had to vent precious oxygen from his suit in order to fit through the hatch. Decades passed before his peril came to light.

"Today was certainly a very serious issue," said Karina Eversley, lead spacewalk officer. The goal, each time, is to get the crew back inside "before things get too serious," she added.

In that respect, Tuesday was a success, Todd noted. "Today the team did a great job."

___ Online: NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate stepped away from the brink of a meltdown on Tuesday, clearing the way for confirmation of one of President Barack Obama's nominees long blocked by Republicans, nearing a deal to fill several other vacancies and finessing a Democratic threat to overturn historic rules that protect minority-party rights.

"Nobody wants to come to Armageddon here," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat whose talks with Arizona Republican John McCain were critical in avoiding a collision that had threatened to plunge the Senate even deeper into partisan gridlock.

McCain, a veteran of uncounted legislation struggles, told reporters that forging the deal was "probably the hardest thing I've been involved in."

There was no immediate response from the White House, although Democratic senators said the terms of the compromise were acceptable to the administration.

Under the agreement, which both sides were reviewing at midday, several of seven stalled nominees would win confirmation quickly, including Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez; Gina McCarthy, named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Fred Hochberg to head of the Export-Import Bank.

Even before the agreement was ratified by the rank and file, Richard Cordray's long-stalled nomination to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau advanced toward approval on a test vote of 71-29, far more than the 60 required.

Two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Clark, were to be replaced by new selections, expected to be submitted by President Barack Obama later Tuesday and steered toward speedy consideration by Senate Republicans. Obama installed Griffin and Clark in their posts by recess appointments in 2011, bypassing the Senate but triggering a legal challenge. An appeals court recently said the two appointments were invalid, and the Supreme Court has agreed to review the case.

The seventh nomination at issue, Mark Pearce's selection to a new term as NLRB chairman, was relatively uncontroversial, and is likely to be approved along with the replacements for Griffin and Clark.

"I think we get what we want, they get what they want. Not a bad deal," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

There was more to it than that.

Scarcely 24 hours earlier, Reid had insisted that if Republicans didn't stop blocking confirmation of all seven, he would trigger a change in the Senate's procedures to strip them of their ability to delay. At the core of the dispute is the minority party's power to stall or block a yes-or-no vote on nearly anything, from legislation to judicial appointments to relatively routine nominations for administration positions.

While a simple majority vote is required to confirm presidential appointees, it takes 60 votes to end delaying tactics and proceed to a yes-or-no vote. Reid's threat to remove that right as it applied to nominations to administration positions was invariably described as the "nuclear option" for its likely impact on an institution with minority rights woven into its fabric.

The same term was used when Republicans made a similar threat on judicial nominations in 2005 — an earlier showdown that McCain helped defuse when it was his own party threatening to change the rules unilaterally.

As part of the deal over Obama's nominees, Republicans agreed to step aside and permit confirmation of several, some of whom they had long stalled. Cordray was first appointed in July 2011, but a vote was held up by GOP lawmakers who sought to use his confirmation as leverage to make changes in the legislation that created his agency.

McCarthy was named to her post in March, and Republicans dragged their feet, demanding she answer hundreds of questions about the EPA. At one point, they boycotted a committee meeting called to approve her appointment.

Perez, also nominated in March, is a senior Justice Department official, and was accused by Republicans of making decisions guided by left-wing ideology rather than the pursuit of justice.

As described by officials, the deal is strikingly similar to a proposal that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell floated in remarks on the Senate floor last week during an unusually personal exchange with Reid. At the time, the Kentucky Republican also said he had told Obama last January to drop his hopes of confirmation for Griffin and Clark and instead name two replacements. He relayed the same message again last month to Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator with whom he has a long relationship.

Tuesday's developments unfolded the morning after a closed-door meeting of nearly all 100 senators, many of them eager to avoid a rules change that could poison relations between the two parties at a time the Senate is struggling in an era of chronic gridlock. About three dozen lawmakers spoke in the course of a session that lasted more than three hours, and while few details have emerged, several participants said later it had been a productive meeting.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she had urged others to "look ahead and think about the time when we would have a Republican president with Republican Senate and there could be someone appointed who was completely unacceptable to my Democratic colleagues and was nominated to run their favorite program" She said she asked if they "really want to give away their right to filibuster that individual."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the sense of history hung over the meeting, which was held in the Old Senate Chamber, where lawmakers had debated slavery and other great national issues for much of the 19th century. "Senator McCain talked about Webster, Jefferson and Madison. We knew that we were on sacred political ground," he said.

McCain told reporters that with McConnell's knowledge, he had been involved in talks for several days in search of a compromise, speaking with Biden, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and numerous senators.

"At least 10 times it came together, and then fell apart because there's always some new wrinkle," he said.

___ Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Charles Babington, Donna Cassata, Josh Lederman and Sam Hananel contributed to this story
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