Beyond the county: California meets water saving goals, Obama on Oregon shooting |

Beyond the county: California meets water saving goals, Obama on Oregon shooting

FILE - This Aug. 24, 2015, file photo, shows a boat dock by the lake bed where water has dried due to the drought at Big Bear Lake, Calif. A state water official said Californians have met a mandate to save water for a third consecutive month during the grinding drought. The State Water Resources Control Board on Thursday, Oct. 1 will release statewide conservation figures for August. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Obama says response to shootings has become too routine

WASHINGTON — A visibly frustrated President Barack Obama said Thursday that thoughts and prayers are no longer enough as Americans respond to another deadly school shooting, and he challenged voters wanting to deal with the problem to vote for elected officials who agree with that priority.

Obama addressed the nation from the White House after at least 10 people were killed by a 20-year-old gunman at Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon. As he noted, he’s done this before. Mass shootings have become embedded in the arc of Obama’s presidency. He’s traveled to Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Charleston, South Carolina, and numerous other cities to mourn victims of gun violence.

Obama said the nation’s response to mass shootings has become routine — from the reporting by the media, to his own comments, to the opposition to gun control laws aimed at deterring the violence.

“We’ve become numb to this,” Obama said.

Obama at times spoke with anger in his voice and the muscles in his jaw tensed up as he seemed to struggle to find the right words.

He said it’s clear that anyone responsible for such carnage has a sickness in his mind. He said other nations also have mentally ill residents who want to harm others, but the United States is alone in the sheer depth of the problem.

“We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” Obama said.

Obama has sought changes in the nation’s gun laws, though it’s unclear at this initial stage of the investigation whether the changes often proposed — such as expanded background checks, stricter magazine limits and an assault weapons ban — would have prevented Thursday’s massacre.

“It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun,” Obama said.

The White House’s failed push for gun control legislation after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, shooting — in which 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school — deeply frustrated Obama. With little change in Washington’s political dynamic, he hasn’t made a concerted effort to renew the gun control effort. He said he cannot do it by himself.

“I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws and to save lives and to let young people grow up, and that will require a change of politics on this issue,” Obama said.

Obama said there is a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in the U.S. He asked how anyone with a straight face can make the argument that more guns will make people safer.

“I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances,” Obama said. “But based on my experience as president, I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say.”

Obama’s call for new gun laws was echoed minutes later by Vice President Joe Biden, who told a global summit in New York that there’s a consensus in the U.S. that would support “sane gun legislation.” He said based on the high number of fatalities and injuries, it was a good guess the Oregon shooting was carried out using an automatic or semi-automatic weapon.

— Associated Press

California meets water savings target for third month

FRESNO, Calif. — Californians cut water use by 27 percent in August, marking the third consecutive month that residents and businesses surpassed the 25 percent conservation goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown to deal with the relentless drought, officials said Thursday.

The figures released by the State Water Resources Control Board showed a slight decrease in savings from the 31 percent posted for July — a development that raised concerns among some officials.

However, board chair Felicia Marcus said the slippage was not completely surprising given the heavy rains that drenched Southern California in July and prompted people to turn off sprinklers.

“The fact the numbers didn’t drop precipitously shows that people get it,” she said. “In a crisis people pull together and they hang in there.”

The savings figures were derived by comparing current usage to levels from the same period of 2013, the year before Brown declared a drought emergency.

The board also released figures showing how much water was saved by communities and how that compared to the state conservation mandate given to each area.

A total of 406 water suppliers reported water use in August. The figures showed that six communities missed mandated targets by more than 15 percent.

Regulators have given alternative targets to two of the communities, including Livingston, where a large chicken processing plant has counteracted conservation by the 15,000 residents.

Regulators have been considering imposing fines on communities that consistently fail to meet goals. The penalties could begin early next year, said Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the state water board.

Regulators also say they are working to help cities and water districts meet targeted cuts. Some communities, however, are not expected to meet the goals, Gomberg said.

“We will issue some fines,” he said. “That is definitely on the table.”

Officials say 72 percent of water suppliers did meet their conservation standard. Among the top performers were the city of Morgan Hill near San Jose, which used nearly 43 percent less water, and the California Water Service Co. Selma near Fresno, which reduced water use by 40 percent.

Some of the state’s largest cities also reported meeting their mandates.

Officials in Los Angeles said the city saw savings of 17 percent in August, beating its target of 16 percent. Fresno reported a 28 percent drop, hitting its requirement.

Water use in San Diego was 21 percent lower, officials said, exceeding its mandated cutback of 16 percent.

Gomberg warned that Californians can’t be distracted by hype involving a coming El Nino weather pattern.

He said an El Nino doesn’t guarantee a wet winter for California and urged people to keep saving water.

Gomberg said climate change — signaled by warmer temperatures, a low snowpack and intense wildfires — has made water conservation an ongoing effort.

“Climate change is not something that’s happening in the future,” Gomberg said. “California is already dealing with the impacts.”

— Associated Press

Israel says 2 killed in West Bank shooting attack

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian assailant shot and killed two parents driving with their four children along a West Bank road on Thursday, the Israeli military said, amid mounting unrest surrounding a Jerusalem site holy to both Muslims and Jews.

The military, which called the violence a “ruthless, heinous, barbaric attack,” said forces were scouring the area, near the Palestinian village of Beit Furik. The military said the four children in the car were lightly wounded.

“There was very, very massive fire,” Eli Bin, the director of Israel’s rescue service MDA, told Israeli Channel 2 TV news. “We didn’t have much choice but to pronounce them dead on the spot.” He later told Israel Radio the intensity of the violence and the amount of gunfire was “something we haven’t seen here for a long time.”

The attack comes as tensions continue to flare between Israelis and Palestinians over the Jerusalem site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Temples, and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, site of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the spot from where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

Over the past two weeks, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli police at the hilltop compound and unrest has spilled over to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and the West Bank. In one incident in Jerusalem last month, an Israeli motorist was killed over the New Year holiday after his car was pelted with stones.

It was not immediately clear if a militant group was behind Thursday’s shooting, or if it was a so-called “lone wolf” attack against Israelis staged by Palestinians who act spontaneously and with no militant support. The armed wing of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, stopped short of claiming responsibility but welcomed the attack.

“We praise the heroic operation that fighters in the West Bank carried out and we consider it a true response to the occupier’s crime,” the armed wing said on its Twitter page. It called for more attacks.

The holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, as their future capital. Under a longstanding arrangement, Jews are allowed to visit the compound, but not pray there, while Jordan retains custodial rights.

Thursday’s shooting took place during Sukkot, a weeklong festival that celebrates the fall harvest and commemorates the wandering of the ancient Israelites through the desert following the exodus from Egypt.

In ancient times, Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem on Sukkot, and many Jews are expected to visit the city throughout the holiday period, raising the risk of further unrest.

Calls by a group of religious Jews to visit the site on the eve of the Jewish New Year earlier this month sparked rumors among Palestinians that Israel was planning to disrupt the delicate status quo governing the site and take it over.

These rumors, coupled with some Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the mosque, fueled the outbreak of violence two weeks ago. Israel denies having any plans to change the status quo.

Thursday’s violence also threatens to deepen a divide between Israelis and Palestinians over stalled peace negotiations, which collapsed last year, with few hopes of resuming soon.

In a reflection of the rift, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday that he is no longer bound to agreements that have defined relations with Israel for the past two decades. While the declaration was blunted by the lack of any detail on how he plans to move forward, Israel said Abbas had delivered a “speech of lies that encourages incitement and unrest in the Middle East.”

— Associated Press

Feds want tougher rules for pipelines after series of spills

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. officials said Thursday they want tighter safety rules for pipelines carrying crude oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids after a series of ruptures that included the costliest onshore oil spill in the nation’s history in Michigan.

The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed expanding pipeline inspection requirements to include rural areas that are currently exempt and for companies to more closely analyze the results of their inspections.

The agency also would make companies re-check lines following floods and hurricanes, and submit information about leaks and other problems on thousands of miles of smaller lines that fall outside of existing regulations.

The proposal covers more than 200,000 miles of hazardous liquids pipelines that crisscross the nation — a network that expanded rapidly over the past decade as domestic oil production increased.

Pipeline ruptures in recent years have fouled waterways in Michigan, Montana, California, Virginia and elsewhere with crude oil and other petroleum products.

“This is a big step forward in terms of strengthening our regulations,” said Marie Therese Dominguez, chief of the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “It’s timely, and it’s raising the bar on safety.”

The new rules have been in the works since 2010, when 840,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and other waterways from a ruptured line operated by Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Canada.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board cited corrosion and a crack in the line as the probable cause, and blamed the accident in part on ineffective oversight and weak regulation from the pipeline safety administration.

The leak went undetected for 17 hours, and cleanup costs for the spill exceeded $1 billion, making it the costliest onshore oil spill ever in the U.S., NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said this week in testimony before Congress.

If the proposed changes had been in place, the requirements could have prevented the Michigan spill and 238 other accidents between 2010 and 2014, transportation officials said. The other accidents released a total of more than 10 million gallons of oil, gasoline and related products and resulted in $118 million in costs and damages.

Also Thursday, federal officials announced a $2.6 million penalty against Exxon Mobil over a 2013 pipeline failure that spilled 133,000 gallons of crude in Mayflower, Arkansas.

It was unclear if the announced regulatory changes could have made a difference in that accident, which was blamed on defective pipe that worsened over time.

The proposed rules also expand requirements for leak detection systems to include new, regulated pipelines. Current rules cover only lines in areas with a large population or environmentally sensitive features such as drinking water supplies.

John Stoody, vice president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, an industry group, said much of the proposal involves work that companies already do voluntarily, such as periodic inspections of lines in rural areas.

By imposing requirements on the timing of maintenance, federal officials run the risk of diverting attention from high-consequence areas with large populations or environmental features, he said.

“That’s maintenance dollars that would not be spent on higher-priority areas,” Stoody said.

Despite its broad sweep, the federal proposal was characterized as an incremental step forward by the head of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based advocacy group.

“There’s some good stuff in there,” trust executive director Carl Weimer said. “But we’re disappointed that it took five years and we don’t’ think it’s as significant as (federal officials) tried to portray it.”

Weimer pointed to the requirement to check lines after natural disasters, such as the flooding blamed in a 2011 Exxon Mobil pipeline rupture that spilled 63,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River. Companies also should take steps ahead of time to guard against such occurrences, he said.

The changes could cost pipeline companies a combined $22.5 million annually, according to the agency.

Dominguez said she hopes to finalize the rules sometime next year.

A 2011 pipeline law passed by Congress included requirements for remote-controlled and automatic emergency valves that can quickly shut down the flow of oil. Advocates say such valves are a simple way to limit damage from accidents.

The American Petroleum Institute has said retrofitting lines with remote-controlled valves could cost up to $1.5 million per device.

Transportation officials plan to address the issue in a separate proposal.

The delay was criticized by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., whose district includes the Santa Barbara County coastline where a May rupture of a corroded pipe spilled 101,000 gallons of crude, some of which flowed into the ocean, formed a large slick and stained beaches.

“Federally-regulated oil and gas pipelines currently are not required to use the best automatic shut-off technologies available and that needs to change,” Capps said in a statement.

Credit — Associated Press

Senate panel votes to lift 40-year-old US ban on oil exports

WASHINGTON — The Senate Banking Committee endorsed a bill Thursday to lift the four-decade-old ban on crude oil exports, the latest sign of congressional support for legislation that President Barack Obama opposes.

The banking panel endorsed the bill, 13-9, on a largely party-line vote. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota sponsored the bill and was the only Democrat to support it.

Heitkamp said the bill would lower or stabilize gas prices, support jobs and increase U.S. influence abroad.

Despite the largely partisan committee vote, Heitkamp said she is optimistic that some Senate Democrats will support efforts to lift the export ban, which was imposed in the 1970s amid an energy shortage. Heitkamp’s bill is expected to be merged with larger legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, before a vote in the full Senate.

“Putting an end to (the export ban) is a discussion we need to have by working together, and it shouldn’t be a partisan exercise or get bogged down by political poison pills,” Heitkamp said. “We have many options to move this policy forward and growing support for it. That’s good news for a common-sense, bipartisan policy.”

GOP leaders in the House and Senate support lifting the export ban, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee endorsed a bill to do so last month.

The White House opposes both bills, saying a decision on whether to end the ban should be made by the executive branch.

“Congress should be focusing on meeting America’s clean energy needs and our transition to a low-carbon economy,” said White House spokesman Frank Benenati.

— Associated Press

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