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Plan for barrier island against oil spill approved

US oil spill clean-up boats recalled after crews fall ill
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) May 27, 2010 - All 125 commercial fishing boats helping oil recovery efforts off Louisiana's Breton Sound area have been recalled after four workers reported health problems, officials said. The crew members aboard three separate vessels "reported experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains" mid-afternoon Wednesday, the US Coast Guard said in a statement. "No other personnel are reporting symptoms, but we are taking this (recall) action as an extreme safeguard," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Robinson Cox.

The move raises questions over the safety of the clean-up operation in and around the Gulf in Mexico, in particular the protection workers have been given as they mitigate the oil, and the toxicity of the controversial chemical dispersants being used by BP in an attempt to break up the slick. One of the workers had to be evacuated by air ambulance to a nearby hospital for treatment, another followed by boat and the other two were transported by ground, the statement added. Safety officeres for BP along with US officials with the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the incident. A ruptured well from BP's sunken Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig has spewed millions of barrels of crude over the five weeks, encroaching on prized southern US coast wetlands and wildlife preserves, as well as billion-dollar fishing and tourism destinations.
by Staff Writers
New Orleans (AFP) May 27, 2010
The US government gave the go ahead Thursday for part of an ambitious plan to build barrier islands to stop oil from a giant spill in the Gulf of Mexico from coming ashore in Louisiana.

Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen gave the approval for "a section of Louisiana's barrier island project proposal that could help stop oil from coming ashore and where work could be completed the fastest," an official statement said.

Additionally, the US Army Corps of Engineers said Louisiana could move forward at its own expense on six other sections of its plan so long as they were built to the corps' specifications.

The actions followed insistent demands by Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, a Republican, that the government approve a plan to use dredgers to build up a network of temporary barrier islands to keep oil from pushing into environmentally sensitive marshlands.

At a Washington news conference, President Barack Obama defended the time it took for his administration to respond to the governor's plan.

Obama said he had promised Jindal two weeks ago to move quickly on the plan if the Army Corps of Engineers determined it was the best approach to the problem.

"And that essentially is what's happened, which is why today you saw an announcement where from the army corps's perspective there were some area where's this might work but there are some areas where it would be counterproductive and not a good use of resources," he said.

The portion of the plan approved by the Coast Guard chief would be taken over by the federal government, possibly with funding by BP, the energy giant whose well is leaking, the statement from a joint government/industry information center said.

Additional areas might be considered later if the first section proves effective, it said.

But Allen concluded that undertaking the entire Louisiana proposal "would not be prudent or provide effective protection -- especially considering the complications of a major construction project occurring in the midst of a response encompassing more than 20,000 personnel and 1,300 vessels," the statement said.

Official in charge of offshore oil quits: Interior Secretary
Washington (AFP) May 27, 2010 - The official heading the troubled US agency which oversees offshore oil drilling in the United States has quit, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a congressional panel on Thursday.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, whose stormy tenure at the federal Mineral Management Service lasted less than one year, resigned in the wake of the calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatens to become an unparalleled environmental disaster.

"Liz Birnbaum has resigned as the director of the Minerals Management Service," Salazar told a House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing on the oil spill.

"She did it on her own terms, in her own volition," he said, praising Birnbaum as "a strong and very effective person who... helped us in moving forward in addressing what was a very broken system."

Salazar made his comments as President Barack Obama on Thursday prepared to announce reforms of the sector, including an expected six-month extension of a moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, as oil giant BP continues its risky bid to plug the leak.

Birnbaum, who originally had been scheduled to appear at the hearing, did not attend.

She had been at the helm of the MMS only since July 15, 2009.

Before her appointment, she was staff director for a federal agency managing legislative branch agencies and earlier had worked for American Rivers, a conservation group.

The MMS, an agency of the United States Department of the Interior, oversees safety and workplace regulations for renewable energy, oil and gas companies, and manages mineral resources on the federal outer continental shelf. It is tasked with ensuring that the energy companies operate in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

Birnbaum's tenure at MMS has been badly marred by the Deepwater Horizon Rig disaster which has seen millions of gallons of oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico, after inspectors from the agency were accused of lax oversight and even accepting gifts from some company officials.

MMS was also faulted for its handling of a blast earlier this year at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that left 29 workers dead.

Last week, Salazar announce a major overhaul of the agency, which is in charge not only of handing out offshore exploration leases but also of collecting revenues from leasing companies and of ensuring safety rules were being complied with, needed to be cleaned up.

Salazar broke MMS into three independent agencies: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which will collect and distribute revenues from oil and gas exploration.

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US senators unveil plan to aid Haiti orphans
Washington (AFP) May 26, 2010
Three US senators on Wednesday unveiled a bill to clear away hurdles to citizenship for roughly 1,000 Haitian orphans whose adoptions by US parents were rushed because of a January earthquake. US and Haitian authorities cleared the children to join their adoptive parents after the disaster. But without the complete paperwork necessary to finalize their adoptions, a roadblock has been raised ... read more

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