Fresno Bee
'Clean Air for Children' Advocate Supports EPA Plans to Monitor Schools...Baron & Budd, P.C....Press Release
DALLAS, March 9 /PRNewswire/ One of the attorneys who negotiated an agreement with California's largest school bus operator to reduce potentially harmful diesel exhaust from its school buses is now speaking out on the risk of dangerous levels of air pollution that exist around the nation's schools. Laura Baughman of Dallas-based Baron & Budd, P.C. released this statement following reports that the EPA will be monitoring air quality at 50 to 100 schools in the coming months:
"Many of the schools in America's most depressed regions are located near factories and highways that spew out toxic levels of air pollution," said Baughman. "The respiratory health of the children who attend these schools has been jeopardized and it's high time the EPA investigated and enacted measures to protect them."
In 2008, Baughman represented a group of environmental organizations in a lawsuit against school bus provider Laidlaw Transit, Inc., which agreed to invest millions in retrofitting older buses and purchasing new buses for its California fleet to reduce diesel exhaust. Baughman has represented families and communities exposed to mercury, lead, chromium, dioxin, diesel engine exhaust, PCBs, TCE, and to water contaminated with MTBE, benzene and toluene. In addition to a law degree, Baughman holds a masters degree in engineering.
About Baron & Budd, P.C.
For more than 30 years, the law firm of Baron & Budd, P.C. has championed the rights of people and communities harmed by corporate misconduct. With approximately 50 attorneys and offices in California, Texas and Louisiana, Baron & Budd enjoys a national reputation as a leader of the plaintiffs' bar, having been repeatedly recognized by the NLJ's Plaintiffs' Hot List. The firm represents individuals with mesothelioma and other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos and other toxic substances; water authorities seeking clean-up costs for drinking water contamination; government entities and whistleblowers fighting corporate fraud through Qui Tam and False Claims Act cases; securities investors defrauded by corporate wrongdoing; and consumers in class actions and insurance coverage litigation.
    Susan Jones Knape
SOURCE Baron & Budd, P.C.
State cash crunch must not derail high-speed system
California's head start over other states could evaporate...Editorial
California's lead in developing high-speed rail could be threatened by a cash crunch that has frozen funding of all state spending on infrastructure projects. State leaders need to address the problem immediately.
The California High Speed Rail Authority is out of money, and may have to call a halt to all the planning efforts now under way. That could put the state at risk of losing out on federal funds in both the stimulus bill and the omnibus spending bill.
The stimulus package contained $8 billion for high-speed rail, placed there because President Obama is a fervent supporter of the concept. Obama added another $5 billion for high-speed rail to the omnibus bill now in the Senate.
California's plans for the high-speed system were always contingent on getting federal support, in addition to state bond funds and private sector investments.
California is currently ahead of the rest of the states in planning its high-speed system. We're the only state whose voters have approved spending our own money on such a project, and the environmental and engineering studies required for the massive project are already well begun.
But that lead could evaporate quickly if California's efforts are stalled by money woes. Not a day passes without news of the enthusiasm that's rising in other states and regions to build high-speed systems -- the Midwest, the Northeast corridor, Texas, Florida.
In the meantime, some of the private contractors doing the engineering and environmental reviews in California have already stopped the work because they aren't getting paid. Most of the work of planning, designing and building the high-speed system will be done by private sector companies -- but they won't work for free, nor should they.
The state's Pooled Money Investment Board, which controls the infrastructure funds, will next meet on March 18. The rail authority has asked for a bridge loan of $29.1 million to cover its expenses through the end of June. California must find a way to get that done.
Sacramento Bee
Legal action could stall Natomas levee repairs...Matt Weiser
Levee repairs in Sacramento's Natomas Basin face new legal and financial threats that could delay construction of the massive project.
The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is just weeks from awarding a $90 million construction contract for a key phase of the project. But that work depends on state matching funds, which have been bottled up by the state budget crisis.
And last week, the Garden Highway Community Association filed two new legal actions against the project.
One is a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court against SAFCA. It claims the agency failed to fully analyze environmental damages caused by the first phase of construction along the Sacramento River. Recent changes to these plans, contained in a supplemental environmental impact report approved in January, involve a wider seepage berm in one area that critics say could eliminate more habitat than originally expected.
The second action is a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, filed in federal court. The community group claims the corps analysis of environmental harm caused by the levee project is inadequate.
Doug Cummings, president of the Garden Highway Community Association, said his group is particularly concerned that 1,000 trees are already being removed to accommodate the wider levee.
"Am I just protecting my own house? That's part of it, because I don't like to drive down Garden Highway just looking at a giant berm of dirt," Cummings said. "But most everybody has respect for the Garden Highway's beauty, and we hate to see it destroyed. That's what the lawsuit is about."
SAFCA officials say one section of seepage berm, about a quarter-mile long, needs to be wider to protect historic resources in the area.
They stand behind their environmental analysis and say trees need to be removed now to be ready for construction as soon as funding is available.
"What they seek to accomplish is to block the project, which is simply not going to happen," said SAFCA Executive Director Stein Buer. "There is no question this project is going to get done. It's the most important public safety project for the city and the region."
Last week, in a bid to sidestep the delays in state funding, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill in Congress to fully fund the $618 million project, without waiting for approval by the Corps of Engineers.
Buer said the local agency is spending $3 million a month on consultants, studies and advance work to be ready for construction as soon as state or federal money is available.
"SAFCA has demonstrated we can move this project along at a rapid clip, but we need fuel," he said, referring to the need for matching funds.
SAFCA had planned to award a $90 million contract on March 18 to complete levee improvements on the Natomas Cross Canal and the northernmost 4.5 miles of levee along the Sacramento River in Natomas. But it opted to delay that for two weeks, until April 2, in hopes state funding comes through.
The agency is waiting for the state to approve a funding agreement for the Sacramento River portion of that work, scheduled for completion later this year. Such an agreement is already in place for the cross-canal, which can proceed if money is released by the state.
If a funding agreement isn't signed in time, the first phase of Sacramento River levee repairs could stretch into 2010, Buer said. That could delay future phases of the project, which covers 42 miles of levees surrounding Natomas.
This, in turn, could prolong federally imposed development limits and a flood-insurance mandate in Natomas.
It's unclear what is still holding up state funding, and also the status of separate state bond money for the project. The Natomas levee work was exempted from a freeze in bond funding imposed by the state in December.
Officials at the state Department of Water Resources, which is reviewing the agreement, could not be reached Friday – a furlough day for state employees.
The federal government is expected to cover 75 percent of the project cost. That money can only begin flowing after the Corps of Engineers approves the project, which isn't expected until 2010.
To avoid that delay, SAFCA is proceeding before corps approval by relying on its own budget and state funds, with the understanding that funds will eventually be reimbursed by the federal government.
Matsui's legislation would order full federal funding in advance of formal corps approval. This would allow the federal share – $463 million – to begin flowing immediately.
"We must move swiftly to reduce the risk of flooding in the Natomas Basin," Matsui said in a statement. "If passed, this needed legislation will help ensure the safety of the residents and businesses in the basin."
San Francisco Chronicle
Construct balanced policies...Michael W. Lewis. Michael W. Lewis is the senior vice president of the Construction Industry Air Quality Coalition.
Rebuilding our roads, schools and other infrastructure projects are at the heart of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus plan. Why? Because for every $1 billion the federal government commits to infrastructure helps to support some 35,000 jobs.
That same job-creating equation holds true here in California and is the reason that the governor and lawmakers are focusing on the state's infrastructure needs to help jump-start our economy. In fact, California has literally built its way out of previous recessions and it looks like it will follow that path to economic recovery this time, too.
But over the course of the past 18 months the construction industry has been one of the hardest hit by the collapse of the housing and credit markets, the economic decline and rising unemployment. At the same time, lawmakers and regulators have levied several costly regulations on our industry including the portable equipment rule, off-road construction equipment rule and on-road truck rule. Through each public rulemaking process we have consistently stated our support for these clean air regulations and have offered our input to make the regulations work better for our industry to achieve the highest level of compliance.
The economic environment is indisputably different now than it was when the off-road diesel equipment rule was initially drafted in 2006. Today, the facts paint a pretty grim picture: construction activity is down 40 percent from July 2006; operating engineers' hours, the workers on the jobs, are down 38 percent; construction diesel fuel consumption is down 41 percent; construction revenues are down 28 percent; Construction employment is down 20 percent and dropping fast.
But there is a silver lining to the economic downturn - cleaner air. California has already achieved a 40 percent reduction in emissions from construction activity over the last two years. That's almost half way to the goal set by the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) off-road diesel emission regulation that called for an 85 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.
To ensure that the construction industry survives today's economic hard times, this year's state budget included a provision that awards credit to those contractors who have taken early action to cull their fleets and rid them of older, more polluting equipment. Regardless of whether equipment was sold in preparation of the CARB rule going into effect in 2010 or solely as a business decision to keep a company's doors open, these early emission reductions clearly put California's air quality goals ahead of schedule.
Contrary to critics who have erroneously reported this provision would delay the start of the off-road diesel regulation, a read of the actual legislation shows that all original deadlines and goals remain in place. There are no rollbacks or weakening of any environmental regulations. For those contractors who have not taken action, they must prepare to meet the deadlines in the original regulation. All we received was a receipt for the massive down payment many contractors have already made toward cleaning our air through their early emission reduction actions.
By providing some credit for these early reductions, the industry can better weather the current economic storm and help get California's economy moving. Without some relief, the industry would be required to spend $1 billion this year alone - money it does not have and does not have the ability to borrow - to buy equipment to comply with the regulation over the next 13 months. Unnecessary burdens to achieve an air emission goal we have already met.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has consistently called for a balance between the environmental and economic needs of our state. By providing greater flexibility to contractors, who have already reduced their fleet emissions but are struggling to stay in business, to comply with the regulations, the governor and our legislative leaders are striking the right balance and helping the state's economy by keeping our workers on the job and rebuilding California's infrastructure in the process.
Washington Post
Vilsack: US should boost ethanol blend in gasoline...MARY CLARE JALONICK, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the government should move quickly to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline.
Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency last week to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for the renewable fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year. However, automobile and small engine manufacturers have said there's no certainty yet that such an increase will not harm engines and fuel lines.
"We can, we believe, move fairly quickly to move the blend rate to 12 or 13 percent in the interim," Vilsack told a friendly audience of farmers on Monday, adding that it could eventually be boosted to 15 percent or 20 percent.
It is up to the EPA to lift the cap. Adora Andy, the EPA's press secretary, said in a statement Friday that the agency will review the request and "act based on the best available science."
The ethanol producers contend that by raising the maximum amount of ethanol allowed in a gallon of gasoline, it would increase demand for the fuel additive and create thousands of new jobs as the industry _ which has been reeling in today's tough economic times _ boosts production.
Vilsack spoke to the National Farmers Union annual convention Monday in Arlington, Va.
CNN Money
Time to kill the big banks?
Two key Republican senators suggest that troubled big banks...Paul R. La Monica
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- What's the best way to fix the nation's banking system? Well, at least two senators making the rounds on the Sunday morning political TV gabfests think it's to let the megabanks fail.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., said on ABC's "This Week" that the most troubled banks are already dead and should be "buried."
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., added on "Fox News Sunday" that big banks had to fail even if it meant that shareholders will "take a beating." (Note to Sen. McCain: with the stocks of both Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) down more than 90%, shareholders already have taken a beating.)
So is the solution really that simple? After already propping up two huge banks, Citi and BofA, with $90 billion in bailout funds and hundreds of billions of dollars in loan guarantees, should the government just shut them down the same way that the FDIC closes small, community banks?

Talkback: Should big banks like Citi and BofA be allowed to fail?
There is some merit to the idea that Citi, which Shelby derisively referred to Sunday as a "problem child," and BofA have done so much damage to the economy already that they should no longer be allowed to survive -- at least in their current form.
"Letting more banks fail is something we should at least consider. Blanket capital injections for all banks no matter how healthy they appear to be seems to be counterintuitive," said J.W. Verret, senior scholar for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. "Some banks need to go through FDIC receivership."
 And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. does do a good job of taking over small banks and finding a buyer for them quickly -- often a purchaser is announced the same day that the bank fails.
But closing a bank the size of Citi or BofA -- which is what Shelby appeared to suggest Sunday -- is more complicated.
You can't simply let the banks go out of business. Something has to be done with all the deposits, assets and branches. This would not be your typical FDIC bank failure where regulators swoop in on Friday night, slap up a new sign and it's business as usual on Saturday morning.
 Consider the size of some of the banks that have failed in recent weeks. Typically, they have just a handful of branches and only a few hundred million dollars in deposits. For example, Freedom Bank of Commerce, Georgia, which failed Friday, had four branches and $161 million in deposits.