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Senate Passes Bipartisan Transportation Bill

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Senate Passes Bipartisan Transportation Bill

EcoWatch

The Senate approved a $109-billion transportation bill today by a margin of 74-22. The bipartisan bill highlights the political pressure felt in both parties to bolster job creation, modernize an outdated transportation system and implement measures to reduce the nation's oil addiction.

With the federal highway trust fund set to expire March 31, House Republicans will likely abandon their version of the bill that reads like a wish list for Big Oil by tying provisions to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline and recklessly expand offshore drilling to transportation policy and infrastructure. Even Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), an early advocate of the House bill, has come to his senses and adjusted his position.

“With the number of amendments that came up to open up lands and waters to oil drilling or force the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, the Senate showed it is committed to keeping the transportation bill free of new favors to Big Oil,” said David Moulton, senior legislative director for The Wilderness Society. “Senators also showed their support for proven conservation by passing a 2-year funding guarantee for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

“The Senate transportation bill is a laudable bipartisan milestone at a time when Congress seems otherwise paralyzed and deadlocked," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "The bill will help rebuild America and create thousands of new jobs in the process including in transit, bike paths and programs to help get kids to and from school safely. Most notably the bill includes two of the most important conservation investment measures in decades—the RESTORE Act, which would dedicate BP fines and penalties to Gulf restoration, and a long-term reauthorization and new funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

“Although there is room for improvement, this bill takes important steps forward in repairing our existing infrastructure and investing in clean, convenient transportation options such as transit, biking and walking," said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club.

Unfortunately, the Senate missed a chance yesterday to extend renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives by rejecting Sen. Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) transportation bill amendment.

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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

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Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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