Friday, July 21, 2017

In South Philly, a battle over parking in Broad St.'s median

median parking on Broad St in Philly
Jake Blumgart reports for PlanPhilly:
In South Philadelphia, the median of the Broad Street thoroughfare is usually full of parked cars. It’s a long-standing tradition in these densely packed rowhouse neighborhoods, one that provokes astonishment and bemusement in visitors.
But critics of the practice say it is dangerous. Crashes occur when pedestrians dart out from the column of parked vehicles or when a car attempts to jet into traffic from a direction other drivers aren’t expecting.
For the past year, a campaign lead by the urbanist PAC 5th Square sought to pressure the city into removing the vehicles, which technically are illegally parked. Neither the police nor the PPA punish those who flout the law, though, except during special events like the Democratic National Convention.
Now 5th Square is suing the Philadelphia Police Department and the PPA to compel them to enforce the law.
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Ridgewood loses over water rates charged to neighbors

The following was reported today by

A judge has found in favor of three municipalities that
sued the village of Ridgewood over ordinances that increased water rates 31 percent over the years 2010-2012.

Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia on Thursday determined that Ridgewood had enacted rate increases for Ridgewood Water customers that were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" and must recalculate rates and pay refunds to customers.

The plaintiffs, Glen Rock, Midland Park and Wyckoff, are all served by Ridgewood Water, a utility owned and operated by the village of Ridgewood. The municipalities claimed in their lawsuit that Ridgewood had overcharged customers millions of dollars by enacting the rate hikes to offset village operating expenses. 

For example, the plaintiffs said, the costs of Ridgewood police and fire salaries, legal expenses, and health insurance costs for non-utility workers were all shifted to customers of the the water utility. The goal, they said, was augmenting the village budget and easing the burden on Ridgewood taxpayers at the expense of water customers.

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Federal flood insurance program learns lessons from Sandy

Current NFIP is underwater with debt, overhaul would address that problem, be more responsive to homeowners, and cap the cost of annual increases

black mold flood
Credit: Faith Liguori

John Reitmeyer reports for NJ Spotlight:
With a hard deadline for reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program now a little more than two months away, federal lawmakers from New Jersey are backing a bipartisan proposal that would both renew the program and overhaul it in a way that incorporates lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy.
The flood-insurance program, or NFIP, underwrites policies for thousands of New Jersey homeowners who live in coastal zones or other flood-prone areas, but it was roundly criticized by New Jersey storm victims in the wake of Sandy, for what they said were questionable denials of claims and delayed payments.
The program is also deep in debt, partly because of the flood of claims filed in the wake of Sandy, making it a major fiscal headache for Congress.

Affordable and responsive

A reauthorization bill that seeks to make the NFIP both more affordable and more responsive to homeowners was formally introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this week by U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-9th) and Frank Pallone (D-6th). Their legislation mirrors a bipartisan bill in the Senate that was unveiled last month by U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and John Kennedy (R-LA). Time is also of the essence for the reauthorization effort since the NFIP is facing a September 30, 2017 expiration date.
The changes proposed in the six-year reauthorization bill include capping annual premium increases to homeowners; freezing interest payments that the program owes the federal government for funds that have been borrowed to pay out claims; and limiting profits that private-sector insurance companies can make while underwriting program policies.
The proposed reauthorization also seeks to give the flood-insurance program a more preventive approach by offering incentives like low-interest loans for homeowner flood-mitigation projects. It would also encourage the use of more modern flood-mapping technologies.

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Sean Spicer resigns as White House press secretary

Anthony Scaramucci (left) is in. Sean Spicer is out. 

Abby Phillip, Ashley Parker and Damian Paletta report
for The Washington Post

White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday, following the appointment of wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, according to a White House official.
Spicer’s abrupt and angry departure — which caught even senior West Wing staffers by surprise — reflects the latest upheaval in a White House that has been consumed by chaos and staff infighting since almost the day President Trump took office.
 Scaramucci has previously had a tense and fraught relationship with both Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who both vehemently objected to Trump’s decision to install Scaramucci in the top communications job. Scaramucci has coined a particularly crude nickname for Priebus, and Priebus previously blocked the financier from several other top White House roles. 
Scaramucci had been in talks with the president and senior staff all week. But the shake-up comes amid intensifying tumult at the White House as Trump moves to respond to the widening special counsel probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government and searches for ways to revive the administration’s stalled legislative agenda.
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

That French plan to attract climate scientists? It’s working

Emma Foehringer Merchant writes for Grist:

After his election, French president Emmanuel Macron created a program setting aside $69 million to fund researchers, especially from the U.S., to ply their trade in France. “Here, you are welcome,” Macron 
told scientists via Twitter, in a not-so-subtle jab at President Trump.
A month later, it appears researchers took Macron seriously. According to France’s national research agency, hundreds of climate scientists from around the world have applied for the program. Many hail from the U.S. The agency says most applicants are looking for short sabbaticals, but more than 150 applied to stay for four or more years.
Macron’s idea has its detractors. French researchers felt snubbed because their president built a shiny website to attract new talent at a time when domestic science needed more funds, according to Science. Grist’s own Nathanael Johnson pleaded with leading American climate researchers to “resist France’s allure” because their smarts are so needed here. 

But when the U.S. administration 
casts aside scientists every chance it gets, it’s hard to argue with researchers’ interest in going where they’re wanted. One tenured climate expert told Nature that if her position were more precarious, she’d be “jumping at the opportunity.”
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Global warming melts ice, alters fabled Northwest Passage

Frank Jordans reports for The Associated Press:

More than a century has passed since the first successful transit of the treacherous, ice-bound Northwest Passage by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1906. Now The Associated Press is sending a text, video and photo team through the passage, where global warming is melting sea ice and glaciers at an historic rate, altering and opening up the Arctic in a way unprecedented in recorded history.

Although the passage presents an attractive shortcut for maritime traffic between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, only a dozen or two vessels attempt to navigate the poorly charted Canadian Arctic Archipelago during the brief summer window each year. Many are sturdy coast guard icebreakers, adventure cruises and thrill-seekers in small, nimble boats hoping to pick their way through fields of floating ice that can easily strand unprepared mariners.

Some also consider the Northwest Passage a future alternative for freighters aiming to save fuel on the route from Asia to Europe, and there have been several test runs over the years. The region has become a magnet for nations wanting to tap into the Arctic’s rich oil reserves and other natural resources and for scientists seeking to understand global warming and its impacts on the sea and wildlife.

The AP is accompanying an international group of researchers for a weeks-long expedition on MSV Nordica, a 27-year-old Finnish government-owned icebreaker, to view firsthand the changes taking place in one of the planet’s most forbidding corners.

This is the first post from the voyage, which began July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, entered the passage at the Bering Strait nine days later and ends in Greenland toward the end of July.

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California extends cap-and-trade with some GOP support

California Gov. Jerry Brown. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
California Gov. Jerry Brown has been an outspoken leader on climate change, Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Georgina Gustin reports for Inside Climate News:

California lawmakers voted Monday night to extend the state's signature program for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, furthering California's leadership on climate change. The bipartisan vote provides what many supporters hope will become a model for tackling global warming as the Trump administration works to unravel federal regulations.
California's cap-and-trade program—the only one of its kind in the country and the second largest in the world—is the centerpiece of the state's efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It was established by a 2006 law and launched in January 2013 to run through 2020, but its fate beyond that was uncertain until now.
Monday's vote extended the cap-and-trade program through 2030, but with a few changes that turned some environmental groups against the legislation. Among them, it allows big polluters to continue buying permits to emit more greenhouse gases and it bars some separate regulations on refineries.
The bill passed the Senate 28-12 and was approved 55-21 in the Assembly, earning the supermajority it needed to pass. It now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

A Rocky Road to Approval

When Brown last week announced the legislation to extend the program, three vocal factions emerged: Republicans pleaded with the governor to back away from the proposal, saying it would hurt California's economy. Progressive environmental groups—including may representing polluted minority communities—bashed the proposals as a giveaway to polluters, particularly the oil industry. Other influential environmental groups applauded the legislation, saying it represented a reasonable balance that represented the best change for moving the program forward.
"It's been crazy wheeling and dealing all week," said Danny Cullenward, a researcher with Near Zero, a climate consultancy based at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University.
The state's cap-and-trade program reduces emissions by setting a statewide emissions cap that is lowered over time. Polluters are required to either cut their greenhouse gas emissions by a set amount or buy permits, or allowances, from other companies that successfully cut theirs.
Brown, who is attempting to cement a climate legacy after a long career in politics, spent most of the last week appealing to lawmakers, even attending a committee hearing in the state capital on Thursday where lawmakers pored over details of the bill.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

Pennsylvania may not be able to pay its bills within weeks

Dave Davies reports  for newsworks:

Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella is warning that state might be unable to pay all its bills in a matter of weeks if the budget standoff in Harrisburg isn't resolved.
The Legislature has approved $32 billion in spending, but lawmakers and the governor haven't agreed on a revenue package to fund it.
Torsella has written lawmakers saying the state's general fund — in effect, its checking account — has been running lower balances as the state's financial position has weakened.
Torsella said without a realistic revenue package to support the planned spending, the fund will be in the red in eight of the next 12 months.
And, he said in an interview, the trouble will begin soon.
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Christie says airports must enforce Trump travel ban

Governor lambastes Democratic-controlled Legislature for bill that would allow Port Authority employees to sidestep ban

newark airport

Matt Katz reports for WNYC:

Praising President Donald Trump's travel ban as an effective public safety measure, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have prohibited airport employees from enforcing restrictions on certain travelers from Muslim majority nations seeking to enter the United States.
The bill approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature would have forbid employees of the Port Authority — which operates Newark Liberty, JFK, and LaGuardia airports — from providing "aid, resources, assistance, or support to any federal employee" enforcing the Trump travel ban. In order to become law, a similar measure would have had to be signed into law in New York, which jointly runs the Port Authority with New Jersey.
Pending a final Supreme Court ruling later this year, a modified version of the travel ban is in effect — travelers must have a "bona fide" connection to the U.S. if they come from one of the six affected countries.

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Lawmakers: Public cut out of Christie’s $300M renovation

Boarded-up windows at NJy Statehouse, in Trenton, N.J. (Photo: Mel Evans, AP)
Michael Catalini reports for The Associated Press:

TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie’s administration sought to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate New Jersey’s deteriorating statehouse four months before the project was authorized, cutting out the public in a process a bipartisan group of lawmakers describe as “rigged,” according to interviews and documents.

The Christie administration put out a request for proposals for a finance company to sell bonds to rehab the dilapidated building in December and selected RBC Capital Markets in January, months before an April meeting of a joint legislative-executive branch committee that approved the project, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a records request.

The Republican governor says that everything was done legally and has defended his handling of the sweeping project to renovate the executive wing of the building — part of which dates to the 18th century and has flaking paint, duct-taped skylights and inadequate fire safety devices.

There is little prospect for stopping the project, which could end up costing nearly a half-billion dollars and has drawn concerns about transparency and a lawsuit from Democrats and Republicans. A Superior Court judge ruled last month that the lawsuit was moot since the bonds to pay for the project had already been sold.

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