We’re down to only 63,000 bridges that need significant repairs

Under the glare of floodlights, as late-night drivers and early-morning commuters shared the same traffic backup before dawn Thursday, three lanes of the Capital Beltway closed to let repair crews patch a mega-pothole on the bridge over Kensington Avenue.

It was a bad pothole on an otherwise sound bridge,but the potential for bridge repairs to gum up the works was telling on a day when new federal data revealed that there are 63,000 U.S. bridges in need of more significant repair…

Although there have been some dramatic bridge collapses in recent years, the 63,000 bridges judged structurally deficient are not all about to fall down. Bridges deemed on the verge of collapse are closed.

In a sense, the problem is more insidious than that. When budgets are tight, states and counties often have to put off repairs to bridges and roads. The traditional source they rely on for federal dollars — the Highway Trust Fund — is projected to run into the red this summer.

That has left state and local highway officials in limbo, waiting to see if Congress finds a new revenue source to supply the dollars they need. In some states, half of transportation funding comes from Washington, and until local officials know whether they can expect that to continue, they are loath to launch multi-year projects to renew or replace bridges and roadways…

With much of the nation’s post-World War II infrastructure wearing out and the federal gas tax that built it steadily declining, experts say more than $1 trillion of investment is needed to shore it up…

Deficient bridges — those rated poor or worse because load-carrying elements have deteriorated — can affect consumers. As bridges continue to decline, weight restrictions often result, and when trucks delivering shipments to market take longer, roundabout routes, some prices can increase.

Almost 64,000 bridges nationwide have posted load limits or restrictions reducing the load they previously carried.

I hope you weren’t expecting suggested programs, solutions to this question from Congress. Congressional Republicans believe money shouldn’t be doled out from the Treasury unless the funds are to be dedicated to war and other corporate welfare. Highways shouldn’t expect to get anymore love than, say, public school students. If they can’t prevent spending, they can delay it for years.

What passes for the Republican Party nowadays looks down their patriarchal noses at tax-based funding as something that only comes from workingclass families – employed, underemployed or otherwise. Responsibility for fiscal participation is a sin – if directed at the top 1% of moneyboys in the country.

No matter that highways are an essential part of our mediocre logistics – or that declining funding from gasoline/diesel taxes is a spontaneous result from a nation that’s already been screwed to the wall by politicians who refuse responsibility.

Thanks, Mike

Reynolds Tobacco sued over claims of laundering drug money

Reynolds American, maker of Camel cigarettes, can be sued by the European Union on claims the tobacco company orchestrated a worldwide scheme to launder drug money, a federal appeals court ruled in reviving a suit filed more than a decade ago.

The EU can use U.S. racketeering law to sue Reynolds American, a three-judge panel of the court in Manhattan ruled today, reversing a lower-court judge’s decision to dismiss the suit. The lawsuit was originally filed by the European Community, which was legally replaced by the EU in 2009…

The EC claims Reynolds American directed a scheme in which Colombian and Russian criminal organizations laundered drug profits through European money brokers. The brokers sold discounted euros obtained from the drug sales to cigarette importers, who then purchased Reynolds American cigarettes from wholesalers, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis…dismissed the claims because the alleged money laundering took place outside the U.S. He also ruled that the EC’s presence in the suit deprived the court of jurisdiction.

Golly, are we to believe an industry so respected and concerned with the well-being of folks around the world would participate in criminal activity that benefited drug cartels as well as lining their own pockets?

Wait. Let me get my rubber boots on before we hear from corporate tobacco lovers.

Oh, the photo? John Wayne died from lung cancer.

World’s top bird killers beat out windmills big time

As if cats weren’t bad enough, humans have invented all sorts of torture devices for our winged friends. We’ve paved over their nesting sites to make room for Olive Gardens and have broken up their skyscapes with glass buildings and radio towers.

Then came the most infamous bird killer of all: the wind turbine. As you can see in the chart…these sky blenders top the list.

Just kidding. Windmills aren’t the biggest serial killer, but are instead the smallest threat to birds worthy of mention, on par with airplanes. Turbines are responsible for as little as one percent of the deaths caused by the next smallest killer, communications towers.

You would hardly know this by reading Twitter or scanning the comments on any news article about wind power…

The estimates above are used in promotional videos by Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s biggest turbine maker. However, they originally came from a study by the U.S. Forest Service and are similar to numbers used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Society — earnest defenders of birds and bats.

No matter whose estimates you use, deaths by turbine don’t compare to cats, cars, power lines or buildings. It’s almost as if there’s been a concerted effort to make people think wind turbines are more menacing than they actually are…

It’s nice for wind-farm planners to take migration patterns and endangered habitats into account. But even if wind turbines were to double in size and provide 100 percent of our energy needs (both of which defy the laws of physics as we currently understand them), they still wouldn’t compare to the modern scourges of high-tension power lines or buildings with glass windows. Not even close.

The alternative to renewable energy sources like wind and solar is to burn ever more fossil fuels. Animals are threatened by those, too, including North America’s most common hairless mammal: the human. Roughly 20,000 of these moderately-intelligent animals die prematurely each year from air pollution from coal and oil, according to a study ordered by Congress.

And, of course, ignored by Congress.

Duke Energy’s clean-up of coal-ash will only take 30 year$

Duke Energy Corp. said the total tab for cleaning up its North Carolina coal-ash dumps may reach $10 billion amid a call for national rules to regulate the disposal of the fossil-fuel byproduct…

The largest U.S. utility owner told a North Carolina legislative commission that if it were required to excavate and relocate all its ash in the state and convert to an all-dry handling system, costs would reach $7 billion to $10 billion and take as long as three decades.

The commission met yesterday to discuss the company’s response to a Feb. 2 spill of about 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Environmental groups have called on Duke to remove all of its coal-ash dumps after the spill, which has triggered investigations and subpoenas.

Duke should move all its coal ash into lined, dry pits and stop disposing of it in ponds, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Unlined ponds invariably contaminate ground water, and their dams can fail, he said.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission will decide who pays for the cleanup, Holleman said. “Our position is that law-abiding citizens should not pay,” he said. Duke shareholders are liable for the cost because its ash ponds violate pollution laws, Holleman said.

There is no federal regulation of coal ash. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a January court settlement, agreed to “final action” on proposed coal ash regulations by Dec. 19.

The state utilities commission will determine who pays to clean up ash unless lawmakers decide to change some laws, Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke, said in a telephone interview. The company has not submitted a proposal to regulators regarding the expenses.

A federal grand jury is probing the state’s oversight of the company’s 33 coal-ash ponds in North Carolina. State officials’ “primary desire” is removal of coal ash ponds from the banks of rivers and streams, Pat McCrory, the state’s Republican governor, said in a Feb. 25 letter to Duke Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good.

It’s worth reminding folks that North Carolina’s Republican governor worked for Duke Energy for thirty years or so. Most folks feel that’s why the energy giant hasn’t gotten more than a slap on the wrist until they managed to promote a world-class disaster.

Keep an eye out for the final solution decided by the state utilities commission. Liable to be small enough to pass downstream unnoticed by ordinary mortals.