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By Javier Panzar, Emily Alpert Reyes, and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

REFUGIO STATE BEACH, Calif.– A section of oil pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of crude along the Santa Barbara County coast could be dug up by the end of the holiday weekend, authorities said, giving them the first opportunity to determine what caused the break.

More than 650 workers and 17 boats worked Saturday to clean up the black sheen, so far collecting 9,492 gallons of oily water mixture and 1,250 cubic yards of oily soil.

The rupture occurred on the inland side of U.S. 101 on Tuesday, spilling up to 105,000 gallons onto the coastal bluffs. An estimated 21,000 gallons ran down a culvert under the freeway and into the ocean at Refugio State Beach.

Cleaning crews must remove all the oil in the pipeline before they can pull it out to see whether corrosion, pressure or a series of failures led to the spill. They removed 15,540 gallons on Saturday, said Rick McMichael, director of pipeline operations for Plains All American Pipeline. He said that a “significant amount” was left and that cleanup crews were adding a second “tap” to speed up the process.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has ordered the pipeline operator to ship the ruptured pipe for metallurgical testing that will establish the condition of the pipe when it failed.

Federal records show Plains has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued the company in 2010 over a series of 10 oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The oil from this rupture has spread to seven miles of coast, from Arroyo Hondo Creek to the west to El Capitan State Park on the east. Oil-stained birds and marine mammals were starting to show up farther away, as far south as Ventura and as far north as Point Conception.

A sea lion rescued from the spill area died overnight after being taken to Sea World for rehabilitation. An elephant seal and another sea lion recovered from the area are still alive. Five birds and two marine mammals have been found dead, and 10 live birds are being cleaned at a facility near Los Angeles, said Dr. Michael Ziccardi with the Oiled Wildlife care network.

At a news conference in Santa Barbara, company officials defended their operations, saying the pipeline met industry standards.

“Safety is a core value,” said Patrick Hodgins, senior director of safety and security for Plains. “And we do not put dollars in front of safety.”

Dozens of protesters nearby chanted, “End oil now!”

“Our most immediate demand is that dispersants be taken off the table as an option,” said Rebecca Claassen, an organizer with the activist group Food and Water Watch. Chemical dispersants help oil break into small droplets that disperse throughout the water column, keeping some of it from washing ashore in big slicks. But environmentalists have raised concerns about the health effects of the dispersants and the effects on aquatic life.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said no chemical dispersants have been used in the cleanup, although they have not ruled out using them in the future.

State parks officials said Refugio and El Capitan state parks would remain closed through June 4.

With national news crews staking out the area, campers and beachgoers seemed to be scared away from other parts of one of California’s most tranquil stretches of coast.

At Gaviota State Park, a few miles west of the oil plume, attendance was way down. Niel and Jamie Dommeyer came down with their three children to camp, expecting the usual hundred or so people on the beach. Saturday there were not even a few dozen.

“We’ve had the beach all to ourselves the last couple of days,” Niel said. “It has been real quiet.”

On Coal Oil Point, 12 miles southwest of the spill, volunteers tallied up the number of whales and calves that passed. Whenever they spied one with their binoculars from the vista point, they called the officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to warn them.

“They’ll try to steer the whales away from the oil,” said Michael Smith, project coordinator of Gray Whales Count.

He said the group was doing its 11th annual survey and had seen an impressive surge in the number of whales spotted — more than 1,400 so far.

Smith, a research biologist, was worried about the bottlenose dolphins seen frolicking below, along with harbor seals and sea lions.

“It’s all going to be impacted by it — and in many cases tragically,” he said.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: General Physics Laboratory via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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