Top NASA scientist arrested at White House protest


The arrest of actress Daryl Hannah at a protest this week outside the White House led to headlines. But it's the detainment of NASA's top scientist on climate change that's generating talk.

James Hansen was arrested alongside Hannah and several other people at a sit-in to protest the Keystone XL project, a proposed $7-billion, 1,700-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Environmentalists fear the project will destroy pristine forests and pave the way for another devastating oil spill, but proponents say it will create jobs and reduce the nation's reliance on oil from places such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Hansen heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which examines such hot-button issues as climate change and humans' effect on the planet. Before being taken away by authorities, Hansen used a microphone to urge President Obama to act "for the sake of your children and grandchildren" and stop the pipeline project, according to a Bloomberg report.

A Fox News report put the sharpest point on Hansen's arrest: "As a government employee, Hansen is essentially taking potshots at his own employer."

That's nothing new for the outspoken Hansen: In 2006, he accused the Bush administration of trying to ban him from public speaking after he called for prompt reductions in greenhouse gases.

NASA spokesman Ed Campion told The Times on Wednesday that he could not discuss whether any action would be taken against Hansen, or whether the space agency approved of such actions. But Campion did say that Hansen was well aware of the agency's policies regarding employee activities.

He added: "Dr. Hansen was on his own time, he had taken leave, so he wasn't on official duty, and he was not representing the agency."

Hansen, who has been arrested before for protesting climate change issues, was recently named in a lawsuit seeking documentation about his employment beyond NASA, and whether he violated ethics and financial reporting guidelines by accepting funds from environmental organizations.

Efforts to reach Hansen on Wednesday were not successful. He told Solve Climate News that he is obligated to protest and speak out.


Canada-Texas oil pipeline moves forward

New concerns in Congress over Keystone XL pipeline

U.S. will do new studies on Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: Actress Daryl Hannah and others protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Credit: Jason Reed / Reuters

Vermont begins recovery from severe Irene flooding

Woodstock, Vt.
Two days after Hurricane Irene sent as much as 12 inches of rain and flash floods coursing through the Green Mountain state, Vermonters set about the work of digging out as federal officials arrived to survey the damage and bring aid to more than a dozen towns that were still isolated across the state.

Bulldozers and dump trucks fanned out across the state under a brilliant blue sky Tuesday to clear away the trees, propane tanks and debris that had been dragged down the state’s rivers and tributaries during the weekend’s flash floods. Trucks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived Monday to assist those affected by the storm.

Utility officials had made progress,  restoring power to 30,000 households after the storm rolled through Sunday, but 20,000 households were still without power, and some areas, including parts of Woodstock, were without running water.

One of the biggest problems was the widespread damage to roads. About 500 workers were beginning to repair about 200 roads that were impassable because of collapsed bridges and gaping sinkholes that in some instances stretched the length of several cars.

PHOTOS: In the path of the storm

State workers were bringing food and water by helicopter to the communities cut off by road damage.

Vermont, like many others across the Eastern Seaboard, was declared a disaster area by President Obama, meaning that communities will be eligible for up to 75% of infrastructure repairs. But many whose homes were damaged were discovering the limits of flood insurance or the repercussions of not having  insurance.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday was visiting Brattleboro, Wilmington and Ludlow with FEMA Administrator  Craig Fugate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

It was unclear whether  Obama will visit the storm-damaged areas. “There’s still a response focus in some states, and now a recovery focus,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday when asked about the president’s plans. “The president, working with the FEMA administrator and other members of his team, [Homeland Security] Secretary [Janet] Napolitano and others, is primarily focused on that.  If we have a scheduling update to make, we’ll let you know.”


Millions without power after Irene

Obama officials to tour hurricane destruction

Obama's uncle arrested on suspicion of DUI, White House not commenting

-- Maeve Reston in Woodstock, Vt.

Photo: Lindsey Jones makes her way down floodwater-damaged Route 4 in Woodstock, Vt., on Monday.  Credit:  AP / Valley News / Polina Yamshchikov

Vermont 'underwater' as it deals with record flooding from Irene

Click here to see more pictures of Hurricane Irene. Vermont faced its worst flooding in decades in the wake of Irene, with parts of the state remaining underwater Monday morning even as rivers had begun receding. There were widespread reports of flash flooding as well as downed power lines and washed-out roads.

More than 50,000 people were without power, which was unlikely to be restored for days. And there were new hazards created by propane tanks that had been ripped from their foundation by the rain and floods. The state is among the hardest-hit by Irene, which made landfall in North Carolina as a hurricane but was downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way up the coast and into New England. The damage is so severe that President Obama signed an emergency declaration Monday to speed needed supplies and federal resources to help Vermont's cleanup and recovery.

PHOTOS: In the path of the storm

Residents were urged to stay off the roads, in part because emergency services were being pressed to their limits with officials cautioning that they could not get to everyone. Cars were swept away on flooded roads and many roads were impassable, leading to numerous closures.

There has been at least one fatality, emergency officials said Monday -- a woman who was swept away by the Deerfield River in southern Vermont on Sunday.  Emergency officials could not immediately confirm her identity.

Rising floodwaters near the swollen Winooski River led the state’s emergency operations center in Waterbury to evacuate early Monday morning, forcing officials to relocate to FEMA offices in Burlington. Power and phone outages were widespread –- even emergency management officials were having trouble accessing email. All state offices were closed on Monday.

At least nine shelters were opened across the state, including six operated by the Red Cross in Brattleboro, Springfield, Hartford, Rutland, Barre and St. Johnsbury. Residents with private wells were urged to boil water; so was the entire town of Manchester, where a water main had broken.


Irene cleanup begins as Vermont reels from 'epic' flooding

Irene strands 2,500 on North Carolina's Hatteras Island

N.Y. has subways again, but Irene leaves millions without electricity

-- Maeve Reston in Brattleboro, Vt.

Photo: North Main Street in Waterbury, Vt., is underwater in the wake of Irene. Credit: Glenn Russell / Burlington Free Press

Irene cleanup begins as Vermont reels from 'epic' flooding

Click here to see more pictures of Hurricane Irene. President Obama signed a declaration of emergency Monday for Vermont, hard hit during the night by severe and "epic" flooding caused by the last gasps of Tropical Storm Irene. Cleanup and damage assessment is underway up and down the East Coast with some estimates putting a $7-billion price tag on this storm. 

The worst-case scenarios never came to pass as Hurricane Irene barrelled toward the U.S., making landfall in North Carolina and losing strength as it made its way up the East Coast. But that has been little solace to the Northeastern states. More than 22 deaths were attributed to the storm, a number that could rise as the soggy cleanup continues. Millions remain without power and stranded or displaced by floodwaters. 

It will take days, perhaps more than a week to restore power to all customers. 

Here's a look at where the damage stands, but it will surely change as authorities begin assembling reports:

PHOTOS: In the path of the storm

--Vermont, already experiencing an unusually wet year, suffered widespread flooding after Irene dumped six inches of rain on the area. The fear of falling trees and downed power lines remained a concern. One person was reported killed in the storm. Hundreds of roads are flooded and closed throughout the state. Many streams and river tributaries were flooding Monday morning. Even the state’s emergency management department offices were evacuated and the department’s email system is down. 

The flooding was so bad that rescue teams were unable to reach stranded residents in towns along the Winooski River, including the capital, Montpelier. President Obama's emergency declaration for the area will speed much-needed federal funds and other resources to aid cleanup.

Continue reading »

Irene's high winds, heavy rain batter Connecticut


As Tropical Storm Irene moved north Sunday it battered Connecticut with strong wind gusts and rain. State officials urged residents to stay inside and off the roads, warning that the back half of the storm was bringing extremely high winds and that dangerous conditions persisted with downed power lines and trees.

Much of the rainfall was in the western part of the state, which got 8.3 inches of rain, state officials said. The Bridgeport power substation was submerged. Damage to cellphone towers were causing telecommunication problems.

PHOTOS: In the path of Irene

Power outages have now surpassed the state’s record, which was set by Hurricane Gloria in 1985, according to Connecticut Light & Power. The utility reported on its website that 48% of its customers -- almost 600,000 -- lacked power shortly before 2 p.m. Gov. Dan Malloy estimated that there were 700,000 homes statewide without electricity.

There were so many residents trying to access the outage map at the utility's website that the page would not load. Over Twitter the power company invited customers to text "Outage" and their ZIP Code to get information about outages in their town, but a few minutes later tweeted: "We’re having technical difficulties due to the amount of texts we’re receiving. Thanks for your patience."

Towns where 90% to 100% of customers were without power included Bethany, Bethelhem, Bolton, Branford, Brooklyn, Canterbury, Chester, Clinton, Cornwall, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Eastford, Essex, Franklin, Glastonbury, Griswold, Guilford, Hampton, Hebron, Killingly, Killingworth, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Lyme, Madison, Marlborugh, Middlefield, Monroe, Montville, Morris, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Plainfield, Preston, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Salem, Scotland, Sprague, Sterling, Stonington, Tolland, Voluntown, Westbrook, Weston and Woodstock.

The Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways were reopened, but state officials said drivers should expect extensive delays because of debris. Tractor trailers were being permitted to use I-95.

Malloy planned to hold a briefing on the damage at 6 p.m., which will be streamed online.


Hurricane Irene irks Long Island's penguins

North Carolina residents rescue a dolphin beached by Irene

Atlantic City's senior citizens gamble on Hurricane Irene -- and win

-- Maeve Reston in Mystic, Conn.

Photo: A flooded home in Washingtonville, N.Y. Credit: Paul Kazdan / Associated Press

Hurricane Irene churns its way north; 8 dead

Hurricane Irene satellite
Hurricane Irene, a ferocious and slow-moving storm, smashed into North Carolina on Saturday morning, then slowly swirled its way up the Eastern Seaboard, flooding low-lying areas, knocking out power to as many as 1 million customers and forcing the densely populated regions of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City to take unprecedented steps as they braced for impact.

At least eight people are known to have died as a result of the storm in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. 

Irene is expected to continue its northward path through New England before weakening early Sunday morning. The youngest victim, an 11-year-old boy, was killed when a tree crashed through his apartment building in Newport News, Va.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

“I've never even heard of a hurricane around here,” said Peter Watts, working at the Vitamin Shoppe in downtown Philadelphia. “Or an earthquake,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude temblor that shook the East Coast.

Storm-related disruptions of daily life were immense. About 10,000 commercial airline flights were canceled, and more than 2 million people were ordered evacuated from areas inundated by the surging floodwaters that accompanied the 450-mile-wide hurricane's northward path at 16 mph.

Evacuation orders affected people in Staten Island and Battery Park in New York City, the Jersey Shore, all coastal areas of Delaware, plus parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

“Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish and it's against the law,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took to television to plead with about 600 seniors who refused to leave their Atlantic City high-rises. He said he feared they would be injured or worse if the hurricane’s expected 80 mph winds shattered their windows.

“You’re correct that I cannot make you leave your home and I certainly do not intend to place you under arrest to get you to leave,” Christie said. “But if you stay where you are, you’re putting yourself in danger as well as your loved ones.”

In New York City, the country’s largest subway system ground to a halt as officials took precautions against flooding. In an effort to minimize flying debris in the face of brutal, sustained winds, city sanitation workers turned over 25,000 trash cans.

Obama visits FEMA

President Obama, who paid an unannounced visit Saturday to the Federal Emergency Management Administration headquarters in Washington, declared a state of emergency in nine states.

The president praised emergency preparations, but warned that the worst was not over. “It's going to be a long 72 hours,” the president said. “And obviously a lot of families are going to be affected…. So we’ll have to stay on top of the recovery.”

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said that the large, slow-moving storm could also produce dangerous tornadoes. Tornadoes “will not be on the ground very long,” he said. “But they can still be very devastating.”

Officials also expressed concern about 11 nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard and said they had dispatched staff to make sure the plants' reactors are protected by backup power systems, according to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Though the storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane as it made landfall in Jacksonville, N.C., on Saturday morning, it still packed 85 mph winds and plenty of danger. Officials warned people not to underestimate Irene’s power for devastation.

“If you’re in a hurricane, you're in a hurricane,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Saturday morning at a briefing at FEMA headquarters. “We anticipate heavy rain, potential flooding and significant power outages throughout the area of the storm, which means all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

By Sunday morning, the storm was expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it reached New England. It will continue to lose steam as it moves north and east across the eastern edge of Canada, finally veering into the Atlantic Ocean, off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Deaths in the South

Five deaths from Hurricane Irene were reported in North Carolina.

On Friday, a man installing plywood on the window of his home in Onslow County died of a heart attack, said Ernie Seneca of the North Carolina Emergency Management office in Raleigh. A man in Nash County, N.C., was reported killed by a falling tree limb outside his home Saturday; and a third man died in Pitt County when he lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree, officials said. Two others in the state died in car accidents.

In Newport News, Va., an 11-year-old boy was killed when a tree crashed into his apartment building, said Kim Lee, a city spokeswoman. And in Brunswick County, a man died when a tree fell on his car.

And off New Smyrna Beach, Fla., authorities said, a 55-year-old surfer died in 7-foot waves.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Also, authorities in New Hanover County, N.C., were searching for a man who either fell or jumped into the Cape Fear River on Friday as the first, outer bands of the storm began to ravage the area. A rescue team was sent out, but returned because of the rough conditions, said Michelle Harrell, an emergency operations staff member there.

“It is now more of a recovery mission,” Harrell said.

Despite the deaths and disruption, there were plenty of skeptics of the multi-state alarms and evacuation orders.

On Harker’s Island along North Carolina’s southeastern coast, for instance, the mood among many hurricane veterans was defiant. On Saturday afternoon, at Sammy’s Seafood House and Oyster Bar, owner Sammy Boyd sat at his wooden bar putting away a steak lunch.

The streets were empty, and his competitors on the touristy strip -- the Ruddy Duck, the Sanitary -- were boarded up. But Boyd -- a former commercial fisherman -- declared he was open for business.

He had been watching the storm closely, but had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. A Category 4 or 5, he said, would have driven him to safer ground. But a Category 1? “To me, it felt like a regular old bout of wind and rain.”

Not evacuating

On Long Island, a block from the water in South Freeport, Nick Dionisio watched his neighbors take off.

“I thought he was going to stick it out,” said Dionisio as a car drove past.

“Anyone smart would leave,” replied his friend, Jesse Olivero.

Irene’s eye was predicted to hit there late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Dionisio and his friends decided to defy evacuation orders.

“You gotta watch your stuff,” said Dionisio, 23. “I got not other choice.”

Dionisio is worried about the tide that is expected to surge to 6 to 8 feet. The hurricane is set to land just as the new moon brings the highest tide of the month Sunday morning.

Dionisio planned to drive his car inland, then return by foot or bike to stay. “You don't want to be caught sleeping during this,” Dionisio said.

As Hurricane Irene's surge had reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday afternoon, coastal Maryland and Virginia began feeling the strength of the storm.

In Ocean City, Md., police stopped patrolling about 7 p.m. as winds picked up and streets became flooded.

The city had been effectively evacuated since midnight Thursday with only 200 or so people remaining, according to city communications officer Donna Abbott. Speaking from the town’s emergency center, Abbott said police were still responding to emergency calls Saturday evening, but that those could be halted if sustained winds over 50 mph continued for 10 minutes or more.

Police in tidewater Virginia communities imposed a curfew, asking that no one travel during evening hours within the city limits of Portsmouth and Hampton. Officials in Virginia Beach ordered residents to evacuate several low-lying areas and the city opened shelters.

Flash flood watch in DC

Washington, D.C., and its suburbs were drenched but not badly disabled Saturday afternoon and early evening as bands of rain and wind started to hit the region. Anxiety and anticipation took the biggest toll during the day. Checkstands at a grocery stores in Washington's northwest quadrant were backed up as residents stocked up on food and emergency supplies.

Traffic gridlocked around Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where the city was distributing free sandbags. Residents waited hours in line only to be told in the late afternoon that the supply had been exhausted.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Frustrated residents then learned that buying sandbags also was not an option. The Strosnider’s Hardware chain sold out of all sandbags at its three suburban Maryland locations early in the day. Power outages were reported sporadically in Maryland and Virginia as the sun set.

The district was under a flash-flood warning Saturday night, as city officials warned of winds up to 65 mph and 4 to 8 inches of rainfall.

The storm also forced officials to accelerate transfer of the last remaining in-patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The facility's Red Cross flag was lowered a day early Saturday afternoon, after original plans to close the medical center were moved up because of the impending storm.

The northwest Washington facility, which has accumulated a devoted following in its 102 years of service, had been slated for closure for years. On Saturday morning, supporters stood outside Walter Reed's gates with signs –- “Thank you for your service. We love you!” –- as an ambulance carrying the last remaining in-patient turned down Georgia Avenue.

Area airports began curtailing flights and Washington’s Reagan National Airport was reported as open but with no flights arriving or departing Saturday evening. United Airlines said it hoped to operate most of its flights out of Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia. But United Express announced it would cease operations.


Tourists trapped in New York City

N.C. expected flooding from Irene -- and got it

Connecticut and Rhode Island join evacuation lists

-- David Meeks in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Richard Fausset and David Zucchino in North Carolina, Kim Geiger and Tom Hamburger in Washington, D.C., Nathaniel Popper and Geraldine Baum in New York, and Stephen Ceasar and Robin Abcarian in Los Angeles.

Photo: A satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Saturday shows the sprawl of Hurricane Irene over the east coast of North Carolina as it made landfall. Credit: NOAA 

Connecticut, Rhode Island join Hurricane Irene evacuation list

Long Island

Though Hurricane Irene was still hundreds of miles south, residents of low-lying areas of Connecticut and Rhode Island were evacuated Saturday as officials warned of widespread flooding from the powerful storm that is expected to strike at high tide.

In an afternoon briefing, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said the storm would make landfall between Stamford and Bridgeport early Sunday morning, bringing seven to 12 inches of rain.

“I want to remind people that much of what you’ve watched on TV so far has occurred in states that were experiencing low tide,” Malloy said during a late afternoon briefing. “We expect to experience all of the brunt of this storm tomorrow morning at high tide, and that could be a very serious difference. So please do not draw conclusions about what you’re watching on [television], beaches at low tide that are getting battered.”

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

A flood watch was in effect for portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island through Sunday night.

Malloy said Connecticut was bracing for widespread power and telecommunication outages. After a reporter noted that during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 some residents were without power for as many as 14 days, Malloy replied, “That is one eventuality that we are preparing for.”

Malloy said authorities were likely to close the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways once winds approach 50 miles per hour, because of the many trees surrounding those roads. Serious wind damage is expected; the state is more forested than it was 50 years ago.

“What we are saying is, ‘Hey folks, complete your travel before nightfall, hunker down and please stay off the roads,'” Malloy said.

Officials in the Northeast were also urged to consult maps showing the flooding from a similar –- though perhaps not as powerful –- storm in 1992, which also hit Western Long Island Sound at high tide.

By nightfall on Saturday, shopkeepers in downtown Mystic, steps from the Mystic River, had removed their window displays and taped the plate glass to limit shattering. Some had jammed sandbags around their doors in an attempt to keep the water out. Even the local Starbucks had been boarded up with plywood.

Farther north on the docks of the New Bedford harbor in Massachusetts, lobstermen were bringing in the last of the traps in the midst of intermittent rain and sunshine. The harbor was crowded with fishing boats that were lashed together with ropes and tied to docks.

Chris Stowell, 34, and his father, Freddy, had spent the afternoon helping a friend bring in 150 lobster traps on the senior Stowell’s boat, the Jim Dandy. Both men said they didn’t see the point in worrying about the storm.

“If you freak out, you’ve got problems,” said Chris Stowell, as he tossed heavy green and yellow lobster traps from the Jim Dandy to the docks.

Stowell said he still has about 800 of his own lobster traps about 65 miles offshore. When asked if he was worried about them, he crossed his fingers in his heavy blue plastic gloves. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

During the storm, Stowell said his father’s boat would be “staying right in her spot where she’s been for 30 years --- Jim Dandy’s corner.”

The task of unloading the 150 traps was the group’s last before the arrival of Hurricane Irene. When the storm came in, Chris Stowell said, he'd be “sitting at home, having a Bud.”


Hurricane Irene death toll hits 5

Octogenarian couple won't leave North Carolina home

Hurricane Irene: 600 elderly residents refuse to evacuate Atlantic City high-rises

-- Maeve Reston in Mystic, Conn.

Photo: A surfer dries off and watches the waves in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island as Hurricane Irene approached. Credit: Peter Foley / European Pressphoto Agency

Obama shortens vacation, will monitor Hurricane Irene from D.C.

As Hurricane Irene approaches the East Coast, President Obama abruptly cut short his vacation plans and will return Friday night to Washington, D.C.

Obama is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard with his family and was scheduled to return to Washington Saturday morning. Hurricane Irene is currently a Category 2 hurricane but could strengthen before it makes landfall.  Obama warned Friday morning that “indications point to this being a historic hurricane.”

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

It was not immediately clear when First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia would leave the Vineyard. 


View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map


The decision was announced just minutes ago. Earlier Friday morning, plans were still on track for the president to leave the Vineyard on Saturday morning. Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said the president decided it would be “more prudent for him to be in Washington, D.C., and be at the White House at the end of the day today” and not because of any concerns about his safety.

Obama participated in a federal exercise in 2009 that practiced for a Category 3 hurricane striking New York City, Earnest said. He stressed that over the last few years, the Obama administration has been preparing and evaluating readiness for a storm of this scale.

Obama held a conference call today with five East Coast governors and a number of mayors. The administration has activated a national medical network to make sure medical supplies are available across the Eastern Seaboard.

Asked about the economic effect of the storm, Earnest said: “We are focused on protecting lives."



Hurricane Irene: Get ready for blackouts and more

Obama says prepare, then get out of Hurricane Irene's way

Hurricane Irene: 'This is not just a coastal event,' authorities warn

-- Kim Geiger and Maeve Reston

Photo: President Obama heads toward a news announcement about Hurricane Irene while vacationing on Martha's Vineyard. Minutes later, he announced he would be cutting short his vacation and heading back to D.C. Credit: Vincent DeWitt/Pool Photo


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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