National briefs: Wider danger to oil trains

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BILLINGS, Mont. — The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the Northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.

Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment — not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.

Mr. Hart cited recent derailments in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Brunswick and Pennsylvania of oil shipments from Canada. He said those cases exemplify “the risks to communities and for the environment for accidents involving non-Bakken crude oil.”

Mr. Hart’s comments were contained in a letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained by The Associated Press. They add to growing pressure on federal regulators to improve oil train safety in the wake of repeated derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration last July.

Highway bill stalls

WASHINGTON — A roadwork slowdown reminiscent of the partial closure of the federal government last year is now hanging over the U.S. economy as Congress leaves town without a deal for replenishing the Highway Trust Fund.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tried to move things along Thursday with a bill in the Senate Finance Committee that would provide a six-month, $9 billion infusion. His bill, funded largely by tax changes, failed to win over Republicans and the committee chose to leave for a weeklong recess without voting as they pursue a deal all sides might agree to.

‘‍Real Americans’ wooed

MINNEAPOLIS — With 2½ years remaining, President Barack Obama has been blocked by Congress and is running out of steps he can take on his own to achieve his goals.

So, the White House is trying to maximize Mr. Obama’s exposure to “real Americans,” hoping that more intimate and less scripted interactions will remind struggling citizens why they voted for him in the first place.

A poignant letter from one of those Americans prompted Mr. Obama to fly to Minnesota to spend time Thursday with Rebekah Erler, 36, an accountant and mother of two whose tale of financial struggle made its way to Mr. Obama’s desk, one of the 10 letters from Americans that he reads each night.

Eagle deaths waiver

FRESNO, Calif. — A California wind farm will become the first in the nation to avoid prosecution if eagles are injured or die when they run into the giant turning blades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday.

The Shiloh IV Wind Project LLC, 60 miles east of San Francisco, will receive a special permit allowing up to five golden eagles to be accidentally killed over five years.

Also in the nation ...

New York City lost its bid Thursday to ban oversize sodas in a ruling by the state’s highest court, ending for now the city’s efforts to revive a regulation struck down in legal attacks by beverage industry trade groups. ... A new study released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that excessive drinking accounted for 1 in 10 deaths of working-age adults. The deaths included the long term effects — such as liver disease — as well as car crashes and alcohol poisoning.

— Compiled from news services

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