Nation roundup for September 16
Ala. church looks back on bombing
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Hundreds of people black and white, many holding hands, filled an Alabama church that was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan 50 years ago Sunday to mark the anniversary of the blast that killed four little girls and became a landmark moment in the civil rights struggle.
The Rev. Arthur Price taught the same Sunday school lesson that members of 16th Street Baptist Church heard the morning of the bombing — “A Love That Forgives.” Then, the rusty old church bell was tolled four times as the girls’ names were read.
Bombing survivor Sarah Collins Rudolph, who lost her right eye and sister Addie Mae Collins in the blast, stood by as members laid a wreath at the spot where the dynamite device was placed along an outside wall.
Rudolph was 12 at the time, and her family left the church after the bombing. She said it was important to return in memory of her sister, who was 14, and the three other girls who died: Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley Morris, both 14, and Denise McNair, 11.
“God spared me to live and tell just what happened on that day,” said Rudolph, who testified against the Klansmen convicted years later in the bombing.
Congregation members and visitors sang the old hymn “Love Lifted Me” and joined hands in prayer. The somber Sunday school lesson was followed by a raucous, packed worship service with gospel music and believers waving their hands.
During the sermon, the Rev. Julius Scruggs of Huntsville, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, said, “God said you may murder four little girls, but you won’t murder the dream of justice and liberty for all.”
Top fed candidate withdraws name
WASHINGTON — Lawrence Summers, who was considered the leading candidate to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman, has withdrawn from consideration, the White House said Sunday.
Summers’ withdrawal followed growing resistance from critics, including some members of the Senate committee that would need to back his nomination. His exit could open the door for his chief rival, Janet Yellen, the Fed’s vice chair. If chosen by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate, Yellen would become the first woman to lead the Fed.
In the past, Obama has mentioned only one other candidate as possibly being under consideration: Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chair. But Kohn, 70, has been considered a long shot.
The administration also reached out to former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner early in the process. Geithner maintained that he was not interested in being considered.
Obama is expected to announce a nominee for the Fed chairmanship as early as this month. Bernanke’s term ends Jan. 31, 2014.
In a statement, Obama said he had accepted Summers’ decision.
“Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today,” Obama said.
Man, 5 kids killed in Ohio home fire
TIFFIN, Ohio (AP) — A fast-moving fire claimed the lives of a man and five children ages 6 and under on Sunday morning when it swept through a mobile home in northwest Ohio.
The fire was reported shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday in a mobile home park in Tiffin, about 50 miles southeast of Toledo. Firefighters got all six people out in about 12 minutes, but all were pronounced dead at a hospital, Tiffin Fire Chief William said.
Owanna Ortiz said her first cousin, Anna Angel, was the children’s mother and lived in the home with them and the man who died. She said her cousin had four daughters of her own as well as a son with the man.
“She had a whole family and now she has nothing,” Ortiz said.
The family didn’t have a car and had to get around on bicycles, Oritz said.
“If she had to get somewhere, they had two strollers they had to take, but they made it work,” Ortiz said.
A stroller, a little pink bicycle and an adult bicycle with a bike trailer could be seen outside the home with its charred and broken windows. The two oldest children were in kindergarten and first grade, Ortiz said.
Bacteria threatens oyster industry
BOSTON (AP) — A mystery of sorts threatens to stunt Massachusetts’ small but growing oyster industry after illnesses linked to bacterial contamination forced the state to shut down beds for the first time ever.
The culprit is the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium, which has occurred in state waters since the 1960s. Theories abound about the recent increase in illnesses linked to Massachusetts — but those are only theories.
“Honestly, I’m confused by the whole thing,” said Don Merry, an oyster grower from Duxbury, where oyster beds have been closed.
Average monthly daytime water temperatures in the region rarely approach the 81 degrees believed to be the threshold that triggers dangerous Vibrio growth.
Rising average water temperatures locally, while not reaching that threshold, could be causing environmental changes that cause strains of Vibrio to thrive, said Suzanne Condon, associate commissioner of the Department of Health.
Pa. gay marriage murky after ruling
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania judge’s order stopping a suburban Philadelphia court clerk from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples leaves their legal status unclear, with an appeal possible and other legal actions pending or in the works.
Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes said Thursday he was disappointed but would comply with the decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini. Hanes said he thinks the 174 licenses he handed out are legally valid.
“I believe they are … but I can’t make that decision,” he said.
Pellegrini said Hanes did not have the power to decide on his own whether Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban violates the state constitution.
“Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the Marriage Law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the Marriage Law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials,” Pellegrini wrote.
The state Health Department under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took Hanes to court after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July, despite a 1996 state law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In his opinion, Pellegrini said, “There are no obstacles preventing those adversely affected by the provisions of the Marriage Law from asserting their own rights in an appropriate forum.”
Nicola and Tamara Cucinotta of Paoli filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court last Friday against the governor. Their suit argues that their marriage is permissible under the state constitution and asks the state to recognize their union.
The women obtained one of the first same-sex licenses from Hanes this summer, and later married.
“It doesn’t say anything about Hanes, or about Montgomery County, or whether they received a license or (not),” lawyer Cletus Lyman said. “It says they are suing for the right to be married.”
Hanes, a Democrat and an elected official whose duties include marriage licenses, said the law conflicts with his constitutional obligations. His actions followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to throw out part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and a statement by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Robert Heim, a lawyer for some of the same-sex couples who obtained licenses from Hanes, noted that Pellegrini said the legality of the licenses was not an issue before him.
“The 32 couples that I represent are going to have to decide whether they also want to litigate it in the Commonwealth Court, since Judge Pellegrini virtually invited it,” Heim said.
James Schultz, Corbett’s general counsel, issued a statement saying the key issue was whether local officials can decide which laws to uphold or reject, based on their personal legal opinion.
“We respect the interests and dignity of all the parties involved in this case, but we are a government of laws and it is important that all office holders across the state enforce those laws uniformly,” Schultz said.
A separate challenge to Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban is pending in federal court, and ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney Vic Walczak said Pellegrini’s decision will have no impact on that proceeding.
“It is full speed ahead for the ACLU lawsuit,” Walczak said.
Kane is not defending the federal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban, having turned over that case and the Hanes matter to Corbett’s lawyers.
Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that does not grant legal status to marriage or civil unions between individuals of the same sex.
US judge upholds EPA’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge rejected a bid by farm industry groups to block federal and state pollution limits designed to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay by more tightly regulating wastewater treatment, construction along waterways and agricultural runoff.
U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo in Harrisburg ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was within its authority to work with six states and Washington, D.C., to set and enforce standards to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that drain from rivers into the bay and harm the ecology of the nation’s largest estuary.
In her 99-page decision Friday, Rambo rejected arguments that the EPA overstepped its bounds under the federal Clean Water Act, created an unfair process and used standards that were flawed or unlawfully complicated.
The EPA and the group of Chesapeake Bay states “undertook significant efforts to preserve the framework of cooperative federalism, as envisioned by the (Clean Water Act),” Rambo wrote. The act is “an ‘all-compassing’ and ‘comprehensive’ statute that envisions a strong federal role for ensuring pollution reduction.”
The American Farm Bureau, which originally filed the suit in 2011, was still reviewing the decision Saturday and did not immediately say whether it would appeal.
“We are disappointed for all famers of all sizes, whether they grow food for local restaurants and markets or for national stores,” spokeswoman Tracy Taylor Grondine said.
The EPA called the ruling “a victory for the 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed” while other groups that supported the regulations, including the National Wildlife Federation and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, applauded Rambo’s decision.
“This is a great day for clean water in the region, there could be no better outcome,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker said in a statement.
Groups that had joined the farm bureau’s effort included the Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Chicken Council, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and the National Turkey Federation.
Farm runoff — such as animal waste and fertilizer that get into streams and rivers from watering or rainfall — is the single largest source of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the EPA. Agriculture groups had become alarmed at the plan, saying it unfairly singled out farmers and the cost to protect waterways from runoff could devastate farmers. The National Association of Home Builders also had challenged the Chesapeake Bay plan.
To date, more than 47,000 water pollution-reduction plans have been completed throughout the United States, and the Chesapeake Bay plan is the largest and most complex so far, Rambo said.
State-federal efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay water quality stretch back 30 years to 1983, when the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and the head of the EPA signed the first “Chesapeake Bay Agreement.”
After years of missing deadlines, the EPA and six states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — and Washington, D.C., agreed in 2007 to establish a pollution-reduction program by May 1, 2011, and to reach the targeted limits by 2025.
The agreement did not violate the Clean Water Act because the EPA and the states all agreed to it and states were given the flexibility to decide how to meet the limits, Rambo wrote.
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