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Saturday, October 24, 2020

week ending Oct 24

 Fed's Bostic says significant portions of U.S. recovery are weak or nonexistent (Reuters) - It will be a while before the U.S. economy is fully recovered and before the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates or remove the support it is providing financial markets, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic said on Monday. “On balance, I am comfortable with our current policy stance,” Bostic said in remarks prepared for a virtual event organized for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Annual Meeting. “As I have detailed today, though the U.S. economy continues to show clear signs of recovery, there remain significant portions where the recovery has been weak or nonexistent.” The Fed moved quickly to support the economy in March by slashing rates to zero and launching emergency lending programs to support market functioning. Those programs will stay in place as long as needed, however, market participants should expect the central bank to sunset some of its emergency lending vehicles after the crisis has passed, Bostic said. The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic caused the most pain for Black and Hispanic workers, who were disproportionately affected by job losses, Bostic said. Many of the jobs lost may not return, particularly in travel and food services, as companies adjust to lower demand or use technology to replace workers, he said. Leaders in economics and finance need to openly acknowledge gender, racial and other disparities and support policies that can help close those gaps, he said. For the Fed, that includes supporting the labor market recovery to minimize the risks of long-term damage, Bostic said. “Indeed, an unnecessarily slow labor market rebound could just drive historic wedges deeper, continuing to exacerbate the geographic, racial, gender, and income disparities in our economy,” Bostic said.

Top Fed Official Says Policy Response Could Speed Faster Recovery – WSJ - A top Federal Reserve official said Monday the U.S. economy could stage a faster recovery from the coronavirus-induced recession than it did following the 2008 global financial crisis. Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida said it is possible that the recession that began in March already has ended, though it could take another year before broad measures of economic output fully recover to their pre-pandemic levels. In remarks delivered virtually at a banking-industry conference, Mr. Clarida said the strong rebound in part reflected aggressive actions by policy makers at the Fed, in Congress and the White House to maintain access to credit and to provide relief to households and businesses. “Additional support from monetary—and likely fiscal—policy will be needed,” Mr. Clarida said. He didn’t go into specifics about what steps the Fed might take after it last month made more explicit its plans to hold interest rates lower for longer than it has done in past economic downturns. Most officials in projections last month indicated they expect to hold rates near zero for at least three years. The Fed isn’t anticipated to take new policy action at its next meeting on Nov. 4-5. Mr. Clarida said the path of the recovery going forward will be shaped in part by the course of the virus, social-distancing responses and other mitigation efforts. The recovery in economic data that followed efforts in March and April to suppress the virus by reducing commercial activity had been “surprisingly strong,” he said. This development was “especially noteworthy when set in relief against the surge in new [virus] cases that were reported this summer and the coincident flatlining in a number of high-frequency activity indicators that we follow to track the effect of the virus on economic activity,” he said.

Fed’s Brainard Says More Spending Needed to Avoid Recovery Imbalance – WSJ - A top Federal Reserve official warned that the U.S. economy would face a substandard and uneven recovery without additional government spending to shore up the hardest-hit sectors from the coronavirus pandemic. “Apart from the course of the virus itself, the most significant downside risk to my outlook would be the failure of additional fiscal support to materialize,” said Fed governor Lael Brainard in remarks set for delivery in an online discussion on Wednesday. Ms. Brainard said robust relief efforts this spring and summer to provide more generous unemployment benefits and grants to small businesses had likely contributed to a stronger-than-anticipated rebound after the coronavirus pandemic froze economic activity in March and April. But she warned that the current K-shaped recovery would further exacerbate longstanding disparities in the economy and labor market without more targeted government spending, including for unemployed Americans and hard-hit businesses, cities and states. “Premature withdrawal of fiscal support would risk allowing recessionary dynamics to become entrenched, holding back employment and spending, increasing scarring from extended unemployment spells, leading more businesses to shutter, and ultimately harming productive capacity,” she said. Ms. Brainard said the monetary-policy framework adopted by the Fed in August would allow the central bank to provide more support to the economy by keeping interest rates lower for longer than it has in prior business cycles. Officials last month said they would keep rates near zero until the labor market has recovered and inflation has hit 2% and is on track to exceed 2%. The strategy entails allowing inflation to moderately overshoot the Fed’s 2% target and could lead the Fed to raise rates more gradually after any initial increase, Ms. Brainard said. For the new policy to be effective, the Fed will have to “stay the course resolutely,” she said. Ms. Brainard said the Fed would deliberate and could clarify in the months ahead how its purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities can complement the more detailed rate guidance that officials issued last month. The Fed is buying $120 billion in securities a month to keep short- and long-term interest rates low but hasn’t offered as much precision about how long those purchases will last.

Fed’s Beige Book shows slight to modest growth, recovery uneven -- The U.S. economy continued to grow across the country as it recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, but the picture was uneven, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve. “Changes in activity varied greatly by sector,” the central bank said in its Beige Book survey released Wednesday in Washington. “Economic activity continued to increase across all districts, with the pace of growth characterized as slight to modest in most districts.” The report was based on information collected by the Fed’s 12 regional banks through Oct. 9. The U.S. economy’s rebound has shown some signs of slowing in recent weeks as fiscal stimulus passed in early spring has expired and COVID-19 makes an autumn resurgence. The most recent economic data has been mixed, with consumer spending rising while jobs gains have slowed. Fed Gov. Lael Brainard warned earlier Wednesday that more fiscal stimulus is needed, with spending and employment at risk. The report was released in advance of the Federal Open Market Committee’s meeting Nov. 4-5, which starts the day after the U.S. election. Economists expect the central bank to make few if any changes to policy. “Districts characterized the outlooks of contacts as generally optimistic or positive, but with a considerable degree of uncertainty,” the Beige Book noted. Restaurants — many of which have been able to stay afloat by offering outdoor dining — were worried about the looming cooler weather slowing sales. Banks voiced concern about the prospect of rising delinquency rates in coming months, though they’ve so far been stable. Employment increased but growth remained slow, with the labor market seen as tight by hiring firms, which they blamed on workers’ health and child care concerns, and the outlook cloudy. “With the pandemic ongoing and the stimulus ended, uncertainty remained extremely high in anticipation of layoffs, foreclosures, and bankruptcies,” the Philadelphia Fed reported. Several districts reported robust activity in the construction sector amid increased real estate market activity, driving up wages as demand for workers increased. The price of building materials rose and lumber was often hard to come by. The chance that lawmakers in Washington will agree on a new round of spending remains in the balance. The White House has boosted its fiscal-stimulus offer in negotiations with Democrats, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she’s hopeful for a deal.

Fed's Beige Book: "Slight to modest" Growth in Economic Activity - Fed's Beige Book "This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis based on information collected on or before October 9, 2020."  Economic activity continued to increase across all Districts, with the pace of growth characterized as slight to modest in most Districts. Changes in activity varied greatly by sector. Manufacturing activity generally increased at a moderate pace. Residential housing markets continued to experience steady demand for new and existing homes, with activity constrained by low inventories. Banking contacts also cited increased demand for mortgages as the key driver of overall loan demand. Conversely, commercial real estate conditions continued to deteriorate in many Districts, with the exception being warehouse and industrial space where construction and leasing activity remained steady. Consumer spending growth remained positive, but some Districts reported a leveling off of retail sales and a slight uptick in tourism activity. Demand for autos remained steady, but low inventories have constrained sales to varying degrees. Reports on agriculture conditions were mixed, as some Districts are experiencing drought conditions. Districts characterized the outlooks of contacts as generally optimistic or positive, but with a considerable degree of uncertainty. Restaurateurs in many Districts expressed concern that cooler weather would slow sales, as they have relied on outdoor dining. Banking contacts in many Districts expressed concern that delinquency rates may rise in coming months, citing various reasons; however, delinquency rates have remained stable....Employment increased in almost all Districts, though growth remained slow. Employment gains were reported most consistently for manufacturing firms, although firms continued to report new furloughs and layoffs. Most Districts continued reporting tight labor markets, attributing it to workers' health and childcare concerns, with many firms consequently offering increased schedule flexibility; a few Districts, however, noted some firms were finding it easier to hire workers. Wages increased slightly in most Districts, often tied to firms' difficulty finding workers, especially for low-wage or high-demand jobs. Some firms reported returning wages (and raises) to normal levels, but many reported more stable wages.CR Note: This suggests economic growth has slowed recently.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy - These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment - some of the sectors that will recover very slowly. The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.  This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).The dashed line is the percent of last year for the seven day average.This data is as of Oct 18th. The seven day average is down 64% from last year (36% of last year). There has been a slow increase from the bottom.The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.  This data is updated through October 17, 2020.  Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown. This data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through October 15th. Movie ticket sales have picked up slightly over the last couple of months, and were at $12 million last week (compared to usually around $150 million per week in the early Fall).  This graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels - prior to 2020).  This data is through October 10th. Hotel occupancy is currently down 29.2% year-over-year.  Notes: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.  So far there has been little business travel pickup that usually happens in the Fall.  This graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week last year of .  At one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY.  As of October 9th, gasoline supplied was off about 8.3% YoY (about 91.7% of last year). This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities."  There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index.  This data is through October 17th for the United States and several selected cities.  According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is still only about 56% of the January level. It is at 49% in Chicago, and 59% in Houston.  Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR).   This graph is from Todd W Schneider.This data is through Friday, October 16th. Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

Q3 GDP Forecasts --From Merrill Lynch: The advance 3Q GDP report should reveal a historic 33% qoq saar rebound in real activity, driven largely by recoveries in consumption, residential and equipment investment. This forecast will recoup half of the decline in GDP during from the COVID shock. [Oct 23 estimate]   From Nomura:  Base effects will drive Q3 2020 real GDP higher but monthly data suggest the recovery has entered a slower phase. We think real GDP rose 34.7% q-o-q saar (7.7% q- o-q unannualized) in Q3, highlighting the swifter-than-expected pandemic recovery thus far. As COVID-19 weighs on activity, we expect a more gradual recovery through H1 2021 before an acceleration in H2. [Oct 23 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 13.7% for 2020:Q3 and 3.5% for 2020:Q4. [Oct 23 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNowThe GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2020 is 35.3 percent on October 20, up from 35.2 percent on October 16. [Oct 20 estimate] It is important to note that GDP is reported at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR).  A 35% annualized increase in Q3 GDP, is about 7.8% QoQ, and would leave real GDP down about 3.3% from Q4 2019.The following graph illustrates this decline. This graph shows the percent decline in real GDP from the previous peak (currently the previous peak was in Q4 2019). This graph is through Q2 2020, and real GDP is currently off 10.2% from the previous peak.  For comparison, at the depth of the Great Recession, real GDP was down 4.0% from the previous peak.The black arrow shows what a 35% annualized increase in real GDP would look like in Q3.  Even with a 35% annualized increase (about 7.8% QoQ), real GDP will be down about 3.3% from Q4 2019; a slightly smaller decline in real GDP than at the depth of the Great Recession.

 Fiscal Policy Efficacy in Times of Covid – Menzie Chinn - From a CBO working paper by Selsiki, Betz, Chen, Demirel, Lee, and Nelson, “Key Methods That CBO Used to Estimate the Effects of Pandemic-Related Legislation on Output”. Table 2 reports the ranges for a period of economic slack (empirical evidence in support of recounted in this New Palgrave survey article on multipliers), and then the adjustments made for social distancing. The “direct effect” varies by measure (purchases of goods and services vs. unemployment insurance enhancement vs. PPP). Noteworthy is the fact that the demand multiplier for the Paycheck Protection Program is quite small; however, if we are interested in preventing the scarring effect due to massive bankruptcies of small and medium sized firms, we might still view this measure as a net positive. These estimates underpin the no-Covid legislation counterfactual described in this post from exactly one month agoFigure 1: GDP as reported (black bold), CBO July 2020 projection (blue), CBO counterfactual of no pandemic related recovery legislation (red), all in billions Ch.2012$, SAAR. Source: CBO, The Effects of Pandemic-Related Legislation on Output (September 18, 2020), and author’s calculations.Without the quick and substantial measures undertaken in the spring, we would be in a much deeper hole. A prospective analysis of different spending packages — using a similar methodology — is provided by Wendy Edelberg and Louise Sheiner at Brookings here. The key graph depicts the impact on real GDP, for each $400 billion dollar package.

Pelosi gives White House 48-hour deadline for coronavirus stimulus deal | TheHill Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave the White House a 48-hour deadline for the coronavirus stimulus deal, her top aide tweeted Saturday night.  Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, posted that the Speaker and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke on the phone for more than an hour on Saturday night. He said the agreement had to be “addressed in a comprehensive manner in the next 48 hours.” The speaker told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the 48-hour deadline applies to whether the coronavirus stimulus deal would be completed before the election. “The 48 only relates to if we want to get it done before the election, which we do,” she said. “I'm optimistic because, again, we’ve been back and forth on all of this.”When asked by George Stephanopoulos whether Americans would “get relief before Election Day,” Pelosi responded, “Well, that depends on the administration.”The Saturday talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin resulted in “some encouraging news on testing,” Hammill tweeted.But he added that “there remains work to do to ensure there is a comprehensive testing plan that includes contact tracing and additional measures to address the virus’ disproportionate impact on communities of color.”President Trump has encouraged a deal before the election, suggesting Mnuchin should go beyond the current $1.8 trillion proposal, despite Republican senators’ pushback on the cost. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not bring a $1.8 trillion deal to the Senate floor, but the chamber plans to vote this week on a $500 billion bill with a Paycheck Protection Program extension and expanded unemployment benefits. Pelosi and Democrats have argued that proposed bills from the White House and Senate are inadequate, calling for more funding for state and local governments.

Pelosi, Mnuchin push coronavirus relief talks as U.S. Senate votes on limited bill  (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans are preparing to bring up legislation on Tuesday to replenish a program that helps small businesses slammed by the coronavirus, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin discuss a larger stimulus package. Pelosi and Mnuchin, who have been negotiating intermittently since August on a fresh coronavirus aid plan, plan to speak again on Tuesday after they “continued to narrow their differences” in a nearly hour-long call Monday, Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote on Twitter. Pelosi, the top elected U.S. Democrat, has set the end of the day Tuesday as a deadline for agreement with the White House, if a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill is to get through both chambers of Congress before Election Day on Nov. 3. President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed $1.8 trillion, while Pelosi has been pushing for a $2.2 trillion aid and stimulus package. That is in addition to the $3 trillion in coronavirus relief Congress already approved in the spring. While Pelosi said on Sunday she was optimistic a deal could be reached on a fresh package, and a spokeswoman said Monday the White House was also “cautiously optimistic,” optimism was in shorter supply in the Republican-run Senate, where many Republicans oppose passing more coronavirus aid. A senior Senate Republican, John Thune, expressed doubt Monday that there would be enough Senate Republican votes to pass a comprehensive bill as large as the White House bid of $1.8 trillion. “It’d be hard,” Thune, the Senate Republican whip, told reporters.

McConnell warns White House against making stimulus deal before election -  Prospects for an economic relief package in the next two weeks dimmed markedly on Tuesday after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) revealed that he has warned the White House not to strike an agreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the the Nov. 3 election.In remarks at a closed-door Senate GOP lunch, McConnell told his colleagues that Pelosi (D-Calif.) is not negotiating in good faith with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and any deal they reach could disrupt the Senate’s plans to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court next week. Republicans have voiced concerns that a stimulus deal could splinter the party and exacerbate divisions at a time when they are trying to rally behind the Supreme Court nominee. The comments were confirmed by three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them.McConnell’s attempted intervention came as Pelosi and Mnuchin continued negotiating over the roughly $2 trillion economic relief package. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the “conversation provided more clarity and common ground as they move closer to an agreement.” But no deal can become law without McConnell’s blessing, and his direct warning to the White House imperils the chances of any bill becoming law in the next two weeks.McConnell told reporters Tuesday that if a deal were reached and passed by the House with President Trump’s support he would put it on the Senate floor “at some point” -- but did not commit to doing so before the election.McConnell has not been part of the Pelosi-Mnuchin talks, which have jumped around in chaotic fashion, and had already made his opposition to an enormous new bill clear. Republicans could lose control of the Senate based on the outcome of Novembers elections, and senators have made clear to the White House that voting on a huge stimulus deal could mean the end of their majority if it scares away fiscally conservative voters. Mnuchin and Pelosi have continued dancing around a deal for weeks, however, particularly amid signs that the economic recovery is weakening markedly. The deal under discussion would provide another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, more unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, money forcoronavirus testing, and support for airlines and hospitals, among other things.

Waiting for aid: U.S. airline workers 'pawns' in stimulus battle -After so far failing to convince Congress to approve another $25 billion bailout for coronavirus-slammed airlines, the industry is looking to a fresh Tuesday deadline set by Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a COVID-19 relief deal with the Republican White House. Airlines were hoping for legislation before Sept. 30, when a first package tied to job protections expired despite broad bipartisan support as Democrats and Republicans wrestled with conflicting agendas and priorities before the Nov. 3 election. “We’re pawns,” said Houston resident Jessica Trujillo, one of at least 50,000 airline workers - along with her flight attendant husband Rene - without a paycheck. United Airlines and American Airlines, two of the top three U.S. carriers, have furloughed 32,000 workers. At least 20,000 other employees of the two companies have taken unpaid leaves of absence while watching rollercoaster negotiations in Washington that have seen prospects for more aid rise and fall on a daily, and even hourly, basis. “We are bare-bones right now and the emotions back and forth are really really hard,” said Trujillo. She and her husband both chose unpaid leave from United in order to ensure medical coverage after losing Rene’s brother, who did not have health insurance, to the coronavirus in September. They are part of a politically diverse group of airline workers from gate agents to pilots who have spent the past three months bombarding lawmakers with phone calls, letters, emails, social media posts and marches pleading for more airline payroll support either through a large COVID-19 relief deal or a standalone bill. Last week President Donald Trump was willing to raise his offer of $1.8 trillion for a COVID-19 relief deal with Democrats in the U.S. Congress, but the idea was shot down by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican, who plans a Senate vote on a $500 billion proposal on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Pelosi has stuck to her demand for a $2.2 trillion aid and stimulus package.

U.S. coronavirus aid talks imperiled amid Republican opposition  (Reuters) - The White House and Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved closer to agreement on a new coronavirus relief package on Tuesday as President Donald Trump said he was willing to accept a large aid bill despite opposition from his own Republican Party. With just two weeks until the U.S. presidential election, Trump signaled a willingness to go along with more than $2.2 trillion in new COVID-19 relief, a figure Democrats have been pushing for months. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, publicly said he would bring up a deal if one is reached by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and approved by the House of Representatives. But he provided no timetable and privately has told his fellow Republicans that he did not favor a deal before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections, a senior Senate Republican aide told Reuters. Holding a vote on a costly new package of aid could prove politically difficult for some Senate Republicans running for re-election in conservative states. Nonetheless, Trump, whose prospects for re-election are in doubt, tacked in the opposite direction. “I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News, as talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin continued. Pelosi, speaking to reporters after a mid-afternoon call with Mnuchin, was asked about prospects for a legislative package by the end of this week. “I hope so. That’s the plan,” she said. In a letter to her fellow Democrats on Tuesday evening, however, Pelosi made no mention of wrapping up the battle by week’s end. “I remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement before the election,” she wrote. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said that a 45-minute call between the speaker and Mnuchin was productive “as they move closer to an agreement.” Hammill said on Twitter that negotiations would continue on Wednesday. The White House has proposed $1.8 trillion in coronavirus relief, while Pelosi is pushing for $2.2 trillion. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Pelosi said aid to state and local governments and Republican demands for liability protection for businesses remain sticking points. But she suggested the Democrats could find grounds to agree on liability protections if the administration agrees to eliminate certain language sought by McConnell that she believes would overshadow protections for workers.

“Fiscal Cliffication” Continues as the Election Looms -  Long time readers will remember that I’ve been an aggressive advocate of large fiscal support to the economy so that there weren’t major income and financial impacts from having to quarantine. As the prospects of a new deal become more remote, I added my voice to the larger calls for a new package. I’ve outlined the damage that could be inflicted by not having a deal. I ended this run of articles with a piece in the Guardian warning against the terrible prospect of congress passing another fiscal deal. And especially not extending the supplemental unemployment insurance.  When it became clear we weren’t getting a fiscal package, I stepped back to analyze the “Fiscal Cliffication” of our economic policy. As I explained in that article, the Republican party has many political incentives not to pass a fiscal package. These hold especially if they strongly suspect Donald Trump will lose in November. Meanwhile, Democrats also have political incentives not to engage in a deal.. As I said: While this is disastrous for the country at large, the political incentives each party faces are going to lead to intensifying fiscal cliffs for the foreseeable future […] Without major and extreme change to our politics, we’re much more likely to see half-hearted and inadequate short-term extensions to the most minimal support to households and businesses, for as long as legislation requires inter-party cooperation. Clearly, however, the politics of a new fiscal package have now evolved.  For details on the negotiations, you should be reading the excellent coverage by Jeff Stein at the Washington Post. The most important thing to understand is that the negotiations have not moved onto the main hurdle — Senate Republicans. While Democrats have been able to get the Trump administration to improve it’s offer in terms of dollar amounts, it’s not clear how meaningful that is without Senate Republicans participating. Negotiations have stalled at a back-and-forth between Trump, and House Democrats. House Speaker Pelosi’s stated position as of this writing is that she is not willing to accept the Trump administration’s proposed 1.8 trillion dollar offer. This offer includes another round of stimulus checks to every American, expanded unemployment insurance, and 300 billion for state and local governments.  Pelosi’s stated objections are firstly that the Trump administration is asking for too much discretion in allocating funding for coronavirus testing and secondly that they haven’t agreed to set terms on how state and local government support would be allocated. There are also a range of other issues where the terms and dollar amounts are not set, such as for childcare and a refundable tax credit for lower income Americans. She is also strongly objecting to the controversial idea of providing businesses a liability shield from coronavirus related lawsuits. This is a stated “red line” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While these issues are significant, it is not clear that they are worth holding up a package while millions of households are facing starvation and eviction.

 5 Senate Democrats break ranks in vote on PPP small-business loans - Five Senate Democrats joined Republicans Tuesday in a vote on extending small-business Paycheck Protection Program loans without a broader COVID-19 stimulus deal. The defections bring Republicans in the Senate within striking distance of the 60 votes needed to pass legislation, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insists on a larger package. In a “show” vote called by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the five Democrats broke with party leaders, giving a 57-40 division in favor of McConnell’s preference for smaller bills. Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) backed McConnell’s position. All except Hassan are seeking re-election Nov. 3, with Peters and Jones considered the most vulnerable. One Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and a moderate Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, did not vote, meaning Republicans are within one to three votes of 60. The vote was staged as a motion to table, in which McConnell motioned to table the PPP legislation, then voted against tabling it. The maneuver maintains his ability to call another vote on the legislation.

Coronavirus stimulus update: Senate relief bill blocked as Pelosi, Mnuchin talk - Senate Democrats blocked Republicans' attempt to pass a $500 billion coronavirus stimulus bill Wednesday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin make a last-ditch push to strike a relief deal before the 2020 election. The GOP tried to advance its bill, similar to one Democrats opposed last month. The measure failed in a 51-44 party-line vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed. The stalemate in the Senate extends months of gridlock on Capitol Hill as millions of Americans, trying to afford food and housing and keep their businesses open, await more federal aid during an economic crisis. Election-year politics have jarred the legislative process as new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. reach levels unseen in weeks. Republicans in Congress argue Democrats have reached for an expensive wish list filled with many provisions unrelated to the crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Democrats are engaging in "all-or-nothing obstruction" as they hold out for a comprehensive deal worth about $2 trillion. Democrats, meanwhile, accuse the GOP of failing to recognize the magnitude of the economic and health crisis gripping the country. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called the Republican plan "partisan" and "emaciated." The legislation before the Senate on Wednesday included funds for a second Paycheck Protection Program loan for struggling small businesses, a $300 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and liability protections for businesses, among other provisions. It did not include another round of direct payments to people. The Senate vote on a bill that had little chance of becoming law came as Pelosi and Mnuchin extended their discussions toward a comprehensive agreement. The sides said they made progress in a conversation Tuesday.  Both Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said they aim to have a deal in place before the end of the week. Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke Wednesday afternoon, and the speaker's office said they moved closer to being able to write legislation. The pair will talk again Thursday. The negotiators face a range of political pitfalls with under two weeks until the election. After at one point pulling out of talks, President Donald Trump has pushed for a sprawling relief bill as voters head to the polls. He has even claimed he wants to put more money into a package than the $2.2 trillion Democrats seek. But every step the White House takes toward Democrats' position risks losing more Senate Republican support in a potential vote. It appears unlikely a bipartisan agreement would get the 13 Senate GOP votes needed to overcome a filibuster. "If they're going to come up with a $2 trillion bill that is going to put money on items that are not needed directly related to Covid, then that is not a direction we should travel," Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CNBC on Wednesday.

Mnuchin downbeat on economic relief talks with Pelosi as clock runs out ahead of election - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered a downbeat assessment Friday about his economic stimulus talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying the speaker had “dug in” and “significant differences” remain.Mnuchin’s comments at a White House event came at the end of a week Pelosi had established as an informal deadline for getting agreement on an approximately $2 trillion spending bill in order for legislation to pass before the election. There was no agreement in sight, although Pelosi insisted that she remained optimistic.“You have to be optimistic in a negotiation,” the speaker said on MSNBC.Later in the day, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter that the Democratic leader and the Treasury secretary would “speak again once additional progress is made.” He said staff-level work would continue through the weekend.Mnuchin said that if Pelosi wanted to compromise, they could get a deal. Pelosi said essentially the same thing about President Trump.Senate Republicans fume as Mnuchin gives ground to Pelosi in search of a deal.For his part, Trump repeated his accusation that Pelosi just wants to “bail out” poorly run blue states, even though governors of both parties have sought additional federal assistance. Trump accused Pelosi of trying to put off a deal until after the election in order to score political points, which he predicted would backfire.“I’d like to see the people get the money,” Trump said at the event. “I don’t think she wants the people to get the money before the election.”

The Red Zone - YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that the United States has been rightly captivated in recent weeks by a hideous and drawn out medical spectacle that began with a judicial announcement on the First Lawn of the nation and has since super-spread through the capitol thanks to the willful negligence of some of the country’s most powerful people. The subsequent infection of dozens of White House and Capitol Hill officials, not to mention the potentially tragic collateral damage inflicted upon a range of staff and workers, has dominated the news cycle and enraged the country such that between it and his belligerent debate performance, the President’s polling numbers took a plunge. In some of the most heavy-handed synecdoche imaginable, seven months of catastrophic public health policy were laid bare in a few days of grotesque political theatre.  Meanwhile, on Saturdays, that same American public has sure as hell been enjoying the return of college football, particularly since the start of the SEC schedule. Here’s the thing, though: college football is bad. Like, really bad. It’s not bad in the sense that all labor under capitalism is bad—the neoliberal hellscape most of us are subjected to in our daily lives. No, it’s that other special kind of bad we might call Trumpist. College football is all the ugliest facets of U.S. society: unapologetic racism, violence, raw exploitation, and endless harm all so that powerful people and institutions can make a buck. It’s no wonder that Trump literally shouted out his complicity in restarting the Big Ten season during the Presidential Debate. When we see those traits manifest in the White House, so many of us find it intolerable. Yet, when it plays out on America’s campus gridirons, the truth is that most people don’t seem to give a fuck. Indeed, even the righteous disgust expressedby so many this summer over the dangers of college football during a pandemic has been supplanted by an attitude of indifference; the harm has been normalized as banal. This is, doubtless, in no small part because we have already collectively decided it is acceptable to sacrifice largely Black unpaid athletic workers on the football field to fund our universities and, as an Ohio State professor and graduate student put it, “help get us through these uncharacteristically difficult times of great isolation, division and uncertainty.”But it’s time to snap out of it and face up to the fact that everything wrong with America is manifest in college sports. The events that have occurred—and are occurring—in college football are in fact every bit as egregious as the spectacle in the nation’s capital. And they deserve the same level of scrutiny and outrage.

 Infectious disease expert calls White House advisers herd immunity claims 'pseudoscience' - Infectious-diseases expert Michael Osterholm blasted a report that Scott Atlas, a medical adviser to President Trump, is pushing the White House to attempt a “herd immunity” approach to the coronavirus pandemic.“First of all, that 20 percent number is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I've ever seen," Osterholm said, in reference to the proportion of the population Atlas reportedly said would need to contract the virus to achieve herd immunity. “It’s 50 percent to 70 percent at minimum.” "And remember when we talk about getting to 50 percent to 70 percent protection, we're talking you can get there with disease — but if that happens, there will be lots of deaths, a lot of serious illnesses — or we can try to get there with vaccination, and postponing the number of people who get sick until we have the vaccines available,” Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”"50 percent to 70 percent just slows down transmission, it doesn't stop it,” he added. “So this virus is going to keep looking for wood to burn for as long as it can ... so, our goal is to get as many people protected with vaccines.” Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’ top infectious diseases expert, has also been sharply critical of the idea. “If you just let things rip and let the infection go, no masks, crowd, it doesn’t make any difference — that quite frankly, George, is ridiculous,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” last week.

 Trump Calls Fauci 'a Disaster,' Tries to Blame Science and Medical Experts for Failed Coronavirus Response -President Trump attacked the nation's top infectious disease specialist in a call with campaign staffers that several reporters were allowed to listen to on Monday. In the call, Trump said that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci was "a disaster." He added that despite the evidence that coronavirus cases are once again rising across the country, the public was tired of hearing so much news about the virus, especially from "these idiots" in the government and scientific community, as The Washington Post reported.  Trump seemed irked by an interview that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave to 60 Minutes in which Fauci said he was not surprised that Trump contracted the coronavirus after attending a large event at the White House for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett where attendees were not masked.In many interviews, Fauci has touted the efficacy of wearing masks and social distancing, while warning that a failure to follow those safety measures could lead to a very difficult fall and winter as coronavirus and influenza intersect. The evidence suggests Fauci is correct, as the U.S. saw more than 70,000 new cases on Friday, its highest total in months, while the virus is gaining strength in Europe once again, as The New York Times reported.In his broadside Monday, Trump dismissed those concerns about the virus, claiming that the public's interest has waned. "People are tired of COVID," Trump said on the call, according to The New York Times. "I have the biggest rallies I've ever had. And we have COVID. People are saying: 'Whatever. Just leave us alone.' They're tired of it."  He tried to shift blame for the administration's response by saying, "People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots — these people, these people that have gotten it wrong," Trump said, as NBC News reported. "Fauci's a nice guy. He's been here for 500 years. He called every one of them wrong. And he's like this wonderful guy, a wonderful sage telling us how to respond to the pandemic. Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths. If we listened to him, we'd have 700-800,000 deaths right now." At the same time that Trump was issuing his attacks on the government's medical experts, Fauci was receiving the National Academy of Medicine's first-ever Presidential Citation for Exemplary Leadership in a virtual event, as CNN reported. Trump's attack on one of the nation's most revered doctors generated a swift backlash from both sides of the aisle.The Biden campaign responded by saying, "Mr. President, you're right about one thing: The American people are tired. They're tired of your lies about this virus," as The New York Times reported.

Whatever happened to Deborah Birx?  -Deborah Birx is nowhere to be found at the White House these days. Though she retains the title of coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, Birx has not attended any of President Trump's press briefings on the pandemic since he started them anew in late July, nor was she at a recent event to tout the administration's advances in testing. Instead, Birx has been on the road, visiting 36 states and 27 different colleges and universities since the end of June to meet with state, local and university leaders to advise on best practices for containing the coronavirus and to gather information on what's been working in each place. Olivia Troye, a former coronavirus task force adviser who worked with Birx and is now a Trump critic, said White House officials grew irritated by Birx's detailed and data-heavy presentations in the early summer that showed emerging hot spots and difficulties getting the virus under control. Some officials rolled their eyes as Birx delivered a message that clashed with the administration's preferred narrative that things were improving, Troye said. The frustration preceded a push to get Birx out on the road to meet with state and local leaders, multiple officials familiar with the discussions said. She last appeared publicly alongside Trump in an early August Oval Office meeting with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). "It’s convenient because they don’t want her at the White House and don’t want her at the podium,” Troye said. “But in many ways it probably ended up being better for her."

Dr. Birx reportedly asked Pence to remove COVID-19 adviser pushing 'junk science' - Dr. Deborah Birx has reportedly been trying to get controversial adviser Dr. Scott Atlas removed from the White House coronavirus task force. A new report in The Washington Post describes the "discord on the coronavirus task force" that has reportedly "worsened" ever since the arrival of Atlas, a neuroradiologist who has no background in epidemiology. Atlas has reportedly "succeeded in largely sidelining" other doctors on the White House coronavirus task force, has challenged analysis from Birx and others with what experts have dismissed as "junk science," and is seen by colleagues as "ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest."Birx, who serves as the task force's response coordinator, recently confronted Vice President Mike Pence about Atlas, telling his office he should be removed from the task force and that she "does not trust" him nor does she believe "he is giving Trump sound advice," the Post also reports. Her effort was evidently unsuccessful, and Pence reportedly "did not take sides" in the conflict.The report also describes how Atlas has baselessly claimed to the task force that the United States is close to achieving herd immunity, an idea scientists have rejected, and that all coronavirus restrictions should be lifted. This, the Post says, led Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to demand he produce data to support his claims during a "fierce debate." Atlas over the weekend also falsely claimed that masks don't work in fighting COVID-19, leading Twitter to remove the post.

Dr. Deborah Birx says she was relieved after Scott Atlas' mask tweet was removed - Members of the White House coronavirus task force are praising a move by Twitterremoving a misleading tweet from top Trump adviser Dr. Scott Atlas that told Americans masks don't work. The tweet's removal was a "relief" among some task force members, Dr. Deborah Birx told friends over the weekend, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.Atlas, a neuroradiologist and President Donald Trump's hand-picked coronavirus adviser, had undermined the importance of face masks with misinformation in a Saturday Twitter post. "Masks work? NO," Atlas wrote, followed by a series of misrepresentations about the science behind the effectiveness of masks in combating the pandemic.  The tweet and its subsequent removal comes as coronavirus cases spike across the US and other members of the task force have taken to the airwaves to urge Americans to heed basic mitigation strategies, including mask usage and social distancing.According to the Washington Post, Birx recently confronted Vice President Mike Pence's office about Atlas, saying during a meeting "that she does not trust Atlas, does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice and wants him removed from the task force."

Fauci: COVID-19 outbreaks would have to 'get really, really bad' before advocating for national lockdown - New COVID-19 cases are accelerating across the U.S., rising swiftly above previous record case counts set during the tumultuous spring and summer months. There has been a documented 30 percent increase in testing positivity rates over the past two weeks and more than 8 million COVID-19 cases reported in the country. But, even as the U.S. enters a potentially troubling winter season, Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert, says that a nationwide lockdown may not be the best solution at this time. Speaking to “60 Minutes,” Fauci says outbreaks would have to “get really, really bad” before he would advocate for a national lockdown. “First of all, the country is fatigued with restrictions. So we wanna use public health measures not to get in the way of opening the economy, but to being a safe gateway to opening the economy,” Fauci said. “So instead of having an opposition, open up the economy, get jobs back, or shut down. No. Put ‘shut down’ away and say, ‘We're gonna use public health measures to help us safely get to where we want to go.’" Instead, Fauci says, the emphasis remains on practicing now-familiar public health measures like wearing masks, physically distancing and washing hands frequently — key steps in controlling virus transmission. He elaborated that these practices are not intended to halt the reopening of public spaces, but to facilitate a gradual reopening while still mitigating transmission levels or how quickly the virus spreads. Responding to President Trump’s criticism that he suddenly reversed course on his stance regarding the public wearing facial coverings, Fauci explained that his initial decision to discourage public mask-wearing came during the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). When masks, especially homemade ones, became widely available and were shown to prevent virus transmission, Fauci advocated for their universal use. “It became clear that cloth coverings...not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95, cloth coverings, work,” Fauci said. “Now there’s no longer a shortage of masks. Number two, meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.” Still, he admits he was wrong in his initial decision to discourage widespread mask-wearing.

HHS secretary: Avoiding large gatherings 'a difficult message for all Western democracies' - Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar is defending the federal government’s progress on the coronavirus pandemic, saying on Sunday “all Western democracies” are having trouble avoiding large gatherings. “I guess what I’m trying to figure out is how are the American people supposed to take your advice if the president of the United States won’t take your advice?” host Chuck Todd asked Azar on "Meet the Press," noting that President Trump on Saturday held a large event in Wisconsin, a state HHS has classified as in the “red zone” for community spread. “We’re seeing an increase in cases in states whether red or blue or open or closed, we’re seeing an explosion of cases in Europe,” Azar responded. “The ticket is in our hands, it’s about those basic public health mitigation steps… we have it in our individual control.” “Why is that message so difficult for the president?” Todd asked. "I think it is a difficult message for all Western democracies,” Azar said. “We’re seeing that in Europe, people are tired … we’re so close. Hang in there with us, we are so close.” Azar went on to claim “we are weeks away” from monoclonal antibodies and effective vaccines for the virus. “What message are we sending, what example are you setting as a top public health official participating in indoor events like that?” Todd asked, in reference to an indoor event in Fort Myers, Florida. Azar responded that masks had been distributed at the event in question and seating had been arranged in keeping with social distancing practices. “We encourage people to wear face coverings and I wish everybody there would have worn face coverings and maintained social distancing,” he added.

 White House looks at cutting Covid funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities -- The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO. New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified federal grants covering those services, which are among the nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed. Trump in a Sept. 2 order called on federal agencies to curtail funding to jurisdictions that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” The memo argued that the cities haven’t done enough to quash riots stemming from this summer’s protests over systemic racism and police violence. The HHS list offers the most detailed picture yet of the administration’s efforts to quickly comply with the Trump directive and the potentially large cuts facing these cities even as the pandemic strains local budgets. It isn’t immediately clear what criteria the budget office will use to evaluate the grants — or how or when cuts may be made. But while the White House pores over existing funds, at least one department has already moved to implement Trump’s directive for new funding. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said Trump’s “anarchy” memo would factor into the department’s review of applications for a new $10 million grant program supporting Covid-19 safety measures. "My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted shortly after releasing the Sept. 2 defunding memo. Almost three weeks later, Attorney General Bill Barr labeled New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The White House budget office also instructed departments to also scrutinize funding for Washington, D.C.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards --Ivanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards — Attorneys for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner threatened to sue The Lincoln Project, a prominent Republican group opposing the president, for billboards it put up in Times Square in Manhattan. The attorneys in a letter to The Lincoln Project complained about one billboard showing Trump, a senior adviser to her father, smiling and gesturing next to figures showing over 33,000 New Yorkers and 221,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. The lawyers also cited a billboard featuring Kushner, another senior White House adviser, next to body bags and an unrelated 2019 quote from before the pandemic in which he said New Yorkers would “suffer.” “I am writing concerning the false, malicious and defamatory ads that the Lincoln Project is displaying on billboards in Times Square,” wrote attorney Mark Kasowitz. “If these billboards are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages.” The Lincoln Project, as well as Democrats, have launched withering criticism at the White House over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic as cases spike across the country. The group has risen to prominence by releasing rapid-fire ads highlighting the latest controversy stemming from the White House, often going viral online and drawing rebukes from the president. The anti-Trump group has most recently begun teaming up with Democratic groups to roll out ad buys worth millions of dollars in key swing states to hit President Trump on an array of issues, including the current health crisis and its economic fallout.

Judge Denies Trump Effort to Slash Food Stamps for 700,000 Americans -A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell issued a scathing ruling, denouncing President Donald Trump and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who she said have been "icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought ... been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country."New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was among more than a dozen state attorneys general who joined the District of Columbia in suing the administration over the changes, called Howell's ruling "a major victory for common sense and basic human decency in our nation." The USDA proposed the changes months before the coronavirus pandemic began. They were initially set to go into effect in April, but Howell issued an injunction in March, as the president declared a state of emergency, ordering the administration to delay the changes. Perdue later appealed Howell's order, potentially allowing the new rules to go into effect despite a pandemic that has left millions unemployed. Under existing SNAP benefits rules, states are able to waive work requirements for SNAP benefits for areas with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%. Perdue and Trump moved to tighten the criteria for waiving the requirements by raising the minimum rate to 6%. The change could have left nearly 700,000 people without the benefit, the Washington Post reported Sunday.  Tamar Haspel, a Post food policy columnist, tweeted that the proposal, and the administration's attempt to ensure it could go into effect during the public health and economic crisis, was in the running for Trump's "Vilest Policy Ever." The pandemic, Howell said in her ruling, exposed how unworkable the administration's proposed changes were, with the number of Americans relying on SNAP benefits growing by 17%, or six million enrollees, and unemployment rates quadrupling.Perdue and Trump displayed an "utter failure to address the issue" of how millions would be affected by new work requirements during the crisis, Howell said, rendering their changes "arbitrary and capricious." With the ruling handed down two weeks before Nov. 3, the last day Americans can vote in the presidential election, journalist Matt Taibbi wrote that it may serve as a reminder of the president's priorities.

  Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT  President Trump's tax records show that China is one of three foreign countries where he maintains a bank account, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management LLC, which paid $188,561 in taxes in China from 2013 to 2015, according to the Times. In addition to the Chinese account, Trump also has bank accounts in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The president's foreign bank accounts are held under corporate names and as a result don't appear on the president's public financial disclosure forms, the Times reported. The tax documents that the Times has obtained don't indicate how much money may have flowed through Trump's foreign accounts, and the Times said it's unclear which financial institutions hold the accounts. The IRS requires taxpayers to report the portion of their income from foreign countries, and the Trump hotel management entity only reported several thousand dollars from China, the Times said. Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump organization, said the company opened an account at a Chinese bank that has offices in the U.S. in order to pay taxes associated with efforts to do business in China. He said the account was opened after the Trump Organization opened an office in China in an effort to explore possible hotel deals in Asia. “No deals, transactions or other business activities ever materialized and, since 2015, the office has remained inactive,” Garten told the Times. “Though the bank account remains open, it has never been used for any other purpose.” The Times story comes as China has been a topic of discussion during the 2020 presidential race. Trump has been arguing that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is too soft of China.

 U.S. Supreme Court Rejects GOP Call Not to Extend Deadline for Mail-In Ballots - In the first of what will no doubt be a series of blockbuster voting rights rulings or opinions in this 2020 electoral season, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling to count mail-in ballots received within three days of November 3rd’s Election Day, even if they lack a legible postmark.For those keeping partisan score. this means the Court upheld the Democratic party argument, and rejected the Republican one.The Wall Street Journal reports in Supreme Court Allows Extension for Mail-In Ballots in Pennsylvania: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to disturb a ruling by Pennsylvania’s highest court that extended the battleground state’s deadline for accepting mail-in ballots, a win for Democrats that gives voters more time to navigate postal delays and avoid in-person voting.The Court deadlocked 4-4 on this ruling. With last month’s death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court currently only has 8 members, and in the event of ties, the lower court decision subject to appeal stands. But based on her past voting rights decisions, the Court would almost certainly have struck down the provision if Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination had already been confirmed and she had taken up the waiting seat on the Court (and voted rather than recusing herself). The Court declined to issue an opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh opposed upholding the lower court’s order, leaving Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan on the other side. According to Scotus blog, Supreme Court leaves in place order requiring Pennsylvania to count absentee ballots after Election Day: Republican legislators and the Pennsylvania Republican Party went to the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 28, asking the justices to block the portion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order that extended the mail-in ballot deadline. They argued that the state court’s ruling will allow ballots cast and received after Election Day to be counted, thereby violating federal election law, which establishes a single Election Day, as well as the U.S. Constitution, which gives state legislatures the power to set the time, place and manner of federal elections. If the justices did not step in, the legislators warned, the state court’s order “could destroy the American public’s confidence in the election system as a whole.”Pennsylvania officials urged the justices to stay out of the dispute, dismissing the requests from the legislators and the Pennsylvania Republican Party as an effort to “supplant the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s interpretation of Pennsylvania law” and “intrude upon Pennsylvania’s sovereignty.” And even if federal election law and the U.S. Constitution were at issue in the dispute, they continued, neither the Pennsylvania Republican Party nor the Republican legislators have a legal right to sue, known as standing.

Right-wing groups sue Michigan over ban on weapons at polling stations - A week after Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued an order banning open carry of firearms at polling stations, police and sheriffs are still refusing to enforce the order, the purpose of which is to bar extreme right-wing militias across the state from assaulting voters and potentially staging a takeover of the state Capitol. Two weeks ago, federal officials arrested 13 people in Michigan for plotting to do just this. The militiamen also planned to kidnap and execute the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Yesterday, three right-wing organizations filed a lawsuit to overturn the order and to support the semi-rebellion by police against the state’s elected officials. These organizations are Michigan Gun Owners, Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, and Michigan Open Carry, Inc., whose lawyer, Dean Greenblatt, has filed the suit with the Michigan Court of Claims.  Greenblatt is suing Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Benson, and director of the Michigan State Police, Joe Gasper. When statewide police and sheriffs’ organizations came forward to say they would not enforce the order last week, Nessel stated that the state police would step in and enforce it for them. Nessel has also warned that the plot against Whitmer remains a live threat, and that what has been revealed in court so far is “just the tip of the iceberg.” The fight over weapons at the polls in Michigan raises the question, which authorities are in charge of the state: police or the state’s elected officials? The issue is being closely followed on a national level because Trump has called for his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” This is a blatant threat to carry out violence against voters and is a critical element of Trump’s strategy to remain in power no matter the outcome of the November 3 vote. In a statement published on his Facebook page, Greenblatt claims that the order effectively “disenfranchises voters who wish to exercise their fundamental right to self-protection” and that “the Secretary of State requires that voters either abandon their Second Amendment right of self-protection or their fundamental right to vote.” In reality, the purpose of the lawsuit is to facilitate fascist militias’ plans to prepare right-wing violence at polling stations on election day. These are the same arguments made by representatives of the state’s police and sheriffs’ associations in refusing to enforce the order.

Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote  - Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycotted the vote. The panel voted 12-0 to send Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate, paving the way for President Trump’s nominee to be confirmed to the Supreme Court early next week. Every Republican on the panel supported her nomination and no Democratic senator voted. Every GOP senator was present for the vote, meeting the committee's rule that 12 members of the panel must be present to report a nomination to the full Senate. But the committee also requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, made it clear that he would move forward regardless of the committee's rules. "As you know, our Democratic colleagues informed the committee last night that they will not participate in the hearing. That was their choice. It will be my choice to vote the nominee out of committee. We're not going to allow them to take over the committee," Graham said on Thursday. Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week's hearing who would be negatively affected if the Supreme Court, with Barrett confirmed to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, strikes down the Affordable Care Act. Democrats announced on Wednesday that they would boycott the hearing, calling it a "sham" process. Shortly after the committee's vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and nine of the 10 Democrats on the panel held a press conference on the Senate steps outside of the Capitol. "Republicans have given us no choice. We are boycotting the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett," Schumer said, adding that her confirmation has been the "most rushed, most partisan, least legitimate attempt" that will have "dire consequences." "Democrats will not lend a single ounce of legitimacy to this sham vote in the Judiciary Committee," he added. Democrats had been under pressure to step up their efforts in the fight over Barrett's nomination, after activists warned that the tactics by the caucus during last week's four-day hearing missed the mark. As they were speaking, dozens of protesters were gathered nearby, their yells at times drowning out the senators or making it difficult to hear them, even over a microphone. Most of the protesters largely appeared to agree with Democrats that Barrett shouldn't be confirmed, with roughly a dozen wearing "Handmaid's Tale"-style red habits. But underscoring the frustration with how Democrats have handled the fight over Barrett, a group of protesters yelled that they were "letting it happen," referring to Barrett's likely confirmation, and "you haven’t done shit!"

Hunter Biden's laptop: A Russian trick, a hack-job — or just what it looks like? - If the stakes were not high, it would be a laugh-riot to listen to people who relied on the Steele dossier in an Intelligence Community assessment, and in four sworn FISA warrant applications, going on now about the Biden laptop being a “Russian disinformation” hoax. But let’s be serious about authenticity for a second. In a court of law, even in a criminal case where a person’s liberty is at stake, there is a presumption in favor of admitting relevant evidence as long as it appears to be what the proponent represents it to be. That is, the evidence is put before the jury. Lingering questions about its provenance go to the weight of the evidence — meaning, how much, if any, importance we should ascribe to it. They do not result in the suppression of the evidence. The most salient consideration in analyzing the authenticity of an item is the item itself. I do not mean to dismiss such circumstances as the biases of the source of the evidence, the chain of custody, the opportunities there have been to tamper with it, and any indication that it has been tampered with in some way. To be sure, all of these indicators can be significant. In some situations, they can be so significant that the proffered item should be given no probative weight. What I mean is that if the item itself does not appear to be what its proponent represents it to be, the inquiry is at an end. The item would be rejected because of its own innate fraudulence. There would be no need to expend effort to investigate its sourcing — except, perhaps, to pursue a case of fraud against the proponents, if the matter were grave enough. Most alarming about the way materials from the alleged Hunter Biden laptop have been sloughed off by Biden supporters and their media (including social media) allies has been the resistance — no pun intended — to analyzing the substance of the emails and photos themselves. Instead, we get caterwauling about “Russian disinformation” and “hacked materials,” as if these knee jerk allegations were not just pertinent but dispositive on the matter of authenticity.

 Can Hunter Biden Be Both Right and Wrong, Both Innocent and Guilty? Yes He Can. - If you’re confused by the welter of reports around the Hunter Biden-purloined laptop story, don’t be embarrassed. The reporting is not just confusing, but confusingly told. In brief, here’s what happened as Matt Taibbi describes it:The “blockbuster” had a controversial provenance. A computer repair shop in Delaware reportedly came to possess a laptop belonging to the younger Biden. According to thePost, it contained a treasure trove of Republican oppo, including videos of the younger Biden smoking crack and having sex, and email s from a Ukrainian businessman pleading with Hunter to use connections to help the corrupt energy firm Burisma escape a shakedown.Later, the Burisma exec appeared to thank the younger Biden for an introduction to his father. The Post strongly suggested that these emails, in conjunction with the well-known tale of Joe Biden demanding the ouster of then-General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, represented a misuse of influence.Soon after the story was published, we were hit with a stunner: two major tech platforms, Twitter and Facebook, took third-world style steps to limit the distribution of the story. Facebook announced that it was slowing the article’s spread on its news feed via a tweet from Andy Stone, a Facebook employee whose previous jobs included handling communications for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer […]. That presents the two major pieces: the story in the Post, and the censorship of the story by two social media giants. Most non-right-wing writers, worried about appearing to attack Joe Biden in the run-up to the Most Important Election Ever (and who knows, maybe it is), have focused either on the censorship side of the story, or attributed the Post-published elements — the laptop and what it purports to contain — to Russian interference. (No one in the Biden camp has declared the released emails to be false, for what that’s worth.)  But let’s look at the story itself, again through Matt Taibbi’s eyes.  As Taibbi points out, of those outlets that did cover the underlying story — the supposedly stolen laptop, the supposedly copied drive, the photos and emails it supposedly contained — mostly reported only on its electoral effect and not on the truth or falsity of its allegations. The actual tale may be much more complex and interesting. Here’s how Taibbi, who, we must remember, spent many years in Russia and “knows their ways,” seems to have pieced it together. Taibbi writes this: To recap: an oligarch [Zlochevsky] whose company’s wealth was tied to embezzlement and graft was booted from power via revolution in February, 2014, causing his company’s assets to come under fire, both in Ukraine and abroad. With Zlochevsky’s former protector Viktor Yanukovich having fled Ukraine back to Russia, Burisma scrambled to shore up a new power base. Within six weeks of the revolution, the firm brought big names onto its board, including former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, Biden, and Devon Archer, pal to Hunter and the college roommate of Christopher Heinz, stepson to John Kerry. They would later add former CIA counter-terrorism chief Cofer Black. […]  Essentially, a mob enterprise gearing up to defend itself against international lawsuits and seizure orders hired as decorative cover an ex-president of Poland, the son of a sitting U.S. Vice President, and a close family friend and business partner of the son of the American Secretary of State — not exactly subtle, and far beyond nepotism. The Burisma board deals were a protection scheme, funded with stolen money and designed to scare off commercial rivals and would-be regulators alike. Archer and Hunter Biden, even if they never did a minute of work for Burisma, were being paid to provide a criminal enterprise with the appearance of American protection. Similarly, if Joe Biden never actually intervened on behalf of Burisma, Hunter’s presence on Burisma’s board made it possible for anyone to argue that he was. At best, Biden and Archer were put on Burisma’s board to provide Zlochevsky and Burisma protection against their enemies in the new, unfriendly-to-Zlochevsky Ukrainian government. Whether Biden and Archer knew this or not — and how could they not know? what could this free money otherwise be for? — it corrupted them both to take those jobs.

Feds Confirm Biden Emails Are Authentic ; '50 Former Intel Officials' Wrong On Russian Disinfo - Hours before Politico reported the existence of a letter signed by '50 former senior intelligence officials' who say the Hunter Biden laptop scandal "has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation" - providing "no new evidence," while they remain "deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case," Tucker Carlson obliterated their (literal) conspiracy theory.  According to the Fox News host, he's seen 'nonpublic information that proves it was Hunter's laptop,' adding "No one but Hunter could've known about or replicated this information."  "This is not a Russian hoax. We are not speculating."Update (1930ET): In yet another death blow to Adam Schiff and the '50 former senior intelligence officers' "Russia, Russia, Russia" claims, the FBI and DOJ have told a Fox News producer that they do not believe that Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents are part of a Russian disinformation campaign, confirming that the 'current' intelligence community agrees with DNI Ratcliffe's comments yesterday. Additionally, a Federal Law Enforcement Official also confirmed to Fox News' Martha MacCallum that the emails are "authentic". All of which leaves on big gaping unanswered question (that we all know the answer to)... We look forward to the reporting from other mainstream media news agencies now that federal law enforcement has confirmed this is not a 'hoax' and we assume that the NYPost will once again be allowed to tweet since this is now as 'factual' as anything thrown at Trump for the last five years.

After confirming Hunter's influence-peddling, Joe Biden has explaining to do - Now that a former Hunter Biden business partner has confirmed key facts in The Post’s reporting of Biden’s efforts to monetize his family connections, Joe Biden has some explaining to do. But will anyone push him to answer some simple questions?Democrats and their media allies have tried to dismiss The Post’s work as “Russian disinformation,” and the ludicrous tag led Tony Bobulinski to send us a nearly 700-word statement on Wednesday.“The facts set forth below are true and accurate; they are not any form of domestic or foreign disinformation. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and offensive,” Bobulinski begins, adding later: “I could no longer allow my family’s name to be associated or tied to Russian disinformation or implied lies and false narratives dominating the media right now.”He reveals, “I am the recipient of the email published seven days ago by the New York Post which showed a copy to Hunter Biden and Rob Walker. That email is genuine.”Another partner sent that May 13, 2017, e-mail (subject line: “Expectations”) to detail “remuneration packages” for six people involved in a venture with Shanghai-based conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co.: 10 percent would be “held by H for the big guy” — and Bobulinski confirms the “big guy” was Joe Biden. “The other ‘JB’ referenced in that email is Jim Biden, Joe’s brother,” says Bobulinski, who was the CEO of the company being formed. “Hunter Biden called his dad ‘the Big Guy’ or ‘my Chairman,’ and frequently referenced asking him for his sign-off or advice on various potential deals that we were discussing. I’ve seen Vice President Biden saying he never talked to Hunter about his business. I’ve seen firsthand that that’s not true, because it wasn’t just Hunter’s business, they said they were putting the Biden family name and its legacy on the line,” Bobulinski continues.

Secret Service Travel Logs Match Details In Alleged Hunter Biden Emails - Secret Service logs obtained earlier this year by Senate investigators include dates and locations matching those discussed in the emails allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The alignment of the dates in the emails and the Secret Service protective detail logs is significant because the authenticity of the emails, first published by the New York Post last week, is the subject of heated debate. The FBI, which purportedly obtained Hunter Biden’s laptop in December last year, has not yet officially confirmed that it is in possession of the device and whether the emails are genuine. In one alleged email, written after midnight on April 13, 2014, Hunter Biden wrote to Devon Archer, his business partner, that he will be traveling to Houston the next day. Secret Service logs obtained by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs show a trip by Biden on April 13-14, 2014. In another alleged email, Vadim Pozharskyi, a top executive from Ukrainian gas firm Burisma, wrote to Biden and Archer on May 12, 2014: “Following our talks during the visit to the Como Lake and our further discussions, I would like to bring the following situation to your attention.” While the email doesn’t cite a date for the trip, Secret Service logs include a travel entry for Biden on April 3-6, 2014. In another alleged email, Archer wrote on May 12, 2014, that he is with Biden in Doha, Qatar. Secret Service records include a trip by Biden to Doha, Qatar, on May 11-14, 2014. The alignment in dates and location was first spotted by the staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees. Notably, some of the alleged Hunter Biden emails included discussions of Biden’s travel after he allegedly declined a Secret Service detail. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) penned a letter (pdf) to the director of the Secret Service on Oct. 20 asking for records after the date when Biden purportedly stopped receiving a Secret Service detail.

Rudy Giuliani Turns Over Alleged Photos Of Underage Girls From Hunter's Hard Drive To Delaware Police -  Things just took a very dark turn in the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. While the alleged crack, cronyism, corruption was enough to spark the biggest media suppression in history, and no denials whatsoever from the Biden camp, the bombshell that Rudy Giuliani just dropped, if true, is egregious to say the least (not just with regard Hunter Biden but the law enforcement authorities who have allegedly had this information since before Trump's impeachment but done nothing about it). In an interview this evening with Newsmax TV, former NYC Mayor and current attorney to President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani announces he has turned over Hunter Biden's laptop hard-drive to Delaware State Police due to pictures of underage girls and inappropriate text messages.  In one of the texts, Hunter Biden allegedly says to his sister-in-law (also his lover) that he face-timed a 14-year-old girl while naked and doing crack - "she told my therapist that I was sexually inappropriate." Giuliani adds, "this would be with regard an unnamed 14 year old girl," adding that "this is supported by numerous pictures of underage girls."  Watch the full interview below (the above exchange begins around 5:20):

Exclusive: Alleged Hunter Biden Emails Circulated in Ukraine as Rudy Giuliani Dug for Dirt There Last Year - Explicit photos and emails purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden were circulating in Ukraine last year at the same time that Rudy Giuliani was searching for dirt there on former Vice President Joe Biden, two people approached about the material during that period tell TIME. The emails’ alleged availability, which has not been previously reported, comes to light in the wake of Giuliani’s recent claims that he obtained private photos and emails of Hunter Biden from a broken laptop abandoned in Delaware. Giuliani, who is President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, has passed this material to right-wing news outlets, which began publishing it last week. Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment on the origins of the material he obtained. Over the past year, the practice of selling or leaking private communications has become so common in Ukraine that the government has announced plans to pass a law against it. Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Ukraine’s President who now researches disinformation, referred to the practice as Ukraine’s “national sport” in a recent interview with the Washington Post. The two people who said they were approached with Hunter Biden’s alleged emails last year did not know whether any of them were real and they declined to identify who was behind the offers, the first of which came in late May 2019 and the second in mid-September 2019. The two people said they could not confirm whether any of the material presented to them was the same as that which has been recently published in the U.S. Last week the New York Post began publishing the material they obtained from Giuliani, and the sources and authenticity of the published emails has been hotly debated ever since. Hunter Biden and his father’s presidential campaign have declined to comment on the leaks in detail or to address whether any of the published emails are genuine. Hunter Biden has been unable to figure out where the material could have originated, says a person familiar with the situation.

Senate Demands Hunter Biden Turn Over Bank Records Wire Transfers Account Balances And Travel Records -  Senate investigators have demanded that Hunter Biden turn over a mountain of evidence following bombshell emails and text messages which appear to show he and his business partners engaging in an international influence-peddling scheme while his father was Vice President of the United States, according to CBS News' Catherine Herridge - who brought receipts as usual. NEW: Senate Investigators seek Hunter Biden records, according to October 21 letter, addressed to team of lawyers. Deadline October 23. “According to recent reports that published emails allegedly from your client’s laptop, the Committees have identified your client as an pic.twitter.com/ChIhs14Ogq— Catherine Herridge (@CBS_Herridge) October 22, 2020"According to recent reports that published emails allegedly from your client’s laptop, the Committees have identified your client as an individual involved in one or more of these business arrangements or financial t ransactions," reads a Wednesday letter from Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley. "As part of the ongoing efforts to validate and verify the information in those emails, the Committees request that your client provide all records related to any of your client’s business dealings—including, but not limited, to bank records, wire transfers, account balances, gifts, business transactions, travel records—with Joe Biden, James Biden, Ye Jianming, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, Zang Jian Jun, Gongwen Dong, Mervyn Yan, Gabriel Popoviciu, or any other associates regarding CEFC China Energy Co. Ltd or any other transactions related to business in Romania, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Czech Republic, or any other countries." Biden's lawyers have until Friday to comply.Over the last week, alleged emails, text messages and compromising photographs from Hunter Biden's laptop and his former business partners reveal that Joe Biden was directly involved in Hunter's business dealings, and appears to have directly profited from them.The deals span several countries, from Ukraine - where Joe was 'introduced' to a representative from energy giant Burisma before strong-arming the Ukrainian government into firing their chief prosecutor who was investigating the company, to China, where a top Chinese official offered the Biden family a $5 million "interest-free" loan, to Russia, where Hunter took $3.5 million from the former mayor of Moscow's ex-wife.

Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 - The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Friday that it will hear testimony from the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter on Nov. 17 over their platforms’ work to limit the spread of a controversial article about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the panel’s chairman, said in a statement the hearing with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will focus on the “platforms’ censorship and suppression” of the unconfirmed articles from The New York Post and “provide a valuable opportunity to review the companies’ handling of the 2020 election.” The Judiciary Committee first voted by a 12-0 margin Thursday to subpoena both Zuckerberg and Dorsey. Democrats on the committee had boycotted the hearing over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.Both executives, along with Alphabet's Sundar Pichai, will also testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday for a hearing on content moderation, data privacy and media consolidation. Their appearance before the judiciary panel comes as Republicans seize on a controversial article in the New York Post suggesting Hunter Biden looked to arrange a meeting between a Ukrainian businessman and his father when he was vice president. The claims were based on details on a laptop obtained by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close ally of President Trump who experts say has spread disinformation. Facebook and Twitter have moved to restrict the spread of the article, which other major news outlets have not confirmed. Facebook limited how users can link to the article amid questions over its validity, while Twitter blocked users from posting links to the Post story or photos from it. Republicans have seized on the report to suggest the former vice president is corrupt and gone after the social media platforms for what they say is a suppression of conservative voices online. Lawmakers at the hearing are expected to attack Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that shields companies from legal liability over what’s posted on their platforms.

Bleeding Out by James Howard Kunstler - “The difference between you and me,” Mr. Trump said to the ever more ghostly Joe Biden, fading mentally late in the action on the debate stage, “is that I’m not a politician and you are, and you’re a crooked politician.” Millions watching this spectacle might not have noticed, due to the media’s near-complete blackout of news detailing the Biden family’s adventures in systematic global moneygrubbing, but the Democratic candidate for president has political Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever of credibility, now gushing out of every pore and orifice.Twitter and Facebook may try to squelch the story, but the evidence is all over the Internet now, like blood on a crime scene, in verifiable emails, texts, Snapchats, memoranda, and bank records that Ol’ White Joe Biden is at the center of a decades-long influence-peddling spree, selling his personal services to China, Russia, Ukraine, and any other country seeking favors in US government policy, and that this slime-trail of grift disqualifies him from holding high office as much as the irreversible rot of his cognitive abilities.The “Laptop from Hell” affair has twelve more days to play out before the November 3 vote and the Democratic Party is in a terrible jam. Do they ask Mr. Biden to step aside, or do they keep running with him while the barrage of allegations and hard evidence pours down on them like so many mortar rounds on a besieged bunker? It’s obvious now that one way or another, voters are actually being asked to elect Kamala Harris president — but who asked for her? Only the disgraced and disabled head of the ticket, Joe Biden, desperate for a non-white running mate. Elsewise, she was so disliked by voters that she skulked out of the Iowa caucuses, ending her own run. Is Hillary ironing her purple pantsuit up in Chappaqua, awaiting the emergency call from her DNC?  Interestingly, figures associated with Mr. Kerry (the 2004 Democratic party nominee), Devon Archer and Christopher Heinz (Mr. Kerry’s stepson) also happened to be business associates of Hunter Biden’s, and therefore the Biden family syndicate. Mr. Archer is currently under conviction, awaiting sentencing, on a federal securities fraud rap. If US attorneys out of the DOJ have any interest in talking to him, they have a lever to incentivize his testimony about many of the transactions involving Burisma in Ukraine and the Chinese companies that were funneling payments to the Bidens for “introductions” to US persons of influence.

Epstein paid Maxwell six figures to recruit massage therapists - Ghislaine Maxwell said she earned a six-figure salary while working for Jeffrey Epstein, which involved managing his six estates — and scouting massage therapists for the wealthy pervert. The British socialite — the daughter of disgraced late media titan Robert Maxwell — said she started working for Epstein in 1992 before the two became romantically involved. “First, I was consulting and what I did was I helped with decorating houses and in hiring staff to help run those houses,” Maxwell said in the beginning of a seven-hour deposition from 2016 that was unsealed Thursday. She said she was also responsible for scouting masseuses to give Epstein rubdowns — but denied they were for sexual reasons. “In the course and a very small part of my job was from time to time to find adult professional massage therapists for Jeffrey,” she said. Maxwell said she was paid somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 for her work with Epstein — for whom she’s accused of recruiting and grooming young women. Epstein also gifted Maxwell cars in the early 2000s, though she said she couldn’t recall other details. He also bought her a townhouse as part of a “loan” deal that she says she repaid. It’s not clear if that amount was an annual salary. She said around 2002 or 2003, her work with the now-dead financier “lessened” though she was still “helping him in a very nominal way” until 2008 or 2009 — around the same time he became a convicted pedophile. The 465-page transcript, stemming from a since-settled defamation case filed by Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, includes hundreds of denials from Maxwell about her involvement with Epstein. They include her testifying that her media mogul-turned-fraudster father, Robert, did not know Epstein or introduce the pair.

Epstein And Bill Clinton Flew Together, Maxwell Confirms In Newly Released Deposition - Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime associate of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, confirmed in a newly unsealed 2016 deposition that she had flown together with Epstein and former President Bill Clinton.The deposition, from a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit against Maxwell by accuser Virginia Giuffre, contains countless instances of Maxwell evading lawyers’ questions. Epstein described Maxwell—a longtime member of Epstein’s inner circle—as his “best friend” in a 2003 Vanity Fair piece.At one point in the deposition, Maxwell is asked by Guiffre’s lawyer Sigrid McCawley: “You did fly on planes, Jeffrey Epstein’s planes with President Clinton, is that correct?”Maxwell replied: “I have flown, yes.”Maxwell has long been accused of helping groom minor girls for Epstein. Multiple alleged victims of Epstein have accused Maxwell of luring them into his trafficking circle, where they said they were sexually abused by him and other powerful people.In follow up questions, Maxwell was asked: “When you were on the plane with Jeffrey and President Clinton, did you observe Jeffrey and [REDACTED] talking?” “I’m sure they did,” Maxwell replied.When asked if Epstein and the individual whose name was redacted seemed friendly, Maxwell said “I don’t recollect.”  Laura Menninger, Maxwell’s attorney, didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from The Epoch Times.Clinton flew on Epstein’s jet, infamously dubbed the “Lolita Express,” at least 26 times, according to records obtained by Fox News in 2016. In a July, 2019 statement, Clinton denied ever visiting Epstein’s private island and said he had only traveled on the plane four times.Last year, a day before Epstein was found dead in his cell, nearly 2,000 pages of documents relating to him were unsealed, including claims from Giuffre that she was directed by Maxwell to have sex with a number of rich and powerful men, including Epstein. In those unsealed documents, a section titled “New York Presbyterian Hospital Records” detailed how Giuffre had “provided extensive medical records in this case, including medical records from the time when Defendant was sexually abusing and trafficking her.”

AOC and Other Top Progressives Urge Biden—If Elected—to Deny K Street, Wall Street Execs Top Cabinet Posts - A group of progressive lawmakers, candidates, and organizations have collectively signed a letter urging Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to eschew appointing corporate executives and lobbyists to his administration if he is elected, Politico reported Friday. According to Politico, signatories to the letter include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and New York congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman.Groups that signed include Public Citizen, Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee—which is closely associated with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Our Revolution, founded by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).“One of the most important lessons of the Trump administration is the need to stop putting corporate officers and lobbyists in charge of our government,” the letter, which was delivered to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday morning, states.The letter specifically argues that K Street and Wall Street executives should not be nominated for any position that requires Senate confirmation.“As elected leaders, we should stop trying to make unsupportable distinctions between which corporate affiliations are acceptable for government service and which are not,” it asserted.Grijalva told Politico that the letter “is not addressed to Biden” specifically, but that “there’s an understanding that he’d be in charge and be the person making nominations.” The letter is a reminder of the stark differences between the progressive and the corporate wings of the Democratic Party—Ocasio-Cortez famously said earlier this year that “in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party”—that would likely come to the forefront should President Donald Trump be defeated.

How Mark Zuckerberg Learned Politics – WSJ - For more than a decade as he built Facebook Inc. into a global force, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear he didn’t care for politics. Early advisers strained to hold his attention in briefings about D.C. lawmakers, people familiar with the matter say, and he frequently said he would gladly leave the politics to others.No longer. Mr. Zuckerberg is now an active political operator. He has dined with President Trump, talks regularly with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and has pressed lawmakers and officials to scrutinize rivals including TikTok and Apple Inc., people involved in the discussions say.Mr. Zuckerberg’s new political moves are part of an effort to protect his company from pressures that range from antitrust scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic to criticism of its privacy practices and of its role in disseminating misinformation and conspiracy theories. Facebook is also facing new competitive threats from the likes of ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok. Forging relationships with political leaders, media personalities and activists is now critical to Facebook’s continued primacy in social media.Mr. Zuckerberg, 36 years old, speaks with conservative thinkers and civil rights groups, and—after leaving most planning for the 2016 U.S. election to deputies—he is now playing a hands-on role in setting Facebook’s policies for this year’s race. Many of those policies, especially those affecting political ads and user posts, have been contentious, eliciting criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, including President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as well as from within the company. The political controversies haven’t appeared to inhibit rapid revenue growth for the company, to more than $70 billion last year, up from less than $28 billion in 2016.Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister whom Mr. Zuckerberg hired two years agoas global policy and communications chief, said the CEO has been “intimately involved” in deciding to bar new political ads the week before the election. Mr. Zuckerberg declined to comment. Just this month, Facebook said it would suspend all political ads after polls close on Election Day and limit posts about poll-watching operations that “use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power.” Facebook this past week banned posts denying the Holocaust, reversing its longstanding policy, and said it would block ads that promoted antivaccine messages. Then on Wednesday, Facebook and Twitter limited sharing of New York Post articles containing allegations about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter that the Biden campaign denied. The New York Post is owned by News Corp, which is also the parent of The Wall Street Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co. The Post responded with an editorial condemning the Twitter and Facebook actions and saying that “no one is disputing the veracity” of its reporting. Mr. Zuckerberg’s evolution in many ways tracks Facebook’s development from a college-based social network into a central element in the American political system—and a punching bag for both parties. The intense scrutiny of the social-media giant’s influence from all sides during the past four years has made increased political acumen a necessity for its CEO. Facebook’s massive reach and focus on free speech have at times made it a super-spreader of falsehoods, hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other posts it struggles to control.

Mark Zuckerberg reportedly signed off on a Facebook algorithm change that throttled traffic to progressive news sites — and one site says that quiet change cost it $400,000 to $600,000 a year -- Mark Zuckerberg signed off on a change to Facebook's algorithm in late 2017 that throttled traffic to left-leaning news organizations "more than previously planned," following concerns that the change would disproportionately affect conservative media, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.The move affected Mother Jones, a left-leaning news outlet known for its investigations, The Journal said.  Mother Jones' editor in chief said on Friday that the move had cost the outlet $400,000 to $600,000 a year and that Facebook had lied to it about the change in meetings in 2017.  "We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers," a Facebook representative said in a statement to Business Insider. Mark Zuckerberg signed off on a Facebook algorithm change in 2017 that throttled traffic to left-leaning news sites and cost Mother Jones hundreds of thousands of dollars, The Wall Street Journal reported and Mother Jones senior staffers said on Friday. Sources told The Journal that Facebook was concerned about harming conservative news outlets by changing the algorithm that governs users' news feeds. Zuckerberg eventually signed off on an alternative that affected "left-leaning sites" like Mother Jones "more than previously planned," The Journal said. Mother Jones' editor in chief, Clara Jeffery, slammed the social-media company on Friday, estimating that the move cost the publication $400,000 to $600,000 a year. Jeffery and Ben Dreyfuss, Mother Jones' editorial director for growth and strategy, wrote that Facebook representatives lied to them in meetings about the change in 2017. "They just swore up and down that wasn't what was happening," Dreyfuss tweeted. "We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers," a Facebook representative said in a statement to Business Insider on Friday. "We only made updates after they were reviewed by many different teams across many disciplines to ensure the rationale was clear and consistent and could be explained to all publishers." In a 2019 report that said Facebook was "killing real news," Mother Jones used its own data to show that its Facebook-referred traffic surpassed 20 million page views in early 2017 but diminished to fewer than 5 million page views in late 2017 and 2018. The dates aligned with The Journal's report that said Facebook made changes to the algorithm that deemphasized Mother Jones' content in late 2017. Jeffery said on Friday that when she published the 2019 report, she wasn't aware that Facebook had made any policy changes "targeting us in particular." Jeffery described Facebook's action as "an INTENTIONAL change to hurt shops that do serious investigative journalism." Read The Wall Street Journal's full report here. Read Jeffery's comments here.

 The USA vs. Google - Today marks the beginning of a war that everyone’s seen coming. The Department of Justice, along with eleven Republican state attorneys, has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, a little-known business owned by a company called Alphabet. It’s the first in what’s widely expected to be a set of historic antitrust cases against the tech giants, which may threaten the dominance of these businesses as we know them today. You can read it here.  Having briefly read the filing, the DoJ’s charge of the search engine exercising unlawful monopoly power has several facets, from the linguistic: Google is so dominant that “Google” is not only a noun to identify the company and the Google search engine but also a verb that means to search the internet. To the quantitative:Google effectively owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for roughly 80 percent of the general search queries in the United States. Largely as a result of Google’s exclusionary agreements and anticompetitive conduct, Google in recent years has accounted for nearly 90 percent of all general-search-engine queries in the United States, and almost 95 percent of queries on mobile devices.Expect ex-Alphavillain Kadhim Shubber, and the excellent tech team in San Francisco and London, to provide more colour in the coming hours, days, and weeks.  One thing is for sure: we don’t expect the Mountain View-based company to take this lightly.

Is QAnon a game gone wrong? | FT Film - Izabella Kaminska explains how QAnon stems from the worlds of online gaming and Playboy magazine. It's not a conspiracy. It’s a way to hack reality.

Goldman Sachs Criminally Charged by Justice Department – and Its Stock Closes Up $2.49 - Pam Martens - If you needed further proof that crime pays on Wall Street, look at the chart above. Goldman Sachs and its Malaysian subsidiary were criminally charged yesterday by the Justice Department, they admit to the charges, and its stock closed up on the day by $2.49.The U.S. Department of Justice is being played like a fiddle at a tractor meet. Those big white shoe law firms that handle increasingly dirty cases against the mega banks on Wall Street have twice, in a period of just three weeks, managed to get the Justice Department to announce settlements of landmark criminal cases against two of the largest banks on Wall Street on the day of presidential debates when the public and the media are not paying attention to Wall Street.On September 29, the day of the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Justice Department brought two criminal counts against JPMorgan Chase for “tens of thousands of instances of unlawful trading in gold, silver, platinum, and palladium…as well as thousands of instances of unlawful trading in U.S. Treasury futures contracts and in U.S. Treasury notes and bonds….” That was the date of the first presidential debate.To prevent the possibility that a reporter or two in the audience might ask the Justice Department why it was giving JPMorgan Chase a Deferred Prosecution Agreement when these were the fourth and fifth criminal counts it has brought against JPMorgan Chase in the past six years, (it has admitted guilt to all of the charges) the Justice Department simply skipped its usual procedure and did not hold a press conference announcing the charges. (Read our reporting here.)The second presidential debate was cancelled. Yesterday was the date of the final and highly anticipated presidential debate. So that’s when Goldman Sachs’ outside counsel wanted to have the criminal charges announced against its client, in the looting and bribery scandal known as 1MDB. And that’s what happened.This time, however, because the 1MDB case had become an international scandal, the Justice Department did hold a press conference to announce the charges. You can watch that press conference in the video below and read the detailed charges here.For the back story on this scandal, read our reporting here.

Goldman Gets Off Easy in 1MDB Scandal Despite Further $2.9 Billion in Payments, Criminal Charge Against Malaysian Sub - Yves Smith - Experts will tell you that a good negotiation leaves both sides feeling a bit bruised. I doubt that Goldman is feeling bruised over yesterdays’s multi-regulator settlement in the 1MDB scandal. Mr. Market certainly thought so; Goldman’s stock held its price on the announcement of the multi-regulator settlements yesterday that included $2.9 billion in fines and disgorgements.Among other things, the estimated $4.5 billion looting of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB between 2009 and 2014 led to the imprisonment of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who also happens to have established 1MDB in 2009.Goldman has admitted to criminal wrongdoing under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by its Malaysian subsidiary and agreed to pay $2.3 billion in fines and $600 million in disgorgement to the Department of Justice, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the SEC, the New York Department of Financial Services, and UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore financial regulators. This settlement follows Goldman agreeing to pay up to $3.9 billion to settle all claims by the Malaysian government. The two settlements together represent over 80% of Goldman’s 2019 profits.Goldman is also clawing back $174 million in compensation from former CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and then head of investment banking, now CEO David Solomon. Solomon and other executives will have their 2020 pay reduced by $31 million. Goldman is also seeking to recoup $76 million from three former executives.Many observers will be unhappy over the lack of additional indictments of Goldman executives beyond the 2018 US indictments of Tim Leissner, Goldman’s former Southeast Asia Chairman, and Roger Ng. Leissner has pleaded guilty; Ng’s trial is set for March 2021.1I’m not close enough to the strength of the evidence against particular individuals to judge whether the authorities wimped out on this front. I’ll discuss shortly why prosecutions would be far from a slam dunk. By contrast, regulators could easily have forced more institutional changes on Goldman and failed to do so.  We’ll give a short background on 1MDB and then turn to the inadequate settlement.

Industry wins key concession in liquidity rule— Federal regulators have acceded to banking industry calls to ease a new liquidity requirement for large institutions in light of recent market volatility caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s board approved a final rule Tuesday morning implementing the net stable funding ratio. The regulation, proposed in 2016, establishes a long-term liquidity measure developed after the financial crisis by the Basel Committee. The board also revised "total loss-absorbing capacity," or TLAC, rules for large banks, provided temporary relief necessitated by the pandemic from certain auditing requirements and codified its approach to issuing regulatory guidance. In a notable shift, the final liquidity rule — approved later by the Federal Reserve Board and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — removed Treasurys and reverse Treasury repurchases from the liquidity requirement. Some in the industry industry had urged the change after a sudden selloff of Treasury securities following the virus outbreak, coupled with the Fed then buying up Treasurys, caused sharp price fluctuations. Staff from the agencies said that after conducting an analysis, they determined that setting the funding requirements for those assets above zero could reduce bank participation in the Treasury and Treasury repo markets. “These assets serve as reliable sources of liquidity based on their high credit quality, and they serve a critically important role in supporting the smooth functioning of funding markets,” said FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams at the board’s meeting. But Martin Gruenberg, the former FDIC chair who remains on the board, dissented from the NSFR vote along with Fed Gov. Lael Brainard. Gruenberg argued that reducing the "stable funding" requirement for Treasurys and Treasury repos would release large banks from needing to manage the liquidity risks of those assets. “The entire risk is effectively transferred to the public sector, through the Federal Reserve,” he said. “That defeats the purpose of the net stable funding ratio requirement.” The new ratio is meant to ensure a bank has enough stable liquidity to fund its makeup of assets. For banks subject to the full rule, an institution's "available stable funding" must equal or exceed its "required stable funding." Different types of assets and liabilities included in the ratio are each given a risk weight. The final rule also offers “more favorable treatment” for certain affiliate sweep deposits and nondeposit retail funding, FDIC staff said in a memo to the board. The final NSFR requirement would also adjust the rule to correspond with recent changes to the post-crisis prudential supervision regime for large banks. Those changes are meant to tailor regulatory requirements based on an institution's size, reserving the toughest standards for the biggest banks and providing some regional banks with relief.

The Fed Did a Lot of Talking Yesterday about a Big Bank Failure: Should We Worry? - By Pam Martens - Turns out the federal government’s plan for dealing with a mega bank failure on Wall Street is no better conceived than the federal government’s plan for dealing with the worst pandemic since 1918.   The Federal Reserve issued two press releases yesterday about “large banks.” One read: “Agencies finalize rule to reduce the impact of large bank failures.” The other read: “Agencies issue final rule to strengthen resilience of large banks.” Wait. What? Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has been telling anyone who would listen this year – from Congress to viewers of the Today show – that the large banks have been a “source of strength” during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. If that were true (which we’ve questioned from the first time Powell said it) why is the Fed now worrying about a “large bank failure” and the need to “strengthen” large banks? The first press release from the Fed yesterday deals with the fact that the biggest banks on Wall Street remain interconnected to one another. If you recall, in 2008 the interconnections of Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and AIG to the biggest banks on Wall Street created a daisy chain of rapid meltdowns across Wall Street. So federal regulators had this plan: They would make the largest banks issue TLAC debt – “Total Loss Absorbing Capacity” debt. The idea, according to the regulators, was that this “debt could be used to recapitalize the holding company during bankruptcy or resolution if it were to fail,” rather than putting the taxpayer on the hook for another massive bailout like 2008. Now, if you read between the lines of the finalized rule, it would appear that the banks have attempted to game this plan by buying up their own and/or each other’s TLAC debt, thus increasing the very interconnectedness and systemic risk that the federal regulators were trying to avoid. So the federal regulators, including the Fed, are going to spank the large banks by penalizing them on what they will count toward their regulatory capital if they hold their own or other bank’s TLAC debt. The problem is that the largest interconnected risk between the banks is not their mutual holdings of each other’s debt, which is in the billions of dollars, but their mutual holdings of each other’s derivatives, which are in the trillions of dollars, in terms of face amount. The tangle of incestuous derivative relationships is as bad, if not worse, than it was in 2008. And these trillions of dollars in derivatives, thanks to a repeal of a part of Dodd-Frank through lobbying by Citigroup, are still sitting at the federally-insured part of the Wall Street bank, where the taxpayer is still on the hook for any blowup. According to the September 30, 2019 report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), JPMorgan Chase has exposure to $1.2 trillion in Credit Default Swaps while Citibank has exposure to $1.76 trillion. According to the same OCC report, the total exposure to Credit Default Swaps among all national banks in the U.S. is $3.7 trillion – meaning that just these two banks are responsible for 80 percent of that exposure. Who is on the other side of these trades, i.e., the counterparty? No one really knows because these are mostly private contracts between two parties. That was supposed to change under Dodd-Frank, where the derivatives would become centrally-cleared or traded on exchanges, but the majority of derivatives remain over-the-counter private contracts.

 Loan Loss Reserves at Mega Banks Are Far from Where They Need to Be  - Pam Martens -  Consider us on record as waving our arm in the air and shouting that there is zero, ZERO! chance that the megabanks in the U.S. are properly reserved for what comes next. The reason that these publicly-traded mega banks, with CEOs making in the range of $25 million to $30 million a year, don’t want to properly reserve for potential losses is that it crimps quarterly earnings, which might crimp their stock awards, which might crimp their pursuit of becoming a billionaire like Sandy Weill did at Citigroup – not long before the bank began secretly receiving the largest bailout in history from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, topping out at more than $2.5 trillion in cumulative loans according to a government audit released in 2011. Good quarterly earnings also provide a prop under the share price so that the guys in the corner offices can cash out their stock option grants at a fat profit.These same mega banks are also the most politically-connected. Quietly, they managed to get relief from reserving for losses on financial instruments stuffed into the CARES Act stimulus bill passed by Congress in the spring. The language in the bill relieves the banks from a new accounting measure that would have forced these banks to begin anticipating losses and reserving for them. The measure is called Current Expected Credit Losses or CECL (pronounced Cecil). We had watched numerous Senate hearings prior to the passage of the CARES Act where Republicans argued for relief for the banks from Cecil. They cleverly managed to get it stuffed into the desperately needed CARES Act.  The CARES Act contains this passage: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no insured depository institution, bank holding company, or any affiliate thereof shall be required to comply with the Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standards Update No. 2016–13 (‘Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments’), including the current expected credit losses methodology for estimating allowances for credit losses, during the period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act and ending on the earlier of— (1) the date on which the national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID–19) outbreak declared by the President on March 13, 2020 under the National Emergencies Act (50 16 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) terminates; or (2) December 31, 2020.”  But, there will be a day of reckoning according to the accounting firm Grant Thornton. It writes:  “Based on discussions with the SEC staff, we understand that eligible entities that elect to defer the adoption of ASU 2016-13 will need to apply the transition provisions of ASU 2016-13 when the deferral period under Section 2014 ends. That is, entities will need to retrospectively restate their year-to-date results when they adopt ASU 2016-13 to reflect its application as of the beginning of the entity’s fiscal year, which would be as of Jan. 1, 2020, for entities with calendar year-ends. Quarterly results during the deferral period will also need to be retrospectively restated in future quarters when presenting comparative results.” The pandemic — with its temporary store closures, social distancing requirements, e-commerce boom and supply chain disruption — in the first six months of this year fueled uncertainty for retailers and accelerated existing trends, according to BDO's biannual bankruptcy update.BDO counts 18 retailers that headed to bankruptcy court in the first half of the year and another 11 in July through mid-August. Retail Dive's bankruptcy tracker similarly lists 27 so far this year, compared to 17 in 2019.  The industry's bankruptcy record so far put it on pace with 2010, following the Great Recession, when there were 48 bankruptcy filings by retailers, according to BDO's report.The COVID-19 pandemic has essentially interfered with what is normally a cyclical pattern for retailers and set up the industry for yet more bankruptcies in 2020's second half, according to BDO researchers. In the first six months of 2020, 18 retailers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with an additional 11 filing in July through mid-August. These defaults were concentrated in apparel and footwear, home furnishings, food and department stores, with many prominent retailers filing during this time period, With 29 filings in 2020 to date, this year is on-pace to rival 2010, following the Great Recession, that resulted in 48 total filings. "In short, 2020 is on track to set the record for the highest number of retail bankruptcies and store closings in a single year," they wrote. "

Powell says Fed's digital currency should complement payments system— The Federal Reserve is primarily interested in looking at a central bank digital currency that would improve the payment system, rather than one that would replace the physical dollar, said Chair Jerome Powell. “Unlike some jurisdictions, here in the United States we continue to see strong demand for cash,” he said Monday during a panel on cross-border payments and digital currencies hosted by the International Monetary Fund. “Moreover, we have robust and mature financial and banking sectors, and we have a highly banked population so that many — although not all — already have access to the electronic payments system.” Although the Fed has not said whether it will move to develop a central bank digital currency, it is among several central banks exploring the possibility, and has various ongoing research efforts to analyze the impact a nationalized digital dollar would have on the U.S. financial system. But while some countries like China and Sweden are moving toward central bank digital currencies that envision cash being phased out entirely, Powell signaled Monday that the Fed is looking at a central bank digital currency that would instead supplement the already-existing payments infrastructure in the U.S. “We think it's important that any potential CBDC would serve as a complement to, and not a replacement for, cash and current private sector digital forms of the dollar such as commercial bank money,” he said. Powell added that while the U.S. has an obligation to “stay on the forefront” of innovations like central bank digital currency, the Fed also has a responsibility to thoroughly analyze the costs and benefits of a digital dollar. “I actually do think this is one of those issues where it's more important for the United States to get it right than it is to be first,” he said. “Given the dollar’s important role globally, it's essential that we remain on the frontier of research and policy development.” He said the U.S. needs to look at several important policy questions in evaluating whether to develop a central bank digital currency, including how it would be protected from cyberattacks, how it would affect monetary policy and financial stability and how it would prevent criminal activity while also maintaining user privacy. “Yes, there are potential benefits, but that's going to take a lot of work and thought, we believe,” Powell said. “So they're not simple questions and the answers are going to need to be comprehensively understood.” Many have championed the idea of a central bank digital currency as a way to provide quicker and cheaper transactions, as well as access to segments of the population that have been traditionally underserved by banks. But the concept gained traction when Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency project in 2019 with the aim of creating a single global digital currency. The announcement of the Libra project drew immediate backlash from lawmakers and regulatory officials, who expressed concern that the social media giant would not adequately address anti-money-laundering and Bank Secrecy Act requirements.

PayPal is shilling crypto on the internet - The battle against fiat is truly in full swing. Hot on the heels of Nigel Farage’s declaration of war against the financial system and inducement to freedom-lovers everywhere to stock up on gold and silver, we now have another call to arms. But this time, it’s different. This time, it’s crypto. So who’s waging this war thatdecentralised bros around the world are so excited about? Some kind of super-decentralised entity that is super not into fiat, we imagine?Um, sure:  That’s right, PayPal — one of the biggest payments companies in the world, with a market cap of $240bn — will soon be allowing its US users to buy, HODL, and sell bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ether (the crypto that powers Ethereum) and litecoin.It’s not available for UK users yet but here are some screenshots from the PayPal app in the US, from Mike Dudas, founder of crypto site The Block:Sounds pretty shilliant to us. Only thing is, PayPal will not actually be allowing anyone to transfer their crypto out of their PayPal wallet into another wallet, even if it’s another PayPal wallet, or to deposit crypto from another wallet. Users won’t have access to their private keys — the long string of numbers that allows users to spend their crypto on what they want. Still, censor-resistant money for the win!Instead, everything has to go through PayPal. And although PayPal says it will allow its users to pay with crypto at the 26 million merchants on its platform, those merchants won’t actually receive the payment in crypto — it will be converted back into fiat, for a hefty fee (2.3 per cent on transactions of less than $100). So why you would choose to pay with bitcoin at all, we’re not so sure.But does any of this matter when number go up? Bitcoin, as you can imagine, mooned on the back of such news, popping above $13,000 at one point to trade at its highest price since July 2019. Here’s the price move in the past month (screenshot from Coindesk):

Fed, Fincen look to require banks to hold more data on transfers— The Federal Reserve and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on Friday proposed requiring financial institutions to keep more records on hand related to smaller-value international fund transfers. The current recordkeeping and travel regulations of the Bank Secrecy Act mandate that banks collect, retain and transmit information on fund transfers of more than $3,000 occurring outside the U.S. But the Fed and Fincen are proposing to change that threshold to $250, noting the information would be helpful in combatting illegal activity. “Information available to the Agencies indicates that malign actors are using smaller-value cross-border wire transfers to facilitate or commit terrorist financing, narcotics trafficking, and other illicit activity, and that increased recordkeeping and reporting concerning these transactions would be valuable to law enforcement and national security authorities,” the agencies said in their joint proposal. Under the Recordkeeping Rule of the Bank Secrecy Act, originating banks are required to collect and maintain the name and address of the person sending funds, the amount and date of the transfer, any payment instructions from the person initiating the transfer and the recipient’s bank. Despite the proposed lower threshold, the Fed and Fincen said that they do not believe it would increase the burden on financial institutions or impact the cost and efficiency of the payments system. “Some financial institutions are already collecting information on at least a portion of transactions taking place under the current threshold for purposes of reporting suspicious transactions to FinCEN,” the proposal said, adding that some banks also already maintain information on smaller transactions because it’s more cost-effective to have a single data collection process in place. The proposal also would apply the same standards to transactions using digital currencies. The public can comment on the proposal for 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

CFPB staff shake-up seen hampering investigations - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau became a lightning rod when it was first created because of its vast enforcement powers to investigate financial firms. But in a major shake-up, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger has taken steps that critics say will undermine that authority. In a memo to CFPB staff last week, a top official working under Kraninger announced a reorganization meant to streamline how enforcement decisions are made. But some observers say it will handicap the Office of Enforcement's ability to launch independent investigations. “This essentially weakens the enforcement office and substantially changes the way enforcement does its work,” said Jenny Lee, a partner at Arent Fox and a former CFPB enforcement attorney. Bryan Schneider, the CFPB’s associate director of supervision, enforcement and fair lending, said in the memo and accompanying documents to staff that the changes will address tensions between the bureau’s two main offices of enforcement and supervision. “To be candid, we spend too much time in [Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending] arguing over which institutions to examine or investigate and, over the years, this has deteriorated morale,” Schneider wrote in the messages to staff on Oct. 14.  Final decisions on investigations and enforcement will now fall to a team that previously had dealt solely with supervision policy. That unit, formerly named the Office of Supervision Policy, will be renamed the Office of SEFL Policy and Strategy and will handle both supervisory and enforcement issues. Some staff from the Office of Enforcement, which will still conduct investigations, will move to the new office. A separate office that coordinates exam schedules, the Office of Supervision Examinations, will be renamed the Office of Supervision, Schneider said. Kraninger "prefers to handle things through the supervision process," said Lucy Morris, a partner at Hudson Cook and a former CFPB deputy enforcement director. “The motivation is to allow for better and easier decision-making within SEFL. For a long time people felt enforcement was doing its own thing without a lot of controls on it, and this is a way to control what cases are brought, what decisions come out of enforcement, so it is in effect controlling a group that has in the past done its own thing.” When Kraninger first laid out her priorities for the bureau in early 2019, she listed enforcement last, behind education, prevention and supervision. She has often said she wants enforcement to be used as a tool only when necessary if supervision fails. "I have reiterated my view that supervision is the heart of this agency," Kraninger said in a speech in April 2019. The new policy and strategy office now will be responsible for critical decision-making functions including opening investigations and coordinating with the CFPB’s Legal Division and Office of Regulations on novel or complex legal issues from examinations, Schneider said in an organizational review sent to staff.

 Comerica prioritizes forgiveness of larger PPP loans - Comerica Bank in Dallas has begun inviting clients who received emergency loans through the Paycheck Protection Program to apply for forgiveness. But only the largest accounts are getting a first crack at relief, executives said on a call with analysts Tuesday. “It's difficult to predict what the volume would be, but we're going to concentrate on the larger customers first because we are still hopeful, quite frankly, that we get additional relief for the smallest borrowers in terms of simplifying the application,” said Comerica Chief Credit Officer Melinda Chausse. This “tiered” strategy for dealing with what some expect to be a flood of applicants seeking to turn their loans backed by the Small Business Administration into grants is being followed across the industry. "Banks that have opened the forgiveness process are primarily working with the larger borrowers,” said Nick Simpson, senior vice president of public affairs at the Consumer Bankers Association. “I don’t believe there has been a specific request, but it has more to do with the fact that there isn’t a streamlined process for them being discussed, and those are the businesses most likely to have dedicated financial teams to complete the applications." The Treasury Department on Oct. 8 announced a simpler forgiveness process for borrowers with less than $50,000 in PPP loans. The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill that would expand the simpler process to loans under $150,000, but it’s fate is uncertain. Nearly 72% of the $525 billion in PPP loans were for more than $150,000, according to Treasury data as of Aug. 8. While that covers the dollar amount, about two-thirds of the actual number of loans are below $50,000. Nearly 1 million PPP borrowers are above the $50,000 threshold but still have loans below $150,000 and may find themselves at the back of the line for forgiveness if the process is ultimately not streamlined for them.

House bill would let smaller banks exclude PPP loans from asset totals — House lawmakers have introduced a bill to exclude Paycheck Protection Program loans from regulators' calculations of the asset size of smaller banks. The legislation, introduced Friday, would benefit banks and credit unions with assets under $15 billion. It requires federal regulators to exclude PPP loans from asset-size calculations for the purpose of determining capital ratios, deposit insurance premiums and other asset thresholds at those financial institutions. PPP loans, which are administered by the Small Business Administration, would not be excluded from assets on the institutions' quarterly call reports. “The purpose is to make sure that banks and credit unions are not subjected to more burdensome regulations as a result of assisting with an emergency economic relief program,” a spokesperson for Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, said in an email. The legislation comes in response to community bankers’ worries that their newly swollen balance sheets may trigger new regulatory requirements. Banks nearing $10 billion in assets have been particularly concerned that PPP loans could subject them to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau supervision. “We understand that there are 178 banks on the verge of crossing an asset-based regulatory threshold as a result of PPP loans remaining on their balance sheets,” Loudermilk’s spokesperson said. Other co-sponsors of the bill are Reps. David Scott, D-Ga., Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, Roger Williams, R-Texas, Ted Budd, R-N.C., David Kustoff, R-Tenn., Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., John Rose, R-Tenn., Denver Riggleman, R-Va., and Van Taylor, R-Texas. The Paycheck Protection Protection, which was established by Congress in March, enabled small businesses that were impacted by the pandemic to access forgiveable loans in an effort to stave off layoffs.

CFPB developing proposal on who can access customer data - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking comment on rules governing how third-party providers can access consumers' financial data. The agency's advance notice of proposed rulemaking is the first step in implementing Dodd-Frank Act standards on consumers' access to their own financial records. The CFPB proposal is expected to draw enormous interest from both banks, which have at times been leery of third-party providers' access to consumer data, and fintech firms that rely on consumers’ ability to access data. The bureau said it is seeking information on how to implement financial record-access rights efficiently, including the potential risks to consumers in authorizing access to third-party data providers. "When consumers use financial products and services, the providers of those products and services generally accumulate data about those consumers and their use of those products and services," the bureau said in a press release. "Consumer access to these data allow consumers to manage their financial accounts and can enhance consumers’ control of their financial matters." The bureau said it is trying to determine the scope of data that falls under the rule, as well as who should be held accountable for data errors and for providing unauthorized access to a consumer's records. “There are indications that some emerging market practices may not reflect the access rights described in section 1033” of Dodd-Frank, the bureau said in its 34-page notice. The CFPB said it is also interested in whether regulatory uncertainty about section 1033 may affect the market to the detriment of consumers. Richard Hunt, president and CEO of the Consumer Bankers Association, said many banks support the CFPB’s efforts to address data collection and aggregation. “Banks are already subject to strict data protection guidelines and believe consumers would be best served by having a uniform standard across financial platforms,” Hunt said in a press release. “This rulemaking effort is an important step in establishing those uniform consumer protections.” While consumer access to financial records can enable the development of innovative and beneficial consumer financial products, the CFPB said it also comes with risks.

 New pressure on banks to offer affordable consumer accounts - Pressure is mounting on banks to offer low-cost accounts that could help bring more unbanked households into the financial mainstream. On Monday, both the American Bankers Association and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. called on banks that do not already offer accounts designed for previously unbanked consumers to start doing so. The basic accounts cost $10 or less per month and they usually do not come with paper checks, and don’t charge fees for either overdrafts or low balances. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are among more than 40 banks that offer such accounts, and on Monday ABA President and CEO Rob Nichols urged “the rest of the industry” to join them. “We believe that expanding the number of banks that offer these safe, affordable accounts can help lower the number of unbanked and underbanked in the country and promote financial inclusion,” Nichols said in a speech. He added that 20 core providers — including Fiserv, FIS and Jack Henry — have committed to making it easier for banks that use their technology to offer the basic accounts. FDIC officials made a similar appeal to banks during a conference call announcing the results of a biennial survey that tallies the number of Americans who lack bank accounts. The survey found that while 5.4% of U.S. households were unbanked in 2019, the lowest percentage since the survey began in 2009, Black and Hispanic households were substantially more likely than white households to be unbanked. The comments Monday from bank regulators and a leading industry group could put pressure on many smaller banks to follow the megabanks’ example, though banks that are wary of cannibalizing their own fee revenue may choose to ignore the advice. During the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put pressure on the nation’s 25 largest retail banks not only to offer basic accounts, but also to promote their availability. But a recent list of participating banks from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which developed the specific standards for so-called safe bank accounts, which developed the specific standards for so-called safe bank accounts, indicates that more than half of those top-25 banks are not currently offering the accounts. Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s former director, said in a recent interview that basic accounts appeal to younger consumers who are worried about overdraft fees. He said in an email Monday he is pleased to see the ABA advocating for financial inclusion, but suggested that the low-cost accounts themselves are little more than public relations vehicles if banks aren’t actively marketing them in their communities. “Having them for PR purposes, being able to show that they exist, is different from promoting them,” Cordray said.

Ex-Trump adviser Cohn predicts bleak future for community banks— Former Trump administration economic adviser Gary Cohn anticipates more banking industry consolidation as smaller institutions struggle to keep up with technological innovations that are altering the financial services landscape. Cohn, who headed the National Economic Council in 2017 and 2018 after serving as chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs, said handling the evolving technological and regulatory changes requires size. “I just don't think you can really be a one- or two- or three-branch regional bank in this world with the legal component, regulatory and digital needs that you have today,” he said in an interview with Rob Blackwell, former editor-in-chief of American Banker and now chief content officer for IntraFi Network — previously known as Promontory Interfinancial Network — as part of an American Bankers Association event. The trend of disappearing community banks will likely only be hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, added Cohn. “We've seen it through this epidemic,” he said. “More and more transactions have been done digitally. Less and less people actually go to branches. More and more digital payments are being used.” To survive, community banks will need to invest in digital technology, Cohn said. But those banks will need to get bigger to cover the costs of that technology, which will lead to mergers of community banks into smaller regional banks and regional banks into “super-regional banks,” he said. “The role of the community banker has been diminished in some ways, which in some respects is a shame,” said Cohn. “But it's just sort of the natural evolution of where banking has come." Between 1990 and 2018, the number of banks with assets of less than $500 million declined by about 70%, or by about 7,600 institutions. Today, the U.S. has almost 5,000 community banks. Many have expressed concern about the loss of community banks, which in some rural areas and urban banking deserts are the only way residents can readily access financial services. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George said in 2019 that community banks are “both the catalyst and the backbone for sustained growth.” But Cohn said that while the decreasing number of community banks is “probably not a good thing overall,” it could be a trend that represents a natural evolution toward a bigger role for financial technology. “You're now starting to see more and more technological competition from an unregulated community,” he said, speaking of fintech companies. “That's forcing the banks to become more technologically savvy themselves. So even the existing banks today are spending more ... of their time and more and more of their money providing a digital product for their clients, and I think that’s going to continue to be more important.” Cohn said he isn't expecting a wave of bank failures as a result of the COVID-19-induced recession, since U.S. banks are well-capitalized. But he said large banks have to start changing the way they do compliance.

Regulators close Kansas bank in fourth failure of 2020 - Almena State Bank in Kansas was closed by state regulators late Friday, the fourth failure of the year and the second in as many weeks. The $70 million-asset bank had “experienced longstanding capital and asset quality issues, operating with financial difficulties unrelated to the current economic conditions resulting from the pandemic,” the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in a press release. The FDIC said the $4.2 billion-asset Equity Bank in Andover, Kan., will acquire the failed bank’s operations, including two branches and roughly all of its assets. The buyer also agreed to assume all of Almena’s $68.7 million of deposits. The failure is estimated to cost the Deposit Insurance Fund $18.3 million. First City Bank of Florida in Fort Walton Beach was closed by state regulators last Friday. Almena had lost more than $9.3 million since 2018 and had not turned an annual profit since 2017, according to FDIC data. It is the first institution to be shuttered in the Kansas since Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Argonia in October 2017.

Senate Democrats' bill would ban discrimination in financial services — Senate Democrats are proposing to apply the Civil Right Act's ban on discriminating against customers to the banking system. The landmark 1964 law bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin at places of "public accommodation" — including hotels and restaurants — but it did not include financial institutions. A bill introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland would change that, prohibiting financial institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. “Too often, Black, Brown and Indigenous people in Minnesota and across the country experience discrimination or mistreatment when interacting with financial institutions,” Smith said in a press release. “We need to root out systemic racism anywhere it occurs, and our legislation would be a clear and comprehensive statement that discrimination has no place in our financial system.” The legislation — titled the Fair Access to Financial Services Act — is aimed at ensuring all individuals have equal access to goods, services, facilities, privileges, and accommodations of financial institutions. The bill would give individuals the right to take legal action against financial institutions for discrimination. “Too many Black and brown Americans experience racial profiling and unequal treatment when trying to access services at banks and other financial institutions,” Brown said in the press release. “Victims of discrimination are not even able to hold financial institutions accountable — it is shameful.”

Senate fails to overturn OCC's CRA revamp - — Senate Democrats failed to pass a resolution to overturn the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s rule revamping the Community Reinvestment Act. The Senate voted 48-43 late Monday to reject a resolution that would have blocked the OCC's May rule from going into effect. The regulation expands banks' CRA assessment boundaries and establishes a new scoring method that includes the dollar-value of CRA projects as a factor. But critics say the rule undermines the intent of the CRA law to allocate credit to communities that most need it. The OCC is the only regulator to date with a CRA reform regulation on the books. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve both declined to support the national bank regulator's rule, and the Fed has begun the process of issuing its own rulemaking. “The OCC’s final rule is wrong in substance and in process,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “In substance, it is unlikely to encourage investment in under resourced and overlooked regions. Instead it expands qualifying CRA activities to include ones that don’t directly benefit communities in need. This OCC rule will cause harm to current investment areas leading to less community development in Delaware and across our nation. … In process, the OCC hasn’t worked to achieve consensus with fellow federal regulators.” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, spoke out on the Senate floor in opposition to the resolution to overturn the OCC’s rule. “The final rule establishes objective criteria for determining, and an illustrative list of, what qualifies for CRA credit, while also creating a preapproval process for banks. It updates and expands assessment areas to better reflect how banks serve customers today by adding deposit based assessment areas,” Crapo said. “It also incentivizes CRA activity in new areas of need, including Indian country and rural and distressed areas.” The Senate held the vote under authority granted to lawmakers through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal new regulations. The House approved the same resolution along party lines in June, but it faced an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican voting with Democrats in support of the resolution. A spokesperson for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said Democrats were seeking to revoke the rule “because now is not the time to be gutting investment in low- and middle-income communities and communities of color." “These communities need more access to credit and investment, not less,” the spokesperson added.

BankThink OCC undermines own CRA rule by putting key metric on hold - Critics of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s new Community Reinvestment Act rule say it was rushed to completion, bypassing the interagency approach that once defined the rule. Left scattered in its place is a reform (from the OCC) and proposal (from the Federal Reserve), leaving stakeholders with no clear direction on how the OCC’s final version will work, critics say. Still, as national banks and thrifts try to figure out how to comply with it, those critics find themselves with an unlikely ally: the OCC itself. In federal court filings contesting a community group challenge to the rule for being arbitrary and capricious, the OCC said the new rule was in an “inchoate state.” The OCC explained that “the necessary benchmarks and thresholds that the OCC will use for assessing banks’ performance” based on the new rule were not even in place, so any claim that banks’ CRA activities may decrease under the new standard was “speculative.” But by arguing to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims based on the rule’s undefined metrics, the OCC essentially concedes critics’ point that there is nothing there to fight about. And here’s why. For more than 40 years, the OCC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve almost always acted in tandem to make rules and provide guidance, as all three agencies oversee the CRA. These three agencies have long agreed that the CRA needs modernization, but only the OCC and FDIC in January jointly proposed replacing the existing compliance framework with one that they said was “more objective, transparent, consistent, and easy to understand.” The FDIC subsequently withdrew from the rulemaking, citing the pandemic. But the OCC forged ahead and promulgated the new rule alone, asserting in a press release it would “increase bank CRA-related lending, investment, and services” in underserved communities. The OCC indicated this increased activity would be accomplished through examinations using numeric benchmarks that would serve as objective measures for assessing a bank’s CRA performance in communities where it takes deposits. But as the court filings emphasize, omitted from the final rule were any actual benchmarks against which bank CRA activity could be measured, and which would presumably cause banks to increase their lending, investments and services. Though benchmarks were part of the January proposal, the OCC dropped it from the final rule, acknowledging criticism that the proposed standards were unclear. Instead, the agency said it would set benchmarks later.

Should consumer protection failures play a bigger role in CRA grades? -— The recent Community Reinvestment Act rating downgrade for USAA Federal Savings Bank highlights a potential strategy backed by consumer advocates for reforming the decades-old law. The CRA mostly encourages banks to serve lower-income communities in their market to combat redlining. By contrast, other laws focus more directly on punishing banks for unfair practices, fair-lending violations or harming a protected class. But USAA Federal Savings' CRA evaluation — and other high-profile downgrades in recent years — show how regulators frequently dock a bank's CRA rating if the institution has consumer compliance issues. In USAA's case, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency cited a combined 600 violations of two laws that protect military service members. “This is an important warning indication that the agencies, including the OCC, about which there are sometimes questions, tend to take illegal credit practices and fair-lending violations fully into CRA account and likely downgrade as a result,” said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics, of the San Antonio bank's downgrade. Although most observers see the CRA and consumer protection laws as complementary, the Federal Reserve Board — one of the agencies tasked with modernizing CRA policy — indicated that it is considering changes to make the connection between community reinvestment and consumer protection more explicit in its scoring framework. In a CRA policy outline released in September, the Fed said one of its chief priorities for reform would be to “recognize that CRA and fair lending responsibilities are mutually reinforcing.” Community reinvestment advocates say a more explicit connection between consumer compliance errors and CRA scores would rightly raise the bar for passing an exam that they say has become too easy.

GSE exemption to stay in place until underwriting rule finished- CFPB - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed that loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will remain exempt from the agency's Qualified Mortgage standard until the bureau finishes rewriting the QM rule. The bureau's decision announced Tuesday is intended to provide breathing room for the mortgage market that had feared a quick end for the exemption before the CFPB makes key changes sought by the industry to the underwriting rule. For the past seven years, loans approved by the government-sponsored enterprises' underwriting engines have been considered ultrasafe qualified mortgages that automatically meet the bureau’s ability-to-repay underwriting requirements. QM loans give lenders a safe harbor from legal liability. The temporary exemption granted in the 2014 rule allows loans backed by the GSEs to avoid a maximum 43% debt-to-income ratio but still be considered QM. The exemption, known as the GSE "patch," was originally set to expire Jan. 1, 2021. The CFPB previously extended the patch’s deadline to April 1 of next year as it simultaneously announced plans to overhaul the definition of QM. But the result of Tuesday's announcement effectively means the patch could remain indefinitely or at least until the agency's completed QM revamp is in effect. “We knew when the bureau first issued the QM rule that the patch was set to expire in 2021, and recognizing that ... we issued a general QM proposal just a few months ago,” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said Tuesday at a virtual convention of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “It was the result of many years of conversation as well as our assessment of that prior rule that led us to the changes we proposed.” The CFPB’s QM proposal would replace the 43% DTI cap with a price-based threshold measured by comparing a loan’s annual percentage rate against the average prime offer rate for a comparable transaction. Kraninger said the change would ensure that more borrowers "on the edge" would still be able to get a home loan.

Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in September - Note: Loans in forbearance are counted as delinquent in this survey, but those loans are not reported as delinquent to the credit bureaus. From Black Knight: Serious Delinquencies Improved in September for the First Time Since the Start of the Pandemic:
• The number of seriously delinquent mortgages (90+ days) fell by 43,000 in September, marking the first such improvement in serious delinquencies since the start of the pandemic
• More than 2.3 million homeowners – five times the number entering 2020 – remain 90 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure
• The national delinquency rate fell in September to 6.66%, down from 6.88% the month prior
• Early-stage delinquencies continue to show strong improvement, with rolls from current to 30-days delinquent, as well as the number of borrowers less than 90 days delinquent, having returned to pre-pandemic levels
• Both foreclosure starts and foreclosure sales continue to remain muted given the widespread foreclosure moratoriums still in place
According to Black Knight's First Look report, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 3.1% in September compared to August, and increased 89% year-over-year.  The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 2.9% in September and were down 29% over the last year.  Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 6.66% in September, down from 6.88% in August. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in September to 0.34%, from 0.35% in August.  The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is up 1,688,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 71,000 properties year-over-year.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.92%" - Note: This is as of October 11th. From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.92%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 40 basis points from 6.32% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 5.92% as of October 11, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 3.0 million homeowners are in forbearance plans....“The share of loans in forbearance declined across all loan types, primarily because of borrower forbearance plans expiring at the six-month mark. Federally backed loans under the CARES Act are eligible to be extended for up to 12 months, but borrowers must contact their servicer for an extension. Without that contact, borrowers exit forbearance, whether they are delinquent or current on their loan,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Borrowers with federally backed mortgages should contact their servicer if they still have a hardship due to the pandemic.”Added Fratantoni, “The steady improvement for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans highlights the improvement in some segments of the job market and broader economy. The slower decline for Ginnie Mae loans continues to show that this improvement has not been uniform, and that many are still struggling to regain their footing.”...By stage, 26.32% of total loans in forbearance are in the initial forbearance plan stage, while 72.08% are in a forbearance extension. The remaining 1.60% are forbearance re-entries. This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has been trending down for the last few months.The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) decreased relative to the prior week: from 0.11% to 0.10%."There hasn't been a pickup in forbearance activity related to the end of the extra unemployment benefits.

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Declined Slightly - Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance.  This data is as of October 20th. From Forbearance Volumes Continue Modest Improvement from Pandemic-Related Peak:  The market saw modest improvement in forbearances this past week, according to data from Black Knight’s McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker.  Forbearance volumes fell by 11K from the prior week, which was the result of larger declines among GSE loans (14K) and portfolio-held and privately securitized loans (2K) being offset by an increase of 5K in FHA/VA loans in forbearance.  As of Oct. 20, nearly 3 million borrowers remain in active COVID-19 forbearance plans, which represents 5.6% of first lien mortgages. This is a noticeable reduction from the market’s peak of 4.76 million in late May. More than 80% of remaining forbearance plans have had their terms extended with their servicer. Despite the muted improvement seen this week, overall forbearance volumes are down 623K month-over-month, driven by the large reduction in loans in active forbearance plans at the beginning of the month. This marks a 17% decline from September, showing sustained downward movement in forbearance volumes.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey -From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 0.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending October 16, 2020. .. The Refinance Index increased 0.2 percent from the previous week and was 74 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 26 percent higher than the same week one year ago.“Mortgage rates increased last week, with the 30-year fixed rate climbing 2 basis points to 3.02 percent – the highest since late September. Despite the uptick in rates, refinance activity held steady, with FHA refinance applications posting a 17.6 percent increase, helping to offset declines in the other loan types,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Homebuyer demand remains strong this fall, but purchase applications did decrease 2 percent, with both conventional and government purchase activity taking a step back. Given the ongoing housing market recovery and low rate environment, both purchase and refinance applications remained robust compared to a year ago, rising 26 percent and 74 percent, respectively.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.02 percent from 3.00 percent, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.The refinance index has been very volatile recently depending on rates and liquidity. But with record low rates, the index remains up significantly from last year.

NMHC: Rent Payment Tracker Shows Households Paying Rent Declined in October - From the NMHC: NMHC Rent Payment Tracker Finds 90.6 Percent of Apartment Households Paid Rent as of October 20: The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)’s Rent Payment Tracker found 90.6 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by October 20 in its survey of 11.4 million units of professionally managed apartment units across the country. This is a 1.8-percentage point, or 199,224-household decrease from the share who paid rent through October 20, 2019 and compares to 90.1 percent that had paid by September 20, 2020. These data encompass a wide variety of market-rate rental properties across the United States, which can vary by size, type and average rental price.“The importance of the initial support provided to apartment residents by the CARES Act is becoming increasingly clear,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President. “However, that support has now long since expired and the savings households were able to build are evaporating quickly. NMHC continues to urge lawmakers to come together and pass meaningful assistance to support renters and keep America’s rental housing sector stable.”

Ten percent of US households face eviction by year’s end -- On January 1, the Center for Disease Control emergency evictions moratorium will expire, raising the existing US eviction and homelessness crisis to unprecedented proportions. While tens of thousands of evictions have been filed throughout the pandemic, according to a recent report by the Aspen Institute, 30-40 million more Americans could be at risk of eviction by the end of this year. This is a staggering 10 percent of the American population. In addition, millions of Americans are at risk of being evicted from homes for non-payment of mortgages. According to mortgage analytics firm Black Knight, 3.9 million households were not paying their mortgages as of late August. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 20.8 million renter households—almost half of all US renter households—were “rental cost-burdened,” a term defined as households who pay over 30 percent of their income towards rent. Twenty-five percent of rental households were spending over 50 percent of their income on rent before the pandemic. The higher a household’s rental cost-burden, the more likely they are to become evicted. Some states, such as Ohio, are more vulnerable to the eviction crisis due to insufficient COVID-19 protections, high poverty rates and high pre-pandemic eviction rates. Avery Kreemer, the founder of Ohio Eviction Watch, recently spoke to the WSWS on the eviction crisis in the state. Ohio Eviction Watch seeks to establish a central database for eviction information in the state by requesting and publishing data from various courthouses around the state. As a result, Kreemer hopes to illuminate the full scope of a crisis that is both growing and underreported. “Our state legislature has been ineffective with anything regarding Covid-19 measures,” Kreemer noted. “Since March, proposals for eviction and foreclosure prevention haven’t gotten much traction in the House or Senate. This is important because the CDC eviction moratorium only goes into effect if there isn’t a pre-existing protection in that state.”

 "January Is Going To Be A Mess" - A Tsunami Of Evictions Expected Across US - The Trump administration walked back federal pro­tec­tions for renters in early October, even though rent moratoriums were still in effect, which allowed property owners and operators to begin the eviction process for millions of people as tens of billions of dollars in back rent is coming due.  In early September, the CDC published new, temporary guidelines to halt evictions because of the virus pandemic. The public health agency said: "The CDC, located within the HHS announces the issuance of an Order under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to temporarily halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19... This Order is effective September 4, 2020, through December 31, 2020."Before the eviction moratorium went into effect on September 4, there was a 72-hour lapse, allowing landlords to evict non-paying tenants. Reuters interviewed Latrise Bean,35, who was one of the unfortunate people evicted during that time from her Milwaukee apartment.  Bean, who works at a software company, like millions of other Americans, had their working hours reduced by of the virus-induced economic downturn - now with an eviction on her record, making it more difficult to find a rental, she is now living at a temporary housing unit in a neighborhood even worse than the one before with her five-year-old daughter. "I feel so unlucky," said Bean. "I have really been through it." 2020 has been a nightmarish year for millions of America's renters. At least 8 million of them are facing eviction in the coming months. Collectively, these folks owe an estimated $32 billion in back rent. Months of non-payment have exerted financial pressure on property owners and operators, some of whom have already failed to service their mortgage debts.

NMHC: "October Apartment Market Conditions Showed Some Rebound from COVID-19 Impacts" - The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) released their October report: October Apartment Market Conditions Showed Some Rebound from COVID-19 Impacts: Apartment market conditions moderated in the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions for October 2020, as the industry continues to cope with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. While the Sales Volume (72), Equity Financing (62) and Debt Financing (73) indexes all came in above the breakeven level (50), the index for Market Tightness (35) indicated continued weakness.“The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to constrain economic activity, resulting in higher vacancies and lower rent growth for apartments overall,” noted NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. “Still, industry professionals are observing more favorable conditions in many suburban markets. And, while this round marks the fourth consecutive quarter of deteriorating conditions, there was considerably more variation in responses compared to last quarter – less than half (49 percent) thought that market conditions were looser.”...The Market Tightness Index increased from 19 to 35, indicating looser market conditions. Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents reported looser market conditions than three months prior, compared to 18 percent who reported tighter conditions. One in three respondents (33 percent) felt that conditions were no different from last quarter. This graph shows the quarterly Apartment Tightness Index. Any reading below 50 indicates looser conditions from the previous quarter.

 Suburban Rents Rise As Urbanization Trend Reverses - There's a new twist to the rental market: Apartment rents in suburban markets rise across the U.S., while city rents are slumping, mostly because city dwellers are fleeing imploding liberal-run metro areas.  By now, readers have grasped several of the factors pushing city dwellers out to rural communities, that is, the virus pandemic and resulting lockdowns, socio-economic implosions, and, of course, remote working. A revival of the suburbs is the most significant 2020 real estate trend that will likely persist for a couple of years. Apartments in rural America offer more room, peace of mind, less crime, and lower probabilities of contracting the virus than ones stacked on top of each other in densely populated cities.  As early as March 25, we noted how city folks in Southern California packed up their bags and stayed in rural desert Airbnb properties to escape the pandemic. The trend has certainly evolved since then, with many top metro areas, including New York City and San Francisco, seeing large outflows of folks.  WSJ cited a new report from data firm CoStar Group Inc. as saying apartment rents in suburban markets of Sacramento, California; Norfolk, Virginia; and the Inland Empire of Southern California increased 3.2% to 4.6% at the end of the third quarter compared with March. Notice how rental apartment vacancy rates in cities have surged while suburban vacancy rates remain at multi-year lows.  CoStar points out rents in top metro areas have been tumbling this year. San Francisco rents cratered 17% since the March peak, the country's hardest-hit metro. Rents have dropped 9.2% in Boston and between 5%-6% in New York City, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.WSJ notes, of the people fleeing cities, many are millennial couples who have delayed marriage and kids and now want to start a family. They also say landlords have noticed higher cost metro areas like New York City and San Francisco have seen outflows of folks to places like Austin and Denver. Many city dwellers are seeking more space for their money as opposed to 1,000 sq ft flats in cities. The flight to the suburbs may have reversed or at least stalled decades worth of urbanization trends. At least now, the Baby Boomer generation can dump their suburban condos or McMansions to millennials.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 6.54 million in September From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Soar 9.4% to 6.5 Million in September Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 9.4% from August to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million in September. Overall sales rose year-over-year, up 20.9% from a year ago (5.41 million in September 2019). ... Total housing inventory at the end of September totaled 1.47 million units, down 1.3% from August and down 19.2% from one year ago (1.82 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.7-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.0 months in August and down from the 4.0-month figure recorded in September 2019.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in September (6.54 million SAAR) were up 9.4% from last month, and were 20.9% above the September 2019 sales rate. This was the highest sales rate since 2006. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. According to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.47 million in September from 1.49 million in August. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory.

U.S. Home Sales Rise to New 14-Year High, Offering a Boost to Economy – WSJ - Home sales rose to a new 14-year high in September, bolstered by robust demand and a shortage of homes for sale that is making the housing market one of the brightest spots for the U.S. economy. Existing-home sales rose 9.4% in September from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million, the highest rate since May 2006, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. The September sales marked a 20.9% increase from a year earlier. The latest figures for existing-home sales, which make up most of the housing market, marked the fourth straight monthly increase and one of the best stretches for the housing market in years. Real-estate agents and economists credit the strong demand for housing to record-low interest rates, a large population of millennials entering prime homebuying years and a desire for more household space driven by the coronavirus pandemic. As many people work and attend school from home, home shoppers are willing to move farther from their offices in exchange for bigger houses with more outdoor space. “Home prices are simply rising too fast due to insufficient supply and very strong demand,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.A very limited supply of homes for sale, especially in lower price tiers, pushed prices to new highs. The median existing-home price rose 14.8% from a year earlier to $311,800, a record high nominally and adjusted for inflation, NAR said, and the highest annual median price increase in 15 years. U.S. jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level since March, the Labor Department said Thursday, raising hopes that the economy could be starting to mend following pandemic-related lockdowns and layoffs. The housing market has been one of the economy’s few consistent areas of strength since sales picked up in the spring. Strong home sales can create more construction jobs and lead to more spending on home goods such as furniture and appliances. Housing data reflecting building and new-home sales has also been bullish. A measure of U.S. home-builder confidence rose to a record high in October in data going back to 1985, the National Association of Home Builders said Monday. Housing starts, a measure of U.S. home-building, rose 1.9% in September from August, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Residential permits, which can be a bellwether for future home construction, increased 5.2%.

Comments on September Existing Home Sales – Mcbride - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 6.54 million in September. A few key points:
1) This was the highest sales rate since 2006. Existing home sales are counted at the close of escrow, so the September report was mostly for contracts signed in July and August - when the economy was much more open than in March and April. Some of the increase over the last few months was probably related to pent up demand from the shutdowns in March and April. However, with the high unemployment rate and the high rate of COVID infections, housing might be under some pressure in 2021. That is difficult to predict and depends on the course of the pandemic.
2) Inventory is very low, and was down 19.2% year-over-year (YoY) in September. This is the lowest level of inventory for September since at least the early 1990s.
3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the Consensus.
This graph shows existing home sales by month for 2019 and 2020. Note that existing home sales picked up somewhat in the second half of 2019 as interest rates declined. Even with weak sales in April, May, and June, sales to date are only down about 0.2% compared to the same period in 2019. The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) by month (Red dashes are 2020), and the minimum and maximum for 2005 through 2019. Sales NSA in September (560,000) were 24% above sales last year in September(450,000).

Housing Market Goes Nuts, Everyone Sees it, But it Can’t LastWolf Richter - Another batch of crazy housing data yesterday. Crazy in the sense that the housing market, or rather part of it, namely the higher end of it, has gone totally crazy and that by now everyone knows that this isn’t “sustainable,” that “there’s no way it can last forever,” as Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman told CNBC. And he pointed out what everyone has already been pointing out, that “part of what is fueling this boom is that the economy has just split into two, and rich people are able to access capital almost for free, so, of course, they’re going to use that money to buy homes.”  But “there’s just another group of Americans who are still struggling, who can’t access the credit because we’ve raised credit standards, and you have high unemployment. I just think those two trends, at some point, have to collide.”It’s the now well-established phenomenon of the “K-shaped recovery,” where one part is doing well, and the other part is getting crushed. Or as WOLF STREET commenter IdahoPotato called it vastly more accurately and unforgettably, the “FU-shaped recovery.” Meaning, people who got bailed out and enriched by the Fed’s $3 trillion that it threw at the markets to inflate the prices of stocks, bonds, housing, etc. are now happy as a lark, and to heck with the rest of the people that are getting crushed.  But this craziness in the housing market is not sustainable. The National Association of Realtorsreported yesterday that sales of existing homes – single-family houses, condos, and co-ops – surged in September by 9.4% from August and by 20.9% from a year ago to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million homes, the highest since 2006 (data via YCharts):Seasonally, home sales normally decline in late summer and fall. But not this year. And the seasonal adjustments of the above numbers are designed for normal seasons. The NAR also releases raw(-er) sales numbers that are neither “seasonally adjusted” nor “annualized.”On a not-seasonally adjusted basis and not annualized, 500,000 homes were sold in September,up 24.7% from September last year, the highest year-over-year increase in the data except for two months during the depth of the Housing Bust – April 2010 and November 2009 – when sales were compared to a year earlier when sales had collapsed. Sales went through some wild gyrations from 2009 through 2011.And on this basis (not seasonally adjusted, not annualized), and compared to September 2018, homes sales were up by 34%. The median price of existing homes in September jumped 14.8% year-over-year to $311,800. The median price is skewed by a shift in the mix, and the price increase could also partially a result of red-hot demand for higher-priced homes (data via YCharts): “The uncertainty about when the pandemic will end coupled with the ability to work from home appears to have boosted sales in summer resort regions, including Lake Tahoe, mid-Atlantic beaches (Rehoboth Beach, Myrtle Beach), and the Jersey shore areas,” the report said. But here is what I also heard: People bought their new home without first selling their old home. They still have their place in San Francisco, or wherever, and will eventually put it on the market, but meanwhile they plowed a few million bucks into a house in Carmel and moved. These stories are everywhere.

Housing Starts at 1.415 Million Annual Rate in September -- From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions: Privately-owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,415,000. This is 1.9 percent above the revised August estimate of and is 11.1 percent above the September 2019 rate of 1,274,000. Single-family housing starts in September were at a rate of 1,108,000; this is 8.5 percent above the revised August figure of 1,021,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 295,000.  Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,553,000. This is 5.2 percent above the revised August rate of 1,476,000 and is 8.1 percent above the September 2019 rate of 1,437,000. Single-family authorizations in September were at a rate of 1,119,000; this is 7.8 percent above the revised August figure of 1,038,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 390,000 in September. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were down in September compared to August. Multi-family starts were down 17% year-over-year in September. Single-family starts (blue) increased in September, and were up 22% year-over-year. Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in September were below expectations - due to weakness in multi-family - and starts in July and August were revised down.

U.S. single-family homebuilding accelerates in September (Reuters) - U.S. single-family homebuilding surged in September, cementing the housing market’s status as the star of the economic recovery, thanks to record-low interest rates and a migration to the suburbs and low-density areas as Americans seek more room for home offices and schooling. The report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday reinforced expectations that the economy rebounded sharply in the third quarter after suffering its deepest contraction in at least 73 years in the second quarter. But the recovery from the COVID-19 recession has entered a period of uncertainty, with fiscal stimulus, which spurred the burst in activity last quarter, depleted. Single-family homebuilding, the largest share of the housing market, jumped 8.5% to a rate of 1.108 million units last month. But starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment fell 16.3% to a pace of 307,000 units. Overall, housing starts increased 1.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.415 million units last month. Data for August was revised down to a 1.388 million-unit pace from the previously reported 1.416 million. Groundbreaking activity rose in the West, South and Northeast, but fell in the Midwest. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast starts increasing to a rate of 1.457 million units in September. A survey on Monday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders increased to a record high in October. Builders, however, said constructing affordable homes was becoming increasingly challenging because “shortages of lots, labor, lumber and other key building materials are lengthening construction times.” The housing market has been a bright spot in the economy despite 25.3 million people being on unemployment benefits. Unemployment has disproportionately affected low-wage workers, who are typically young and renters. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is around an average of 2.81%, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.

Comments on September Housing Starts – McBride - Earlier: Housing Starts at 1.415 Million Annual Rate in SeptemberTotal housing starts in September were below expectations, and starts in July and August were revised down. The weakness in September was due to the volatile multi-family sector (apartments are under pressure from COVID). The housing starts report showed starts were up 1.9% in September compared to August, and starts were up 11.1% year-over-year compared to September 2019. Single family starts were up 22% year-over-year. Low mortgage rates and limited existing home inventory have given a boost to single family housing starts. The first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2019 (blue) and 2020 (red). Starts Housing 2019 and 2020Click on graph for larger image. Starts were up 11.1% in September compared to September 2019. Last year, in 2019, starts picked up towards the end of the year, so the comparisons were easy in the first seven months of the year.. Starts, year-to-date, are up 5.5% compared to the same period in 2019. This is below my forecast for 2020, but I didn't expect a pandemic! I expect starts to remain solid, but the growth rate will slow. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. Multifamily Starts and completionsThe blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - then mostly moved sideways. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts- then starts picked up a little again late last year, but have fallen off the pandemic. Single family Starts and completionsThe last graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions. The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 85 in October, Record High  --The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 85, up from 83 in September. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From the NAHB: Builder Confidence Continues Record Climb In a further show of strength for the housing sector, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes increased two points to 85 in October, further surpassing the previous all-time high of 83 recorded in September, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). These are the first two months the index has ever been above 80.  The housing market continues to be a bright spot for the economy, supported by increased buyer interest in the suburbs, exurbs and small towns. Moreover, NAHB analysis published last week showed that new single-family home sales are outpacing starts by a historic margin. Bridging this gap will require either a gain in construction volume or reductions in available inventory, which is already at a historic low in terms of month’s supply.Buyer traffic remains high and record-low interest rates are keeping demand strong as the concept of ‘home’ has taken on renewed importance for work, study and other purposes during and after the virus-induced downturn. However, it is becoming increasingly challenging to build affordable homes as shortages of lots, labor, lumber and other key building materials are lengthening construction times. This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985. This was above the consensus forecast. Housing and homebuilding have been one of the best performing sectors during the pandemic.

AIA: "Architectural billings slowdown moderated in September" - Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.  From the AIA: Architectural billings slowdown moderated in September: A slight improvement in business conditions has led to fewer architecture firms reporting declining billings, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). AIA’s ABI score for September was 47.0 compared to 40.0 in August (any score below 50 indicates a decline in firm billings). Last month’s score indicates overall revenue at U.S architecture firms continued to decline from August to September, however, the pace of decline slowed significantly. Inquiries into new projects during September grew for the second time since February, with a score of 57.2 compared to 51.6 in August. The value of new design contracts moderated to a score of 48.9 in September from 46.0 the previous month.“Despite the multi-family residential sector showing signs of improvement, overall business conditions are recovering at a disappointingly slow pace,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Other sectors may begin to stabilize in the coming months, but across the board improvement shouldn’t be expected until the economic impact of the pandemic subsides significantly.”...
• Regional averages: Midwest (45.6); West (45.6); South (43.7); Northeast (41.5)
• Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (54.0); mixed practice (47.3); commercial/industrial (43.3); institutional (40.5)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 47.0 in September, up from 40.0 in August. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services. Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions. This index has been below 50 for seven consecutive months. This represents a significant decrease in design services, and suggests a decline in CRE investment through the first half of 2021 (This usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months). This weakness is not surprising since certain segments of CRE are struggling, especially offices and retail.

 San Fran's New Normal: Third Walgreens In A Year Is Closing Due To "Rampant Shoplifting" -The effects of allowing chaos to prevail in liberal run cities across America might not be obvious to liberals now, but when their cities empty out completely, it's going to become crystal clear.Such is the case in San Francisco, where the city's new normal of shoplifting and chaos has driven another Walgreens pharmacy out of the city. The move to close the Walgreens at Van Ness and Eddy came after "months of seeing its shelves repeatedly cleaned out by brazen shoplifters", according to the SF Chronicle. The location served "many older people" who lived in the area. One customer told the paper: "All of us knew it was coming. Whenever we go in there, they always have problems with shoplifters."The same customer photographed someone in the store, days prior, "clearing a couple shelves and placing the goods into a backpack". Because when there's no police and politicians are afraid to enforce the law - why not?  The penalty for shoplifting is a "nonviolent misdemeanor" that carries a maximum sentence of 6 months. But in most cases, for simple shoplifting, the criminal is simply released with conditions.The customer, who lives a block away, said: “I feel sorry for the clerks, they are regularly being verbally assaulted. The clerks say there is nothing they can do. They say Walgreens’ policy is to not get involved. They don’t want anyone getting injured or getting sued, so the guys just keep coming in and taking whatever they want.”When the Chronicle went to visit the store, they noticed "aisle after aisle of near empty shelves" and said that beauty products seemed to be a favored target. While the Chronicle was in the store, a man with a mask on walked in, emptied two shelves into a bag and walked out the door.  When they asked a clerk where all the products were, the clerk responded: “Go ask the people in the alleys, they have it all.”

 Merchants brace for 'friendly fraud' surge as holiday shopping moves online - Online fraud typically spikes when holiday shopping begins in November, but so-called friendly fraud poses another big threat this year with the pandemic pushing more consumers — and inexperienced merchants — to online sales channels. Friendly fraud occurs when a consumer demands the reversal of a purchase they made online but don’t recognize, triggering chargebacks with merchandise losses and time-consuming negotiations between banks and merchants. With coronavirus driving a mass migration to online shopping, friendly fraud is already suspected to be higher than last year. The payments fraud-monitoring company Kount is responding with unprecedented steps on the eve of the fourth-quarter shopping frenzy. Kount last month hired longtime fraud-prevention consultant Scott Adams as the Boise, Idaho, company’s first-ever vice president of friendly fraud, and the firm also unveiled a new partnership with Verifi, Visa’s dispute-resolution service, to help block excess chargebacks in near-real time. “This year consumers are buying a lot more items online through unfamiliar channels and many times they don’t recognize these charges, triggering lots of chargebacks,” Adams said. Adams co-founded FraudPVP, which supplies fraud management tools to Visa. In addition to rising friendly fraud, “coronavirus killed off a lot of brick-and-mortar shopping, and some merchants looking to recoup their losses are going online for the first time, without realizing how much friendly fraud is mixed in with traditional third-party online fraud,” Adams said. Friendly fraud creates chaos because 90% of consumers who don’t recognize a purchase they made online typically make their first call to the card issuer, which usually has no immediate insight into shopping cart or transaction details, according to Kount's research. By integrating with Verifi, Kount's detailed fraud-detection filters combine with Verifi’s insight into merchants' transaction data to quickly determine whether a consumer actually made a purchase, in many cases short-circuiting the chargeback process. "With friendly fraud, it's often consumer confusion where they don't recall making that purchase or it was someone else in the household," Adams said. Merchants opting in to Verifi's service will benefit from Kount's vast trove of data to determine which purchases are legitimate. “Kount sits in the middle, letting merchants collaborate with the card issuer through Verifi, so the bank can provide the consumer with details helping them to recognize a transaction they actually made,” Adams said. The process produces results in as little as two seconds, but Kount recommends that to be fully effective merchants share full shopping cart information to give a complete picture of each customer’s purchases.

LA Area Port Traffic: Strong Imports, Weak Exports in September Note: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast.Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average. On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 1.5% in September compared to the rolling 12 months ending in August.   Outbound traffic was down 0.4% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month.The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year. Imports were up 16% YoY in September, and exports were down 4% YoY.

US Manufacturing Disappoints In Early October PMI Data As Election Anxiety Builds --After a mixed bag of PMI data from Europe (UK ugly, Services weak compared to Manufacturing), preliminary October data for both segments of the US economy were expected to rise (despite a trend towards weaker macro data for the last two months).Interestingly, US saw a mirror image of Europe - with Manufacturing disappointing (53.3 vs 53.5 3exp) and Services stronger (56.0 vs 54.6 exp) The combination proved enough though to lift the US Composite index to 20-month highs and suggest economic growth is rebounding confidently... Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:“The US economy looks to have started the fourth quarter on a strong footing, with business activity growing at a rate not seen since early 2019. The service sector led the expansion as increasing numbers of companies adapted to life with COVID19, while manufacturing continued to report solid growth amid rising demand from households and businesses.“A slowdown in hiring and weaker new order inflows were in part attributable to hesitancy in decision making ahead of the presidential election. More encouragingly, business optimism surged higher, indicating that firms have become increasingly positive about prospects for the coming year amid hopes of renewed stimulus, COVID-19 containment measures gradually easing and greater certainty for businesses a and households after the presidential elections.”Perhaps most worrying for The Fed however, is that Markit found "Inflationary pressures also eased. Despite a further strong rise in cost burdens, service providers sought to generate more sales and limit increases in output charges."

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 12.3% year-over-year in August -- The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported:Travel on all roads and streets changed by -12.3% (-35.3 billion vehicle miles) for August 2020 as compared with August 2019. Travel for the month is estimated to be 251.3 billion vehicle miles.  The seasonally adjusted vehicle miles trave led for August 2020 is 239.7 billion miles, a -11.8% (-32.2 billion vehicle miles) decline from August 2019. It also represents a 0.8% increase (2 billion vehicle miles) compared with July 2020. Cumulative Travel for 2020 changed by -15.3% (-332.5 billion vehicle miles). The cumulative estimate for the year is 1,844.4 billion vehicle miles of travel. This graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven to remove the seasonal factors. Miles driven declined during the great recession, and the rolling 12 months stayed below the previous peak for a record 85 months. Miles driven declined sharply in March, and really collapsed in April. Vehicle Miles YoYThis graph shows the YoY change in vehicle miles driven. Miles driven rebounded in May through August, but is still down 12.3% YoY (seasonally adjusted). Based on gasoline consumption, I expect the year-over-year decline in vehicle miles to be about the same in September as in August.

As safety protocols vanish, Fiat Chrysler advises workers “protect your pets from COVID” - The other day, a Fiat Chrysler worker in the Detroit area brought to the attention of the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter a management memo circulating at their plant providing some helpful information on halting the spread COVID-19. It was titled “Pets and COVID-19 risk.” At first, we thought this was a spoof, a well-aimed satire of management disconnect. But we have been assured it is genuine. The memo advises “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented concern over all facets of what used to be our normal daily activities and interactions. For some, reaching for the comfort of a hug or a smooch from your best friend, may cause you to hesitate or question whether your cat or dog may present a COVID-19 risk.” What is some of the helpful advice to keep pets safe from COVID? “Just as we practice social distancing, keep your pets at a safe distance from other animals and people. “If someone is sick with COVID-19 keep your pet away from the patient.” It advises to clean and disinfect leashes, water bowls and toys. It takes a lot gall for management to pretend to show concern for pets when it is pretty evident they don’t give two hoots about protecting workers. No offense to our pets, but do they really think workers are that stupid?

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 787,000 -- Special Note: "California has completed its pause in processing of initial claims and has resumed reporting actual unemployment insurance claims data based on their weekly claims activity. This News Release reflects actual counts for California for the current week and revisions to the two prior weeks." The DOL reported: In the week ending October 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 787,000, a decrease of 55,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 56,000 from 898,000 to 842,000. The 4-week moving average was 811,250, a decrease of 21,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 33,500 from 866,250 to 832,750. This does not include the 345,440 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was up from 337,228 the previous week. (There are some questions on PUA numbers). The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971

 Many Workers Gave Up Looking for Jobs Across the U.S. in September – WSJ - Workers gave up looking for jobs across the U.S. in September, with the size of the labor force shrinking in more than half of the 30 states in which unemployment rates fell last month, Labor Department data released Tuesday showed. Declining unemployment rates in states across the U.S. masked signs of labor-market deterioration. The unemployment rate fell to 7.9% at the national level in September, from 8.4% in August. The lower rate reflected both people finding jobs as well as those who couldn’t find work and exited from the labor force altogether. Oren Klachkin, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said a slowing of the labor-market recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic is fairly broad-based. “Businesses have now likely rehired the workers they need to meet current demand and won’t look to significantly add more to their payrolls until the pandemic threat is addressed,” Mr. Klachkin said. “We see heightened risks that the labor market recovery will slow ahead.” In New York, some 300,000 workers came off the unemployment rolls in September, pushing the unemployment rate down 2.8 percentage points to 9.7%. But this wasn’t because of a hiring boom. Instead, the hard-hit state saw an even bigger number of workers stop searching for work, suggesting that workers who had been employed in August exited from the workforce, too. Labor-market trends brightened in around half of the country, as unemployment numbers fell. In Arizona and Utah, unemployment rates rose but the number of people employed or looking for work increased, both positive signs. The longer people stay out of work, the rustier their skills get and the harder it is for them to find jobs again when the economy improves, economists say. Since growth depends in part on an expanding labor force, the loss of would-be workers could erode the economy’s potential. Some economists said they were cautious in parsing month-over-month changes in the state data. Even in normal times, the data can prove volatile, said Richard F. Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. He added that seasonal adjustments—meant to smooth out data for annual changes in hiring patterns—may be distorting trends at the state level because of pandemic-related disruptions. There isn’t a clear cause driving varying labor-market health across states, said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter. School-building closures, for instance, may be taking some working parents, particularly women, out of the workforce to care for their children. Yet, labor-force participation remained essentially flat in California, where many schools are closed, and in Florida, where many are open. The numbers also didn’t offer evidence that more people started looking for jobs in states that reinstated work-search requirements for unemployment insurance, said Ms. Pollak. She also didn’t see signs that outbreaks of coronavirus were driving labor-force changes.

Trends in Educational Attainment in the U.S. Labor Force - The first graph shows the unemployment rate by four levels of education (all groups are 25 years and older) through September 2020. Note: This is an update to a post from a few years ago.  Unfortunately this data only goes back to 1992 and includes only three recessions (the stock / tech bust in 2001, and the housing bust/financial crisis, and the 2020 pandemic). Clearly education matters with regards to the unemployment rate, with the lowest rate for college graduates at 4.8% in September, and highest for those without a high school degree at 10.6% in September.  All four groups were generally trending down prior to the pandemic.   And all are trending down now.  Note: This says nothing about the quality of jobs - as an example, a college graduate working at minimum wage would be considered "employed".  This brings up an interesting question: What is the composition of the labor force by educational attainment, and how has that been changing over time?  Here is some data on the U.S. labor force by educational attainment since 1992.  Currently, about 60 million people in the U.S. labor force have a Bachelor's degree or higher.  This is almost 42% of the labor force, up from 26.2% in 1992.   This is the only category trending up.  "Some college" has been steady (and trending down lately), and both "high school" and "less than high school" have been trending down.  Based on current trends, probably more than half the labor force will have at least a bachelor's degree at the end of this decade (2020s).
Some thoughts: Since workers with bachelor's degrees typically have a lower unemployment rate, rising educational attainment is probably a factor in pushing down the overall unemployment rate over time.  Also, I'd guess more education would mean less labor turnover, and that education is a factor in lower weekly claims (prior to the pandemic).

 BLS: September Unemployment rates down in 30 States, Higher in 8 States -From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary - Unemployment rates were lower in September in 30 states, higher in 8 states, and stable in 12 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. All 50 states and the District had jobless rate increases from a year earlier. The national unemployment rate declined by 0.5 percentage point over the month to 7.9 percent but was 4.4 points higher than in September 2019.Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 30 states, decreased in 3 states, and was essentially unchanged in 17 states and the District of Columbia in September 2020....Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate in September, 15.1 percent, followed by Nevada, 12.6 percent. Nebraska had the lowest rate, 3.5 percent, followed by South Dakota, 4.1 percent, and Vermont, 4.2 percent. Hawaii and Nevada are being impacted by the lack of tourism.

 Lehner: "COVID’s Impact on State and Local Governments" - Josh Lehner, at the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, has an interesting post today: COVID’s Impact on State and Local Governments: This started with a seemingly basic question: “Why is public sector employment down so much this year?” The normal pattern we see is that the public sector is more of a stabilizing force in the economy. Job losses and budget cuts come with a delay as it usually takes time for lower levels of economic activity to translate into fewer tax collections. Those impacts usually hit the budget the fiscal year after the recession starts. However, so far in 2020 local governments have shed nearly as many jobs as the private sector. Both the size of the losses and swiftness with which they came is highly unusual. After digging into the data it is quite clear that the local government job losses are not a result of your standard budget cuts. That traditional recessionary dynamic is likely to come, but will hit next year, not this. The losses today are directly related to the pandemic and social distancing ...In terms of higher education, the impacts of the pandemic, social distancing, and online schooling are clear. ... Besides education, the public sector does a lot of things. Employment here is down largely due to zoos, convention centers, recreation facilities, public pools, libraries and the like being limited during the pandemic. The losses in public administration are relatively small to date. All of that said, there is still the traditional recessionary dynamic at play. Those impacts will largely come next year, not this. Without fiscal relief from the Federal Government, we will probably see significant state and local government layoffs next year. There is much more in the post.

Economy-Crushing COVID-19 Lockdowns Contributed To 100,000 US Deaths, New CDC Guidance Suggests - Yesterday, NY Gov Andrew Cuomo made headlines after laying into President Trump during a press briefing yesterday, accusing the president of having the blood of tens of thousands of dead New Yorkers - and hundreds of thousands more across the US. Ironically, the news follows reports from Kansas about a nursing home that saw every single one of its residents infected during one of the worst such outbreaks in the US since COVID-19 first arrived in the US early this year. But Cuomo's comments, and the backlash they elicited, also coincided with the latest guidance update from the mercurial CDC, which offered some fresh insight into the breakdown of the excess mortality across the US since the WHO first declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. While 200,000 of the 300k excess deaths have been directly attributed to COVID-19, researchers suspect that the other 100,000 excess deaths were indirectly caused by COVID-19: For example, they might have been drug overdoses or suicides brought on by depression, or a fatal stroke caused by a lack of testing availability. According to data cited by the AP, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are typically reported. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million, a 14.5% increase. Unsurprisingly, the greatest number of excess deaths was recorded among the elderly population, which saw an additional 95,000 people between the ages of 75 to 84 pass away this year. That's 21.5% larger than in a normal year. But the biggest increase, up 26.5%, was in people ages 25 to 44. The increase likely appears so large because the number of deaths within this age group every year is notably small. Another example of this phenomenon can be seen in the youngest age group, people younger than 25; that group actually saw its mortality rate decrease this year. That might seem unusual, until one accounts for the fact that so few people die in this age group that large fluctuations are magnified by only a handful of additional deaths. Then, on Wednesday, the CDC followed up with another set of guidance essentially reiterating the importance of wearing masks. The agency said it "strongly recommends" all passengers on planes, trains and automobiles. It comes as more US states, including NY, as we noted above, are ratcheting back up their COVID-19 restrictions as another wave of COVID-19 strikes the Midwest.

 Fed's Bostic says minority, lower-income communities still struggling amid pandemic  - Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President and CEO Raphael Bostic said Sunday that minority and low-income communities are still struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bostic told CBS’s “Face The Nation” that he’s “concerned” as he sees some areas of the economy “recovering and rebounding in a very robust” while others are not so lucky.“In other segments, things like hotels and restaurants, small businesses in particularly minority and lower income communities, those places are seeing much more difficult situations,” he said.  “I see two real stories going on,” @AtlantaFed’s@RaphaelBostic tells @margbrennan of the#COVID19 recession and disjointed recovery. Some sectors - like the service industry - are struggling to recover. The professional industry - office workers - has rebounded significantlypic.twitter.com/kqgAI5zMol  — Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) October 18, 2020CBS’s Margaret Brennan questioned Bostic on what the U.S. needs to do to combat a “widening inequality” as Black Americans have recovered just more than a third of employment lost during the pandemic. Bostic said the Federal Reserve has to “acknowledge that there’s a problem” and “be willing to talk about it.”“My institution has for a long time not been willing to be out in front to talk about the importance of racial inequalities,” he said. “I actually think that that's been a mistake.”The Atlanta Fed president named “two dimensions” to fight inequality: efforts “to change the trajectory for the generations to come” through good education and training, and efforts to provide resources and infrastructure to those “who are trying to benefit from this economy and participate in it.” “We have to change the trajectory for the generations to come,” @AtlantaFed's tells@margbrennan about policy to tackle ongoing racial economic disparities.pic.twitter.com/Gf1YvfBqZ9  — Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) October 18, 2020 Bostic said the coronavirus pandemic has “put a wedge in our economy,” making situations “even more precarious” for those already struggling.

 Federal judge strikes down Trump's cuts on food stamps for unemployed - A federal judge in Washington, D.C., moved Sunday to end the Trump administration's changes to the federal food stamps program that would have likely ended the benefits for tens of thousands of Americans.In a ruling reported by The Washington Post, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell wrote that the Department of Agriculture had not adequately addressed how its decision to remove the ability of cities to waive work requirements for the program in economically-distressed areas would affect states around the country.The administration's rule ending that discretionary power "abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," wrote Howell, according to the Post. Howell went on to point to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans and left millions jobless, as the kind of situation that demonstrated the pitfalls of removing crucial benefits for so many. Trump administration officials have "been icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought...been in effect while the [coronavirus] pandemic rapidly spread across the country," Howell wrote.More than a dozen states as well as Washington D.C. sued the Trump administration in January to stop the changes, arguing at the time that the Agriculture Department's new rule would have "a drastic impact on [localities] and their residents by depriving between 688,000 and 850,000 vulnerable Americans of much-needed nutritional assistance."Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, when announcing the rules last year, called them an attempt to move the food stamp program towards one that encouraged Americans to seek self-sufficiency.

 U.S. judge strikes down USDA rule on food benefits during pandemic (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has struck down a Trump administration rule that would have cut food stamp benefits to almost 700,000 unemployed Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, court documents showed. The judge, in a court filing, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been "icily silent" about how many people would have been denied the benefits with the changes. The pandemic has left millions of U.S. residents without jobs, sending thousands into lines at food banks. - - In 2019, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, provided stamps giving free food to about 36 million Americans. "The Final Rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans," chief judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. said in the ruling. The USDA announced the rule in December and President Donald Trump said at the time many Americans receiving food stamps do not need them given the strong economy and low unemployment. A coalition of attorneys general from several states, the city of New York and the District of Columbia challenged the USDA rule in January. In March, the judge had granted a preliminary injunction and a stay on part of the rule, which was scheduled to take effect on April 1, noting food needs during the pandemic. USDA filed a notice in May appealing the order. Its rule would have limited each state's ability to waive work mandates, effectively requiring more food stamp recipients to work. The judge added that the rosters of the SNAP program have grown by over 17% in the pandemic's wake, with over 6 million new enrollees as of May.

 Million New Yorkers Can't Afford Food As Hunger Crisis Worsens - In the seventh month of the virus pandemic, New York City is still in shambles, with more than half a million residents unemployed as the small business collapse continues. Broadway is closed, Manhattan offices are empty as remote work dominates, violent crime is surging, and an exodus of people from the city has created a perfect storm of economic chaos that will haunt many New Yorkers for years.   A byproduct of the virus-induced economic downturn is food and housing insecurity for millions of people in the Tri-state area. Deep economic scarring produced by permanent job loss has left many people in a bind; some working-poor may never recover while others could take years.  Food and housing insecurity will be, or should be, a hot subject as millions in the Tri-state area are suffering ahead of the holidays. Readers may recall in early October, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey warned that more than one million New Jerseyans were expected to suffer food insecurity by the end of the year. Now the problem is becoming more widespread. At least one million New Yorkers are expected, or will soon, experience food insecurity, according to FOX 5 NY. Alexander Rapaport, the executive director of Masbia soup kitchen network, said, "We have done disasters before, but nothing is even close to what we are doing now," referring to the long lines at food banks across the city is all too common.  Masbia is a nonprofit soup kitchen network and food pantry, with Borough Park and Flatbush locations in Brooklyn and Forest Hills in Queens. Rapaport said there had been a 500% increase in demand. In a separate report, NYT estimates the number of New Yorkers who are going hungry could be upwards of 1.5 million.

NYC finds few positive cases as schools open - The first targeted coronavirus testing in New York City schools since they reopened three weeks ago found low positivity rates, despite fears the virus would spread rapidly in classrooms. Approximately 15,000 students and staffers have been tested, and results are in for 10,676. Only five students and 13 staff members have tested positive, according to The New York Times. Mobile testing sites stationed near Queens and Brooklyn schools in at-risk neighborhoods have only returned four positive results out of more than 3,300 tests, the newspaper noted. The spikes in the two boroughs, many of them in ultra-Orthodox communities, have sparked new restrictions and fears of a second wave in the city, which was a national epicenter in early spring. New York was the first major city district to reopen public schools for in-person classes last month. About half of its students are currently in a program in which they only attend in-person classes some of the week, allowing schools to physically separate students. “That data is encouraging,” Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers group, told the Times. “It reinforces what we have heard about schools not being super spreaders.” The targeted program involves testing between 10 and 20 percent of students and staff once a month. Some critics have said that while the low positivity rate is encouraging, this testing approach could mean larger outbreaks could go undetected. “It’s great that New York City is doing some level of random testing,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the Times. “It’s not at the level that would be ideal.” Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said New York officials are currently exploring the possibility of increasing testing to three times a month, which he said would be “much more valuable” in detecting any outbreaks.

New York state teachers describe disaster of school reopening - New York state has seen an increase of 18 percent in reported COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks and a four percent increase in deaths. The state and in particular, New York City, was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring, with nearly 33,000 deaths.Much of resurgence of infections has been driven by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to open primary and secondary schools in September, along with the large State University of New York (SUNY) system, which serves 1.4 million students.For months, the Democratic Party and the media have hailed Cuomo as a sane alternative to Trump. In reality, Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other Democrats have implemented a variant of the deadly “herd immunity” policy promoted by Trump, albeit with the support of the teacher unions and rhetoric about the “safe reopening” of schools. This has resulted in incalculable damage to the lives and physical and mental health of teachers, parents, and students.Last month, teachers, school bus drivers and other school employeeslaunched the New York City Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee to unite educators, independently of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), to fight the unsafe openings and to enforce safety conditions. The committee is reaching out to educators across the state to the join the fight. Three teachers in different parts of New York state recently spoke to theWorld Socialist Web Site about conditions in their schools since their reopening in September. All three work in districts that implemented hybrid learning, a combination of remote and face-to-face learning. Sandra teaches high school in Orange County, a suburban county of about 300,000 people north of New York City in the Hudson Valley region. Like nearby Rockland County, Orange County has seen massive outbreaks of the coronavirus in recent weeks. The town of Monroe, for example, which includes the Hasidic Jewish community of Palm Tree, has had recent positivity rates as high as 27 percent of those tested. The state recently shut the private religious schools in Palm Tree. Sandra: We were one of the few districts in our entire county that opened in early September for hybrid learning. We were the guinea pigs and everybody watched us to see how it would go. It went well in the beginning but it's all starting to crumble now. Honestly, we don't know for sure, but I believe there are almost 100 people who have been quarantined. One teacher tested positive in my building on October 5 and the information didn't come to us until October 15. The school informed us immediately once they were given the information, but it took 10 days to get it. Now they’re short of money. They’re cutting all the extracurricular activities, the things that the kids really want. They only kept the honor societies and the things that the kids would need specifically for college, publication stuff like that. Everything else has been canceled.

Missouri coronavirus infection rates spike, creating havoc in schools, economy - A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping over the Midwest region of the US. Missouri state officials reported the positivity rate for coronavirus tests over the last seven days stands at 21.1 percent, and the state recorded 159,625 cases and 2,615 total deaths as of Tuesday.Six counties—Holt, New Madrid, Osage, Stoddard, Dekalb and Moniteau counties—reported positivity rates of more than 50 percent, with Holt County reporting a positivity rate greater than 60 percent. Local media report that more than 1,000 people have been hospitalized with the virus since September 16.  Not only have regional state governors failed to enact measures to prevent the spread of the virus, leading to this hit to the center of the country, but a bipartisan “reopening” led by the White House has been enforced and is driving with uncontrolled spread, with infection highest in rural counties. These figures are worsened by the lack of basic containment measures in Missouri, such as mandated mask wearing, mass testing and contact tracing.  As expected, students returning to in-person instruction in schools has led to outbreaks. Nearly 500 students of the Fort Zumwalt School District, serving the largest cities in St. Charles County, were ordered to quarantine last week after it was determined they were in potential contact with someone infected with the virus. For the week of October 4 through October 10, 10 faculty members and 10 students had tested positive. In-person instruction was allowed to resume for the district August 31.Beginning October 19, kindergarten through grade 2 students will return to St. Louis City's school district, Saint Louis Public Schools. Third through fifth graders are scheduled to return October 27. Kirkwood School District will have middle school students return to class in November.  Mehlville School District in St. Louis County announced that K-12 students will return to class on a hybrid model at the end of October. On the western side of the state, near Kansas City, 200 people were quarantined from the Olathe, Kansas school district after 25 students and 11 faculty tested positive. The Olathe Northwest football team has also been ordered to quarantine until October 21. In addition to schools opening for in-person instruction across the state, high-risk extracurricular activities such as youth sports are being encouraged to resume. “High school football will be played in some schools this Friday,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said October 7. School districts had their “health and safety plans” approved by the state prior to reallowing youth sports.  Over 1,600 students at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) have tested positive. Surveys taken by students show that there has been increased need for mental health services in 2020. College sports games are being delayed due to outbreaks. The Mizzou Tigers football team had their SEC game against Vanderbilt postponed. This game was scheduled to be played in Columbia and would have been the Mizzou team’s homecoming game. The Mizzou volleyball team had their two-game opener against Alabama delayed until October 21 and 22.

Chicago officials plan to reopen schools for 20,000 students - Chicago Public Schools (CPS) recently announced a proposal to return roughly 20,000 special education and pre-kindergarten students to in-person learning in the coming weeks. The plan to shift from online learning to a daily in-person schedule was announced last Friday as Illinois’ seven-day average COVID-19 testing positivity rate surpassed five percent for the first time since early June. The push to reopen the third largest district in the US takes place as the coronavirus pandemic spreads uncontrollably across much of the country. The number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois now stands at 368,746, with 9,688 deaths and over 2,300 people currently hospitalized. CPS could move forward with the reopening proposal in early November, giving parents and teachers little time to prepare. Other grades are slated to remain online until January 2021, but by sending 20,000 students back to classrooms the district aims to set a precedent for a full reopening. The district is exploiting the difficulties faced by special education and pre-K students with remote learning to press for school reopenings, while starving these and all other programs of the resources needed to provide high quality online learning. Despite rising cases, Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady gave her support for the reopening plan, claiming that there have been low infection rates among schoolchildren in private and parochial schools that have already returned to classrooms. However, any claims that reopening can be done safely or that schools are not vectors for the spread of the virus are wholly unscientific. If there have been a small number of cases in private and parochial schools, this is primarily due to inadequate testing and reporting policies. Until last week, the Illinois Department of Health was tracking cases but would not release the names of schools where an outbreak took place. Further, these schools are better funded and able to implement more safety measures than cash-strapped public schools. On October 1, 58-year-old teacher Olga Quiroga, who taught in Chicago since 1991, died from COVID-19. Although her classes were taught virtually, Quiroga was forced to return to school for various preparatory events in which she had contact with parents. Following Quiroga’s death, her daughter condemned the district’s decision to reopen the schools, stating that for “my mom, it took one visit to that building to contract it.” She added, “According to them, they’re safe, they’re ready, and they’re clearly not.”

Judge dismisses teachers union challenge to W.Va. covid map that determines classroom closures -  A judge dismissed a teachers union challenge to a map established by Gov. Jim Justice to assess coronavirus spread and determine whether West Virginia schools should be open or closed. The West Virginia Education Association contended the map has been altered repeatedly to make it more likely that classrooms will be open and football teams will play. At the end of a hearing that lasted about two hours, Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster described the governor’s broad emergency powers and said the court’s judgement should not be a substitute unless circumstances are extreme. “The governor of West Virginia is the person who is supposed to take charge. When he adopts policies and procedures after a State of Emergency has been declared, this court would have to find his acts to be arbitrary and capricious or unconstitutional– so, overtly reckless – before this court would intervene,” Webster said. “This court cannot find that he has.” The West Virginia Education Association almost immediately expressed disappointment. “To be frank, we knew we were fighting an uphill battle in challenging the governor’s changes in the map. Nevertheless, we needed to explore every possible avenue on behalf of our members’ and students’ safety,” said WVEA President Dale Lee in a statement distributed by the union. “We were not questioning the governor’s ability to act in an emergency. However, we do not believe his actions should supersede our school employees’ right to have a safe environment in which to work. We believe the continued manipulation of the map has crossed the line and created an unsafe working environment based on the numbers in certain counties.” This was the third challenge to the color-coded map established by the state to depict covid rates in West Virginia counties. Higher levels depicted as orange or red dictate remote learning and halt extracurricular activities. Lower levels depicted as gold, yellow or green allow classroom learning. The previous two cases filed on behalf of a parent and an athlete contended the map is unfairly applied only to schools, rather than to additional aspects of society — like restaurants, bars, gyms or churches — that might also be involved virus spread. Those cases were also dismissed, with judges citing the governor’s broad emergency powers.

Tennessee educator dies of COVID-19 after governor touts “strong safety measures” in schools -Susan Keener—a 53-year-old educational assistant at Walter Hill Elementary in Rutherford Country, Tennessee—died on October 14, several weeks after contracting COVID-19. Her death is a tragic reminder of the disease’s deadliness and an indictment of the entire political establishment that has given the green light for the reopening of schools and businesses across the country. There have been at least 47,376 reported COVID-19 cases nationally in K-12 schools since the start of the year, and at least 37 educators have died from the virus since August 1. Tennessee alone has experienced over 220,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,847 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic. While Keener’s death has not been widely acknowledged by the national media, only reported in a handful of local news outlets, details of her tragic death further expose how reckless and criminal it is to reopen schools in the midst of a deadly pandemic. According to Keener’s family, she was in good health prior to contracting the virus and was not afraid to return to the job that she loved. Keener had worked at Walter Hill Elementary for 15 years, and, at the time of her death, was an educational assistant working with students with disabilities. Autumn Raffaele, Keener’s daughter, told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal, “There was nothing to indicate she would be at greater risk for this level of seriousness of the virus. Doctors were unable to give us clear answers (for her condition). … There’s still so much they don’t know (about the virus).” Raffaele also stated, “The virus had just ravaged so many different organs by the time everything had been said and done. “I want people to know that unless you’re directly affected, I completely understand the sense that it’s just a bad flu. I had that same thought process until my healthy … mother contracted it and had such severe complications.” Keener’s battle with COVID-19 is shocking as it further reveals how rapidly the virus had impacted an otherwise healthy individual. The educator was admitted to Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital due to complications from the virus August 25, a mere five days after receiving an initial diagnosis. Two weeks later she was put on a ventilator and transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. She eventually tested negative and had what was described as “several good days” before passing away. “They told us we weren’t going to have any more of those good days,” Raffaele told reporters. “I was with her all day the day she passed. I told her I loved her, and everything is okay, and it’s just hard to see your mommy that sick, but I wasn’t going to leave her, and I didn’t.”

Florida school bus driver dies from COVID-19 weeks before her planned retirement - With Florida pressing forward with plans for the reopening of schools for in-person learning, the tragic October 9 death of 66-year-old school bus driver Gail Brusseau in metropolitan Jacksonville has again exposed the homicidal campaign being waged against the working class. Brusseau had worked as a school bus driver for 26 years and was planning to retire in December. Within three weeks of returning to driving for Clay County School District, Brusseau fell ill with COVID-19. Facing increasingly severe symptoms, she was admitted to an intensive care unit where she entered into a half-comatose state for 31 days. After remaining heavily sedated and deprived of the ability to speak or hear, Brusseau was eventually placed on life support and died. She is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Brusseau is the eighth teacher or school worker reported to have died from COVID-19 in Florida since schools began reopening across the US in late July. She is the second school bus driver in the state to fall victim to the novel coronavirus, after Troyanna Hamm, an Alachua County School bus driver of more than 15 years, died in early August. As of this writing, there have been 755,020 COVID-19 infections and 15,970 deaths in Florida, nearly all of which were entirely preventable. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has deliberately sidelined scientists in favor of supporting President Trump’s herd immunity policy, including through the unsafe reopening of schools. This produced a massive spike in cases between June and September, with daily new cases beginning to trend upwards once again as more districts resume in-person instruction.

School nurse dies from COVID-19 as officials in Baltimore–Washington region reopen schools - Marchiel McDuffie, a school health aide who worked at an elementary-middle school in West Baltimore, died of COVID-19 on October 8. McDuffie’s death comes as school systems in Democratic Party-controlled districts across the wider Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region begin to reopen despite the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, part of a nationwide trend that has been spearheaded by the reopening of schools in New York City, the largest district in the US. In Baltimore City, 1,000 students have already returned to designated schools for in-person instruction, including students with special needs and English language learners. By November 12, a total of 25 Baltimore schools will be open for in-person classes for these students. School district CEO Sonja Santelises announced last week that by the start of the second semester, on January 29, the city aims to open all schools for in-person learning, while allowing parents to continue to opt for online classes. Other school districts surrounding Baltimore, including Anne Arundel and Carroll counties, have also announced plans to bring back elementary school students in October and November. In Washington D.C., all elementary schools will reopen for in-person learning on November 9, the start of the second term. Classes will consist of up to 11 students attending five days a week, with parents able to have their children continue with online learning. Northern Virginia school districts have begun to reopen as well. Fairfax County, the largest school district in the state, began a phased-in reopening of schools last week. By the end of October, the school system plans to offer in-person instruction to at least 3.5 percent of its more than 180,000 students. Superintendent Scott Brabrand laid out a plan last week that would give parents the option to return children to all schools by February 1, while continuing to offer online classes. Loudoun County, another Northern Virginia school district, plans to bring back thousands of kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders to classrooms in a hybrid learning model starting in late October. The school reopenings occur as cases of coronavirus have been steadily increasing across the region. Across the three jurisdictions, new cases plateaued at roughly 900 per day in the latter half of June; however, as of yesterday, the seven-day average of new reported daily cases is up to 1,676. Health experts have attributed small social gatherings as a major driver of the higher infections, with cooler weather forcing more people to gather indoors.

 SUNY Cortland continues pause on in-person instruction following continued outbreak - Democratic Party officials and the State University of New York (SUNY) have decided to continue the initial two-week pause on in-person learning after a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases at the SUNY campus in Cortland, New York. SUNY Cortland had recorded 166 new cases of COVID-19 between October 10 and October 18. The university was already in a temporary two-week pause on in-person instruction since October 7, after more than 100 students contracted the virus in a two-week period. The University has now recorded 521 cases in total since the semester began. Cases continue to rise at the campus at an alarming rate. Forty-seven were reported over this past weekend alone. There are currently 114 active cases on the campus. There is no doubt that if the re-opening plans are allowed to be carried through, more students will become infected. This reality is underscored by the fact that the two - week pause on in-person instruction could not stop the spread of the virus on the campus. Despite the clear and present danger to students and staff, Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum tried claiming that there was no need to keep the school closed for another two-weeks. This perspective flew in the face of state regulations requiring that any SUNY school that reaches 100 cases in a two-week period must switch to online instruction for 14-days. Bitterbaum stated: “there is no automatic consequence simply for hitting that benchmark [100 cases in 14-days].” Even with more than enough cases to force any other school to close, he stated that “it does not mean a new two-week period will drop into place when this one runs its course on Wednesday, Oct. 21.”However, the severity of the recent rise in cases forced the SUNY system to change course. Especially concerning is the rise in cases in the local community since the semester began. Cortland County has recorded 642 cases over the course of the pandemic. Of these, 543 have come since September 8, one week after classes began.

  Northern Virginia Community College faculty and staff speak out about loss of work due to budget crisis - As budget crises intensify throughout the United States, budget cuts and other forms of the pandemic’s lasting social impact are increasingly being felt by working people and working-class youth. In the past week, members of the Northern Virginia Community College chapter of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) have been contacted by faculty and staff members at NVCC (also referred to as NOVA) describing the loss of work in the state’s community college system. “Before the semester started [an administrator] told me that they had to take one of my classes and give it to a full-timer who had low enrollment,” stated an adjunct faculty member who chose to remain anonymous. The professor explained that the loss of one class would result in a de facto wage cut of $2,700 for the semester. The stipulation which allows this brazen poaching of students essentially pits full-time faculty members against the more numerous adjunct staff in a race to the bottom. “I’ve been so angry about this policy for years, but this is the first time it affected me,” the professor said. “Since they only let us know one to two weeks before school starts we don’t even have a chance to try to find another job or a way to make up for the loss in our paychecks.” The teacher noted that students who sign up to take a class from a preferred professor will find out that they’ve been transferred to another professor without being given a choice in the matter. The loss of work and pay is taking place as funding for public college dries up and the state begins to implement austerity measures in the midst of the pandemic economic collapse. According to the Public Broadcasting System, about 70 percent of college professors are nontenured or on track to be tenured. “Described as the ‘gig workers’ of academia, adjuncts receive contracts on a course-by-course basis and make, on average, about $3,000 per class,” the report notes. For such professors, “[F]ate is tied firmly to student enrollment. Even in boom times, colleges can scrap an adjunct-taught course if enrollment in that course doesn’t meet expectations. The hook can come as the semester begins, or even a week or two in.”

DeVos says it isn't Department of Education's job to track schools' coronavirus reopening plans  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday it is not the job of her department to track school districts’ reopening plans or the number of coronavirus cases they are grappling with as districts look for guidance as to how to conduct classes safely during the pandemic. “Well I'm not sure there's a role for the Department of Education to compile and conduct that research,” DeVos said Tuesday at an event hosted by the Milken Institute in response to a question about the role of the federal government to boost confidence regarding in-person schooling. “The data is there for those who want it,” she added, referring to figures kept by local and state government. The remarks come as public school districts across the country scramble to figure out how to provide safe, in-person instruction during the pandemic and assure anxious parents that reopening won’t help spread more cases of COVID-19. Top education groups have formed a dashboard of school infection rates that has collected information from over 2,000 schools thus far, though educators have called on the federal government to take a more proactive role in providing guidance from Washington. President Trump and other administration officials have been bullish that schools should reopen, expressing doubts that the coronavirus could spread among younger students who could more effectively combat the illness. But that stance has received pushback from top activists across the country, saying the White House is downplaying the risks of reopening and should work more closely with state and local governments regarding how to safely resume schooling. "Donald Trump's disregard for science has already cost 200,000 American lives during this pandemic. Secretaries Alex Azar and Betsy DeVos are accomplices in this malicious incompetence," National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle wrote in a September letter, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Judge slams DeVos for rejecting 94% of loan relief claims - Months after vowing to process a backlog of 160,000 requests for loan forgiveness from students who say they were defrauded by their schools, the U.S. Education Department has rejected 94% of claims it has reviewed, according to a federal judge who is demanding justification for the “blistering pace” of denials. In a biting decision issued Monday in California, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the department has been denying claims using template letters that are “alarmingly curt." Alsup threatened to suspend the agency from rejecting further requests, saying its approach “hangs borrowers out to dry.” He said that although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos blamed the backlog on the hard work that goes into processing claims, she has now “charged out of the gate, issuing perfunctory denial notices utterly devoid of meaningful explanation at a blistering pace.” The Education Department said it is studying the ruling. Spokesperson Angela Morabito said many claims were submitted by borrowers who attended ineligible programs or who failed to make a valid claim for loan forgiveness. “Just because a claim was filed does not make it valid and eligible for taxpayer-funded relief,” she said in a statement. “The Department is following the publicly available process for resolving claims as quickly as possible, so those students who are eligible and were harmed get the relief they deserve.” The dispute stems from a 2019 lawsuit brought by 160,000 borrowers who say the Education Department illegally stalled their claims for loan relief. The claims were filed through a program known as borrower defense, which forgives federal student loans for borrowers who are cheated by their colleges. It's most often used by students who attended for-profit colleges. In a proposed settlement in April, the Education Department agreed to process the backlog of claims within 18 months. But Alsup scrapped the deal Monday, saying it was undermined by the recent spate of rejections. Instead, he called on the lawsuit to proceed and he authorized the deposition of up to five department officials to explain the denials. 

 Profits Over Human Life? ER Doctor’s Story Is Fearful Lesson for U.S. Workers During Pandemic – Interview By Lynn Parramore - When the pandemic unleashed its deadly havoc on the world, Dr. Ming Lin was an emergency physician at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington — a frontline hero in the battle against coronavirus. But soon he saw that safety measures were not enough to keep either his patients orthe hospital staff safe.In March, Lin went public with his concerns on Facebook. Soon after, in a move that has been widely condemned, he was terminated from a position he had held for 17 years. The signalto frontline health workers across America was unmistakable: Speak out about safety and you risk your job.TeamHealth, a corporation owned by the private equity company the Blackstone Group, which contracts with hospitals to staff emergency rooms, offered to find Lin a new position in another state, or lower-paid, part-time work as a floating ER physician at other Washington hospitals. Unwilling to accept these conditions or uproot his family, including three smallchildren, Lin did not accept these offers. Instead, he is fighting back: The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is representing him in a lawsuit against both PeaceHealth and TeamHealth.

US health insurance companies see profits soar while mounting medical bills bankrupt Americans - US insurance companies saw their profit margins soar during the first half of this year while millions of American families are being sent into bankruptcy under the weight of massive medical debts during the coronavirus pandemic. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reportreleased last week revealed that the top insurance companies have amassed a substantial growth in wealth due to a sharp increase in marginal gains and lower administrative costs. Despite the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across health care systems and hospitals nationwide, insurers such as UnitedHealthcare, CVSHealth (Aetna), and Cigna have raised their profitability to new heights. One of the main drivers of the profit bonanza has been the sharp fall in medical claims for major operations and hospital procedures, including elective surgeries and other advanced treatments. The KFF analysis found that gross margins for the most prominent companies increased since the start of the pandemic relative to the first half of 2019. The underlying cause for the marked drop in health insurance claims was driven by hospitals and health care facilities focusing attention on treating patients infected with COVID-19. The rampage of the virus across the country beginning in late March led to a sweeping suspension of routine and non-emergency medical care and a growing disinclination of the population toward seeking treatment for other health-related issues out of fear of catching the contagion. In the analysis conducted by KFF researchers, insurance companies with group market plans saw their gross margins increase by 22 percent through the second quarter of 2020, while gross margins for Medicare Advantage plans increased 41 percent through the first six months of 2020 compared to the same time last year. Before the pandemic, such upticks in group plans and Medicare markets had only occurred gradually over years. Moreover, insurers have seen a decline in their medical loss ratios, meaning that more income is remaining after paying out medical costs which can then be reallocated for administrative costs or pocketed as profits. Loss ratios in the Medicare Advantage market declined by 5 percentage points this year and market loss ratios decreased approximately 3 percentage points. Although the KFF study acknowledges that estimates on the actual profits of insurance companies cannot be made directly, the analysis indicates that health insurance companies have profited handsomely amidst mass death and suffering in the wider population. Health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group saw its net income during the second quarter grow from $3.4 billion in 2019 to $6.7 billion in 2020 and Anthem Inc.’s net income increased from $1.1 billion to $2.3 billion.

 UVA Health Still Squeezing Money From Patients — By Seizing Their Home Equity - Doris Hutchinson wanted to use money from the sale of her late mother’s house to help her grandchildren go to college.Then she learned the University of Virginia Health System was taking $38,000 of the proceeds because a 13-year-old medical bill owed by her deceased brother had somehow turned into a lien on the property  Property liens are the hidden icebergs of patient medical debt, legal experts say, lying unseen, often for decades, before they surface to claim hard-won family savings or inheritance proceeds.An ongoing examination by KHN into hospital billing and collections in Virginia shows just how widespread and destructive they can be. KHN reported a year ago that UVA Health had sued patients 36,000 times over six years for more than $100 million, often for amounts far higher than what an insurer would have paid for their care. In response to the articles, the system temporarily suspended patient lawsuits and wage garnishments, increased discounts for the uninsured and broadened financial assistance, including for cases dating to 2017.Those changes were “a first step” in reforming billing and collection practices, university officials said at the time.However, UVA Health continues to rely on thousands of property liens to collect old bills, in contrast to VCU Health, another huge, state-owned medical system examined by KHN. VCU Health pledged in March to stop seizing patients’ wages over unpaid bills and to remove all property liens, which are created after a creditor wins a court judgment.Working courthouse-by-courthouse, VCU Health now says it has discovered and released 45,000 property liens filed against patients just in Richmond, its home city, some dating to the 1990s. There are an estimated 35,000 more in other parts of the state. Fifteen thousand of those have been canceled and they are working on the rest, officials said. These figures have not been previously reported. The system is part of Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU Health’s total caseload is “a huge number” but perhaps not astonishing given the energy with which many hospital systems sue their patients, said Carolyn Carter, deputy director of the National Consumer Law Center. Despite having suspended patient lawsuits, UVA Health has continued to create property liens based on older court cases, court records show. Nobody knows how many old or new UVA Health liens are scattered through scores of Virginia courthouses. The health system, which has sued patients in almost every county and city in the state, has failed to respond to repeated requests over two years to disclose the number and value of its property liens.

Long-term problems in younger low-risk COVID-19 patients; flu shot may offer some protection (Reuters) - The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

  • Long-term health problems seen in low-risk COVID-19 patients. Young, healthy adults with COVID-19 who do not require hospitalization are still at risk for long-term health problems, Oxford University researchers found. They studied 201 recovering UK patients with an average age of 44, more than 90% of whom did not have risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Only 18% had been sick enough to be hospitalized. At an average of 140 days after their symptoms began, 98% were still fatigued, 92% had heart and lung symptoms, 88% had muscle aches, 87% had breathlessness, 83% headaches, and 73% gastrointestinal symptoms. Organ damage was more common among those who had been hospitalized. But it was not limited to that group as 66% of the patients had impairment of at least one organ. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed mild damage to lungs in 33%, heart in 32%, pancreas in 17%, kidneys in 12%, liver in 10% and spleen in 6%. The researchers say their study, posted on Friday on medRxiv ahead of peer review, cannot prove the virus caused these later issues. But it does suggest long-term monitoring of organ function will be necessary even in relatively low-risk patients. (https://bit.ly/2IAR83N)
  • Flu shot may help protect against COVID-19. Flu vaccines may help the body defend itself against COVID-19, according to a Dutch study that found hospital workers who got a flu shot last winter were less likely to become infected with the new coronavirus. In test tube experiments, the researchers saw that last winter's flu vaccine could prime healthy cells to respond more effectively not just to the flu, but also to the new coronavirus. When they analyzed COVID-19 rates among staff at their hospital, they found the number of infections was 39% lower among those who had gotten a flu vaccine. "These data, combined with similar recent independent reports, argue for a possible beneficial effect of influenza vaccination against both influenza and COVID-19," the researchers say. "This could mean that the flu vaccine could offer partial protection against both infections this winter." They posted their report on medRxiv on Friday ahead of peer review. "We thought it was important to publish these results already because the flu shot is made available to a large group of people," study leader Mihai Netea of Radboud University Medical Center said in a news release. (https://bit.ly/35bqEgV)

Hydroxychloroquine as pre-exposure prophylaxis for COVID-19 in healthcare workers: a randomized trial | Clinical Infectious Diseases  - We investigated whether hydroxychloroquine could prevent SARS-CoV-2 in healthcare workers at high risk of exposure. We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of healthcare workers with ongoing exposure to persons with SARS-CoV-2, including those working in emergency departments, intensive care units, Covid-19 hospital wards, and first responders. Participants across the United States and in the Canadian province of Manitoba were randomized to hydroxychloroquine 400mg once weekly or twice weekly for 12 weeks. The primary endpoint was confirmed or probable Covid-19-compatible illness. We measured hydroxychloroquine whole blood concentrations. We enrolled 1483 healthcare workers, of which 79% reported performing aerosol-generating procedures. The incidence of Covid-19 (laboratory-confirmed or symptomatic compatible illness) was 0.27 events per person-year with once-weekly and 0.28 events per person-year with twice-weekly hydroxychloroquine compared with 0.38 events per person-year with placebo. For once weekly hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis, the hazard ratio was 0.72 (95%CI 0.44 to 1.16; P=0.18), and for twice-weekly was 0.74 (95%CI 0.46 to 1.19; P=0.22) as compared with placebo. Median hydroxychloroquine concentrations in whole blood were 98 ng/mL (IQR, 82-120) with once-weekly and 200 ng/mL (IQR, 159-258) with twice-weekly dosing. Hydroxychloroquine concentrations did not differ between participants who developed Covid-19-compatible illness (154 ng/mL) versus participants without Covid-19 (133 ng/mL; P=0.08). Pre-exposure prophylaxis with hydroxychloroquine once or twice weekly did not significantly reduce laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 or Covid-19-compatible illness among healthcare workers.

Tocilizumab doesn't ease symptoms or prevent death in moderately ill COVID-19 inpatients  - The drug tocilizumab (Actemra) does not reduce the need for breathing assistance with mechanical ventilation or prevent death in moderately ill hospitalized patients with COVID-19, according to a new study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), casts doubt on earlier research suggesting that tocilizumab, which is commonly prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other conditions, might be an effective treatment for patients with worsening cases of COVID-19.About 15 percent of patients with COVID-19 develop severe cases. These patients typically develop pneumonia, which reduces oxygen levels in the blood and requires hospitalization. Evidence has suggested that this life-threatening condition may be caused by a so-called "cytokine storm," in which the immune system unleashes an abnormally high volume of inflammatory cells--which are normally protective--that damages the lungs and requires treatment with supplemental oxygen."Inflammatory markers in the peripheral blood are elevated at sky-high levels," . COVID-19 patients with elevated levels of a cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6) have a greater need for supplemental oxygen delivered with mechanical ventilation and greater risk of dying. The drug tocilizumab blocks IL-6. Stone previously conducted clinical trials that led to the approval of tocilizumab for treating another inflammatory condition: giant cell arteritis. Several previous studies suggested that tocilizumab may benefit COVID-19 patients, though none were randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled ("gold standard") trials needed to confirm that hypothesis.

Remdesivir has 'no meaningful impact' on COVID-19 survival, huge study finds | Live Science The antiviral drug remdesivir does not reduce deaths among COVID-19 patients, as compared with standard care, according to the results of a large, international trial.The Food and Drug Administration, in May, authorized remdesivir to be used in an emergency to treat COVID-19, after a large clinical trial suggested that the drug reduces the time it takes for COVID-19 patients to be discharged from the hospital, as compared with a placebo treatment, Live Science previously reported. As of August, the drug has been authorized for use in all patients hospitalized with COVID-19, not only those on supplemental oxygen, The New York Times reported. Thousands of U.S. patients have received the treatment, including the president.But now, an enormous trial sponsored by the World Health Organization suggests that remdesivir doesn't reduce the risk of patients dying from COVID-19 in the month following treatment. The study was posted Oct. 15 to the preprint database medRxiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed; it included more than 11,200 people from 30 countries, The Times reported.  About 4,100 of those patients served as a comparison group and received no drug treatments, while the rest received one of four drugs, or a combination of several medications. These drugs included remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, an antiviral called lopinavir and an immune-stimulating molecule called Interferon-β1a. About 650 patients received the interferon and lopinavir, together. Ultimately, the study results suggest that no single drug or drug combination significantly reduced deaths among patients, as compared with the no-drug group. In addition, the drugs did not reduce the chances that treated patients would be placed on a ventilator, nor did the drugs reduce patients' time in the hospital.    "The unpromising overall findings from the regimens tested suffice to refute early hopes" that the medications would reduce mortality among COVID-19 patients, the study authors wrote. Earlier trials already indicated that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir don't reduce mortality, but the data on remdesivir offers new insight on whether the drug really works, according to The Associated Press.

FDA Approves Gilead's Remdesivir To Treat COVID-19 Despite Data Showing Drug Doesn't Work - Despite reams of data from an international WHO study raising serious questions about its efficacy, the FDA has finally approved the use of Gilead Science's remdesivir - a powerful antiviral originally developed to treat ebola - for the treatment of COVID-19, making it the first such drug approved to treat the virus in the US. The FDA first granted the drug emergency authorization in May, allowing hospitals and doctors to use the drug even though by all accounts it wasn't that widely used. President Trump received one course of remdesivir along with several other COVID-19 therapies after contracting the virus. Doctors also gave the president dexamethasone, a steroid that has a much better track record for treating the virus, according to the available data. Trump also received an experimental drug from Regeneron, which, along with Eli Lilly, has filed for emergency use approval for its COVID-19 antibody treatment. Gilead has been waging a PR campaign against the WHO, which recently publicized the results of its global trial of remdesivir, producing data that was widely hailed as definitive by other scientists. But Gilead had a lock on approval seemingly from the very beginning, as US officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, praised the drug. Dr. Fauci once said the drug would "set a new standard of care" for COVID-19. Back in August, Gilead said the company planned to produce more than 2 million courses of the drug by the end of the year, with "several million more coming in 2021." Initially, Gilead says it will initially focus on meeting "real-time demand" in the US. Oddly, none of the initial coverage of the FDA's decision included much discussion of the WHO's trial data, which pretty clearly branded the drug a flop. Even the evidence that Gilead has managed to marshal in remdesivir's defense has been pretty unconvincing.

Patients who had more severe covid-19 may be the best donors for convalescent plasma therapy   Sex, age, and severity of disease may be useful in identifying COVID-19 survivors who are likely to have high levels of antibodies that can protect against the disease, according to a new study co-led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings suggest that older males who have recovered from COVID-19 after having been hospitalized are strong candidates for donating plasma for treating COVID-19 patients. Doctors have been using infusions of plasma--the part of blood that contains antibodies--from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat COVID-19 patients and also as a possible prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19. Doctors have used convalescent plasma to treat patients or immunize persons at high risk of virus exposure during outbreaks of measles, mumps, polio, Ebola, and even the 1918 pandemic flu. Clinical trials of convalescent plasma treatment against COVID-19 are ongoing, and doctors until now haven't had guidance for selecting COVID-19 survivors who are likeliest to have strong antibody responses. "We propose that sex, age, and severity of disease should be used to guide the selection of donors for convalescent plasma transfer studies because we found that these were significant patient characteristics that not only predicted the amount of antibody but the quality of that antibody," says study lead author Sabra Klein, PhD, professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.

Down Syndrome associated with a 10-fold increased risk for COVID-19-related death - At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many national health organizations emphasized quarantining or physical distancing, especially for those deemed to be extremely vulnerable on the basis of certain medical conditions. Although Down syndrome was not specifically mentioned on official lists of conditions that put people at increased risk, the condition is associated with immune dysfunction, congenital heart disease, and pulmonary pathology. Therefore, it may be an unconfirmed risk factor for severe COVID-19. Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Nottingham, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the University College London studied a cohort of 8.26 million adults through a QResearch database to evaluate if Down syndrome is a risk factor for death from COVID-19. The authors found an estimated a 4-fold increased risk for COVID-19-related hospitalization and a 10-fold increased risk for COVID-19-related death in persons with Down syndrome. They stress this novel evidence should be used by public health organizations, policymakers, and health care workers to strategically protect vulnerable individuals. Read the full text: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-4986.

 Most psoriasis patients taking immunosuppressants survive COVID-19 - Patients with psoriasis who are taking drugs that affect their immune system have high rates of survival from COVID-19. According to the first findings from a global registry of psoriasis and COVID-19 patients, led by Guy's and St Thomas' clinicians, over 90% survive. The researchers found that the risk factors of severe COVID-19 outcomes in patients reported to the registry were similar to the general population. The findings come from the first analysis of the web-based PsoProtect registry, established to understand how psoriasis and the medications that are used to treat it might influence the severity of COVID-19. Collaboration has been crucial to the registry, founded by dermatologists and researchers at the St John's Institute of Dermatology at Guy's and St Thomas', King's College London and University of Manchester, and supported by psoriasis patient organisations throughout the world, including the Psoriasis Association in the UK. Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty plaques of skin covered with silvery scales and affects around 2% of people in the UK. It is thought to be related to a problem in the immune system, so dermatologists have been working to understand how COVID-19 and the condition may interact. Patients with moderate to severe disease are treated with drugs that affect the immune system including biologics that target specific immune proteins, or traditional tablet immunosuppressants, and many of these patients were asked to shield during the pandemic.

Dogs Detect Coronavirus Fast and Reliably — Why Not Use Them Everywhere?  - Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing. Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus. If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%. It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."  Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus. 

 Ending Covid With Herd Immunity Dangerous Fallacy -  The concept of ending the Covid pandemic through herd immunity is “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence”, say 80 researchers in a warning letter published by a leading medical journal.The international signatories of the open letter in the Lancet say the interest in herd immunity comes from “widespread demoralisation and diminishing trust” as a result of restrictions being reimposed in many countries because of surging infections in a second wave. The suggestion that the way out is by protecting the vulnerable and allowing the virus to transmit among those less at risk is flawed, they say. “Uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks significant morbidity and mortality across the whole population. In addition to the human cost, this would impact the workforce as a whole and overwhelm the ability of healthcare systems to provide acute and routine care.”The signatories have expertise spanning public health, epidemiology, medicine, paediatrics, sociology, virology, infectious disease, health systems, psychology, psychiatry, health policy, and mathematical modelling. They include a number of scientists who sit on the breakaway Independent Sage group in the UK, such as former chief scientist Sir David King, former WHO director Anthony Costello, virologist Prof Deenan Pillay, behavioural scientist Prof Susan Michie and professor of European public health Martin McKee. There is no evidence that immunity after recovering from Covid-19 lasts, they say, adding that people who are vulnerable would be at risk for the indefinite future and cannot be kept safe.“Prolonged isolation of large swathes of the population is practically impossible and highly unethical,” they say, calling for action to suppress the levels of virus in the population.

Wearing masks could save more than 100,000 US lives through February, new study suggests  If 95% of Americans wore masks in public, more than 100,000 lives could be saved from Covid-19 through February, a new modeling study suggests. The study -- from the Covid-19 forecasting team at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation -- notes that, in September, only about 49% of US residents reported that they "always" wear a mask in public.If mask-wearing is 49% through February and states continue with removing social distancing mandates, the Covid-19 death toll across the United States could reach about 1 million deaths by February 28, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Friday.Yet under the assumption that states shut down when their daily death rate exceeds 8 deaths per 1 million people in the population but mask-wearing doesn't change, the study's model projections forecast the death toll could reach 511,373 deaths by February 28. The scenario that 95% of people in each state wear masks -- in addition to states reinstating social distancing mandates if their daily death rates exceed 8 deaths per 1 million people -- resulted in the lowest death toll projection, with 381,798 deaths by February 28, according to the study.

Patient In AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Dies - In what appears to be the worst news yet concerning any of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, a patient enrolled in the trial for AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine candidate (which it's working on with Oxford) has died. Brazilian health authority Anvisa announced Wednesday that one of the volunteers who was participating in the study had died. The news sent the company's ADRs to their lowest level since April, per Reuters.  AstraZeneca's massive globe-spanning trial was put on mandatory hiatus back in September after two participants were sickened in the company's trial in the UK, prompting authorities to close it down briefly.  However, the FDA refused to restart the trial in the US, citing vague safety-related criteria. We now await more information from AZ. Update (1340ET): AZ has just revealed that the patient who died received a placebo, not the actual vaccine.   AZN rebounded sharply on the claim.   The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is helping coordinate late-stage trials in Brazil, separately said that the volunteer was Brazilian, according to Reuters.  Participants in the US AZ clinical trials still haven't taken their second dose since the proceedings have been _

 FDA should 'under no circumstances' fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine, says patient safety group - Earlier this month, the FDA issued safety guidelines that say vaccine makers should follow clinical trial participants for two months before seeking emergency authorization.But in comments to the FDA, the Emergency Care Research Institute says approving a vaccine with such limited data could pose "significant safety risks."Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.There could be "very severe" consequences from rushing out a COVID-19 vaccine before clinical trials are completed, according to the Emergency Care Research Institute, a nonprofit that advises public and private health care providers on safeguarding patient safety. "Vaccines are some of the safest and most effective ways to protect the American public from disease, but rushed deadlines and incomplete data pose significant safety risks," Dr. Marcus Schabacker, president and CEO of ECRI, said in a statement on Wednesday. The comments come as the US Food and Drug Administration is holding a teleconference on Thursday to discuss the development and authorization of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. President Donald Trump has claimed a vaccine could be authorized before the November election. But earlier this  month the FDA issued safety standards, opposed by the White House, that instruct pharmaceutical companies to monitor clinical trial participants for at least two months before seeking emergency approval. But ECRI, in a policy paper submitted to the FDA, maintains that no vaccine should receive emergency approval with such limited data. Indeed, "under no circumstances" should US authorities authorize a vaccine without a full six months of follow-up information, it says. "Complete clinical trial information and careful consideration of the limitations of available data are essential to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine," Schabacker said. "The risks and consequences of a rushed vaccine could be very severe if the review is anything shy of thorough."

Top infectious-disease expert says 'the next 6 to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic' - A leading US infectious-disease expert warned Sunday that the next three months might be the "darkest of the entire pandemic," citing what he described as a "major problem in messaging" related to COVID-19. "We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike," Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "But when you actually look at the time period for that, the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic." Osterholm told the "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that despite some progress, "vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year." "And even then, half of the US population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine," Osterholm said. "So what we have right now is a major problem in messaging." As Business Insider previously reported, the race to establish a COVID-19 vaccine has already surpassed records for speed, prompting concern that the vaccine is being rushed for political purposes despite a rare joint pledge from drugmakers to ensure that the vaccine is developed safely. Osterholm on Sunday said part of the messaging problem was the lack of a "lead" voice to guide Americans during the latest stage of the pandemic. Osterholm is just one of numerous epidemiologists who for months have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic would worsen in the fall and winter months. "Friday, we had 70,000 cases, matching the largest number we had seen back during the really serious peak in July," he said Sunday. "That number, we're going to blow right through that. And between now and the holidays, we will see numbers much, much larger than even the 67,000 to 75,000 cases."

CDC: Pandemic results in 299,000 more U.S. deaths than in typical year - The coronavirus pandemic has left about 299,000 more people dead in the United States than would be expected in a typical year, two-thirds of them from covid-19 and the rest from other causes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. The CDC said the novel coronavirus, which causes covid-19, has taken a disproportionate toll on Latinos and Blacks, as previous analyses have noted. But the CDC also found, surprisingly, that it has struck 25- to 44-year-olds very hard: Their “excess death” rate is up 26.5 percent over previous years, the largest change for any age group.It is not clear whether that spike is caused by the shift in covid-19 deaths toward younger people between May and August or deaths from other causes, the CDC said. As states reopen and more tests are conducted, coronavirus cases continue to ravage the U.S. The Post spoke with experts to determine what wave we’re in. (Video: Adriana Usero, Allie Caren/Photo: Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)The report comes with just two weeks left in a presidential campaign whose central issue is President Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Trump has sought at every turn, including in remarks Monday, to minimize the virus’s impact, despite a covid-19 death toll that is likely to be the third-leading cause of mortality in the United States this year, behind heart disease and cancer. That stance has proved to be the president’s enduring weakness as the election looms Nov. 3.His Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, has made his plans to tackle the pandemic the major focus of his bid to capture the White House.“The number of people dying from this pandemic is higher than we think,” said Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has conducted independent analyses of excess mortality. “This study shows it. Others have, as well.”The United States is in the midst of another sharp increase in coronavirus infections, this one centered in the upper Midwest and Plains states. The seven-day rolling average of cases, considered the most accurate barometer, is near 60,000 per day. At least 220,000 people have died of covid-19 so far, according todata kept by The Washington Post.The new CDC data covers Feb. 1 to Oct. 3. Woolf said the total is likely to reach 400,000 by the end of the year. Overall, the CDC found that “excess deaths have occurred every week since March, 2020,” with a peak during the week of April 11 and another during the week ending Aug. 8. Those dates roughly coincide with the virus’s surge into the New York metro area near the start of the outbreak and a second major rise across the Sun Belt when many states reopened too soon in an effort to revive flagging economies.

U.S. Suffered Almost 300,000 Excess Deaths During Coronavirus Pandemic, CDC Reports - Almost 300,000 more Americans have died during the first ten months of the coronavirus pandemic than would be expected in an average year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Tuesday. The agency found that there were an estimated 299,028 excess deaths in the U.S. between Jan. 26 and Oct. 3. That's a higher death toll than the 221,078 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University."This is one of several studies, and the bottom line is there are far more Americans dying from the pandemic than the news reports would suggest," Dr. Steve Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University who conducted a study along similar lines, told The New York Times.Excess death studies are valuable for understanding public health threats precisely because deaths from a particular cause may have been undercounted, the CDC explained. In the case of COVID-19, an excess death study will catch cases that have been misdiagnosed or misattributed on the death certificate. Two-thirds of the excess deaths in the study were directly attributed to the coronavirus, but others could have been indirectly caused by the new disease."There are many factors that could contribute to an increase in deaths indirectly due to the pandemic, with disruptions to health care being one factor," study author Lauren Rossen, from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told Reuters. For example, Woolf told The New York Times that his study, which looked at excess deaths from March 1 to April 25, found huge increases in deaths from conditions like diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's. "It's important for people who have these conditions to not delay or forgo medical care because of their fears of the virus," Woolf said. "In many cases, the danger of not getting care is much greater than the risk of exposure to the virus." The CDC got their figures by comparing deaths in 2020 every week during the study period with the average deaths for that week from 2015 to 2019. They found that excess deaths have occurred every week in the U.S. since March, peaking in the weeks ending April 11 and August 8. The breakdown by age group was as follows:

  • Under 25: two percent decrease
  • 25-44: 26.5 percent increase
  • 45-64: 14.4 percent increase
  • 65-74: 24.1 percent increase
  • 75-84: 21.5 percent increase
  • Over 85: 14.7 percent increase

The study also confirmed that the pandemic has taken a higher toll on racial minority groups than on white Americans. Hispanic Americans saw the highest percent increase of deaths in 2020 at 53.6 percent. The rest were as follows:

  • Asian Americans: 36.6 percent increase
  • Other or unknown ethnicity: 34.6 percent increase
  • Black Americans: 32.9 percent increase
  • Indigenous Americans: 28.9 percent increase
  • White Americans: 11.9 percent increase

Does America Have A COVID Problem Or An Obesity Problem? -While we have previously reported - and by now it is common knowledge - that Covid-19 usually kills only the very old with virtually no deaths in the 45 and under category and most deaths in the 75 and over category.Indeed, as Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid noted when discussing the average age of fatalities from Covid, "it is remarkably consistent around the 80-82 year old mark."Then overnight, Bloomberg's John Authers pointed out how startling this mortality rate varies from country to country, when referencing another chart from Jim Reid:As Authers writes, "The U.S. is a remarkable outlier. How can that possibly be?" According to Reid, a small part of this might be down to many of the other countries having an older population. For example, Italy’s median age is 45 (43 in Europe), whereas it is 38 for the US.However, another explanation offered by the Bloomberg commentator, which feeds into the political debate of the moment, "is that all the other developed countries on this chart have some form of universal state-provided healthcare." But rather than get embroiled in that debate, Authers instead looks at the normal average age of people when they die. The following is a chart of life expectancy (in years) at birth for all the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:As shown in the chart above, the U.S. - which as we discussed last week is turning into a banana republic  with just a 50% share of the population in middle-income households, roughly the same category as Turkey, China and, drumroll, Russia  - has lower life expectancy than the Czech Republic or Chile, and is lagged only by countries that are significantly poorer. It trails the other major economies by several years, in many cases roughly equal to the gap in the age at which Covid-19 victims die.According to Authers, instead of focusing on Covid, "it might make sense for the U.S. healthcare debate to revolve around treating this as a national disgrace and trying to make common cause over fixing it, rather than having an arid political argument, but I digress." Which brings us to the topic at hand, namely does America have a covid problem, or is it just an extension of America's far more serious problem of obesity. To wit, tne of its greatest life-shortening effects is diabetes. Here are the most recent OECD numbers on diabetes prevalence:

Some People Think Covid-19 Hospitalizations Are Level --  Menzie Chinn - Reader Bruce Hall writes yesterday: Cases continue to escalate; deaths do not; hospitalizations are basically level. The hyperbole around cases is unfortunate because infections are not categorized for action since asymptomatic to severe are lumped together. I do not think this assertion regarding current hospitalizations are correct (and by definition, those are not asymptomatic cases, so the argument against using cases numbers does not apply). And where hospitalizations go, fatalities have usually followed.  Figure 1: Covid-19 related current Hospitalizations (blue, left scale), fatalities, seven day moving average (red, right scale). Source: Covid Tracking Project, accessed 10/20/20. On that graph, the increase is 31.9%. You can call that a “minor fluctuation” if you want; I think most would disagree.

As the Coronavirus Surges, a New Culprit Emerges: Pandemic Fatigue: NYT - The United States surpassed eight million known cases this past week, and reported more than 70,000 new infections on Friday, the most in a single day since July. Eighteen states added more new coronavirus infections during the seven-day stretch ending on Friday than in any other week of the pandemic.In Europe, cases are rising and hospitalizations are up. Britain is imposing new restrictions, and France has placed cities on “maximum alert,” ordering many to close all bars, gyms and sports centers. Germany and Italy set records for the most new daily cases. And leaders in the Czech Republic described their health care system as “in danger of collapsing,” as hospitals are overwhelmed and more deaths are occurring than at any time in the pandemic.The virus has taken different paths through these countries as leaders have tried to tamp down the spread with a range of restrictions. Shared, though, is a public weariness and a growing tendency to risk the dangers of the coronavirus, out of desire or necessity: With no end in sight, many people are flocking to bars, family parties, bowling alleys and sporting events much as they did before the virus hit, and others must return to school or work as communities seek to resuscitate economies. And in sharp contrast to the spring, the rituals of hope and unity that helped people endure the first surge of the virus have given way to exhaustion and frustration.“People are done putting hearts on their windows and teddy bears out for scavenger hunts,” said Katie Rosenberg, the mayor of Wausau, Wis., a city of 38,000 where a hospital has opened an extra unit to treat Covid-19 patients. “They have had enough.” Ann Vossen, a medical microbiologist in the Netherlands, where daily cases doubled this past week, said people across Europe “let go too much.” She added, “This is the result.”

 Cameron Peak Fire: COVID-19 cases nearly double among firefighters - The fight is on against the Cameron Peak Fire, but the Colorado wildfire — the largest in state history — is not the only battle its firefighters are facing. COVID-19 cases among Cameron Peak firefighters and support personnel nearly doubled last week, going from 23 confirmed cases on Oct. 7 to 43 on Wednesday. It is the second-largest active COVID-19 outbreak in Larimer County, according to outbreak data posted by the county health department. Cases connected to Colorado State University, which have been combined into one outbreak in outbreak data, make up the largest outbreak in the county. The surge in cases related to the wildfire marked the largest increase in COVID-19 cases among fire personnel since the first eight days of September, when 20 positive cases were reported, according to a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson. The Cameron Peak Fire was deemed the site of an outbreak on Aug. 25, less than two weeks after the fire began in the Roosevelt National Forest between Cameron Peak and Chambers Lake. An outbreak is defined by CDPHE as two or more cases within 14 days. Since beginning Aug. 13, the Cameron Peak Fire — fueled by hot, dry weather and high winds — has grown to 203,604 acres with 62% containment as of Sunday night. Most recently, 1,464 personnel were listed as working the fire. Despite daily temperature checks, COVID-19 screening, mask wearing and handwashing stations for fire personnel, the fire's COVID-19 cases have increased primarily because personnel and fire crews are joining the fire effort from other areas with their own COVID-19 outbreaks, a Forest Service spokesperson added. Those who do test positive for COVID-19 are isolated and given medical attention, if needed. Fire personnel are contact tracing and isolating as needed, in keeping with Larimer County and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the spokesperson said.  Aside from the Cameron Peak Fire's main medical unit, they also have a separate COVID-19 unit to monitor fire personnel and support them in isolation.

 Ohio breaks record of coronavirus hospitalizations, active cases: The Wake Up for Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 - cleveland.com - The number of COVID-19 patients in Ohio hospitals has more than doubled in the last month to a record of 1,154 on Monday, reports Rich Exner. The patient count stood at just 586 on Sept. 19. It moved over 1,000 last Tuesday and to the record of 1,154 on Monday, topping the previous record of 1,122 set on July 28. Based on estimates, a record 27,512 Ohioans currently have the coronavirus, up from a recent low of 15,771 on Sept. 26. This means that 1-in-64 Ohioans is now known to have contracted the virus.

 Record-shattering 4,591 coronavirus cases as state catches up on reporting; record 218 COVID-19 hospitalizations (WBAY) - The Wisconsin Department of Health Services cautions that it’s working through a backlog of positive test results after state system upgrades over the weekend, resulting in a high number of newly reported coronavirus cases and extremely high positivity rate. We’ll need to put an asterisk next to the record-shattering numbers reported Tuesday when 4,591 new cases were added in the past 24 hours. That’s 33.61% of the 13,661 tests received -- 1 in 3 coming back positive -- which also shatters the positivity record for any day with more than 10,000 tests. In fact, the only positivity rate we could find that was higher was on March 14, when the state reported a total of 8 tests and all of them were positive. The DHS says negative test results could still be uploaded to its reporting system over the weekend but not positive tests; these are only being imported into the system now that the system updates are completed. The state emphasizes the 7-day rolling averages are a more accurate representation of the state’s COVID-19 situation while it works through the backlog of data for the next few days. Based on the state’s last 7 reports, Wisconsin is adding an average 3,424 new coronavirus cases per day. The positivity rate’s 7-day average is up to 21.7%, an all-time high in the state’s reporting. The death toll rose 33 to 1,633. That’s shy of the one-day record of 34 deaths set exactly one week ago. Six deaths were added to Shawano County’s death toll. Five were added in Marathon County. After the state’s report was issued, the Appleton Health Department reported two more people died -- one in their 70s, the other in their 80s, both from Outagamie County.

  New York COVID-19 Cases Top 2,000 For First Time Since May- Live Updates  -- NY Gov Andrew Cuomo took a break from bashing his colleagues in charge of CT and NJ to reveal Wednesday that NY's daily numbers have topped 2,000 for the first time since May. Today's update on the numbers:Of the 124,789 tests reported yesterday, 2,026 were positive (1.62% of total).Total hospitalizations are at 950.Sadly, there were 7 COVID fatalities yesterday. pic.twitter.com/w5XytHYXgN— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) October 21, 2020Total hospitalizations, meanwhile, were steady at 950.  NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has just unveiled his plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccines to everybody in NYC, a difficult undertaking that will likely rank among the most challenging tasks.According to the post, the mayor will launch a two-phase framework, which will begin by providing a limited number of doses for health-care personnel and other front-line workers. Presently, the city is enrolling providers in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Citywide Immunization Registry.While Phase 1 will begin as soon as the FDA delivers its emergency use authorization approval, phase two likely won't arrive until 2021 and will see more availability for the general public.The city is recruiting and preparing "community providers" who will administer the vaccine in the city, and it will work with the state to figure out how to maximize distribution efforts to get the vaccine nto the vans.City will work with New York state to guarantee maximum distribution of safe, effective, free vaccine   Spain has officially joined the US, India, Brazil and others in the 1 million+ confirmed COVID-19 cases club.Across Europe, an FT analysis has found that the second wave of the virus to hit Europe is far less deadly than the wave seen back in the spring, even though the Continent and the UK largely decided against lockdowns and other more serious measures.Finally, the Czech Republic announced new restrictions on business and movement in a bid to regain control of the coronavirus pandemic, which is growing faster in the central European nation than anywhere else in the EU. Health Minister Roman Prymula said that the new measures were necessary because in the absence of any action, the Czech health system risked being overwhelmed by early November. ; After reporting another daily record on Tuesday, the pace of new COVID-19 cases reported worldwide slowed, with just 387,768 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins.

1 in 4 New York City transit workers contracted COVID-19: survey -One in four New York City transit workers report having had COVID-19 at some point this year, according to a poll commissioned by the MTA’s largest union. The TWU Local 100 survey — conducted by NYU epidemiologist Robyn Gershon — polled 645 city transit workers, 24 percent of whom reported contracting the coronavirus. Of the workers surveyed, 90 percent said they fear contracting the virus at work. Transit workers repped by TWU were the hardest hit by the virus among MTA workers, accounting for more than 90 of the 131 agency employees killed by the deadly respiratory illness. In March and April, thousands of workers called out sick, forcing massive subway cancellations. The MTA, meanwhile, was slow to institute protective measures demanded by workers, and initially prohibited employees from wearing masks at all, citing CDC guidance at the time. Transit officials have since instituted a mask mandate — now backed up by a $50 fine — along with protective measures for bus drivers and expanded break-room space. “We put the city on our shoulders when the pandemic hit, and we are still carrying it forward,” union president Tony Utano said in a statement.  MTA rep Abbey Collins disputed the survey’s findings, which she dismissed as “a poll, not a study.”

October 21 COVID-19 Test Results - The US is now mostly reporting 700 thousand to 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).  There were 739,443 test results reported over the last 24 hours.  There were 57,294 positive tests. Over 14,700 Americans deaths from COVID have been reported in October. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here. This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.  The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 7.7% (red line is 7 day average).  For the status of contact tracing by state, check out testandtrace.com.  And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing.  The second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported.  The dashed line is the July high.  Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.  Everyone needs to be vigilant or we might see record high 7-day average cases before the end of October.

CDC says the U.S. is now seeing a ‘distressing trend’ in coronavirus outbreak - A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the agency is seeing a "distressing trend" in the United States' coronavirus outbreak. Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, said Covid-19 cases are now growing "really in all parts of the country," with particularly high transmission in the Midwest. "Unfortunately, we are seeing a distressing trend here in the United States," he told reporters on a call. He said the surge is likely due to the arrival of cooler temperatures, adding, "Smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors may be driving transmission as well, especially as they move indoors." "I recognize that we are all getting tired of the impact Covid-19 has had on our lives," he said. "We're tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it has ever been and I would say even more important than ever as we move into the fall season." The U.S. is now reporting roughly 60,000 new Covid-19 cases daily, growing nearly 17% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Figures are based on a weekly average to smooth out fluctuations in daily reporting. Only two states — Hawaii and Virginia — reported declines greater than 5% as of Tuesday. The U.S. still has the worst outbreak in the world, with more than 8.2 million cases and at least 221,122 deaths, according to Hopkins data. Health officials and infectious disease experts fear the situation could become dire as flu season begins and hospitals risk reaching capacity. "If steps are not taken to reduce transmission at the community level, it'll come to no surprise that health-care systems start to feel a pinch and start to head towards capacity and beyond capacity," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto, told CNBC in a recent interview. Butler said the U.S. will likely have a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine "very soon," adding that he is "cautiously optimistic" a vaccine will be available in limited quantities by the end of the year. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on the same call that Pfizer and Moderna, front-runners in the Covid-19 vaccine race, are "very close if not fully enrolled in their trials."

8 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week - 8 states set new highs last week for coronavirus infections recorded in a single day, according to the COVID Tracking Project (CTP) and state health departments. Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming surpassed records from the previous week.  Cases and hospitalizations are rising in Michigan, a state that initially fought the pandemic with strict mitigation efforts, alongside states that took less action against the spread of the virus this spring. Records broken:

  • Oct. 12: Kansas (2,055).
  • Oct. 15: Montana (723) and Michigan, which reported over 2,000 cases. Some infections that would normally be included in the previous day's tally were included here due to a laboratory processing slowdown.
  • Oct. 16: Minnesota (2,290), North Dakota (864), Wisconsin (3,861), West Virginia (498), and Wyoming (290). Wyoming's PCR test data decreased by over 1,000 with no explanation, possibly to eliminate duplicate or redundant information, per CTP.
  • In Minnesota, 20 to 24 year-olds account for the highest percentage of coronavirus cases, as the elderly continue to die at higher rates, per the state's last weekly COVID-19 report.
  • Wisconsin has seen over 1,000 people hospitalized per day from Oct. 14 to Oct. 18. Gov. Tony Evers (D) signed an emergency order on Oct. 1 to allow health care providers licensed in other states to practice in Wisconsin. The most COVID-19 cases have been recorded in 18 to 24 year-oldsoverall.
  • Wyoming's health department has recorded the most lab-confirmed cases in 19 to 29 year-olds.

The big picture: Coronavirus infections increased in 38 states and Washington, D.C. over the last week, according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios. Coronavirus hospitalizations are also increasing in 39 states.  Record case highs have usually meant that more hospitalizations and other serious outcomes are on the way, CTP analysts wrote in September.

U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations hit two-month peak, midwest setting new records every day (Reuters) - The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals hit 40,000 for the first time since August on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as the nation battles a surge in infections led by Midwest states. Hospitals have seen a 36% rise in coronavirus patients over the past four weeks and Midwest hospitals are setting new records every day. So far in October, 16 states have reported their highest daily numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 since the pandemic started, including the Midwest states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Hospitalizations of virus-stricken patients have set records in every region except the Northeast. Hospitalizations are a closely watched metric because they are not influenced by how much testing is done. In addition to hospitalizations reaching 40,264 on Wednesday, the seven-day average of new cases of COVID-19 have risen 45% in the past four weeks and is also approaching levels last seen during the summer peak, according to a Reuters analysis. On Friday, the U.S. recorded 69,478 new cases, the highest single-day total since July 24 and the fifth-highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced that a field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs admitted its first COVID-19 patient since it opened last week. "Folks, please stay home," Evers said. "Help us protect our communities from this highly contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals." In New Mexico, the governor warned on Monday that the state's healthcare resources might not be enough if coronavirus cases continue to rise at the current pace. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started a late-stage trial to evaluate if immune-modulating therapies from three drugmakers can help reduce the need for ventilators for COVID-19 patients and shorten their hospital stay. The study will enroll up to 2,100 hospitalized adults with moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms in the United States and Latin America. 

COVID-19 surges across U.S. as some hospitals stretched (Reuters) - Several U.S. states, many of them in the Midwest, reported record single-day increases in COVID-19 infections on Thursday, further evidence that the pandemic is accelerating anew as cooler weather takes hold in many parts of the country. Indiana, North Dakota, Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah and Ohio posted daily records on Thursday, according to a Reuters analysis, while Florida reported more than 5,500 new cases, its highest single-day increase since Aug. 15. Twenty-eight states have reported their daily record high of COVID-19 cases in the month of October alone. On Wednesday, the number of coronavirus deaths reported across the country reached its highest in two months. Increases in deaths tend to trail spikes new infections by several weeks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday formally approved Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug remdesivir, which has been in wide use under an emergency authorization, for treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19. It is the first drug officially approved for the disease in the United States. Since the pandemic reached the United States earlier this year, the nation has lost more than 222,000 lives, the world's highest total as well as one of the highest per capita death rates, especially among developed nations. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/35hBCSa)The autumn resurgence and dire predictions that the spread would further accelerate in the cold winter months have once again cast a harsh spotlight on President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. A report released on Wednesday by Columbia University estimated that between 130,000 and 210,000 COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided in the United States, calling the federal government’s response to the pandemic an “enormous failure”.

US passes single-day record for new COVID-19 cases - The U.S. set a new record for new coronavirus cases in a single day Friday as the country undergoes an alarming new surge in infections. According to the COVID Tracking Project’s tally, there were more than 83,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases across the country Friday, surpassing the U.S.’s past record of 75,687 on July 16. About 1.3 million tests were conducted Friday. The alarming milestone comes as experts warn that the pandemic could continue to worsen in the coming months as the weather gets colder and people stay indoors, where the virus is more easily spread.The number of hospitalizations for the coronavirus across the country has spiked 40 percent in the past month, and while the death rate has remained stable, that figure tends to lag behind increases in cases. The most significant spikes are taking place in the Midwest and West. California saw more than 6,000 new cases Friday, while Wisconsin saw more than 4,600 new cases, and Michigan and Pennsylvania saw more than 2,000 new cases each. And with so many states experiencing surges, experts warn a national spike is inevitable.“We still have tens of thousands of known cases, probably hundreds of thousands of actual cases, happening every day, and what that means is that we have a tremendous number of small little outbreaks ready to burst,” Michael Mina, assistant professor at Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told The Hill earlier this month.New cases began rising in September, which experts say could have been caused by school reopenings, Labor Day festivities and overall lax following of guidelines regarding social distancing and mask-wearing.The milestone also comes less than two weeks before Election Day, and while there has been a historic rise in mail-in and early voting, millions of Americans are still expected to gather at polling places to cast their ballots on Nov. 3. Experts had said they hoped cases would be lower to try to offset a virtually-guaranteed winter spike. “You can’t enter into the cool months of the fall and the cold months of the winter with a high community infection baseline,” Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious diseases expert, said this month. “The baseline fluctuated and never went down to the level that I would have hoped it went down to.”

COVID cases: US sets record 83,757 daily cases, highest since summer --- The U.S. topped the one-day record for new coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data, surpassing the previous summer high.  At the height of the surge, on July 16, the U.S. saw more than 77,362 reported new cases of COVID-19. On Friday, the U.S. reached 83,757 new daily cases, according to by Johns Hopkins University.  The news comes on the heels of a study by the University of Washington School of Medicine that projected more than 500,000 Americans could die by the end of February in part because of the nation’s current patchwork of COVID-19 mandates and the inconsistent use of masks to prevent virus spread.  "We are heading into a very substantial fall-winter surge," said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine. "We expect that surge to steadily grow throughout different states, and at the national level continue to increase as we head towards quite high levels of daily death in late December and January." The new cases record may be a product of virus seasonality, pandemic fatigue and the return of schools and universities, said Bob Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. "It's really a number of factors coming together," he said. "And what I worry is that they’re starting to come together in a perfect storm."  Experts say SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, is a seasonal virus that circulates easier in the fall and winter months – similar to influenza.  Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said this seasonality is because of the virus’s molecular structure and biology andthe fact people stay indoors during the colder months.    Bednarczyk said Americans also may be getting lax as the pandemic drags on.  "Pandemic fatigue is a real thing," he said. “People are just starting to get tired of wearing masks and staying distant, and taking personal stock of what they potentially feel safe doing in terms of trying to come back to a sense of normalcy.”  Mina predicts the spike in cases will greatly exceed the surge seen in the summer. The U.S. missed an opportunity to suppress COVID-19 spread in preparation for the fall, he added, and now the nation is faced with impossible decisions.  “There are truly no good solutions anymore,” he said.

October 23 COVID-19 Test Results - The US is now mostly reporting 700 thousand to 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).There were 1,123,341 test results reported over the last 24 hours.There were 83,010 positive tests (new record). Over 16,800 Americans deaths from COVID have been reported in October. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here. This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 7.4% (red line is 7 day average).For the status of contact tracing by state, check out testandtrace.com. And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing. The second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported.The dashed line is the July high.  Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.

Michigan doctors warn in open letter that health care systems are at risk of being overwhelmed by resurgent pandemic - In a dire open letter issued Thursday, leading physicians at hospitals and health care systems across the state of Michigan warn of an impending “capacity crisis.” COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 80 percent statewide in recent weeks, they write, and action is urgently needed to “prevent another catastrophic surge in hospital admissions and COVID-19 deaths.” “If Michigan doesn't change its approach to this disease,” there is a danger of “exceeding the capacity of our hospitals as we did in Southeast Michigan this past spring,” the doctors warn, recalling the gruesome scenes from April when Detroit’s Sinai-Grace Hospital, completely overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, resorted to piling the dead one on top of another in unrefrigerated rooms. The overwhelming of the health care system by COVID-19 has already contributed heavily to the more than 80,000 additional “excess deaths” recorded across the US since January of this year, over and above the 220,000 deaths caused directly by the disease. Signed by 28 Chief Medical Officers and Chief Clinical Officers across Michigan, representing 110 of the state’s 137 hospitals, the statement explains that “regardless of state law, executive orders, or local public health directives, hospitals and healthcare systems across the state are standing as a united front in our policies and interventions in order to fight the spread of COVID-19.” This is a reference to the fact that this month Michigan’s Supreme Court overturned as unconstitutional Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders implementing limited lockdown measures earlier this year. “Our hospitals and healthcare facilities will continue requiring staff, patients, and visitors to follow public safety protocols, including mask-wearing, screenings upon entry to our facilities, and limitation of visitors,” the doctors write.

Covid-19 Fatalities and Excess Fatalities - Menzie Chinn - The most recent “excess fatality” count remains solidly in the positive region, despite the severe under-reporting bias in the most recent observations. To see this, consider the most recent estimates for each of the previous vintages of “excess fatalities” calculated as actual-expected.  Figure 1: Excess fatalities, 10/21 vintage (chartreuse), 10/7 vintage (purple red), 9/30  vintage (violet), 9/23 vintage (chartreuse), 9/16 vintage (red), 9/9 vintage (green), 9/2 vintage (orange), 8/25 vintage (blue). Note excess fatalities differ from CDC series which are bounded below at zero. Source: CDC , various vintages, and author’s calculations.  This pattern suggests to me we should take with circumspection (1) the most recent counts of excess fatalities as they are likely to be revised substantially upward; and (2) administrative counts, either from CDC or from alternative compilations, as they are possibly missing many actual Covid-19 related deaths. Extending point (1), it is likely that excess fatalities were indeed falling for some time in August, but are possibly rising again given the size of the revisions in recent weeks’ data (The Economist has a discussion of excess fatalities around the world; the Excess Death Tracker is here.) Here are the various series of interest, latest available. Figure 2: Weekly fatalities due to Covid-19 as reported to CDC for weeks ending on indicated dates (black), excess fatalities calculated as actual minus expected (teal), fatalities as tabulated by Our World in Data (dark red). Note excess fatalities differ from CDC series which are bounded below at zero. Light green shading denotes CDC data that are likely to be revised. Source: CDC  10/21/2020 vintage, OurWorldinData version of 10/22 accessed 10/22/2020 and author’s calculations. One conclusion that seems obvious: Cumulative excess fatalities through week ending 8/25 are substantially higher than administratively defined Covid-19 cumulative fatalities. Woolf et al. (JAMA, October 12, 2020) reports that March through July (ex-CT, NC): Of the 225 530 excess deaths, 150 541 (67%) were attributed to COVID-19. Joinpoint analyses revealed an increase in deaths attributed to causes other than COVID-19, with 2 reaching statistical significance. US mortality rates for heart disease increased between weeks ending March 21 and April 11 (APC, 5.1 [95% CI, 0.2-10.2]), driven by the spring surge in COVID-19 cases. Mortality rates for Alzheimer disease/ dementia increased twice, between weeks endingMarch 21 and April 11 (APC, 7.3 [95% CI, 2.9-11.8]) and between weeks ending June 6 and July 25 (APC, 1.5 [95% CI, 0.8-2.3]), the latter coinciding with the summer surge in sunbelt states.  225,530 excess fatalities reported by Woolf et al. for this period exceeds the 221,848 in the CDC excess fatalities estimates I’m reporting above, and obviously far above the 160,092 administratively defined Covid-19 deaths.  Update, 5/12 3:13PM Pacific: CDC reports excess deaths by age and ethnicity, in this report dated October 23 (for data running through October 3).

Coronavirus cases top 40M worldwide  -The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 40 million,according to data from Johns Hopkins University.The world hit the new high-water mark amid a “second wave” that has built since August in Europe. Various European government officials have reintroduced restriction and closures of businesses like bars and restaurants, CNBC noted.Some European nations have also implemented curfews in response to the second wave.  Slovenia, for example, will impose one for the first time from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. France and Belgium have imposed similar curfews. In May, Slovenia became Europe’s first to declare its epidemic over after the rate of new cases slowed to only a few daily.Europe has now surpassed the U.S. in number of new infections per 1 million people, according to CNBC. As of Monday, the U.S. reported a seven-day average of 162 cases per 1 million people, compared to 187 per million in Europe, according to CNBC.World Health Organization data, meanwhile, puts the total worldwide figure slightly lower, at 39.8 million. This includes 18.7 million cases in the Americas, 8.5 million in Southeast Asia, 7.9 million in Europe and just 1.26 million in Africa.The U.S., India and Brazil remain the three hardest-hit countries,according to a Reuters analysis. Daily increases are up around 347,000 cases over the past week in each nation, an increase of more than 50,000 per day from the first week of October. In Europe, according to the Reuters analysis, new case growth is over 150,000 a day. This includes record daily jumps in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Ukraine, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Italy, which was the original European epicenter of the virus. Seventeen percent of global cases and almost 22 percent of deaths worldwide are in Europe, according to the news service.

 Iran coronavirus deaths top 30,000 - Iran surpassed 30,000 deaths due to the coronavirus amid the worst outbreak in the Middle East region. Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said the total death toll has reached 30,123 people with 4,721 patients in critical condition, according to the Associated Press. With more than 526,000 cases since February, the country has struggled as death tolls continue to rise while the government resists calls for a complete lockdown. Many patients are being treated in hospitals as COVID-19 positive officials say, but have yet to be tested. These patients, along with false negatives and those who do not display symptoms as listed by the World Health Organization, are not counted among the positive cases meaning the numbers may be much higher than what is currently being reported. Mask mandates in Tehran have been announced and businesses and schools that were recently reopened have now shut down. Government officials have also announced their intent to begin contact tracing those who test positive. Travel bans on five major Iranian cities have been announced, including the capital city of Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad, AP reported. The increased cases come as Iran is bracing for the upcoming flu season. Iran’s Red Crescent Society said U.S. sanctions were preventing the import of the flu vaccines they need. The government of Iran has been hesitant to enact any wide-reaching mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19. Iran initially tried to downplay the severity of the pandemic but Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has since warned that the country's true death toll could double. Harirchi tested positive for the coronavirus in February after at first downplaying the virus. Restrictions to movement helped to lessen the spread earlier this year, but those restrictions were quickly lifted. Iran’s economy was already languishing before the pandemic due to sanctions by the U.S.

As virus surges, Iran breaks one-day record for deaths again --— Iran’s single-day death toll from the coronavirus smashed a record set less than a week ago, with 337 dead confirmed Monday as a resurgence of infections is overwhelming hospitals.On social media, Iranian news outlets dramatically dubbed the day “Black Monday” and lamented the grim milestone — which represented a significant increase over Iran’s previous one-day record of 279 set Wednesday.The Islamic Republic emerged early in the pandemic as a global epicenter of the virus and has since seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with deaths topping 30,000, as fatalities have soared in recent weeks. Health officials announced last week that Iran’s capital, Tehran, had run out of intensive care beds for virus patients and overwhelmed hospitals across the city suspended all nonemergency treatments.On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported that Dr. Mohammad Zare Joshaghani, the director of one of Tehran’s biggest hospitals, had died of the virus — a reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken on health workers, in particular. But the government has resisted a total lockdown because it does not want to further weaken an economy already devastated by unprecedented US sanctions. On Monday, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Lari sought to shift responsibility for the surge to Iranians, scolding them for failing to take precautions.

COVID-19 resurgence devastates Spanish working class - With coronavirus cases rising rapidly across Spain, it is devastating the lives and livelihoods of workers. Last Wednesday, Spain passed the threshold of 900,000 cases, having recorded half a million infections in less than two months. This puts Spain at seventh in the world by total number of cases. As Spain officially records 12–15,000 new positive tests a day, it will reach the grim milestone of one million total infections within days. The official death toll stands at well over 30,000, while new figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) indicate that just under 59,000 excess deaths have occurred since the pandemic began. Around 11,000 have died since July alone according to INE, more than double the Health Ministry’s official figures, which recorded 5,400 fatalities. Daily deaths range between around 100 and 250. The Madrid region, hit hardest by the resurgence of the virus, is hiding the true extent of the resurgence, tampering with its daily figures to downplay the threat to life. Over the last months, it has omitted thousands of cases from its daily tallies, before retroactively modifying the infection figures as much as a fortnight later, without notifying the public. On 2 October, for example, Madrid published figures indicating that 1,005 new coronavirus cases had been detected in the region the previous day; a week later, going back to the official statistics, this figure had been changed to 2,422—more than double the initial announcement. An even larger discrepancy can be seen in the infection statistics reported on 24 September, when 828 positive cases were originally announced. But by 13 October, that day’s figures were nearly five times as high, at 4,324. Even as COVID-19 rips across Spain and the world, the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government is refusing to take any serious measures to contain it. Schools, universities and non-essential workplaces remain open, providing perfect breeding grounds for the coronavirus.

Global report: record Covid cases and new lockdowns across Europe  -Regions in Spain and Italy have returned to lockdown and Ireland will do so from Wednesday as countries across Europe continue to report new Covid infection highs and governments struggle to contain the second wave of the pandemic. The northern Spanish Navarre region, where the number of cases per 100,000 people is 945 against 312 nationally, announced a two-week lockdown from Thursday that will be stricter than measures imposed on Madrid by central government. People will only be allowed in and out of Navarre for work, university studies, to care for relatives, or for emergencies, the regional government said. Restaurants, cafes and bars will be closed, while shops may open at 40% capacity but close by 9pm. The lockdown in and around the capital, the source of bitter arguments between the central and regional government, is due to expire this Saturday amid media reports that the regional government is considering the introduction of a curfew. Ireland is set to become the first EU country to return to lockdown, the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, confirmed late on Monday, issuing a nationwide “stay at home” order but insisting schools will stay open.The measures come into effect for six weeks from midnight on Wednesday and will see all non-essential retail businesses close, bars and restaurants limited to takeaways, and people required to stay at home with a 5km travel limit for exercise. In Italy, the southern region of Campania said it would ask central government to give permission for a night-time curfew from this weekend, after the northern region of Lombardy got the green light for a similar 11pm to 5am lockdown from Thursday.Local officials in both regions warned their health systems risked being overwhelmed, with the mayor of Naples saying Campania had just 15 intensive care beds left and experts predicting ICU admissions could leap from 100 to 600 in Lombardy.Poland’s parliament, meanwhile, postponed an emergency debate on new rules to boost the number of medics available to treat Covid-19 cases and make wearing face masks in public legally binding, after opposition parties demanded clarifications.Doctors have demanded more support for the health system after reports of patients dying when ambulances couldn’t find a hospital to admit them.Poland reported 9,291 new infections on Tuesday, its second highest daily figure.Hungary is also holding back on new measures despite growing criticism of the response of Viktor Orbán’s government. During the first wave, Hungaryrecorded relatively low numbers of infections and deaths.This month, however, more Hungarians have died of coronavirus than in the previous four months put together. According to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), the country currently has the third-highest rolling seven-day death rate per million in the bloc, behind the Czech Republic and Romania.Russia recorded a record high of 16,319 new cases on Tuesday, including 4,999 in the capital Moscow, while Germany is putting the Bavarian municipality of Berchtesgadener Land under lockdown from 2pm on Tuesday. Greece scrapped a plan to allow a limited number of spectators back into sporting events, the prime minister’s office said on Tuesday. “Conducting the games even with a few spectators … would send a wrong message to citizens,” it said, after the country registered 438 new Covid-19 infections on Monday. Beyond Europe, Iran’s daily infections surpassed 5,000 – a new record. There were also 322 new deaths. The president, Hassan Rouhani, said the worst-hit country in the Middle East was now “facing a larger wave of the virus” than earlier in the year.

COVID-19 pandemic surges despite limited curfew measures across Europe -- Last week saw record devastation in Europe from COVID-19 with 700,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from the virus—the highest since the pandemic began. The virus is spreading despite the limited health measures, such as regional curfews or closures of restaurants and bars, that the European ruling classes have taken in response to the resurgence of the pandemic. These record figures underscore the bankruptcy of state policy of returning workers to work, and students to school to guarantee a continued flow of profits to the banks amid a raging pandemic. Millions of workers and youth are being exposed to a potentially deadly virus whose long-lasting impact on health is still largely unknown as part of a politically-criminal “herd immunity” policy. At a press conference in Copenhagen Thursday, World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said the situation is of “great concern.” He said COVID-19 is the “fifth leading cause of deaths and the bar of 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached.” While the number of deaths has not yet reached the levels of April 2020, Kluge warned however that without firmer prevention policies, projections showed by January 2021, mortality levels could be four to five times those recorded in April.   Citing the same epidemiological models, Kluge said that the generalized wearing of masks by 95 percent of the population, compared to an estimated less than 60 percent currently, could save 281,000 lives by February 1 in the 53 countries of the region. In contrast, the limited measures taken by most European governments in recent days do not represent a move away from a “herd immunity” policy that threatens catastrophic loss of life. They are an attempt to lull to sleep workers and youth increasingly angry at pandemic policies that, by refusing to let youth and non-essential workers shelter at home, are leading Europe to disaster. Yesterday, Spain became the first European country to log 1 million cases of COVID-19, six weeks after becoming the first European country to log 500,000 cases.

At least nine countries in Europe hit record-high daily COVID-19 cases - New coronavirus infections hit record highs in at least nine European countries Thursday — as some nations announced tougher restrictions to stop the disease from spreading, according to reports. The nine hard-hit nations — including Italy, France and Germany — saw the highest daily increase in cases since the pandemic began, according to CNN and other outlets. “The general situation has become very serious,” Lothar Wieler, the president of Germany’s RKI public health institute said at a press conference in Berlin. “We have to expect that the virus will continue to spread rapidly.” Overall, France reported 41,622 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to Thursday evening, and Italy recorded 15,199. Spain, which this week became the first European nation to hit 1 million cases, recorded 20,986. Meanwhile, Germany reported 11,287 new cases while the Netherlands saw 9,283 and Portugal recorded 3,270. Poland also broke its daily infection record with 12,100 new cases, along with the Czech Republic, which reported 14,968 and Greece, which reported 882. In response to the rising case load, Ireland, Greece and the Czech Republic set in place stricter curfew and mask-wearing rules — but stopped short of implementing lockdowns, according to Bloomberg News. Greece set a new curfew from 12:30 a.m to 5 a.m. in all areas deemed to be at-risk, including Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Thursday. In Ireland, officials installed a midnight curfew and closed all non-essential businesses for six weeks, officials said.  Spanish authorities are also considering a curfew in its capital city, Madrid.France imposed a curfew on Paris and eight other cities last week. More than 41,500,000 COVID-19 cases have now been recorded across the country since the virus emerged late last year, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,135,000 people have died, though fatality rates in the US have declined sharply.

COVID-19 Records Shattered Across Europe As France Tops 40k New Cases- Live Updates - More records are being set in Europe Thursday. France reported more than 40,000 new cases on Thursday (41,622 to be exact), a new record, as French health authorities prepare to expand restrictions beyond Paris and the eight other metro areas where the virus is gaining momentum.The new curfew measures will cover 2/3rds of the population, doubling the number affected to roughly 46 million.Ireland, meanwhile, is beginning its 6-week lockdown on Thursday. New highs were also reported in the Netherlands and Greece on Thursday. In Greece, Prime MInister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday that there would be a curfew in place between 1230 and 0500 in Athens and second-city Thessaloniki.The Netherlands reported 9,283 new infections, topping 9k for the first time, while in Denmark, officials reported 760 new cases over the last 24 hours, also a record.Finally, after photos of people partying in Stockholm caused a stir, the Swedish government has enacted a cap on the number of patrons allowed inside nightclubs at 50. Greece reported a third straight record with 882 new cases bringing the total to 28,216. It also reported 15 more deaths, bringing its death toll to 549.   Spain just reported 20,986 new cases, making it the latest European nation to report a new record on Thursday. Earlier, neighboring Portugal reported a record 3,270.  Florida posted 5,558 new cases on Thursday, its highest daily tally since mid-August.

UK COVID-19 deaths surge to more than 1,100 over last week -- Friday’s death toll of 224 took COVID-19 fatalities in the UK over the last seven days past the grim milestone of 1,000, to 1,142. The virus is spiralling out of control, with official figures showed 141,741 new cases over the same one-week period, with the rolling 7-day average for daily new cases eclipsing 20,000 for the first time. The R (Reproduction) rate of the virus remains above 1 nationally, with an estimated daily growth rate range of 3 to 6 percent. Large areas of the UK were placed under local lockdowns over the last 24 hours, including six million people placed under the highest tier restrictions. Despite the massive resurgence of the deadly disease, the government, which rules on behalf of big business, is yet to enforce a national lockdown comparable with that put in place from March 23—which saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It was the premature ending of the national lockdown from June onwards, and the opening of schools, colleges and workplaces to facilitate the profitmaking of big business, that produced this disastrous situation. The “firebreak” lockdown announced by the Welsh government this week came into operation last night at 6 p.m., covering its population of 3.1 million. People in Wales are to stay indoors unless they need to travel for an essential reason. Non-essential retail is closed, and those shops that are open can only sell essential goods. Workers are to work from home wherever possible, with exceptions for essential workers. Pubs and restaurants will close, as will places of worship. Yet these restrictions will only be in place for 17 days. Children from years 9-13 cannot attend school but pupils in years 7 and 8 are allowed to return after the half-term break. Those who are taking exams can also attend, as can children who attend special schools or pupil referral units. Scottish National Party First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a five-level system for restricting movements and limiting physical contact. The highest level of the five entails more restrictions than the highest of England’s three tiers already in place. Greater Manchester, in the north of England, was moved from Tier 2 “high” restrictions to Tier 3 “very high” by central government. The move, covering a population of nearly 3 million people, was imposed after local Labour Party mayor Andy Burnham was unable to reach a deal with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the financial support available to local business.

Brazil's Sao Paulo Pushes For Mandatory COVID Vaccinations --In September, Brazil's wealthiest and most populous state Sao Paulo went into contract with Chinese vaccine developer Sinovac Biotech, with the expectations to receive 46 million doses of CoronaVac. CoronaVac has been in Phase 3 testing in the South American country since July. On Friday, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said if the COVID-19 vaccine is approved by the National Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA), then mandatory vaccinations would follow, according to the Rio Times. Doria told reporters Friday, Oct. 16, that: "In Sao Paulo, it will be mandatory, except for those with a medical note and a certificate stating that they cannot [take the vaccine]." Just weeks ago, he told other reporters that Sao Paulo "will be one of the first places in the world to vaccinate the public." He said his administration has already obtained 6 million CoronaVac doses for potential distribution.  Citing local media, RT News said Sao Paulo could have the CoronaVac vaccine approved as early as December. The trials are expected to be wrapped up this weekend, with results expected sometime early next week.  Doria has spent the last couple of months blasting President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the public health crisis - accusing him of "politicizing" the vaccine.Bolsonaro recently responded to Doria's comments, saying that the Health Ministry will not make vaccination mandatory. Bolsonaro also cited federal laws that determine it's up to the federal government to decide if vaccinations are mandatory.  Bolsonaro, who routinely downplayed the pandemic, and contracted the virus in July, has been widely criticized by Doria and other critics for incompetence. On Saturday, virus-related deaths in the South American country rose 461 to 153,675. Brazil now registers more than 5,224,362 virus cases. Brazil leads all other BRIC countries in deaths per million inhabitants.

With a half-million COVID cases daily, WHO warns world is at a critical juncture - The fall and winter surge of COVID-19 cases, as predicted, has begun. The number of cases across North America and Europe is rising exponentially in some regions. There have been more than 42.4 million cases of COVID-19 globally, with 1.14 million deaths thus far. On Friday, the number of daily new cases neared the 500,000 mark. Global deaths have consistently tracked above 6,000 four days running. At the World Health Organization Friday press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus ominously warned, “We are at a critical juncture in this pandemic. Particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. The next few months will be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track. Too many countries are seeing an exponential increase in cases and that is now leading to hospitals and ICUs close to or above capacity, and we are still only in October. We urge leaders to take immediate action to prevent further unnecessary deaths, essential health services from collapsing and schools shutting again. As I said it in February and I am repeating it today, ‘This is not a drill.’” He strongly urged that world leaders could still “turn this around.” During the question and answer session, epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove noted that many regions might reach their limits in ICU capacity in the next few weeks across Europe and North America. In what amounted to a plea, she cautioned that countries need to take “an honest assessment” of the situation immediately, utilizing all the data available to make “course corrections and necessary changes” to achieve the goals of reducing transmission and saving lives. Dr. Mike Ryan reinforced these warnings: “We don’t have to see deaths track back to the horrific levels they were as a proportion of all cases as in the springtime. Things have changed, we are better, we are better now. We must prevent transmission. But we also need to focus on reducing the toll, which will rise in the coming days, I have no doubt. But we need to also put more investment in ensuring that our frontline system does not collapse in the face of an ever-increasing caseload of sick patients.” On Thursday, the United States reported 74,301 new cases. This was the fourth-highest total ever and the highest since July 24 when the number of daily cases peaked at 79,000. The seven-day moving average death rate has also edged upwards over 800. More problematic has been the rapid rise in hospitalized patients, which exceeded 41,000 across the country, a 33 percent increase in the last three weeks. Sign up for the WSWS Health Care Workers New

COVID-19: Examining Theories for Africa’s Low Death Rates - As the threat of a COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, many felt a sense of apprehension about what would happen when it reached Africa. Concerns over the combination of overstretched and underfunded health systems and the existing load of infectious and non-infectious diseases often led to it being talked about in apocalyptic terms. However, it has not turned out quite that way. On September 29th, the world passed the one million reported deaths mark (the true figure will of course be higher). On the same day, the count for Africa was a cumulative total of 35,954. Africa accounts for 17% of the global population but only 3.5% of the reported global COVID-19 deaths. All deaths are important, we should not discount apparently low numbers, and of course data collected over such a wide range of countries will be of variable quality, but the gap between predictions and what has actually happened is staggering. There has been much discussion on what accounts for this. As leads of the COVID-19 team in the African Academy of Sciences, we have followed the unfolding events and various explanations put forward. The emerging picture is that in many African countries, transmission has been higher but severity and mortality much lower than originally predicted based on experience in China and Europe. We argue that Africa’s much younger population explains a very large part of the apparent difference. Some of the remaining gap is probably due to under reporting of events but there are a number of other plausible explanations. These range from climatic differences, pre-existing immunity, genetic factors and behavioural differences. Given the enormous variability in conditions across a continent – with 55 member states – the exact contribution of any one factor in a particular environment is likely to vary. But the bottom line is that what appeared at first to be a mystery looks less puzzling as more and more research evidence emerges. The most obvious factor for the low death rates is the population age structure. Across multiple countries the risk of dying of COVID-19 for those aged 80 years or more is around a hundred times that of people in their twenties. This can best be appreciated with a specific example. As of September 30th, the UK had reported 41,980 COVID-19 specific deaths while Kenya, by contrast, had reported 691. The population of the UK is around 66 million with a median age of 40 compared with Kenya’s population of 51 million with a median age of 20 years. Corrected for population size the death toll in Kenya would have been expected to be around 32,000. However if one also corrects for population structure (assumes that the age specific death rates in the UK apply to the population structure of Kenya), we would expect around 5,000 deaths. There is still a big difference between 700 and 5,000; what might account for the remaining gap?There has been no shortage of ideas for other factors that may be contributing.

 Deadly bacteria lurk in coastal waters. Climate change increases the risks. -- For 11 days, Clinton lay in a coma, his organs shutting down. Medical staff informed his wife that his chances of survival were slim. The culprit: an infection caused by a pathogen known as Vibrio vulnificus — often described as a “flesh-eating bacteria.” By the time the hospital treated it, it had done a lot of damage. Vibrio is a group of rod-shaped bacteria found in brackish and balmy coastal waters. It has many species — more than 70 — but only about a dozen make people sick. V. vulnificus is its most deadly strain, killing one of every five people who contract it. For others, its toxins attack flesh, turning infected sores into gaping wounds. Scientists call Vibrio a bellwether for climate change because it flourishes in warm water. As the overheating planet alters the oceans — swelling sea levels and fueling harsher storms — the bacteria are multiplying in places where they already thrived and creeping into places where they never did. That’s sickening more Americans who swim, fish and work in coastal waters.  Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of Vibrio infections from the three most common species — V. vulnificus included — doubling nationally over the 11 years the agency has tracked it in all states, from 433 in 2007 to 897 in 2016. Bruce Gutelius of the CDC’s bacterial-infection monitoring branch attributes that in part to the “warming of coastal waters.”   The summer water temperature has risen steadily over roughly the same period, averaging 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in the 1980s. In the Chesapeake Bay region — a new hotspot — Vibrio infections have increased almost two-fold from 2007 to 2019, according to state data. Warm season temperatures in that time were around 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the previous 25 years. The trend is playing out in nearby Pennsylvania, where the 490 percent surge in its rate of Vibrio infections tops the Eastern seaboard states, federal data shows. Researchers forecast more vibriosis outbreaks in and around bays and tributaries of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia as climate change accelerates. This past summer, an outbreak occurred as far north as Connecticut, where the state health department issued a rare alert after five residents contracted the deadly V. vulnificus bacteria. Meanwhile, in the Carolinas, rising seas and intensifying storms are washing the virulent strains further inland. Since 2007, when the CDC required states to report Vibrio cases, South Carolina has seen a three-fold increase in its incidence rate and North Carolina’s reported rate soared 1.6 times. By 2019, according to more recent state data, the bacteria had sickened at least 550 people in both states.

Significant link found between air pollution and neurological disorders --Air pollution was significantly associated with an increased risk of hospital admissions for several neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias, in a long-term study of more than 63 million older U.S. adults, led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.The study, conducted with colleagues at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, is the first nationwide analysis of the link between fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution and neurodegenerative diseases in the U.S. The researchers leveraged an unparalleled amount of data compared to any previous study of air pollution and neurological disorders.The study will be published online October 19, 2020 in The Lancet Planetary Health."The 2020 report of the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care has added air pollution as one of the modifiable risk factors for these outcomes," said Xiao Wu, doctoral student in biostatistics at Harvard Chan School and co-lead author of the study. "Our study builds on the small but emerging evidence base indicating that long-term PM2.5 exposures are linked to an increased risk of neurological health deterioration, even at PM2.5 concentrations well below the current national standards."

 Polluted air killing half a million babies a year across globe -- Air pollution last year caused the premature death of nearly half a million babies in their first month of life, with most of the infants being in the developing world, data shows.Exposure to airborne pollutants is harmful also for babies in the womb. It can cause a premature birth or low birth weight. Both of these factors are associated with higher infant mortality.Nearly two-thirds of the 500,000 deaths of infants documented were associated with indoor air pollution, particularly arising from solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.The discovery is reported in the State of Global Air 2020 report, which examined data on deaths around the world alongside a growing body of research that links air pollution with health problems. Medical experts have warned for years of the impacts of dirty air on older people and on those with health conditions, but are only beginning to understand the deadly toll on babies in the womb.Katherine Walker, principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute, which published the report, said: “We don’t totally understand what the mechanisms are at this stage, but there is something going on that is causing reductions in baby growth and ultimately birth weight. There is an epidemiological link, shown across multiple countries in multiple studies.”Babies born with a low birth weight are more susceptible to childhood infections and pneumonia. The lungs of pre-term babies can also not be fully developed.“They are born into a high pollution environment, and are more susceptible than children who went to term,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute in the US.Beate Ritz, professor of epidemiology at UCLA, (University of California, Los Angeles), who was not involved with the study, said the indoor air pollution in cities across India, south-east Asia and Africa was comparable to that of Victorian London.“This is not the air pollution we see in modern cities [in the rich world] but that which we had 150 years ago in London and other places, where there were coal fires indoors. Indoor air pollution has not been at the forefront for policymakers, but it should be,” Ritz said.

Air Pollution Responsible for Over 6.6 Million Deaths Worldwide in 2020, Study Finds - An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday. The State of Global Air 2020 looked at the effects of air pollution on health outcomes in 2019 and found that conditions are getting worse, as it moved up from the fifth leading cause of death worldwide to the fourth leading cause. Only high-blood pressure, smoking and poor diet surpass air pollution. The State of Global Air 2020 is a joint collaboration produced annually by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease project. One reason that air pollution moved up in the list of leading causes of death is that this year's report was able to account for infant death due to air pollution. The report noted that roughly half a million babies died to due to poor air quality, with roughly two-thirds of those deaths due to poor indoor air from burning charcoal, wood and animal dung for cooking, according to The Guardian. "We don't totally understand what the mechanisms are at this stage, but there is something going on that is causing reductions in baby growth and ultimately birth weight," said Katherine Walker, principal scientist at the Health Effects Institute, as The Guardian reported. "There is an epidemiological link, shown across multiple countries in multiple studies." India was the worst hit country with 116,000 infant deaths linked to air pollution, while Sub-Saharan Africa saw 236,000 infant deaths due to poor air quality, according to the report, as Agence-France Presse (AFP) noted. Most of the complications were due to low birth weight and premature birth, which leaves a baby's lungs fragile. It is not just babies that need to be protected. Recent studies have also noted that exposure to air pollution for mothers contributes to low birth weight and premature births, according to The Tribune in India. According to the report, the most smog or PM2.5 air pollution for 2019 was in India, followed by Nepal, Niger, Qatar and Nigeria. The report noted that India's air quality has been steadily decreasing since 2010. While most of the 20 most populous countries have decreased air pollution over the last decade, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Japan have seen air pollution increase, as The Hindustan Times reported. Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to 1.67 million deaths in India last year.

Covid Plus Decades of Pollution Are a Nasty Combo for Detroit - Cars rolled slowly down the street, their drivers honking and waving, stopping for brief chats. Theresa Landrum was there to salute her niece, Donyelle Hull, who’d won a touch-and-go battle against the virus—doctors at one point told her son to start planning her funeral. Hull, who’s 51, spent 61 days in Beaumont Hospital and an additional 45 days in rehab learning to walk again.This wasn’t the only welcome-home parade Landrum had been invited to. She counts at least 10 friends and neighbors who’ve recovered from the virus. And she has another list, of those who didn’t make it: a pastor, a state legislator, a neighbor couple who passed away within weeks of each another. “You can’t even grieve,” Landrum says. “You just harden yourself so you don’t get that feeling of hurt.”She doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that so many people she knows have had severe cases of Covid. She attributes it to something quite obvious: the air they breathe. Her ZIP code, 48217, is one of the most polluted in Michigan. And researchers have begun to confirm that pollution can worsen the effects of the illness. A study out of Harvard, for example, has shown that Covid death rates are higher in populations with more exposure to pollutants, and international research has demonstrated that some of the hardest-hit parts of Europe are in especially polluted areas.For decades, Black Americans like Landrum, who’s in her 60s and describes herself as a 48217 environmental-justice activist, have fought to limit industrial emissions in their neighborhoods. More than two dozen industrial sites surround hers. People in 48217 live on average seven fewer years than in the country as a whole, and asthma hospitalization rates in the area are more than twice as high as those of Michigan and about five times higher than those of the U.S. Generations of activists in Southwest Detroit say they’re tired of living under a cloud. They’ve demonstrated, filed petitions, shown up at public hearings, and watched as industry won regulatory victory after regulatory victory. This summer, as the Black Lives Matter protests raged, residents of an overwhelmingly minority Detroit-area neighborhood filed acivil-rights complaint related to the approval of a hazardous-waste storage facility’s ninefold expansion, arguing that pollution is a form of racism, too.

NUS study reveals severe air pollution drives food delivery consumption and plastic waste -When the air outside is bad, office workers are more likely to order food delivery than go out for lunch, which in turn increases plastic waste from food packaging, according to a study by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS). "Plastic waste is a growing global environmental concern. While we see more research on the impact plastic pollution is having on the natural environment, there has been less work trying to understand the human behaviour that drives plastic pollution. This is where our study seeks to contribute - finding a strong causal link between air pollution and plastic waste through the demand for food delivery. Air quality in the urban developing world is routinely poor and in the past decade, the food delivery industry has been growing sharply. The evidence we collected shows a lot of single-use plastic in delivered meals, from containers to carrier bags." The study surveyed the lunch choices of 251 office workers repeatedly over time (each worker for 11 workdays) in three often smog-filled Chinese cities - Beijing, Shenyang and Shijiazhuang - between January and June 2018. To complement the office-worker survey, the researchers also accessed the 2016 Beijing order book of an online food delivery platform, which broadly represented all market segments served by the food delivery industry - collecting observational data on 3.5 million food delivery orders from about 350,000 users.  An estimated 65 million meal containers are discarded each day across China, with office workers contributing over one-half of demand.  Data from the survey and order book were then compared with PM2.5 measurements (fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) during lunchtime periods from the air-monitoring network in all three cities. It was observed that PM2.5 levels during these periods were often well above the 24-hour US National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 35 μg/m³, making pollution highly visible. The researchers were careful to control for confounding factors such as economic activity.Both data sources indicated a strong link between PM2.5 (haze) pollution and food delivery consumption. Correcting for weather and seasonal influences, the firm's order book revealed that a 100 μg/m³ increase in PM2.5 raised food delivery consumption by 7.2 per cent. The impact of a 100 μg/m³ PM2.5 shift on office workers' propensity to order delivery was six times larger, at 43 per cent.

Bottle-Fed Babies May Consume Millions of Microplastic Particles a Day - The process of preparing and mixing a baby bottle formula seems innocuous, but new research finds this common occurrence is actually releasing millions of microplastic particles from the bottle's lining, Wiredreported.Microplastics are particles that are smaller than five millimeters long. Sterilizing and mixing formula may also release trillions of nanoplastic particles, which are billionths of a meter long, Wired reported.The new study published in Nature Food found that the amount of microplastic babies consume is much larger than previous estimates. "We were absolutely gobsmacked," study co-author John Boland told The Guardian. "A study last year by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated adults would consume between 300 and 600 microplastics a day — our average values were on the order of a million or millions.""The numbers are, well, frightening," Deonie Allen, who studies microplastics at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, but wasn't involved in the research, told Wired. "They're bigger than any exposure tests that have been done before for human uptake."The researchers examined the amount of formula that infants up to a year old consumed in 48 global regions. They discovered that, on average, bottle-fed babies were exposed to 1.6 million microplastic particles a day, The Guardian reported."We have to start doing the health studies to understand the implications," Boland told The Guardian. "We're already working with colleagues to look at what buttons in the immune system these particles begin to press."The researchers explained their methodology and results in The Conversation. They used common polypropylene baby bottles, and followed the WHO's 2007 guidelines for preparing baby formula. This involved cleaning, sterilizing and mixing formula. The results were that bottles released up to 16 million particles per liter of water heated to 158 degrees F. The number of particles jumped to 55 million at 203 degrees F. Not only does hotter water shed more microplastics, but so does shaking the bottle, which is a common practice for reconstituting formula. However, the researchers also created a simple four-step method for reducing microplastic exposure, detailed in The Conversation:

  1. Rinse sterilized feeding bottles with cool, sterile water.
  2. Always prepare formula in a non-plastic container.
  3. After formula has cooled to room temperature, transfer it into the cooled, sterilized feeding bottle.
  4. Avoid rewarming prepared formula in plastic containers, especially with a microwave oven.

High levels of microplastics released from infant feeding bottles during formula prep --New research shows that high levels of microplastics (MPs) are released from infant-feeding bottles (IFBs) during formula preparation. The research also indicates a strong relationship between heat and MP release, such that warmer liquids (formula or water used to sterilise bottles) result in far greater release of MPs. In response, the researchers involved - from AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research, TrinityHaus and the Schools of Engineering and Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin - have developed a set of recommendations for infant formula preparation when using plastic IFBs that minimise MP release. Led by Dr Jing Jing Wang, Professor John Boland and Professor Liwen Xiao at Trinity, the team analysed the potential for release of MPs from polypropylene infant-feeding bottles (PP-IFBs) during formula preparation by following international guidelines. They also estimated the exposure of 12-month-old infants to MPs in 48 countries and regions and have just published their findings in the high-profile journal Nature Food.  Key findings

  • PP-IFBs can release up to 16 million MPs and trillions of smaller nanoplastics per litre. Sterilisation and exposure to high temperature water significantly increase microplastic release from 0.6 million to 55 million particles/l when temperature increases from 25 to 95 °C
  • Other polypropylene plastic-ware products (kettles, lunchboxes) release similar levels of MPs
  • The team undertook a global survey and estimated the exposure of 12-month-old infants to microplastics in 48 regions. Following current guidelines1 for infant-feeding bottle sterilisation and feeding formula preparation the average daily exposure level for infants is in excess of 1 million MPs. Oceania, North America and Europe have the highest levels of potential exposure, at 2,100,000, 2,280,000, and 2,610,000 particles/day, respectively
  • The level of microplastics released from PP-IFBs can be significantly reduced by following modified sterilisation and formula preparation procedures

Study Finds Synthetic Clothes Contributed 4,000 Metric Tons of Plastic Microfibers in California - A new study from the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that synthetic clothes released about 4,000 metric tons of plastic microfibers into California's environment in 2019.For context, that's about 80 million plastic rubber ducks in California, or 130,000 times as many stars as there are in the Milky Way galaxy, The Guardian reported. The Guardian received exclusive access to this study, although it has not been peer-reviewed or published.These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed, including "yoga pants, stretchy jeans and fleece jackets" the Guardian reported.To determine how many microfibers are shed in a given year, researchers calculated how many synthetic materials consumers bought with how many loads of laundry people did. The data also calculated how many microfibers were released in each wash. Researchers combined those numbers with public data on sludge and wastewater management in California to reach 4,000 metric tons. These microfibers then make their way into the state's water and land, The Guardian reported.Those numbers might alarm consumers. According to The New York Post, a recent study in PLoS One found that the average person inadvertently consumes more than 5,800 microfiber particles — every year.While wastewater plants have the ability to prevent microfibers from entering waterways, they are ultimately delaying the process. Wastewater treatment facilities tend to combine what they capture with treated sewage, which is eventually spread on agricultural fields. The microfibers then run off back into the waterways, The Guardian reported."So we're changing it from an ocean problem to a land problem," Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at UC Santa Barbara who collaborated on the report, told The Guardian. "Rather than removing the fibers, we've just moved their location." Studies that quantify microplastics in the environment help play a vital role in regulating them. For example,Politico reported that California's State Water Resources Control Board recently approved a decision to make it the first state to define microplastics. The board will propose testing methods by July 2021; it will require water suppliers to report their microplastic levels for four years once a testing protocol is agreed upon. Global production of synthetic fibers around the world is predicted to triple by 2050, The New York Post reported.

New York Will Finally Enforce Its Plastic Bag Ban - New York is finally bagging plastic bags. The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronaviruspandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday. "New York's bag ban has already improved New York's health by cutting down on plastic pollution,"Environmental Advocates NY deputy director Kate Kurera told NBC4 New York. "We look forward to the State beginning enforcement and stores complying with this important law." The new law prohibits most stores from giving out thin plastic shopping bags. They can dispense paper bags, for which counties have the option of charging a five cent fee. Any business caught handing out the banned plastic bags will face a fine, according to NY1.Enforcement of the ban was held back in part by the coronavirus pandemic, as several stores actually banned shoppers from bringing their own reusable bags when the spread of COVID-19 was at its height in the state.But the new law has also faced fierce opposition from plastic bag makers and convenience store owners, who brought a lawsuit challenging it. These groups have argued that the ban will bankrupt them. American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance director Zachary Taylor told The Associated Press that the law was "unworkable" and it would be harder for smaller stores to acquire paper bags during the pandemic.

Hormone-Mimicking Chemicals Harm Fish Now—and Their Unexposed Offspring Later - Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, is the first of its kind in a fish that can live in freshwater, brackish water or salt water, and suggests that compounds in pesticides and birth control that pollute waterways are not only harming fish living there now, but their offspring and the subsequent generation as well. The results are troublesome as the negative effects seen in fish offspring—including reduced survival and reproduction problems—could lead to population level declines over time."These effects can carry over into indirectly exposed fish and those not exposed at all," Bethany DeCourten, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral consultant at the University of California Davis' Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, told EHN. The research offers the latest evidence of the deeply embedded biological problems for humans and animals exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which mimic natural hormones—that are pervasive in our environment.  "These findings suggest that single-generation toxicity testing may not be adequate to determine the effects of these chemicals on long-term population viability," the authors wrote.

Trump Admin Is Rushing Harmful Regulatory Rollbacks as Election Nears - With President Donald Trump's re-election very much in doubt, his administration is rushing to ram through regulatory rollbacks that could adversely affect millions of Americans, the environment, and the ability of Joe Biden—should he win—to pursue his agenda or even undo the damage done over the past four years.Reporting by the New York Times details how the administration is cutting corners as it scrambles to enact as much of its agenda as possible before ceding power on January 20 if Trump loses the election. Required public comment periods and detailed analyses, according to the Times, are being eschewed in favor of streamlined approval processes that have left even staunch deregulation defenders sounding the alarm. Russell Vought, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the Times that the president has always "worked quickly... to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations."However, critics are warning that some of the proposed changes are being rushed through with insufficient regard to the harm they might cause. Some of the issues that are raising red flags include:

  • Refusing to lower limits on dangerous particulate and ozone pollution, which cause thousands of annual premature deaths.
  • Allowing so-called "bomb trains" that transport highly combustible liquefied natural gas on freight trains.
  • Determining when workers can be classified as employees or independent contractors.
  • Exempting certain commercial drivers from mandatory hour limits and rest periods.
  • Placing limits on how science is used in the air pollution rule-making process.
  • Expanding regulation of immigrants by requiring citizenship applicants to submit biometric data, by forcing sponsors of immigrants to stay off welfare and prove their financial independence.

In response to the reporting, critics of the administration like writer Matthew Kressel said that it helps make clear that if the Republicans in the White House cannot win reelection, they'll "scorch the earth before they go."And Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, tweeted: "I think people underestimate the amount of time and energy that is going to be needed just to climb out from under the mountain of shit this administration leaves behind."

Ex-EPA aide's suit claims retaliation over Pruitt scandals -- Wednesday, October 21, 2020 -- A former senior EPA official is suing the agency as well as the Department of Energy over alleged retaliation after he raised concerns about ex-Administrator Scott Pruitt's excessive spending and mismanagement. Kevin Chmielewski, once a top political aide at EPA, filed a lawsuit yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He claims EPA violated his free speech and due process rights by removing him from the agency while DOE did the same by refusing to hire him. This was done for "retaliatory purposes," according to his complaint. John Kolar and other attorneys with the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group, submitted Chmielewski's lawsuit yesterday. Along with the two federal agencies, he also named EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette as defendants in the case. Chmielewski confirmed to E&E News he filed the lawsuit yesterday but declined to comment further. EPA spokesman James Hewitt told E&E News, "We can't comment on pending litigation." Press officials at DOE didn't respond to questions from E&E News for this story. Chmielewski has been a thorn in the Trump EPA's side for some time now. A vocal critic of Pruitt and his top aides at the agency, he expressed worries about Pruitt's travel and office expenses with reporters as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Pruitt resigned from EPA in July 2018 under a crush of ethics scandals. Chmielewski's lawsuit said he "exhausted his administrative remedies" with the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board. Both offices found they couldn't help the former EPA official because they lacked jurisdiction over a political appointee.

Crystal clean water? Not if Trump can help it | TheHill -- For most of the past 48 years, the Clean Water Act produced dramatic improvements in the quality of our nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters. But problems persist: In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that 46 percent of rivers and streams were in poor condition, contaminated with pollutants. That was also true of 21 percent of lakes and 14 percent of coastal waters.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s unrelenting rollback of clean water protections is stalling progress toward fixing these problems and endangering a half-century’s worth of gains.   One core element of our nation’s commitment to clean water is federal funding to states to construct sewage treatment plants. For FY 2021, the president proposed to cut this funding by 32 percent. This cut would come at a time when the need for clean water infrastructure is estimated to be $271 billion. Worse, this reduction is in the context of a potentially devastating overall cut to the EPA budget in FY 2021 of 27 percent.   Enforcement is essential to meeting the Clean Water Act’s goal of “fishable and swimmable” waterways. But a new study looked at 14 years of data and reported a 70 percent decrease in Clean Water Act prosecutions under Trump. Report authors concluded, “It is hard to overstate the significance” of this decrease, speculating that one explanation may be “uncertainty about the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act” resulting from Trump administration regulatory changes to narrow the scope of waters protected by the act.Effective enforcement is not the only victim of the Trump administration’s changes to the scope of the waters protected by the act. Some 117 millionAmericans get their drinking water from small streams that may be left unprotected following revisions to regulations taking effect this past June. In February, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board wrote that the revision “decreases protection for our Nation's waters and does not provide a scientific basis in support of its consistency with the objective of restoring and maintaining 'the chemical, physical and biological integrity' of these waters."  The original Clean Water Act allowed states to go further than the federal government to protect waters under their jurisdiction. But the Trump administration recently finalized rules cutting back state authority to review and approve federal permits or licenses that allow pollution of state waters.  Trump’s support for the coal industry also impacts water quality. Coal-fired power plants threaten water bodies with discharges that include arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium and cadmium. In August, the Trump administration finalized rules to extend timelines for compliance and exempt facilities that are closing, repowering or switching to natural gas by 2028. Other rule changes would extend timelines and potentially weaken standards for coal ash disposal sites, which pose a risk to groundwater and nearby waterways.

Will loopholes in toxic discharge rule hurt regional waters? --The Trump administration’s latest move to ease regulatory requirements on the nation’s coal-burning power plants is expected to have limited impact in the Chesapeake Bay region because several facilities discharging toxic pollution have already agreed to clean up or decided to shut down their operations. But environmental groups and at least one state regulator are still worried that the weaker standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could lead to more toxics in the region’s waterways over the next several years. The EPA announced in late August that it had revised a 2015 Obama era regulation to give coal plants more leeway and more time to curtail discharges of toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and selenium into lakes, streams and rivers. Agency officials said the new rule would save the power industry $140 million a year while resulting in a greater cleanup. The revisions do so by “leveraging newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and taking a flexible, phased-in implementation approach,” according to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Critics, though, said the EPA has carved some big loopholes in the Obama rule that will allow plants to continue and even increase their discharges of toxic contaminants. “The EPA is making it easier for the most-polluting and worst-run coal-fired plants to dump poisons into the waterways our communities depend upon,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The EPA’s revision of its Effluent Limitations Guidelines, as the discharge rule is called, is among dozens of regulatory holdups or rollbacks initiated by the Trump administration, many of which have been challenged in court. This one is significant, Holleman said, because by the EPA’s own estimate at least 30% of all by toxic water pollution discharged by industries comes from coal-fired power plants. The technology to prevent and treat the toxic discharges is “widely available,” he said. The 2015 rule, imposed after the EPA was sued by several environmental groups, required coal plants to treat toxic contaminants in wastewater generated when they wash out their air pollution scrubbers. It also required plants to stop discharging wastewater that contains ash from coal-burning, which also contains toxins. The original rule would have required most plants to install water-pollution controls by 2020. But the EPA put it on hold in 2017, saying it intended to revise it. “If EPA were following the law, the coal industry would be close to eliminating its toxic wastewater by now,” said Abel Russ, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

 California Ranchers and Activists Face Off Over a Federal Plan to Cull a Beloved Tule Elk Herd -- Known for its seaside bluffs and dense summer fog, Point Reyes National Seashore is a landscape of rolling coastal prairie blending into forests and marshlands, a sanctuary for hundreds of plants and animals and a destination for migrating birds and marine life.   Just a one-hour drive from San Francisco, the 71,000-acre peninsula serves as a haven for native California species like snowy plovers, red-legged frogs, coho salmon and tule elk.  The tule elk are one of the primary attractions of the park, which sees over 2 million visitors annually, and they can be easy to spot in the zones where they're preserved.   The elks' beauty and majesty is hard to miss; one frequent visitor to the park described their strange, high-pitched bugle as "otherworldly." Once on the brink of extinction, tule elk were reintroduced into Point Reyes in 1978. Now, hundreds of elk live in three herds throughout the park.  But Point Reyes is also home to about 20 ranches that have operated in the park since the mid-1800s. And the tule elk are at the center of a major battle between ranchers, who say the elk are overpopulated and disruptive to their operations, and animal and environmental activists, who think that ranching has degraded the land, leaving it to resemble a "lunar landscape," as one activist said. The park, the activists argue, should prohibit ranching and preserve the land entirely as wilderness to protect the elk and other species.   The tule elk in Point Reyes have virtually no natural predators, so management of their population is left up to the National Park Service, which is in the process of implementing a wildlife management plan that includes killing elk in one of the three herds to control their numbers, a process known as culling.  One of the prime considerations for how to manage the tule elk is how their numbers affect the ranchers, who sold their land to the government when the park was established in 1962. Many stayed on the land and continued ranching under renewable five-year permits.

Iowa derecho in August was most costly thunderstorm disaster in U.S. history -  No single thunderstorm event in modern times — not even a tornado — has wrought as much economic devastation as the derecho that slammed the nation’s Corn Belt on Aug. 10, based on analyses from the public and private sectors. The storm complex, blamed for four deaths, hit Cedar Rapids, Iowa, particularly hard, cutting power to almost the entire city of 133,000 people, and damaging most of its businesses and homes. In an October update to its database of billion-dollar weather disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated damages from the August derecho, which raced from Iowa to Indiana, at $7.5 billion. This includes agricultural impacts that are still being analyzed, so the total may be revised, said Adam Smith, who manages the database.  The derecho’s financial toll exceeds that of nine of this year’s record 10 landfalling U.S. hurricanes and tropical storms. The exception is Hurricane Laura, which struck Louisiana in late August and caused an estimated $14 billion in damage. Including the derecho, the U.S. has been hit by a record-tying 16 billion-dollar weather disasters this year through September. A derecho is a fast-moving, violent wind event associated with a thunderstorm complex. One common definition specifies that it must produce “continuous or intermittent” damage along a path at least 60 miles wide and 400 miles long, with frequent gusts of at least 58 mph and several well-separated gusts of at least 75 mph. Parts of five Iowa counties were struck by wind gusts estimated at 110 to 140 mph.  “To have a Midwest city endure [such] wind speeds, and also see such a devastating impact to a large volume of regional crops, is almost unbelievable,” Bowen said. “I don’t think most of the country truly realizes how severe the event ended up being.”  Derecho winds typically last about 10 to 20 minutes at any one spot. In contrast, the 30- to 60-minute duration of severe gusts in the hardest-hit areas Aug. 10 was much more comparable to the passage of a hurricane eyewall than a tornado, whose winds typically last only a few seconds to a minute or two. In Cedar Rapids alone, more than 1,000 housing units were deemed unlivable in the week after the storm, according to the Gazette. Hundreds of other homes were damaged. Iowa state climatologist Justin Glisan highlighted the scope of agricultural impacts in a September webinar. According to initial estimates, more than 3.5 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans were affected in Iowa, or about 20 percent of the state’s total farmland.

October Snow Sets Records for Some, and More Is on the Way - Snow that has blanketed parts of the northern Rockies, northern Plains, upper Midwest and northern New England set October records in multiple locations, and more snow is on the way through early next week, possibly as far south as Texas.  We're only about a month into autumn, but in the last week a colder pattern in parts of the country has reminded us that winter is fast approaching.  Minneapolis-St. Paul set the most recent October snowfall record after piling up 7.9 inches on Tuesday during Winter Storm Abigail, as named by The Weather Channel. That's the heaviest snowstorm on record so early in the season in the Twin Cities.  It was also the heaviest snowstorm so early in the fall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where 7 inches was recorded.  Both Eau Claire and Rhinelander, Wisconsin, also set their October snowstorm of record Tuesday, picking up 6.9 and 6.1 inches, respectively.  Montana has been the hardest hit since last week. Great Falls has picked up 15.6 inches of snow since Friday and set a number of October snowfall records, including:

  • -Heaviest calendar-day October snowfall: 8.2 inches Sunday
  • -Greatest October snow depth: 10 inches Monday, which topped previous record set last year on Oct. 9.
  • -Earliest-in-season 10-inch snow depth, which beat the previous record set Nov. 9, 2012.

Given the southward expansion of cold air, unusually early first snow of the season could fall farther south early next week, from parts of western Texas and northwest Oklahoma into Kansas and Missouri.  Coincidentally, parts of the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Arkansas also picked up a freakish early snow late last October. The October 24, 2019, thundersnow event in Amarillo, Texas, was their heaviest October snowstorm in 101 years. In some of these areas, the first snow usually doesn't occur until late November or December. Here's a look back at some of the other noteworthy snowfalls since this past weekend. Billings has picked up just over a foot of snow since Saturday. Temperatures the previous weekend there hit 85 degrees. Parts of Iowa were blanketed by two rounds of snow Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, Des Moines picked up its second earliest 1-inch-plus snowfall on record since 1885.  On Monday, a thin band of heavy snow parked over parts of central and eastern Iowa and dumped 6 to 9 inches of snow in some north Des Moines suburbs. It was the snowiest October day on record in Ankeny.  In eastern Iowa, 2 to 5 inches of snow fell in Cedar Rapids on Monday and blanketed debris from the mid-August derecho, the costliest single-day thunderstorm event to hit the U.S. in 40 years.  Other places that picked up their first snow of the season included Omaha, Nebraska; Fargo, North Dakota; parts of southern Wisconsin; and parts ofnorthern New England.  In the map below, you can see the areas that have picked up at least light accumulations of snowfall in the past seven days.

Weather-related power outages are increasing nationwide - — It's not just your perception, the number of power outages is increasing, as storms wreak havoc on the aging electrical grid. New research conducted by Climate Central backs up what many of us feel we have been experiencing. While New England is dealing with more frequent outages, nationwide they are increasing too. These outages affect millions of people and cost the economy billions of dollars each year. The analysis looks at power outage data since 2000, through the Department of Energy. Nationally, there has been a 67 percent increase in major outages, defined as 50,000 customers or more, from weather events. 34 states and the District of Columbia have had increases in major power outages from weather events. That increase has been largest right here in the northeast, followed by the southwest and southern Great Plains. There were a total of eight major, weather-related outages in the first 10 years of this century, from 2000 to 2009. In the most recent decade, there have been 25. In New Hampshire, the increase is even more drastic. There were just three major weather outages in the first ten years; 23 occurred in the most recent ten years. Credit: NCM Power outages are not only a nuisance and economically disruptive - they have the potential to become life-threatening, especially in a pandemic. With much of our grid above ground - susceptible to wind, heavy snow and ice, it requires a continued effort to make it more resilient.

Weeks of flooding leave 155 people dead in Nigeria - At least 155 people have been killed and 25 000 displaced after heavy rains and floods started affecting Nigeria in September.Torrential rainfall, river, and flash floods since September have cumulatively impacted 192 594 people across 22 Nigerian states, IFRC reported. 155 people have lost their lives, 826 were injured and 24 134 displaced.The overflowing Benue and Niger rivers caused severe floods in Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Sokoto, and Zamfara states, killing 57 people, affecting 91 254 and displacing 22 357.According to the Red Cross, the floods were a result of heavy rainfall in river catchments along with dam releases in neighboring countries of Niger, Cameroon, and Benin.Jigawa State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) said the state has experienced its worst flood in 32 years. More than 2 million tons of rice crops have been destroyed -- a quarter of the country's projected harvest.Officials could not give the exact number of farmlands and houses that were destroyed by the flood but said the damage is unprecedented.They fear that the situation may worsen the country's food insufficiency and lead to a further price hike.

444 dead, 101 missing in monsoon-related disasters in Nepal - A total of 444 people died while 101 others went missing due to various monsoon-related natural disasters since April 2020 in Nepal, the Natural Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) said. The calamities include floods, landslides, and lightning strikes, which also resulted in major losses of properties and livestock.Since the arrival of monsoon rains in early April, 444 Nepalis have lost their lives, 101 went missing, and 739 were injured in floods, landslides, and lightning across the country.Most of the fatalities were caused by mudslides, which claimed 295 lives, left 64 missing, 223 injured, and 439 livestock lost. Lightning claimed 65 lives, injured 213 people, and killed 696 livestock.Floods resulted in 42 casualties, 32 others missing, 11 injured, and 272 livestock lost. Fires triggered by severe weather also contributed to the number as 10 people were killed and 144 were hurt.A total of 1 755 livestock perished in the disasters. NDRRMA added that damages amounted to around 820 million Nepalese rupees or about 7 million dollars.

At least 90 dead, 32 missing and 5 million affected as more floods and landslides hit central Vietnam - Floods and landslides triggered by severe weather have claimed at least 90 lives, left 32 missing, and affected up to five million people in central Vietnam over the last two weeks, the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control reported Monday, October 19, 2020. The recent deaths occurred Sunday, October 18, when a mudslide hit the barracks in Quang Tri, killing at least 14 military personnel and leaving eight others missing. Officials said this could be the country's largest military loss in peacetime. A mudslide hit the barracks of a unit of Vietnam's 4th Military Region in Quang Tri Province, killing at least 14 military personnel. The incident happened just days after a previous landslide killed 13 people in the neighboring province of Thua Thien Hue. "We had another sleepless night," deputy defense minister Phan Van Giang told the media. The government, confirming the fatalities, said they have "never lost so many military members, including two generals and high ranking officials, in natural disasters." "There have been four to five landslides, exploding like bombs, and it feels like the whole mountain is about to collapse," commune vice chairman Ha Ngoc Duong told VN Express, a state-run news outlet. Mudslide survivor Pham Tan An said he felt "completely powerless" after seeing his comrades buried under the rubble. As of Monday, October 19, at least 12 000 people have been displaced, nearly 45 000 households remain affected, and about 147 houses and more than 70 schools have been damaged or destroyed in Quang Tri alone. Overall, 32 people are still missing.

Severe weather claims 22 lives, affects 16 657 people across Mozambique - (videos) Severe weather claims 22 lives, affects 16 657 people across Mozambique At least 22 people have lost their lives and 16 657 have been affected by natural calamities caused by severe weather in Mozambique since the beginning of October 2020. 16 657 people from 3 695 households have been affected by floods in the provinces of Manica, Maputo, Niassa, Nampula, according to Government spokesperson and Deputy Justice Minister, Filimao Suaze. In Tete Province, the Zambezi River overflowed as a result of heavy rains, affecting areas in Doa. In Rapale, at least 13 people lost their lives in flash floods after the Meluli River burst its banks on October 12. Eight others died as a result of collapsed buildings due to strong winds and heavy rain. One person died after being struck by lightning. Suaze added that there had been instances of hailstorm and flooding in low-lying areas of Tete due to the overflowing of the Cahora Bassa Dam. Torrential rains have damaged 91 classrooms, three health units, and 14 places of worship.

Tropical Storm "Epsilon" forms, expected to be at or near hurricane strength near Bermuda -Tropical Storm "Epsilon" formed at 15:00 UTC on October 19, 2020, breaking the record for the earliest 26th named Atlantic storm. Epsilon formed 34 days before Tropical Storm "Delta" in 2005. Epsilon is the 3rd named storm in the Atlantic since October 2. The last time the Atlantic had 3 or more named storms in October was in 2012.According to the NHC forecast, Epsilon is expected to be near or at hurricane strength when it approaches Bermuda late this week.While it's too soon to determine the exact details of its track and intensity near the island, there is a risk of direct impacts from wind, rainfall and storm surge on Bermuda. There are currently no coastal warnings or watches in effect but interests there should closely monitor the progress of this storm, NHC forecasters warn. At 15:00 UTC on Monday, October 19, the center of Epsilon was located 1 185 km (735 miles) SE of Bermuda. Epsilon is currently a stationary storm, with little overall motion expected through tonight (AST).Its maximum sustained winds were 65 km/h (40 mph) and minimum central pressure estimated at 1 000 hPa.Gradual strengthening is forecast during the next 72 hours, and Epsilon is forecast to be at or near hurricane strength by early Thursday, October 22. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 220 km (140 miles) primarily to the northeast and east of the center.

Epsilon rapidly intensified into a major hurricane on its way to Bermuda --Epsilon rapidly strengthened into a major hurricane on its way to Bermuda and is now slowly weakening. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Bermuda where tropical storm conditions are expected intermittently through this evening (AST).

  • According to the NHC, tropical storm conditions are expected intermittently on Bermuda through this evening (AST), when Epsilon is forecast to make its closest approach east of the island.
  • Dangerous and potentially life-threatening surf and rip currents are expected along the coasts of Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, the Leeward Islands, the east coast of the United States, and Atlantic Canada during the next couple of days.

At 09:00 UTC on October 21, Epsilon's center was located about 415 km (260 miles) ESE of Bermuda. Its maximum sustained winds have decreased from 185 km/h (115 mph) to 175 km/h (110 mph) and additional weakening is forecast during the next few days.Epsilon was moving NW at 11 km/h (7 mph) and had an estimated minimum central pressure of 955 hPa.A turn toward the north-northwest is expected later today, followed by a northward motion tonight through Friday night, October 23, and an acceleration toward the northeast on Saturday.On the forecast track, the center of Epsilon is forecast to make its closest approach to, but well to the east of, Bermuda later this evening (AST).Large swells generated by Epsilon will affect Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, the Leeward Islands, the east coast of the United States, and Atlantic Canada during the next few days. These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Epsilon is expected to merge with a frontal zone and become extratropical by Tuesday, October 27.

Powerful Storm Barbara hits Portugal and Spain - An impressive deep cyclone named Storm Barbara by the Spanish meteorological agency is moving into Europe on October 20, 2020, bringing powerful winds and very heavy rainfall. The first to feel its effects are Portugal and Spain where Red and Orange alerts are in effect today. Barbara is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to Portugal and Spain on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 20 and 21. The rain will then spread further inland into France, where Orange and Yellow warnings now cover most of the country. While no major impacts are expected in the United Kingdom, Barbara will bring some rain, likely heavy to the southeast and possibly central England on October 21.

Nearly Half of the U.S. Is in Drought. It May Get Worse. - NYT - Nearly half of the continental United States is gripped by drought, government forecasters said Thursday, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the Southwest and South. Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a lack of late-summer rain in the Southwest had expanded “extreme and exceptional” dry conditions from West Texas into Colorado and Utah, “with significant drought also prevailing westward through Nevada, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.” Much of the Western half of the country is now experiencing drought conditions and parts of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast are as well, Mr. Halpert said during a teleconference announcing NOAA’s weather outlook for this winter. This is the most widespread drought in the continental United States since 2013, he said, covering more than 45 percent of the Lower 48 states. “The winter forecast doesn’t bode well,” Mr. Halpert added. Warmer and drier conditions are expected across the South and Southwest and drought is likely to develop in parts of Georgia and Florida and in Central and Southern California, where the dry conditions could add to the risk of wildfire in what has already been a catastrophic year for fires in California.  The American Southwest has been mired in drought for most of the past two decades. Studies suggest that the region is experiencing an emerging megadrought, similar to some periods in the past 1,200 years, when droughts persisted for 40 years or longer. Mr. Halpert said the likelihood of worsening drought this winter can be linked to La Niña, which developed in August and is expected to persist at least through the winter. La Niña occurs every two to seven years on average when the upper layer of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean cools to below-normal temperatures. This leads to changes in atmospheric circulation that can affect weather around the globe. In the United States during a La Niña, the South is usually warmer and drier, the East Coast is warmer and much of the North is cooler and wetter. The current NOAA forecast is for a moderate to strong La Niña, as measured by the difference in sea-surface temperatures from normal. In a stronger La Niña the effects on the United States would be expected to be greater, Mr. Halpert said. But he emphasized that the agency’s winter outlook was based on probabilities, and that sometimes during La Niña or El Niño the expected impacts do not materialize.

Cameron Peak Fire: Colorado is fighting its largest wildfire in history - The Cameron Peak Fire near Rocky Mountain National Park has become the largest wildfire in Colorado history, growing to almost 207,000 acres this week. The fire was 55 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon. It was quickly joined this week by the East Troublesome Fire to its southwest. Over a period of 24 hours, the East Troublesome Fire grew six times in size to more than 125,000 acres as of Thursday. The blaze, which is burning at an elevation of 9,000 feet and across both sides of the continental divide, forced Rocky Mountain National Park to close. It’s now the fourth-largest fire in Colorado history.  The previous record-holder before Cameron Peak was the 137,000-acre Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction, Colorado. That fire also ignited this year and was declared 100 percent contained in September. It only held on to its record as Colorado’s largest wildfire for seven weeks. Three of the four largest wildfires in state history have ignited just since July.  Yet another fast-moving wildfire ignited in Boulder County on Saturday and quickly spread across almost 10,000 acres, forcing at least 3,000 people to evacuate. Known as theCalWood Fire, it’s now the largest wildfire on record for Boulder County. Then on Sunday, theLefthand Canyon Fire started just outside of Boulder. Beyond the threat from the flames, these various wildfires have sent dangerous, smoky air into cities like Denver and Fort Collins, triggering air quality alerts off and on for months.  Together, the recent blazes in Colorado add up to an unusually long, late, and severe wildfire season, and it’s not likely to let up anytime soon.  “We still have dry, windy conditions pushing these fires.”  It’s an increasingly familiar story. Like the epic wildfires this year across California, Oregon, and Washington, the wildfires in Colorado arose amid a year of extreme heat and dryness.  Heat waves baked the state this summer and persisted into the fall. The high temperatures increased the evaporation of moisture from vegetation, leaving plants dry and ready to burn. There was also less rainfall. Over the past month, precipitation was less than 10 percent of what is typical.  That aridity has left almost every type of vegetation in the state primed to burn, as was evident in the Cameron Peak Fire. “It burned all the way from fir forest, ponderosa pine, mixed conifer. It’s burned through some grasslands and shrublands as well,” Hoffman said. “It’s burned through areas that have previously burned, like during the Bobcat Fire. It’s burned through bark-beetle-affected areas. So a really big mix of fuels that this fire has burned through over the last 60 days.”

Colorado wildfire jumps U.S. Continental Divide, threatens mountain towns (Reuters) - An explosive Colorado wildfire that has already forced the evacuation of several mountain communities and the closure of Rocky Mountain National Park blackened another 45,000 acres (18,200 hectares) on Thursday as it jumped the U.S. Continental Divide. The East Troublesome Fire, which broke out on Oct. 14, has now burned 170,000 acres (68,800 hectares) and was only about 5% contained as of Thursday afternoon, incident commander Noel Livingston said at a news briefing. The flames have spread into Rocky Mountain National Park, prompted the National Park Service to close the entire 415 square-mile (668-square-km) expanse and the blaze has become the second-largest on record in Colorado. The closure of the national park is in addition to more than one million acres of wilderness in Colorado that the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and state authorities have deemed off limits to the public.The National Weather Service was forecasting continued hot, dry, windy conditions in much of Colorado, but snow and much colder weather are expected this weekend. Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin has ordered evacuations in the area, including the tiny lakeside community of Grand Lake, which has a population of about 470. The fire is among the latest in a brutal fire season following a long period of drought across Colorado. The cause remains under investigation.

Record wildfires continue to expand across Colorado - Colorado has become a major hotspot for record-breaking wildfires in the Western United States in the 2020 fire season with flames reaching the major population centers of Boulder and Fort Collins. As of Thursday, eleven different fires have been burning across the state razing over 550,000 acres and dozens of homes. Thousands of residents are under evacuation orders. Red flag warnings have been in effect throughout the state as unusually warm temperatures for the month of October coupled with low humidity and high winds create the conditions for the sudden eruption of fires. In some areas, firefighters on the front lines have been unable to use helicopters and other aircraft to combat the spreading fires due to wind gusts of over 35 mph. Terrified residents have posted pictures and video of ominous scenes of billowing black smoke barreling towards their homes with the orange haze of the fires underneath. “It’s getting worse and worse. It’s bad. It’s really bad,” a Grand County resident exclaimed in a video she posted online. On Thursday morning, the East Troublesome Fire in northern Colorado exploded to over 125,000 acres burned, a six-fold increase from the night before with a reported 19,000 acres burned. The fire, currently only 5 percent contained, is now the fourth largest in state history. The sudden eruption forced the area around the town of Grand Lake to evacuate with police officers knocking door-to-door by 6 p.m. Wednesday night. On Thursday, Rocky Mountain National Park announced that it would close due to the fires and hazardous air quality with a pre-evacuation order being sent to towns in the surrounding area. “It was really an amazing amount of fire spread yesterday,” said Fire Incident Commander Noel Livingston during a Thursday morning briefing and noted that the fire had spread 20 miles overnight and is burning at an estimated 6,000 acres per hour. “The fire is growing faster than we can catch it right now.” Despite over 300 firefighters battling the blazes across the state, meteorologists are expecting a cold front to approach the area accompanied by wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Officials are depending on a stronger front of cool and humid air over the weekend which may produce snowfall that could offer some relief. Still, officials are projecting that the fires will not be extinguished until November 10. At the current trajectory, officials fear the possibility that the East Troublesome Fire could collide with the Cameron Peak Fire a few dozen miles north in the Roosevelt National Forest. The Cameron Peak Fire in Larimer County near Fort Collins has been burning since August 13 and has become the largest fire in state history at more than 200,000 acres burned. The fire eclipses the previous record also set this year at the end of July by the Pine Gulch Fire near the city of Grand Junction with over 139,000 acres burned.

Colorado Fire Grows By Over 100,000 Acres In 1 Day, Hits Rocky Mountain National Park -  Already battling the largest fire in state history, Colorado is now dealing with another blaze that grew by more than 100,000 acres in a day.The flames traveled east, fueled by beetle-eaten pine trees and dry winds. Hundreds evacuated. The fire jumped the Continental Divide. Conditions forced the closing of Rocky Mountain National Park.The fire, called East Troublesome after a nearby creek, has spread to more than 125,000 acres. Smoke plumes stretched 40,000 feet in the air. The nearby town of Grand Lake was forced to evacuate.East Troublesome is now the fourth-largest wildfire in Colorado records. It started on Oct. 14, but overnight Wednesday it quadrupled in size."The growth that you see on this fire is unheard of," Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said during a Thursday press conference. "We plan for the worst. This is the worst of the worst of the worst. And no matter how we look at it, we can't control Mother Nature."The cause is under investigation.Three of the five largest fires in Colorado history are from 2020. The state has battled its largest fire in history for more than two months just west of Fort Collins. The fire, named Cameron Peak, continues to burn and has spread to about 207,000 acres. It is 55% contained."By the end of September, nearly 100% of the state was experiencing some level of drought, up from 51% since the beginning of the calendar year," according to a monthly report from the Colorado Climate Center.There have been no reported injuries or deaths, but some residents disregarded mandatory evacuation orders Wednesday, Schroetlin said. Numerous structures were destroyed Wednesday, he said.He had "no idea" of the extent of damages, Schroetlin said. As of Thursday afternoon, the East Troublesome Fire was 5% contained.High wind and low humidity conditions will make it easy for the fire to spread further, said Noel Livingston, incident commander for Pacific Northwest Team Three."We anticipate another day of large fire growth," he said. It's possible the East Troublesome Fire could connect with the Cameron Peak Fire, Livingston said. Cameron Peak has also burned into Rocky Mountain National Park.

 Colorado Wildfire Grows by 6,000 Acres an Hour - Thousands of homes were evacuated Wednesday after a Colorado wildfire exploded in size, growing at a rate of 6,000 acres per hour.The East Troublesome fire had been burning since Oct. 14, but suddenly took off Wednesday in a more erratic manner than even worst-case-scenario predictions had anticipated, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said, as The Colorado Sun reported. The fire had grown to 125,600 acres by Thursday morning and 170,163 acres by Thursday evening, making it the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history. It is only five percent contained, according to InciWeb."The growth that you see on this fire is unheard of," Schroetlin said during a Thursday press conference reported by NPR. "We plan for the worst. This is the worst of the worst of the worst. And no matter how we look at it, we can't control Mother Nature." Schroetlin said Thursday morning that there was "lots of structure loss," according to The Colorado Sun, though no official tally of damage has been reported. As many as five people were unaccounted for by Thursday evening. However, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries. The fast-moving fire was first driven by high winds into the town of Grand Lake Wednesday night, Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported. "It was basically out of a movie," retired newscaster Ernie Bjorkman told CPR. "It was a firestorm in downtown Grand Lake. Smoke and embers flying around. It was just a chaotic scene. We locked the door and said, 'hopefully, house, we'll see you when we get back.' "  The fire then crossed the Continental Divide by 1:15 pm Thursday, according to The Colorado Sun. It also entered Rocky Mountain National Park, forcing it to close.

PG&E Ripped for Prioritizing Cleanup in Areas With Low Fire Risk (CN) — Pacific Gas and Electric has prioritized wildfire-prevention work based on what makes it look good rather than what actually reduces risks in the highest fire-threat areas, a court-appointed monitor warned in a recent memo. “Overall, we believe the inspections and related analyses have identified material shortcomings in PG&E’s progress, as compared to its stated goals regarding wildfire risk reduction,” independent monitor Mark Filip wrote in an Oct. 16 letter made public Tuesday. The letter was sent to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who oversees PG&E’s criminal probation in a case related to the fatal 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. PG&E said it prioritizes wildfire-prevention work based on a risk model that assigns a risk score to each high fire-threat zone in its service area. In 2019, PG&E identified 100 circuits, or stretch of power lines, as having a much higher risk score than 596 other areas. But approximately 59% of its enhanced vegetation management (EVM) work was performed in lower-risk circuits that year, according to the monitor. This year the monitor team found 4.82 missed hazards per mile, suggesting that improvement has “at best, plateaued, and perhaps actual regression has occurred.” On Oct. 4, a monitor’s team inspector found a tree PG&E was supposed to remove in mid-August with leaves singed from contact with a power line. It failed to remove the tree twice “seemingly because of a series of process breakdowns.” After the monitor alerted PG&E, the tree was removed within 24 hours. PG&E also failed to meet its internal target for completing enhanced climbing inspections for 967 transmission structures in high fire-threat areas by Aug. 31. That goal would have allowed PG&E to address potential problems before the peak fire season started in late September. PG&E performed zero enhanced inspections of those towers by the deadline. At the same time, it conducted 1,000 climbing inspections on transmission towers outside the high-threat areas by Aug. 31. That it prioritized enhanced tower inspections in lower-risk areas while neglecting ones in higher-risk zones demonstrates the company’s “shortcomings in executing work in a manner that prioritizes wildfire risk reduction,” Filip wrote.

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record - For the first time since records began, the main nursery of Arctic sea ice in Siberia has yet to start freezing in late October.The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea has been caused by freakishly protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters, say climate scientists who warn of possible knock-on effects across the polar region.Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice.The trapped heat takes a long time to dissipate into the atmosphere, even at this time of the year when the sun creeps above the horizon for little more than an hour or two each day.Graphs of sea-ice extent in the Laptev Sea, which usually show a healthy seasonal pulse, appear to have flat-lined. As a result, there is a record amount of open sea in the Arctic.“The lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region,” said Zachary Labe, a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University. He says this is in line with the expected impact of human-driven climate change.“2020 is another year that is consistent with a rapidly changing Arctic. Without a systematic reduction in greenhouse gases, the likelihood of our first ‘ice-free’ summer will continue to increase by the mid-21st century,’ he wrote in an email to the Guardian.This year’s Siberian heatwave was made at least 600 times more likely by industrial and agricultural emissions, according to an earlier study.The warmer air temperature is not the only factor slowing the formation of ice.Climate change is also pushing more balmy Atlantic currents into the Arctic and breaking up the usual stratification between warm deep waters and the cool surface. This also makes it difficult for ice to form.“This continues a streak of very low extents. The last 14 years, 2007 to 2020, are the lowest 14 years in the satellite record starting in 1979,” said Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. He said much of the old ice in the Arctic is now disappearing, leaving thinner seasonal ice. Overall the average thickness is half what it was in the 1980s. The downward trend is likely to continue until the Arctic has its first ice-free summer, said Meier. The data and models suggest this will occur between 2030 and 2050. “It’s a matter of when, not if,” he added.

 Melting glaciers threaten catastrophic consequences for humanity - Global warming has already resulted in continual and worldwide loss of glacial ice. The concurrent melting of the permafrost ground layer is a possible tipping point—crossing a threshold beyond which no countermeasures can reverse global warming. Last Monday the research vessel Polarstern made berth in Bremerhaven, having completed a year-long Arctic expedition. The expedition left Tromsø, Norway on September 20, 2019, on what they called the largest Arctic expedition of all time. Under the direction of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), rotating crews of hundreds of scientists from 80 institutions and 20 countries were on board. The Polarstern spent nearly 10 months docked on ice floes in the Arctic Ocean, allowing scientists to measure and document the entire ice cycle, from the winter freeze to the summer melt. The over €140 million mission was tasked with a year-long, all-encompassing measurement of Arctic ice and water. Scientists measured over 200 parameters, from temperatures in currents in deep water and at heights of up to 35 kilometers, to the microorganisms in and on the ice. It will take years to completely evaluate the data, which will likely be used for decades. But this much is already clear: the researchers encountered weak, fractured and melting ice extending all the way to the north pole. They repeatedly came across melt-water ponds and open water. “This used to be an area of old ice,” says Polarstern captain Thomas Wunderlich. Now, however, in just a few days the Polarstern was able to advance practically unhindered to the North Pole. Since the 1980s, Arctic ice coverage has decreased by roughly half. The remaining ice is thin and thawing. The expedition has documented a collapsing world. This year the Bering Strait was almost free of ice, as shown by a March 7 image from the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel 1. Normally the strait is frozen that early in the year. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there is currently less ice in the Bering Sea than at any point since records began in 1850. By 2050, the temperature is expected to rise by at least 3°C (5.4°F); by 2080, by up to 9°C (16.2°F).

Alaska's new climate threat: tsunamis linked to melting permafrost - In Alaska and other high, cold places around the world, new research shows that mountains are collapsing as the permafrost that holds them together melts, threatening tsunamis if they fall into the sea. Scientists are warning that populated areas and major tourist attractions are at risk.One area of concern is a slope of the Barry Arm fjord in Alaska that overlooks a popular cruise ship route.The Barry Arm slide began creeping early last century, sped up a decade ago, and was discovered this year using satellite photos. If it lets loose, the wave could hit any ships in the area and reach hundreds of meters up nearby mountains, swamping the popular tourist destination and crashing as high as 10 meters over the town of Whittier. Earlier this year, 14 geologists warned that a major slide was “possible” within a year, and “likely” within 20 years.In 2015, a similar landslide, on a slope that had also crept for decades, created atsunami that sheared off forests 193 meters up the slopes of Alaska’s Taan Fiord.“When the climate changes,” said geologist Bretwood Higman, who has worked on Taan Fiord and Barry Arm, “the landscape takes time to adjust. If a glacier retreats really quickly it can catch the surrounding slopes by surprise – they might fail catastrophically instead of gradually adjusting.”After examining 30 years of satellite photos, for instance, geologist Erin Bessette-Kirton has found that landslides in Alaska’s St Elias mountains and Glacier Bay correspond with the warmest years.Warming clearly leads to slides, but knowing just when those slides will release is a much harder problem. “We don’t have a good handle on the mechanism,” Bessette-Kirkton said. “We have correlations, but we don’t know the driving force. What conditions the landslide, and what triggers it?”Adding to the problem, global heating has opened up water for landslides to fall in. A recent paper by Dan Shugar, a geomorphologist at the University of Calgary, shows that as glaciers have shrunk, glacial lakes have grown, ballooning 50% in both number and size in 18 years. In the ocean, fjords lengthen as ice retreats. Slopes that used to hang over ice now hang over water. Over the past century, 10 of the 14 tallest tsunamis recorded happened in glaciated mountain areas. In 1958, a landslide into Alaska’s Lituya Bay created a 524-meter wave – the tallest ever recorded. In Alaska’s 1964 earthquake, most deaths were from tsunamis set off by underwater landslides.

Alaska earthquake triggers small tsunami -  The magnitude 7.5 earthquake near Sand Point, Alaska, generated a tsunami, Scott Langley with the National Tsunami Warning Center said Monday afternoon. Langley said the tsunami sent two waves, each measuring 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3 inches) high. But observers onshore reported the waves appeared to be 1.5 feet (45.7 centimeters) and 2 feet (61 cm) over high tide. The center is monitoring harbors in a 500-mile area along the Alaska coastline, he said. Tsunami advisories issued for parts of Alaska and the state of Hawaii following the earthquake were canceled Monday night, according to tweets from the National Weather Service Pacific Tsunami Warning Center When it comes to iconic sneakers, heck, when it comes to the entire history of footwear, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more beloved or influential shoe than the Superstar Langley said earlier the area in Alaska that had been subject to the warning and advisory is "pretty remote." "For other US and Canadian Pacific coasts in North America, there is no tsunami threat," the center said.

 Strong eruption at Bezymianny volcano, ash up to 9.5 km (31 000 feet) a.s.l., Russia - A strong eruption started at the Russian Bezymianny volcano at 20:22 UTC on October 21, 2020, ejecting ash up to 9.5 km (31 000 feet) above sea level. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red at 21:51 UTC and lowered back to Orange at 03:19 UTC on October 21 after the eruption has finished.  Satellite data at 23:00 UTC showed a large ash cloud moving about 75 km (46 miles) west of the volcano, KVERT reported. The large ash cloud was present in the area of the Klyuchevskoy group of volcanoes, but its height has decreased to 5 - 5.5 km (16 400 - 18 000 feet) a.s.l. by 03:19 UTC. The cloud has divided on the northern part (105 x 57 km / 65 x 25 miles in size) and the southern (36 x 67 km / 22 x 41 miles in size), KVERT said.

Greenhouse gas and gold mines: Nearly 1 ton of CO2 emitted per ounce of gold produced in 2019 - Gold mines emitted on average 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every ounce of gold that was produced in 2019; however, stark differences exist both regionally and across open pit versus underground mining methods. With prices testing and stabilizing at new highs, gold has been one of the best-performing metals of 2020, benefiting greatly from the uncertainty the year has brought. Strong price performance over the past several years has also led to a large number of new mines opening in recent years. With that in mind, and amid concerns of mining's impact on climate change as well as a growing environmental and social governance focus on financial portfolios, we present a review of greenhouse gas emissions from gold mines. Underground mines, which operate at higher grades and process less material, generally have lower greenhouse gas footprints than their larger open pit counterparts. For every ounce of gold produced, underground mines emit less than half the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent that open pits do. Given also that different regions apply different mining methods and have different power sources, trends in emissions from gold mines arise at a local level as well. As underground mines are generally higher in grade than open pit mines, there is the assumption that open pit mines emit greater amounts of greenhouse gases than equivalent-producing underground mines. While there are more factors in greenhouse gas emissions than simply the volume of material moved and processed, there is a direct correlation between the two when we evaluate emissions as a function of production. This means the assumption stated above is valid, with open pit mines emitting on average around twice as much CO2e per ounce of gold produced as underground mines, at 0.85 tCO2e and 0.40 tCO2e, respectively. Open pit mines also process roughly five times the amount of ore at an average grade of around 1.05 g/t Au for the population evaluated, versus 3.25 g/t Au for underground mines. We also looked at free cash flow from those same mines using S&P Global Market Intelligence’s discount cash flow models, based on the most-recently published set of consensus metals prices. While the larger gold mines do have the capacity to generate a greater amount of free cash, that large production base comes with higher emissions. Consequently, some see better-than-average returns per tonne of emissions. Underground mines have an even clearer advantage on a free cash flow basis than was evident on a per-ounce of gold produced basis, generating as much as US$2,112/tCO2e emitted, compared to just US$951/tCO2e from open pit mines. While underground mines do generate more free cash flow than open pits — around US$422/oz versus US$375/oz — the scale is far greater on a greenhouse gas emissions level given the comparative lower emissions of underground mines.

CAMPAIGN 2020: Democrats run from Green New Deal, fracking bans -- Tuesday, October 20, 2020 -- Republicans in tight congressional races around the country are working to tie their opponents to the Green New Deal, but Democrats are trying their best to steer clear of the ambitious proposal. President Trump and national Republicans have for years worked to paint Democrats as too radical on the environment. That strategy is extending to a host of contested House and Senate contests. In races from Alaska to South Carolina, Ohio and Colorado, the GOP is trying to weaponize the aggressive decarbonization plan pushed by progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), often saying incorrectly that it would outlaw cheeseburgers and air travel. But with few exceptions, Democrats in close races are denouncing both the Green New Deal and quickly banning hydraulic fracturing when they get the opportunity, and are instead laying out their own, less aggressive plans to fight climate change. This year's races are the first major electoral test for the Green New Deal, which was thrust into the national spotlight following the 2018 midterm elections. And so far, few Democrats in the most competitive races think it's a winner. "I don't know where Sen. McSally gets her information from. But since the Green New Deal was authored, I've been against it. There's a lot of stuff in there that has nothing to do with climate," Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly said in a recent debate against Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). She referred to the proposal as the "Green Bad Deal," adding that it would cost $93 trillion and "would be devastating to our economy." Kelly said of his opposition to the Green New Deal, "I've made that very clear," adding that as a former Navy aviator, he knows the importance of fossil fuels. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) sought to use the Green New Deal against Al Gross, his independent opponent who's backed by Democrats. Gross responded, "Dan Sullivan continually claims that I'm for the Green New Deal. That's a lie. That's a falsehood, and it just shows how scared he is and concerned about losing his seat."

China delivers a barrage of criticism at U.S. climate policies -  China delivered a diatribe against U.S. climate policies on Monday, saying that under President Trump, the United States “is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker.” Beijing’s Foreign Affairs Ministry blamed Trump’s “negative stance” and “retrogression on climate change” for undermining progress on an international climate accord. Trump, who plans to formally pull out of the Paris climate agreement the day after Election Day, had “seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance,” the ministry said in a fact sheet. The barrage from Beijing resembled the tit-for-tat criticism that China and the United States have traded on subjects such as human rights, trade and the expulsion of reporters and diplomats, but climate policies have been largely the exception. Not anymore. AD China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, took aim at the United States, the second-biggest emitter, after the State Department on Sept. 25 issued a “China’s Environmental Abuses Fact Sheet,” which said that Beijing “threatens the global economy and global health by unsustainably exploiting natural resources and exporting its willful disregard for the environment through its One Belt One Road initiative.” In the U.S. fact sheet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people — and the world — deserve better." “This seems like a reminder that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s global energy center, said of the Chinese report. “We put out a statement attacking their environmental record and they put out an even stronger one, and the Trump administration has given them a lot to work with.” He said the dueling attacks were “a reminder of how strained the U.S.-China relationship is, and there’s going to need to be a lot of work to be done to allow for a constructive relationship on climate moving forward.” The relationship between China and the United States has been deteriorating for years. China has seized islands in the South China Sea, deploying military forces to the disputed territories. It has detained in prison camps large numbers of Uighurs seen as possible threats. And it has pursued trade policies that have made it difficult for American companies to do business there.

ENERGY TRANSITIONS: Cities' actions fall short of lofty climate goals -- Thursday, October 22, 2020 -- Most major American cities that have signed on to the climate fight with pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions are failing to meet their goals or haven't even started to track local progress, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution.

Report calls on California to lead on carbon capture for deep decarbonization | S&P Global Market Intelligence - California, a state frequently rocked by disasters exacerbated by a warming climate and a leader among U.S. states on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has an opportunity to lead the development of carbon capture technologies, a new report concluded. A combination of policy actions could support the development of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology and achieve deep decarbonization in California, according to an Oct. 22 report. The action plan from Energy Futures Initiative, Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy, and the Stanford Center for Carbon Storage presents a path to encourage CCS deployment for a wide range of industries that may have few other decarbonization options. A 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report urged the world to achieve net-zero emissions by around 2050 to limit global warming to about 1.5 degrees C relative to preindustrial levels. The organization previously identified CCS as a critical technology for hitting that goal. As U.S. power generators set net-zero emissions goals, many include CCS, direct air capture or other technologies as part of their plans. Early efforts to address climate change focused on decarbonizing the electricity and transport sectors. However, fewer people thought about what deeper decarbonization might imply for the broader economy and jobs, said Sally Benson, a Stanford University professor and a project executive for the report. As it becomes more apparent that climate change will eventually drive a need to capture carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it, policymakers have the chance to take a cheaper and more efficient route to avoid some of those future emissions now, Benson said. SNL Image "If you have high-purity sources that could be eliminated today, with technology that's available today, why wouldn't we?" Benson asked. "Why wouldn't we choose a lower cost, easier option, rather than wait for the one that's going to be harder and more expensive?" The action plan says expanding CCS would further in-depth decarbonization efforts in emissions-heavy sectors such as chemicals, transportation fuels, cement, plastics and rubber products. Wide CCS deployment may also enable the emergence of "new, potentially multi-billion-dollar clean energy industries" and drive job creation in California, the report said.

Lake Charles company to permanently store millions of tons of greenhouse gases 10,000 feet below ground -- A Lake Charles company has embarked on an ambitious plan to create a vast repository 10,000 feet beneath the Earth's surface for the permanent storage of up to 80 million tons of carbon gas now released into the air by Louisiana industrial plants. The repository is actually a permeable layer of rock containing saltwater — similar to layers that once were drilled into to capture oil and gas in the area — located beneath a cattle ranch owned by Gulf Coast Sequestration LLC between the Sabine River and Lake Charles. The company owns both the surface and subsurface rights to the land and plans to create a facility on the property where the carbon gas would be shipped and then pumped underground. The company announced this week that it has begun the process to obtain a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate the underground injection well specially designed for carbon storage. According to recent EPA public meetings, it could take a year or more before a permit decision is made. “This filing is a long time coming and an exciting moment for GCS,” Gray Stream, president of Matilda Stream Management Inc., the owner of Gulf Coast Sequestration, said in a news release. “We have done our homework, and our permit application reflects our commitment to robust environmental compliance.” Sequestering carbon Sequestering carbon In August, Gov. John Bel Edwards called Louisiana the "canary in the coal mine" for climate risk because of its increased loss of wetlands due to more intense hurricanes, more frequent Mississippi River flooding and sea level rise. He launched an ambitious program aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28% by 2025. He also set a “net zero” emissions goal by 2050. Louisiana’s total carbon emissions come from a variety of sources, including car, truck and ship traffic; oil and gas production at wells; and the use of oil and gas for refineries, electric utilities and residential heating.

Industry Lawyers Resist Relying on Trump Environmental Rollbacks -Power industry lawyers are in regulatory limbo as the Trump administration nears its four-year mark, unable to rely on several tailor-made rollbacks amid potential policy shifts.Federal agencies’ recent rewrites of regulations for environmental reviews, water jurisdiction, and coal ash are too vulnerable to legal and political winds to steer business decision-making, attorneys said Wednesday during an American Bar Association conference.Tennessee Valley Authority lawyer Steven Johnson pointed to recent wastewater and coal ash rules from the Environmental Protection Agency. TVA has to make related operational decisions quickly, “but it is difficult with looming uncertainty,” Johnson said.Lawmakers could reverse both rules under the Congressional Review Act if Democrats control both chambers, or the rules could be sidelined by courts or a future Democratic administration, should former Vice President Joe Biden win the election. TVA, a government-owned power company, has simply decided against taking advantage of some Trump-era policies designed to benefit industries.  When the Interior Department loosened liability for bird deaths under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, for example, TVA opted to “protect migratory birds as robustly as before,” Johnson said. A district court later struck down Interior’s policy, though the agency is working on a follow-up rulemaking.

Risky business: Cellphone satellite networks endanger asteroid early warning, threaten catastrophic space junk -- During the coming decade companies that include Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb are seeking to launch well over 100,000 satellites to service wireless networks on Earth. Many more satellites may follow after that.  Astronomers are crying foul because the satellites—which have proven to be much more reflective than anticipated—are making it difficult for observatories to survey the night sky. The satellites show up as multiple streaky white lines in long-exposure photography so essential to detecting new objects in the distant reaches of the universe. Thus have the wonders of wireless communications blinded us to the risks of filling the sky with so many satellites. Were that the extent of the problem, it would be irksome to the world astronomy community but probably not a major concern to the rest of us. Unfortunately, much bigger risks await us as the number of satellites in orbit around planet Earth reaches, well, astronomical proportions. Far more serious is the impairment of our ability to monitor the skies for near-Earth objects that might collide with the planet—like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. This is important because we now have technology that would allow us to see such an object approaching early enough for us Earthlings to do something about it.  Part of the reason for the oversight is that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has not forced any of the satellite wireless companies to submit an environmental impact statement that might have led to the consideration of one very, very big possible impact! This is a colossal failure of risk management. Now, it is true that an impact of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs is a very rare event.  But even smaller impacts can be a major concern in a world now filled with large, sprawling cities that could be obliterated by much smaller objects. It is as if we are in a strange duel in which our opponent is continuously firing a gun loaded with millions of projectiles at us but with very poor aim. The geologic record already shows that occasionally the shooter will hit us with devastatingly lethal consequences. Now, we have the technology to shot back in such a way that would divert a projectile headed toward us before it hits. A large meteor impact could conceivably wipe out both the members of the FCC and everyone else on Earth. Weighed against faster wireless access to the internet—especially when that access is already being built on the ground—means that we are allowing these companies to increase the danger to all of human civilization (and much of the animal and plant kingdoms besides) so that the shareholders of a few companies can get a piece of the profits in the wireless industry.

Republican senators ask EPA not to boost refinery biofuel obligations in 2021 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. Republican senators asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to consider a general waiver that would prevent an increase in biofuel blending obligations next year for oil refiners hit by a collapse in fuel demand because of the coronavirus pandemic. Senators including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Ted Cruz from Texas said the waiver for 2021 would help refiners cope with the pandemic, which has pushed gasoline demand down more than 10% from year-ago levels. U.S. laws require the refining industry to blend increasing amounts of biofuels into their fuels each year, requirements that have helped farmers by creating a huge market for corn-based ethanol, but which refiners say is costly. The senators also urged EPA to ensure blending obligations do not exceed the so-called “blend wall” of 10% ethanol in the fuel pool. Most ethanol-blended gasoline sold at retail pumps has a 10% cap on the biofuel because some vehicles cannot use gasoline with higher ethanol blends. That could mean reducing mandated blending volumes, if overall fuel demand drops enough, the senators argued. The letter comes after Trump’s EPA handed a major victory to ethanol producers last month, siding with them over oil refiners in an ongoing dispute over the obligations. EPA rejected scores of requests from refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from blending obligations.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES: N.J. calls for 100% EVs by 2035, a first for East Coast -- Monday, October 19, 2020 -- New Jersey officials called last week for a ban on gas car sales by 2035, a move that would make the state the first outside California to enact such a policy.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Dems introduce bill to phase out gas-powered cars -- Wednesday, October 21, 2020 -- Democrats yesterday unveiled legislation to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars nationwide by 2035 — elevating the controversial climate goal from the state of California to the halls of Congress.

Spread of electric cars sparks fights for control over charging -- Electric vehicles are widely seen as the automobile industry's future, but a battle is unfolding in states across America over who should control the charging stations that could gradually replace fuel pumps.From Exelon Corp. to Southern California Edison, utilities have sought regulatory approval to invest millions of dollars in upgrading their infrastructure to prepare for charging and, in some cases, to own and operate chargers.The proposals are sparking concerns from consumer advocates about higher electric rates and oil companies about subsidizing rivals. They are also drawing opposition from startups that say the successors to gas stations should be open to private-sector competition, not controlled by monopoly utilities. That debate is playing out in regulatory commissions throughout the U.S. as states and utilities promote wider adoption of electric vehicles. At stake are charging infrastructure investments expected to total more than $13 billion over the next five years, according to energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That would cover roughly 3.2 million charging outlets.Calvin Butler Jr., who leads Exelon's utilities business, said many states have grown more open to the idea of utilities becoming bigger players in charging as electric vehicles have struggled to take off in the U.S., where they make up only around 2% of new car sales."When the utilities are engaged, there's quicker adoption because the infrastructure is there," he said.Major auto makers including General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are accelerating production of electric vehicles, and a number of states have set ambitious EV goals -- most recently California, which aims to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. But a patchy charging-station network remains a huge impediment to mass EV adoption.

U.S. Renewable Energy Consumption Hits Record | OilPrice.com - Renewable energy consumption in the United States continued to rise for the fourth year in a row in 2019, with wind energy and wood and waste energy each accounting for 24 percent of all renewable energy used in America, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Monday.Last year, U.S. consumption of renewable energy reached a record 11.5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), or 11 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, the EIA has estimated.Of the renewable energy used, wind energy—almost exclusively used to produce electricity—accounted for 24 percent of U.S. renewable energy consumption. Last year, wind beat hydropower to become the most used renewable electricity generation source.Wood and waste energy accounted for another 24 percent of U.S. renewable energy use in 2019, while hydroelectric power accounted for 22 percent of renewable energy consumption. Biofuels followed with a 20-percent share of renewable energy consumption.  Solar energy accounted for just 9 percent of renewable energy, but it saw the largest percentage growth among renewable sources in 2019, the EIA said.Earlier this year, the EIA said that the rise of renewables and declining coal electricity generation resulted in energy consumption from renewables in the United States surpassing in 2019 coal consumption for the first time since 1885.Last year, total U.S. renewable energy consumption increased by 1 percent compared to 2018, while coal consumption slumped by almost 15 percent year on year. In 2019, energy consumption from coal dropped for the sixth year in a row to its lowest level since 1964, according to EIA’s estimates using a fossil fuel equivalence to calculate electricity consumption of non-combustible renewables such as wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal energy. Due to rising natural gas production and increased natural gas-powered generation, coal-fired electricity generation capacity continues to retire in the U.S. Following coal capacity retirements, electricity generation from coal has dropped significantly over the past decade to the point of reaching its lowest level in 42 years in 2019.

CONNECTICUT: AG wants reimbursements for poor response to power outage -- Friday, October 23, 2020 -- Connecticut's attorney general asked regulators Wednesday to order reimbursements for utility customers who lost food and medicine during August's dayslong power outage in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.

AEP sees business demand rise for electricity after shutdowns - Demand for electricity from American Electric Power's commercial and industrial customers is showing signs of life after being largely shut down during the spring because of the pandemic. Columbus-based AEP on Thursday reported profit of $748.6 million, or $1.51 per share, for the three months that ended June 30. That was about flat with the same quarter of 2019. Discounting one-time charges, the company earned $728.2 million, or $1.47 per share, in the most recent quarter, also in line with the year-ago quarter. Revenue fell to $4.1 billion in the quarter from $4.3 billion a year ago. AEP said residential demand for electricity, adjusted for weather, has risen this year as consumers continue to hunker down at home to ride out COVID-19. The utility said it is also starting to see more demand from offices, restaurants, factories, stores and other businesses that were closed in the spring. "As we projected, both our commercial and industrial classes are showing steady improvement from the low we experienced in the second quarter as some businesses reopened over the summer," Nick Akins, AEP's chairman, president and CEO, said in a statement. "We expect this trend will continue into 2021, barring additional unanticipated negative economic impacts from the pandemic." Akins told analysts on a conference call that there was nothing new for AEP to report regarding a potential repeal of House Bill 6 in Ohio or the federal investigation surrounding the $61 million Statehouse scandal to get the bill passed.

A new fuel enters the power generation mix - You can add a new fuel in the mix of electric power generation in the Ohio Valley: hydrogen. Eventually it could displace part of the market for the newcomer that has caused so much upheaval in the industry: natural gas. This week, Long Ridge Energy Terminal at Hannibal, Ohio, across the Ohio River from New Martinsville, West Virginia, announced plans to transition its 485-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas power plant to run on hydrogen to produce electricity with no carbon dioxide emissions. Long Ridge said it intends to begin providing carbon-free power to customers as early as next year by blending hydrogen in the gas stream and transition the plant to be capable of burning 100% green hydrogen — hydrogen produced from electrolysis of water using electricity from renewable sources — over the next decade. The plant is under construction, with commercial operations planned for November 2021. Long Ridge would be the first purpose-built hydrogen-burning power plant in the United States and the first worldwide to blend hydrogen in a GE H-class gas turbine, the company says. The plant’s turbine can burn between 15% to 20% hydrogen by volume in the gas stream initially, with the capability to transition to 100% hydrogen over time. Long Ridge is a subsidiary of Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC (FTAI). The hydrogen process is a joint project of FTAI, GE and New Fortress Energy.

Looking towards a net-zero future, Burlington considers requiring all-electric buildings - — Burlington is considering a policy that would set an ambitious energy requirement for new buildings in the city: Either go all-electric, or pay a hefty carbon price. If the ordinance goes through, it would make Burlington among the first cold-climate cities in the country to enact such strong incentives for its future buildings to disconnect from fossil fuels, moving the city closer to its ambitious goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. Burlington Electric, the city’s electric utility, presented the policy proposal to the City Council on Oct. 5, and it’s now being reviewed by the city attorney. “We are in a position to be a leader on this,” Darren Springer, general manager of Burlington Electric, told VTDigger. In the absence of strong state policy on green buildings, he said, the proposal is “another opportunity for Burlington to show the way forward.” In 2014, Burlington became the first city in the country to run its electric grid off all renewables. But the Queen City still produces plenty of greenhouse gases: Most buildings have heating and cooling systems that use fossil fuels, and most cars on the streets are not electric. Last September, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced a road map to “net zero energy” for the city by 2030 — which would limit, and eventually eliminate, fossil fuel use in buildings and transportation. To do that, Weinberger said at the time, Burlington would have to “completely restructure” its energy use. In 2019, 95% of the heat in Burlington buildings came from natural gas, according to the city’s report: “The building sector dominates Burlington’s energy consumption with 74 percent of total use. This energy is mostly used for heating buildings; 95 percent of heating is supplied by natural gas.” This likely will prove a “formidable challenge,” the report continues, as natural gas is cheaper than petroleum. The other 26% of the city’s energy goes towards vehicles, and is “almost exclusively petroleum,” according to the report.

Promise or Peril? Importing Hydropower to Fuel the Clean Energy Transition - In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine’s Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river’s health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades. The era of building large dams in the United States, which defined so much of the 20th century, is over. The prime spots for development were cemented decades ago, and the ensuing harm to fish and other wildlife has been well documented. Attention is now focused on removing obsolete dams and retrofitting existing hydroelectric dams to reduce ecological harm and increase energy efficiency. Many other countries are in the same boat. Across Europe and North America “big dams stopped being built in developed nations because the best sites for dams were already developed, and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable,” found a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Canada appears to be the exception to that. Large dams are still being built across Canada, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the generically titled “Site C” in British Columbia, despite cost overruns, outcry from some First Nations and even environmental concerns from the United Nations. Hydroelectric power already supplies 60% of the country’s energy. But the dam building isn’t just to feed Canada’s power needs. It’s also become a hot export commodity. As U.S. states look to meet new clean energy targets, imported low-carbon hydropower from across the northern border has become a larger part of the conversation — and the grid. New England already gets 17% of its energy from Canadian hydropower, Midwest states around 12% and New York 5%. That number is likely to jump. A new transmission project to bring 250 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the United States just came online in Minnesota. Two more are in the works for Massachusetts and New York. Proponents say we need large-scale hydro to grease the wheels of the clean energy transition. Others caution that it comes with a larger environmental cost compared to wind and solar and could open the floodgates for more dam building.

Cease-and-desist order sought - — In a long-running effort to make Black Bear Hydro address fish kills attributed to the energy company’s Union River dam operation, Downeast Salmon Federation has requested that the Department of Environmental Protection issue an immediate cease-and-desist order on turbine operations during the seasonal alewife migration.The Oct. 15 request cites multiple observations of juvenile alewives being killed in the prior two weeks.“We’ve been fighting these fish kills for years,” Downeast Salmon Federation biological scientist Brett Ciccotelli said. “We’ve been patient. We want to see some real steps made to make this place safe for native fisheries.”However, Black Bear Hydro holds that the dam is shut down and has been since a Sept. 24 “fish mortality event,” except for the brief redirecting of water flows, Senior Communications Director Andy Davis said. “Over the last five years, Black Bear Hydro has voluntarily shut down the generating units multiple times a year from several hours to several days in order to protect migrating fish,” Davis said.Every spring, up to a million adult alewives flood into the Union River to spawn, Ciccotelli said. Come fall, the juveniles are ready to return to the ocean, but they have to make it past the dam. The fish can be killed or wounded by the turbines or by differences in water pressure. If they go over the dam through a ten-foot opening at the top, created to give the fish a better survival rate than traveling through the turbines, they can fall on the rocks and ledges directly below, according to Ciccotelli.The cease-and-desist request is based on alleged violations of the 1987 water quality control (WQC) certificate issued for the dam, then under ownership of Bangor Hydro, by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Maine DEP denied Black Bear Hydro’s WQC recertification in March. Without the certification, FERC can’t relicense the hydroelectric operations at Union River. Brookfield Renewable, the parent company of Black Bear Hydro, quickly appealed DEP’s decision, a process that is ongoing.

Power line opponents uncover texts between regulator and the utility he later sought to lead - Opponents of a power line through southwestern Wisconsin have uncovered more evidence of private communications between a former regulator and the utilities behind the project.Mike Huebsch, who stepped down from the Public Service Commission in February, later applied to lead Dairyland Power Cooperative after voting to approve two of its projects, the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and a $700 million natural gas plant. Though he did not land the job, the timing of his application prompted allegations of bias.Two groups suing to stop construction of the $492 million power line have obtained text messages in which Huebsch and a Dairyland executive discuss meetings with former utility CEO Barb Nick and Huebsch’s application for the job. Attorneys for the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are asking a judge to consider whether the texts, as well as emails between Huebsch and the Midwestern power grid operator, tainted the PSC’s decision to grant a permit for the transmission project, of which Dairyland is a minority owner. The land conservancy and wildlife federation say the new documents support their assertion that the PSC did not follow state law when it approved the line, which is expected to cost ratepayers more than $2 billion over its lifetime while generating double-digit returns for the utilities. After a preliminary 3-0 vote by the PSC to grant a permit in September 2019, the land conservancy and wildlife federation requested that Huebsch and PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq recuse themselves from the final decision based on perceived conflicts of interest. Valcq previously worked for American Transmission Co., the project’s majority owner, and Huebsch had served on a committee of the Midwest grid operator, MISO, a party to the proceedings. Both rejected those claims and again voted with Commissioner Ellen Nowak to authorize construction. The opponents, who have sued in both state and federal courts to overturn the decision, later learned that Huebsch applied for the Dairyland job after leaving the commission in February.

Markets are driving shift to green energy away from oil and gas dependence regardless of election winner — the difference is how fast - The U.S. will transition to a clean-energy mix regardless of who wins the White House. But the pace of that change, and with it, the toll on the environment in the meantime, could look dramatically different depending on the election outcome. Sasha Mackler, energy project director for the Bipartisan Policy Center says “the trends in the power sector really demonstrate that this is the part of our economy that is furthest along in the energy transition.” That’s in large part as solar and wind have become more cost competitive, and as avenues such as green hydrogen, while still expensive relative to other power sources, are gaining traction in Europe. “The federal government could make that transition happen more quickly if it had a unifying, coherent policy framework for the power sector,” said Mackler, in a report by S&P Global Platts Analytics. The election is “really more a question of time, rather than endpoint, when it comes to electricity,” whereas “the other parts of the economy are going to be more difficult” to transition to a low-carbon future. Analysts typically point to transportation as a case in point.S&P Global Platts Analytics’ expectations for the next few years include a brief rebound in coal as demand and supply are better aligned. Coal is the fading sector of the economy that President Trump pledged to save during the last election even as coal operators themselves had already been closing or migrating to other sources. The Platts forecast includes a pullback in natural gas, the electricity source that has logged an historic cost drop and increased U.S. energy independence. Natural gas’s NG00, -0.90% inclusion in a mix of traditional and new energy sources is at the center of most Republican-led energy plans, alongside solar, wind, green hydrogen and more. By 2030, coal’s current 21% share of the generation mix would be closer to 5%, under a reference case that assumes a federal carbon price starting in 2026, Platts says. Wind and solar generation in that scenario is seen increasing from 11% of the generation mix in 2020 to 30% in 2030.

TAX POLICY: Free-market groups urge McConnell to kill wind incentive -- Friday, October 23, 2020 -- A collection of 41 conservative free-market organizations called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to end a tax credit for wind energy that has helped unleash a wave of renewable energy onto the electric grid.

 Wind turbines under inspection by MidAmerican after second blade loss - MidAmerican Energy is inspecting more than 40 wind turbines after the second case of a blade coming off a turbine. MidAmerican spokesman Geoff Greenwood says the latest blade issue happened last week. “Our technician at the Beaver Creek Wind Farm noticed an anomaly with one of the wind turbines — went to check it out — and saw that a blade had separated from off of a turbine which is just southeast of Paton in Greene County,” Greenwood explains. He says this followed a similar problem in September. “The turbine that has the blade failure last week is the same type of turbine that had a blade failure last month in Adair County. They also had the same type of lightning system in them that channels lightning from a strike near a wind turbine blade down into the ground safely,” according to Greenwood. “So, this system is something that we are checking out in a series of other wind turbines.” He says the lighting system is one of the many safety features on the turbines. Greenwood says they’ve identified other turbines with the same system and made by the same Danish company, Vestas. “That have also incurred a lightning strike near them. That’s about 46 different turbines,” he says. “So we have turned off those wind turbines while we methodically check those blades and the lightening systems in them to ensure that they are safe.”

Southport power plant to close - A Southport power plant that was fined last year for violating state air quality standards will shut down next spring. Capital Power plans to end operations by March 31, according to a special order by consent filing between the plant’s operating company and the air quality division of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The operating company - CPI USA North Carolina LLC - was fined nearly $474,000 earlier this year for failing to meet the state’s permitting and emissions standards. The facility, which was commissioned in 1987, powers six steam-generating boilers by burning a mixture of coal, wood and tires, according to the plant’s website. The facility sells the power it generates to Duke Energy and the nearby Archer Daniels Midland Company, a food processing plant. The plant is closing because its power purchase agreement - a contract in which one company generates power and another uses it - expires at the end of March. "We do not have a viable alternate commercial arrangement," wrote Katherine Perron, a spokesperson for Capital Power, in a statement to StarNews. Moving forward, the company will look for a new owner for the site. But the economic impacts of COVID-19 and "shifting power market conditions" might make securing a buyer challenging, Perron wrote.

Rising water stress risk threatens US coal plants, largely clustered in 5 states | S&P Global Market Intelligence - Many of the nation's coal-fired power plants, often heavy consumers of water resources, are in areas projected to soon face water stress due to climate change. Based on an analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligence and the World Resources Institute, power generators in Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming and Michigan operate about 37.1 GW of coal-fired generation capacity in areas projected to face medium-high to extremely high water stress — when humanity's competition for water exceeds nature's ability to replenish it — due to climate change in 2030. Those five states are home to more than one-third of the 98.2 GW of coal capacity analyzed that falls into those upper-risk categories. Thus, an aging coal-fired fleet already retiring en masse due to the economic challenges of competing with renewable energy and natural gas-fired generation may come under even more intense pressure due to competition for limited water resources. Earlier this year, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. CEO Duane Highley announced the company would be closing its remaining coal-fired power plants in New Mexico and Colorado as the company shifts to using more renewable energy. "I'll say it presents an enormous opportunity for all of us, as we think about it," Highley said. "When you look at a typical coal facility, it uses an enormous volume of water, and the fact that that will be liberated and available for other reuse is going to be significant." About 98.2 GW, or 44.6%, of the operating coal-fired capacity in the Lower 48 is in regions expected to face medium-high to extremely high water stress by the end of the decade . Of the 25.1 GW of coal-fired plants that have regulatory approval to retire, about 62% is in areas projected to face medium-high to extremely high water stress in 2030. Many U.S. coal-fired plants are already struggling to compete with other forms of generation. As water becomes scarce, disputes around the resource are likely to increasingly factor into energy infrastructure decision-making, said Joe Smyth, a research and communications manager with the Energy Policy Institute who authored a July report examining coal and water conflicts in the American West.

Residents Raise Concerns Over Plant Scherer Water Permit  - Residents of the town of Juliette, Georgia, are raising more concerns about a nearby power plant. Plant Scherer, which is the biggest coal-fired power plant in the country, has a water permit up for review that’s coming under scrutiny. People who live near Plant Scherer and environmental groups have been putting increased pressure lately on Georgia Power, pushing for the utility to clean up the plant’s giant coal ash pond and to address other air and water quality concerns. At a virtual public meeting this week, the focus was on a permit required under the Clean Water Act. Critics say the permit fails to protect a creek that flows through the power plant’s property before it passes nearby homes. “Berry Creek borders my property,” Gloria Hammond said on the Zoom meeting. She said her children used to play in Berry Creek. But over the years, she saw the creek change, so she won’t let her grandkids in it. “I have seen the disappearance of all wildlife down there that lived in this creek,” she said. “And I knew something was happening. And it’s not nature. It’s man-made.” Georgia Power says the creek is included in the current permit, which was issued in 2002, and also in the new one it’s applying for.

Coal plant pollution has led to fish consumption warnings around SC — Industry is visible all along this historic city’s waterways, including a paper plant and an on-again, off-again steel mill. But less obvious is one of the more consequential sources of pollution here: Santee Cooper’s Winyah Plant, a four-furnace coal-fired power station that sits in the middle of a wooded area just under 5 miles from downtown. The plant, run by the state-owned utility, is one of three coal-fired stations that have not had updated water pollution permits for roughly a decade. The issue recently led to a lawsuit against the state’s environmental regulator. The station’s stacks tower over the site’s entrance off of Pennyroyal Road and the gypsum plant next door, pumping out billowing white steam when the furnaces are firing. It’s capable of producing more than 1,100 megawatts of power but is running at lower levels these days as Santee Cooper plans to retire the four furnaces there in the next decade. Still, the news that the water pollution permits for the plant are out of date has raised alarm with many in this community who may be used to the area’s industrial nature but now have additional worry about the cleanliness of the local water and the fish they pull from it. “It was really mind blowing because we’re right here and there’s so much uncertainty,” said LaToya Anderson, who lives in the Georgetown area. “It’s caused fear.” Anderson has fished on and off for the past eight years, often taking along her 14-year-old daughter Michaela Howard, and 4-year-old son, MiKendall Anderson, to fish for red brim and, if they were lucky, catfish. But since becoming involved with the Sierra Club earlier this year and learning about South Carolina’s longstanding fish consumption advisories, she’s put down her pole. Most of the state’s warnings are due to mercury in fish. Almost every stream the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control monitors in the state’s coastal plain has a warning about at least one type of fish. The Winyah plant has never recorded a mercury emission that violated Environmental Protection Agency limits, Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said. Still, coal-fired plants like Winyah produce contamination that ends up in local waters and fish.

Citizen groups and state regulators express alarm over environmental violations at coal mines -- Citizen groups from across the country have banded together to ensure a bankrupt coal company cleans up its idling coal mines. The cohort of conservation advocates allege several mining sites formerly operated by the bankrupt coal firm Blackjewel have become serious environmental liabilities and are at risk of not being cleaned up, according to court documents filed Wednesday. The groups represent several communities across the country living in the backyards of some of Blackjewel’s former coal mines. They fear these idle mining sites are at risk of abandonment under Blackjewel’s proposed plan to exit bankruptcy. In documents filed Wednesday, they demanded clarification of the plans for cleaning up the remaining mine sites, and provided notice they would exercise their rights to hold the company accountable under federal environmental laws. The Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council filed the reservation of rights in federal bankruptcy court on Wednesday, along with the Kanawha Forest Coalition, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Citizens Coal Council, Appalachian Voices, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, the Kentucky Resources Council and the Sierra Club. Unmet cleanup obligations at mine sites out east may seem far away from Wyoming. But the outcome of Blackjewel’s bankruptcy could be a harbinger of what’s to come in the leading coal state, if other companies go bankrupt. Blackjewel operated two Wyoming coal mines before it fell into bankruptcy in the summer of 2019, leaving hundreds of miners out of work for months. The Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines have since come back into operation under new ownership. But in addition to its Wyoming facilities, Blackjewel owned 30 other coal mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Nearly 16 months after Blackjewel filed for bankruptcy, many of these eastern mines remain idle and still have no new owner. Although attorneys for the bankrupt coal operator held sales for all of Blackjewel’s mines across the country last summer, the winning bids were limited and some mines didn’t find buyers. These neglected mines, and their associated permits, carry steep cleanup liabilities and could be abandoned, an outcome that could lead to contamination of land, water and air, the citizen groups contend.

Duke Energy Begins Processing Coal Ash For Recycling At 2 North Carolina Plants - Duke Energy has begun processing coal ash for recycling at two new plants in Salisbury and Goldsboro, and a third is expected to come online by year's end in Chatham County. The new plants are required by state law, as part of Duke's coal ash cleanups, but also could help the concrete industry. Coal ash is what's left after coal is burned for electricity. It contains heavy metals linked to cancer and other ailments. Ash also has beneficial uses, including as an additive to strengthen concrete. But what comes out of Duke's coal-fired power plants is too high in carbon to meet the industry's needs without processing, so the region has imported ash from other countries. Duke spokesman Bill Norton said these three plants now will reduce the concrete industry's need for imported ash. "We'll be able to serve the market in Virginia, both Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. We've got a large region covered," Norton said outside the Salisbury plant Wednesday morning. North Carolina's 2016 Coal Ash Management Act required Duke to build the plants at three retired coal-fired power plants where millions of tons of coal ash are stored - the Buck plant in Salisbury, H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro, in Wayne County, and at the Cape Fear plant in Moncure, in Chatham County. All together, they will process 1.2 million tons of ash a year. That's more than all the ash Duke Energy now creates in a year in North Carolina, Norton said. Norton said revenue from coal ash sales will help pay for the plants' hefty construction costs.

Alabama seeks input on coal ash plans - The state of Alabama is finalizing its approval of utilities' plans to cover coal ash in place rather than move the material to lined landfills and is seeking input from the public on those permits.,The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has issued draft versions of permits that would approve cover-in-place operations at three Alabama Power coal-fired plants: Plant Miller in Jefferson County, Plant Gadsden in Etowah County and Plant Greene County in Greene County.As required by law, ADEM is hosting a series of public hearings before issuing final permits. The permits would include both the final closure plans for those coal ash ponds, and how to monitor and deal with ongoing groundwater pollution at the ponds.All Alabama utilities have opted to use the cover-in-place option to close the ponds rather than the more expensive option of excavation to a lined landfill. ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said that the power companies can use either method to close the ash ponds.“We have the cap in place and excavation options available to the power companies,” LeFleur said. “It’s up to them to select which one they want to use to achieve the standards that we set.”  For decades coal-fired power plants in Alabama and around the world used unlined ponds to dispose of coal ash, which contains potentially hazardous substances from the coal such as lead, arsenic, and selenium.Those unlined ponds, though have been shown to leach those substances into the nearby groundwater, prompting concerns among the public and fines from environmental regulators.Environmental advocates have urged utilities to excavate their ash ponds for years, arguing that even landfills for household garbage require a liner to prevent groundwater contamination. “We wouldn’t be allowed to put household garbage where they’re putting toxic material, in a pit by the river.”

EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow utilities to store toxic waste from coal in open, unlined pits — a move that may defy a court order requiring the agency to close certain types of so-called coal ash ponds that may be leaking contaminants into water. Research has found even plastic-lined coal ash ponds are likely to leak, but those risks are even higher when a clay barrier is the only layer used to hold the arsenic-laced sludge. Environmental groups have already pledged to sue over the Friday rule, which will allow unlined pits to continue operating, so long as companies can demonstrate using groundwater monitoring data that the pond is unlikely to leak. “These focused common-sense changes allow owners and operators the opportunity to submit a substantial factual and technical demonstration that there is no reasonable probability of groundwater contamination. This will allow coal ash management to be determined based on site-specific conditions,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release. There are more than 400 coal ash ponds in the U.S. An Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice review of monitoring data from coal ash ponds found 91 percent were leaking toxins in excess of what EPA allows, contaminating groundwater and drinking wells in nearby communities. And when they aren’t leaching into groundwater, the contaminants risk spilling over the sides of the pond any time there is a heavy rain. “When ponds without lining leak, it’s often more aggressive, faster and harder to control,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, which will fight the rule in court. “Utilities are asking for favors and exemptions and EPA is willing to give them and is willing to rush to provide these exemptions," she added. A 2018 order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit required the EPA to shut down all coal ash ponds that do not have a plastic liner. The ruling said a 2015 Obama-era coal ash rule violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act dealing with hazardous waste “in failing to require the closure of unlined surface impoundments.” EPA did not answer a question from The Hill seeking an explanation of how the rule complies with the court order. The agency instead wrote in a statement the new rule would "accurately reflect the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals." The lobby for private utilities, however, called the rule a “critical step” as companies transition away from coal, arguing the rule does not violate the court order because it gives companies a chance to prove they can meet the protectiveness standards required under the law. “Some [coal combustion residue] surface impoundments with alternative liner systems can continue operating without posing an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to health or the environment,” Jim Rower, executive director of the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, said in a statement. The group’s members include all major utility lobbies.

EPA Allows Coal Ash Ponds to Stay Open Despite Court Order - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule change on Friday that will allow somecoal power plants to ignore a court order to clean up coal ash ponds, which leech toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The rule change will allow some coal ash ponds to stay open for years while others that have no barrier to protect surrounding areas are allowed to stay open indefinitely, according to the AP.The arsenic-laced sludge that fills coal ash ponds is likely to leak when just a plastic barrier protects it. It is far more likely to pollute nearby soil and water when the pits have a clay barrier, according to researchers, asThe Hill reported.A 2018 order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had forced the EPA to close coal ash ponds that did not have plastic lining and were likely to leak toxic chemicals, making Friday's rule change seem like a blatant move to undermine the court's authority, according to environmental groups who promised to sue to stop the rule change, as The Hill reported.Environmentalists argue that the rule change is a favor to the coal industry, for which EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler served as a lobbyist prior to joining the Trump administration. The move allows the industry to dump its byproducts inexpensively and irresponsibly. "The reason the utilities are arguing to keep the ponds is because they have put in these unlined pits out the back door of the power plant that act as a catchall for their toxic waste," said Lisa Evans, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, as the AP reported. "They don't want to get rid of them because they are cheap." Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project found that 91 percent of them were leaking toxic chemicals beyond what was permitted by EPA regulations, as The Hill reported. Their study found that heavy metals from the waste was polluting nearby drinking wells and groundwater.Coal ash is produced when coal is burned to produce power. It is full of arsenic, mercury, lead and several other hazardous heavy metals. In the U.S., coal plants create nearly 100 million tons annually of ash and other waste, according to the AP.

St. Louis-based Arch outlines ‘exit strategy’ to stop selling coal used for electricity -- Intensifying coal industry woes have pushed the country’s second-biggest producer to outline an “exit strategy” to end its sale of thermal coal, used for electricity generation. In a grim quarterly earnings report released Thursday, Creve Coeur-based Arch Resources mapped out plans to wind down and sell assets tied to its thermal coal operations, including mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin — by far the country’s most prolific and cost-competitive region for coal supplied to the energy sector. Overall, the company reported a net loss of $191.5 million for the quarter — a dramatic turnaround compared to its $106.8 million net income over the same period last year. With coal-fired power production under economic siege from competitors like natural gas and renewable energy, Arch’s report said the company is pushing to make a “rapid pivot” that will instead orient its business around metallurgical coal, used in the steelmaking process. The company owns several metallurgical coal mines in West Virginia. “We believe that a careful and well-communicated exit strategy is the most responsible way forward for a range of essential stakeholders, including our employees, the communities in which we operate, our longstanding customer base, and the many consumers who continue to rely on coal-based electricity,” said Paul Lang, Arch’s CEO, in a statement accompanying the earnings report. While the company’s unfolding departure from the world of thermal coal is significant, the move is not surprising. Instead, outside experts say it’s seen as an inevitable culmination of the challenges that have confronted the industry for years, and had even reached into Arch’s last relative stronghold — the Powder River Basin. Famed for its giant surface mines, the region is a U.S. powerhouse, accounting for about 40% of the nation’s coal used in power plants. About a quarter of that coal — or 10% of all the thermal coal produced in the U.S. — comes from Arch’s Black Thunder mine, near Wright, Wyoming. It is the second-biggest coal mine in the country, trailing only its neighbor, the North Antelope Rochelle Mine, situated on adjacent property and owned by fellow St. Louis-based coal giant Peabody. “Effectively what they’re doing is conceding a larger portion of the market to Peabody,” said Rob Godby, a professor of energy economics at the University of Wyoming. ”The thermal market still exists and it’ll be around for a little while. The problem is that it wasn’t big enough for both of them.” Arch said its Powder River Basin operations churned out nearly 75 million tons of coal in 2019, but are expected to muster less than 55 million tons this year. The plan announced Thursday “could reduce production levels by an additional 50% over the course of the next two to three years.”

US AP1000 reactor passes pre-commissioning test : New Nuclear -   -Cold functional tests are carried out to confirm whether components and systems important to safety are properly installed and ready to operate in a cold condition. Their main purpose is to verify the leak-tightness of the primary circuit and components - such as the pressure vessels, pipelines and valves of both the nuclear and conventional islands - and to clean the main circulation pipes. As part of the testing, the reactor coolant system was filled with water and pressurised above-normal operating conditions, then lowered to normal design pressure, while comprehensive inspections were conducted to verify the systems meet design standards. Georgia Power said the completion of cold hydro testing prepares the site for the last major test remaining for unit 3 - hot functional testing - ahead of initial fuel loading. These tests aim to simulate the temperatures and pressures which the reactor's systems will be subjected to during normal operation. Georgia Power also announced the first reactor coolant pump (RCP) at unit 3 had successfully been started up, verifying the pump operates as designed. During operation, the RCPs circulate water through the reactor vessel and steam generators, providing forced flow of the reactor coolant through the reactor core, to the steam generator and then back again to support operations.

Plant Vogtle cost overruns once again an issue in Georgia PSC races -Georgia’s public service commissioners are often caught in a vise. On one side is the state’s powerful, politically connected electric company. On the other, consumers of electricity. The company pushes for the rates it says are needed to operate safely and reliably. Consumers push for rates they believe are fair and affordable. It’s the job of the commissioners, who are elected to serve as regulators of the state’s utilities, to work it out. In this election, voters statewide will choose who will occupy two of the five seats on the Public Service Commission, decisions that could play into future energy generation sources, air quality issues and customer power bills for decades to come. That includes setting rates charged by Georgia Power and sister company Atlanta Gas Light. One of the PSC’s biggest upcoming decisions is who will pay for Georgia Power’s billions of dollars in overruns once its nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle is completed. Among state bodies, the PSC “has the most impact on residential and small commercial customers' pocketbook,” said Robert Baker, a former PSC member. Georgia Power’s parent, Southern Company, has praised state regulators for maintaining a “constructive” relationship, crediting them for wise decisions and strengthening the company’s financial results. Consumer and environmental groups have complained about some commission decisions that added costs to customers’ bills or fell short of hopes for a cleaner environment.

US awards $1.4 billion to help build small reactors in Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday awarded a Utah energy cooperative about $1.4 billion to help build a dozen small nuclear reactors in eastern Idaho. The money spread over 10 years will pay for one-time costs Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems has in developing and building the commercial reactors. Officials said the money will lower the cost of energy produced by the reactors, making it competitive in the marketplace and reducing the financial risk for the energy cooperative. The first-of-a-kind project is part of an Energy Department effort to reduce greenhouse gasses by using nuclear power to complement intermittent renewable energy such as wind and solar power. “The ideal world for utility companies and their customers, and the most cost-effective, are portfolios containing a high percentage of low-cost renewables, backed up by stable, carbon-free nuclear energy that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Douglas Hunter, the energy cooperative’s chief operating officer and general manager, said in a statement. The money is going to Carbon Free Power Project, which is owned by the energy cooperative. The project involves 12 small modular reactors each capable of producing 60 megawatts, or 720 megawatts when all 12 reactors are operating. The reactors are being built by Portland, Oregon,-based NuScale Power. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last month approved NuScale’s application for the small modular reactors, the first time U.S. officials approved a design for a small commercial nuclear reactor. The energy company plans to buy the reactors from NuScale, then assemble them in Idaho. The first small modular reactor is scheduled to come online in 2029, if regulatory agencies approve, with 11 more to follow in 2030. The reactors would operate at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility that would help with the development of the reactors.

Small Nuclear Reactors Would Provide Carbon-Free Energy, but Would They Be Safe? -- Many of the remaining coal-fired power plants in the United States are getting ready for retirement. They're old, costly to build and in dwindling demand, as the domestic market for coal has declined.But a Portland-based company has a plan to repurpose closed coal plants—large sources of carbon dioxide emissions when they were operating—to generate carbon-free energy in the form of nuclear power. Last month, U.S. officials approved NuScale Power's designs for 12 small nuclear reactors to be built in Boise, Idaho. The reactors could make use of the water, transmission lines and general infrastructure of former coal-powered plants in the West to produce clean energy, said Jose Reyes, co-founder of the company.NuScale said the energy produced by its reactors would generate enough electricity to power about 50,000 homes across six Western states. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, an energy cooperative, would be the first to build the reactors on a federal site at the Idaho National Laboratory.  But many environmental advocates oppose the project on safety grounds, and some scientists say that by the time the reactors are built, they will not offer much help in staving off the effects of climate change. Since 2013, the Department of Energy has backed NuScale's initiative, providing more than $300 million to help finance the project and cover the costs of delays. Last week, the Trump administration took another significant step to support the project, pumping $1.3 billion in financing over 10 years to help build the company's reactors. The goal is to have the first small, modular reactor up and running by 2029, with 11 more to follow in 2030. The timeline for the reactors has been delayed several times. The new schedule allows for the project to be "further de-risked" and "provides time for regulatory, engineering and licensing review of project features," said Kelly Conroy, a spokeswoman for NuScale.

Poland Strikes $18 Billion Nuclear Power Deal With US  --The United States and Poland closed a nuclear power deal potentially worth $18 billion as the Central European country seeks to reduce its reliance on coal and Russian natural gas. While the deal is not yet final, there is a pretty good chance that Warsaw will pick the U.S. over its main competitors on the international nuclear energy scene, namely China and Russia.“We are hopeful that the ultimate decisions that are made by Poland ... over a period of time will result in them choosing U.S. technology,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told reporters as quoted by Reuters.Poland wants to build six nuclear reactors to supplement its gas imports. Currently, it imports a lot of gas from Russia, but given the less than friendly bilateral relations, it wants to cut these off, and soon, by 2022, Reuters notes. Instead, it would import pipeline gas by Norway and liquefied natural gas from, among others, the United States.Yet Poland also relies heavily on coal-fired power plants, and this goes counter to the EU’s ambitions for a net-zero economy in 2050. The only way to reduce or even eliminate its coal use is to replace that cheap energy with another comparable generational capacity.The agreement closed this week stipulates that over the next 18 months, the parties will develop a program for the construction of the reactors and how they will be financed. Per plans, the first reactors should come online in 2033.The whole program could end up costing Warsaw some $40 billion, of which at least $18 billion would go towards acquiring U.S. nuclear technology, according to a U.S. government official. Poland’s government plans to build between 6 and 9 GW of nuclear capacity by 2040, but it will also invest in renewable energy, planning between 8 and 11 GW in offshore wind power capacity.

Fukushima: Japan 'to release contaminated water into sea' -- Japan is to release treated radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, media reports say. It follows years of debate over how to dispose of the liquid, which includes water used to cool the power station hit by a massive tsunami in 2011. Environmental and fishing groups oppose the idea but many scientists say the risk it would pose is low. The government says no final decision has been made. The release of more than a million tonnes of water, which has been filtered to reduce radioactivity, would start in 2022 at the earliest, according to Japanese media outlets including national dailies the Nikkei and the Yomiuri Shimbun. The water would be diluted inside the plant before release so it is 40 times less concentrated, the Yomiuri Shimbun said, with the whole process taking 30 years. An official decision could emerge by the end of this month, said Kyodo news agency. There has been growing urgency over what to do with the water as space to store the liquid - which includes groundwater and rain that seeps daily into the plant - is running out. Most of the radioactive isotopes have been removed using a complex filtration process. But one isotope, tritium, cannot be removed so the water has been stored in huge tanks which will fill up by 2022.

Ohio GOP lawmakers favor remake of tainted energy bill (AP) — There has been limited progress made by Ohio lawmakers who lined up to repeal and possibly replace a tainted $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants more than two months ago, increasing the likelihood that around 90% of electric customers in the state will see charges for the bailout next year. Customers would also find themselves paying to subsidize utility-scale solar projects that have not yet begun to produce electricity. That subsidy, like the one for the nuclear plants, is supposed to be paid based on the amount of power generated. Bills to repeal legislation officially titled Ohio Clean Air Program but better known as HB6 were introduced in August, soon after federal authorities announced the nuclear bailout was tied to a $60 million bribery scheme overseen by the House speaker. HB6 has been under intense scrutiny since U.S. Attorney David DeVillers announced on July 21 that House Speaker Larry Householder and four others had been arrested for their involvement in a bribery scheme secretly funded by an unidentified company that clearly was Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. Authorities have described it as the biggest bribery scheme in state history. Republicans, the majority party in both legislative chambers, say hearings will resume after the Nov. 3 election with an apparent consensus that a replacement bill should maintain nearly all of HB6′s provisions but include strict auditing requirements to determine whether the nuclear plants’ owner needs the money before subsidies are paid. Democrats argued for that requirement before HB6 was approved with little support from party members last July. The version that became law a year ago calls for annual reviews conducted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after subsidies are paid. A FirstEnergy subsidiary operated the plants until February, when a new privately held company called Energy Harbor took ownership in a deal struck in bankruptcy court. Questions about whether Energy Harbor needs the bailout money arose earlier this year after Energy Harbor received permission to buy back $800 million of its stock, which indicates strong financial health.

Former auditor who launched SEC investigation accuses FirstEnergy of whistleblower retaliation - cleveland.com– The fired consulting employee who helped launch a federal investigation into FirstEnergy Corp. accused the Akron utility Monday of retaliating against him because he is a whistleblower. Attorneys for Michael Pircio filed documents in U.S. District Court that alleged the company targeted him for reporting information to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was fired from his position as an auditor at Clearsulting, the Cleveland consulting firm that assisted FirstEnergy with an internal audit. The filings say Pircio, of Chardon, reviewed the instructions for FirstEnergy’s 2019 audit, as well as the document itself, following the arrests of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies in July. The five face criminal charges in the $60 million bribery scandal linked to House Bill 6, the $1 billion bailout of two power plants, which, for years, had been owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary. Pircio downloaded information regarding the audit from a Clearsulting database and forwarded it to the SEC, according to the filing by his attorneys Laura Hauser and Marc Dann. The agency’s public finance abuse unit is investigating, records show. “When Pircio learned of the complaint and the allegations therein, Pircio realized that his then-employer, Clearsulting, would have been tasked with auditing FirstEnergy financial statements, including the reporting of payments funneled to Householder and his co-conspirators by FirstEnergy and/or its subsidiaries,” the attorneys' documents said. “Pircio, with his experience as an IT auditor and in performing regulatory and operational auditing, reviewed the instructions that FirstEnergy gave Clearsulting for the 2019 audit engagement and reviewed the resulting audit. Upon his review of those materials, Pircio observed that the 2019 audit of FirstEnergy may have violated one or more federal statutes.” The filings Monday are a countersuit against Pircio’s former employer, Clearsulting, and FirstEnergy. The companies sued him in early September for taking the documents after he was fired. Pircio had worked for Clearsulting from March to July 30. Court filings included letters from H. Vincent McKnight, Pircio’s attorney in Washington, D.C. McKnight specializes in whistleblower cases. In the documents, Hauser and Dann said the companies filed court records that revealed Pircio is a SEC whistleblower, which they say violates his rights to confidentiality and “may have forever jeopardized his ability to obtain employment.”

 FirstEnergy Denies Link to Lawmaker Scandal, Seeks to Avoid Suit - Ohio ratepayers can’t pursue a class complaint alleging FirstEnergy Corp. conspired with state lawmakers to create a subsidy for two nuclear plants because the subsidy hasn’t taken effect, the company told a Ohio federal court Wednesday. FirstEnergy acknowledged it donated to a Generation Now—the same group linked to the now indicted former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R)—in its motion to dismiss filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Householder and four others are accused of taking more than $60 million from Generation Now to elect candidates who would support him and push through House... 

Yost questions Householder use of $1M from campaign cash on legal fees - Attorney General Dave Yost said Friday he would file a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission after a disclosure Thursday that former House Speaker Larry Householder used campaign cash to cover legal fees since his July arrest on federal corruption charges. In a tweet Friday morning, Yost said the spending was illegal and that he was directing staff in his office to pursue a formal complaint. The post came a day after Householder's pre-general election campaign finance filing, which included seven expenditures since mid-July totaling more than $1 million to three separate law firms, including $660,000 to Marein & Bradley in Cleveland, the firm currently representing him in federal court. A message was left with the firm Friday morning by The Dispatch. Householder and four other Republicans were arrested July in what federal investigators ranked among the largest corruption scandals in state history, with allegations that the now-former House speaker used dark money from FirstEnergy and related entities to support the campaigns of his supporters and block referendum efforts to overturn 2019 nuclear bailout legislation. Householder’s campaign reported no contributions after July 24, shortly after the federal charges were made public and his arrest. Up to that point during the reporting period, his campaign received nearly $153,000, adding to a beginning balance approaching $1.4 million. His campaign reported a balance of about $426,000. Householder continues to serve in the Ohio House. He faces long-shot write-in candidates in the general election. The Elections Commission has addressed the use of campaign funds for legal fees in multiple advisory opinions dating back decades. In a 1987 opinion, the panel determined that ‘a public officeholder may not use campaign funds to pay for legal representation to defend himself or herself against criminal charges or tampering with records, theft in office, falsification and bribery.” And a 1996 opinion, members noted “that an expenditure for legal fees to defend against criminal charges is not an appropriate use of campaign funds on behalf of the officeholder.”

Appalachian Town Must 'Wait And Wait' As Pandemic Puts Plastics Plant On Hold - From his bar in Shadyside, Ohio, Matt Coffland has been counting on his town getting a new petrochemical plant since it was first planned, seven years ago. He says the southeastern part of the state has long been neglected. "For us to get something like that, rightfully, I think we deserve it by now," he says. The plant, to be built by Thailand-based oil and gas company PTT, would be a major construction project. "You're talking an influx of close to 10,000 people at one point," Coffland says. The ethane "cracker," as it's called, would turn natural gas from nearby wells into petrochemicals and plastics. It's part of a much-planned wave of petrochemical construction across Appalachia. Oil and gas backers say a decade of fracking has unlocked enough gas in this region for four or five chemical plants like PTT's. But so far only one is under construction, a Shell plant near Pittsburgh, which President Trump has visited to tout U.S. "energy dominance." Now, as the Ohio project has stalled amid the pandemic, some wonder if it will ever be built. A final decision was due this summer. But then came COVID-19 and PTT pushed it off. In July, citing the pandemic, one of the project's investors backed out. That was a disappointment for John Haswell, superintendent of the Shadyside Local School District. On one wall of his office are drawings for a brand new $30 million school complex. If the PTT plant goes ahead, the company has said it will pay for the badly needed building. "I would really love to get really busy on a building project," Haswell says. But without a final decision, all he can do is "sit, and wait and wait and wait."

Leading Utica Producer Gulfport in Restructuring Talks with Lenders - Gulfport Energy Corp. revealed in a regulatory filing on Friday that it’s having discussions with its lenders about filing for bankruptcy. The company has entered a 30-day grace period to defer making an interest payment that was due Thursday on its 6% senior unsecured notes due 2024. It took the grace period “while it continues ongoing constructive discussions with its lenders and certain other stakeholders regarding a potential comprehensive financial restructuring to strengthen the company’s balance sheet and financial position,” according to an 8-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Gulfport has also entered into a forbearance agreement with parties to its credit agreement in which they’ve agreed to waive any action they could take against the company related to delaying the interest payment. The company’s borrowing base was also cut from $700 million to $580 million. Notice of the restructuring talks comes after Gulfport received notice from Nasdaq last month that its stock could be delisted from the exchange because it closed below $1.00/share for 30 consecutive business days. The company’s stock has traded at a 52-week low of 29 cents/share. Gulfport has six months to regain compliance.Gulfport, which operates in the Appalachian Basin and South Central Oklahoma Oil Province, aka the SCOOP, has struggled with low commodity prices, particularly those for natural gas. The company produces the bulk of its volumes from the gassy Utica Shale in Ohio, where it’s a leading producer with more than 200,000 net acres. It produced 1.03 Bcfe/d in the second quarter, 91% of which was natural gas.  The company has shut in production, cut spending and sold noncore assets in recent years to help reduce debt, which stood at $2.3 billion at the end of the second quarter. During that period, Gulfport also took a $532.9 million impairment on the value of its oil and gas properties given the decline in commodity prices.

Gulfport Energy Bankruptcy? 13 Things for GPOR Stock Investors to Know - Gulfport Energy may be approaching bankruptcy if recent reports are to be believed. Here’s what investors in GPOR stock need to know about a possible Gulfport Energy bankruptcy.

  • A report from Kallanish Energy claims that the company will file for bankruptcy in the company days.
  • According to this report, the company plans to restructure its debt under bankruptcy protection.
  • That would allow it to better manage the $2 billion of debt that it currently has.
  • The report claims that Gulfport Energy plans to file its bankruptcy in Houston, Texas.
  • Talk of a possible bankruptcy for GPOR comes after it deferred payment on some of its senior notes.
  • A filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday revealed as much.
  • This is for senior notes due in 2024 that had interest payments due on Thursday.
  • The company decided to enter into a 30-day grace period rather than pay the interest on the notes.
  • In that filing, the company says that it’s in talks with lenders about a possible financial restructuring.
  • In that same SEC filing, the company reveals that its borrowing base under its credit agreement dropped.
  • The company now has $580 million it can borrow instead of the previous $700 million.
  • All of these signs point to financial trouble for the Oklahoma-based shale company.
  • GPOR investors will want to keep an eye out for any further bankruptcy news over the next few days.

Fracking in the shale fields slows for the first time since 2017 – Crain's Cleveland Business - Frackers are blasting less sand into shale wells for the first time in almost three years as oil explorers adjust to lower oil demand and prices amid the coronavirus pandemic. Shale explorers are pumping an average of roughly 2.9 million pounds of sand a day during the current quarter, marking the first time since the final three months of 2017 that growth has subsided, according to Coras Research LLC. Sand per well is a key measurement of frack efficiency because more sand typically means more of the rock fissures that allow crude to flow. "E&Ps are not getting the same bang for their frack buck this quarter," Daniel Cruise, founder of Coras, wrote in a report on Thursday. If frack efficiency continues to decline, it "would put more pressure on U.S. shale production going forward." Frackers and other hired hands of the oil patch have been among the most beaten up during the historic crude crash as the global pandemic saps demand for oil-derived products. Global service giants Schlumberger and Halliburton Co. are turning their attention outside of North America, with expectations for international sales to make up more of their business going forward. After the number of active U.S. frack crews bottomed out at 100 in mid-May, 40 crews have been put back to work, mostly in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, according to Coras.

 Regulators deny quick approval of new Great Lakes pipeline (AP) - A Michigan regulatory panel on Tuesday refused to grant quick permission to run a new oil pipeline beneath a channel that connects two of the Great Lakes, deciding instead to conduct a full review. The state Public Service Commission's decision involved a proposed replacement for a segment of Enbridge's Line 5 that extends beneath the Straits of Mackinac, which links Lakes Huron and Michigan. The Canadian energy transport company wants to replace dual pipelines that rest on the lake floor with a new pipe that would be placed in a 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometer-long) tunnel to be drilled in bedrock beneath the waterway. Also Tuesday, a state judge heard arguments on whether to extend an order he issued June 25 to shut down the existing underwater segment after damage was discovered on a support piece at the lake bottom. Circuit Judge James Jamo promised to move quickly but made no immediate ruling. That means Line 5 - which carries 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids daily between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario - will remain closed for now. The 645-mile-long (1,038-kilometer-long) pipeline supplies refineries in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Enbridge said halting its flow even temporarily threatens fuel supplies in those areas, while the state of Michigan and environmental groups contend a major spill would do considerably worse economic damage.

Activist's Lawsuit Targets Private Pipeline Contract With Livingston Sheriff's Office - A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office was compromised in its duties when it entered into a contract with the security company hired to protect the installation of a controversial natural gas pipeline through Livingston County.The suit, filed October 13th in U.S. District Court in Detroit, was brought by Flint resident Matthew Borke against Texas-based Leighton Security, it’s CEO Kevin Mayberry and Operations Manager Gary Washburn, along with Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the ET Rover pipeline, and it’s Chairman Kelcy Warren. Borke is a member of Michigan Residents Against the ET Rover Pipeline, a grassroots group that opposed the construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover gas pipeline in 2017. The 42-inch diameter pipeline carries 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day up from the Marcellus and Utica Shale through West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, crossing into Michigan in Lenawee County, then proceeding north through Washtenaw and Livingston counties before joining the Vector Pipeline in Fowlerville, where it crosses the state into Ontario, Canada.Borke claims that he was targeted by Leighton Security starting in 2016 when he was “an activist participant” in the Native American protest and occupation against construction of ET’s Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota. Leighton was ET’s general contractor providing security for that effort. In the filing, Borke says a subcontractor for Leighton, Tiger Swan, used overly-aggressive methods to disrupt the protestors, culminating in his being arrested by “15 men in military fatigues (who) had submachine guns trained on him.” He alleges they wore no insignia, badges or name tags and handcuffed him with zip ties and confiscated his phone. Charges of “interfering with a government function” were later dropped. While a state administrative board found Tiger Swan guilty of working without a state-required license to perform security operations in North Dakota, an injunction to prevent the company from operating in that state was later dismissed. However, Borke says because the tent encampment in North Dakota he was living in was bulldozed and most of belongings destroyed, he ”reluctantly” returned to his parent’s home in Michigan. Borke says beginning in March of 2017 the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office entered into an agreement with “agents or contractors” of Energy Transfer Partners and began providing security at the ET Rover pipeline sites for $60 an hour, utilizing deputies in uniform and departmental vehicles. Borke claims that over the next several months, he and other member of the group were subjected to harassment and intimidation by employees of Leighton Security, which the lawsuit alleges was supported in its activities by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office through its contract.

EQT reports $601M loss in 3Q 2020 - EQT, the largest producer of natural gas in the United States, reported a net loss of $601 million or $2.35 in the third quarter 2020, Kallanish Energy reports. That compares to a loss of $361 million or $1.41 per share in 3Q 2019. That loss was smaller than had been expected with lower operating costs helping offset a drop in demand and prices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Sales volumes in the quarter ending Sept. 30 fell about 4% to 366 billion cubic feet of equivalents with about 15 billion cubic feet of production curtailed. It reported the production curtailed in September was returned on-line starting in early October and all curtailed production has been returned to service, it said in Thursday’s announcement. It had also curtailed production from mid-May to mid-July. The Pennsylvania-based company said its average realized price fell 5.7% to $2.33 per thousand cubic feet equivalent. EQT said its 3Q results “continue to see meaningful step changes in efficiencies, as we continue to find ways to increase performance and enhance results,” said president and CEO Toby Rice in a statement. The company reported net cash provided by operating activities of $184 million and free cash flow of $47 million in the quarter. It announced that it is cutting its full-year 2020 capital budget by $50 million at the midpoint of its guidance. That budget will be between $1.05 billion and $1.1 billion, it said. In the quarter, the company spent $248 million on its capital budget. That is $55 million lower than 2Q 2020 and $227 million lower than 3Q 2019. It raised the bottom end of its full-year 2020 adjusted core earnings by $50 million to a range of between $1.55 billion and $1.6 billion. EQT said it expects full-year sales volumes of between 1.48 billion cubic feet equivalent and 1.5 bcfe, slightly higher than its previous full-year estimate. It reported that horizontal drilling speeds improved by 19% and completion stages/day improved by 15%, compared to 2Q 2020. It reported well costs of $660 per foot in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, surpassing its target price by $70 a foot. EQT spud 30 wells in the quarter in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drilled 27, completed 23 and turned in line 22 wells. In the fourth quarter, it plans to spud 13 wells, drill 25 wells, complete 19 wells and turned in line 26 wells in the two states. It drilled one Utica Shale well in Ohio in the third quarter and has no fourth quarter plans in Ohio.

OIL AND GAS: Criminal charges, FBI probe roil $3B Pa. pipeline -- Monday, October 19, 2020 -- Can regulators police a natural gas project with an active FBI inquiry and charges looming?

PUC doesn’t have to disclose its estimates of Mariner East ‘blast zone,’ court rules | StateImpact Pennsylvania  -Official estimates of the impact of any rupture of the Mariner East pipelines will remain under wraps following an appeals court ruling that rejected a disclosure request by a longtime anti-pipeline campaigner. The Commonwealth Court ruled Wednesday that the Public Utility Commission does not have to disclose its calculations on any explosion of natural gas liquids from the pipelines, overruling Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records’ decision that some of the requested information could be released.The court said the OOR erred when it ruled in June last year that some of the requested data was not “confidential security information” (CSI) under a state law, and so should be released by the PUC. The OOR excluded the PUC’s calculations on the “blast radius” of any explosion from its ruling but directed the PUC to release a report by its Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement on Mariner East 1, an old gasoline pipeline that has been repurposed as part of the Mariner East project. “OOR acted outside of its authority when it determined that the requested information is not CSI and therefore subject to disclosure under the RTKL,” the court wrote in its ruling on an appeal of the OOR decision by the PUC and Energy Transfer, the pipeline’s builder. The court was referring to the Right to Know Law. The PUC has the authority under the Public Utility Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act to determine disclosure, the court wrote in a 12-page opinion, saying it wasn’t about to “disrupt” that authority. The PUC declined to comment on the ruling.Eric Friedman, a resident of Delaware County, has been fighting the construction of the pipelines that run alongside the Andover development in Thornbury Township where he lives with his family. He and other opponents argue that the siting of natural gas liquids pipelines in such densely populated areas represents a grave threat to public safety because of the highly explosive nature of the fuels. He asked for information from the PUC in February 2019 after Paul Metro, the regulator’s former manager of gas safety, told a public meeting the previous month that the PUC has its own estimates of the “buffer zone” or “blast radius” from accidents on highly volatile liquids pipelines such as Mariner East. Although the PUC’s calculations will not now be made public, Friedman said the public knows the potential impact of a Mariner East explosion from a risk assessment published by Delaware County Council in November 2018. The study concluded that a worst-case explosion from the pipelines would kill anyone within about a mile but that the likelihood of dying from such of explosion was about equal to dying in a car crash or falling down stairs.

Editorial: Pipeline protection needs common sense update  -- There is a difference between security and secrecy.  Security is making sure that dangerous things are protected. Secrecy is making sure things — dangerous or otherwise — are hidden. Those might seem related, but they aren’t the same.A $5.1 billion pipeline that transmits millions of gallons of natural gas 300 miles across Pennsylvania should be kept secure. But secrecy isn’t the way to do it. A Spotlight PA investigation recently explored just how safe Sunoco’s huge pipeline project is, uncovering that many communities in the 17 counties it crosses don’t really know what to do if something happens.On the western side of the state, it starts near Canonsburg, travels across southern Allegheny County and then snakes a path near Westmoreland areas including Jeannette and Delmont. That is a lot of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, water, roads and just plain old houses near a lot of fuel.But do the emergency services that take care of those areas have all the information they need about the pipeline, its risks and its impacts? Probably not. In December 2018, the Downington school board in Chester County asked for more information about the pipeline, because of its proximity to five schools. When asked for information, Sunoco said that was confidential and “highly protected.”  Paul Metro, the former pipeline safety manager for the Public Utility Commission, urged the district to “actively partner with the county emergency manager to ensure that your ‘all-hazards’ plan and evacuation plans are up to date and incorporate all pipeline hazards.” But that depends on the counties having the right information, too.    Keeping specifics out of the hands of criminals and terrorists is a good idea. But information isn’t black or white. There is a lot of middle ground to consider, especially in a state where so many of the emergency responders are volunteers. We cannot protect people from drug abuse by making it illegal to talk about any drugs. That would make it impossible to treat someone for an overdose or prevent someone else from getting an infection. Pipeline information needs to be treated the same way. It needs to be secure. But keeping it secret may hurt more than it helps.

Fracking project at US Steel Plant denied local permit extension - A controversial natural gas well at a US Steel Plant near Pittsburgh suffered a setback Thursday night. The East Pittsburgh Borough zoning hearing board denied an appeal by a fracking company to have a lapsed permit for the well reinstated. New Mexico-based Merrion Oil and Gas received a permit from East Pittsburgh Borough for a conditional use to drill and frack a well at US Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in 2018. But the company didn’t drill the well because it did not receive permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to begin work. In several deficiency letters sent to the company, the DEP outlined problems with the company’s plans.  The local conditional use permit expired earlier this year, but the company appealed to have it extended. The East Pittsburgh zoning board voted by a 3-2 margin Thursday night to deny the appeal. It was a victory for some local residents and environmental groups who have been fighting to have the project killed over health and safety concerns. The Edgar Thomson facility is one of Allegheny County’s largest polluters.  “We are sick and tired of our lives being put on the line in order to make profits for giant corporations,” said Megan McDonough, Pennsylvania Organizing Manager at the group Food & Water Action, in an emailed statement. “Not only had Merrion never drilled a well in Pennsylvania, they could not even fill out the permit paperwork correctly.”

Report: EQT makes offer for CNX Resources - EQT Corp. has reportedly sent an unsolicited bid to acquire Canonsburg-based CNX Resources Corp. in a deal that if consummated would bring together two significant players in the Marcellus Shale.  Bloomberg, which first reported the bid, had few details. It isn’t clear what the status is at CNX nor how much the offer was for. It’s the second big potential deal in the Marcellus and Utica that EQT has been linked to in recent weeks. Reuters reported in September that EQT (NYSE: EQT) had made a $750 million bid for the Appalachian assets of Chevron Corp., which announced last December that it was divesting its gas drilling operations here.EQT declined comment.EQT is the biggest independent natural gas driller in the United States, with significant operations south of Pittsburgh in Greene County as well as West Virginia and Ohio. A little more than a year ago, it was taken over by former Rice Energy President Toby Z. Rice who has, with his team, made significant improvement in costs and remade its operations even amid the low gas prices.CNX has a long history in the natural gas industry and has extensive operations in southwestern Pennsylvania as well as eastern Ohio. Its CEO, Nicholas J. DeIuliis, has led CNX through the shaky energy economy with a strict focus on costs and has, unlike other drillers, laid out a seven-year plan that includes a modest pace of drilling and little growth on production unless commodity prices make it worthy.CNX’s acreage and wells in the Marcellus and Utica Shale would be complementary to EQT and CNX has something that EQT doesn’t have: Extensive midstream infrastructure that has been built up over the years. Owning those gathering pipelines, which take natural gas from the field to transmission pipelines, has been touted by CNX as one of its competitive advantages. EQT, on the other hand, has been in a very public battle with its midstream supplier, Equitrans Midstream Corp., on the ownership of a gathering pipeline.

CNX CEO addresses rumor about EQT bid, Marcellus 'reckoning' and the secret to success - CNX Resources Corp. CEO Nicholas J. DeIuliis, one of the strongest voices for natural gas, believes the region’s natural gas industry is about to undergo a massive change to the next phase of its development.DeIuliis, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Business Times on Friday morning, declined to comment on a Bloomberg report that said Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp. (NYSE: EQT), the nation’s largest independent natural gas producer, had made an unsolicited bid for CNX (EQT also declined to comment about the rumor).“I don’t want to comment on rumor or speculation,” DeIuliis said.But it’s not hard for observers of the Marcellus Shale industry to see the logic behind any bid that EQT may or may not have made. CNX, much smaller than EQT, has long hewed to the strategy of living within its cash flow and scientifically determining its strategy based on commodity prices and value to shareholders. It’s also got the lowest production costs in the Appalachian basin, with all-in costs of about $1 per million cubic feet compared to $1.70 or so for many of its peers. It owns its own midstream company, which helps keeps costs down. And earlier this year it released a seven-year plan that outlines something that a lot of other producers can’t say in this environment, how CNX will generate free cash flow and profit no matter what the price of natural gas.“I will say that with respect to that (rumor), it’s maybe not much of a surprise for us,” DeIuliis said. “I think we’ve got a great business and a great opportunity in front of us. So some of this is part of being a public company, particularly one that has the ability and the opportunity that we’ve laid out for the next seven years. In many ways, it’s gratifying to see others, whether it’s media or capital markets or peers, whoever is picking up on the opportunity and the excitement that we see with respect to what we’re going to do here in coming years.”The bigger story, in DeIuliis’ view, is the turning point that’s now evident in the Marcellus and Utica shale over the past months that is starting to accelerate. He said that it’s something that has been talked about before, but it’s more important and timely than ever. “If you look at the basin today, it’s closing one chapter out and it’s starting another one,” DeIuliis said.Gone are the days of rig counts in the Marcellus and Utica shale, less than a decade ago, that could be counted in the many dozens and hundreds. The billions of dollars of investment — often on the back of the private investors and Wall Street — have now proven what’s underground here in terms of natural gas and the Appalachian basin has grown to what is likely the largest gas field in the world. Pennsylvania is the second-largest natural gas producing state in the nation. And the drillers have become exponentially more efficient, in terms of time and production and cost. It’s the end of what DeIuliis has often in the past called the disruption and innovative phase.“I call it more of a reckoning within Appalachia, and it’s now coming,” DeIuliis said. 

Trump’s Fracking Fixation Is Not Landing in Pennsylvania —Mike Baltzer comes from a blue-collar family in western Pennsylvania. But he barely hears anyone talk about fracking—long hyped as a local economic engine—positively anymore. For his part, Baltzer, 42, staunchly opposes fracking because of its potential to harm the environment. “I’m not coming at this from a tree-hugger, hippy background,” Baltzer told The Daily Beast. “I’m a Yinzer. And I know better.” Donald Trump has taken on a hardline pro-fracking stance against Democrat Joe Biden in their final, frenetic push to capture the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes, which flipped red as part of the president’s shock 2016 victory. At a rally in Erie on Tuesday and again at the final debate on Thursday, Trump tore into the former vice president, mocking what he described as the Democrat’s flip-flop on the practice. “You know what Pennsylvania? He’ll be against it very soon, because his party is totally against it,” Trump said Thursday. Biden has carefully avoided bashing fracking for some time, saying that he doesn’t want to ban it, but has opposed it on federal land. That seems to reflect a stubborn consensus among the Democratic political class that the issue is some kind of third-rail in the state. And it still is important to some voters, especially in more rural parts of a state infamously described by Democratic strategist James Carville as “Paoli and Penn Hills, with Alabama in between.” But conversations with actual residents, local politicians, and a comb of public opinion data suggest perspectives on fracking in Pennsylvania are changing faster than top Democrats—and the president who seems to think it will save him—realize. Recent polls show Pennsylvanians generally are mixed on the practice. A jointCBS and YouGov poll from August showed 52 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking with 48 percent approving. Another August poll prepared by Democratic firm Global Strategy Group for the advocacy group Climate Power 2020 showed that while 61 percent of Pennsylvanians had a favorable view of the natural gas industry, only 32 percent had a favorable view of the fracking industry, compared to 50 percent unfavorable.

Presidential debate: Pennsylvanians are divided on fracking. Here’s why. – Vox - Natural gas fracking has been getting a lot of air time on the campaign trail in recent weeks.In the final presidential debate, President Donald Trump once again claimed that former Vice President Joe Biden would ban fracking. “I have never said I oppose fracking,” Biden replied. “What I will do with fracking over time is make sure we can capture the emissions from fracking, capture the emissions from gas.”Trump tried to make the same claim in Pennsylvania, a key swing state, earlier this week. In front of a crowd of thousands gathered in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, Trump played a compilation of video clips in which former Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris described their plans to transition away from fossil fuels.“Joe Biden will ban fracking and abolish Pennsylvania energy,” Trump told the crowd, followed by a chorus of boos. Biden’s plan to tackle climate change sets a target for the country to bring greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050, but it doesn’t call for banning fracking.Trump, who has no climate plan of his own, has been taking shots at Biden’s climate and energy initiatives as part of a broader effort to attract voters in battleground states. But his campaign has not seen a dramatic turnaround in Pennsylvania. Biden has maintained his lead in the polls — and is currently ahead by 6 percent on average, according to FiveThirtyEight. Whether Trump’s pro-fracking talk will help his chances of reelection is unclear. Natural gas fracking is concentrated in Pennsylvania’s Republican-leaning counties, and 77 percent of Republicans said they supported the industry in an August CBS/YouGov poll. This means Trump’s rhetoric could energize his base; on the other hand, the same poll showed that 52 percent of sampled registered voters oppose fracking, so it may not win over suburban residents.

Delaware Bay oil spill now covers up to 7 miles of coastline, including Lewes - As the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control continued assessing and cleaning an oil spill that came ashore Monday afternoon at Broadkill Beach, the agency has determined the affected area has grown. The spill is now estimated to affect up to 7 miles of coastline, including Beach Plum Island near Cape Henlopen, the Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes, DNREC said Tuesday afternoon in a news release. Local residents informed a Delmarva Now reporter Tuesday there is also oil on Prime Hook Beach. “We’ve found oil on the shore so far; we’ve not really seen it in the water per se," said James Bethard, chief of state emergency prevention and response for DNREC's Emergency Response & Strategic Services Section. "It’s all been brought in by the high tide, deposited up in the rack line area." DNREC crews are just now beginning to explore beaches to the north, Bethard said. Updates will come about whether areas such as Slaughter Beach are affected. The initial estimate given by DNREC was that the spill affected three-quarters of a mile of coast at Broadkill Beach. But Monday night's high tide carried out some of the oil into the Delaware Bay and then dispersed it elsewhere on the coast by noon on Tuesday, Bethard said. Suspected oil appears in globs in the Roosevelt Inlet area of Lewes Beach on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. An oil spill was reported the day before at Broadkill Beach, and Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control warned that the oil would likely migrate elsewhere along the Delaware coast because of the tide. Suspected oil appears in globs in the Roosevelt Inlet area of Lewes Beach on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. An oil spill was reported the day before at Broadkill Beach, and Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control warned that the oil would likely migrate elsewhere along the Delaware coast because of the tide. (Photo: Marta Nammack submitted image) Most of the visible oil is in small spots: the tide has fragmented the oil from larger pools to smaller speckles on the beaches, the release states. In a release of their own, the Coast Guard referred to the spots as "oil patties" and said they range from the size of a quarter to the diameter of a manhole cover. The cleanup has already started, but is expected to last through the end of the week or longer, as the globs and pools of oil must be removed from beaches manually, Bethard said. "Progress is slow," Bethard said. "It’s a very tedious job, and they’re going to work very, very hard to get it done. ...(The length of time) just depends on what happens to our tidal cycles and the amount of staffing that we’re able to put onto the spill.”

Two tons of oily sand removed as Delaware Bay coast spill as spreads to 11 miles - Two tons of oily sand and debris along the Delaware coast had been removed as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, after an oil spill was first spotted Monday on a three-quarter mile stretch of Broadkill Beach, according to officials from the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The spill now spans more than 11 miles of coastline off the Delaware Bay, DNREC officials said Wednesday. This is an increase over the 7 miles it was estimated to have been affecting the shoreline on Tuesday. Each passing day, the tides have dispersed the globs of oil over an increasingly wider area, even as state and federal crews work to clean it up. The 11-mile area extends from Fowler Beach (bordering Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge) to the ocean side of Cape Henlopen State Park at Gordon's Pond, DNREC wrote on Twitter. The 4-wheel drive surf fishing crossing at Delaware Beach Plum Island Preserve is closed so crews can continue cleaning the shoreline. More than 75 contractors, DNREC responders and U.S. Coast Guard personnel are on the scene cleaning up the spill, assessing its shoreline and waterway impact and responding to impacted wildlife. “Expediency is key," DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin said Wednesday in a statement. "We want to capture as much of the oil as we can before it disperses further and causes more environmental harm." The first reports of wildlife affected by the oil spill arrived late on Tuesday: some sea gulls had oil on their breasts, DNREC tweeted. The nonprofit Tri-State Bird Rescue is on hand to clean the birds up, the agency said. As of Wednesday afternoon, the rescue organization had responded to 24 oiled seagulls.

Lewes Beach closed as Delaware Bay oil spill cleanup continues - Lewes Beach is closed as crews continue cleanup of a Delaware Bay oil spill discovered Monday afternoon that now stretches at least 11 miles. A notice published on the city of Lewes website said signs would be posted Thursday and Friday at beach crossovers and on the dune fence at beaches 1 and 2 to inform people about the closures. Public access to the beach will be restricted until the U.S. Coast Guard and Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control advise officials that it can be safely opened. The oil spill was initially reported along a three-quarter-mile stretch of Broadkill Beach, but by Tuesday morning had migrated with the tides to other areas of the Delaware coast. It was estimated that about 215 gallons of oil — approximately five barrels' worth — had washed ashore. As of Wednesday, DNREC said the spill spanned 11 miles from Fowler Beach (bordering Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge) to the ocean side of Cape Henlopen State Park at Gordon's Pond. Crews have already removed 2 tons of oily sand and debris as part of the ongoing cleanup effort. While the source of the oil spill is unknown, samples have been provided for the Coast Guard to analyze for a “petroleum fingerprint” that might determine where it came from. 

Federal court delays stream crossings for Mountain Valley Pipeline - The on-again, off-again pace of building the Mountain Valley Pipeline is off again. A temporary administrative stay of stream-crossing permits was issued Friday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a brief order, the court said the delay — which was requested Thursday by conservation groups concerned about environmental damage from the massive natural gas pipeline — will remain in effect until it has time to consider a full stay that was sought earlier. “Our streams and wetlands get at least a temporary reprieve from MVP’s destruction,” said David Sligh of Wild Virginia, one of eight environmental groups fighting the pipeline in court. After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reissued the permits Sept. 25 and a stop-work order was lifted last week, Mountain Valley said it would resume construction “in the coming days.” While burrowing the 42-inch diameter pipe under nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands is now back on hold, it was unclear whether Mountain Valley is free to resume clearing the right of way and digging trenches to bury the pipe in upland areas. Asked Friday whether any such work had begun, Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox did not answer directly. “With MVP’s upland construction now scheduled to begin, and as we receive additional information” about other areas being cleared for work, “MVP will continue to evaluate its current construction plans, budget and schedule,” Cox wrote in an email.

Grants for Appalachian Trail communities to come from Mountain Valley Pipeline gift - The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is offering $150,000 in grants to strengthen the ties between the scenic footpath and eight Virginia and West Virginia counties through which it passes. And there’s more money where that came from. Community impact grants announced this week by the conservancy will be funded by a $19.5 million contribution from Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is building a natural gas pipeline that will pass under the Appalachian Trail as it runs along the state line in Giles County. In August, Mountain Valley entered into a voluntary stewardship agreement with the conservancy and The Conservation Fund. Money from the joint venture of five energy companies constructing the pipeline will be used for sustainability efforts such as the grants and the purchase of land near the trail to preserve scenic views. The gift — the largest of its kind to the conservancy for a single region — came after discussions about the environmental damage caused by running the 303-mile pipeline over panoramic mountain ridges and through unspoiled forests. “Through these grants, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy aims to advance environmental health, land stewardship, education, green infrastructure planning and outdoor economies to better support marginalized communities,” Julie Judkins, the conservancy’s director of education and outreach, said in the announcement.

Opponent's scuffles with pipeline workers bring $1,000 fine, year-long ban  — Physically interfering with Mountain Valley Pipeline workers will cost a protester $1,000, a Montgomery County judge ruled Tuesday.  Also, Emma Howell, known as “Ash” among pipeline opponents at the tree stands near Yellow Finch Lane, must stay off Mountain Valley Pipeline’s construction sites for a year, the judge said. “You have the right to protest, these gentlemen have the right to go to work,” General District Court Judge Randal Duncan told Howell. “… Just because you may be smaller in a physical stature doesn’t give you the right to assault them and try to provoke them.” Howell, who was 22 when she was arrested in February, was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery. The charges came from separate incidents in which Howell was accused of scuffling with two workers. In the first, on May 29, 2019, Howell was among protesters who confronted a crew seeking to cut down the tree stands that block the pipeline’s route through the eastern part of Montgomery County. For more than two years, opponents of the pipeline have occupied platforms positioned some 50 feet above a steep slope so that the trees cannot be cleared. The group Appalachians Against Pipelines calls the Yellow Finch protest the longest continuing blockade of a natural gas pipeline on the East Coast. William Arroyo, a security contractor with the pipeline, testified Tuesday that he and other workers hoped to find the tree stands unoccupied and to cut them down so that other crews could then clear the pipeline right-of-way. He said that the first platform was occupied but the second was not, and most of his group headed toward it. In the May 2019 incident, Arroyo said he hung back to watch as other workers moved toward the second tree stand. Suddenly a rope descended from the first stand. Arroyo said he could see a woman donning climbing gear. He said that he wanted to prevent more protesters from moving into the trees, so he grabbed the rope and hung onto it. The struggle that followed was captured on a video, with several protesters trying to pull the rope away and shouting that Arroyo was going to hurt someone because the rope was a safety line. After watching the video, Duncan said that Howell, who is perhaps a foot or more shorter than Arroyo, had pushed between the security guard and the rope, so that he ended up with his arms around her. She reached up and tugged at his hand. Arroyo testified that the protesters were trying to push him down the hill and as the tussle got more intense, he let go of the rope to end the conflict.

EQT looks to sell Mountain Valley Pipeline capacity as upland line construction gets ready to begin  -The chief financial officer for EQT Corp. announced Thursday that the Pittsburgh-based natural gas producer is in discussions to offload some or all of its Mountain Valley Pipeline capacity. The 303-mile natural gas pipeline from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia is unfinished. But EQT financial chief, David Khani, said during the company’s third-quarter results conference call with analysts Thursday that EQT doesn’t believe striking a deal is dependent on the pipeline being in service. “This is a very important financial catalyst for the company,” Khani said, “one which will drive material improvement to margins and free cash flow.” Khani reported that EQT wants to “have something in place at the end of the year.” “Our team is very focused on this opportunity,” Khani said. The Mountain Valley Pipeline project is about two years behind its original schedule and about $2 billion above budget. In August, Equitrans Midstream announced that it is targeting an early 2021 full in-service date and that total project costs could increase 5% over the project’s updated $5.4 billion budget. In 2018, EQT split into two companies, EQT and Equitrans Midstream. The latter is the primary interest owner of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and will operate it. EQT reported a third-quarter net loss of $601 million, primarily from decreased operating revenue, increased interest expense and decreased dividends and other income. EQT curtailed gross production earlier this year as prices have lowered. Khani said EQT is negotiating with four or five parties. Substantial work has been done on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is to cross Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in West Virginia. However, the project faces continued legal challenges from conservation groups and requires further regulatory approval. Natalie Cox, spokeswoman for Equitrans Midstream, said crews have been deployed to begin upland construction work after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lifted a stop-work order on Oct. 9.

 EQT targets sale of some or all of its capacity on Mountain Valley Pipeline by end of year -CFO David Khani said discussions with multiple unnamed parties were ongoing to offload either some or all of EQT's capacity on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has yet to be completed.  EQT has been a major part of the controversial pipeline project that would carry Marcellus and Utica natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, and until the 2018 split had owned what is now the separately owned Equitrans Midstream Corp. (NYSE: ETRN), which is building and will operate MVP. But EQT, the nation's largest independent natural gas producer, has also been locked in several battles with Equitrans over the course of the year over contracts and the rights to a gathering pipeline. CFO David Khani said discussions with multiple unnamed parties were ongoing to offload either some or all of EQT's capacity on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which has yet to be completed. It's planned to go into operation sometime in early 2021, although the $5.3 billion pipeline is two years behind schedule and still not out of the regulatory woods yet. A circuit court last week announced a temporary stay on a permit that would allow waterbody crossings, one of the last things to be done before completion. "We do not believe striking a deal is dependent on MVP being in service and that the viability of executing a transaction continues to improve," Khani told analysts Thursday morning during the Pittsburgh-based natural gas producers 3Q conference call.   Khani termed any deal "a very important financial catalyst for the company." "Our team is very focused on the opportunity and continue to strive to have something in place by the end of the year," Khani said. The company didn't provide too much detail when it came to the negotiations, other than to say it involved up to five separate companies. Some interested in the Mountain Valley Pipeline capacity had been part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project that was canceled after several years and multiple court battles. EQT's attempts to sell future capacity on the pipeline comes at a time when the Appalachian natural gas industry has been cutting back on production instead of the rapid growth in the Marcellus and Utica Shale over the past decade or so. EQT itself has at least twice curtailed significant amounts of production temporarily to respond to lower prices this year, and said it wouldn't hesitate to do so again. And, EQT said Thursday, it wasn't planning to grow production any time soon unless there's high and sustained natural gas prices. So EQT wouldn't necessarily need the space on the MVP pipeline that it is already locked into.Khani said EQT was trying to decide whether it wanted to keep some of the MVP capacity.  "We can probably also replicate that to some degree with a sales agreement as opposed to owning all the pipe, too," he said. "So there are multiple things we're thinking through here."

Supervisors tackle stormwater erosion, grant bonuses to school staff  - The seven-hour meeting began with an address about another controversial subject: the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through the county. An October 2019 stop work order prohibiting further construction of the natural gas pipeline was lifted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month. Speaking on behalf of North Carolina-based Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and a Franklin County group, Preserve Franklin, organizer Ann Rogers implored the board to demand that MVP submit erosion and sediment control and stormwater management plans specifically for Franklin County sites to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Rogers asserted that considerable damage has already been done by the pipeline construction and the continuation risks tons of excess sediment washing into the Blackwater River and Smith Mountain Lake. In a Wednesday phone interview she said she believed an attempt by MVP to come up with specific stormwater plans for the county would show that the potential problems could not be managed. At the meeting, board members were on board with her. “When we have all these rains, it seems like our rivers and streams are a lot more dirty, a lot more mud running through those,” said Blackwater District Supervisor Ronnie Mitchell. “Everywhere you see the pipeline, it’s bare ground. There’s very little vegetation growing on it.” Rocky Mount District Supervisor Mike Carter pointed out flooded pipeline sites that drain into the town’s water system. “I do not understand why Mountain Valley cannot get this route under control,” he said. A resolution requesting exactly the things from DEQ that Rogers advocated was already included in the meeting’s consent agenda in response to the letter Rogers sent Oct. 6. However, officials expressed skepticism that the measure would help, and also vented their frustration. County Administrator Chris Whitlow noted that the county made a similar request in 2015, which was not fulfilled. Assistant County Administrator Steve Sandy explained that the county has no enforcement power over MVP’s erosion control measures. “This board has done this in the past,” said Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson. “They’re not doing what they promised they’re doing, and our hands are tied, and it’s very frustrating, it’s very aggravating.” The board passed the resolution unanimously.

Natural Gas Futures Eke Out Small Gain, but Demand Outlook Still Clouded - Natural gas futures started off the week lower amid further uncertainty surrounding the pace of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export recovery. A “complicated” weather outlook also left traders unsure of where to price gas, but a chillier turn in Monday’s midday models ultimately lifted the November Nymex contract up 2.2 cents to $2.795. December nudged nine-tenths of a cent higher to $3.280. Spot gas prices were sharply higher after the weekend, with chilly air hitting the Midwest and Great Lakes, while heat lingered from California to Texas. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. climbed 16.5 cents to $2.160.After keeping futures prices intact at the end of last week, traders were looking for some clarity on the weather and LNG fronts before making big price moves. Instead, the demand outlook grew murkier as a new obstruction blocked the waterway near the Sabine Pass LNG terminal, while the barge submerged in the Calcasieu Ship Channel also has not been recovered. As of Monday, draft restrictions remained in place, and there was no timeline as to when the waterways would be fully reopened.Reports started circulating after hours on Friday that the waterway near the Cameron LNG terminal would remain blocked for a few more weeks. Bespoke Weather Services noted that Cameron’s volumes had only been around 0.5 Bcf, but there seemed to be expectations that they would rise to more than 2.0 Bcf soon.“Fast forward to now, and the market no longer seems concerned, even though nothing has changed that we are aware of as far as the timeline is concerned,” Bespoke said.NGI data showed feed gas volumes remaining elevated at slightly under 8 Bcf, but many analysts had expected LNG demand to j ump to around 9.5 Bcf in the fourth quarter..

U.S. natgas edges up on rising LNG exports, cold forecasts (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up on Monday as the market focused more on rising liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and colder weather next week than an increase in output. Front-month gas futures rose 2.2 cents, or 0.8%, to settle at $2.795 per million British thermal units. Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 U.S. states jumped to 88.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Friday from a 26-month low of 82.4 bcfd on Oct. 10 as wells return after shutting for Hurricane Delta. As LNG exports rise and the weather turns colder, Refinitiv projected average demand would jump from 89.2 bcfd this week to 98.2 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants has averaged 6.9 bcfd so far in October, up from 5.7 bcfd in September. Traders, however, noted ship traffic into Sabine and Cameron in Louisiana was still limited by obstructions from Delta. That would be the most LNG exports in a month since April and puts exports on track to rise for a third month in a row for the first time since February when feedgas hit a record 8.7 bcfd as rising global gas prices prompted buyers to reverse cargo cancellations. U.S. exports fell from March to July as coronavirus-related demand destruction caused prices in Europe and Asia to collapse to record lows and buyers to cancel around 175 U.S. cargoes. But now, front-month gas prices in Europe and Asia were trading at their highest since November 2019, putting them both more than $2 per mmBtu over the U.S. Henry Hub benchmark. In Texas, mild weather and low demand caused next-day gas at the Waha hub to fall into negative territory for the first time since April, while power at the Ercot North hub dropped to its lowest since May 2017.

U.S. natgas jump to 20-month high on rising LNG exports, cold weather (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped over 4% to their highest close in 20 months on Tuesday on rising liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and forecasts for colder weather and more heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected. Front-month gas futures rose 11.8 cents, or 4.2%, to settle at $2.913 per million British thermal units, their highest close since January 2019. Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 U.S. states slipped to 88.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Monday from a six-week high of 88.6 bcfd last week. As LNG exports rise and the weather turns colder, Refinitiv projected average demand would jump from 90.0 bcfd this week to 98.7 bcfd next week. Tankers were entering and leaving Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass LNG export plant in Louisiana despite draft limitations in the Sabine-Neches Waterway after a rig ran aground in the channel over the weekend. The amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants has averaged 6.9 bcfd so far in October, up from 5.7 bcfd in September. That would be the most LNG exports in a month since April and puts exports on track to rise for a third month in a row for the first time since February when feedgas hit a record 8.7 bcfd as rising global gas prices prompted buyers to reverse cargo cancellations. U.S. exports fell from March to July as coronavirus-related demand destruction caused prices in Europe and Asia to collapse to record lows and buyers to cancel around 175 U.S. cargoes. But now, front-month gas prices in Europe and Asia were trading at their highest since November 2019 and October 2019, respectively, putting both more than $2 per mmBtu over the U.S. Henry Hub benchmark.

U.S. natgas jumps to 20-month high over $3 on rising LNG exports (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures climbed almost 4% to a 20-month high on Wednesday as liquefied natural gas exports rise and output eases. Front-month gas futures rose 11.0 cents, or 3.8%, to settle at $3.023 per million British thermal units. That was their first close over $3 since January 2019 and puts the contract up almost 70% from a recent low of $1.795 on Sept. 21. Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged 86.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in October. That would be the lowest in a month since September 2018 and puts output on track to drop for a fourth month in a row for the first time since June 2016, according to Refinitiv and federal energy data. Output hit an all-time high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019. Those production declines come as low prices earlier in the year due to coronavirus demand destruction caused energy firms to shut oil and gas wells and cut back on new drilling by so much that output from new wells no longer offsets existing well declines. As LNG exports rise and the weather turns colder, Refinitiv projected average demand would jump from 90.0 bcfd this week to 97.7 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants has averaged 7.0 bcfd so far in October, up from 5.7 bcfd in September. That would be the most in a month since April and puts exports on track to rise for a third month in a row for the first time since February when feedgas hit a record 8.7 bcfd as rising global gas prices prompt buyers to reverse cargo cancellations. Gas prices in Europe and Asia were trading at their highest since November 2019 and October 2019, respectively.

US working natural gas volumes in underground storage rise by 49 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts — US natural gas storage volumes rose by 2 Bcf less than an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts anticipated, but once again much less than the five-year average as the Henry Hub prompt month price has gained 50 cents since the beginning of October. Storage inventories increased by 49 Bcf to 3.926 Tcf for the week-ended Oct. 16 the US Energy Information Administration reported Oct. 22. The injection was less than an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts calling for a 51-Bcf build. The injection measured much less than half the 92-Bcf build reported during the same week last year as well as the five-year average rise of 75 Bcf, according to EIA data. Total supplies were down 1.5 Bcf/d on the week at an average 88.6 Bcf/d, led by a combined 1 Bcf/d decline in onshore and offshore production, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Net Canadian imports to the Lower 48 also declined 500 MMcf/d week over week due to maintenances and colder temperatures in West Canada. Downstream, total US demand fell by 1.7 Bcf/d, with the majority of the decline stemming from weaker residential and commercial demand in the Midwest and Northeast regions. LNG feedgas demand also slipped by 600 MMcf/d. Storage volumes now stand 345 Bcf, or 9.6%, higher on the year and 327 Bcf, or 9%, more than the five-year average. The NYMEX Henry Hub November contract remained flat at $3.02/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report at 10:30 am ET. It has increased by 50 cents since the beginning of October. The remaining winter strip, December through March, slipped 3.5 cents to $3.35/MMBtu. This is up 30 cents, or around 10%, from where the strip traded at the beginning of October. Total supplies are up 3.4 Bcf/d on the week to an average 92.1 Bcf/d, led by a 2.5 Bcf/d rise in onshore production, and bolstered by an additional 1.3 Bcf/d increase in offshore production. Total demand is up even higher , jumping by 4.8 Bcf/d to average 87.6 Bcf/d. Residential and commercial demand made a strong recovery in the Midwest and Northeast regions, rising by 4 Bcf/d this week in those two regions alone. However, gas-fired power generation demand has fallen by 2.7 Bcf/d on the week as US-level temperatures have cooled. The injection season might end earlier than usual as the last week of October is likely to show a single-digit net build, which is well below the five-year average gain of 52 Bcf.

U.S. natgas holds near 20-month high on small storage build, rising LNG exports (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures traded within a few cents of a 20-month high on Thursday on a slightly smaller than expected weekly storage build and as liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports keep rising. Gas prices have also soared in recent days as output slowed and on forecasts for colder weather and higher heating demand over the next two weeks. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said U.S. utilities injected 49 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage in the week ended Oct. 16. That was slightly lower than the 52-bcf build analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 92 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average build of 75 bcf. The increase boosted stockpiles to 3.926 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 9.1% above the five-year average of 3.599 tcf for this time of year and keeps overall inventories on track to get close to a record high over 4.0 tcf by the end of October. Front-month gas futures fell 1.6 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $3.007 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Wednesday, the contract closed at its highest since January 2019, putting it up about 68% from a recent low of $1.795 on Sept. 21. As LNG exports rise and the weather turns colder, Refinitiv projected average demand would jump from 90.0 bcfd this week to 98.2 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants has averaged 7.1 bcfd so far in October, up from 5.7 bcfd in September. That would be the most in a month since April and puts exports on track to rise for a third month in a row for the first time since February when feedgas hit a record 8.7 bcfd as rising global gas prices prompt buyers to reverse cargo cancellations. Gas benchmarks in Europe and Asia traded their highest since November 2019 and October 2019, respectively, putting both more than $2/mmBtu over the U.S. Henry Hub.

U.S. natgas futures slip as power generators burn more coal  (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures slipped on Friday on forecasts for demand to decline in early November when gas price increases were expected to cause power generators to burn more coal and less gas to produce electricity. Front-month gas futures fell 3.6 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $2.971 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). Earlier in the week, the contract closed at its highest since January 2019 on rising liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and slowing output. For the week, the front-month was on track to gain about 7%, putting it up for a fifth week in a row for the first time since November 2018. Data provider Refinitiv said output in the Lower 48 U.S. states averaged 86.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in October. That would be the lowest in a month since October 2018. Output hit an all-time high of 95.4 bcfd in November 2019. Refinitiv projected average demand would jump from 89.9 bcfd this week to 97.5 bcfd next week before easing to 97.1 bcfd in two weeks when power generators were expected to burn less gas. The amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants has averaged 7.1 bcfd so far in October, up from 5.7 bcfd in September. That would be the most in a month since April and puts exports on track to rise for a third month in a row for the first time since February when feedgas hit a record 8.7 bcfd as rising global gas prices prompt buyers to reverse past cargo cancellations. Gas benchmarks in Europe and Asia traded at their highest since November 2019 and October 2019, respectively, putting both more than $2 per mmBtu over the U.S. Henry Hub. U.S. pipeline exports to Mexico, meanwhile, averaged 6.037 bcfd so far in October, topping September's 6.022-bcfd record.

 Peak Gas Is Coming to the U.S. Sooner Than Anyone Expected -- One of the largest utilities in the U.S. put $8 billion into a bet that natural gas would dominate American electricity much like coal had before as Southern Co set on its landmark acquisition: natural-gas distributor AGL Resources Inc. Gas looked to be on the verge of generational dominance at the time. The American fracking boom had made the fuel superabundant and cheap, hastening coal’s rapid decline, while energy from wind and solar had higher costs and lower reliability. A giant utility like Southern would naturally see gas pipelines and storage as the key to a durable and lucrative future, meeting demand that would continue to grow. Now those expansive time horizons are in deep doubt. In fact, there are flashing signs that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak gas, with demand topping out decades ahead of schedule. “The era of robust growth in the U.S. natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “It doesn’t mean the market falls apart. It doesn’t mean gas demand falls off of a cliff. It means that we need less new supply going forward.”Natural gas only fulfilled its destiny as the nation’s top power source in 2016, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the creation of a gas-based economy. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Byrd. The American gas peak will mark a critical juncture—and it may have already been reached. McDermott expects overall U.S. gas demand growth in the U.S. slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. Overall demand could flatline or fall slightly if the Democrats win in November, a dramatic shift after years of record growth. “It’s a gradual trend, but it does add up over time,” he says.  By the end of the decade, McDermott forecasts that gas will no longer be the largest producer of electricity in the U.S. And the pace of the gas decline could be accelerated if the presidential election goes to Joe Biden, who has campaigned on the goal to eliminate carbon emissions from America’s power grids by 2035.Some in the industry are making moves that indicate the writing is on the wall. Dominion Energy Inc., one of America’s biggest power companies, this summer agreed to sell substantially all of its gas pipeline assets. “To state the obvious, permitting for investment in gas transmission and storage has become increasingly litigious, uncertain and costly,” said Tom Farrell, Dominion’s executive chairman, in July. “This trend, though deeply concerning for our country’s economic growth and energy security, is a new reality, which threatens the pace at which we intended to grow these assets.”Natural gas emerged out of the 2008-2009 recession as the fuel best suited to reduce U.S. emissions from electricity. It’s cleaner and more efficient than coal, and fracking’s success ensured it would be cheap and plentiful. That helped unlock coal’s grip on electric grids and supercharged gas economies in Pennsylvania and on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. soon switched from being a gas importer to one of the world’s leading exporters. Renewables, meanwhile, still carried the stigma of hippie-ish science experiments that depended on government support and couldn’t provide around-the-clock electricity as long as the sun set and the wind ebbed. But the arrival of big-storage batteries has meant that wind and solar power will slowly be less dependent on the whims of weather, calling into question assumptions that there would be plenty of need for new gas alongside renewables. Solar farms backed up by batteries are already beating out gas on costs in parts of the U.S. Southwest , thanks in part to sharply falling prices of lithium-ion systems.

Louisiana lawmakers advance oil tax break and protection from new business taxes for unemployment benefits - – Louisiana legislators on Tuesday gave final passage to three instruments that will prevent the low balance of the unemployment trust fund from triggering higher business taxes and lower benefits, at least for next year. They also approved a tax break meant to stimulate the oil and gas industry that, while scaled back from its original form, could reduce state tax collections by tens of millions of dollars. Senate concurrent resolutions 9 and 5 and Senate Bill 55, taken together, will freeze the amount of employers’ wages that are taxable to pay for unemployment benefits at their current level, keep benefits at their current level, and suspend a “solvency tax” employers would otherwise have to pay now that state officials have begun borrowing from the federal government to keep paying benefits. Click here for details 2:02 The Louisiana Workforce Commission has borrowed at least $61 million so far and expects to need about $233 million in federal money. Lawmakers don’t yet have a plan to pay back all of the money, though they voted to set aside $85 million in a spending bill during the current special session. Many hope a future federal stimulus bill will provide money to shore up the unemployment trust fund that won’t need to be paid back. Senators also approved House Bill 29 by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, which would provide a severance tax exemption for companies that rework abandoned wells for 24 months or until the cost of investment is paid off, whichever comes first. As amended Tuesday, the program would end in three years, though it could be extended after that point. advertisement The bill could subtract nearly $25 million from state coffers over three years, according to Legislative Fiscal Office estimates. Meanwhile, out-of-state taxpayers would benefit, critics say. “Our citizens have to make up the difference in tax dollars,”

With Bankruptcies Mounting, Faltering Oil and Gas Firms Are Leaving a Multi-Billion Dollar Cleanup Bill to the Public - Amid a record wave of bankruptcies, the U.S. oil and gas industry is on the verge of defaulting on billions of dollars in environmental cleanup obligations.Even the largest companies in the industry appear to have few plans to properly clean up and plug oil and gas wells after the wells stop producing — despite being legally required to do so. While the bankruptcy process could be an opportunity to hold accountable either these firms, or the firms acquiring the assets via bankruptcy, it instead has offered more opportunities for companies to walk away from cleanup responsibilities — while often rewarding the same executives who bankrupted them.The results may be publicly funded cleanups of the millions of oil and gas wells that these companies have left behind. In a new report, Carbon Tracker, an independent climate-focused financial think tank, has estimated the costs to plug the 2.6 million documented onshore wells in the U.S. at $280 billion. This estimate does not include the costs to address an estimated 1.2 million undocumented wells.Greg Rogers, a former Big Oil advisor, and co-author of a previous Carbon Tracker report on the likely costs of properly shutting down shale wells, suggested to DeSmog that oil and gas companies have factored walking away from their cleanup responsibilities into their business planning.“The plan is that these costs will be transferred, these obligations will be transferred to the state at some point,” Rogers told DeSmog, “Why would a company want to go out and spend hundreds of millions of dollars plugging all of these wells when it could instead pay its executives?” Despite federal and state laws requiring oil and gas companies to clean up and properly cap and abandon wells, there is overwhelming evidence that this is not happening. One major reason why is that often, regulators lack the power to enforce compliance once the permits to drill the wells have been issued. The best method to guarantee the wells are properly capped and abandoned is for regulators to require the companies to put up the money to do that before the well is drilled. This is most often done via a process known as surety bonding. However, if the amount of money required for bonding is small enough, there is no incentive for companies to spend the additional money to properly cap the wells once the wells are no longer producing oil or gas. From a business standpoint, it is smarter for the well owner to walk away from the obligations at that point. The new report from Carbon Tracker also notes that current bonding monies allocated for well cleanup are equal to roughly only 1 percent of that total expected cost.

 Minnesota groups highlight financial and environmental risks of natural gas | Energy News Network - A coalition of 10 environmental groups is trying to change the perception that natural gas is cheap or clean. With a billion-dollar gas-fired power plant proposal on the horizon, a new campaign in Minnesota is attempting to shift public opinion on the fuel by highlighting its ties to fracking and potential financial risks. The strategy: challenge the perception that gas is cheap or clean. Or natural. Once embraced by utilities and environmentalists as a cleaner-burning and less-expensive alternative to coal, natural gas transformed the nation’s electricity system over the last decade and a half, replacing more than 100 coal plants and smoothing the path for a surge of new wind and solar capacity. Now, with the clock ticking to dramatically decrease climate emissions, growing awareness about its environmental side effects, and the economics of renewables and storage nipping at its heels, natural gas has lost its luster among many environmentalists. Yet utilities maintain that the fuel is still necessary in the near term to balance intermittent renewables. The coalition of environmental and clean energy groups behind the “Energy We Can’t Afford” campaign believe utilities in the state have been too slow to recognize these trends, and they’re preparing to mobilize the public to help lobby against the approval of new natural gas power plants. Minnesota’s utilities have pledged to close all but one of the state’s remaining four coal plants, but their long-term plans call for building new natural gas plants while adding significantly to their renewable energy portfolios. Utilities have long argued gas offers the least polluting and least expensive option for providing baseload power that allows for greater renewable energy integration.

Administrative law judge deals loss to Line 3 pipeline critics -  An administrative law judge has found that Minnesota pollution regulators properly considered the construction impacts of Enbridge’s controversial new pipeline, a blow to the oil pipeline’s opponents.The ruling by Judge James LaFave stems from a challenge to the draft water permits for the pipeline’s construction, which were approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in February.Three environmental groups and two Ojibwe bands asked for a “contested case” hearing over the draft permits. The MPCA agreed and a hearing was held this summer before LaFave.In an opinion released Friday, LaFave wrote that the challengers “failed to prove” that construction of the pipeline — a replacement for Enbridge’s current Line 3 — would permanently impact water quality and wetlands. Also, that there was no proof that the MPCA and Enbridge had undercounted the amount of wetland affected by the construction. The $2.6 billion, 340-mile pipeline across northern Minnesota would cross 212 streams and affect more than 700 acres of wetlands. Enbridge Energy has already built a 14-mile stretch of its new pipeline in Wisconsin and another short portion in North Dakota. It is still waiting for permits to build the part across northern Minnesota.

Bay Mills Indian Community submits comments urging state to reject Line 5 tunnel permits -- The Bay Mills Indian Community have submitted formal comments to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, in opposition to Enbridge’s permit applications for its Line 5 pipeline tunnel project. BMIC said they have concerns over lack of information Enbridge has provided to the state, specifically, information they said is required to determine whether or not the tunnel project satisfies the state’s legal requirements. “We have said all along that this pipeline poses an existential threat to our rights under treaties we have signed with the United States,” said Bryan Newland, BMIC tribal chairman. “This pipeline also poses a grave danger to the watersheds of three of the five Great Lakes. We are going to make sure that the state has a clear picture of these risks, and of their responsibility to protect our waters and our rights.” BMIC is urging the state to reject Enbridge’s applications for permits in accordance with the Clean Water Act and Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

Enbridge's Line 5: an unnecessary and imprudent investment - What are the full costs of our continued dependence on fossil fuels? The answer should inform the Whitmer administration’s decisions on the future of Line 5 — the 67-year old pipeline system transporting crude oil across Michigan and under the Straits of Mackinac. The burning of fossil fuels affects the environment and public health in ways that are well documented by scientists, economists, and public health officials. The impact from fossil fuel uses include respiratory diseases from air pollution, environmental degradation of surface and groundwater, and acidification of oceans and lakes. The combustion of fossil fuels also accounts for 80 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions — by far, the predominant cause of the evolving climate crisis. Economists call these effects of fossil fuel development and combustion “negative externalities” that are not accounted for in the commodity prices of fossil fuels but are, nevertheless, very real costs that are ultimately passed along to the public. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) classifies negative externalities attributed to fossil fuels as “subsidies” that totaled over $4.4 trillion in 2017 alone. But the IMF’s accounting of the environmental and health costs associated with the use of fossil fuels is incomplete. As the improved economics of clean energy technologies like wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and battery storage begin to displace fossil fuel-based technologies, fossil fuel companies are leaving new categories of costly environmental and health liabilities to the public.The oil development industry lost an estimated $280 billion between 2007 and 2018.  Since 2015, more than 200 North American oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving $130 billion in debt.  As these oil and gas developers terminate operations, they leave a legacy of hugely expensive problems to the public.In addition to devalued landscapes and contaminated water and soils, failed oil and gas companies will leave an estimated 2.6 million abandoned oil and gas wells to the public requiring an estimated $280 billion to properly close.  Until properly closed – a highly unlikely occurrence in the foreseeable future —the wells will leak millions of tons of residual methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

DNR Approves Two Permits for Line 3 Project - The Department of Natural Resources has approved two permits for the proposed Enbridge Line 3 pipeline planned to run across northern Minnesota to connect oil pipelines in Canada and Wisconsin.Both permits address the Gully 30 Fen in Polk County, and the DNR says the project meets the applicable environmental regulatory requirements for these particular permits. One of the permits, the Gully 30 Fen Calcareous Fen Management Plan, requires monitoring during and after construction to ensure minimal impact and mandates "practices to protect the fen such as wetland mats to prevent compaction," the DNR outlines in a Monday press release.The second permit, which addresses groundwater appropriation, sets "pumping rate and volume restrictions necessary to ensure sustainable use," The Line 3 pipeline must receive the go-ahead on eight other DNR-required permits, which are under consideration. The proposed pipeline, if built, would replace Enbridge's current Line 3 system.The permit approvals come less than a week after an administrative law judge ruledthat state pollution regulators properly weighed the pipeline's construction impacts on the environment.

 Black Americans in ‘Cancer Alley’ disproportionately exposed to toxic pollution - (NBC video) In St. James Parish, Louisiana, residents face some of the highest cancer risks in the country due to air pollution from the nearby 85-mile industrial corridor. Taiwanese plastics company Formosa plans to build a 2,400 acre site that could double the toxic emissions in the parish.

Suit: Feds ignore risk of huge spills to endangered species (AP) — Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity,Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network. Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday. The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP’s out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years. The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels,” or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters). The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf. The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because “Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill.”

CAMPAIGN 2020: Oil and gas industry goes in big for Trump -- Friday, October 16, 2020 -- The oil and natural gas industry has a clear favorite in the 2020 presidential election: Republican Donald Trump. Trump's reelection campaign has brought in at least $1.9 million from donors in the oil and gas industry since his 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis, which includes Federal Election Commission data on donations through the end of August. That total, with more than two months left in the election season, exceeds the $1.2 million industry executives and workers gave Trump in the entire 2016 campaign cycle, CRP records show. Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic challenger, has gotten just $623,700 from oil and gas as of August. By comparison, Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, wasn't far behind Trump's receipts from the industry, with $1 million. The totals don't include outside groups like super political action committees and hybrid PACs, such as America First Action, the Great America PAC and the Committee to Defend the President on the GOP side, and Priorities USA Action and Unite the Country on the Democratic side. Those organizations can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. While they have to disclose donors, they can also take cash from "dark money" groups that do not disclose donors. With super PACs and hybrid PACs included, Trump's total oil and gas support would be $12.8 million in the 2020 cycle, the Center for Responsive Politics said, not accounting for the hidden dollars. In the wider money race — which is nearly certain to be the most expensive one in history — Biden is ahead. The Democrat has taken in $531 million, while outside pro-Biden groups have raised $177.6 million, as of the end of August. Trump has raised just $476.3 million, while his outside groups have raised $119.2 million. Among Trump's biggest financial backers in the oil and gas world is Kelcy Warren, the chairman of pipeline giant Energy Transfer LP and its CEO until earlier this month. Warren cut a $10 million check to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, in August; gave the president's campaign $720,000 with his wife, Amy, last year; and held a fundraiser for Trump at his Dallas home this summer. Energy Transfer developed the Dakota Access pipeline with the help of a Trump order in 2017, and while Biden hasn't said whether he would seek to shut the line down if elected, he is under significant pressure to do so. Energy Transfer didn't return a request for comment for Warren.

Texas Governor Says Biden 'Just Killed' Family Paychecks With Oil Comments - Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Joe Biden had "killed" the paychecks of families working in the oil industry after the Democratic nominee said he would "transition" away from the fossil fuel if he were elected president.  Gov. Abbott claimed the former vice president's pledge marked a "transition away" from Texas—a state where he is running neck-and-neck with President Donald Trump, according to state polls. Texas is the largest producer of crude oil and natural gas in the U.S., making the energy industry a major employer in the Lone Star State. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 41 percent of U.S. crude oil production took place in Texas last year.

Oil Industry Outlook Still Grim — Especially in Texas - Texas has been hit especially hard by the economic downturn since the start of the coronavirus pandemic thanks to a catastrophic drop in oil prices. Unfortunately, the industry is not poised for a comeback yet.Jobs are on everyone’s minds as the unemployment rate sits at 8.3%, which is down from the peak of 13.5% in April thanks to so many Texans no longer looking for work,according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The oil and gas industry has lost 107,000 jobs during the pandemic, the fastest number of layoffs in industry history. As it stands now, Texas oil field operators employ only 162,000 workers, down by half from a peak of 297,000 in December 2014.Global consulting firm Deloitte crunched the numbers on oil and gas industry jobs, and people hoping for more hiring are likely to be disappointed for quite a while.“Our multivariate statistical analysis on employment and market data suggests that as much as 70% of jobs lost during the pandemic may not come back by the end of 2021 in a consensus business-as-usual scenario,” the latest report says.Job recovery will be slow, but if the price of oil raises back to $45 per barrel as it is expected to do, then Deloitte expects to see at least some significant rehiring.However, new data may indicate bad news for Texas oil and gas workers. Giant mergers are likely to slash jobs further. This week, both ConocoPhillips and Pioneer Natural Resources announced takeovers of other energy companies with combined totals of more than $15 billion. The move is likely a way to combine efforts and slash costs, but as with all mergers that also means eliminating redundancies. This is in addition to Chevron buying Houston-based Noble Energy earlier this month and Devon Energy’s plans to purchase WPX Energy soon.That is a lot of consolidation, and it’s going to put more workers off payrolls.“Everybody knows that when two companies come together, the sum of the two is not going to survive,” said Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist with the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, to the Houston Chronicle. “If Company X has 1,000 employees and Company Y has 1,000, you’re not going to have a combined company with 2,000 employees. The tendency is that consolidation causes job loss.” Of course, mergers are better than bankruptcies, where we lead the nation in oil and gas. Even before the pandemic and the oil crash, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas projected that more Texas oil and gas business would fail because of the Russian-Saudi Arabian price war. Combined with a lack of demand, the fall of many businesses was inevitable. At least 10 companies in Texas have filed for bankruptcy. As the job market shrinks, so do worker opportunities. 

 Merit SI completes first solar power plant to directly power pipeline compressor station - Merit SI, LLC, a leading sustainable infrastructure company, has announced that it, along with a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc., has completed project development and construction of the first solar power plant in the US designed to directly help power an interstate natural gas pipeline compressor station. Merit SI completes first solar power plant to directly power pipeline compressor station The innovative, clean energy project was sponsored by and will serve Texas Eastern Transmission, LP, a subsidiary of Enbridge. Enbridge’s renewable energy projects (operating or under-construction) across North America and Europe have the capacity to generate approximately 4600 MW of zero-emission energy (more than 1750 MW net, based on equity stake). The 2.25 MW AC project, located in West Amwell Township, NJ, at Texas Eastern’s Lambertville Compressor Station, is estimated to reduce associated GHG emission by 58 500 metric t over its operating life and unburden the electric transmission grid during high demand, higher cost, summer months. “Powering our compressor stations in part with behind-the-meter solar helps us manage electricity costs and improve our environmental performance. Additionally, these projects bring incremental economic development into the communities we serve,” said Caitlin Tessin, Director of Market Innovation at Enbridge.

ConocoPhillips to Acquire Permian Operator in $9.7B Deal-- ConocoPhillips agreed to buy Concho Resources Inc. for about $9.7 billion in stock, the largest shale industry deal since the collapse in energy demand earlier this year and one that will create a heavyweight driller in America’s most prolific oil field. Investors will get 1.46 Conoco shares for each Concho share, the companies said Monday in a statement. The transaction represents a 15% premium over Concho’s closing price on Oct. 13, the last trading session before Bloomberg News first reported the companies were in talks. The pandemic-induced price crash and lackluster global economic recovery have accelerated the push for consolidation across the shale patch, which is under severe financial strain after years of debt-fueled growth. The combination of Conoco and Concho will be one of the dominant operators in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, rivaling only the likes of Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Corp. in terms of crude output. The deal may also signal further mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Despite a compelling rationale for more consolidation in order to cut costs, a lack of cash and Wall Street’s antipathy toward the sector has, until recently, made it hard to get deals across the line. But with oil stable at around $40 a barrel, there are signs that M&A is now gaining momentum. Chevron Corp. completed its acquisition of Noble Energy Inc. in early October, and in late September Devon Energy Corp. announced it was buying Permian operator WPX Energy Inc. Unlike some shale deals in 2019, Devon’s tie-up with WPX was well-received, with both companies agreeing on a small deal premium. That follows investor criticism of some deal premiums last year for being excessive. The Concho takeover is Conoco’s biggest under its current chief executive officer, Ryan Lance, who until now has sought to position the company almost as an anti-shale option for Wall Street, touting little-to-no-growth, steady cash flow and disciplined spending. While Lance has made no secret of his desire to take advantage of the downturn to expand in shale, he said in July that any transaction must meet Conoco’s criteria of having a low cost of supply while being able to compete with the rest of the company’s portfolio. Houston-based Conoco emerged from the oil market slump in a relatively strong position with about $7 billion of cash on hand. It recently resumed share buybacks. But its growth outlook is challenged: second-quarter production was down by almost 25% from a year earlier after it joined many other U.S. drillers in curbing output in response to lower prices. Conoco and Concho said on a conference call that the deal didn’t arise from a need to fix anything but rather a desire to bulk up. “Evaluating the go-forward size and scale really becomes more and more important,” Concho CEO Tim Leach, who will be executive vice president and president of the merged companies’ operations in the lower 48 U.S. states, said on the call. “The ‘why now’ is that we have common vision on this, and creating a company that can attract capital and be a leader in that regard is the compelling reason why we wanted to move now.” Adding Concho will dramatically alter Conoco’s production profile. The Midland, Texas-based shale company is entirely focused on the Permian and pumped 319,000 barrels in the second quarter, about six times what Conoco produced there. The combination will save $500 million a year by 2022, and hand shareholders more than 30 percent of cash from operations through dividends and other distributions, the companies said.

ConocoPhillips Doubles Down On The Permian Basin And Fracking With Concho Acquisition - As anticipated, ConocoPhillips COP -0.4% announced Monday morning that it has agreed to a deal to acquire big independent Permian Basin producer Concho Resources in an all-stock transaction valued at $9.7 billion. As such, it represents the largest U.S. shale-focused acquisition thus far in 2020, far surpassing the $5 billion Chevron CVX +0.6% paid to acquire Noble Energy NBL +1.4% in July. “Together, ConocoPhillips and Concho will have unmatched scale and quality across the important value drivers in our business: an enviable low cost of supply asset base, a strong balance sheet, a disciplined capital allocation approach, ESG excellence and great people,” ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Ryan Lance said Monday morning in a press statement. Shareholders of Concho will receive 1.46 shares of ConocoPhillips for each Concho share owned, which amounts to a 15% premium above current valuation. That level of premium had been widely anticipated by market analysts as rumors about the pending deal circulated since last Wednesday. ConocoPhillips said in its release that the combined company would sport an asset base consisting of 23 billion barrels of oil equivalent and “an average cost of supply below $30 per barrel WTI.” Although that enterprise-wide average cost of supply is not specific to the new company’s Permian/Delaware Basin shale holdings, it would enable ConocoPhillips to continue to develop those rich underground assets at current market prices. Given that Lance also expects the deal to result in about $500 million in annual cost and capital savings through 2022, it creates a very positive story for the company to communicate. Gauging by initial analyst and investor reactions, that story is playing quite well so far. Robert Clarke, vice president, Lower 48 upstream, at Wood Mackenzie, said in a statement that “The combination is remarkable. Just in regards to scale, ConocoPhillips is adding enough Permian production to nip at the heels of ExxonMobil’s XOM +0.8% massive programme. We like the distinctives each firm brings too. Concho has a history of acquisitions in the region and brings a considerable amount of incumbent Permian knowledge. ConocoPhillips has proven itself as a leader in shale technology...The combination bodes well for the Permian’s longer-term outlook.”

Modest Deals Reflect Slide for US Shale-- There is no more dramatic sign of the U.S. shale industry’s fall from grace than one of the best in the business being sold off for less than a third of its peak value. Concho Resources Inc., an early explorer of the Permian Basin’s once-coveted oil riches that was worth $32 billion just two years ago, is selling for $9.7 billion in stock. ConocoPhillips is paying a meager 15% premium over Concho’s closing price on Oct. 13, the last trading session before Bloomberg News first reported the companies were in talks. Concho is not alone: More than half of the shale deals this year came with a premium of less than 10% over stock prices that had already plunged in the past couple of years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Shale explorers have rapidly lost favor with Wall Street after years of high debt, poor shareholder returns and value-destroying deals. The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on oil demand made matters worse, pushing many into bankruptcy. Private equity firm Kimmeridge Energy is among investors urging the highly fragmented industry to seek low-premium deals, gain scale and cut costs. “To sell out at a 15% premium I think sends the message that it’s going to be a lot harder to be a stand-alone” oil company, Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward Jones, said Monday in a phone interview. In just the last few weeks, Chevron Corp. concluded the purchase of Noble Energy Inc. for a modest 12% premium, while WPX Energy Inc. agreed to merge with Devon Energy Corp. for a benefit of just 4.2% above its pre-deal share price, according to data combined by Bloomberg. Both deals, like Conoco-Concho, were all-stock transactions, meaning there’s no golden parachute for investors. Pioneer Natural Resources Co. is in talks to buy rival U.S. shale driller Parsley Energy Inc. in an all-stock deal that could be finalized by the end of the month, a person familiar with the matter said Monday. Dow Jones earlier reported the talks. The more down-to-earth deals of late are in stark contrast to Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s $37 billion acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. last year. The purchase raised the ire of billionaire investor Carl Icahn and left Occidental, which is now worth little more than $9 billion, saddled with about $40 billion of debt. “We looked at the way the world was changing and the need for size and scale,” Concho Chief Executive Officer Tim Leach said in an interview. “The fact that this transaction is 100% stock -- on a relative basis all our shareholders are still exposed to all the upside of the combined company.” While executives like Leach point to the value of being able to participate in an oil-price rally with an all-stock deal, it’s also a sign that buyers are not willing to fund purchases with cash, which would often mean taking on debt. And tapping shareholders for funds is out of the question. Energy has slumped to less than 2% of the S&P 500 Index, down from more than 11% a decade ago, even as the wider market rose to record levels. U.S. oil production has tumbled to around 10.5 million barrels a day from a record 13 million earlier this year. That’s the equivalent of removing more than the current production of OPEC member Kuwait. The industry is unlikely to make that back anytime soon, and more declines may be on the way next year. Occidental Petroleum Corp. CEO Vicki Hollub last week said the U.S. may never again reach those record production levels. This is in part due to shale wells’ rapid decline rate -- as much as 70% within the first year -- and the need for new wells, and money to drill them, to offset the production drop-off.

Pioneer Natural Resources Is in Talks to Buy Parsley Energy – WSJ  - Pioneer Natural Resources Co. is in talks to buy Parsley Energy Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, as a wave of consolidation takes hold in the beleaguered oil patch. The two oil-and-gas companies, shale producers that operate in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, are discussing an all-stock deal that could be completed by the end of the month assuming the talks don’t fall apart, the people said. Austin, Texas-based Parsley has a market value of about $4 billion. It also has more than $3 billion of debt. The combination would be the latest in a series of tie-ups among energy producers seeking to scale up amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has eroded oil demand. That has caused a historic collapse in U.S. benchmark oil prices, which briefly plunged below zero in April and have since rebounded to around $41 a barrel. A deal would follow close on the heels of ConocoPhillips’s $9.7 billion agreement Monday to buy Concho Resources Inc. Devon Energy Corp. agreed last month to a $2.6 billion merger with WPX Energy Inc., while Chevron Corp. agreed in July to buy Noble Energy Inc. for about $5 billion. Buying Parsley would give Pioneer additional acreage in the Permian, solidifying the company’s place as one of the largest oil producers in America’s top oil field. Pioneer Chief Executive Scott Sheffield is the father of Parsley’s co-founder and chairman, Bryan Sheffield. Based in Irving, Texas, Pioneer has a market value of roughly $15 billion after its shares dropped by nearly two-thirds from a high in mid-2014. The elder Sheffield previously ran Pioneer from 1997 to 2016. He returned to the company in 2019 after Pioneer strained to meet production goals and its costs soared under his successor. The company recently said Chief Financial Officer Richard Dealy would become president and chief operating officer early next year, likely setting him up to eventually take over.

Pioneer Natural Resources to Buy Parsley Energy for $4.5 Billion – WSJ - Pioneer Natural Resources Co. as agreed to buy Parsley Energy Inc. for $4.5 billion, the latest in a flurry of U.S. oil tie-ups as companies seek to weather low prices brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.The all-stock deal, which values Parsley at a 7.9% premium to its closing value Monday, would solidify Pioneer’s place as one of the largest producers in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the top American oil field. The long-anticipated string of transactions is expected to continue for healthier companies in the country’s most prolific oil fields, investors said, while many smaller, debt-burdened companies that are hoping for a deal may draw few offers. Pioneer Chief Executive Scott Sheffield said in an interview Tuesday that size and scale would be key to surviving as an independent oil-and-gas producer as the world transitions away from fossil fuels, and for his company would help it return more cash to shareholders. But he said additional combinations of industry players may take time.“I do not see much more coming until these other companies can deliver with excess cash flow over the next two or three years,” he said.“The combination of Parsley and Pioneer creates an organization set to thrive as we forge a strong new link at the low end of the global cost curve,” Parsley Chief Executive Matt Gallagher said in a statement. He is poised to join the combined company’s board of directors

Landowners living near shuttered oil and gas drilling sites worry economic crisis will leave behind environmental hazards --About a year ago, Schell bought a 310-acre farm in Mead that he leases to someone else to raise crops. But he was spending more and more time there, trying to get Occidental Petroleum to clean up, or “plug,” old wells the company inherited when it bought Anadarko Petroleum in 2019.“(Occidental) started plugging these in April and then they told me they weren’t going to plug the rest of them. One of the guys flat out told me the reason they’re not going to do the rest of them is because they don’t have the money,” Schell said.Last week, Occidental told Schell that it will close the five remaining wells. He’s glad for the news, which follows an inspection by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, but said not everyone has time to keep after a company or the money to hire a lawyer like he did. Schell is not alone in wondering what the industry’s economic downturn, driven by low prices and sinking demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, might mean for Colorado landowners and communities. Is there a danger that struggling companies will walk away rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars to clean up just one well site? Will companies going through bankruptcy have the resources to safely maintain operations and adhere to agreements they’ve struck?Public concern boiled to the point that in May the oil and gas commissionissued a paper saying that it is “prepared for and continues to protect public health, safety, welfare, and the environment through the economic downturn” in the industry and changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. In early September, the Denver-based company Ursa Piceance Holdings, with 41,000 acres of oil and gas properties in western Colorado and about 580 active wells, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has wells in Battlement Mesa and wants to drill more. Another Denver company, Extraction Oil and Gas, filed for Chapter 11 protection in June. Cristen Logan of Broomfield, who lives within a mile of an 18-well pad owned by Extraction, is worried about the company’s move to end a contract with a pipeline business that ships oil, gas and water from the wells, a system designed to reduce emissions.

Judge denies tribes' bid to halt Keystone oil pipeline work (AP) — A federal judge has denied a request by Native American tribes to halt construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada over worries about potential spills and damage to cultural sites. Work started this spring on the long-stalled pipeline that would carry oil sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana and Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota have challenged President Donald Trump’s 2019 permit for the project. The tribes say Trump’s permit violated their rights under treaties from the mid-1800s. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said in an Oct. 16 ruling that the tribes did not show they would suffer irreparable harm from the work that’s been done so far. Morris said he had “serious questions” about the legal claims being made by the tribes. He did not make a final ruling, and invited further arguments. More than 1,000 people are working on the $9 billion project including building 12 pump stations for the 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) line, said Terry Cunha with TC Energy, the Calgary-based company behind the project. However, work on much of the pipeline itself remains stalled. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court in July upheld a lower court ruling that invalidated a permit needed for the pipeline to cross hundreds of rivers and other water bodies along its route. Keystone XL was first proposed in 2008 and rejected under former President Barack Obama. It was revived by Trump as part of the Republican’s efforts to boost fossil fuel industries.

Tribes again ask federal judge to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline - American Indian tribes who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline have again asked a federal judge to stop the flow of oil while the battle over the line’s future plays out in several venues. The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes in the Dakotas succeeded on their first attempt, only to have an appeals court overturn U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's shutdown order earlier this year. Now, they're asking the judge to clarify his earlier ruling to satisfy the appellate judges and then order the line to cease operations. The tribes argue that potential harm to their water supply outweighs any economic impacts of shutting down the line that’s been moving North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois for more than three years. “The Tribes are irreparably harmed by the ongoing operation of the pipeline, through the exposure to catastrophic risk, through the ongoing trauma of the government’s refusal to comply with the law, and through undermining the Tribes’ sovereign governmental role to protect their members and respond to potential disasters,” attorneys Jan Hasselman and Nicole Ducheneaux wrote. The Friday filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., came as the federal agency that permitted the pipeline was wrapping up a two-day public meeting to help determine the scope of an environmental study U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered in March. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched the study about a month ago. It’s expected to take more than a year to complete, and will help determine whether the Corps reissues an easement for the pipeline’s Missouri River crossing in the Lake Oahe reservoir just north of the Standing Rock Reservation. Tribes fear a spill into the river would pollute their water supply. Pipeline operator Energy Transfer and the Corps both maintain the pipeline is safe. Prolonged protests in 2016 and 2017 drew thousands of people to camps near the river crossing and resulted in hundreds of arrests. “From the beginning of this litigation, the Tribes have sought to reinforce the centrality of Lake Oahe to their ceremonies, their economy, and their identity,” Hasselman and Ducheneaux wrote. Boasberg, who is overseeing the four-year-old lawsuit filed by the tribes, ordered the extensive environmental study last spring because he felt previous, less-extensive environmental analysis by the Corps left lingering questions. Boasberg in July revoked the easement that allows for the river crossing and ordered the pipeline shut down until its environmental soundness was proven. A federal appeals court allowed oil to keep flowing, however, ruling that Boasberg hadn’t justified a shutdown. That same appeals court is now determining whether to uphold his decision regarding the study.

North Dakota's oil output up 12% in Aug as more wells resume output (Reuters) - North Dakota’s oil production rose about 12% to 1.16 million barrels per day (bpd) in August as more wells and drilling rigs resumed production after a drop earlier this year, the state’s regulator said on Friday. Producers in the state shut about 5,000 wells pumping 300,000 bpd as prices tumbled into negative territory in April. Output in the United States, while still well below the peak 13 million bpd reached in January, has been gradually rising with U.S. crude futures holding around $40 a barrel over the past several months. The additional U.S. oil production is adding to uncertainty over what the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will do next month. OPEC and allies are scheduled to meet Nov. 30 to review a plan to ease curbs on production, potentially adding 2 million bpd next year. North Dakota’s crude oil output rose to 1.16 million bpd from 1.04 million bpd in July, state regulator North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported. Peak production in the state was 1.4 million bpd in 2019. Officials said 16 drilling rigs are active in the state, up from 10 in July. Crude oil produced in the state was selling for $31.75 a barrel, compared with $9.16 per barrel in April when the COVID-19 pandemic and a market glut knocked prices lower.

Regulators report 12,180-gallon oil spill near Watford City . (AP) — North Dakota regulators say an equipment failure at a well near Watford City led to the release of about 12,180 gallons of oil. The state’s Oil and Gas Division said it was notified of the spill on Sunday at the Newfield Production Co. well located about 5 miles west of Watford City. Regulators said none of the oil escaped the oil well site. The company reported that it has recovered all but about 420 gallons of the oil. Regulators said a state inspector has been at the site and is monitoring cleanup.

State looks to put $16M in federal virus funds toward fracking grants - State officials say there isn’t enough time left to clean up every abandoned oil field well site they had intended to this year using federal coronavirus aid, so they want to repurpose $16 million and put it toward grants for fracking. Regulators present the proposal as a way to create jobs and help stabilize state revenue, while some in the environmental community view it as a bailout for the oil industry. Under the proposal that the North Dakota Emergency Commission will consider Friday, oil companies would be eligible for a $200,000 reimbursement per well they complete. The money would go toward acquiring and disposing of water used in the hydraulic fracturing process, in which water, sand and chemicals are injected deep underground to crack rock and release oil. The proposal evolved through discussions between state officials and oil industry representatives. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said he recently spoke to oil companies who have been hit hard by the price drop brought on during the pandemic, which has curtailed global travel and oil demand. “They had been talking about how slow work was and how bad it was going to get during the coming winter months,” he said. “They were really excited by this. That’s what this really is, to generate these jobs for the next couple months.” A representative with the Sierra Club, however, called it “totally inappropriate” to put some of the $1.25 billion the state received through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund toward fracking. “A direct subsidy payment to oil companies to drill for oil is outrageous,” said Wayde Schafer, spokesman for the organization in North Dakota. State leaders have doled out the money from the fund, which was established by the CARES Act, throughout the course of 2020. It must be used by the end of the year. When the six-member Emergency Commission meets Friday, members will consider proposals from a host of state agencies to spend another $221 million in fund dollars. If approved by the all-Republican commission, which consists of the governor, secretary of state and legislative leaders, the proposals then go to the larger legislative Budget Section for a final vote.

Testing for oil in Arctic wildlife refuge proposed for this winter  - Testing for oil deposits at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) could begin in December, according to a proposed plan for such testing that was posted online Friday. The government posted a plan submitted by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation to conduct seismic testing in the refuge, including in an area where polar bears and other wildlife may be found. Seismic testing uses acoustic waves that bounce off formations beneath the surface, generating images that help detect oil deposits. This type of surveying can cause damage to tundra vegetation and soils. According to the plan, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation hopes to conduct the surveys in a 847.8 square mile area of the refuge. Politico first reported on the corporation’s application earlier this month. The Alaska-based corporation anticipates conducting surveys in December and January. It said that wildlife that can be found in the area during the winter might include polar bears, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines and arctic foxes. “Although encounters with polar bears or grizzly bears are unlikely, the operator and its contractors will exercise caution during the project,” the plan states. Critics have expressed concern that drilling could harm animal species that are found there, negatively affect the landscape, exacerbate climate change and harm the Gwich’in people who hunt caribou there. “Allowing huge thumper trucks and camps onto sacred lands where they leave deep and lasting wounds is a threat to my people, the animals, our food, and our way of life,” Bernadette Demientieff, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement. “We have raised concerns repeatedly about this administration rushing the process and shortcutting our review.” A provision in the 2017 Trump tax bill approved by a GOP-controlled Congress opened ANWR to drilling following years of debate over the matter.

Judge tosses land management plans after ousting Pendley from role - A federal judge unraveled the work of former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acting director William Perry Pendley, throwing out land management plans in Montana in a case that could have consequences for the agency’s work elsewhere across the country.The late Friday ruling is a win for the state of Montana, with Montana-based U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris criticizing the Department of the Interior for “novel and last-ditch legal arguments.” It’s the second major decision in the case after Morris last month determined Pendley had violated federal vacancy laws by "serv[ing] unlawfully ... for 424 days" through a series of temporary orders. He gave the Department of the Interior 10 days to justify why it shouldn’t throw out many of the decisions Pendley has made during his tenure.The decision holds promise for environmental groups, who have a list of at least 30 land management plans overseen by Pendley they’d like to see reversed, many of which limit the scope of national monuments or open up significant portions of federal lands to oil and gas drilling. Pendley, a controversial figure due to his history of opposing federal ownership of public lands, remains with the agency in a deputy role after his nomination to lead the BLM was withdrawn from the Senate this summer.Pendley “had not been properly appointed to the position, and instead had exercised authority as acting BLM director through a series of unlawful delegations,” Morris wrote in reference to the maneuvers that kept him in the acting director role for over a year.“Any exclusive function of the BLM director performed by Pendley is invalid.”Morris’s decision invalidates three land management plans Pendley supervised in Montana, including one that would open 95 percent of 650,000-acres of BLM land to resource extraction like mining and drilling.  But he stopped short of applying the ruling to any of Pendley’s other decisions, despite devoting much of the decision to castigating Interior for failing to comply with his order to supply a list of actions that he may have taken illegally. “Despite Federal Defendants’ disagreement with the exercise and apparent refusal to engage in such a search in good faith, it remains probable that additional actions taken by Pendley that should be set aside as unlawful,” Morris wrote. Interior had argued that Pendley took “no relevant acts . . . within the director’s exclusive authority.”

INTERIOR: Wave of lawsuits coming over Pendley's BLM decisions -- Monday, October 19, 2020 -- A federal judge's order invalidating three land use plans approved by the Bureau of Land Management during William Perry Pendley's "unlawful" tenure could spark a wave of litigation challenging oversight of millions of acres.That's according to legal experts and Montana District Chief Judge Brian Morris, who wrote in his order issued late Friday that it is "probable" there are "additional actions taken by Pendley that should be set aside as unlawful" across the West."Conservation Groups remain free to file suit in the appropriate federal district court to challenge land management decisions they have identified as potentially unlawful," Morris wrote.They're planning to do so. "We'll go to court to make sure Pendley's illegal decisions end up in the dumpster where they belong," said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.The center and other groups have already put Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on notice in a letter that detailed dozens of amended land use plans and other BLM policy decisions that may now be invalid (E&E News PM, Oct. 6).They include numerous "rulemakings, guidelines, programs and internal memorandum" issued since July 2019, when Bernhardt delegated "exercising the authority of director" to Pendley.Morris' latest order is the second in less than a month. The judge ruled last month that Pendley had illegally performed the duties of BLM's director for more than a year, and barred him from continuing to do so (Greenwire, Sept. 25). BLM has since removed "exercising the authority of director" from his formal title of deputy director of policy and programs. Specifically, Morris' latest order tossed aside the amended Lewistown, Missoula and Miles City resource management plans (RMPs) because, the judge wrote, Pendley lacked the authority to resolve dozens of protests that were filed against the amended plans. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and the state — which filed the original lawsuit against Pendley that led to Morris' September order — asked the judge to throw out the three RMPs covering about 800,000 surface acres and 12 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. The Interior Department, which has vowed to appeal, has labeled Morris' orders "outrageous," and it maintains that Pendley did not sign the protest resolutions at issue. But legal scholars who have read Morris' latest order say BLM is now exposed to legal challenges that could undermine numerous other RMPs and planning documents approved during Pendley's tenure as de facto acting director. It's likely that "other judges could rule similarly to Morris and possibly upset a number of plans,"

Biden calls for 'transition' from oil, GOP sees opening - Democrat Joe Biden’s remark that he would “transition” away from oil in the U.S. in favor of renewable energy drew quick attention Thursday night from President Donald Trump, who saw it as a boon to his election chances in key states.“I would transition away from the oil industry, yes,” Biden said in the presidential debate’s closing minutes under peppering from Trump. “The oil industry pollutes, significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”The Biden campaign’s climate plan calls for the U.S. to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And he repeated his pledge to end federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry. However, Biden’s plan does not call for a ban on climate-damaging fossil fuels, focusing instead on technologies that can capture pollution from oil and other sources.ADStill, Trump seemed surprised and pleased by Biden’s comment, declaring it a “big statement,” and suggesting it would come with political blowback in oil-producing states that stand to lose jobs.“Basically what he is saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said. “Will you remember that Texas? Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”Trump won all four states in 2016, but Pennsylvania in particular is a pivotal swing state this cycle, with both candidates investing heavily. Ohio is also in play, and Democrats even see Texas as a longshot pickup on an expanded electoral map.After the debate, Biden told reporters he would not “ban” fossil fuels or move away from them for “a long time.”Tackling climate change means sharply cutting oil, gas and coal emissions, scientists say, and that means eliminating most burning of fossil fuels. Biden talks of a 30-year transition to a carbon-free economy, by encouraging more wind and solar power and more energy efficiency.AD

 Here's Why Biden Couldn't Ban Fracking, But Could Restrict It - BNN-- While Biden has called for prohibiting new oil and gas projects on federal land, the candidate has made it clear he does not support a widespread ban on fracking.  Even if Biden wanted to, he couldn’t unilaterally ban fracking on private lands. Under a 2005 law, the Environmental Protection Agency has almost no regulatory power over fracking. Changing that would require an act of Congress. There are several ways Biden could halt fracking on federal lands using executive power. He could ban new oil and gas leases, halt new permits, or seek a specific regulatory ban on fracking, all of which Biden has telegraphed at one point or another on the campaign trail.  That doesn’t mean it will be easy. A regulation banning fracking on federal land would have to go through a process that would likely be challenged in court as a violation of federal law that encourages oil and gas development. Even an Obama-era Interior Department rule that merely set standards for fracking on federal lands -- while still allowing the activity -- was tossed out.  Instead, it’s more likely Biden would go through the “side door” that could include a combination of rewriting drilling and land management plans and the use of emergency authority to achieve a cessation on leasing and permitting, Book said.  “With the stroke of a pen without any delay Bureau of Land Management staff could be allocated away from leasing and permitting activities,” said Book. “It takes people to write permits, it takes people to write production and drilling plans.”  The impact of Biden’s plan would be limited since most fracking occurs on private land, not public. Onshore oil production on federally owned land was approximately 6.5% of the U.S. total in 2019, and onshore federal gas production made up 10% of the U.S. total, according to consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners. The impact would hit at least one blue state hard. In New Mexico, roughly 90% of all production in the in the state’s portion of the oil rich Permian shale basin was on state and federal lands last year, according to the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. In 2017 more than half of New Mexico’s oil production and nearly 67% of its natural gas production occurred on federal lands, according to the same group.  In the swing state of Pennsylvania the amount of gas produced from federal land accounts for less than a one hundredth of 1%, according to ClearView.  A ban on offshore drilling in federal waters, which Biden has also proposed, would be much more impactful nationwide. It accounts for roughly 16% of total production.  A more narrow ban on fracking solely focused on federal land, could provide Biden political cover among progressive environmental groups and others stringently opposed to fossil fuels. At the same time the limited nature of the ban means it is unlikely to hurt him among voters in swing states where fracking takes place on private lands such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

EPA Chief: You Don't Have To Ban Fracking If You Regulate It To Death -The Federalist - 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to ban fracking.He doesn’t say it like he used to a few months ago, but he doesn’t have to. He made his position clear enough to the American people throughout the 12-month primary.Since capturing the Democratic nomination however, the former vice president has appeared to shift his tone on the innovative practice for oil and natural gas extraction as not to spoil his chances in the critical rust-belt swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. “I do not propose banning fracking,” Biden tried to clarify during last week’s ABC town hall with former Clinton White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos, going on to argue that emissions just have to be eliminated if its going to continue under a Biden administration. “It has to be managed very, very well.”In other words, Biden is going to regulate it into oblivion.Ban or no ban, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told The Federalist in an exclusive interview published Monday it doesn’t matter given the rhetoric from the Democratic ticket.“I’ve heard him talking about fracking multiple times and every time it seems a little different,” Wheeler said. “But you don’t have to ban something if you regulate it to death. And the Obama administration was regulating it to death.”Wheeler’s right of course. There are endless ways an administration run by Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris could effectively weaponize federal regulatory agencies to functionally ban the the controversial practice without ever crafting explicit legislation doing so. They can tighten rules under the Clean Air Act, draw out permit application processes, axe tax incentives, pass burdensome red tape, halt the construction of new pipelines, and perhaps most consequentially, bar it on federal lands. The Democratic ticket’s platform indeed prominently endorses the elimination of new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters while setting a goal for net-zero emissions by 2050, an ambitious and nearly impossible timeline set 30 years from now.According to the Bureau of Land Management, onshore federal lands provide 8 percent of the nation’s oil and 9 percent of its natural gas, while offshore production produces 15 percent of American oil and 3 percent of its gas. Myron Ebell, an energy and environmental expert at the conservative-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), agreed with Wheeler’s assessment and emphasized that the Biden-Harris platform is more about eliminating oil and natural gas altogether, which, in turn, includes fracking. He highlighted how a potential Biden-Harris administration would already have all the regulatory tools at their disposal to crack down on fossil fuel production. “My expectation is that it will be at least as bad as the Obama-Biden administration, but probably quite a lot worse.”

Barrett punts on climate, oil industry recusals in written responses - Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett declined to weigh in on climate change or say whether she’d recuse herself from cases involving the oil industry in written responses to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of its Thursday vote on her confirmation. In response to several questions on climate, Barrett gave responses including “The Supreme Court has described ‘climate change’ as a ‘controversial subject’ and ‘sensitive political topic.’ ’’ “As a sitting judge, it would be inappropriate for me to weigh in further on the matter,” she added. The response echoed statements that Barrett made during her confirmation hearing last week, when she said that she did not hold "firm views" on climate change. She added that her opinion on climate is not “relevant” and called the subject a "contentious matter of public debate." The vast majority of scientists believe that climate change is happening and human-caused. Barrett also punted on questions about whether she’d recuse herself from oil companies other than Shell and why the American Petroleum Institute, which her father was involved with, was not on her recusal list. She said that four Shell entities were on her recusal list “in an abundance of caution” because her father worked for Shell Oil Company. She did not directly say why she didn’t similarly recuse herself from any other oil or energy companies or the American Petroleum Institute, saying that “the question of recusal is a threshold question of law that must be addressed in the context of the facts of each case.” “As Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg described the process that Supreme Court justices go through in deciding whether to recuse, it involves reading the statute, reviewing precedents, and consulting with colleagues. As a sitting judge and as a judicial nominee, it would not be appropriate for me to offer an opinion on abstract legal issues or hypotheticals. Such questions can only be answered through the judicial process,” she added.

Indigenous Women to Financial CEOs: Stop Abetting 'Climate-Wrecking' Tar Sands Industry -  A group of Indigenous women and their allies on Monday urged the heads of major global financial institutions to stop propping up the tar sands industry and sever all ties with the sector's "climate-wrecking pipelines, as well as the massively destructive extraction projects that feed them."  The demand to the CEOs comes in an open letter signed by more than 40 Indigenous leaders including Rebecca Adamson, Cherokee and founder of First Nations and First Peoples Worldwide; Tara Houska, Couchiching First Nation and founder of the Giniw Collective; and Winona LaDuke, White Earth Nation and executive director of Honor the Earth. Supporting the call is a diverse group of over 150 organizations such as Another Gulf Is Possible Collaborative, Global Exchange, and Indigenous Environmental Network. "It's time to move on. The most destructive and expensive oil in the world needs to stay in the ground," LaDuke said in a statement. Beyond the tar sands sector's "grave threats to Indigenous rights, cultural survival, local waterways and environments, the global climate, and public health," the open letter says continued financing and insuring of tar sands projects just makes bad economic sense, noting that "no subsector has had a worse financial prognosis than tar sands oil."  "Tar sands is one of the most carbon-intensive, expensive extraction processes in the industry, and these pipelines are likely to be stranded assets soon after they are built," the women wrote, referring to a scenario in which fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground.  While the ecological harm of tar sands extraction and infrastructure has been repeatedly noted by fossil fuel critics, the letter points to new threats brought by the coronavirus crisis. The signatories point to the multiple work sites in Alberta that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 as extremely bad news for Indigenous communities who "are uniquely vulnerable to the virus' spread due to historically underfunded healthcare programs and significant health disparities." In addition, an influx of project workers and so-called "man camps" brings particularly acute harm to Indigenous women: Indigenous women in these rural areas are in peril. There is growing evidence that the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) is directly linked to fossil fuel production. Workers relocate to construction sites to build pipelines, creating temporary housing communities known as "man camps" near the pipeline route, which is oftentimes on or next to tribal nation lands. Studies, reports, and Congressional hearings have found that man camps lead to increased rates of sexual violence and sexual trafficking.

Stena to Drill Offshore Canada Well for CNOOC - CNOOC International Petroleum North America ULC has contracted the Stena Forth drillship for a one-well campaign offshore Atlantic Canada, vessel owner Stena Drilling reported Monday. Under the approximately 90-day drilling program, the Stena Forth will mobilize to the Flemish Pass offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, according to a post on Stena Drilling’s LinkedIn page. The drilling contractor noted the region is classified as a harsh environment, with unpredictable weather conditions and water depths ranging from 1,083 to 3,937 feet (330 to 1,200 meters). As Rigzone reported last December, CNOOC owns a 100-percent working interest in the Flemish Pass acreage – located in exploration licenses 1144 and 1150, east of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. CNOOC’s website states the company had planned to spud its first exploration well within Exploration License 1144 in the second quarter of this year but had to defer it as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Flemish Pass Basin has proven world-class source rocks, providing a large hydrocarbon potential on which we aim to build long-term, sustainable success in the region,” CNOOC notes on its website. The Stena Forth is one of Stena Drilling’s four drillships. The UK-flagged, harsh-environment, dynamically positioned drillship can operate in 10,000 (3,048 meters) of water and drill to 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), according to the drilling contractor’s website.

 80 Million Gallons of Oil, Larger Than Exxon Spill, Dangerously Close to Pouring into Caribbean - The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago has urged "immediate actions" to prevent a potentially catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Paria, off the coast of Venezuela, where a floating storage and offloading facility is reportedly undergoing repairs. The Venezuelan-flagged Nabarima vessel has been sat idle off the Venezuelan coast since January 2019. Pictures recently emerged showing the FSO vessel floating at an incline, raising fears that it could spill its load into the gulf devastating the regional fishing industry and delicate ecosystems. The Nabarima is operated by the Petrosucre company, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and the Italian Eni oil giant. Petrosucre froze oil extraction in January 2019 after being sanctioned by President Donald Trump's administration, leaving 1.3 million barrels of crude oil, some 80 million gallons, aboard the Nabarima. The infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill—widely considered the worst in history by the amount of environmental damage done—involved around 10.8 million gallons of crude. The U.S. embassy in Trinidad and Tobago released a statement Friday expressing its unease at the Nabarima's situation. "The United States remains concerned by the potential risk to safety and environment posed by the Venezuelan-flagged vessel, Nabarima, in the Gulf of Paria," the statement said. "We strongly support immediate actions to bring the Nabarima up to international safety standards and avoid possible environmental harm, which could negatively impact not only the Venezuelan people but also those in nearby countries. PDVSA has a responsibility to take action to avoid an environmental disaster in Venezuelan waters."

Trinidad continues to press for access to tilting oil vessel - The Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs has dispelled any thoughts that it has not been taking action on the tilting Nabarima. In a statement yesterday, the ministry detailed the action taken by the Government, after it learned about the impending environmental danger the vessel poses. It said it communicated swiftly with the Venezuelan Government and has been pressing for information regarding the status of the vessel. According to the ministry, it along with the Ministries of Energy and Energy Industries, and the Ministry of National Security has been actively working on solutions to the Nabarima issue. It said Venezuelan claimed it conducted initial stabilisation works on the Nabarima and that it is no longer in any danger. However, the ministry said it has been persistently pressing the Venezuelan government for Trinidad and Tobago to do its own verification but laments that without permission this cannot happen. The ministry said this Government has also engaged discussions with several Ambassadors including the Ambassador of the United States of America to Port of Spain on the matter. It added, while Venezuela agreed to permit a team of local experts to cross the border and assess the Nabarima, it later moved the date from the end of September to the current position that the inspection team would receive permission to visit on 20th October. It added that Venezuela has also denied a recent photograph circulating which purports to represent severe tilting of the Nabarima. The ministry said this country will continue to lobby to assess the vessel itself.

 PDVSA vessel approaches floating facility to load crude (Reuters) - An oil tanker operated by Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela [PDVSA.UL] on Tuesday approached a floating oil facility where it is expected to receive crude via transfer at sea amid environmental concerns, Refinitiv Eikon data showed. Environmental groups have in the past two weeks expressed concern about a potential spill of the 1.3 million barrels of crude aboard the Nabarima oil facility - part of the Petrosucre joint venture between PDVSA and Italy’s Eni SpA - after images showed the vessel tilting to its side. PDVSA now plans to offload some of the crude on board via a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer involving the Icaro, an Aframax vessel it owns, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday. The Refinitiv Eikon data showed the Icaro approached the Nabarima at 2:37 p.m. local time (1837 GMT). The Venezuela-flagged barge Inmaculada was also expected to participate in the STS operation, which carries its own set of risks, according to a person familiar with the matter and a document seen by Reuters. PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Authorities in neighboring Trinidad and Tobago have said they planned to inspect the vessel, which is located in the Paria Gulf separating the two countries. Petrosucre, which is 74% owned by PDVSA and 26% owned by Eni, suspended output shortly after Washington sanctioned PDVSA in January 2019, as the sanctions deprived the company of its former main crude buyer, PDVSA’s U.S.-based refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp [PDVSAC.UL.] The United States in December 2019 placed additional sanctions on the Icaro vessel itself for delivering Venezuelan petroleum products to Cuba, one of President Nicolas Maduro’s main overseas allies. The Trump administration is trying to oust Maduro, whom it labels a dictator.

Caribbean threatened by 1.3 million barrels of oil from sinking oil tanker - A state of environmental emergency is being called for by fishermen in Trinidad and Tobago over a sinking oil tanker with 1.3 million barrels of oil. If the oil spills, it would threaten the entire Southern Caribbean. At 264 meters in length and a capacity of 1.4 million barrels, the spill would be five times worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, which was the worst in history until the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon. Officials have been criticized for allowing the situation to evolve for three months without taking sufficient action. The Nabarima is a Venezuelan oil tanker but part-operated by Italian energy giant, $55 billion ENI, and has been caught up in US sanctions since disputed elections questioned the legitimacy of the Venezuelan President. The tilting had been of concern since it was first noticed in July and crews later discovered water leaking on board. The situation has gotten progressively worse since then. It was only last week that a representative of the fishing community in Trinidad, Gary Aboud, was able to get close enough to the heavily listing Venezuelan oil tanker to show first hand how serious the risk is, especially with the Caribbean in a particularly active 2020 hurricane season that is only due to end by November 30. Combined with drone footage to show the angle of tilting, his two and a half minute video (link below) shows the risk that poor weather would have on the tanker, and what he highlights as a lack of urgency by the Trinidad and Tobago Government or the international community to act. Gary Aboud, Corporate Secretary of Trinidad and Tobago based environmental group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, went to the site of the Nabarima, moored in Venezuelan waters, to highlight the risk posed to the over 50,000 fishermen of Trinidad and Tobago that rely on the sea, the potential long term ecological harm to species in this coral reef and biodiversity rich region, as well as the broader regional risk to the Caribbean given the direction of the currents and wind at this time of year..   Reports from the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian had been calling for action since early September.  An emotional video by Gary Aboud first posted on September 7, six weeks ago, had highlighted the growing risk of the tilting oil tanker, combined with the ongoing hurricane season - the second most active on record.  The Nabarima has a capacity of 1.4 million barrels, and was abandoned without a crew by the Venezuelan state and a joint venture with Italian energy giant, ENI, following sanctions from the United States in late 2019.

 Damaged Venezuelan oil tanker poses minimal spill risk -A damaged Venezuelan oil tanker recently tilting to one side in the Caribbean after taking on water poses no significant risk of spilling and causing an environmental catastrophe, officials of Trinidad and Tobago said Thursday. Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Franklin Khan said a team of experts from his country inspected the Nabarima – a floating storage and offloading facility (FSO) – on Tuesday, allaying previous fears that it was on the brink of sinking and spewing 1.3 million barrels of oil. The double-hulled tanker is “intact and poses a minimum risk of any oil spills at this time”, Khan said. He said Venezuela had started the slow process of unloading oil to further avoid disaster, an operation expected to take up to 35 days. “The team confirm that major maintenance is ongoing,” Khan said. “Pumps and electrical motors are being repaired and replaced as needed.” Trinidad officials said they will continue to monitor the effort, and have applied for permission from Venezuela for a follow-up inspection in a month.

US Expands Nord Stream 2 Sanctions As Germany Vows Pipeline Completion Not If, But When --Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has long vowed he'll "do everything" to stop Nord Stream 2, last month indicating the US is building a coalition of countries to fight against it, given Washington sees it as a massive compromise to Russia, giving it leverage over Europe as well as Ukraine. “From the US point of view, Nord Stream 2 endangers Europe because it makes it dependent on Russian gas and endangers Ukraine - which in my opinion worries many Germans,” Pompeo said weeks ago.On Tuesday the State Department expanded US sanctions targeting companies working on the Russia to Germany gas pipeline. While sanctions already target the specific European companies and their executives directly at work on the project, they've now been extended to include sanctions even on firms upgrading, servicing, or installing equipment on the ships laying the pipeline. "Such activities subject to sanctions pursuant to PEESA (the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Act of 2019) or other authorities may include, but are not limited to, providing services or facilities for upgrades or installation of equipment for those vessels, or funding for upgrades or installation of equipment for those vessels."There remain some exceptions, however, out of environmental concerns. The State Department says the sanctions "will not apply to persons providing provisions to a relevant vessel if such provisions are intended for the safety and care of the crew aboard the vessel, the protection of human life aboard the vessel, or the maintenance of the vessel to avoid any environmental or other significant damage."Likely this would be the loophole any such company put on notice over the new sanctions will use to evade punishment, given any repair or upgrade to a ship could be argued necessary over future "safety" and "environmental" concerns.Though Washington in a sense has won particular "battles" on the NS2 front, Russia and Germany have indicated the US will not win the "war" given that by all appearances the pipeline will be pursued to completion.One major victory for US sanctions was that Swiss pipelay company Allseas had abandoned its central roll in the project in December 2019 under threat of US punitive action. Russian gas giant Gazprom then outfitted its own ships to lay the last 100 miles of the pipeline.

Losing control? Norway's oil workers fear for future as rigs go remote (Reuters) - A shift to operating oil rigs remotely from land, which has been accelerated by lower crude prices, has rekindled concerns among Norwegian unions over the impact on the safety of offshore workers and the loss of well-paid jobs. These fears were highlighted by Lederne, one of three unions representing offshore workers, which this month shut six fields in a strike that threatened a quarter of Norway’s oil and gas output, rattling global oil markets. “The strike was not against moving controls onshore. But we needed to get the deal for our members to also be a part of the discussions about moving controls onshore and their safety,” Lederne leader Audun Ingvartsen told Reuters. Lederne, whose strike ended on Oct. 9, is the only Norwegian oil and gas workers union which did not have an agreement for its members at onshore control rooms. Oil companies started experimenting with remote controls about seven years ago, first with smaller, unmanned installations off the coast of Norway. Europe’s largest oil and gas producer has since become a testing ground for industry attempts to turn this technology to larger, manned platforms. Lower oil prices and the coronavirus crisis are accelerating this shift, prompting concerns about the safety of staff still working offshore on rigs. “Our members still wonder whether this (onshore controls) is good enough, whether it is safe enough,” Ingvartsen said.

Total Delivers First Carbon Neutral LNG Shipment - Total announced Tuesday that it has delivered its first shipment of carbon neutral liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). The loading operation was carried out at the Ichthys liquefaction plant in Australia and the shipment was delivered on September 29 to the Dapeng terminal in China, Total revealed. The company noted that the carbon footprint of the LNG shipment was offset with Verified Carbon Standards emissions certificates financing two projects; the Hebei Guyuan Wind Power Project and the Kariba REDD+ Forest Protection Project.“We are proud to have completed this first shipment of carbon neutral LNG with CNOOC, a long-standing partner of Total,” Laurent Vivier, the president for gas at Total, said in a company statement.“This first LNG shipment, whose carbon emissions have been offset throughout the value chain, represents a new step as we seek to support our customers towards carbon neutrality,” Vivier added.“The development of LNG is essential to meet the growth in global demand for energy while reducing the carbon intensity of the energy products consumed,” the Total president went on to say. Total is the second largest private global LNG player, according to its website, which highlights that the group has made natural gas a “cornerstone” of its strategy to meet a growing global demand for energy while helping to mitigate climate change. The company is present across the entire LNG value chain, from production and liquefaction of natural gas to LNG shipping and trading, regasification using terminals and floating storage regasification units.

 Emergency declared as oil spill spotted in Russian river Authorities in the Komi region in the north of Russia have declared a regional emergency after oil spilled into the Kolva river, a major water artery in the neighboring hydrocarbons-producing Nenets region. Energy explored: Gain valuable insight into the global oil and gas industry's energy transition from Accelerate, the new weekly newsletter from Upstream and Recharge. Sign up here. A regional subsidiary of Russian oil producer Lukoil said the accident occurred at a crossing between the river and a pipeline carrying oil from the Kharyaga field. According to the company's estimate, only a small number of barrels of oil spilled into the river. However, according to accounts on a Russian social network, oil was spotted on the water surface some 40 kilometres downstream from where the spillage occured. The regional department of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said that four rows of containment booms have been installed at the Kolva river since the accident was publicly revealed on 17 October. Preparations to put in a fifth row of booms are ongoing, the department said. The Kolva river starts in the Nenets region and flows into the Usa river that in turn flows into the Pechora river in the Komi region. Via Pechora, the spilled oil could potentially reach the Barents Sea. The emergency measure applies mainly to the city of Usinsk, which is home to about 37,000 people, and whose water supply system is based on the Usa river. Lukoil-Komi is the operator of the Kharyaga oilfield, which is one of the largest deposits in the Nenets region, however, part of the field is being developed by a consortium of Russian state Zarubezhneft and France’s Total.

 In the Tomsk region, oil spilled on the river after a collision of barges - On October 18, barges collided in the backwater of the Ob River in the Tomsk Region, one of which was carrying oil products, according to the website of the West Siberian Transport Prosecutor’s Office. According to the ministry, an empty barge, standing near the coast, was blown away by a gust of wind to the loaded one. One of the reservoirs of oil products has received a hole. It is noted that no one was injured as a result of the incident. At the moment, the spill has been localized, the spilled oil products are being collected, “no significant environmental damage was allowed”.

Oil Steady Before OPEC+ Meeting -- Oil was steady near $41 a barrel in New York before an OPEC+ meeting to assess the state of the market as demand comes under pressure once again from a resurgent coronavirus. The Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which typically reviews compliance to the group’s pledged output cuts, will meet online Monday. While no supply decisions are expected until the conclusion of a gathering on Dec. 1, leading members Saudi Arabia and Russia are stepping up diplomacy as the market faces more crude from Libya and OPEC predicts less demand for its oil. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, set a Tuesday deadline for more progress with the White House on a fiscal stimulus deal before the Nov. 3 election, raising optimism a relief package may finally be completed. Oil is holding around current levels after briefly dropping below $40 a barrel earlier this month with rising infections raising concerns about a sustained recovery in consumption. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo last week described demand as anemic, while the International Energy Agency said the outlook for the market remains fragile due to the pandemic. It’s looking increasingly likely that OPEC+ will have to scrap the idea of easing cuts from next year given the resurgence in Covid-19 cases and stalling demand, said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING Group. U.S. stimulus talks continue to go back and forth but it’s looking a bit more positive in terms of a potential deal, he added. West Texas Intermediate for November delivery fell 0.3% to $40.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:50 a.m. London time after dropping 0.2% on Friday. Brent for December settlement slid 0.3% to $42.81 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after losing 0.5% in the previous session. Crude futures was little changed at 271.6 yuan a barrel on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange after slipping 0.6% Friday. Brent’s prompt timespread was 33 cents a barrel in contango, compared with 48 cents a week earlier. The narrowing spread indicates that concerns about over-supply have eased. President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have spoken twice by phone in a week, the first time the leaders have done that since the depths of the oil crisis in April, when they were hashing out a deal to cut supply and bring a price war to an end. Larger ministerial meetings that will decide the direction on output cuts are scheduled for Nov. 20-Dec. 1.

Oil little changed, despite OPEC+ members stressing compliance - Oil steadied on Monday, weighed by concerns over surging coronavirus cases globally and by Libya's plan to boost output, but supported by hopes for a U.S. fiscal package. Analysts also focused on an OPEC+ ministerial monitoring committee meeting on Monday. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the committee recommended to stick in full to the group's global deal to reduce oil production. Brent crude futures fell 22 cents to $42.71 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled 5 cents, or 0.1%, lower at $40.83 per barrel. Saudi Arabia, the biggest member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said no one should doubt the group's commitment to providing support, while three sources from producing countries said a planned output increase from January could be reversed if necessary. OPEC+, a grouping of OPEC and allies including Russia, is curbing oil production by 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd), down from cuts totaling 9.7 million bpd, and are due to reduce the cuts by a further 2 million bpd in January. "This group has shown, especially in this year, that it has the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances when required. We will not dodge our responsibilities in this regard," Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said. Weighing on markets, Libya has significantly boosted its output after the easing of a blockade by eastern forces in September. The 70,000-bpd Abu Attifel oilfield was expected to begin its restart on Oct. 24 after being shut down for months, two engineers said. Meanwhile, worldwide coronavirus cases crossed 40 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. Many European governments are tightening lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, renewing concerns about oil demand. "This latest swathe of stringent restrictions will inevitably impede economic growth and undermine the fuel demand recovery," said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM. Hopes for a new U.S. stimulus package lent some support to prices as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday she was optimistic that legislation on a wide-ranging relief package could be pushed through before the election. Bank of America projected Brent and WTI would average $44 and $40 per barrel in 2020, respectively, and $50 and $47 per barrel in 2021. Meanwhile, China's oil-buying frenzy earlier this year is expected to slow in the fourth quarter. Chinese refiners slowed their processing rates in September.

Oil Traders Struggle to Make up Minds - Tuesday found oil traders struggling to make up their minds on how to interpret the result of the previous day’s OPEC+ meeting. That’s what Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen, said in a statement sent to Rigzone today, adding that prices have swung from gains to losses and back to gains. “Members said that they will do what is needed if the situation requires, that they would do whatever it takes,” Tonhaugen said in the statement. “But are words providing a relief on their own? No, action is needed and the lack of it is the reason that prices are not seeing any meaningful increase today,” he added. According to Tonhaugen, uncertainty is now the word and until new demand indicators signal a direction, he believes prices are not likely to move significantly. “Another reason for uncertainty is the outcome of the coming U.S. election, as the two candidates have conflicting plans for the future of energy,” Tonhaugen stated. “The election is around the corner and it could also have consequences for foreign policy depending on the results. This uncertainty is probably also a reason that OPEC+ chose to wait rather than take an early decision to continue the current deep cuts into 2021,” he added. “Furthermore, markets are still left guessing if the U.S. stimulus negotiations will bear fruit today before Nancy Pelosi’s self-imposed deadline,” Tonhaugen went on to say. The Rystad Energy representative highlighted that a stimulus deal would be a positive surprise for markets and could also support oil prices if confirmed. “It seems unlikely though as the presidential candidates are preoccupied with preparing for the final debate on Thursday ahead of the elections,” Tonhaugen said. Tonhaugen outlined that the next thing on oil traders’ calendars is how U.S. oil stocks were altered last week. Should there be a build on crude stocks, this will be a warning sign that supply is overflowing again because demand can’t take more oil, he noted. If we see draws prices could rise on confidence about the market’s resilience, Tonhaugen said.

Oil rises on U.S. stimulus hopes, but Covid-19 cases keep gains in check - Oil edged up on Tuesday on hopes that the United States was nearing a stimulus deal, but the threat to demand from rising coronavirus cases worldwide and increased Libyan output kept prices from moving higher. Brent crude futures gained 20 cents to $42.82 a barrel. November U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled 63 cents, or 1.54%, higher at $41.46 per barrel. Investors are following negotiations between U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over another U.S. coronavirus aid package, said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. "If we get a deal, I think that would be supportive, and if we don't get a deal, I think that's going to be somewhat punishing for prices," Kilduff said. Prices ticked up after Pelosi said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday she was optimistic Democrats could reach a deal with the Trump administration and aid could go out by early next month. The rebound in COVID-19 cases in Europe and North America that has sparked renewed lockdown measures is weighing on oil prices, Kilduff said. "It undermines sentiment, it undermines economic activity, it undermines demand," he said. A ministerial panel of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, together known as OPEC+, pledged on Monday to support the market. However, those countries plan on scaling back the size of its production cuts in January from a current 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) to roughly 5.7 million bpd in January. OPEC member Libya, which is exempt from the cuts, is also ramping up production after armed conflict shut almost all of the country's output in January, pumping more oil into an oversupplied market. Output from its biggest field, Sharara, resumed on Oct. 11 and is now at about 150,000 bpd, about half its capacity, two industry sources told Reuters. Another 70,000 bpd oilfield is expected to restart on Oct. 24.

Oil up on U.S. stimulus hopes, rising virus cases keep prices in check  (Reuters) - Oil gained more than 1% on Tuesday on the prospect the United States was nearing a deal on coronavirus relief, but the threat to demand from rising COVID-19 cases worldwide and increased Libyan output kept prices from moving higher. November U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $41.46 a barrel, up 63 cents, or 1.54%. The more active December contract settled at $41.70, gaining 64 cents. Brent crude futures for December delivery settled at $43.16 a barrel, rising 54 cents, or 1.27%. Investors are following negotiations between U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over another U.S. coronavirus aid package, said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. “If we get a deal, I think that would be supportive, and if we don’t get a deal, I think that’s going to be somewhat punishing for prices,” Kilduff said. Prices picked up after Pelosi said she was optimistic Democrats could reach an agreement with the White House that could get aid out by early next month. She added there should be an indication of a possible agreement later on Tuesday. Still, skepticism over the impact of a deal on oil markets lingered. “Even allowing for a fresh stimulus package, risk appetite could take a hit from an unfolding of the ‘buy the rumor/sell the news’ phenomena,’” said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates. “With this possibility in mind, we will be looking to short December crude at or above the $42 mark for a trading turn to the downside.” The rebound in COVID-19 cases in Europe and North America that has sparked renewed lockdown measures kept prices from moving higher. A ministerial panel of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, together known as OPEC+, pledged on Monday to support the market in the face of the pandemic’s hit to demand. However, those countries plan on scaling back the size of its production cuts in January from a current 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) to roughly 5.7 million bpd in January. OPEC member Libya, which is exempt from the cuts, is also ramping up production after armed conflict shut almost all of the country’s output in January, pumping more oil into an oversupplied market. Adding to supply worries, crude inventories rose by 584,000 barrels in the week to Oct. 16 to about 490.6 million barrels, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a draw of 1 million barrels.

WTI Dips After Surprise Crude Build -Oil prices rallied to seven-week highs today (WTI above $41.50) on the back of hope-filled headlines about US stimulus talks (and nothing out of the OPEC+ discussions). “Anything that helps the economy do better is going to be helpful for crude,” said Bill O’Grady, executive vice president at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis.“Still, driving activity is down and people are not as global as they were. It may get better, but not back to where it was before.” API

  • Crude +584k (-1.9mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.174mm
  • Gasoline -1.622mm (1.6mm exp)
  • Distillates -5.938mm (-3.0mm exp)

Analysts expect more inventory draws (even after the previous week's big drop in crude and distillates stocks), but API reports that crude stocks actually rose by 584k barrels. API also reported another big distillates draw.Notably, according to the EIA’s Today in Energy report, increased demand from the agricultural and residential sectors will help draw down distillate fuel stocks in coming months but not by enough to boost prices:“These initially relatively high inventories, along with lower crude oil prices, will continue putting downward pressure on distillate fuel oil prices through the 2020–21 winter season,” EIA says.EIA says inventories remained high through the summer as production outpaced demand.As Bloomberg notes, U.S. crude futures have struggled to make a sustained break above $40 as governments try to control new flareups of the virus. The worsening virus in Europe is sapping momentum from an already fragile demand recovery. Still, the prospect of a long-awaited stimulus deal in Washington would provide a much-needed boost to demand in the U.S.

WTI Extends Losses After Smaller Than Expected Crude Draw - prices extended their losses overnight after API reported a surprise crude build, and while stocks are rebounding on stimulus "optimism", WTI refuses to chase it as a resurgent COVID-19 and expanding Libyan supply are keeping oil in check.Brent “remains stuck in the low $40s with the weaker dollar and the potential for a stimulus having no positive impact,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodities strategy at Saxo Bank. The market is focusing on inventories, and “overall it makes sense that crude is struggling while the demand outlook remains murky.” DOE

  • Crude -1.002mm (-1.9mm exp)
  • Cushing +975k
  • Gasoline +1.895mm (1.6mm exp) - biggest build since May
  • Distillates -3.832mm (-3.0mm exp)

Official inventory data shows that crude stocks fell by a modest 1mm barrels last week (less than expected) but still a draw compared to API's build. Additionally, there was a noteworthy Gasoline build (the biggest since May)... US crude production remains noisy due to the storm-driven shut-ins (most recently Hurricane Delta) and saw a 600k b/d drop last week... WTI was hovering around $41 ahead of the official inventory data. Bloomberg Intelligence Energy Analyst Fernando Valle concludes that "concerns over global trade and the ramp-up in coronavirus cases in Europe and the U.S. may continue to weigh on refiners. Crack spreads have dipped despite last week’s report of a massive drop in diesel inventories. The market may keep looking past short-term indicators until there’s more clarity on fiscal stimulus, and on whether a second virus wave will lead to further lockdowns.”

Oil prices slip as U.S. inventory build stokes fears of supply glut - Oil drops 4% on weak U.S. gasoline demand - Oil prices dropped Wednesday after U.S. inventory figures showed demand weakening for refined products as global COVID-19 cases spiked. Brent crude futures were at $41.64 a barrel, down $1.51, or 3.5%. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled 4%, or $1.67, lower at $40.03. Both benchmarks rose in the previous session. Crude inventories fell by 1 million barrels in the week to Oct. 16 to 488.1 million barrels, while gasoline stocks rose in another weak showing for fuel demand. Overall product supplied, a proxy for demand, remained down 13% on the year and over the past four weeks when compared with the year-ago period. "The market is seriously grappling with demand in the wake of a continued rise in COVID-19 cases," said Tony Headrick, energy markets analyst at CHS Hedging. Adding to pressure, worldwide COVID-19 cases crossed 40 million on Tuesday, with some parts of Europe imposing renewed lockdown measures. "Brent is particularly exposed to European regions which are undergoing new lockdowns," Headrick said, On the supply side, Russia's energy minister said on Tuesday it was too early to discuss the future of global oil production curbs beyond December, less than a week after saying plans to scale back existing output restrictions should proceed. Earlier this year the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia - together known as OPEC+ - agreed to trim production cuts in January from a current 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) to roughly 5.7 million bpd. At the same time, OPEC member Libya, which is exempt from the cuts, is also ramping up production after armed conflict shut almost all its output in January. Production has recovered to about 500,000 bpd with Tripoli expecting that figure to double by year-end. The battle over a hefty, new U.S. coronavirus aid bill was set to spill into Wednesday as the White House and Democrats try to strike a deal before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections, now with the encouragement of President Donald Trump.

Oil Prices Slump on US Fuel Supply Build - -- Oil and gasoline futures tumbled the most in more than two weeks after a U.S. government report showed swelling fuel stockpiles and slowing demand as the coronavirus pandemic rages. Both crude and gasoline futures in New York declined 4% on Wednesday. Domestic gasoline inventories rose 1.9 million barrels last week, the biggest increase since May, while a measure of gasoline consumption slid to the lowest since late September, according to an Energy Information Administration report. The mounting fuel supplies and lackluster demand may worsen during the normally sluggish winter driving months. “The lockdowns, the higher Covid cases and travel restrictions in Western Europe and elsewhere are clearly bearish for petroleum demand,” said Andrew Lebow, senior partner at Commodity Research Group. “That trend doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better in the upcoming weeks. If anything, it’s probably going to get worse.” Rising coronavirus infections worldwide are putting a damper on an already murky demand outlook, with governments imposing or considering tighter restrictions. Milan, Italy’s financial capital, will be under night-time curfew beginning this week, while Germany’s new infections reached a record. In the U.S., New York posted more than 2,000 new Covid-19 cases for the first time since May. JBC Energy cut its outlook for oil-products demand this year and early 2021, saying that “the persistent lack of recovery in U.S. gasoline demand remains particularly worrisome.” Flagging fuel demand highlights the importance of ongoing discussions over the next round of U.S. virus aid to reviving energy consumption. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she “has a prospect for an agreement” with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a coronavirus stimulus package, although it may not come together in time to pass both chambers before the Nov. 3 election. “There’s concern about the growing virus caseload in a lot of places hitting demand, especially if there’s not some fiscal stimulus,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “Global inventories are still quite high and they’re not going to come down until we get a stronger demand recovery. Now, it looks like that will be pushed further out into the future.” West Texas Intermediate for December delivery fell $1.67 to settle at $40.03 a barrel. Brent for December settlement lost $1.43 to end the session at $41.73 a barrel. Both crude benchmarks dropped to the lowest since Oct. 12. Gasoline futures fell 4% to settle at $1.1403 a gallon. The surprise gasoline build led to another leg lower for refining margins. The so-called crack spread for combined gasoline and diesel against WTI futures slumped to the lowest since early April, providing little incentive for refiners to churn out more product in the midst of depressed demand. “There’s no reason for these guys to run the refinery. It’s a losing proposition,” said Bob Yawger, head of the futures division at Mizuho Securities. “There’s nobody that’s in a hurry to bring refinery utilization rates back up.”

Oil prices end at 1-week low as demand worries overshadow decline in U.S. crude supplies - Oil futures declined Wednesday, sending U.S. and global benchmark prices to their lowest settlements in over a week. U.S. government data showed that domestic crude supplies fell for a second week in a row, but by less than the market expected and failing to ease pressure from concerns over weaker demand. The rising cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and Europe, in particular, have led to the potential for more economic shutdowns, which can impede demand for energy. The less-than-expected crude inventory draw reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration Wednesday is “relevant” to the market, Lukman Otunuga, senior research analyst at FXTM, told MarketWatch. However, “oil prices remain more concerned with rising coronavirus cases across the globe and demand-side fears.” West Texas Intermediate crude for December delivery fell $1.67, or 4%, to settle at $40.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. From a technical perspective, a “move back below $40 could re-open the doors towards $38,” said Otunuga. December Brent crude, the global benchmark, lost $1.43, or 3.3%, at $41.73 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Both WTI and Brent crude saw their lowest front-month settlements since Oct. 12, according to Dow Jones Market Data. On Wednesday, the EIA reported that U.S. crude inventories fell by 1 million barrels for the week ended Oct. 16. That followed a 3.8 million-barrel decline the week before. On average, analysts polled by S&P Global Platts forecast a weekly decrease of 1.9 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported an increase of 584,000 barrels.

Oil struggles to recover after U.S. gasoline stocks build - Oil prices ticked up on Thursday but struggled to fully recover from the previous session's losses when a build in U.S. gasoline inventories signaled a deteriorating outlook for fuel demand as coronavirus cases soar. Brent crude futures were up 44 cents at $42.17 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures ticked up 43 cents to $40.46 a barrel. Both contracts shed more than 3% on Wednesday in their steepest daily falls in three weeks. U.S. gasoline stocks rose by 1.9 million barrels in the week to Oct. 16, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, compared with expectations for a 1.8 million-barrel drop. Overall product supplied, a proxy for demand, averaged 18.3 million barrels per day in the four weeks to Oct. 16, the EIA said - down 13% from the same period a year earlier. New daily COVID-19 infections hitting records in several U.S. states and in Europe, new lockdowns and China's clamp-down on outbound travel to help stem the spread of the disease, all bode ill for fuel demand. Worsening the outlook, hopes that U.S. lawmakers would reach an agreement with the White House on an economic stimulus package dimmed late on Wednesday after President Donald Trump accused Democrats of holding up a compromise deal. "(A deal) might improve the demand tone for a week or two," said Lachlan Shaw, head of commodity research at National Australia Bank. Adding to the supply concerns, Libyan oil exports are quickly accelerating into October as loading restarts following the easing of a blockade by eastern forces. Libya has seen production recover to about 500,000 barrels per day and the government in Tripoli expects that to double by year-end. Goldman Sachs said it saw average Brent prices rising from $43.9 per barrel this year to $59.4 next year, and WTI from $40.1 to $55.9 per barrel.

Oil ends higher, boosted by U.S. stimulus hopes (Reuters) - Oil prices ticked up on Thursday, boosted by the possibility of an economic stimulus package in the United States, but struggled to recover fully from the previous session’s losses when higher U.S. gasoline inventories signalled a deteriorating demand outlook as coronavirus cases soar. Brent crude futures settled 73 cents higher at $42.46 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 61 cents to $40.64. Both crude contracts shed more than 3% on Wednesday in their steepest daily falls in three weeks. Futures gained momentum early Thursday as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the two sides were nearing an economic stimulus package, boosting expectations that demand could improve, said Bob Yawger, director of Energy Futures at Mizuho in New York. Shares on Wall Street also gained on Thursday in choppy trading, as investors cheered the prospect of more fiscal stimulus to support a pandemic-damaged U.S. economy, with more data pointing to a slowing labor market recovery. U.S. gasoline stocks rose by 1.9 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, compared with expectations for a drop of 1.8 million barrels.[EIA/S] Overall product supplied - a proxy for demand - averaged 18.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in the four weeks to Oct. 16, the EIA said, down 13% from the same period a year earlier. Record new daily COVID-19 infection numbers in several U.S. states and in Europe, along with further coronavirus lockdowns and China’s crackdown on outbound travel, all bode ill for fuel demand. Worsening the outlook, hopes that U.S. lawmakers would reach agreement with the White House on an economic stimulus package dimmed late on Wednesday after President Donald Trump accused Democrats of holding up a compromise deal.

Oil steady as Russia holds out prospect of output cut extension  (Reuters) - Oil prices held on to gains made on the previous session on Friday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated he would be prepared to extend record supply cuts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brent crude was off 1 cent at $42.45 a barrel by 0040 GMT having risen 1.7% on Thursday, while U.S. oil was 2 cents lower at $40.62, following a 1.5% gain in the previous session. Both contracts are heading for their first weekly loss in three. Putin said on Thursday that Russia did not see a need for major oil producers to alter a deal on cutting global supply, but did not rule out extending oil cuts if market conditions warranted. His comments were the clearest indication so far from Russia, one of the world’s top oil producers, that it is prepared to extend unprecedented curbs on output to meet the demand slump caused by the pandemic. Russia has allied with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporters (OPEC) led by Saudi Arabia in making the cuts to production that are due to be lifted at the end of year. “Putin is reinforcing that Saudi/Russian unity is firmly intact and that they will continue to keep the oil prices firm,”

Oil falls about 2% on Libyan output, COVID-19 demand concerns (Reuters) - Oil fell nearly 2% on Friday, finishing lower for the week, in anticipation of a surge in Libyan crude supply and demand concerns caused by surging coronavirus cases in the United States and Europe. Crude prices sank after Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) said it lifted force majeure on exports from key ports and output would reach 1 million barrels per day in four weeks. “As soon as that came out, the market cratered,”  . U.S. crude settled at $39.85 a barrel, falling 79 cents, or 1.9%. Brent crude settled at $41.77 a barrel, losing 69 cents, or 1.6%. For the week, U.S. crude futures lost 2.5% and Brent futures shed 2.7%. Italy and several U.S. states reported record daily increases in infections, while France extended curfews for about two-thirds of its population as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across Europe. “What’s holding us back is the uncertainty about demand - when we’re going to get a vaccine, when things are going to get back to normal, concerns about more shutdowns,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Moscow did not rule out extending OPEC+ oil output cuts, but that assurance did not offset the expectations for rising Libyan output and demand worries, analysts said. “They need to say, ‘We are not going to bring back those two million barrels,’” Yawger said. OPEC+, which includes Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is due to increase production by 2 million bpd in January 2021. U.S. energy companies added five oil rigs to raise the total rig count to 287 in the week to Oct. 23, the highest since May, energy services firm Baker Hughes said. The rig count is an indicator of future supply.

  Oil drops nearly 2% on demand concerns, snaps 2-week win streak - Oil fell nearly 2% on Friday and headed for a weekly drop as demand concerns raised by surging coronavirus cases in the United States and Europe overshadowed the prospect of an extension to OPEC-led supply curbs. Italy and several U.S. states reported record daily increases in infections, while France extended curfews for about two thirds of its population as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across Europe. Brent crude lost 69 cents, or 1.63%, to settle at $41.77 a barrel. U.S. crude shed 79 cents, or 1.94%, to settle at $39.85 per barrel. "What's holding us back is the uncertainty about demand - when we're going to get a vaccine, when things are going to get back to normal, concerns about more shutdowns versus concerns about tightening supplies," said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. Also weighing on the market, Libyan output, which had been mostly offline since January, has reached 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) and will rise further by the end of October. Comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Moscow did not rule out extending OPEC+ oil output cuts supported oil prices. "The only bullish piece of news comes from Russia," said Bjornar Tonhaugen of Rystad Energy. OPEC+, a group that includes Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is due to increase production by 2 million bpd in January 2021 as part of a plan to pump more as demand recovers. However, the second wave of the pandemic and resulting slowdown in the demand recovery have raised the question of whether the increase is premature. OPEC+ made a record supply cut from May, which boosted prices from historic lows. Brent is up from a 21-year low below $16 in April.

Oil Prices Finish Lower for the Week -- Oil retreated as a further increase in Libyan output threatens to return more supply to a market that’s already grappling with a pandemic-induced slump in demand. Crude futures fell 1.9% in New York on Friday and posted their first weekly decline in three. Libya lifted force majeure on its Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports and oil output will surpass 1 million barrels a day in four weeks, according to the state-run National Oil Corp. The announcement came as prospects for more Libyan output increased following the signing of a permanent cease-fire agreement. Prices were already on the decline as talks appeared to stall on a U.S. stimulus deal before the election, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin trading blame for the impasse. A deal would have injected a sorely needed boost to demand, with positive catalysts for prices harder to come by heading into the end of the year. “The apparent nationwide ceasefire in Libya is only going to encourage more production there and keep it steady, at least for a while,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC. Meanwhile, “the Covid situation is not really improving, if not getting worse. So we’re continuing to deal with that as well.” U.S. benchmark crude futures declined 2.5% over the week as a resurgence of coronavirus infections spurred governments around the world to renew tighter lockdown restrictions. While comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin signaling openness to delaying a planned OPEC+ output hike helped bolster prices, the continued return of Libyan production complicates the group’s tapering strategy. “Until we get a vaccine, prices are probably going to hang out around this range,” said Jay Hatfield, CEO at InfraCap in New York. “We need airline travel, and we’re not going to have airline travel until we have a vaccine.” West Texas Intermediate for December delivery declined 79 cents to settle at $39.85 a barrel. Brent for the same month declined 69 cents to end the session at $41.77 a barrel. The contract fell 2.7% over the week. Despite the prospect of more Libyan supply returning to the market, Brent’s structure remained firm. The spread between the global benchmark’s nearest contracts strengthened on Friday to its narrowest contango since late July.

Saudi Arabia Is Suffering The Consequences Of Its Failed Oil Price War --Nine months on from Saudi Arabia’s second major oil price war in the last five years, more negative consequences are manifesting themselves. Aside from the irrevocably damaged core relationship with the U.S., the permanent distrust of international investors, and the further alienation of many of its fellow OPEC members, Saudi Arabia is now beginning to discover the true depth and breadth of damage that it has done to its own economy, which will endure for many years to come. Figures released at the end of September show that Saudi Arabia’s economy contracted 7 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) in the second quarter of 2020, with the Kingdom’s private sector showing a negative growth rate of 10.1 per cent, while the public sector recorded negative growth of 3.5 per cent. Saudi’s oil revenue in the first half of the year was 35 per cent lower than a year earlier, while non-oil revenue fell by 37 per cent. Moreover, in the second quarter of 2020 alone, the Kingdom’s petroleum refining activities recorded a 14 per cent y-o-y drop. All of this resulted in a current account deficit of SAR67.4 billion (US$18 billion), or 12 per cent of GDP, in Q220 compared with a surplus of SAR42.9 billion, or 5.8 per cent of GDP, a year earlier, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics.  The official line being peddled by various Saudi agencies to explain these appalling numbers is that they are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak that destroyed demand for oil around the globe. That, of course, is only partly true, as the key element that made this factor exponentially worse was that Saudi Arabia decided to launch yet another oil price war at the same time, the key feature of which was to crash oil prices by ramping up oil production from itself and other OPEC members, plus Russia. For a market already saturated with oil as demand continued to fall away, the price effect on the supply side of the oil price equation was catastrophic and led to unprecedented negative pricing on WTI futures contracts for May. The additional factor that has been overlooked by market commentators is that by the beginning of March, when Saudi launched the last oil price war, it was becoming clear that the COVID-19 outbreak would not be as containable as many had thought even a month or so before. It would have been entirely understandable to the senior Saudis with whom Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) had shared his plan to try to destroy and/or disable the U.S. shale oil sector again (albeit with exactly the same strategy that had failed so disastrously just four years earlier) that the new oil price war would be put on hold.

 IMF reveals 2021 forecasts for oil prices and the Middle East economy— The International Monetary Fund downgraded its outlook for Middle East and Central Asian economic recovery, predicting a 4.1% contraction for the region as a whole — 1.3 percentage points worse than its previous assessment in April — in its latest regional outlook report released Monday. Jihad Azour, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department, noted a large disparity in economic loss between oil importing and exporting countries as the region has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and a plunge in oil prices. "Combined together, those two shocks led to a sharp decline in economic activity that is different between oil exporting and oil importing countries," Azour told CNBC's Hadley Gamble via video call on Sunday. "On average, we will see growth going negative by 6.6% for oil exporting countries, and negative growth of 1% for all importing countries," he said, adding that there will be differences between the countries within each group. Oil prices will be the most important factor for oil exporters' recovery, particularly states like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, for whom the commodity makes up the majority of revenue. While prices have recovered from their historic plunge in March of this year, international benchmark Brent crude is still trading nearly 40% below pre-pandemic levels. Brent stood at $42.87 per barrel on Monday morning in London. And the IMF doesn't see oil prices staging a dramatic recovery anytime soon, predicting prices in the $40 to $50 range in 2021. That's still half the $80 per barrel figure OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia needs to balance its budget, according to the fund. "The projections for oil prices are in the corridor between $40 to $45 for ... early next year, and will be between $40 to $50" next year overall, Azour said. "I think what is going to be also important to watch is the recovery in demand. That proved to be an important factor in what we saw this year, in addition to the supply that could come from alternative energies."  The oil demand outlook remains grim amid new waves of coronavirus gripping regions of the world and uncertainty about U.S. fiscal stimulus and the U.S. presidential election. The International Energy Agency in September cut its outlook for worldwide oil demand to 91.7 million barrels per day this year, a daily contraction of 8.4 million barrels year-on-year and more than the contraction of 8.1 million predicted in the agency's August report. OPEC posted an even worse outlook for this year, slashing its view for global oil demand last month to an average of 90.2 million barrels per day in 2020, a contraction of 9.5 million barrels per day year-on-year. The group of 13 oil-producing countries described the outlook for the commodity's demand as "anemic," and warned that risks remain "elevated and skewed to the downside."

Switzerland of the Middle East: Economic crisis threatens Oman’s neutrality  - Sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Oman has long prized its neutrality, garnering a reputation as the Middle East’s Switzerland. But the Gulf state’s ability to steer clear of regional power struggles has been put at risk by economic woes that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the slump in oil prices. The IMF forecasts an economic contraction of 10 per cent this year, far steeper than the Middle Eastern average. The crisis has been a baptism of fire for Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who succeeded Qaboos bin Said Al Said in January after the death of the leader who shaped modern Oman during his half century on the throne. Archived. The sultanate’s budget deficit is forecast to hit 20 per cent of gross domestic product this year after revenues tumbled. With modest hydrocarbon resources, Oman has around $16bn in foreign exchange reserves and another $16bn in readily available overseas assets, but the fiscal shortfall and maturing global bonds amount to more than $13bn a year for the next three years. The sultanate, which borrowed $2bn from global banks in August, will need to draw down domestic deposits including from the sovereign wealth fund, asset sales and more loans in order to steady the budget. It is considering a return to bond markets to raise $2bn-$4bn.

OPEC+ Kingpins Try to Sell Obedience - Saudi Arabia and Russia, de factor leaders of the OPEC+ alliance of oil-producing countries, have been urging fellow members of the group to comply with agreed-upon output levels for the benefit of oil market stability. How successful the OPEC+ kingpins’ efforts will be should become clearer this week after an OPEC+ panel meets to discuss the matter. In this installment of what to watch in the oil market, two of Rigzone’s regular panelists offer their perspectives on the OPEC+ issue. Keep reading for their insights, along with other views on near-term oil market trends.

  • Tom McNulty, Houston-based Principal and Energy Practice leader with Valuescope, Inc.: The Saudis and the Russians will continue to cajole all oil-producing countries to keep to the OPEC+ agreement to maintain production levels where they are so that prices do not fall further. They will not succeed.
  • Tom Seng, Director – School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce, University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business: Will anything of substance come out of OPEC’s Compliance Committee meeting on Monday that would change the global supply/demand balance? Will $40 hold and, if so, could that support level lead to a rally?
  • Andrew Goldstein, President, Atlas commodities LLC: Consolidation within the oil and gas industry has started, dating back to last year with Occidental’s purchase of Anadarko. More recently the merger of Devon Energy and WPX Energy, and talks of ConocoPhillips’ potential acquisition of Concho Resources, have started the long-anticipated consolidation within the shale patch.

Israeli Pipeline Operator Signs Preliminary Deal to Transport UAE Oil to Europe -In what could become one of the most significant deals to emerge since Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations, the Israeli state-owned pipeline company Europe Asia Pipeline Company, or EAPC, said on Tuesday that it had signed a memorandum of understanding to store and transport oil and distillates from the UAE to Europe.Under the preliminary agreement with MED-RED Land Bridge, a company controlled by Israelis and Emiratis, EAPC will manage storing and transmitting the oil. The oil will be shipped via EAPC’s pipeline, which connects the Red Sea city of Eilat and the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. The MOU was signed in Abu Dhabi on Monday during a ceremony attended by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.“   MRLB will deliver petroleum distillates originating in the Gulf through the EPAC pipeline and sell them to European customers. MRLB will also source petroleum products for delivery through the pipeline to and from other countries.MLRB is a closely held company, jointly controlled by Petromal, a unit of the Abu Dhabi-based firm National Holding; Israeli-based AF Entrepreneurship, which develops energy projects; and Lubber Line, a Gibraltar-based group focused on infrastructure and energy.EAPC operates its eponymous pipeline, and deals in oil storage and the export and import of distillates. It was formed in 1968 as a joint venture between Israel and the National Iranian Oil Co., to build and operate an oil pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon, plus ports for tankers and storage facilities.

US Oversees Unprecedented Preliminary Deal To Transport UAE Oil To Europe Via Southern Israel -  It didn't take long for the historic US-brokered peace and 'normalization' of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to shift focus to a potential major oil pipeline project in the works.Israel's Haaretz newspaper reports, "In what could become one of the most significant deals to emerge since Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations, the Israeli state-owned pipeline company Europe Asia Pipeline Company, or EAPC, said on Tuesday that it had signed a memorandum of understanding to store and transport oil and distillates from the UAE to Europe."Below is the EAPC route through southern Israel from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. This is unprecedented considering that up until just months ago the Arab Gulf states and Israel were official enemies, as they had been for decades especially over the fate of Palestinians. Haaretz reports further that the memorandum of understanding was signed in Abu Dhabi on Monday, in a ceremony attended by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.“This is a historic agreement that will increase cooperation between EAPC and regional and international players. Without a doubt, this agreement has great importance for the Israeli economy both economically and strategically, because it involves long-term joint investments,” EACP Chairman Erez Kalfon said.The Saudi-owned media outlet based on Dubai, al-Arabiya, also confirmed the preliminary deal. And Reuters cited an inside source who speculated it could be worth an estimated $700-$800 million in the coming years. The arrangement “is likely to increase the transferred quantities by tens of millions of tons per year,” the source said. Supplies could start being delivered via the Red Sea to Mediterranean route by early 2021.

Armenian Forces Use Their Last Chance To Turn Tide Of War With Azerbaijan --The Azerbaijani Armed Forces have been developing their advance on Armenian positions in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. On October 19, they captured 13 more villages in the Jabrayil district. The capturing of Soltanli, Amirvarli, Mashanli, Hasanli, Alikeykhanli, Gumlag, Hajili, Goyarchinveysalli, Niyazgullar, Kechal Mammadli, Shahvalli, Haji Ismayilli and Isagli was personally announced by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Early on October 20, Azerbaijani forces also reached the town of Tumas and engaged Armenian units deployed there. Pro-Azerbaijani sources insist that the town already fell into the hands of Baku.The country’s defense ministry claims that in the recent clashes Azerbaijani forces destroyed a number of enemy troops, at least 2 T-72 tanks, 2 BM-21 “Grad” MLRS, 1 D-30, 1 D-20 gun-howitzers, and 11 auto vehicles.On October 19, pro-Armenian sources for the first time provided video evidence that they had shot down at least one of the Bayraktar TB2 combat drones operated by the Azerbaijani military and Turkish specialists.  Meanwhile, the Armenian Defense Ministry claimed that 5 unmanned aerial vehicles were shot down during the evening of that day only.According to the Armenian side, the total number of Azerbaijani casualties in the war reached 6,259. 195 UAVs, 16 helicopters, 22 military planes, 566 armoured vehicles and 4 multiple rocket launchers of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan were allegedly destroyed. Yerevan claims that the Armenian forces have repelled two powerful attacks in the northern part of Karabakh, while intense fighting has been ongoing in the south. Nonetheless, Armenian military officials avoid confirming the recent Azerbaijani advances and insist that the recent developments are just a part of modern maneuver warfare. By these claims, the political leadership of Armenia tries to hide that the Azerbaijani advance along the Iranian border faced little resistance.The Azerbaijani progress was mostly complicated by a limited number of mobile Armenian units, which were avoiding a direct confrontation and focusing on ambushes and mine warfare. According to reports, the Armenian side is now reinforcing its positions in the area of the Akari River seeking to prevent the further Azerbaijani advance towards the Armenian state border and the Lachin corridor.On the other hand, the goal of the Azerbaijani-Turkish bloc is to overcome this resistance and to develop the current momentum to reach the Lachin mountain pass thus threatening to cut off the shortest route between Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh. In the event of success, this would predetermine the Azerbaijani victory in the war. Military hostilities are ongoing amid another round of international diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation and return the sides to the negotiating table.President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared that they are ready to meet in Moscow. The Azerbaijani leader even said that his country is ready to halt the operation if Armenia demonstrates a constructive approach. Nonetheless, the ‘constructive approach of Armenia’ in the view of Azerbaijan is the full and public surrender of Karabakh. Such an agreement will mark the collapse of the current political leadership of Armenia and is unlikely to be accepted.Therefore, the war will likely continue until the military victory of one of the sides and that side would likely be Azerbaijan.

Iran rules out weapons ‘buying spree’ as UN embargo is set to expire - Iran said it was self-reliant in its defense and had no need to go on a weapons buying spree as a United Nations conventional arms embargo was due to expire on Sunday despite strong U.S. opposition. "Iran’s defense doctrine is premised on strong reliance on its people and indigenous capabilities ... Unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place in Iran's defense doctrine," said a Foreign Ministry statement carried by state media. The 2007 Security Council arms embargo on Iran was due to expire on Sunday, as agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal among Iran, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and the United States that sought to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons in return for economic sanctions relief. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have soared since U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the deal, however. In August, the Trump administration triggered a process aimed at restoring all U.N. sanctions, after the U.N. Security Council rejected a U.S. bid to extend the conventional arms embargo on the country. "Today's normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world is a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. Days after triggering the process, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia and China not to disregard the reimposition of all U.N. sanctions on Iran which Washington has demanded. When asked whether the United States would target Russia and China with sanctions if they refuse to reimpose the U.N. measures on Iran, Pompeo said: "Absolutely."

Iran To Import North Korean Missiles In 25-Year Military Deal With China -Following the end on the 18th of October of the 13-year United Nations’ embargo on Iran buying or selling weapons, the roll-out of the military component of the 25-year deal between China and Iran will begin in November, as exclusively revealed by Oil Price.com. After a series of meetings in China on the 9th and 10th of October between Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, and his China counterpart, Wang Yi, this military component may now also feature the deployment in Iran of North Korean weaponry and technology, in exchange for oil, according to sources very close to the Iranian government spoken to by OilPrice.com last week. Most notably this would include Hwasong-12 mobile ballistic missiles, with a range of 4,500 kilometres, and the development of liquid propellant rocket engines suitable for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or satellite launch vehicles (SLVs). This will all be part of a broader triangular relationship co-ordinated by Beijing and further facilitated by the imminent launch of a new digitised currency system by China. This sort of co-ordination – between North Korea and Iran and also between North Korea, Iran, and China – is nothing new, although its resumption at such a scale and in such products is. According to a number of defence industry sources - and recorded in various ‘Jane’s Intelligence Reviews’ (JIR) - over the first five-year period from the onset of Iran’s ballistic missile program in 1987, Iran bought up to 300 Scud B missiles from North Korea. Pyongyang, though, did not just sell Iran weapons but it was also instrumental in helping Iran to build-out the infrastructure for what has become an extremely high-level ballistic missile program, beginning with the creation in Iran of a Scud B missile plant that became operational by the end of 1988.According to JIR and other defence sources, this early-stage co-operation in this area between North Korea and Iran also included Iranian personnel travelling to North Korea for training in the operation and manufacture of these missiles and the stationing of North Korean personnel in Iran during the build-out of missile plants. This model of knowledge and skills transference, of course, has been a key part of the 25-year deal between Iran and China since it was formally agreed back in 2016, including the training of up to 130 young, fast-tracked officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) every year at various military institutions across mainland China. The simple idea of paying North Korea in oil is also far from new, having been a key method by which Iran helped to fund the development of North Korea’s more powerful Nodong series of missiles as early as the 1990s, according to Kenneth Katzman, Middle Eastern affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service, in Washington. According to sources close to Iran’s Petroleum Ministry spoken to by OilPrice.com last week, oil shipments are the number one suggestion from North Korea to any country that has oil and wants weapons as a means of payment for any weaponry that Pyonyang has available.

 Exclusive: Indonesia rejected U.S. request to host spy planes - officials (Reuters) - Indonesia rejected this year a proposal by the United States to allow its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel there, according to four senior Indonesian officials familiar with the matter. U.S. officials made multiple “high-level” approaches in July and August to Indonesia’s defence and foreign ministers before Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, rebuffed the request, the officials said. Representatives for Indonesia’s president and defence minister, the U.S. State Department press office and the U.S. embassy in Jakarta did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives for the U.S. Department of Defence and Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi declined to comment. The proposition, which came as the U.S. and China escalated their contest for influence in Southeast Asia, surprised Indonesia’s government, the officials said, because Indonesia has a long-standing policy of foreign policy neutrality. The country has never allowed foreign militaries to operate there. The P-8 plays a central role in keeping an eye on China’s military activity in the South China Sea, most of which Beijing claims as sovereign territory. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei have rival claims to the resource-rich waters, through which $3 trillion worth of trade passes each year.Indonesia is not a formal claimant in the strategically important waterway, but considers a portion of the South China Sea as its own. It has regularly repelled Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats from an area to which Beijing says it has a historic claim. But the country also has growing economic and investment links with China. It does not want to take sides in the conflict and is alarmed by growing tensions between the two superpowers, and by the militarisation of the South China Sea, Retno told Reuters.

China Deploys Hypersonic Missiles Across From Taiwan In Preparation For Invasion - China has deployed its hypersonic missiles across Taiwan, which can evade traditional missile defense systems. The South China Morning Post, cited an anonymous military source stating that China’s most advanced hypersonic missile, the DF-17, is being deployed to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bases in the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, which sit right across from Taiwan. The deployment of the missiles is part of a PLA pattern of a beefing up of its forces along the coast of China in what some analysts are saying are preparations for an invasion of Taiwan. According to the unnamed source, “The DF-17 hypersonic missile will gradually replace the old DF-11s and DF-15s that were deployed in the southeast region for decades.” The source added that, “The new missile has a longer range and is able to hit targets more accurately.” The deployments of the missiles are apart of an expansion of the Marine Corps and Rocket Force bases in Fujian and Guangdong provinces, according to Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of Kanwa Defense Review. Chang told the newspaper, “every rocket force brigade in Fujian and Guangdong is now fully equipped.” Chang further asserted that this is evidence of the communist regime’s invasion plans: “The size of some of the missile bases in the Eastern and Southern theatre commands have even doubled in recent years, showing the PLA is stepping up preparations for a war targeting Taiwan.” Chang added that the Russian-made S-400 Triumf air-defense system is being deployed at bases in southeast China, claiming that the system can cover “the whole of Taiwan.” He then claimed that the system is “able to shoot Taiwanese military aircraft once they take off.” The report stated that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) now has 20 air force units along its coast. In addition, the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps (PLANMC) now has 10 to 13 armies along China’s southeast coast, with China’s President Xi Jinping only last week telling the marines to “prepare for war,” Taiwan News reported. On Sunday (Oct. 18), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Wang Ting-yu reacted to the article by saying he believes the missiles have not necessarily been placed to attack Taiwan but to prevent other countries, such as the U.S. and Japan, from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion, Liberty Times reported. Wang said that the more the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increases its military deployments in the Pacific, the more obvious its role as “troublemaker” becomes and the more alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) are needed. Videos have even emerged separately showing a People’s Liberation Army Air Force bomber equipped with a hypersonic weapon system. The H-6N bomber, was filmed coming in for a landing at a base in central China, carrying a large missile identified as the hypersonic mach 5 DF-17, Popular Mechanics reported.

China Economy Grows 4.9% as Rest of World Struggles With Coronavirus – WSJ —Chinese officials said Monday that gross domestic product expanded by 4.9% in the third quarter from a year earlier, putting China’s economy back toward its pre-coronavirus trajectory half a year after the pandemic gutted its economy. The 4.9% growth figure for the third quarter fell short of expectations but brings China’s trajectory closer in line with forecasts made at the beginning of the year for 2020 growth of between 5.5% and 6%—forecasts made before the pandemic swept across the globe, killing more than a million people and crushing the global economy. The third-quarter expansion builds on the second quarter’s 3.2% growth, which follows a historic contraction of 6.8% in the first three months of the year, when authorities locked down the central Chinese city of Wuhan in a bid to curb the fast-spreading virus. The International Monetary Fund is projecting China’s economy to expand by 1.9% in 2020, putting it on track to be the only major world economy to grow this pandemic-hit year. By contrast, the American economy is expected to shrink by 4.3%, while the eurozone is forecast to contract by 8.3%, the IMF said in its latest update this month. Monday’s third-quarter growth number offers further evidence of China’s relative strength and moves the country’s economy into positive territory for the first nine months of the year, expanding 0.7% from a year earlier. Other economic indicators released Monday offered additional signs of strength. China’s headline unemployment figure, the urban surveyed jobless rate, fell to 5.4% in September, lower than August’s 5.6% rate and Beijing’s target of around 6%. China revived its economy in roughly three stages: first, by shutting down most economic activity beginning in late January, a lockdown that lasted largely until the end of March. Beginning in April, authorities sought to get factories revved up again. With production ramping up, China was able to increase its share of global exports, shipping medical equipment like face masks and sterilizer in addition to work-from-home computer equipment to customers around the world as other exporting nations suffered through their own lockdowns. If the second quarter represented China’s factory recovery, then the third quarter marked its consumer recovery, with authorities—having almost entirely stamped out the coronavirus within its borders—encouraging consumers to begin venturing outside of their homes and opening up their wallets.

World Bank: South Asian economies hit hard by COVID-19 - The World Bank’s recently released South Asia Economic Focus, Fall 2020 report has revealed the sharp economic impact of COVID-19 in a region that is home to 1.38 billion people or one fourth of the world’s population. Entitled “Beaten or Broken? Informality and COVID-19,” the report says that South Asia is experiencing its worst ever recession, with economic activity in the area brought “to a near standstill.” It estimates that the regional economy will contract by 7.7 percent this year, with India contracting by 9.9 percent and Maldives and Sri Lanka by 19.5 and 6.8 percent respectively. Although the World Bank optimistically expects South Asia to rebound by 4.5 percent in 2021, its per-capita income will be 6 percent lower than in 2019 and its population far poorer than that year. The report, which estimates that over three quarters of the total work force is in the informal sector, states that “more people will be added to the ranks of the extreme poor in South Asia than in any other region in 2020.” On October 14, South Asia had officially recorded more than eight million coronavirus cases and 125,000 deaths. These figures, however, are not reliable because of the low rates of testing and the deliberate negligence of data-gathering by governments in order to downplay the extent of the pandemic. “Beaten or Broken? Informality and COVID-19,” reports that millions of jobs have been destroyed in India, producing a sharp increase in urban poverty and the creation of a “new poor.” Indian economic growth, which was already slowing prior to the pandemic, underwent an unprecedented economic contraction of almost 25 percent in the April to June quarter. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent body, 18.9 million permanent jobs were destroyed in that quarter. Pakistan has also been severely affected, particularly its service sector, with the overall economy expected to contract by 1.5 percent and a serious increase in poverty. The consumer price inflation has already risen to 10.7 percent and the Pakistani rupee has fallen by 13.8 percent so far this year. Bangladesh’s economic growth is expected to fall from 8.1 percent in 2019 to 2 percent this year and poverty likely to “increase significantly” with the greatest impact on “daily and self-employed workers in the non-agricultural sector and salaried workers in the manufacturing sector.”

Pandemic Causes Food Security to Wobble, While Much of Rural India Still Continues to be Underfed --Jerri-Lynn Scofield - As regular readers know, the pandemic has brought this problem to the fore, and it is an issue over which I have great concern. Yet while food security has indeed wobbled as a result of the pandemic,  in many places not accustomed to seeing food supply problems, there has yet to be a widespread lack of  food – despite many areas experiencing shortages of particular foodstuffs (see Food Security: UN Warns People Are Vulnerable to Shortages as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues). Although there have been clusters of infection concentrated among those who produce our food – take, as just a few examples, meatpackers in the U.S. and Germany, and migrant or temporary workers who sow, tend, or harvest food – so far, these problems have been manageable to the security of our food supply.  I’m not sure what will happen if the pandemic continues, particularly in regions that account for major shares of local or international food production. But the assumed ability to continue to feed ourselves adequately is by no means a certainty, as the pandemic continues and spreads in much of the world. Against this grim backdrop, however, what I do want to focus on today is a  paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, and summarised in The Wire, After Abysmal Hunger Index Rank, Paper Points Out 3 of 4 Rural Indians Can’t Afford Nutritious Diet. To those who don’t know that much about India, I want to highlight that the bulk of the population resides in rural areas, where people produce the food that they and the rest of the country rely on to consume. So it’s especially sad these rural Indians cannot afford a nutritious diet – and that this problem predates the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over to The Wire: India has ranked 94 among 107 nations in the Global Hunger Index 2020 and is in the ‘serious’ hunger category. Experts have blamed poor implementation processes, lack of effective monitoring, a siloed approach in tackling malnutrition and poor performance by large states.Published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Policy, this latest paper, titled Affordability of nutritious diets in rural India, iThe paper arrives at the conclusion that ‘malnutrition is endemic in India,’ based on information on rural food price and wages gleaned from the 2011 National Sample Survey. In spite of the fact that, “in 2015-16 some 38% of preschool children were stunted and 21% were wasted, while more than half of Indian mothers and children were anaemic,” the paper finds that “surprisingly few” discuss the role of diets, particularly the affordability of nutritious diets in India.

Nigerian government unleashes massacre against police brutality protesters - Nigeria’s government has unleashed deadly violence against the anti-police brutality protests that have rocked the country for nearly two weeks. On Tuesday night, it sent in soldiers firing live ammunition to massacre peaceful protesters and quell a movement that has posed an increasingly direct challenge to the rule of the corrupt bourgeois state headed by the former general and coup leader, President Muhammadu Buhari.Social media posts showed protesters killed and wounded in the military attack on a large crowd that had blocked the toll gates at the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge, paralyzing an expressway that links Lagos island with the Lagos mainland in Nigeria’s sprawling commercial capital. While the scale of the massacre was not immediately clear, one witness reported to the BBC that he had seen at least 20 bodies and more than 50 wounded. Before the troops moved in, they cut off the lights and the CCTV camera at the toll plaza.There were reports that troops were carrying away bodies to hide the extent of the death toll, while one medical professional reported that wounded were being evacuated from a nearby hospital for fear that the army would come to round them up and kill them.Lagos authorities Tuesday announced the imposition of a 24-hour curfew across the city of 20 million, declaring, “We will not watch and allow anarchy in our state.” Previously, the Nigerian army warned it was prepared to step in against “subversive elements and troublemakers.” Nonetheless, crowds continued to block major roads, including access to the city’s international airport, while witnesses reported that a police station in the Orile Iganmu district of Lagos was set on fire on Tuesday. While the curfew was supposed to begin at 4 pm, the authorities extended the deadline to 9 pm in the face of mass defiance, which continued into the night.What began as a movement demanding the dissolution of the hated SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad)—an elite unit of the Nigerian Police Force known for killing, torturing and extorting Nigerian civilians, particularly the country’s youth—has continued to grow. Dozens of people have lost their lives in the protests, while many more have been detained by the police. One of them, a 17-year-old girl, identified only as Saifullah, ended her life in a jail cell in the northern Kano state, reportedly tortured to death.

Global Migration Trends Plunge As COVID Crushes Worldwide Travel To A Halt  --Migration trends have hit a wall in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic - resulting in what will be even more pressure to the global economic outlook.New visa issuances by the 37 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were down 46% in the first half of 2020. The organization warned that continued restrictions on travel means that it could be "some time" before trends return back to normal. Migration has a direct impact on the transport, domestic services and IT industries, Bloomberg notes. Migrants also make up 24% of medical doctors and 16% of nurses, the article says. OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said: “Migration will continue to play an important role for economic growth and innovation, as well as in responding to rapidly changing labor markets. We need to avoid rolling back on integration and reaffirm that migration is an integral part of our lives.”Immigrants have also been disproportionately affected by job losses resulting from the pandemic. Immigrant unemployment has moved from 1% below native workers to now 2% above native workers in the U.S. In Canada, Norway and Sweden, similar trends are showing up.The OECD concludes that migrants also have increased chance of health risks, since many work on the "front line".It also concludes that the progress many nations have made in welcoming migrants could wind up being undone as a result of the global economic slowdown.

Eurozone Government Borrowing Soars as Countries Seek to Cushion Covid-19’s Blow – WSJ - Government borrowing in the eurozone surged this spring to its highest levels since the creation of the currency union, as countries spent hundreds of billions of euros to cushion their populations against the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The combined budget deficits of eurozone governments surged to 11.6% of gross domestic product, more than four times the 2.5% deficit recorded in the first quarter, and well above the 7% deficit recorded in the first quarter of 2010, which was the largest seen in the wake of the global financial crisis. The European Union’s statistics agency said Thursday that government debt totaled 95.1% of GDP, more than reversing six years of progress in reducing borrowing from the previous peak of 94% of annual economic output. Eurozone government debts jumped in the second quarter, more than reversing six years of steady fallsthat were led by Germany. The statistics follow last week’s estimates from the Treasury Department that showed the U.S. budget deficit tripled to a record $3.1 trillion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, or 16.1% of economic output. Despite a rise in debt that is unprecedented outside of war, governments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean appear set to borrow heavily again next year, marking a sharp change from the aftermath of the financial crisis, when governments rushed to cut spending in painful austerity programs. The International Monetary Fund, which at the time backed that austerity drive, urged European governments on Wednesday to continue to spend freely in support of businesses and households, and worry about rising debts later. “Policy makers need to do whatever it takes,” said Alfred Kammer, director of the IMF’s European department. “We should not repeat the mistake of the global financial crisis.” The IMF expects the eurozone’s budget gap to widen to 10.1% of GDP in 2020, from 0.6% last year. That is a much smaller deficit than the 18.7% it expects for the U.S., although the budget gap there had reached 6.3% of GDP in 2019, before the pandemic hit. As a group of countries that cooperate on economic policy, the EU has rules designed to limit budget deficits, although they are often disregarded. Now, the bloc has suspended those rules, giving governments more freedom to continue to borrow large sums next year, while leaving it unclear what happens after that. According to Oxford Economics, budgets for next year submitted by governments from the 11 largest eurozone members suggest they are going to use that freedom, since they envisage deficits of roughly 6% of GDP. The IMF expects the U.S. government to run a deficit of 6.9% next year.

Macron launches anti-Muslim police-state crackdown after terror attack in France - After Friday’s terrorist attack that killed middle-school teacher Samuel Paty in Conflans, the administration of Emmanuel Macron is carrying out a police-state crackdown. Hundreds of people have been deported, more than 50 Muslim associations have been targeted for dissolution, dozens of people are being arrested or raided with no connection to the terrorist attack at all and the government is seeking to criminalize protected free speech activities and eliminate anonymity on social media. Macron’s policy is all but indistinguishable from the fascistic ravings of National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. An atmosphere of anti-Muslim hysteria is being whipped up to justify a further shift to the right of the entire political establishment, expand police powers and curb the democratic rights of the population.Macron set the tone in his speech to the national defense council on Sunday night, declaring that “the fear is now going to change sides,” and “the Islamists cannot be allowed to sleep peacefully in our country.” The Republicans leader in the Senate, Bruno Retailleu, replied with an open call to violence, demanding “arms not tears,” and attacked Macron for “leading a lexicographical battle while a portion of the country defies the fundamental values of France.”Marine Le Pen called for the use of “force,” denouncing politicians who instead “would like us to hold candle-light vigils.”Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Sunday that the interior ministry had requested the immediate expulsion of 231 people from France who were already on government watch-lists for Islamic radicalization, but who had no connection to the Oct. 16 terrorist attack.In an interview with Europe1 on Monday morning, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced a series of further police state measures, and personally hailed National Rally leader Le Pen.“Since this morning, police operations have been underway and will continue in the hours and days to come,” he said. He declared that the “dozens of individuals” targeted were “not necessarily connected to the investigation” into the Oct. 16 attack. They were people “to whom we clearly would like to send a message, that which the President announced at the defense council: not a night of peace for enemies of the Republic.”