reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, February 8, 2020

week ending Feb 8

 The Fed Has a Dangerous Repo Problem: Here’s the Charts -Pam Martens -On both days this week that the New York Fed offered its $30 billion in 14-day repo loans to 24 trading houses on Wall Street, there was far more demand than the New York Fed had preannounced it would provide. On Tuesday, the demand was for $59.05 billion while the New York Fed provided only $30 billion. On Thursday, the demand was for $57.25 billion while the New York Fed provided $30 billion. In short, there is a growing demand for long-term loans at affordable rates on Wall Street – meaning one or more trading houses has a borrowing problem. The Fed’s loans this week were made at a below-market interest rate of 1.60 percent.The demand for the 14-day loans came on the same days that the New York Fed also funneled huge amounts of money in one-day loans to Wall Street’s trading houses: $64.45 billion on Tuesday and $46.75 billion on Thursday. Cumulatively, since the Fed began making these unprecedented repo loans to Wall Street’s trading houses on September 17 of last year, it has pumped over $6.6 trillion into Wall Street.That money has found a home in the stock market, most likely via stock index futures which deliver a big bang for the buck through high leverage via margin loans. Some of these Wall Street trading houses that are borrowing from the Fed at 1.60 percent are likely loaning that money out to hedge funds (at a much higher interest rate) and the hedge funds are then plowing the money into stock index futures.The stock market has set repeated new highs since the New York Fed turned on this multi-trillion-dollar money spigot that has been operating every business day since September 17.The dangerous problems for the New York Fed are the following: it is creating an unsustainable bubble in the stock market; the larger that bubble grows, the more economic damage it does when it explodes; the New York Fed clearly had no exit plan when it began this dangerous experiment with no approval from an elected Congress.Just how much the stock market is being manipulated was evident in yesterday’s chart for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index. (See above chart.) The markets plunged at the open; then staged an inexplicable sharp reversal rally; then plunged again – all before noon. We have watched this happen over and over since the New York Fed turned on its money spigot. There is a mantra on Wall Street that “the trend is your friend.” But there is no trend here. Markets can flip on a dime from plunging to spiking on no particular news. That strongly suggests there is a major player(s) pushing the market up using the Fed’s cheap money supply. In a healthy market, all that super cheap money from the New York Fed would mean a rising tide would lift all boats. But instead, there is underlying deterioration in the market. Yesterday, despite the Dow closing up 88.92 points, 47 percent of the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Index of 30 companies closed in the red. Those covered a broad swath of industries, from financials to energy to Big Pharma.

 Fed Chair Powell Has Gone Rogue on Repo Loans and the Volcker Rule --Pam Martens - One of the key provisions of Dodd-Frank instructed the Federal Reserve that it would be on a short leash going forward in terms of secret, multi-trillion dollar bailouts of Wall Street’s trading houses. Without the approval or even awareness of Congress, the Federal Reserve, predominantly through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, had showered $29 trillion in cumulative loans to bail out Wall Street’s trading houses from the end of 2007 through the middle of 2010. The Federal Reserve fought a court battle for years to keep that information secret from the American people. That was on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s watch. But this is what has happened on Chairman Powell’s watch. Since September 17, 2019, the New York Fed, with full awareness from Chairman Powell, has funneled $6.6 trillion in revolving loans to the trading houses of Wall Street with no vote in Congress and no disclosures as to what firms are receiving this money and why. Powell has attempted to pass off the loans as part of the New York Fed’s routine open market operations, which are not subject to Congressional oversight. But open market operations don’t last every business day for more than four months with a new plan to extend them into April and involve $6.6 trillion flowing to unnamed trading houses on Wall Street when there is no stated emergency by the Fed.  According to Section 1101 of the Dodd-Frank legislation, both the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee are to be briefed on any emergency loans made by the Fed, including the names of the banks doing the borrowing. Senator Elizabeth Warren sits on the Senate Banking Committee. As of October 18 she had no information on the situation from the Fed. We know that is true because on that date she sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding answers as to what necessitated the Fed to have to make these loans and why they were being extended into 2020.  Just this morning at 8:30 a.m., the New York Fed pumped out another $59.85 billion in loans to unnamed trading houses on Wall Street. The $6.6 trillion in cumulative revolving loans offered at less than 2 percent interest by the New York Fed correlate perfectly with the stock market setting new highs. That’s not helping the public interest but rather the top 10 percent of households who own the vast majority of stocks and bonds.   On top of this outrage from Powell, last Thursday, while media headlines were focused on the impeachment proceedings and the spreading Chinese coronavirus, Powell released a plan to further gut the Volcker Rule provision in Dodd-Frank. But the big Wall Street trading houses had no intention of ever letting the Volcker Rule be implemented. Dodd-Frank was signed into law in 2010 but Federal regulators did not provide their interpretation on how the rule should be implemented until December 2013, indicating at that time that Wall Street had until July 21, 2015 to fully implement the rule. Then the Federal Reserve granted banks an extension until July 21, 2017 to bring their hedge funds and private equity funds into compliance. But according to a 2018 report by Business Insider, JPMorgan Chase, the largest Federally-insured commercial bank in the United States “ranked number 4 among all hedge fund managers with $47.7 billion in hedge fund assets under management.” JPMorgan itself admits to managing $39 billion in hedge fund assets. Following Powell’s announcement last Thursday, other federal regulators have weighed in. Securities and Exchange Commissioner Allison Herren Lee released a statement, writing in part: “Today we continue the march toward effective repeal of the Volcker Rule. The rule is premised on the common sense proposition that banks should not be allowed to gamble with taxpayer money and that taxpayers should never again be forced to rescue banks and their highly compensated executives from the consequences of their bad decisions. Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard also issued a crisp retort to the idea: “The proposal opens the door for firms to invest without limit in venture capital funds and credit funds. The proposal suggests that these funds do not raise concerns about banks’ involvement in risky activity that the Volcker rule was intended to address. To the contrary, it is clear why Congress legislated the Volcker rule to limit these activities.

 January 2020 Yield Curve Update -- Kevin Erdmann -  Interest rates have declined back toward the August lows (though they have bounced back up a bit over the past couple of days).  Generally, this month has continued the trend that suggests the Fed will be a bit behind the curve, long term rates will remain low, and eventually they will have to lower their target overnight rate in an attempt to expand the money supply.  In the second graph, the bullish signal would be a 10 year yield pushing far above the regression lines.  Those lines are my estimation of a de facto yield curve inversion.  The pattern of recent recessions has been (as in 2006-2008) that the plots move to the left.  Where we have avoided recession, the plots move to the left for a relatively short time, then move up significantly as long-term rates reflect improved sentiment.  Either is still possible, but with each month below the inversion line, a move to the left is more likely.The last graph is an indication of Fed posture measured as the expected low point in Eurodollar rates.  The further into the future the expected date of the last rate cut is, the more likely it is that the Fed has been too slow to react to poor sentiment.  It remains at September 2021, and looking back at the first graph, one can see that, if anything, it is more likely that the low point will move to a later date rather than to an earlier date, compared to the similarly low August yield curve.  Unless another Fed cut or a significant unexpected positive shock improves sentiment, it seems like there might still be some room for bonds to go higher before this turns.

 Q1 GDP Forecasts: 1.7% to 2.7% -- From the NY Fed Nowcasting ReportThe New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.7% for 2020:Q1. [Feb 7 estimate].   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow:  The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2020 is 2.7 percent on February 7, down from 2.9 percent on February 5. [Feb 7 estimate].  CR Note: These very early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 1.7% and 2.7% annualized in Q1.

There’s a 70% chance of recession in the next six months, new study from MIT and State Street finds - There’s a 70% chance that a recession will hit in the next six months, according to new research from the MIT Sloan School of Management and State Street Associates. The researchers created an index comprised of four factors and then used the Mahalanobis distance — a measure initially used to analyze human skulls — to determine how current market conditions compare to prior recessions. It measures the distance between a point and a certain distribution. Using this principle, the researchers analyzed four market factors — industrial production, nonfarm payrolls, stock market return and the slope of the yield curve — on a monthly basis. They then measured how the current relationship between the four metrics compares to historical readings. Looking at data back to 1916, the researchers said that the index was a reliable recession indicator since it rose leading up to every prior recession. They found that when the index topped 70%, the likelihood of a recession in the next six months rose to 70%. As of November 2019, the reading on the index was 76%. Of course, a number of economic indicators suggest that the economy is chugging along just fine. In January, private payrolls posted the highest monthly gain since May 2015, and December housing starts soared to a 13-year high. The U.S. economy grew 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019, and 2.3% for the entire year. The U.S. and China signed a “phase one” trade deal in January after months of geopolitical tensions rocking the market. All of these factors suggest continued economic expansion ahead. Even with recent market jitters, many Wall Street strategists are still forecasting gains for the year. “The fundamental backdrop is supportive, in our view, and the fallout from the outbreak is unlikely to hurt [economic] activity prints over the medium term,” Mislav Matejka, JPMorgan’s head of global and European equity strategy, said in a note Monday. “Our call remains that one should not expect a US recession ahead of presidential elections.”

 Trump-Pelosi feud erupts during speech to Congress as impeachment trial nears end -  (Reuters) - A bitter feud between U.S. President Donald Trump and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi boiled over at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with Trump denying her a handshake and Pelosi ripping apart a copy of his remarks behind his back. Trump avoided the subject of his impeachment drama in a pugnacious 80-minute speech, but the raw wounds from the battle were evident with fellow Republicans giving him standing ovations while rival Democrats for the most part remained seated. The Republican-led Senate was expected to acquit him of charges he abused his powers and obstructed Congress during a vote beginning at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) on Wednesday. Seeing Pelosi, the U.S. House of Representatives speaker, for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, Trump declined to shake her outstretched hand as he gave her a paper copy of his remarks before starting to speak. Despite having not spoken to Trump since their last meeting, Pelosi appeared to be taken aback. She avoided citing the customary “high privilege and distinct honor” that usually accompanies the speaker’s introduction of the president to Congress. “Members of Congress, the President of the United States” was all she said in introducing Trump. When his speech ended, Pelosi stood and tore up her copy of the remarks he had handed her, later telling reporters it was “the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative.”

 Read the full text of Trump’s State of the Union speech -Vox.  President Donald Trump addressed Congress on Tuesday night for his last State of the Union address before the 2020 election, claiming in an appeal to voters that, over the past three years, he had helped stage the “Great American Comeback.” Highlights include Guaido’s recognition, tributes to veterans, Rush Limbaugh being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Pelosi tearing up the speech at the end. A transcript follows:

A Demagogic And Dishonest SOTU - The American Conservative - Trump's State of the Union address tonight was a laundry list of false and misleading claims. It will take the fact-checkers the better part of the night to identify all of the misrepresentations and spurious claims that the president made as he rattled off one implausible statistic after another. The few references that Trump made to foreign policy issues predictably glossed over the many failures of administration policies. If you knew nothing about the last three years of Trump’s presidency, the picture he painted sounded pretty good. If you have paid any attention at all before now, you realized that the country was being snowed under with an avalanche of lies and half-truths. The most disingenuous part may have been this section on Iran:In recent months, we have seen proud Iranians raise their voices against their oppressive rulers. The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death, and destruction, and start working for the good of its own people. Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very poorly. We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help [bold mine-DL]. We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.It goes without saying that Trump couldn’t care less about the fortunes of the Iranian people when he has spent the last year and a half waging a pitiless economic war against them. He admits that the sanctions he has imposed have done great harm to the Iranian economy, and then absurdly suggests that the a dministration can “make it very good.” Had it not been for the reimposition of sanctions and the additional sanctions placed on Iran’s oil and metal sectors, there would be no economic damage to repair. Trump boasts about setting Iran’s house on fire, and then chides them for refusing to agree to his terms for putting out the fire that he set. Trump’s decision to renege on the JCPOA and launch an unjust economic war made it very clear to the Iranian government that there is nothing they could do short of capitulation that would satisfy this administration, and having been burned on the promise of sanctions relief once already there is no chance that they are going to take a chance in negotiating with the person responsible for betraying them. Earlier in the speech he boasted about the illegal assassination of Soleimani, as if the Iranian government would enter into talks with the administration that committed this act. The president continues to feign interest in negotiations that his own actions have made impossible.

FactChecking the State of the Union - – Summary: In his 2020 address to Congress, President Donald Trump stretched and distorted the facts:

  • Trump claimed the economy is “the best it has ever been.” But GDP growth fell to 2.3% last year and economists predict further slowing this year.
  • He said he brought about low unemployment by reversing “years of economic decay” and “failed economic policies,” when in fact over 1 million more jobs were added in the 35 months before he took office than in the first 35 months since.
  • Trump boasted that the “unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years.” That’s true, but it had been trending down for several years before he took office.
  • The president wrongly said, “After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast.” They’ve gone up under Trump, but also have risen under the last several presidents.
  • Trump claimed that people’s 401(k)s and pensions have increased “60, 70, 80, 90, and 100% and even more.” Some may have, but that’s far higher than the average.
  • He said “real median household income is now at the highest level ever recorded.” However, the Census Bureau noted that was partly due to a change in survey questions in 2014. Based on “adjusted” figures, median household income was slightly higher in 1999 than in 2018.
  • Trump claimed the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico “will create nearly 100,000 … auto jobs.” But an independent federal commission puts the job gains at 28,000 over five years.
  • The president boasted that “a long, tall, and very powerful wall is being built” along the southern border, and more than 100 miles have been completed. But only one mile is located where no barriers previously existed.
  • Trump said “illegal crossings” at the southwest border “are down 75% since May.” But total apprehensions in 2019 were 81% higher than in 2016, the year before Trump took office.
  • He said that “after losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration.” He’s referring to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls manufacturing “establishments,” and most of the growth under Trump has been in facilities with fewer than five employees.
  • Trump compared apples to oranges in claiming a doubling of insurance premiums in five years before he took office and “less expensive” plans under his administration.
  • The president said he made an “iron-clad” promise to “always protect patients with preexisting conditions,” but that ignores the fact he has supported Republican health plans that would reduce the current protections under the Affordable Care Act.
  • He suggested, misleadingly, that his administration was responsible for the U.S. becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. But the U.S. has been No. 1 in the world for natural gas for more than a decade, and tops in petroleum since 2013.
  • Trump said “300,000 working age people” left the workforce during Obama’s eight years. Actually, the workforce grew by 5.4 million.

1 big thing: Trump’s sense of invincibility - President Trump often says he's the smartest person in the room on virtually every topic. Now, after taking several risks on what he privately calls "big shit" and avoiding catastrophe, Trump and his entire inner circle convey supreme self-confidence, bordering on a sense of invincibility.  Three years into Trump's presidency, their view is the naysayers are always wrong. They point to Iran, impeachment, Middle East peace. Every day, Trump grows more confident in his gut and less deterrable.  Over the last month, 10 senior administration officials have described this sentiment to me. Most of them share it.  Trump and his senior aides often cite two decisions as evidence their more experienced colleagues were alarmists.

  • Withdrawal from the Paris Accord: At the time, many on Trump's foreign policy team said the move would damage relations with allies. In Trump’s view, it made no difference and thrilled his base.
  • Moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: Senior members of Trump's team, including then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, argued against the policy, saying it would further destabilize the Middle East. Trump's aides often reminisce about how wrong Mattis was.
    • Kushner’s team has not telegraphed any qualms about the fact that Palestinian leaders cut off all communication with the U.S. because of the move. He didn’t seem to see the blackout as a deterrent to his ability to lay out peace terms between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Over the past month, Trumpworld's sense of being unbeatable has only grown. This is partly because the president sometimes defines victory in narrow terms, like pleasing the base and juicing the markets. Trump stunned allies and even many in his own government when he greenlighted the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force. Trump has claimed victory and his aides have said the Iranian response — missile attacks that have yet to kill any Americans — show the warnings of war were baseless. The jury will be out for a while on that, but Team Trump claims vindication.  And last week, Jared Kushner released the long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which the Israelis loved and the Palestinians promptly rejected. But the encouraging statements from some key Arab neighbors bolstered the White House’s confidence.  Team Trump's confidence snowballed into the weekend as the Senate voted against witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial and Mitch McConnell set up a Wednesday vote that's expected to acquit the president.   Trump's attorney Alan Dershowitz channeled his chutzpah when he argued, "If a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."

Trump Says War With Iran Was “Closer Than You Thought” Last Month — During a two-hour lunch at the White House, and then later at the State of the Union speech, President Trump played up the idea of a war against Iran, presenting a conflict as all but a foregone conclusion, and suggesting it just depends “which road they choose.” During his lunch, Trump told reporters that the war against Iran was “closer than you thought.” The White House declined to comment on this, insisting the lunch was “off the record” and that it was unethical for the reporters to ask about it.Trump talked further at the State of the Union, cheering “proud Iranians raising their voices against unresponsive rulers,” and crediting his sanctions for Iran’s economy doing “very poorly.” Trump demanded Iran give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite consistent evidence showing Iran is not seeking such weapons in the first place, and suggested Iran’s leaders are “too proud or too foolish” to accept US demands.  Trump once again appeared to blithely suggest that whether Iran accepts the demands, adding “let’s see which road they choose, it is totally up to them.” This is much more ominous combined with warnings about the war during his lunch. While Trump’s other State of the Union topics for the Middle East focused on the ISIS war being over, and the Afghan War potentially ending, on Iran he appeared to be talking up further escalation, while crediting himself for the killing of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, adding to the narrative surrounding launching such a war.

Trump’s Iran Strategy Isn’t Working as Well as He Thinks Defense One - The killing of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by drone strike in early January, along with Tehran’s notably limited retaliation, has given President Donald Trump reason to believe his strategy toward Iran is working. Widely condemned at first as a rash over-escalation, the Soleimani strike instead disrupted Iran’s expectations in a way that created both risks and opportunities. Trump and his team deserve enormous credit for reversing Barack Obama’s tendency to focus exclusively on the danger of Iranian retaliation against the United States and its allies—an attitude that made the Obama administration reluctant to punish Iran for its misconduct in the region. That hesitation gave Iran wide latitude for troublemaking. Trump sent a different message. As General Kenneth F. McKenzie, the leader of U.S. Central Command, noted at an International Institute for Strategic Studies event last fall, “Iran has escalation options, but we own the top steps of the escalation ladder.” Yet one swift change in momentum in the administration’s favor does not mean the president’s entire strategy is succeeding. In fact, it’s not working as well as Trump and his aides seem to think. Soleimani’s allies and patrons are still in charge of Iran. Missiles continue to be fired at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, signaling a return to damaging—but deniable—behavior by Iran and its allies. Iran is still making appreciable progress toward nuclear weapons, and the time it would need to produce 25 kilograms of nuclear fuel has unquestionably shrunk since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal that Obama, the European Union, and other partners negotiated with Tehran.Nevertheless, the United States does not appear to be in a position to capitalize on the aftermath of the Soleimani strike. Iranians are furious with their government, but their government continues to be willing to incarcerate and torture large numbers of them. And the theory of how disaffection within the Iranian public—over the downing of the airliner and so much more—leads to the overthrow of the current regime remains opaque at best. Meanwhile, signs of trouble abound in the surrounding region. After the Soleimani attack, Iraq may revoke our right to keep troops in their country, or severely restrict our uses of those forces, in ways that prevent their effectiveness either in fighting ISIS or containing Iranian behavior.

Jimmy Carter: Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Breaches International Law -   Former US president, Jimmy Carter, announced on Friday that current US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” breaches international law, CNN and other international agencies reported. According to Carter, Trump’s deal: “Breaches international law regarding self-determination, the acquisition of land by force, and annexation of occupied territories.”In a statement issued by his office, Carter also affirmed: “The new US plan undercuts prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If implemented, the plan will doom the only viable solution to this long-running conflict, the two-state solution.” Therefore, he urged UN member-states: To adhere to UN Security Council resolutions and to reject any unilateral Israeli implementation of the proposal by grabbing more Palestinian land.He argued: “By calling Israel ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people’, the plan also encourages the denial of equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”Trump’s plan recognises Israeli sovereignty over most of the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley, as well as an undivided Jerusalem. Carter, 95, is the longest-living president in US history, has frequently spoken out since losing re-election in 1980, and has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work.  In recent years, he has frequently faced criticism from pro-Israel supporters for his views on the conflict, especially for his use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s potential future without a peace deal.

 War for Fun and Profit - The expression “self-licking ice cream cone” was first used in 1992 to describe a hidebound bureaucracy at NASA. Yet, as an image, it’s even more apt for America’s military-industrial complex, an institution far vaster than NASA and thoroughly dedicated to working for its own perpetuation and little else.Thinking about that led me to another phrase based on America’s seemingly endless string of victory-less wars: the self-defeating military. The U.S., after all, hasn’t won a major conflict since World War II, when it was aided by a grand alliance that included Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s godless communists. And yet here’s the wonder of it all: despite such a woeful 75-year military record, including both the Korean and Vietnam wars of the last century and the never-ending war on terror of this one, the Pentagon’s coffers are overflowing with taxpayer dollars. What gives?Americans profess to love “their” troops, but what are they getting in return for all that affection (and money)? Very little, it seems. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying the slightest attention, since the present military establishment has been designed less to protect this country than to protect itself, its privileges, and its power. That rarely discussed reality has, in turn, contributed to practices and mindsets that make it a force truly effective at only one thing: defeating any conceivable enemy in Washington as it continues to win massive budgets and thecultural authority to match. That it loses most everywhere else is, it seems, just part of the bargain.The list of recent debacles should be as obvious as it is al arming: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen (and points around and in between). And even if it’s a reality rarely focused on in the mainstream media, none of this has been a secret to the senior officers who run that military. Look at the Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam War era or the Afghanistan Papers recently revealed by the Washington Post. In both cases, prominent U.S. military leaders admitted to fundamental flaws in their war-making practices, including the lack of a coherent strategy, a thorough misunderstanding of the nature and skills of their enemies, and the total absence of any real progress in achieving victory, no matter the cost.

China Seeking Flexibility On Phase 1 Trade Pledges As Its Economy Grinds To A Halt -  Last night, when we reported the plunge in the yuan below 7.00 vs the dollar - traditionally a level that has been seen as triggering the US Treasury into screaming fx manipulation - we noted that it is only a matter of time before the US and China sat down to discuss just how viable the terms of the Phase 1 trade "superdeal" are, now that China's economy is grinding to a halt, with even official GDP expected to slump to 4.5% or lower (the accurate, if unofficialy number, may well turn negative) if only in the short term, as the country reels from the fallout of the Coronavirus epidemic which has led to tens of millions of Chinese citizens living under mandatory or self-imposed quarantine, and crippling critical supply chains.  We didn't have long to wait, because moments ago, Bloomberg reported that Chinese officials "are hoping the U.S. will agree to some flexibility on pledges in their phase-one trade deal" as Beijing tries to contain the fallout from the health crisis that has infected over 17,500 and killed over 360.  The Phase 1 trade deal which was signed on Jan. 15 - just one day before China finally started reporting virus data - and is supposed to take effect in mid-February, has a clause that states the U.S. and China will consult "in the event that a natural disaster or other unforeseeable event” delays either from complying with the agreement. It’s unclear whether China has formally requested such a consultation yet, but according to Bloomberg sources the plan "is to ask for it at some point."As the report goes on to note, Chinese officials are evaluating if the target for economic growth this year should be softened as part of a broader review of how the government’s plans will be affected by the deadly virus outbreak, read:  hoping to convince Trump to further ease existing tariffs. However, so far it does not appear that the US is rushing to concede to Chinese demands, especially since Larry Kudlow last week said that the U.S. hasn’t seen any major effects on its economy from the epidemic. "This is principally a public health problem and the pandemic of course is in China, not the U.S.,” Kudlow said Thursday in an interview on Fox Business Network. “Insofar as the economy, we see no material impact." Curiously, the Bloomberg report comes about an hour after the WSJ reported that the Trump administration has been granting fewer exemptions to tariffs on Chinese imports, with the approval rate recently plunging to 3% in the third round of levies from 35% in the first two. 

China to halve tariffs on some U.S. imports as coronavirus risks grow - (Reuters) - China on Thursday said it would halve additional tariffs levied against 1,717 U.S. goods last year, following the signing of a Phase 1 deal that defused a bruising trade war between the world’s two largest economies. While the announcement reciprocates the U.S. commitment under the deal, it is also seen by analysts as a move by Beijing to boost confidence amid a virus outbreak that has disrupted businesses and hit investor sentiment. Casting doubts over the immediate outlook, however, was the prospect raised in a local media report that Beijing could invoke a disaster-related clause in the trade agreement, which might allow it to avoid repercussions even if it cannot fully meet the targeted purchases of U.S. goods and services for 2020.  Washington welcomed the tariff cuts as a “big step in the right direction,” but said it expected China to live up to its obligations under the Phase 1 trade deal despite the outbreak. “We’re monitoring the virus carefully,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox Business Network. “But based on current information, I don’t expect there will be any issues in them fulfilling their commitments.” China’s finance ministry said in a statement that starting Feb. 14, additional tariffs levied on some goods will be cut to 5% from 10% and others lowered to 2.5% from 5%.

Ivanka Trump Had More China Trademarks Approved on Same Day President Lifted Sanctions on Chinese Company -  First daughter Ivanka Trump's company received approval from China to register three trademarks on the same day her father, President Donald Trump, agreed to lift sanctions against a Chinese telecommunications company, according to a government watchdog group.China granted registration approval for the three Ivanka Trump Marks LLC trademarks on June 7, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found in a review of trademark database records on Wednesday. President Trump saved the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE from financial collapse the same day by lifting tough American sanctions, despite opposition from some of his advisers and Republicans.  “The questionable part of this is, is there any significance to the timing of when she got registration?" CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz told Newsweek on Wednesday. "You can't say that there's quid pro quo behavior, but the timing does raise questions that everything is happening around the same time."

In another Trump win, court tosses Democrats’ suit over his businesses (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers that accused Donald Trump of violating anti-corruption provisions in the U.S. Constitution with his business dealings, capping a week of political victories for the Republican president. A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the more than 210 House of Representatives and Senate Democrats lacked the required legal standing to bring the case, reversing a lower court judge’s decision that had allowed the case to proceed. Two days after being acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial, Trump hailed the ruling as a “total win,” telling reporters that “it was another phony case.” Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer for the lawmakers, said they were disappointed in the decision and were weighing their next steps. Trump still faces two similar lawsuits pending in other courts that also accuse him of violating the Constitution’s rarely tested “emoluments” clauses that bar presidents from taking gifts or payments from foreign and state governments. The lawsuits all have focused on his ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just blocks from the White House. The hotel, opened by Trump shortly before he was elected in 2016, has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting Washington.

 Secret Service spending at Trump hotels: Rooms for agents cost up to $650 per night - The Washington Post - President Trump’s company charges the Secret Service for the rooms agents use while protecting him at his luxury properties — billing U.S. taxpayers at rates as high as $650 per night, according to federal records and people who have seen receipts.Those charges, compiled here for the first time, show that Trump has an unprecedented — and largely hidden — business relationship with his own government. When Trump visits his clubs in Palm Beach, Fla., and Bedminster, N.J., the service needs space to post guards and store equipment.

Video From Inside ICE Detention Center Shows Detainees Being Pepper-Sprayed - In the early morning of June 12, 2017, a group of eight Central American migrants decided to go on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the immigration detention center where they were being held in California. When detainees arrive at the facility, they're given a handbook that states explicitly, "Detention is NOT prison." Immigration detention is where the government holds people while deciding whether to deport them, and most detainees have no criminal record. But this group said the conditions felt like those of a penitentiary. Among their complaints:The guards were discriminating against them, they lacked access to clean water, the bonds for their immigration cases were too expensive and they were receiving information only in English.When detention officers ordered them to return to their beds for a routine population "count," the eight men refused to move from tables in the facility's day room until they could speak to a supervisor or an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).Surveillance footage obtained by NPR shows what happened next.  Detention officers spent several minutes speaking to the detainees, telling them to return to their bunks. They waived a canister of pepper spray in front of them, then attempted to physically move the detainees.The video shows the detainees trying to remain seated with their arms linked. But detention officers would later claim they were inciting a "rebellion" and "assaulting" staff.Detention officers then sprayed pepper spray at the men at least three times and forcibly removed them from the tables.As they visibly recoiled from the spray, some of the detainees were pushed into walls, pulled to the ground or dragged on the floor by guards.Afterward, though not seen on camera, five of the detainees were placed in hot showers. Hot water, however, can worsen the painful burning effect from pepper spray, something an internal oversight office at the Department of Homeland Security noted in a review of the incident."I couldn't take it," Isaac Antonio Lopez Castillo, one of the detainees, later testified in a deposition. "I was even throwing up from the pepper gas." All eight detainees were then sent to "segregation" — ICE's term for solitary confinement — for 10 days for "engaging in or inciting a group demonstration."

HHS tells Congress it may transfer millions of dollars in funding to respond to coronavirus - The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified Congress Sunday that it may need to transfer millions of dollars of funding in its budget to respond to the coronavirus. HHS could shift up to $136 million to key agencies responding to the coronavirus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An HHS spokesperson said the notice was delivered "out of an abundance of caution and to ensure HHS's ability to respond and adapt to a rapidly changing situation." Federal law requires HHS to notify Congress before shifting appropriated funds from one account to another. A person familiar with the notice said HHS did not indicate which accounts it would be transferring the money from. The CDC has already dipped into a $105 million fund created by Congress last year to help federal agencies respond to public health emergencies. That funding was used to enhance laboratory capacity, communication and education efforts, and to provide a surge in support for ports of entry and CDC technical assistance. The CDC is performing enhanced entry screenings at five U.S. airports where passengers from Wuhan will arrive. The CDC is also increasing staff at 20 ports of entry where the CDC's medical screening stations are located. "We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The CDC has confirmed 11 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. Nine of the patients had recently traveled in China. The other two patients contracted the virus from their spouses, who had recently traveled to China. President Trump declared a public health emergency Friday and banned foreign nationals from entering the U.S. if they had recently traveled to China. American citizens can continue entering the U.S. from Hubei province — the epicenter of the outbreak — but may be quarantined for up to 14 days in a facility. Other American citizens who have traveled in mainland China but not in Hubei may be self-quarantined in their homes.

The Trump administration has made the U.S. less ready for infectious disease outbreaks like coronavirus - As coronavirus continues to spread, the Trump administration has declared a public health emergency and imposed quarantines and travel restrictions. However, over the past three years the administration has weakened the offices in charge of preparing for and preventing this kind of outbreak. Two years ago, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates warned that the world should be “preparing for a pandemic in the same serious way it prepares for war”. Gates, whose foundation has invested heavily in global health, suggested staging simulations, war games and preparedness exercises to simulate how diseases could spread and to identify the best response. The Trump administration has done exactly the opposite: It has slashed funding for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its infectious disease research. For fiscal year 2020, Trump proposed cutting the CDC budget by US$1.3 billion, nearly 20% below the 2019 level. As a specialist in budgeting, I recognize that there are many claims on public resources. But when it comes to public health, I believe it is vital to invest early in prevention. Starving the CDC of critical funding will make it far harder for the government to react quickly to a public health emergency.Every year since taking office, Trump has asked for deep cuts into research on emerging diseases – including the CDC’s small center on emerging and “zoonotic” infectious diseases that jump the species barrier from animals to humans. The new coronavirus is just the latest example of these threats.The CDC’s program focuses on infectious diseases ranging from foodborne illnesses to anthrax and Ebola. It manages laboratory, epidemiologic, analytic and prevention programs, and collaborates with state and local health departments, other federal government agencies, industry and foreign ministries of health. In 2018, Trump tried to cut $65 million from this budget – a 10% reduction. In 2019, he sought a 19% reduction. For 2020, he proposed to cut federal spending on emerging infectious and zoonotic diseases by 20%. This would mean spending $100 million less in 2020 to study how such diseases infect humans than the U.S. did just two years ago.  Congress reinstated most of this funding, with bipartisan support. But the overall level of appropriations for relevant CDC programs is still 10% below what the U.S. spent in 2016, adjusting for inflation.

Two million Americans lost health coverage/access in Trump's first year - Over the course of 2017, positive trends in insurance coverage and healthcare access from the Affordable Care Act reversed, particularly for low-income residents of states that did not expand Medicaid. A new Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) study finds that two million more Americans avoided health care because of inability to pay, and/or did not have health insurance, at the end of 2017 compared to the end of 2016. Published in the February issue of Health Affairs, the study examines the period from 2011 to 2017, showing positive trends in healthcare coverage and access following implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), and a reversal of those trends when newly-elected President Trump and Congressional Republicans began working to dismantle the ACA. "We hear a lot about the ACA being 'undermined.' While we found the ACA isn't unravelling, there are real consequences to some of the policies that have been put in place. We see that you have these policy changes that are affecting millions of peoples' ability to get insurance, and millions of people forgoing care because they can't afford it," says Mr. Kevin Griffith, a doctoral candidate at BUSPH and the study's lead author. Griffith and colleagues used data on a nationally-representative sample of 2.2 million U.S. residents between the ages of 18 and 64 years old from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The researchers note that this did not give them the ability to directly analyze the causal effects of specific policies, but the quarterly data did allow them to see that trends reversed coinciding with these changes. "This is a time when additional states are implementing Medicaid expansion, and the economy's improving, so you wouldn't traditionally think that access would be declining," Griffith says.

Democrats impeached Trump for withholding arms to Neo-Nazis – On December 18th, Donald Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. As many nonpartisan analysts predicted, the charges appear to have only improved his chances with the electorate as his approval rating saw an uptick after the articles were approved on grounds of“obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.” After dragging the country through three years of Russiagate which never panned out, the Democrats appear to be scoring yet another own goal.   It was Trump’s rhetoric as a peace candidate suggesting rapprochement with Russia which made him a target of the political establishment and intelligence community, who subsequently blamed his shocking win on still-unproven allegations of election interference by the Kremlin.Since he took office, Trump has done nearly everything short of declaring war on Moscow to appease the bipartisan anti-Russia consensus in Washington but to no avail. One such step was the decision to provide military aid to Ukraine amid its ongoing war in the eastern Donbass region against Russian-speaking separatists, a move the Obama administration decided against because of Kiev’s rampant corruption.Trump’s predecessor tapped his Vice President, Joe Biden, to head up an anti-corruption drive in Ukraine who instead used the opportunity to personally enrich his family by landing his son, Hunter, a job on the executive board of the country’s largest private gas company, Burisma Holdings.  Biden led the U.S. role in the 2014 coup d’etat in Ukraine which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Viktor Yanukovych after he turned down a European Union Association Agreement for an economic bail-out from Russia that was the flashpoint for the subsequent Donbass war. Contrary to the Trump-Russia ‘collusion’ narrative, one figure who tried to lobby Yanukovych into signing the pro-austerity treaty was none other than Paul Manafort, the future Trump campaign manager indicted during the Russia probe for failing to register as a foreign agent while consulting for the deposed Ukrainian president. Manafort’s influence went against Russian interests in favor of the EU and was years before Trump was ever a candidate, but this did not stop the Democrats from later misconstruing it as evidence he was a backchannel to the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Biden’s hand in the junta was revealed in an infamous leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland, Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Nuland, who is the wife of leading neoconservative figure Robert Kagan, also spilled the beans that the U.S. invested as much as $5 billion dollars on regime change in Kiev when we were led to believe the Maidan was a spontaneous, popular revolt. Shortly after the putsch, Hunter Biden joined the board of directors at Burisma despite having no experience in Ukraine or the energy sector.

Schiff: 'Nothing' Democrats could have 'done differently' in impeachment probe - Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House manager in President Trump's Senate trial, said Sunday that there is nothing Democrats could have done differently during the impeachment process.  Ahead of the Senate’s likely vote to acquit President Trump on Wednesday, Schiff defended Democrats’ methods and said that he and his colleagues “proved” their case. “Look, there's nothing that I can see that we could have done differently because as the senators have already admitted, we proved our case. We proved our case,” Schiff said on CBS's “Face the Nation.” “Now, the president's lawyers have said time and again, I think, hoping through sheer repetition to make something true that is in fact untrue, that the process in this impeachment was different than in Nixon and Clinton,” he added. “In fact, the president had the same due process rights, which he did not avail himself of in this process as in the prior ones.”Schiff said the  argument is “not an excuse that should be used by any senator for not fulfilling their obligation to hold a fair trial.” “They're not spectators. They have control over the proceedings,” Schiff said of senators.

Trump legal team made donations to impeachment jurors - Members of Donald Trump’s impeachment defence team donated money to some of the senators who will ultimately decide the president’s fate.According to a report released by the Center for Responsive Politics on Monday, former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray both made substantial campaign contributions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year prior to joining Mr Trump’s team.Mr Starr gave $2,800 to Mr McConnell in July 2019. In September, shortly after the impeachment inquiry began in the House, Mr Ray gave Mr McConnell the maximum allowable contribution for a primary or general election, $5,600.In addition, in 2017 Mr Starr also gave $2,700 to Senator Lindsey Graham, an unbending ally to Mr Trump throughout his presidency.One of Mr Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, has made donations to Republican senators for the past decade, including Senators John Thune and Ted Cruz, and he gave thousands to the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

 Democrats Need To Break Their Cold War–Addled Impeachment Fever - When liberals start rallying around John Bolton, you know something is off... Donald Trump’s far-right administration is one of the most dangerous in US history, which makes the disappointment over the imminent failure of his impeachment case understandable. But the impeachment proceedings never challenged what actually makes the Trump White House so fraught. In adopting hawkish Cold War chauvinism toward Russia, Democratic House impeachment managers embraced rather than opposed a perilous right-wing agenda. They did this while presenting a weak, overblown, and hypocritical case that posed no threat to Trump. The holes in the Democrats’ impeachment case were apparent from the start, and the House proceedings and Senate trial brought them to the fore. The lone witness who communicated with Trump about the frozen military funding to Ukraine—and, even more crucially, the only Trump official thought to have relayed a quid pro quo to the Ukrainian side—is EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. But Sondland testified that the link between aid and the opening of investigations was only his “presumption” and that he had communicated this presumption only in passing. Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, and Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak, have all said that they saw no ties between the frozen funding and pressure to open investigations. In the face of rejections by top Ukrainian officials of his core allegation, Schiff has mischaracterized the available evidence and engaged in supposition. Sondland, according to Schiff’s account, told Yermak, “You ain’t getting the money until you do the investigations.” But both Sondland and Yermak offer a radically different account. According to Sondland, he told Yermak in “a very, very brief pull-aside conversation,” that he “didn’t know exactly why” the military funding was held up, and that its linkage to opening an investigation was only his “personal presumption” in the absence of an explanation from Trump. Yermak does not even recall the issue of the frozen aid being mentioned. To overcome that, Schiff has gone to the extraordinary step of arguing that it’s not just Sondland who is lying but the Ukrainians as well. “Like they’re going to admit they were being shaken down by the president of the United States,” Schiff told the proceedings. Sure, that’s one possibility, but it is also wildly speculative.

Not Guilty: Split Senate acquits Trump of impeachment— President Donald Trump won impeachment acquittal Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, bringing to a close only the third presidential trial in American history with votes that split the country, tested civic norms and fed the tumultuous 2020 race for the White House.With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood at their desks to state their votes for the roll call — “guilty” or “not guilty” — in a swift tally almost exclusively along party lines. Visitors, including the president's allies, watched from the crowded gallery. Roberts read the declaration that Trump “be, and is hereby, acquitted of the charges.”The outcome Wednesday followed months of remarkable impeachment proceedings, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House to Mitch McConnell's Senate, reflecting the nation's unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.What started as Trump's request for Ukraine to “do us a favor” spun into a far-reaching, 28,000-page report compiled by House investigators accusing an American president of engaging in shadow diplomacy that threatened U.S. foreign relations for personal, political gain as he pressured the ally to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the next election. No president has ever been removed by the Senate. A politically emboldened Trump has eagerly predicted vindication, deploying the verdict as a political anthem in his reelection bid. The president claims he did nothing wrong, decrying the “witch hunt” and “hoax” as extensions of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian 2016 campaign interference by those out to get him from the start of his presidency.

Senate acquits Trump on abuse of power, obstruction of Congress charges - The Senate overwhelmingly acquitted President Trump on both articles of impeachment against him Wednesday afternoon following a brief trial, in a historic rejection of Democrats' claims that the president's Ukraine dealings and handling of congressional subpoenas merited his immediate removal from office.Several Congressional Democrats, speaking to Fox News, were dejected on Capitol Hill late Wednesday, even as they said they hoped to weaponize the acquittal votes by several moderate Republicans in swing states. Another Democratic source also said that impeachment “went as well as it could go.” There was significant consternation among House Democrats about heading down the impeachment road at all over the summer, Fox News is told, but Democratic leaders felt they had to get in front of the impeachment movement and embrace it – or they may have been steamrolled by the progressive wing of the party. In the final vote, all Democratic senators supported convicting the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, including swing-vote moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Doug Jones, D-Ala.The only party defection was on the abuse of power charge from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who declared hours before the final vote that Trump had engaged in as "destructive an attack on the oath of office and our Constitution as I can imagine." Romney voted not guilty on the obstruction charge.By a final vote of 52-48 against conviction on the abuse of power charge and 53-47 against conviction on the obstruction charge, the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds, 67-vote supermajority needed to convict and remove the president. Swing-vote Republican senators -- including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- voted to acquit on both counts.

Republicans Have Weakened Congress in Order to Protect Trump – Alexis Goldstein - In the United States, money is synonymous with merit. There is a presumption at the core of capitalism’s narrative that if you are wealthy, you earned it through virtue and “hard work,” not theft or nepotism. This mythology helped fuel the deregulation that led to the financial crisis, and it is also part of President Trump’s rise. Trump’s wealth earned him prestige in the eyes of millions, who in turn handed him the power of the presidency. And Trump’s wealth and power has now led Congress to declare him above the law, as the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit Trump of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Wealth doesn’t just bring power: it enables malfeasance. Wall Street crashed the economy and was welcomed back into the halls of power. Trump attacks whomever he pleases, holds taxpayer funds hostage to cheat in the election, and still basks in impunity. Trump is the living embodiment of the goal of every ambitious person on Wall Street: “f*** you” money.“F*** you” money is an amount of money so vast one could pick up the phone and dial anyone in the world, say “f*** you” and hang up, and not face any consequences. It remains unclear if Trump inflated his wealth. But as a showman, it didn’t matter if he was rich; it only mattered if we believed he was. Trump worked hard to ensure we did, with his golden curtains and toilets, gaudy, overt hotel lobbies and giant Trump signs, Trump’s money is not the quiet money of post-crash Wall Street. It’s the gaudy, ostentatious and pleading money of 1980s Wall Street — “admire me,” it begs.  Trump’s theatrical wealth was convincing enough for the producers atNBC, who believed it at least enough to sell it and broadcast the farce into millions of living rooms for more than a decade. This marketing was so effective that Trump came to symbolize wealth in multiple songssince the 1990s, and films like Home Alone 2. Trump’s successful performance of “f*** you” money is what garnered him “f*** you” power.  In her book Thick, sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom describes Trump as a “reality TV show host who sometimes played a billionaire on shock radio.” She elaborated on Twitter that to defeat him, you have to “defeat his ability to present as a preacher.” What Donald Trump the preacher promises his flock is impunity. That’s why it likely won’t matter to them if it’s revealed Trump’s fortune was exaggerated. Trump was marketed as a bully on “The Apprentice,” one whose wealth allowed him to get away with it.

 Trump won. Now get ready for the political fallout. - – The impeachment trial may be over, but the fallout is not. President Donald Trump’s acquittal Wednesday on two impeachment articles formally ends a four-month saga that threatened to end his presidency and stoked partisan divisions in Congress and across the country. The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on the charge of abusing his power and 53-47 on the obstruction of Congress count, handing him a victory that will enable him to finish his first term and energize his reelection campaign as he asks voters to give him another four years. But the impeachment drama could have a lasting impact on Trump and other players: Trump can, and in all probability will, celebrate his acquittal on the campaign trail. He has bellowed for months that Democrats used impeachment to try to overturn the 2016 election because they can’t beat him at the polls. “They can’t win an election, so they’re trying to steal an election,” Trump said during a campaign rally last month in New Jersey. Expect to hear more of that argument as he makes what is essentially an impeachment victory lap at campaign appearances across the country. Even post-acquittal, Trump will carry the stain of impeachment. He is one of only three presidents in U.S. history to be impeached and the only president to seek reelection after being impeached. Democrats will try to turn his impeachment into an issue in November’s election. But conservative political commentator Scott Jennings predicts that it’s Democrats who will be hurt at the polls by the impeachment drama. “This is where Democrats did not want to be – another moment where they promised to take down the president and another failure,” said Jennings, who worked in the White House under President George W. Bush. “I think it has already energized the president’s base.” There already are signs that impeachment benefited Trump politically. Trump’s approval rating jumped by 6 points since last October and matched the highest of his presidency in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week. The poll found that 44% of Americans approve of Trump’s overall job performance and 51% disapprove. Those still aren’t great numbers – most Americans hold a negative view of Trump – but they are a significant improvement over his 38% approval mark in late October. Impeachment also appears to have energized GOP voters. Sixty-six percent of Democrats reported anxiety about the upcoming election compared with 46% of Republicans in a poll last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. GOP voters were more likely than Democrats to declare excitement about the race, and the share of enthusiastic Republicans appears to be rising, pollsters said.

Impeachment delivers blockbuster fundraising for key lawmakers Impeachment has become a gold mine — turning even some rank-and-file lawmakers into fundraising juggernauts as they took starring roles in prosecuting or defending President Donald Trump. A number of Democrats and Republicans who sit on the key committees investigating Trump saw their war chests flooded with cash — and their national profiles raised — during the months-long impeachment fight, which has consumed Washington and dominated headlines since September. And there is real evidence that impeachment played a role in the fundraising boom, at least for Republicans. Donation pages for WinRed — the GOP’s online fundraising tool — that included the word “impeach” or “impeachment” raised 300 percent more than pages that did not, according to a source familiar with the fundraising platform’s operations. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who himself has been catapulted from the back benches of Congress to Trump’s Twitter feed through his role defending the president during impeachment, compared the uptick in energy and fundraising dollars to the bitter confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. “People were motivated to get off the sidelines and participate and help make a difference,” Zeldin said. “And that’s nothing compared to how fired up supporters of the president are right now.” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) “People were motivated to get off the sidelines and participate and help make a difference,” Rep. Lee Zeldin said. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) are accustomed to massive fundraising numbers, but they raked in even more money than usual for their reelection campaigns during the last three months of 2019. And even some lesser-known lawmakers such as Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) posted record-breaking fundraising hauls after seizing the impeachment spotlight — a sign that the bases are fired up by impeachment, according to lawmakers, aides and strategists. “In Congress, and this media and political environment, you can create a fundraising boom from a moment,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “Their name ID exploded. Now they are the face of fighting impeachment — or fighting for impeachment.”

Senate To Call 'Whistleblower' As Part Of Three-Pronged Investigation Into Impeachment Origins -  Senate Republicans are gearing up for a three-pronged investigation into the origins of Congressional Democrats' impeachment of President Trump, according to the Washington Examiner. "I want to understand how all this crap started," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Fox News's Sunday Morning Futures, who added that the Senate would begin their investigations "within weeks." "The Senate Intel Committee under Richard Burr has told us that they will call the whistleblower," said Graham.Whether it's a legitimate search for the truth or a convenient way to assuage frustrated Republican voters who wanted fireworks during the Senate impeachment trial has yet to be seen. Let's recall what Senate Republicans plan to unravel;The Whistelblower, outed by investigative reporter Paul Sperry as Eric Ciaramella, is a registered Democrat who worked for then-VP Joe Biden, former CIA Director John Brennan, and was appointed by former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in June, 2017 as his personal aide according to RedState. Ciaramella, who radio host Rush Limbaugh called "essentially a spy for John Brennan," was also a frequent visitor to the Obama White House.In November, the Washington Examiner reported: "It is likely that the whistleblower traveled on Air Force Two at least one of the six visits that Biden made to Ukraine.""If the whistleblower is a former employee of — associate of Joe Biden, I think that would be important. If the whistleblower was working with people on Schiff’s staff that wanted to take Trump down a year-and-a-half ago, I think that would be important. If the Schiff staff people helped write the complaint, that would be important. We’re going to get to the bottom of all of this to make sure this never happens again," said Sen. Graham.

Gerhardt- The Entire White House Defense Team Will Face Bar Charges - Jonathan Turley,- There have been suggestions that the White House defense team could be brought up on bar charges for their arguments in the Senate. I have previously written that such statements by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others are vindictive and ill-informed. The White House team were effective advocates for their clients and we do not disbar lawyers for making arguments or defending individuals that we do not like. I was surprised and disappointed therefore that my fellow witness from the Trump impeachment hearing, North Carolina Law Professor and CNN Legal Analyst Michael Gerhardt joined this dubious argument on CNN yesterday. The call for ethics charges seems dangerously close to the view of Lawrence O’Donnell that Trump defenders are barred from his MSNBC program because they are all “liars.” Obviously, Gerhardt and I have substantial disagreements. Gerhardt supported the articles of impeachment based on bribery and other crimes. I opposed those four articles, which were ultimately rejected by the Committee. The Committee went forward with the two articles that I said would be legitimate but remained unproven. We later disagreed when Gerhardt declared that this impeachment was the first time that the White House closely coordinated with his own party on the handling of the impeachment trial. Those however were academic differences over the history and interpretation of prior presidential impeachment cases. This however is different. Proponents of the impeachment seem to be lashing out at counsel and suggesting that they were acting unethically in zealously advancing the President’s defenses. After disagreeing with me that the impeachment was not “rushed” prematurely, Gerhardt asked to make a different point about the defense team. He declared “I think what we are seeing as well is that the lawyers who presented his case in the Senate basically misled or lied to the Senate. And so at one point - at some point we are going to see ethics charges brought against these lawyers for making false statements, which we now all know were false.”

Two days after his acquittal, Trump ousts two star impeachment witnesses - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday ousted the two witnesses who provided the most damaging testimony during his impeachment investigation: Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland.Two days after Trump was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate on charges of trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Vindman — the top Ukraine expert at the White House’s National Security Council — was escorted out of the building, according to his lawyer.“Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth,” said his lawyer, David Pressman.  Hours later, Sondland said he had been fired from his post as U.S ambassador to the European Union.  The two men served as star witnesses during the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation last year. Vindman’s twin brother Yevgeny, who worked as a lawyer at the NSC, also was escorted out of the White House, according to Michael Volkov, who represented Vindman when he testified in the impeachment inquiry.Trump has said he is still upset with Democrats and government officials involved in the impeachment investigation, even after he was acquitted on Wednesday.

Ukrainiain 'Son Of A Bitch Who Got Fired' Files Criminal Complaint Against Biden For Abuse Of Power - The Ukrainian prosecutor who Joe Biden bragged about getting fired, Viktor Shokin, has filed a criminal complaint in Kiev against the former Vice President for abusing his power, according to French news outlet Les Crises (confirmed by multiple sources according to PJ Media).Shokin writes in his complaint:During the period 2014-2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine was conducting a preliminary investigation into a series of serious crimes committed by the former Minister of Ecology of Ukraine Mykola Zlotchevsky and by the managers of the company “Burisma Holding Limited “(Cyprus), the board of directors of which included, among others, Hunter Biden, son of Joseph Biden, then vice-president of the United States of America.The investigation into the above-mentioned crimes was carried out in strict accordance with Criminal Law and was under my personal control as the Prosecutor General of Ukraine.Owing to my firm position on the above-mentioned cases regarding their prompt and objective investigation, which should have resulted in the arrest and the indictment of the guilty parties, Joseph Biden developed a firmly hostile attitude towards me which led him to express in private conversations with senior Ukrainian officials, as well as in his public speeches, a categorical request for my immediate dismissal from the post of Attorney General of Ukraine in exchange for the sum of US $ 1 billion in as a financial guarantee from the United States for the benefit of Ukraine.  Shokin says that due to "continued pressure from the Vice President of the United States Joseph Biden to oust me from the job by blackmailing the allocation of financial assistance, I, as the man who places the State interests above my personal interests, I agreed to abandon the post of Prosecutor General of Ukraine."

Ghislaine Maxwell, accused of helping Epstein, reportedly hides in Israel - Jerusalem Post - Maxwell, the daughter of the late Jewish media mogul Robert Maxwell, is being “protected” in a number of countries, including Israel. Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who has been accused of helping late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, is reportedly hiding out in Israel.A source told the New York Post that Maxwell, the daughter of the late Jewish media mogul Robert Maxwell, is being “protected” in a number of countries, including Israel. “She is not in the U.S., she moves around,” the source said in an article published last week. “She is sometimes in the U.K., but most often in other countries, such as Israel, where her powerful contacts have provided her with safe houses and protection.”Last month, Reuters reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing Maxwell and others with ties to Epstein.Maxwell and Epstein were romantically involved for several years and then remained close. One of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, has accused Maxwell of recruiting her to have sex with him when she was a minor. Maxwell denied the allegations. Epstein, the Jewish millionaire financier facing sex trafficking charges for allegedly abusing dozens of minor girls, hanged himself in his New York City jail cell in August, law enforcement officials said. Though New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled his death a suicide, a forensic pathologist hired by his family said the autopsy pointed to homicide.

Amazon paid a 1.2% tax rate on $13,285,000,000 in profit for 2019 - Last year, Yahoo Finance reported that Amazon (AMZN) paid a shockingly low amount in federal income taxes in 2018 on more than $11 billion in profits: $0. But this year, while the company says it has paid “billions” in taxes for the year 2019, in reality it only paid $162 million in federal income tax — an effective tax rate of 1.2% on over $13 billion in profits. In Amazon’s 10-K filing for 2019 (a detailed financial report required by the Securities and Exchange Commission each year) the company reported paying $162 million in federal income taxes, with more than $914 million in federal income taxes deferred. Deferred taxes can be used by companies to reduce their taxable income, by “postponing” payment based on accounting practices. And so while the company’s balance sheet reports just over $1 billion in federal income taxes, the number paid last year amounts to less than $200 million. Amazon’s deferred tax amount has steadily increased throughout the years, rising from $565 million in 2018, the first year of President Trump’s new tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, took effect. The TCJA lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. What’s more, Amazon isn’t alone. Many big companies make use of tax breaks and loopholes to lower, or even eliminate, their tax liability. According to ITEP, 60 Fortune 500 companies avoided paying all federal income tax in 2018 (with their total average effective tax rate being roughly -5%). That’s more than three times the number of companies that avoided paying corporate taxes on average from 2008 to 2015. During that period, 18 companies managed to pay 0% or less (with their total average effective tax rate over 8 years being roughly -4%).

 Fed releases scenarios for 2020 stress testing cycle   — The Federal Reserve on Thursday released its 2020 stress testing scenarios that it will use to evaluate the safety and soundness of 34 banks with more than $100 billion of total assets. The harshest scenario banks will be tested against this cycle features a severe global recession with elevated stresses in corporate debt markets and commercial real estate. Banks with large trading operations will be required to factor in a global market shock, which will include added pressure on leveraged loans. In that severely adverse scenario, banks would also have to account for a rise in the U.S. unemployment rate by 6.5 percentage points to 10%. “This year’s stress test will help us evaluate how large banks perform during a severe recession, and give us increased information on how leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligations may respond to a recession,” Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles said in a statement. The Fed conducts two separate stress tests every year on each of the bank holding companies under its supervision with more than $100 billion of assets. Last year the Fed exempted most regional banks with assets of $100 billion to $250 billion from the 2019 stress testing cycle. The first test is the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Test, which examines a bank’s balance sheet performance under the scenarios using a standard capital management plan. The second is the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, which uses the bank’s own capital management plan to better assess how the bank might actually perform under the same conditions. Each test examines a bank’s performance over nine future consecutive quarters. The baseline scenario for the 2020 cycle “is in line with average projections from surveys of economic forecasters,” the Fed said in a news release. Both the baseline and the severely adverse scenario contain 28 variables, including interest rates, stock market prices and gross domestic product. The Fed reiterated that it is continuing to work toward finalizing the stress capital buffer so it will be in place for this year’s tests. Banks are required to submit their capital plans as well as the results of their internal stress tests to the Fed by April 6.

 January 2020: Unofficial Problem Bank list Decreased to 64 Institutions - The FDIC's official problem bank list is comprised of banks with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5, and the list is not made public (just the number of banks and assets every quarter). Note: Bank CAMELS ratings are also not made public.CAMELS is the FDIC rating system, and stands for Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to market risk. The scale is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the strongest. As a substitute for the CAMELS ratings, surferdude808 is using publicly announced formal enforcement actions, and also media reports and company announcements that suggest to us an enforcement action is likely, to compile a list of possible problem banks in the public interest.  This is an unofficial list, the information is from public sources and while deemed to be reliable is not guaranteed.   This is not intended as investment advice. Here is the unofficial problem bank list for January 2020.  Here are the monthly changes and a few comments from surferdude808:Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List for January 2020. During the month, the list declined by three to 64 banks after four removals and one addition. Aggregate assets were little changed at $51.3 billion. A year ago, the list held 78 institutions with assets of $55.2 billion.Enforcement actions were terminated against First Community Natio  nal Bank, Cuba, MO ($130 million); SunSouth Bank, Dothan, AL ($107 million); Lafayette State Bank, Mayo, FL ($106 million); and Sunrise Bank Dakota, Onida, SD ($52 million). Added this month was Texas Citizens Bank, National Association, Pasadena, TX ($521 million). The first unofficial problem bank list was published in August 2009 with 389 institutions. The number of unofficial problem banks grew quickly and peaked at 1,003 institutions in July, 2011 - and has steadily declined since then to below 100 institutions.

FDIC not consistent in assessing impact of rules: Watchdog — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s process for determining the impact of new rules has been inconsistent, opaque, and has failed to assess the cost of regulation after it was finalized, according to a report from the agency's Office of Inspector General released Wednesday. “The FDIC had not established and documented a process to determine when and how to perform cost benefit analyses,” the report said. “Without thorough cost benefit analyses, the FDIC could implement or continue to enforce poorly conceived or overly burdensome rules.” The FDIC’s inspector general developed several recommendations, including that the agency establish a consistent process for when and how to do a cost-benefit analysis in the course of rulemaking. The FDIC agreed to comply with most of the inspector general’s recommendations in full. In a statement from December on cost-benefit analysis, Chairman Jelena McWilliams said that a "transparent analysis of the effects of regulatory actions is an important part of credible rulemaking. It supports good policy decisions and the meaningful involvement and trust of the public in the rulemaking process.” McWilliams was sworn in as chairman in June 2018, about a year and a half into the inspector general's two-year investigation. The agency pushed back on some of the inspector general’s conclusions, saying that some of its recommendations on best practices “were not from official sources,” according to the report. The FDIC also disputed the inspector general’s definition of cost-benefit analysis in some cases, arguing that the report underplayed some analysis the agency had performed. According to the inspector general, only 15 of 40 final rules published by the FDIC between January 2016 and December 2018 included cost-benefit analysis, and only four — or 10% — featured what the report described as “in-depth” cost-benefit analysis. The inspector general also said that the FDIC’s “depth of analysis for a particular rule did not always align with the rule’s substance” and that the office “found substantive rules without corresponding cost benefit analyses, and less substantive rules with cost benefit analyses.” Moreover, the FDIC was “not transparent” with the public whenever the agency chose not to include cost-benefit analysis for a given rule.

 Banks Tighten Credit Card, Auto Loan Standards As C&I Loan Demand Continues To Shrink - The latest senior loan officer survey, released earlier today by the Fed, showed that the benefits from last year's rate cuts have mostly faded away even as banks tightened standards for several kinds of loans, while demand for all-important commercial and industrial loans, traditionally a leading indicator for any economic rebound, slumped for the sixth consecutive quarter.The January SLOOS, which looked at lending standards for commercial and industrial loans in the fourth quarter of 2019, reported that standards for commercial and industrial loans were unchanged and that "demand weakened from firms of all sizes." And while standards for commercial real estate loans were mostly unchanged, the only source of strength according to loan officers was demand for mortgages, which remained strong following the decline in interest rates in the second half of 2019. However, offsetting this, standards for credit card and auto loans tightened while demand remained unchanged for credit cards and weakened for auto loans.Some more details starting with the broadest type of loans, Commercial & Industrial, which as the following Y/Y% growth chart shows, have seen their growth rate grind to a crawl in recent months, after rebounding sharply in late 2018 and early 2019 as the Fed hiked rates prompting urgency among corporations to raise new secured debt. Ironically, it is the renewed easing by the Fed that appears to be the culprit for rapid slowdown in C&I loans. According to the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey, lending standards for commercial and industrial (C&I) loans were basically unchanged in Q4 2019. A handful of banks eased some terms for C&I loans, as 21% of banks on net narrowed loan spreads over the cost of funds to large and medium-market firms and 10% on net narrowed loan spreads for small firms. While lending standards were largely flat, demand for C&I loans from large- and medium-sized firms weakened for the sixth consecutive quarter, resulting in a sharp slowdown in the overall rate of growth of C&I loans, which have been virtually unchanged for the past year. The good news: after tumbling 20% in Q3 to the lowest level since the financial crisis, C&I loan demand stage a modest comeback in Q4, even if it still remains deep in negative territory. In a concerning development, 11% of banks on net reported weaker demand for C&I loans for large and medium-market firms, compared to 22% in the previous survey, which suggests that any tailwinds for loan demand sparked by the Fed's 2019 rate cuts are now long gone. 

 House nears passage of bills to overhaul credit reporting — The House on Tuesday moved one step closer to passing a comprehensive package of bills to reform the credit reporting system. The legislation is spearheaded by House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., as an effort by House Democrats to reduce consumer burdens and provide more opportunities for consumers to rehabilitate their credit. House lawmakers approved the rules governing debate of the legislation, setting up a final vote on the bills potentially later this week. The Comprehensive Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act includes six bills that, taken together, would limit the time that negative credit information would stay on credit reports to four years, require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue rules to regulate credit scoring models, expand access to free credit reports and scores, and restrict the use of credit checks for job seekers. The legislation would also reform the credit report dispute process to shift the burden from consumers to the credit bureaus and data furnishers, and would also prevent credit bureaus from including adverse information related to private student loans on a credit report after the borrower has made nine consecutive on-time payments. The bills in the package were introduced by Reps. Rashida Tlaib; D-Mich., Alma Adams, D-N.C.; Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio; Al Lawson, D-Fla.; Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. Yet the package has divided the House along party lines, casting doubt on its chances in the Senate. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the ranking member of the committee, blasted the credit reporting bills at the House Financial Services Committee's markup of the bills in July, arguing that the committee had only held one hearing on the subject and it did not focus enough on proposals to reform the Fair Credit Reporting Act. “There was just one discussion draft of a bill attached with a hearing notice, yet this draft was not discussed once during the hearing. Not once,” McHenry said in his opening statement at the markup. “Now, six months later, without further discussion, we’re considering these bills that would make significant changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”

Imperiled information: Students find website data leaks pose greater risks than most people realize - Harvard School of Engineering -- It seems that every few weeks, news breaks of another company attacked by hackers, with personal data provided by thousands or millions of individual users stolen.But how dangerous are these data leaks? Does the average person face any real risk if a hacker manages to steal one of their account passwords?It turns out data leaks pose much greater threats than most people realize, and a hacker could easily find and exploit sensitive information on not only a person’s virtual identity, but also his or her real identity.That’s the conclusion reached by two students at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who explored data leaks for their final project in Privacy and Technology (CS 105), taught by Jim Waldo, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science.  “The immediate response to a company being breached is fear and outrage, but quickly the public response dissipates and people move on with their lives,” said Dasha Metropolitansky, A.B. ’22, a statistics concentrator. “What hacker has time to go through hundreds of thousands of login credentials and break into each one of them? Most of us just think we’re average individuals—why would a hacker want to target me or you if we’re not especially powerful or prominent?” Metropolitansky and Kian Attari, A.B. ’22, a computer science concentrator, first wondered how easy it would be for a nefarious individual to find a dataset of leaked personal information. They began by searching the “dark web,” a peer-to-peer network that isn’t indexed by search engines like Google and must be accessed through software called Tor.The students quickly found a number of forums where hackers share data leaks, making the information public for anyone to access.  The students found a dataset from a breach of credit reporting company Experian, which didn’t get much news coverage when it occurred in 2015. It contained personal information on six million individuals. The dataset was divided by state, so Metropolitansky and Attari decided to focus on Washington D.C. The data included 69 variables—everything from a person’s home address and phone number to their credit score, history of political donations, and even how many children they have.  Of the 96,000 passwords contained in the dataset the students used, only 26,000 were unique. “We also showed that a cyber criminal doesn’t have to have a specific victim in mind. They can now search for victims who meet a certain set of criteria,” Metropolitansky said. For example, in less than 10 seconds she produced a dataset with more than 1,000 people who have high net worth, are married, have children, and also have a username or password on a cheating website. Another query pulled up a list of senior-level politicians, revealing the credit scores, phone numbers, and addresses of three U.S. senators, three U.S. representatives, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and a Cabinet member.

House Dems to CFPB chief: Use the authority Congress gave you - House Democrats chastised Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger for not supervising student loan servicers and for refusing to examine financial firms for compliance with the Military Lending Act. At yet another tense hearing Thursday of the House Financial Services Committee focused on the CFPB, Kraninger butted heads with several lawmakers over the bureau's supervisory authorities as well as the agency's overall mission. Republicans, meanwhile, used the hearing to push for changes to the CFPB's leadership structure. Democrats appeared particularly frustrated over the regulator's responses regarding student loan servicing. In several instances, lawmakers complained that Kraninger did not provide specific answers to their questions. “Let me be very direct: When will ... the CFPB resume supervising and examining companies servicing more than $1 trillion of federal loans? A date?" said Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa. “Tell me a time frame. Just give us a time frame.” Kraninger struggled to explain that a recent memorandum of understanding with the Department of Education dealt with sharing student loan complaint data, not servicing authority. Kraninger finally said the CFPB hopes to sign a second MOU with the department by year-end to address such authority. The CFPB has authority to examine and supervise student loan servicers through its larger participant rule but has not conducted oversight since 2017 because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not signed an MOU that sets forth the bureau’s specific supervisory responsibilities. “I very much want to get to an agreement [with DOE] around supervision,” Kraninger said. “We will resolve the supervisory issue soon.” Democrats on the panel also revisited their concerns about the agency's not supervising companies under the MLA. The law enacted in 2006 generally bans most consumers loans to service members with annual percentage rates above 36%. Former acting CFPB chief Mick Mulvaney had stated that the CFPB lacks explicit examination authority under the law, but that position was criticized by both consumer advocates and the Department of Defense. Last year, Kraninger asked Congress for "clear authority" to conduct exams.

CFPB settlement would bar lender from doing business in 17 states - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has announced a proposed settlement with the lender and loan servicer Think Finance and six subsidiaries that would resolve a 2017 lawsuit alleging the company illegally collected on consumer loans in states that have caps on interest rates. The proposed settlement would prohibit Think Finance, which exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December and now calls itself TF Holdings, from offering or collecting on loans to consumers in any of the 17 states that cap interest rates. In its announcement Wednesday, the CFPB also said it expects the company to set aside more than $39 million to be given to harmed consumers as part of a global settlement that includes settlements with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office and private class-action litigants. The amount to be disbursed to harmed consumers “may increase over time as a result of ongoing, related litigation and settlements,” the CFPB said. The bureau also fined the Irving, Tex., company a $7 civil penalty, or $1 for each entity. Think Finance operated an online loan origination and servicing platform and had partnered with tribal lenders to offer installment loans online. The CFPB alleged in its complaint that Think Finance made deceptive demands and illegally took money from consumers' bank accounts for debts they did not owe because the loans were either partially or completely void in 17 states that have usury limits. The bureau said the company and affiliated tribal lenders "operated as a common enterprise," and engaged in unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices by affiliating with tribal lenders to offer online loans and lines of credit to avoid state rate caps.

Sens. Warren, Brown call on CFPB to suspend task force - Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have asked the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to suspend a seven-member task force charged with updating consumer credit laws, claiming the hiring process was "not fair, credible, or transparent." In a letter sent to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger Wednesday, the lawmakers argued that some task force members, including its chair Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, cannot be trusted to protect consumers because they have represented payday lenders or Wall Street banks, or worked at law firms that do so. Todd Zywicki, professor of law at George Mason University Law professor Todd Zywicki, a noted CFPB critic, now chairs the agency's seven-member task force charged with updating consumer protection laws. Bloomberg News “We ask that you immediately suspend the Taskforce,” the letter stated. “Based on significant concerns about the Taskforce’s formation, composition, and the selected Taskforce members’ conflicts of interest, we question the legitimacy of this Taskforce and any of its future recommendations or conclusions.” The letter takes aim at Zywicki, a longtime CFPB critic, claiming he has a conflict of interest because he defended bankrupt debt relief company Morgan Drexen in a dispute with the bureau that ended in a settlement in 2016. The letter also says that Zywicki has conflicts because had been a director of Global Economics Group, a consulting firm “hired by Visa, Bank of America, and Citigroup to influence the Bureau and other regulatory agencies.” The letter also alleges that the CFPB rejected at least five consumer finance experts "with substantial research, scholarship, and record of public and academic service." The CFPB did not respond to a request for comment.

  Tearing up CFPB’s mortgage underwriting rule is the easy part --Now that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has vowed to remove an unpopular measure of loan affordability in its mortgage underwriting rule, the million-dollar question is: What alternative standard should replace it?Mortgage lenders lobbied heavily for the CFPB to abandon a 43% debt-to-income ratio, a required limit for "qualified mortgages." But settling on a different metric to determine a borrower's ability to repay is no easy task.Some have called for designing a new underwriting standard in which QM loans have a pricing limit set at a range above the average prime offer rate. Yet it is hard to find agreement within the industry and elsewhere about the best alternative. Besides a metric based on APOR, other ideas raised by lenders, trade groups and consumer advocates include basing underwriting standards on those used for government-backed loans or requiring a minimum amount of borrower reserves. Some observers say the CFPB should simply eliminate DTI without offering an alternative. Many say designing a QM standard around prime rates is a mistake. “Adopting the APOR rate spread rule as a successor to the QM rule would be dangerous,” said Ed Pinto, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Housing Center. “It would prolong what is already an unsustainable home price boom and push home prices higher during a seller’s market.” A 43% DTI was the centerpiece of the CFPB's original underwriting rule. Loans that met that limit and other requirements were considered QM — an ultrasafe class of mortgages deemed to be in compliance. But the industry says that hard limit is overly restrictive.Up to now, the effects of the QM rule have been contained because loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are already in compliance under an exemption known as the QM "patch." But the CFPB and the industry are focused on revamping the underlying rule after the agency announced it plans eventually to end the patch. That means the substantial portion of Fannie- and Freddie-backed loans above 43% DTI will suddenly be in violation without other changes.After announcing plans last year to revamp the QM rule, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger told Congress in January that the agency plans to move away from DTI and instead include an alternative such as a "pricing threshold" based on the difference between an annual percentage rate and APOR.  In addition to removing the DTI requirement, stakeholders are also hopeful the agency will remove a subset of underwriting requirements in the rule known as Appendix Q. (The agency says it will issue a proposal by May.) Banks are open to using DTI as a factor in their internal underwriting processes, but oppose the cap of 43%.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for December; "Home-price-growth rate gained steam" -- Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for December today. According to Black Knight, 3.40% of mortgages were delinquent in December, down from 3.88% in December 2018. Black Knight also reported that 0.46% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.52% a year ago. This gives a total of 3.86% delinquent or in foreclosure. Press Release: Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: Low Interest Rates Make Housing Most Affordable in Two Years Despite Accelerating Price Growth; Buying Power Up 16% since Late 2018. Drawing upon the latest data from the Black Knight Home Price Index (HPI), this month’s report examined home price growth and affordability in the context of today’s lower-interest-rate environment.  “After falling from nearly 7% year-over-year appreciation in early 2018 to a trough of 3.8% in August 2019, the national home-price-growth rate gained a good deal of steam as mortgage interest rates declined throughout the second half of last year,” said Graboske. “In fact, December marked four consecutive months of home price growth acceleration and the largest single-month acceleration in more than 6.5 years, while the annual rate of appreciation saw nearly a full percentage point increase over the last four months of 2019, closing out the year at 4.7%. The low end of the market, those homes in the bottom 20% by price, saw 6.6% annual growth, nearly three times the rate of the top 20%. That said, higher-priced homes have been more reactive to recent rate declines. The annual growth rate among the top price tier has more than tripled over the past four months – from 0.7% year-over-year in August to 2.3% as of December – while there’s been very little acceleration at the lowest end of the market. Despite the average home price increasing by nearly $13,000 from just over a year ago, the monthly mortgage payment required to buy that same home has actually dropped by 10% over that same span due to falling interest rates. It now requires 20.6% of median monthly income to purchase the same home as it did just over a year ago, the smallest payment-to-income ratio we’ve seen in two years. Put another way, prospective homebuyers can now purchase a home that is $48,000 more expensive than a year ago, while still paying the same in principal and interest. That’s a 16% increase in buying power. Recent history at comparable levels of affordability suggest acceleration in home price growth may well continue in the coming months as this increased buying power puts upward pressure on home prices across the country.” Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows Black Knight's estimate of the mortgage payment to income ratio. The second graph shows the year end national delinquency rate since 2000:  There is much more in the mortgage monitor.

CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.0% Year-over-year in December -  The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).  From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports December Home Prices Increased by 4.0% Year Over Year:  Home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased year over year by 4% in December 2019 compared with December 2018 and increased month over month by 0.3% in December 2019 compared with November 2019. ... “Moderately priced homes are in high demand and short supply, pushing up values and eroding affordability for first-time buyers. Homes that sold for 25% or more below the local median price experienced a 5.9% price gain in 2019, compared with a 3.7% gain for homes that sold for 25% or more above the median.” Dr. Frank Nothaft, Chief Economist for CoreLogic.  CR Note: The YoY change in the CoreLogic index decreased over the last year, but lately the YoY change has been increasing.

  Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey --Mortgage applications increased 5.0 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 31, 2020. The previous week’s results included an adjustment for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.... The Refinance Index increased 15 percent from the previous week – its highest level since June 2013 – and was 183 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 10 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 8 percent compared with the previous week and was 11 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“The 10-year Treasury yield fell around 20 basis points over the course of last week, driven mainly by growing concerns over a likely slowdown in Chinese economic growth from the spread of the coronavirus. This drove mortgage rates lower, with the 30-year fixed rate decreasing for the fifth time in six weeks to 3.71 percent, its lowest level since October 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinance activity jumped as a result, with an increase in the number of applications and a spike in the average loan amount, as homeowners with jumbo loans reacted more resoundingly to lower rates.”Added Kan, “Prospective buyers weren’t as responsive to the decline in mortgage rates – likely because of suppressed supply levels. Purchase applications took a step back, but still remained 7.7 percent higher than a year ago.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.71 percent from 3.81 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

NMHC: Apartment Market Tightness Index Decreased in January - The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) released their January report: January Quarterly Survey Indicates Apartment Conditions Mixed Certain market conditions are loosening, according to the NMHC Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions, conducted in January 2020. The Sales Volume Index slipped further below the breakeven level (50) to 43, indicating a continued softness in property sales. “This reflects some seasonal decline along with the paucity of available deals, some respondents also noted the negative impact of the new rent laws in New York,” said NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky.  Additionally, Market Tightness (48) slipped below the breakeven level (50). “Apartment markets showed some softening in line with the slower leasing in the winter months,” noted Obrinsky. “Even so, the Market Tightness Index reading of 48 was the highest January reading in five years, and slightly higher than the January average of 45 in the survey’s 21-year history.”...The Market Tightness Index decreased from 54 to 48, indicating the first sign of looser market conditions since January 2019. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of respondents reported looser market conditions than three months prior, compared to 18 percent who reported tighter conditions. Over half (59 percent) of respondents felt that conditions were no different from last quarter.

Construction Spending Decreased in December - From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased in December: Construction spending during December 2019 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,327.7 billion, 0.2 percent below the revised November estimate of $1,329.9 billion. The December figure is 5.0 percent above the December 2018 estimate of $1,264.8 billion. The value of construction in 2019 was $1,303.5 billion, 0.3 percent below the $1,307.2 billion spent in 2018. Both private and public spending decreased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $991.2 billion, 0.1 percent below the revised November estimate of $992.2 billion. ... In December, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $336.4 billion, 0.4 percent below the revised November estimate of $337.7 billion This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Private residential spending had been increasing - but turned down in the 2nd half of 2018.  Now it is increasing again, but is still 20% below the bubble peak. Non-residential spending is 9% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars). Public construction spending is 3% above the previous peak in March 2009, and 28% above the austerity low in February 2014.  The second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending. On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is up 5.5%. Non-residential spending is down slightly year-over-year. Public spending is up 11.5% year-over-year.This was below consensus expectations of a 0.5% increase in spending, however construction spending for October and November was revised up slightly.

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Up Year-over-year - Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined sharply from the record highs in early 2018, and have increased a little lately.This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Jan 24, 2020 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.  Right now Random Lengths prices are up 14% from a year ago, and CME futures are up 12% year-over-year.There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability. The trade war was a factor in the sharp decline with reports that lumber exports to China had declined by 40%.   Now, with a pickup in housing, lumber prices are moving up again.

This Is How Americans Paid For That Record Holiday Spending- Credit Card Debt Exploded In December --  There was something strange in last month's consumer credit data from the Federal Reserve: at a time when Americans were getting ready to unleash a record holiday spending spree, revolving, i.e., credit card debt actually contract the most since March, which meant that either Americans were saving a whole lot more or their hourly incomes had soared higher. And since neither of these had happened, it wasn't clear just how US consumers entered the last month of the year with the first November decline in revolving debt since 2013.In fact, as we concluded our January post on consumer credit, "considering the strong end to the year for retail sales, especially online, we assume this was a one-off event, and in December any credit card "shrinkage" was more than offset with aggressive year-end "charging." If not, then the US consumer may indeed be reaching the limits of their debt-funded spending euphoria."Well, we were right again: the answer was revealed on Friday afternoon when the Fed reported the consumer credit change for the last month of 2019, and of the decade... and it was a doozy. With analysts expecting a $15BN increase in consumer credit, the actual print was a whopping $22.1 billion, bringing total consumer credit outstanding to a new monthly all time high of $4.2 trillion.  However it was the composition of this number that sparked raised eyebrows across Wall Street, because while consumers added a rather subdued $9.4bn in non-revolving credit, i.e., auto and student loans, it was the $12.63 billion surge in revolving credit that explained not only November's modest drop in credit card debt, but the record holiday spending in 2019, which - as we now know - was to a record extent thanks to credit card debt. In fact, as the chart below shows, it was the biggest one month increase in credit card debt since 1998!

Tesla remotely disables Autopilot on used Model S after it was sold - - Tesla has remotely disabled driver assistance features on a used Model S after it was sold to a customer, Jalopnik reports. The company now claims that the owner of the car, who purchased it from a third-party dealer — a dealer who bought it at an auction held by Tesla itself — “did not pay” for the features and therefore is not eligible to use them.The features were enabled when the dealer bought the car, and they were advertised as part of the package when the car was sold to its owner. It’s a peculiar situation that raises hard questions about the nature of over-the-air software updates as they relate to vehicles. Cars sold with hardware-based upgrades, such as four-wheel drive versus all-wheel drive, or advanced adaptive cruise control, do not lose those features when they are resold on the used car market. But because Tesla can update its vehicles remotely, the Model S and other Tesla vehicles can apparently lose key features. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

BEA: January Vehicles Sales increased to 16.8 Million SAAR  The BEA released their estimate of January vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated light vehicle sales of 16.84 million SAAR in January 2020 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), up 1.2% from the December sales rate, and up 0.8% from January 2019.  Light vehicle sales in 2019 were revised down slightly to 16.95 million, down 1.5% from 17.21 million in 2018.  This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for January 2020 (red).  A small decline in sales last year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels.  This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016).  The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.  Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 16.84 million SAAR.  Sales have been generally decreasing slightly, but are still at a high level.

U.S. Heavy Truck Sales down 11% Year-over-year in January - The following graph shows heavy truck sales since 1967 using data from the BEA. The dashed line is the January 2020 seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR). Heavy truck sales really collapsed during the great recession, falling to a low of 180 thousand SAAR in May 2009. Then sales increased more than 2 1/2 times, and hit 480 thousand SAAR in June 2015. Heavy truck sales declined again in 2016 - mostly due to the weakness in the oil sector - and bottomed at 363 thousand SAAR in October 2016. Following the low in 2016, heavy truck sales increased to a new all time high of 575 thousand SAAR in September 2019.  However heavy truck sales have declined since then and are off 11% year-over-year. Heavy truck sales were at 467 thousand SAAR in January, down from 473 thousand SAAR in December, and down from 527 thousand SAAR in January 2019.   The recent weakness is probably due to the weakness in manufacturing and the decline in oil prices.

Trade Deficit increased to $48.9 Billion in December - From the Department of Commerce reported:The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $48.9 billion in December, up $5.2 billion from $43.7 billion in November, revised.December exports were $209.6 billion, $1.6 billion more than November exports. December imports were $258.5 billion, $6.8 billion more than November imports. Both exports and imports increased in December.  Exports are 27% above the pre-recession peak and up 2% compared to December 2018; imports are 11% above the pre-recession peak, and down 3% compared to December 2018.In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently.The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in recent months.Oil imports averaged $51.48 per barrel in December, down from $51.92 in November, and up from $50.26 in December 2018. The trade deficit with China decreased to $24.8 billion in December, from $36.8 billion in December 2018.

 U.S. trade deficit falls in 2019 for first time in six years as China tariffs reduce imports - The trade deficit fell slightly in 2019 to mark the first decline in six years, mostly reflecting U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods that reduced the flow of imports from the Asian giant.The U.S. deficit slipped 1.7% to $617 billion last year from almost $628 billion in 2018. Last year’s trade gap was the highest in a decade.Earlier in the year American wholesalers rushed to import goods from China before stiffer U.S. tariffs kicked in and they cut back in the fall after the Trump administration raised duties.An interim trade deal signed by the U.S. and China that reduces some tariffs and seeks to ease tensions could lead to a rebound in Chinese imports in 2020. But the outbreak of the coronavirus adds another X-factor that could also severely disrupt global trade the world economy if it spreads, analysts say.The annual trade deficit declined in 2019 even though the gap in December rose for the first time in four months. The deficit shot up 12% in December to $48.9 billion, the government said Wednesday. Exports rose 0.8% to $210 billion in December. The U.S. exported more passenger planes and crude oil.In 2019, the U.S. petroleum deficit shrank to $13.7 billion to mark the lowest level on record. The U.S. has become an energy superpower again and the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas thanks to the fracking revolution.Auto exports fell, however.Imports rose an even faster 2.7% to $258.5 billion in December, led by incoming shipments of crude oil, computer chips, cell phones and precious metals for industrial use. The U.S. still imports a lot of crude oil that it refines and ships to the U.S. and other parts of the world.Imports of goods from China tumbled nearly 18% for the full year, slowing to $345.6 billion in 2019 from a record $419.5 billion in 2018.Rising deficits with other nations, however, prevented the total U.S. deficit from falling very much last year. Companies merely shifted to other foreign sources such as Vietnam, Mexico and South America for goods that became too expensive to buy from China. Imports from Europe also rose.As a result, the U.S. registered record trade deficits in goods with all those trading partners in 2019.The small decline in the trade gap last year is unlikely to become a regular event despite intense efforts by the White House to reverse years of large deficits. The U.S. simply no longer produces many of the goods that it imports heavily, such as clothing, cell phones, consumer electronics and certain industrial supplies.Yet even though trade deficits subtract from g ross domestic product, the U.S. economy is still growing at a steady pace and outperforming most other wealthy nations. That allows Americans to spend more on imported goods and, ironically, to contribute to chronic deficits.

AAR: January Rail Carloads down 5.9% YoY, Intermodal Down 5.4% YoY - From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission. U.S. rail volumes fell again in January, but there were glimmers of hope. Nine of the 20 carload categories the AAR tracks had year-over-year gains in January 2020, the most in a year, and several other commodities had carload declines in January that were smaller than they’ve been in recent months.  Total U.S. rail carloads fell 5.9%, or 73,110 carloads, in January 2020 from January 2019, their 12th straight decline. ... U.S. intermodal originations fell 5.4%, or 71,081 units, in January and have now fallen for 12 consecutive months. This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2018, 2019 and 2020: Total originated carloads on U.S. railroads fell 5.9% (73,110 carloads) in January 2020 from January 2019, their 12th consecutive monthly decline. Weekly average total carloads in January 2020 were 233,147, the second-lowest weekly average for any month since January 1988, when our data begin. (Only December 2019 was lower, at 232,026.) The second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers): Meanwhile, total U.S. intermodal originations (which are not included in the carload numbers) were down 5.4% (71,081 containers and trailers) in January, also their 12th consecutive monthly decline

Defense aircraft demand lifts U.S. factory orders; underlying softness remains - (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods increased by the most in nearly 1-1/2 years in December, flattered by robust demand for defense aircraft, but persistently weak business spending on equipment pointed to limited scope for a sharp rebound in manufacturing. The report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday followed on the heels of a survey from the Institute for Supply Management on Monday showing manufacturing activity rebounded in January after contracting for five straight months. The business investment downturn could be compounded by Boeing’s (BA.N) suspension last month of production of its troubled 737 MAX jetliner, grounded last March after two fatal crashes, and the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed hundreds in China and infected thousands globally. These events are seen disrupting supply chains. “The strength in (factory orders) is a little misleading,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Fundamentals haven’t improved significantly for either manufacturing or real business equipment spending.” Factory goods orders surged 1.8% in December, the largest gain since August 2018. Data for November was revised down to show orders tumbling 1.2% instead of dropping 0.7% as previously reported. Excluding defense, factory orders dropped 0.6% in December after edging up 0.1% in the prior month. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders would increase 1.2% in December. Factory orders fell 0.6% in 2019. While business sentiment has improved as trade tensions between the United States and China have eased, confidence remains subdued. Washington and Beijing signed a Phase 1 trade deal last month, but U.S. tariffs on $360 billion of Chinese imports, about two-thirds of the total, remained in place. Underlying weakness in manufacturing was underscored by a 0.5% jump in inventories at factories in December. That was the biggest increase in factory inventories since last January and followed a 0.3% rise in November. The inventory bloat indicates sluggish sales at factories, though shipments increased 0.5% in December, the most since September 2018. Unfilled orders at factories were unchanged. The 18-month-long U.S.-China trade war has pressured business confidence and undercut capital expenditure. Business investment contracted in the fourth quarter for the third straight quarter, the longest such stretch since 2009. Economists estimate Boeing’s biggest assembly-line halt in more than 20 years could slice at least half a percentage point from first-quarter GDP growth. The U.S. economy grew 2.3% in 2019, the slowest in three years, after expanding 2.9% in 2018.

ISM Manufacturing index Increased to 50.9 in January - The ISM manufacturing index indicated contraction in January. The PMI was at 50.9% in January, up from 47.2% in December. The employment index was at 46.4%, up from 45.1% last month, and the new orders index was at 52.0%, up from 46.8%.  From the Institute for Supply Management: January 2020 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®  “The January PMI® registered 50.9 percent, an increase of 3.1 percentage points from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 47.8 percent. The New Orders Index registered 52 percent, an increase of 4.4 percentage points from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 47.6 percent. The Production Index registered 54.3 percent, up 9.5 percentage points compared to the seasonally adjusted December reading of 44.8 percent. The Backlog of Orders Index registered 45.7 percent, up 2.4 percentage points compared to the December reading of 43.3 percent. The Employment Index registered 46.6 percent, a 1.4-percentage point increase from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 45.2 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 52.9 percent, a 1.7-percentage point decrease from the December reading of 54.6 percent. The Inventories Index registered 48.8 percent, a decrease of 0.4 percentage point from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 49.2 percent. The Prices Index registered 53.3 percent, a 1.6-percentage point increase from the December reading of 51.7 percent. The New Export Orders Index registered 53.3 percent, a 6-percentage point increase from the December reading of 47.3 percent. The Imports Index registered 51.3 percent, a 2.5-percentage point increase from the December reading of 48.8 percent.  Here is a long term graph of the ISM manufacturing index. This was above expectations of 48.5%, and suggests manufacturing expanded slightly in January after five months of contraction.

Markit Manufacturing: "Manufacturing growth slows at start of 2020 as exports fall" -  The January US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 51.9, down 0.5 from the 52.4 final December figure. Markit's Manufacturing PMI is a diffusion index: A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction. Here is an excerpt from Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit in their latest press release:  "US manufacturing limped into 2020, with falling exports dampening output growth and causing a pull-back in hiring. The survey data are consistent with factory production falling moderately, meaning the manufacturing sector looks set to act as a drag on the overall economy once again in the first quarter.  “Weakness looks broad-based. Rising demand from households has helped support production in recent months, but January saw a marked slowing in new orders for consumer goods. Production of capital goods such as business equipment, plant and machinery meanwhile fell for the first time in almost four years, hinting at weakened business investment.  “More encouragingly, business expectations for the year ahead perked up, coinciding with an easing of trade tensions and the signing of new North American and Chinese trade deals. Companies are therefore expecting the soft patch to be short-lived, though fears surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus and any further potentia escalation of trade tensions could erode this optimism.” [Press Release] Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index increased to 55.5% in January -The January ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 55.5%, up from 54.9% in December. The employment index decreased to 53.1%, from 54.8%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: January 2020 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business® “The NMI® registered 55.5 percent, which is 0.6 percentage point higher than the seasonally adjusted December reading of 54.9 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slightly faster rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index increased to 60.9 percent, 3.9 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted December reading of 57.0 percent, reflecting growth for the 126th consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 56.2 percent; 0.9 percentage point higher than the seasonally adjusted reading of 55.3 percent in December. The Employment Index decreased 1.7 percentage points in January to 53.1 percent from the seasonally adjusted December reading of 54.8 percent. The Prices Index of 55.5 is 3.8 percentage points lower than the seasonally adjusted December reading of 59.3 percent, indicating that prices increased in January for the 32nd consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 12 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector exhibited continued growth in January. The respondents remain mostly positive about business conditions and the overall economy. Respondents continue to have difficulty with labor resources.” This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index. This suggests faster expansion in January than in December.

Markit Services PMI: "Business activity growth accelerates to 10-month high" - The January US Services Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 53.4 percent, up 0.6 from the final December estimate of 52.8. The consensus was for 53.2 percent.Here is the opening from the latest press release: Commenting on the latest survey results, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said:"The PMI data indicate that the US economy is ticking along at a steady but unspectacular annualized rate of growth of approximately 2% at the start of 2020. Growth has gained some momentum from the lows seen in the fall as the service sector enjoys stronger growth and manufacturing has also shown signs of the trade-led downturn easing. However, factory activity remains worryingly remains subdued, and optimism about future growth across the business community as a whole continues to run at one of the lowest levels seen over the past decade.“Business are concerned by the prospect of weaker economic growth at home and abroad in the coming year, especially with spending potentially being dampened in an election year. Fresh worries are also likely to appear. With the vast majority of the survey data having been collected prior to the 24th January, we’ve yet to see any impact from the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, but the potential disruption to business and the associated financial market jitters pose additional downside risks to both the global and US economies in coming months." [Press Release]Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.

 ADP: Private Employment increased 291,000 in January -- From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 291,000 jobs from December to January according to the January ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis. ... “The labor market experienced expanded payrolls in January,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and cohead of the ADP Research Institute. “Goods producers added jobs, particularly in construction and manufacturing, while service providers experienced a large gain, led by leisure and hospitality. Job creation was strong among midsized companies, though small companies enjoyed the strongest performance in the last 18 months.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “Mild winter weather provided a significant boost to the January employment gain. The leisure and hospitality and construction industries in particular experienced an outsized increase in jobs. Abstracting from the vagaries of the data underlying job growth is close to 125,000 per month, which is consistent with low and stable unemployment.”This was well above the consensus forecast for 159,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report. The BLS report will be released Friday, and the consensus is for 161,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in January.

January Employment Report: 225,000 Jobs Added, 3.6% Unemployment Rate - From the BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 225,000 in January, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.6 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in construction, in health care, and in transportation and warehousing. ..The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised up by 5,000 from +256,000 to +261,000, and the change for December was revised up by 2,000 from +145,000 to +147,000. With these revisions, employment gains in November and December combined were 7,000 higher than previously reported.... In January, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.44. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent. The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes).Total payrolls increased by 225 thousand in December (private payrolls increased 206 thousand). Payrolls for November and December were revised up 7 thousand combined. This graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968. In January, the year-over-year change was 2.052 million jobs. The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate.  The Labor Force Participation Rate was increased in January at 63.4%. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.   A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends. The Employment-Population ratio was increased to 61.2% (black line). The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate was increased in January to 3.6%.This was above consensus expectations of 161,000 jobs added, and November and December were revised up by 7,000 combined. On the annual benchmark revision: The total nonfarm employment level for March 2019 was revised downward by 514,000 (-505,000 on a not seasonally adjusted basis), or -0.3 percent. The absolute average benchmark revision over the past 10 years is 0.2 percent. The over-the-year change in total nonfarm employment for 2019 was revised from +2,108,000 to +2,096,000 (seasonally adjusted).

January jobs report: why I am discounting the headline strong jobs number - HEADLINES:

  • +225,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate up +0.1% to 3.6%
  • U6 underemployment rate up +0.2% from 6.7% to 6.9%
  • the average manufacturing workweek was unchanged  at 40.4 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI.
  • Manufacturing jobs declined by -12,000. Manufacturing gained only 26,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
  • construction jobs rose by 44,000. In the past 12 months construction jobs are up 142,000, a deceleration from 207,000 in 2018. Residential construction jobs, which are even more leading, rose by 2400.
  • temporary jobs declined by -1500. Last months initial +6400 was revised downward to +5900.. 
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less declined by -6,000 from 2,065,000 to 2,059,000.
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: increased by 72,000 to 4.904 million
  • Part time for economic reasons: increased by 34,000 to 4.182 million 
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: rose +0.2% from 80.4% to 80.6%
  • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.03 to $23.87 (while December was revised upward), up +3.3% YoY - a deceleration from recent YoY growth. (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.) 
  • November was revised upward by 5,000. December was also revised upward by 2,000, for a net change of +7,000.
  • the alternate jobs number contained  in the more volatile household survey declined by -679,000  jobs.  This represents an increase of 1,263,000 jobs YoY vs. 2,052,000 in the establishment survey. 
  • Government jobs rose by 19,000.
  • the overall employment to population ratio for all ages 16 and up rose +0.2% to  61.2% and is up 0.5% YoY.    
  • The labor force participation rate rose +0.2% to 63.4% and is up 0.2% YoY.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT ANNUAL REVISIONS: Both the establishment and household survey had major annual revisions this month. In the establishment survey, the first four months of 2019 were revised downward by -110,000. But the last 8 months were revised higher by +98,000. The population control for the household survey over -800,000 from population growth in 2019. Thus the January household employment number of -89,000 represents a monthly gain of 418,000 overcome by a -507,000 population adjustment. Note this does *NOT* affect the weak YoY gain in the household report. SUMMARY:  This report was very mixed. The headline jobs gain in the establishment survey masked continued declines in several leading components. Meanwhile the headline unemployment numbers in the household survey masked strong participation gains, once the annual population adjustments were made. Because participation is a lagging part of the report, while the leading components were neutral to negative, including a very weak YoY gain in the household report, which has a tendency to lead at turning points, I am inclined to discount the headline strength in the jobs number. I have a strong feeling that the improved numbers for the last 8 months of last year are going to get revised downward once we have more information. In short, ultimately a report consistent with a slowdown in the economy.

January Payrolls Soar By 225K, Smashing Expectations As Hourly Earnings Coming In Hot - With Wall Street expecting a 165K print in this morning payrolls report, and with ADP coming in at almost 300K, the whisper number was obviously well above the official consensus, and the BLS did not disappoint, because just as Trump hinted a few days ago with his "jobs, jobs, jobs" tweet, in January the US created a whopping 225K jobs, smashing expectations, and well above last month's upward revised 142K print. Looking back, the change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised up by 5,000 from +256,000 to +261,000, and the change for December was revised up by 2,000 from +145,000 to +147,000. With these revisions, employment gains in November and December combined were 7,000 higher than previously reported. After revisions, job gains have averaged 211,000 over the last 3 months. Curiously, the Establishment survey showed yet another month of strong gains in a stretch that has been unbroken since late 2010, even as the Household Survey indicated that the number of employed workers declined by 89,000, from 158.803 million to 158.714 million.The unemployment rate nudged higher by 0.1%, rising to 3.6%, above the 3.5% expected, yet still just barely above 50 year lows. Of note, the unemployment rate for both hispanics and blacks also rose to the highest since mid-2019. This happened as the number of people not in the labor force plunged by 729,000, to 94.896, even as the number of person who currently want a job rose to 4.904 million from 4.832 million in December. The unemployment rate rose largely because as part of today's broad data revisions, the labor force participation rate inched higher, and at 63.4% is now the highest it has been since 2013.  Most notable, however, for markets was the rebound in hourly earnings, which rebounded from last month's upward revised 3.0%, hitting 3.1% as the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3 hours in January. Notably, after plunging in December to 3.2% from a decade high 3.8%, the average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers also staged a modest rebound, rising to 3.3% in January. Looking at the breakdown by jobs, there were notable job gains occurred in construction, in health care, and in transportation and warehousing, while manufacturing was the biggest loser, with 12,000 jobs lost.

  • In January, construction employment rose by 44,000, with much of this gain attributed to warm weather. Most of the gain occurred in specialty trade contractors, with increases in both the residential (+18,000) and nonresidential (+17,000) components. Construction added an average of 12,000 jobs per month in 2019.
  • Health care added 36,000 jobs in January, with gains in ambulatory health care services (+23,000) and hospitals (+10,000). Health care has added 361,000 jobs over the past 12 months.
  • Employment in transportation and warehousing increased by 28,000 in January. Job gains occurred in couriers and messengers (+14,000) and in warehousing and storage (+6,000). Over the year, employment in transportation and warehousing has increased by 106,000.
  • Employment in leisure and hospitality continued to trend up in January (+36,000).
  • Employment continued on an upward trend in professional and business services in January (+21,000), increasing by 390,000 over the past 12 months.
  • Manufacturing employment changed little in January (-12,000) and has shown little movement, on net, over the past 12 months. Motor vehicles and parts lost 11,000 jobs over the month.
  • Employment in other major industries, including mining, wholesale trade, retail trade, information, financial activities, and government, changed little over the month.

Commenting on the report, Bloomberg's Eliza Winger says "The labor market is roaring, providing an important pillar for the economy. The unemployment rate edged up, but Bloomberg Economics continues to expect it to fall to 3.3% by year-end and labor costs to intensify."  So what does this number mean for markets? As a reminder, Fed chair Jerome Powell gives his semiannual monetary policy testimony next week, and today’s jobs report supplies him with some good news to talk about, or to take partial credit for. The Fed has signaled interest rates are on hold this year, and this report confirms that outlook

Another solid jobs report, with lots of evidence that there’s still room-to-run in this labor market. - Jared Bernstein  - Employers added 225,00 jobs last month as the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 3.6 percent, largely due to more people entering the job market, yet another sign that there’s still room-to-run in this long labor-market expansion. Wage growth, a perennial soft spot in recent jobs reports, ticked up slightly to a yearly rate of 3.1 percent, around where it has been for much of the past year. That’s ahead of inflation, last seen running at 2.3 percent, but the fact that the wages have not accelerated suggests some degree of slack remains in the job market (other wage and compensation series show roughly similar stability). Our monthly smoother pulls out trends in job growth by averaging monthly gains over 3, 6, and 12 months. The pattern it shows is interesting and revealing. Over the past 12 months, job gains average 171,000 per month. Yet that average has accelerated over the past 3 months. Typically, as the job market closes in on full capacity, job gains tend to decelerate, much the way you have to pour more slowly as you reach the brim of a glass to avoid spillage (which, in this analogy, is inflation). Instead, we’re seeing no such deceleration, another sign of room-to-run.In a similar vein, the closely watched employment rate for prime-age workers (25-54) continues to rise, and at 80.6 percent now stands above its 2007 peak of 80.3 percent. However, that’s more of function of job gains for women than for men. Prime-age men’s employment rate is still 1.4 percentage points short of its 2007 peak, while women have surpass their peak by almost 2 points. This partially reflects job gains is services versus recent job losses in manufacturing.Factory employment fell again last month, down 12,000. Over the past 12 months, factory jobs are up just 26,000, one-tenth their gains over the prior 12 months (267,000). This clearly relates to Trump’s trade war, and while the recent “phase one” agreement with China may improve conditions in the sector–though I doubt it will have much impact–it will take time for trade flows to recover. Note also that blue-collar weekly earnings in the sector are up just 1.3 percent over the past year, a full point below inflation, meaning weekly paychecks for blue-collar factory workers are falling in real terms.Today’s report includes the BLS’s annual benchmark revision to the payroll jobs data. In order to adjust the jobs data to more closely reflect a true census of the underlying jobs count, once a year the Bureau adjusts the level of jobs in the previous March up or down by factor based on more complete data. That factor this year was -514,000, a larger than average downward revision (the average revision, without regard to its sign, is 0.2% of payrolls; this one was 0.3%). The revision is “wedged” into the jobs data at a rate of -43,000 per month between April 2018 and March 2019. The negative revision for retail trade was particularly large, at -159,000, or 1 percent, likely a symptom of the accelerating loss of brick-and-mortar retail outlets at the hands of online competition.The figure shows the difference between the level of payrolls before and after the revision. The new results do not change the fact that the historically long jobs recovery has been solid in terms of job quantity (job quality remains a significant problem). But the new trend is notably less robust than was previously recognized.The wage-growth story remains much the same as it has been in recent months: stable gains but, despite the tight job market, no acceleration. The figures show annual, nominal wage gains for all and middle-wage private sector workers (the dark lines are 6-month trends). In both cases, we see clear evidence of slowing gains. Both series are beating inflation, so hourly wages are growing in real terms, but the pause in their upward trajectory is evidence that there’s still slack in the job market. Other wage series show similar, though less stark, stabilization in recent months.  Another critique of recent wage trends is that while they’re clearly being nudged up by the tight labor market, the trends are not as positive as you’d expect given the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. One way to investigate this claim is to construct a statistical model, including labor market slack, to predict wage growth. If the predictions map closely onto the actual series, then perhaps wage growth is about where you’d expect, i.e., not too low, even given the tight job market.

Comments on January Employment Report - The headline jobs number at 225 thousand for January was above consensus expectations of 162 thousand, and the previous two months were revised up 7 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate increase to 3.6%. Note: It appears weather boosted employment in January - I'll have more on this later. Earlier: January Employment Report: 225,000 Jobs Added, 3.6% Unemployment Rate:  In January, the year-over-year employment change was 2.052 million jobs including Census hires. The annual benchmark revision showed a reduction in jobs in March 2019 of 505 thousand (close to the preliminary estimate of the downward revision). With these revisions, the record job streak remained alive - although February 2019 was revised down to just +1 thousand jobs added.  (Note: Excluding temporary Census hiring, the job streak ended in February 2019 - since the Census hired +1 thousand workers in Feb 2019). Wage growth was below expectations. From the BLS: "In January, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.44. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent."  This graph is based on “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report.   Nominal wage growth was at 3.1% YoY in January. Wage growth had been generally trending up, but weakened in 2019. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old. In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle. The 25 to 54 participation rate was increased in January to 83.1%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio increased to 80.6%. "The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.2 million, was essentially unchanged in January. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs." The number of persons working part time for economic reasons increased in January to 4.182 million from 4.148 million in December. The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down. These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that increased to 6.9% in January.  This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more. According to the BLS, there are 1.166 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was down from 1.186 million in December. This was the lowest level for long term unemployed since June 2007. Summary: The headline jobs number was above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up slightly. The headline unemployment rate increase to 3.6%; wage growth picked up to 3.1% year-over-year. Overall this was a solid report, although there was probably some boost from the weather.

The U.S. created 514,000 fewer jobs in 2018-19 than originally reported — here’s what that means -- The U.S. economy created about a half-million fewer jobs in 2019 and 2018 than it first appeared, but it doesn’t mean the labor market isn’t strong. The government as expected pruned the level of overall U.S. employment by 514,000 as of March 2019, with almost all of the reduction coming in 2018. Employment gains in 2018 were lowered to 2.3 million from 2.7 million — an average of 30,000-a-month fewer than previously reported. A big surprise? No. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics previewed the cut last summer, as it always does. The updated employment numbers are produced annually after government statisticians examine company tax and payrolls records from the Internal Revenue Service that aren’t immediately available. Typically, the government has tended to underestimate job creation in the early stages of an economic recovery and overestimate the level of hiring late in a business cycle. Yet while the latest revisions are larger than usual, they aren’t especially so. In most years the revision in employment is plus or minus 0.2%. The change in 2019 was 0.3%.  What does it all mean?    Not much. Democrats were quick to point out the reduced employment numbers in 2018 mean that President Trump has failed so far the match the job gains that took place under Barack Obama. Yet economists point out that hiring is always stronger at the beginning of a recovery and that it slows the longer an expansion continues. That’s exactly what’s happened. 

Weather Adjusted Employment Gains in January --The weather boosted employment gains in January. The question is: how much? The BLS reported 226 thousand people were employed in non-agriculture industries, with a job, but not at work due to bad weather. The average for January over the previous 10 years was 347 thousand. The BLS also reported 744 thousand people were usually full time employees, but were working part time in January due to bad weather.  The average for January over the previous 10 years was 1.2 million.  Both of the series suggest weather negatively impacted employment less than usual (boosting seasonally adjusted employment).   The San Francisco Fed estimates Weather-Adjusted Change in Total Nonfarm Employment (monthly change, seasonally adjusted). They use local area weather to estimate the impact on employment. For January, the BLS reported 225 thousand jobs added, the San Francisco Fed estimates that weather adjusted employment gains were 125 thousand.  So we should expect some payback in coming months.   (Note: One of the reasons I took the "over" in January was because of the weather)

Blue collar boom? College grads, baby boomers big winners in Trump's economy -  (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump rolled out an eye-catching statistic in his State of the Union address Tuesday: the wealth held by the poorest half of American households increased three times as fast as the wealth held by the “1%” since he became president. That’s true, according to Federal Reserve data. On average, Americans have seen a 17% jump in household wealth since Trump’s election, while wealth at the bottom half has increased 54%. “This is a blue collar boom,” Trump also said Tuesday. That’s less apparent. The biggest winners on a dollar basis were a familiar group - whites, college graduates, and people born during the “baby boom” between 1946 and 1964. Since December 2016, President Barack Obama’s last full month in office, aggregate household wealth has increased by $15.8 trillion, but the vast majority went to groups that have tended to accumulate wealth in the past. Even with a 54% increase in their household wealth under Trump, the poorest half of American households, around 64 million families, still have just 1.6% of household “net worth.” Net worth combines the value of assets like real estate and stocks and subtracts liabilities like mortgage loans and credit card balances. Because America’s bottom 50% are starting from such a small base, given the enormous disparities in wealth in the United States, even large moves in their fortunes do little to dent the overall distribution. In dollar terms as of the end of September 2019, that latest data available from the Fed, the combined net worth of the poorest half of families was $1.67 trillion out of total U.S. household wealth of $107 trillion. Here is what the Fed’s Distributional Financial Accounts have to say: Historically, 17% growth in household wealth over 11 three-month “quarters,” or nearly three years, is pretty standard. There have been 110 such periods since the Fed’s data series begins in mid-1989, and the most recent ranks 55th, squarely in the middle. On a quarterly basis, compound growth in household wealth since 1989 has averaged 1.39%. Under Trump it is slightly less, at 1.34%. The bottom half of households saw their net worth rise by 54% under Trump, from $1.08 trillion to $1.67 trillion. That’s compared to an 18% rise for the top 1%, who control roughly a third of the total household wealth in America, or around $34.5 trillion. Even after those gains, that works out to average net worth of around $26,000 for the bottom half of households versus around $27 million for the ones at the top.

'It's very sad': A viral video uses slices of pie to show how $98 trillion of American wealth is actually distributed -  The gap between rich and poor in America is the worst it's been in more than a half century. It's a concern cited by every leading Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 election, but many may not realize what it actually means.  If a pie represented the estimated $98 trillion of household wealth in the United States, nine pieces, or 90% of the pie, would go to the wealthiest 20% in the country, according to a National Bureau Of Economic Research study of household wealth trends in the united states from 1962 to 2016. Out of those nine slices, four would go to just the top 1%. The upper middle class and the middle class would share one piece, or about 10%, and the lower middle class would get .3% of the pie. The poorest Americans, people in the bottom 20%, wouldn't get any. On average, they are more than $6,000 in debt. People presented with this image of the country's wealth distribution were surprised. Beberlee Maldonado said it wasn't what she expected and called it "disturbing.""It's very sad. It's very depressing," Jessica Ortiz told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil, adding that she grew up in the poorest category.In the 2020 election cycle, Democratic candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren andBernie Sanders have promised to redistribute the pie with a special tax on fortunes $50 million and up."The wealthiest people in this country will start paying their fair share of taxes," Sanders said on the campaign trail in May. Polls show most Americans support the idea. Asked if she thinks there should be an extra tax on the super wealthy, Maldonado said, "Why not? They could afford it.""They should," said another woman, Adriane Huff. "Will it happen? Probably not."

 Altruistic food sharing behavior by human infants after a hunger manipulation - Altruistic behavior entails giving valuable benefits to others while incurring a personal cost. A distinctively human form of altruistic behavior involves handing nutritious food to needy strangers, even when one desires the food. Engaging in altruistic food transfer, instead of keeping the food, is costly, because it reduces the caloric intake of the benefactor vis-à-vis the beneficiary. Human adults engage in this form of altruistic behavior during times of war and famine, when giving food to others threatens one’s own survival. Our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), exhibit notable constraints on the proclivity to engage in such food transfer (particularly chimpanzees), although they share many social-cognitive commonalities with humans. Here we show that in a nonverbal test, 19-month-old human infants repeatedly and spontaneously transferred high-value, nutritious natural food to a stranger (Experiment 1) and more critically, did so after an experimental manipulation that imposed a feeding delay (Experiment 2), which increased their own motivation to eat the food. Social experience variables moderated the expression of this infant altruistic behavior, suggesting malleability.

US homeless student population reaches 1.5m, the highest in a decade - The number of public school students experiencing homelessness in the US has increased 15% in the past three years, reaching its highest number in more than a decade. More than 1.5 million students reported experiencing homelessness during the 2017-18 school year, according to a study by the National Center for Homeless Education, with California at the forefront with 263,000 students.The 2017-18 number was the highest number that the NCHE has reported since it began tracking this data in 2004, George Hancock, the center director, told the Guardian. “We’re seeing it throughout the country,” he said. The majority of homeless students, whose ages range from pre-kindergarten at age 3 to grade 12 at age 18 or older, reported that they were forced to stay with friends or relatives due to loss of their primary housing or economic hardship. More than 182,000 students reported living in shelters, transitional housing or were awaiting foster care – a 2% decrease from previous years. However, the number of students living in unsheltered situations, such as on the streets, spiked by 137% to more than 102,000 in the past three years. The new homeless student count reflects a much more serious uptick in the homeless population than that of the US Department of Housing and Urban and Development’s 2019 point-in-time estimates, which adheres to a different definition of what constitutes homelessness. The 2019 annual homeless assessment reported that the homeless population increased nationwide by 3% to more than 567,000, with more than 107,000 under the age of 18. Experts theorize that factors ranging from housing costs to natural disasters are behind the nationwide growth. The students that qualify as unaccompanied homeless youth make up 8.6% of the total count, meaning the majority of homeless students are homeless with their families.Housing instability can severely affect a child’s development and ability to learn. During this school year, the study found that only about 29% of students experiencing homelessness achieved academic proficiency in reading, roughly 24% achieved proficiency in mathematics and fewer than 26% achieved proficiency in science. Another challenge for homeless students is focusing on their studies while also coping with the trauma of homelessness, Hancock said. Social workers and local liaisons are working on a local level to not just identify those experiencing homelessness, but providing them the right support when they do.

Stanford psychology expert: These are the top 3 things kids need—but most parents fail to provide - Society’s fear of how technology is hurting our kids’ ability to focus and achieve success has reached a fever pitch — and many parents have resorted to extreme measures.A quick search on YouTube reveals thousands of videos of parents storming into their kids’ rooms, unplugging the computers or gaming consoles, and smashing the devices into bits.But here’s what most parents don’t understand: Technology isn’t the problem, and enforcing strict rules around tech usage isn’t the solution. Rather, it’s the root causes to children’s distractions that need to be addressed. Just as the human body requires macronutrients to run properly, the human psyche has its own needs in order to flourish. Distractions satisfy deficiencies. So when kids aren’t given the “psychological nutrients” they require, they are more likely to overdo unhealthy behaviors and look for satisfaction — often in virtual environments. 

  • 1. Autonomy. It might sound like a horrible idea, but giving your kid freedom of control over their choices can actually be a good thing. According to one study conducted by two psychology professors, Marciela Correa-Chavez and Barbara Rogoff, Mayan children who have less exposure to formal education show “more sustained attention and learning than their counterparts from Mayan families with extensive involvement in Western schooling.”In an interview with NPR, Dr. Suzanne Gaskins, who has studied Mayan villages for decades, explained that many Mayan parents give their kids a tremendous amount of freedom. “Rather than having the parent set the goal — and then having to offer enticements and rewards to reach that goal — the child is setting the goal,” she said. “Then the parents support that goal however they can.”
  • 2. Competence. Unfortunately, the joy of progress is a waning feeling among kids today. Too often, kids are given the message that they’re not competent at what they do. Standardized tests, for example, are a major contribution to this problem, because they don’t account for the fact that different kids have different developmental rates. If a child isn’t doing well in school and doesn’t get the necessary individualized support, they may start to believe that achieving competence is impossible. So they stop trying. In the absence of competency in the classroom, kids turn to potentially unhealthy outlets to experience the feeling of growth and development.  Ease up on structured academic or athletic activities, as well as the pressures and expectations surrounding them. Have a discussion with your kid about what they enjoy doing, and encourage them to pursue it in ways where they can achieve a level of competence.
  • 3. Relatedness Like adults, children want to feel important to others — and vice versa. The opportunity to satisfy this need (and develop social skills at the same time) centers around opportunities to play with others.In today’s world, however, the very nature of play is rapidly changing. Whereas previous generations were allowed to play after school and form close social bonds, many children today are raised by parents who restrict outdoor play, due to “child predators, road traffic and bullies,” according to a survey of parents in an Atlantic article. “For more than 50 years, children’s free play time has been continually declining, and it’s keeping them from turning into confident adults,” the author noted. Sadly, this downward spiral leaves many kids with no choice but to stay indoors, attend structured programs, or rely on technology to connect with others.

We Are Wall-E – Cali Gov. Newsom Wants To Halt School Physical Education Tests -  California's Governor Gavin Newsom wants to turn a generation of kids into obese adults, that by the time 2050 rolls around, these hopeless folks will be wheeled around in self-balancing strollers, first popularized in the animated film Wall-E.   Newsom plans to cancel physical education tests for students for three years over new concerns of bullying and discrimination against disabled and non-binary students.  The move to cancel physical education tests comes as annual test results suggest California's youth is becoming obese.  H.D. Palmer, the spokesman for the Department of Finance, told Bay Area KPIX 5 that the current measurement of body mass index (BMI) is discriminatory to some students, most notably to non-binary students, as BMI screenings require students to select “male” or “female,” he said. AP News noted that annual state physical education reports show that around the 2014/15 period, health scores of students started to decline.   Students' scores in "aerobic capacity," which can be described in layman's terms as the one-mile run, have dropped over the years. Tests for push-ups and sit-ups have also declined. "In the last five years, the percentage of fifth-graders scoring healthy in the aerobic category has dropped by 3.3 percentage points. In seventh and ninth grades, the drops are 4.4 percentage points and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. Meanwhile, the percentage of students identified as "needing improvement" and having a "health risk" went up: by 3.3 percentage points among fifth-graders, 4.4 for seventh graders and 3.8 among ninth-graders," KPIX 5 said.   During the three-year suspension of tests, Newsom and school officials will review whether to modify or completely withdraw the health exam.  Physical education classes will continue for the duration of the suspension, though the government won't be able to track the health of kids.  Palmer told KPIX 5, "the issue of BMI screening plays a role in the issues of both body shaming and bullying."

 In State of the Union, Trump distorts Wolf's veto of school tax credit bill | Fact Check - President Donald Trump used a televised address to the nation Tuesday to apparently distort Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019 veto of a bill that would have nearly doubled the size of a state program that offers tax credits to businesses that donate to K-12 scholarship funds.During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Trump said that “for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice in the form of opportunity scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list.” As an example, he singled out a fourth-grade student from Philadelphia named Janiyah Davis.   “Janiyah’s mom, Stephanie, is a single parent,” Trump said. “She would do anything to get her daughter a better future, but last year, that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice to 15,000 children. Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery. Stephanie, thank you so much for being here with your beautiful daughter.” But Trump’s account was only partially correct. As the Capital-Star reported last year, Wolf did veto legislation, sponsored by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, that would have expanded the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $100 million a year. But in the $34 billion budget bill that Wolf signed into law in June 2019 included a more modest expansion of the scholarship program. It raised the cap on EITC tax breaks from $160 million to $185 million, WHYY-FM in Philadelphia reported last June. During his speech, Trump said he was “proudly announc[ing] tonight that an opportunity scholarship is going to [Janiyah Davis] and you will soon be headed to the school of your choice.” Trump followed that announcement up by calling on Congress to “give one million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act, because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”

Ex-PIMCO CEO Gets 9 Months In Prison For Role In College Admissions Scandal - The former CEO of bond giant PIMCO, Douglas Hodge, has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for his role in the college admissions scandal that rocked the nation - and the wealthy - last year, according to Bloomberg. "I have made serious mistakes in judgment, and, in the process I have violated the law. For these actions, I take full responsibility and I am truly sorry," Hodge had written in a letter to the judge, according to the WSJ.  Feds had previously alleged that Hodge "agreed to use bribery to facilitate the admission of two of his children to USC as purported athletic recruits” and "sought to enlist the support of a cooperating witness to help a third child gain college admission." During his guilty plea, he later admitted to being in talks to help a fourth and fifth child. Prosecutors had been asking for two years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $200,000 fine and 300 hours of community service. Hodge's lawyers had been asking for a prison sentence between zero and six months, with the ability for Hodge to be able to fulfill some of his time with supervised release and community service. In April 2019, we reported that Hodge was suiting up to muster an aggressive legal defense alongside of TV star Lori Loughlin. In retrospect, it did not work.Meanwhile, as we follow up earlier this month, Loughlin faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted on all charges - though the chances of this actually happening fall somewhere between slim and none based on the short sentences handed out to other offenders in the scandal. Loughlin had faced two years under a plea deal she declined, according to TMZ.In October 2019, the LA Times had reported Hodge planned to plead guilty.

Renowned Harvard chemistry professor charged with lying about ties to China -  World-renowned Harvard University chemistry professor Charles Lieber appeared in court on Thursday in handcuffs, ankle chains and an orange jumpsuit as he was charged with lying about his ties to China. The bail for Lieber, head of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was set at $1 million as he was formally accused, along with two Chinese nationals, of illegally “aiding the People’s Republic of China” by the US Justice Department. A DOJ press release issued on Tuesday, the day the 60-year-old Lieber was arrested at his office, said that the Harvard department chair was being criminally charged “with one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement.” The cases against the Chinese nationals are separate from Lieber’s. Yanqing Ye, 29, currently in China, was charged with one count each of visa fraud, making false statements, acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy. Zaosong Zheng, 30, was arrested on December 10, 2019 at Boston’s Logan International Airport and charged with attempting to smuggle vials of biological research into China. On January 21, 2020, Zheng was also indicted on one count of smuggling goods from the US and one count of making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements. He has been held in jail since December 30, 2019. The crux of the case against Lieber is the claim that he lied about his involvement with a program called the Thousand Talents Plan, a program that is alleged to be aimed at luring people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China. The DOJ statement says “Unbeknownst to Harvard University beginning in 2011, Lieber became a ‘Strategic Scientist’ at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and was a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from in or about 2012 to 2017. … Under the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents contract, WUT paid Lieber $50,000 USD per month, living expenses of up to 1,000,000 Chinese Yuan (approximately $158,000 USD at the time) and awarded him more than $1.5 million to establish a research lab at WUT.” The DOJ document states further that Lieber, during an interview with investigators in April 2018, stated that he was never asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Program, but “wasn’t sure” how China categorized him. Oddly, the criminal complaint also states that, in November 2018, Lieber caused Harvard to “falsely tell NIH that Lieber ‘had no formal association with WUT’ after 2012, that ‘WUT continued to falsely exaggerate’ his involvement with WUT in subsequent years, and that Lieber ‘is not and has never been a participant in’ China’s Thousand Talents Plan.” If convicted, Lieber faces up to five years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The university has placed him on paid administrative leave.

 CFPB, Education Dept. sign MOU on student loan complaints - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education announced they will begin exchange student loan complaint data after their information-sharing efforts had been in limbo for over two years. CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger on Monday said that the two agencies had signed a memorandum of understanding to begin sharing complaint data analysis, other information and recommendations. Complaints from student loan borrowers have not been shared by the two agencies since December 2017, when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos instructed student loan servicers not to submit data or documents directly to agencies other than her department regarding investigations or oversight. “This MOU provides a robust framework that allows for the staff at both agencies to work together to provide better outcomes for consumers,” Kraninger said in a press release. “This agreement concerning student loan complaints will protect students as both the Bureau and the Education Department work to resolve their complaints.” The agreement states that the CFPB must give the Education Department at least 60 days notice before the information sharing process can begin. “Through this new agreement with the CFPB, we will coordinate our regulatory efforts, avoid needless duplication, and protect student loan borrowers,” DeVos said in a press release. “All student loan borrowers, whether they have a Federally-held or private student loan, deserve world-class service and quick resolution when facing issues.” Under the agreement, the CFPB will direct borrowers who submit complaints about federal student loans to the Education Department, while the department will direct complaints related to private loans governed by the Truth in Lending Act to the CFPB. More than 81% of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is held by the federal government but managed by private-sector student loan servicers. The six-page document, however, does not resolve issues related to federal student loans. 

 Pennsylvania cancer patient sentenced to 10 months in prison for shoplifting $109.63 in groceries - Ashley Menser, 36, was sentenced January 22 by Lebanon County, Pennsylvania Judge Samuel A. Kline to serve 10 months to seven years in prison. Menser pleaded guilty to shoplifting $109.63 worth of merchandise from a local grocery store in 2018. In a news release, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf stated that Menser pled “open,” meaning that the court decides the sentence it deems appropriate. The judge has made her eligible for parole as early as seven and a quarter months under a special program for nonviolent offenders. Menser and her family were hoping that the fact that she was being treated for cancer would persuade the judge to either delay or defer her sentencing. They were wrong. Menser was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and her family says she has advanced ovarian cancer as well as cervical cancer. Her family and attorney asked that she be allowed to serve her sentence under house arrest and be allowed to undergo treatment from her doctors at Hershey Medical Center’s Cancer Institute. Menser had an oncology appointment at Hershey later on the morning of January 22, the same day as her sentencing, where she was expected to be scheduled for a hysterectomy to remove the cancer that has already spread to her lymph nodes. However, Judge Kline showed no mercy and denied their requests. Stephanie Bashore, Menser’s mother, said she had met with a doctor who said that Menser would likely die within a month if she did not receive treatment. “She has no choice, it’s life or death,” she told reporters. “The doctors sat there and told us this.” On news of his daughter’s sentencing, Steve Via, her father, told the PA Post, “I sat there and sat there and was like, ‘No, this can’t happen.’ She must have this operation or she’s going to die.”

The flu has already killed 10,000 across US as world frets over coronavirus - While the new coronavirus ravages much of China and world leaders rush to close their borders to protect citizens from the outbreak, the flu has quietly killed 10,000 in the U.S. so far this influenza season. At least 19 million people have come down with the flu in the U.S. with 180,000 ending up in the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu season, which started in September and can run until May, is currently at its peak and poses a greater health threat to the U.S. than the new coronavirus, physicians say. The new virus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, has sickened roughly 17,400 and killed 362 people mostly in that country as of Monday morning. “In the U.S., it’s really a fear based on media and this being something new,” Dr. Jennifer Lighter, hospital epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, said of the new coronavirus. “When in reality, people can take measures to protect themselves against the flu, which is here and prevalent and has already killed 10,000 people.” The coronavirus outbreak, however, is proving to be more deadly than the flu. It has killed roughly 2% of the people who have contracted it so far, according to world health officials. That compares with a mortality rate of 0.095% for the flu in the U.S., according to CDC estimates for the 2019-2020 flu season. The CDC estimates that 21 million people will eventually get the flu this season. “Two percent case fatality is still a tough case fatality when you compare it to the case fatality for the seasonal flu or other things,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, told reporters Wednesday. “A relatively mild virus can cause a lot of damage if a lot of people get it,” he added. “And this is the issue at the moment. We don’t fully understand it.”

Public Health Officials Offer Scant Details On U.S. Coronavirus Patients - Disclosure this week of multiple cases in the United States of a new viral infection emerging from China — including the first confirmed cases of the virus passing from person to person in this country — is fueling public concerns about how easily the deadly virus can spread.  It is also raising pointed questions about why authorities aren’t disclosing more information about the risk of exposure. The first person-to-person case, announced Thursday, involves a man in his 60s with underlying health issues who is married to a Chicago-area woman who contracted the virus while traveling in Wuhan, China, and was diagnosed upon her return. During a news briefing, state and federal health officials said they believe the threat from the virus remains low within the United States and remained cautious about sharing details about patients and their movements. Unlike the more detailed accounting of patients’ movements released during measles outbreaks, public health departments are not sharing precise timelines of people’s activities and locations in the days before they were diagnosed with the new coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that while there’s a risk for everyone who comes in contact with a person with the virus, it appears minimal for those with only casual contact, such as being in the same grocery store or movie theater.  On Thursday, health officials declined to name the hospital where the infected couple are being treated, saying the patients are isolated and the risk to others in the hospital remains low. Health care workers who are caring for them and at a higher risk of contracting the virus are being monitored. Jennifer Layden, an epidemiologist with the state of Illinois, told reporters that the wife is doing well and the husband’s condition is stable. In Orange County, California, where a traveler from Wuhan was confirmed on Jan. 25 to have the virus, Health Care Agency officials said they have received questions from concerned community members about why the agency has not released a precise timeline with the patient’s whereabouts. Jessica Good, spokesperson for the agency, said given what public health officials understand at this point about how the virus spreads, no additional precautions are recommended for the public. “Our residents should go about their daily lives with no changes to planned activities,” Good said. Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an epidemiology professor with the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, is among the experts endorsing calm. The new coronavirus appears to be spreading through respiratory droplets, expelled by a sneeze or cough, that do not remain airborne for long and would require close contact for transmission, Kim-Farley said. Given that, he said, publishing a list of locations infected patients had visited would unnecessarily stigmatize businesses and public places. 

China coronavirus: labs worldwide scramble to analyse live samples - With no sign that an outbreak of a new coronavirus is abating, virologists worldwide are itching to get their hands on physical samples of the virus. They are drawing up plans to test drugs and vaccines, develop animal models of the infection and investigate questions about the biology of the virus such as how it spreads. “The moment we heard about this outbreak, we started to put our feelers out to get access to these isolates,” says Vincent Munster, a virologist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana. His lab is expecting to receive a sample in the next week from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, which has led the response to US cases of the virus. The first lab to isolate and study the virus, known provisionally as 2019-nCoV, was at the epicentre of the outbreak: in Wuhan, China. A team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology led by virologist Zheng-Li Shi isolated the virus from a 49-year-old woman, who developed symptoms on 23 December 2019 before becoming critically ill. Shi’s team found1 that the virus can kill cultured human cells and that it enters them through the same molecular receptor as another coronavirus: the one that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). A lab in Australia announced on 28 January that it had obtained virus samples from an infected person who had returned from China. The team was preparing to share the samples with other scientists. Labs in France, Germany and Hong Kong are also isolating and preparing to share virus samples they obtained from local patients, says Bart Haagmans, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “Probably next week we will get isolates from one of the different labs,” he says. The first genome sequence of the virus was made public in early January, and several dozen are now available. The sequences have already led to diagnostic tests for the virus, as well as efforts to study the pathogen’s spread and evolution. But scientists say that sequences are no substitute for virus samples, which are needed to test drugs and vaccines, and to study the virus in depth.

To fight coronavirus spread, the U.S. may expand ‘social distancing’ measures. But it comes at a cost -- Cancelling large public gatherings. Asking students to stay home from school. Closing down borders. Many places around the world have already implemented such drastic steps in response to the new coronavirus outbreak that originated in China and has spread to at least 27 territories outside mainland China. If the U.S., which has 11 cases so far, begins to see sustained human-to-human transmission, health officials may also have to rapidly step up their own use of “social distancing” measures to prevent further spread. Just last week, the U.S. reported its first case of human-to-human transmission, where an Illinois woman in her 60s who had traveled to Wuhan passed on the virus to her husband, who hadn’t traveled with her. And late Sunday night, officials in California reported another such case. A 57-year-old man recently returned from China, and he and his wife — who did not travel to China — are now both sick with the virus. Public health officials there were quick to point out that the threat to the U.S. still remains low. “The virus is not spreading widely across the community at this time,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, told reporters last week, adding, “We are not recommending people in the general public take additional precautions such as canceling activities or avoiding going out of their homes.”   But officials there and elsewhere in the U.S. are already thinking ahead for when they may have to put into place larger directives in communities to stop the spread of the virus, especially as the nature of the outbreak — which has infected more than 17,000 people and killed more than 360 — is changing rapidly. Already, federal health officials took the rare step late last week of quarantining all 195 American citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have originated. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the agency is “preparing as if this is the next pandemic,” meaning the worldwide spread of a disease. “If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States,” she said.

 U.S. flight rules on China visits will pose new airline challenges - (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued rules on Sunday to implement new restrictions on Americans who have recently visited China to address the threat of the coronavirus. Airline officials said Sunday the new rules will mean they must now ask all U.S.-bound passengers if they have visited mainland China. Airlines are expected to scrutinize passports of travelers, and warned the new rules could require passengers to arrive even earlier for U.S.-bound flights. American Airlines Inc said Sunday it encouraged U.S.-bound passengers “to arrive at the airport three hours early as we expect this additional screening will lengthen the normal check-in process.” The United States said Friday that for flights departing after 5 p.m. EST Sunday, it will bar entry to nearly all foreign visitors who have been in China within the last two weeks. The Trump administration is limiting flights from China and for Americans who have visited China within the last 14 days to eight major U.S. airports for enhanced screening: New York’s JFK, Chicago’s O’Hare, San Francisco, Seattle-Tacoma, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dulles in Washington, DC. Three more airports - Newark, Dallas/Fort Worth and Detroit - would be added on Monday, DHS announced on Sunday. The new rules do not impact cargo-only flights, DHS said.

The Novel Coronavirus Originating in Wuhan, China: Challenges for Global Health Governance JAMA – 30th On December 31, 2019, China reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, caused by a novel coronavirus, currently designated 2019-nCoV. Mounting cases and deaths pose major public health and governance challenges. China’s imposition of an unprecedented cordon sanitaire (a guarded area preventing anyone from leaving) in Hubei Province has also sparked controversy concerning its implementation and effectiveness. Cases have now spread to at least 4 continents. As of January 28, there are more than 4500 confirmed cases (98% in China) and more than 100 deaths.1 In this Viewpoint, we describe the current status of 2019-nCoV, assess the response, and offer proposals for strategies to bring the outbreak under control.  China rapidly isolated the novel coronavirus on January 7 and shared viral genome data with the international community 3 days later. Since that time, China has reported increasing numbers of cases and deaths, partly attributable to wider diagnostic testing as awareness of the outbreak grows. Health officials have identified evidence of transmission along a chain of 4 “generations” (a person who originally contracted the virus from a nonhuman source infected someone else, who infected another individual, who then infected another individual), suggesting sustained human-to-human transmission. Current estimates are that 2019-nCoV has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days, with potential asymptomatic transmission.1,2 Multiple countries have confirmed travel-associated cases, including Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United States, and Vietnam. Vietnam identified the first human-to-human transmission outside China. Yet fundamental knowledge gaps exist on how to accurately characterize the risk, including confirmation of the zoonotic source, efficiency of transmission, precise clinical symptoms, and the range of disease severity and case fatalities.

Early evaluation of the Wuhan City travel restrictions in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak - 2020.01.30 - From the abstract: An ongoing outbreak of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported in China and has spread worldwide. On January 23rd 2020 China shut down transit in and out of Wuhan, a major transport hub and conurbation of 11 million inhabitants, to contain the outbreak. By combining epidemiological and human mobility data we find that the travel ban slowed the dispersal of nCoV from Wuhan to other cities in China by 2.91 days (95% CI: 2.54-3.29). This delay provided time to establish and reinforce other control measures that are essential to halt the epidemic. The ongoing dissemination of 2019-nCoV provides an opportunity to examine how travel restrictions impede the spatial dispersal of an emerging infectious disease.

Top WHO official says it’s not too late to stop the new coronavirus outbreak  -  There is still reason to believe the growing coronavirus outbreak in China can be contained, a top World Health Organization official said Saturday, pointing to some evidence that the disease may not be spreading as rapidly as is feared. He also downplayed reports that people infected with the virus may be contagious before they show symptoms — a feature that, if true, would make it much harder to control.  “Until [containment] is impossible, we should keep trying,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s Emergencies Program, said in an interview with STAT. The WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday. The gargantuan efforts China is making to try to halt the spread of the virus is buying the rest of the world “precious lead time” to prepare for the possibility they might have to cope with it as well, he said: “We need to thank China for that opportunity.”  “That is not to say that the disease won’t get ahead of the Chinese authorities completely or get ahead of the other countries that are containing it,” Ryan said. “But there’s enough evidence to suggest that this virus can still be contained.” There haven’t been many reports of health worker infections, a feature that fueled the earlier outbreaks of SARS and MERS, coronaviruses that are related to this new pathogen, provisionally called 2019-nCoV. Likewise, there has not been a lot of spread from cases discovered in other countries in tourists from China or people returning from China. Still, numbers of cases are growing in big leaps — China reported 2,102 new cases and 46 additional deaths on Saturday. And those numbers might be higher still but for the fact that China has a backlog of tests to be processed. Ryan said the problem isn’t testing reagents — the country has indicated it has adequate supplies — but the sheer number of tests that need to be run.

Wuhan Coronavirus Looks Increasingly Like a Pandemic, Experts Say NYT. Rapidly rising caseloads alarm researchers, who fear the virus may make its way across the globe. But scientists cannot yet predict how many deaths may result. The Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now likely to become a pandemic that circles the globe, according to many of the world’s leading infectious disease experts. The prospect is daunting. A pandemic — an ongoing epidemic on two or more continents — may well have global consequences, despite the extraordinary travel restrictions and quarantines now imposed by China and other countries, including the United States. Scientists do not yet know how lethal the new coronavirus is, however, so there is uncertainty about how much damage a pandemic might cause. But there is growing consensus that the pathogen is readily transmitted between humans. The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading more like influenza, which is highly transmissible, than like its slow-moving viral cousins, SARS and MERS, scientists have found.  “It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know.” In the last three weeks, the number of lab-confirmed cases has soared from about 50 in China to more than 17,000 in at least 23 countries; there have been more than 360 deaths.  But various epidemiological models estimate that the real number of cases is 100,000 or even more. While that expansion is not as rapid as that of flu or measles, it is an enormous leap beyond what virologists saw when SARS and MERS emerged. When SARS was vanquished in July 2003 after spreading for nine months, only 8,098 cases had been confirmed. MERS has been circulating since 2012, but there have been only about 2,500 known cases.  The biggest uncertainty now, experts said, is how many people around the world will die. SARS killed about 10 percent of those who got it, and MERS now kills about one of three.

Coronavirus Concerns Spur Nigerian Authorities to Close Chinese Market in Abuja - Nigerian officials raided and shut down a popular Chinese supermarket in Abuja this week over concerns about the spreading coronavirus.  The supermarket is a major gathering spot for Chinese citizens and expatriates living in the Nigerian capital. The aisles and checkout area of the Panda supermarket are usually packed with shoppers. But all were empty Friday, two days after officials of Nigeria’s Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) closed the market. The head of the commission, Babtunde Irukera, said the market was closed because of concern about imported products that could carry the coronavirus. "The operatives of the place admitted that those things were imported from China,” Irukera said. “Our suspicion is not whether those products that we saw there are host carriers of the virus, but it was more of the fact that ... is there a potential for a risk?"   More than 200 people have died since the virus was confirmed in Wuhan, China, and nearly 10,000 others are infected and fighting symptoms that include fever and respiratory difficulties. The WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.  So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the African continent, although one suspected case has been reported in Botswana.

Myanmar migrant workers pour in due to virus fears - A total of 153 Myanmar migrant workers arrived back in Muse on the evening of 1 February due to the mounting fears of Wuhan coronavirus in China. The returnees went home asking for the help from Myanmar Counsel Office in China. A worker said: “Normally, the trip to Ruli-Kyalkhaung takes about one hour. Chinese authorities have restricted travels from region to region. We arrived at Myanmar border gate at 10 pm.” Normally, Nandaw China-Myanmar border checkpoint is closed at 8.30 pm. U Thaung Tun from Muse Philanthropic Organization said: “They returned to Myanmar due to the virus fears. Chinese employers are unable to return to their factories and plantations as they go home during the Chinese New Year. That’s why, workers face a shortage of food. Some workers got salaries while other did not get their salaries. Employers deduct an advance payment of 1,000 Chinese Yuan as the workers go home before the completion of work.” Myanmar migrants are from Lashio, Taunggyi, Kantbalu, Monywa and Butalin Townships. More workers are planning to go home. On 29 January, 116 Myanmar workers from Monywa, Kanbalu, Taungdwingyi and Kyaukpadung Townships went home from Ruli of China Likewise, Myanmar workers from sugarcane plantations in China are reentering Myanmar via Yanlongyaine and Chinshwehaw border checkpoints. Health staff in Myanmar are carrying out thermal screening on the returnees at the border checkpoints.

‘The results look good so far:’ Thai doctors tout promising treatment for Wuhan coronavirus Fortune - A cocktail of antiviral drugs appeared effective in treating a seriously ill coronavirus patient, a Thai health official said. The HIV medicines lopinavir and ritonavir, which are sold by AbbVie Inc. as the product Kaletra, was used on three patients in conjunction with the anti-flu medication oseltamivir, sold by Roche Holding AG and Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. as Tamiflu, Somkiat Lalitwongsa, director of the Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok told reporters Monday. Kaletra is already being studied in a randomized, controlled trial -- the gold standard for testing new medical products -- in novel coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China. The decision by Thai doctors to give the flu drug was based on research that indicated it helped some patients afflicted with the more-deadly coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome. A study by researchers in France recommended it be used in these so-called MERS patients, but discontinued if tests show they don’t have the flu.“There’s not enough evidence to support the effectiveness just yet,” Somkiat said. “But we report to contribute to the medical community globally. The results look good so far.”Of three patients in Thailand on whom the unique three-drug therapy was initiated, two are continuing to receive the medications, Somkiat said. Treatment was discontinued in one patient who developed a rash. One of the two continuing to receive the medicines has tested negative to the 2019-nCoV virus, he said.“Because there’s no standard procedure yet, we’re trying new combinations of drugs,” Somkiat said. Thailand has 19 confirmed cases of the so-called 2019-nCoV virus. Eleven are hospitalized and the rest have returned home. The nation is also monitoring 311 people for possible infections in hospitals as of Sunday, according to a health ministry statement.

Coronavirus cases hit 20,000 as first death reported outside of China - As of Monday evening there were more than 20,000 confirmed cases in more than two dozen countries, the vast majority of them in China, according to the World Health Organization. There have been at least 425 deaths in China, and one in the Philippines. U.S. officials declared a public health emergency last week and, as a result, foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last two weeks and aren't immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents will be temporarily banned from entering the U.S. Under the orders of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, anyone entering the U.S. who has been in China's Hubei province in the last two weeks will be subject to a two-week quarantine. The first 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are under federal quarantine and will remain at a military base in Southern California until mid-February. The government hasn't issued such a quarantine order in more than 50 years.Of the 11 confirmed cases in the U.S., six are in California, one is in Washington state, one is in Arizona, two are in Illinois, and one is in Massachusetts. The State Department has warned Americans to avoid all travel to China due to the "rapidly spreading" outbreak. The decision came after the WHO designated the outbreak a global public health emergency.  The State Department is organizing more charter flights out of China. CBS News has learned four military bases will be used to quarantine evacuees while they're monitored for symptoms. Chinese officials announced Monday that 20,438 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, an increase of 3,235 cases from Sunday evening. Officials also reported that 64 people died in the Hubei province, bringing the country's death toll to 425.

Coronavirus: India cancels valid visas to Chinese, foreigners who visited China in last two weeks As the coronavirus death toll mounted to 425, India on Tuesday further tightened visa rules by cancelling the existing visas for Chinese and foreigners who had visited the country in the last two weeks. On February 2, India temporarily suspended e-visa facility for Chinese travellers and foreigners residing in China in view of the coronavirus outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The death toll in China's coronavirus rose sharply to 425 with 64 deaths on Monday and the number of those infected with the deadly disease rose to 20,438, Chinese health authorities said on Tuesday. “All those who are already in India (with regular or e-visa) and had travelled from China after January 15 are requested to contact the hotline number of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Government of India (+91-11-23978046 and email:,” the announcement by the Indian Embassy here said. About the validity of the visas, it said the “Embassy of India and our Consulates have been receiving several queries from Chinese citizens as well as other foreign nationals, who are based out of China or visited China in the last 2 weeks, as to whether they can use their valid single/multiple entry visas to travel to India.” “It is clarified that existing visas are no longer valid. Intending visitors to India should contact the Indian Embassy in Beijing ( or th .. Read more at:

9,000 Hong Kong hospital workers are threatening to strike amid coronavirus outbreak if the government doesn't close its border with mainland China - More than 3,000 hospital workers in Hong Kong have voted in favor of a strike that could begin as early as Monday in a move to pressure the Hong Kong government to close its borders with mainland China amid the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. According to a report Saturday from The South China Morning Post, 3,123 voted in favor of the strike. Just 10 people voted against the measure, while 23 others abstained, the South China Morning Post reported. The workers are members of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, formed in December and consisting of 18,000 doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees, per the SCMP. Members representing the organization told the SCMP that the low turnout was due to members who were working or not in the city to vote. More than 9,000 medical workers have signed a petition, pledging to join the potential strike, the SCMP reported. Non-essential hospital workers were expected to strike on Monday, with the rest of the workers beginning to strike throughout the rest of next week, the Hong Kong news outlet said. The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said it was closely monitoring the strike. There are around 77,000 total workers at the public hospitals, including 6,500 doctors and 27,000 nurses, the SCMP said.

Cruise ship passengers must stay on board in port near Tokyo during virus checks -- The “Diamond Princess” cruise ship will remain in the Japanese port of Yokohama overnight, city officials announced Tuesday, after it was revealed that a former passenger has contracted the Wuhan coronavirus. Its operator, Princess Cruises, halted plans for passengers to leave the vessel at the end of a 16-day Asia cruise after it was informed that a man who disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive with the virus several days later. “While on the ship he did not visit the ship’s medical centre to report any symptoms or illness. The hospital reports that he is in stable condition and the family members traveling with him remain symptom-free,” the cruise company said in a statement. Japanese authorities are racing to contain a possible outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, locking down the vessel and the roughly 2,500 passengers and 1,000 crew on board. Health ministry officials said more passengers than expected need to be temporarily quarantined while being tested, and it could take another day to finish the screenings. No one is allowed to leave the ship while officials test the group. Officials would not confirm how many people are being tested. So far there are no confirmed cases of the virus on the ship.

China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship - (Reuters) - The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday, as two U.S. airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship. China’s National Health Commission said another 65 deaths had been recorded on Tuesday, bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged late last year. There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city, the epicenter of the virus, died on Tuesday. A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first virus-related overseas fatality. Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324. Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan’s health minister said, a figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and crew continued. The 10 confirmed cases were among 31 results from 273 people tested so far. There are around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Corp (CCL.N) ship. Another 176 cases have been reported in 24 other countries and regions, according to the World Health Organisation. As the economic impacts of the virus spread, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in U.S. exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect later this month, the first time a Trump administration official has said the outbreak would hamper the deal. “It is true the trade deal, the Phase 1 trade deal, the export boom from that trade deal will take longer because of the Chinese virus,” Kudlow said, adding he did not believe the virus would have a catastrophic effect on business supply chains.

Shocking Footage Inside China's Newly-Constructed Hospitals, 'Like Jail Cells Where You Go To Die’ - China has gone from constructing ghost cities to now erecting hospitals to treat coronavirus patients. As we've reported, China could be hiding the true number of confirmed cases and deaths, and in some cases, not reporting the deaths at all, and "immediately" hauling the bodies down the street to a local crematorium, effectively burning the evidence.  The government's official death toll on Saturday night topped 300, with more than 14,550 cases reported globally. China is attempting to show the world, it has been proactive and responsible during the outbreak, and in one way that it can optically please everyone that it has everything under control, is to build a hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of where the deadly virus supposedly began.UK researchers have warned upwards of 75,000 could be infected in Wuhan, as more than 137,600 have been placed under observation across China. While China and the World Health Organization (WHO) attempt to calm fears of a deadly virus outbreak, the actions by Beijing in locking down dozens of cities and quarantining 50 million people or more, suggest the situation remains severe.  RT News reports that Wuhan's new 25,000-square-meter hospital, one of two new facilities commissioned in response to the coronavirus outbreak, has been completed.  Construction started on Jan. 24, has made national press and headlines across the world for China's quick response in handling the epidemic. State-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN) published satellite images of the facility's construction, declaring the hospital was completed on Saturday and can start receiving patients next week.  Here's another video showing the prefabricated building, basically built with shipping containers, will house several thousand beds.

China says Wuhan coronavirus victims who die should be quickly cremated without funerals as death toll rises - China has banned funerals, burials and other related activities involving the corpses of deceased victims of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, according to new trial regulations issued Saturday to slow the spread. China's National Health Commission (NHC), together with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security, issued new regulations Saturday stating that all victims who succumb to the virus must be cremated at the nearest facility. "No farewell ceremonies or other funeral activities involving the corpse shall be held," the NHC announcement reads. The new regulations come as the death toll for the novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019) continues to rise. The NHC reported in a separate update that as of the end of Saturday, 304 people have died and 14,380 people have been infected by the virus, which has spread across all of China and to around two dozen other countries. In China, according to the NHC guidelines issued Saturday, if a coronavirus victims dies, the following measures are to be taken as quickly as possible. First, the medical staff at the medical facility where the person was being treated are required to disinfect and seal the remains. It is forbidden to open the remains once they have been sealed. Second, the medical staff will issue a death certificate and notify the family. At this point, the local funeral services facility will be contacted. Third, funeral services personnel will then collect the body, deliver it to the relevant facility, and directly cremate the remains. A cremation certificate will then be issued. No one is permitted to visit the remains during this process. Relatives will, however, be allowed to take the remains after cremation has been completed and documented, the NHC explained in its Saturday announcement. An earlier announcement from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, according to the state-run People's Daily, has advised people to hold quick and easy funerals and avoid large gatherings to help prevent the virus from spreading further.

Tencent may have accidentally leaked real data on Wuhan virus deaths | Taiwan News — As many experts question the veracity of China's statistics for the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Tencent over the weekend seems to have inadvertently released what is potentially the actual number of infections and deaths, which were astronomically higher than official figures. On late Saturday evening (Feb. 1), Tencent, on its webpage titled "Epidemic Situation Tracker", showed confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019nCoV) in China as standing at 154,023, 10 times the official figure at the time. It listed the number of suspected cases as 79,808, four times the official figure. The number of cured cases was only 269, well below the official number that day of 300. Most ominously, the death toll listed was 24,589, vastly higher than the 300 officially listed that day. Moments later, Tencent updated the numbers to reflect the government's "official" numbers that day. Netizens noticed that Tencent has on at least three occasions posted extremely high numbers, only to quickly lower them to government-approved statistics. Feb. 1 chart showing higher numbers (left), chart showing "official" numbers (right). (Internet image) Netizens also noticed that each time the screen with the large numbers appears, it shows a comparison with the previous day's data which demonstrates a "reasonable" incremental increase, much like comparisons of official numbers. This has led some netizens to speculate that Tencent has two sets of data, the real data and "processed" data. Some are speculating that a coding problem could be causing the real "internal" data to accidentally appear. Others believe that someone behind the scenes is trying to leak the real numbers. However, the "internal" data held by Beijing may not reflect the true extent of the epidemic. According to multiple sources in Wuhan, many coronavirus patients are unable to receive treatment and die outside of hospitals. A severe shortage of test kits also leads to a lower number of diagnosed cases of infection and death. In addition, there have been many reports of doctors being ordered to list other forms of death instead of coronavirus to keep the death toll artificially low.

Hundreds more Americans evacuated from coronavirus epicenter in China as death toll rises - The deadly new coronavirus continued to spread Tuesday, with more than 24,000 cases and at least 492 deaths confirmed worldwide. The vast majority of the infections, and all but two of the deaths, were in mainland China.The Pentagon said very early Wednesday that two more chartered flights evacuating about 350 Americans from the virus epicenter in Wuhan, China were scheduled to land in Southern California Wednesday. The first such flight brought 195 Americans to an Air Force Base there last week.Chinese officials have agreed to let American experts into the country as part of a World Health Organization team in the coming days, and senior members of the Communist Party have admitted "shortcomings and deficiencies" in the country's response. President Xi Jinping declared "a people's war of prevention" against the epidemic Monday, threatening punishment for anyone deemed to be neglecting their duties as control efforts ramped up. There were 11 cases confirmed in the U.S. as of Tuesday, including six in California, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois and one in Massachusetts. More than 80 other Americans were being tested for the virus. The U.S. government declared a public health emergency last week and barred foreign nationals from entering the country within two weeks of visiting China, unless they are immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The State Department has warned Americans against all travel to China.

China Focus: Chinese cities on move to bail out epidemic-hit businesses -  (Xinhua) -- China's local governments and e-commerce platforms are moving to reduce rents and offer financial support to help small businesses tide over the novel coronavirus outbreak. Starting on Sunday, cities including Shanghai, Beijing, Qingdao and Suzhou have rolled out policies to support small and medium-sized enterprises by reducing their burdens of loans, rent and social security payments. The city of Beijing has extended the collection period of social insurance premiums to the end of July for companies in tourism, catering and other hard-hit industries, allowing them to delay their payment during the novel coronavirus epidemic. Suzhou in China's major export province Jiangsu has asked banks to increase financial support to small and micro-enterprises. It also said small and medium enterprises leasing state-owned properties will have their rent waived for one month and halved for another two months. Meanwhile, Suzhou, Shanghai and Qingdao have proposed to return half of the unemployment insurance premiums paid in the previous year to employers that do not lay off workers. The slew of supportive policies came as experts warned that small businesses, a major force in the job market and livelihood-related services, are more susceptible to the virus's economic repercussions.

China Accuses US Of 'Inciting Panic' Over Coronavirus Outbreak - Over the weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the ministry's spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed outrage that some countries halted trade and flights to and from the country because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.Now Hua is back out bashing the US on Monday for allegedly intentionally spreading fear following the outbreak, reported Reuters.She said the US was the first country to withdraw embassy staff from the Wuhan region, and first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers (though we're not certain that's true).She also accused the US of failing to follow through with promised assistance."The U.S. government hasn’t provided any substantial assistance to us, but it was the first to evacuate personnel from its consulate in Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of its embassy staff, and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday. #ChinaVirus — Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying actually BLAMES #US for “spreading fear” about #coronavirus by withdrawing their diplomatic staff & banning travelers from #China, instead of “offering any assistance”.— well I just recall REJECTED @CDCgov three times. — @Dystopia - #HongKong is NOT China (@Dystopia992) February 3, 2020During the briefing, she continued to single out the US for stoking fear and offering no significant assistance to support efforts to curb the outbreak (despite the fact that the Trump Administration has offered to send supplies AND personnel). The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency during its third straight day of emergency meetings in Switzerland last week. However, seemingly at the behest of the Chinese government, officials stressed that global trade and flights to China shouldn't be halted.

The Pandemic of Xenophobia and Scapegoating - Even as public health experts race to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, a potentially more fearsome and shadowy pandemic—aimed at uninfected people unjustly fingered as potential carriers—grows.  Calls for bans on the movement of all peoples of Asian descent—which would subject millions of people to unnecessary and potentially life-threatening entrapment—are trending on social media, while in real life, the normal rules of social cohesion have started to break down. Outside a Chinatown restaurant in Sydney, Australia on January 29, for example, a 60-year-old man died from cardiac arrest, while bystanders reportedly refused to provide CPR for fear of catching coronavirus. Societies facing novel pathogens have often engaged in scapegoating of marginalized populations, especially when the infective source can be linked to a distant place and the disease associated with a racially distinct “foreign” peoples. During the nineteenth century, rather than curtail commercial shipping, which ferried cholera around the globe, rattled cholera-stricken societies from New York to London turned their ire onto Irish immigrants instead. In 1832, a group of Irish immigrants, irrationally scorned as carriers, were first quarantined, and then secretly massacred and buried in a mass grave. Erroneously blamed for HIV in the early 1980s, Haitians were beaten and harassed. Falsely scapegoated as carriers of SARS in 2003, Canadians of Chinese descent were kicked out of their homes and their businesses avoided. There’s reason to suspect the pandemic of xenophobia in the wake of today’s novel coronavirus will wreak similar havoc. Public fears of contamination by invasive foreigners reached a fevered pitch even before the first case of pneumonia at the Wuhan seafood market hit the news. Right-wing populist leaders have for years singled out foreigners as vectors of crime, terror and disease, as if they alone posed such threats. In Bulgaria, a 2013 study of articles about migrants found that the two most commonly appearing words were “threat” and “disease.” In Greece, right-wing vigilantes have marched into hospitals to evict sickly migrants. In the US, Trump and his allies have long raised alarms about the contagiousness of unwanted foreigners, ignoring that of the rest of the populace. “Tremendous infectious disease,” Donald Trump falsely proclaimed as he announced his candidacy for the White House in 2015, “is pouring across the border.” In 2018, Fox News featured a commentator who claimed that Central American migrants would contaminate the country with smallpox and leprosy, an especially ludicrous claim, given that smallpox was eradicated in 1980.

Social Media Networks Vow To Censor Misinformation About Coronavirus - Yesterday, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, and search engine Google announced their intentions to censor – um, crack down on – so-called “misinformation” about the coronavirus that is spreading across the globe.  Before we get started here, admittedly, there’s some absolutely terrible advice out there about preventing or curing coronavirus. There are some really wild stories about the origin of the virus which may or may not be true. But the issue here is that social media networks are setting themselves up as the arbiters of truth, making it seem as though the rest of us are incapable of separating good information from bad information. Facebook is taking action. Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, wrote: Our global network of third-party fact-checkers are continuing their work reviewing content and debunking false claims that are spreading related to the coronavirus. When they rate information as false, we limit its spread on Facebook and Instagram and show people accurate information from these partners. We also send notifications to people who already shared or are trying to share this content to alert them that it’s been fact-checked. We will also start to remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them. We are doing this as an extension of our existing policies to remove content that could cause physical harm. We’re focusing on claims that are designed to discourage treatment or taking appropriate precautions. This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods — like drinking bleach cures the coronavirus — or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available. We will also block or restrict hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram, and are conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much of this content as we can. (source) So, don’t worry, friends. “Independent fact-checkers” from the Ministry of Truth will protect you from conspiracy theories and false claims.

The New Coronavirus Is a Truly Modern Epidemic  - On Thursday, Nahid Bhadelia left rural Uganda, where she had been helping to set up a center for studying viruses such as Ebola. Before she left, she was peppered with concerned questions about when 2019-nCoV—the new coronavirus that has rapidly spread through China—would appear there. The virus had already reached 23 other countries, and when Bhadelia, an infectious disease physician at Boston University School of Medicine, arrived in Amsterdam on Friday morning for a layover, she noticed that a quarter of the people in Schiphol Airport seemed to be wearing face masks. When she landed in Paris for a second stop, she paused to deal with the barrage of tweets and emails that she had been getting about the new virus. “I’m not as worried by the disease as from people’s reactions to it,” she told me over Skype. “People are freaking out.” The virus emerged in the city of Wuhan in December, and has infected more than 17,200 people. The large majority of cases have been in mainland China, but more than 140 have been detected elsewhere. At least 361 people have died in China, and one in the Philippines. In response, the World Health Organization recently declared a “public-health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC)—a designation that it has used on five previous occasions, for epidemics of H1N1 swine flu, polio, Ebola, Zika, and Ebola again. The invocation of a PHEIC is a sign that the new coronavirus should be taken seriously—and as the sixth such invocation in a little more than a decade, it is a reminder that we live in an age of epidemics. Each new crisis follows a familiar playbook, as scientists, epidemiologists, health-care workers, and politicians race to characterize and contain the new threat. Each epidemic is also different, and each is a mirror that reflects the society it affects. In the new coronavirus, we see a world that is more connected than ever by international travel, but that has also succumbed to growing isolationism and xenophobia. We see a time when scientific research and the demand for news, the spread of misinformation and the spread of a virus, all happen at a relentless, blistering pace. The new crisis is very much the kind of epidemic we should expect, given the state of the world in 2020. “It’s almost as if the content is the same but the amplitude is different,” Bhadelia said. “There’s just a greater frenzy, and is that a function of the disease, or a function of the changed world? It’s unclear.”

Epidemiologist Warns, You Can't Keep The Coronavirus Out Of The US -- The United States has implemented travel restrictions in recent days to keep the fast-moving coronavirus that has crippled much of China from spreading across America. But one epidemiologist is warning it won’t work...  “I have never seen instances where that has worked when we are talking about a virus at this scale,” epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, testified before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Respiratory viruses like the one that’s sickened more than 24,300 across the globe and killed at least 490 in China “just move quickly,” she said, according to a report by CNBC. “They [new viral outbreaks] are hard to spot because they look like many other diseases. It’s very hard to interrupt them at borders. You would need to have complete surveillance in order to do that. And we simply don’t have that,” she said. She also says that worrying about stopping the spread of the virus, when you can’t do that is diverting resources away from fighting the disease. So far, the best way to fight the virus is to wear a face mask.  Even a surgical mask is better than nothing. Masks have been slowly becoming available for purchase again, however, the price on them has risen quite a bit.  There is obviously more of a demand than supply right now. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, announced the hearing last week. “While the threat of the coronavirus is relatively low in the United States at this time, we must be vigilant and prepared,” Bera said in a statement.  “I look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses on ways in which we can plan and respond to this virus. Congress needs to ensure the administration has the tools it needs to respond to and limit the outbreak.” The U.S. government has implemented mandatory quarantine measures for the first time in about 50 years, health officials said last week. Flights from mainland China are being funneled through 11 U.S. airports, officials said, where all passengers are being screened for symptoms. Travelers from Hubei province are being quarantined for 14 days.

The past 24 hours saw the highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day - The most cases of coronavirus confirmed in a single day were reported in the past 24 hours, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva Wednesday that there were 24,363 confirmed cases and 490 dead in China as of Wednesday.“In the last 24 hours we had the most cases in a single day since the outbreak started,” Tedros said. Health officials reported coronavirus infections in mainland China rose sharply on Tuesday, with 3,887 additional cases and 65 new deaths reported. WHO said the virus has also been confirmed in 191 cases in 24 countries and one death in the Philippines and another in Hong Kong. Of those, 31 cases are in people with no travel history to China, but all are close contacts of a confirmed case or of someone from Wuhan. “The relatively small number of cases outside China gives us a window of opportunity to prevent this outbreak from becoming a broader global crisis,” Tedros said. “Our greatest concern is about the potential for spread in countries with weaker health systems, and who lack the capacity to detect or diagnose.” Tedros said Wednesday WHO has tapped $9 million of funding from its contingency fund for emergencies. The organization has also sent medical supplies and diagnostic tests around the globe. WHO is also launching a “strategy preparedness and response plan,” and is requesting $675 million to “prevent, detect and diagnose onward transmission,” he said. Tedros urged people not to panic, saying, “We understand that people are worried and concerned — and rightly so. But this is not a time for fear — it’s a time for rational, evidence-based action and investment, while we still have a window of opportunity to bring this outbreak under control.”

Data suggests virus infections under-reported, exaggerating fatality rate - (Reuters) - Fatalities from the coronavirus epidemic are overwhelmingly concentrated in central China’s Wuhan city, which accounts for over 73% of deaths despite having only one-third the number of confirmed infections. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, one person has died for every 23 infections reported. That number drops to one on 50 nationally, and outside mainland China, one death has been recorded per 114 confirmed cases. Experts say the discrepancy is mainly due to under-reporting of milder virus cases in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province that are grappling with shortages in testing equipment and beds. “In an outbreak your really have to interpret fatality rates with a very skeptical eye, because often it’s only the very severe cases that are coming to people’s attention,” said Amesh Adalja, an expert in pandemic preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. “It’s very hard to say those numbers represent anything like the true burden of infection” said Adalja, who estimates current fatality rates are likely below 1%. As of Tuesday, 24,551 cases have been confirmed globally. A 1% fatality rate would put total cases at over 49,000, based on the current death toll of 492.

Study claiming new coronavirus can be transmitted by people without symptoms was flawed - Science. A paper published on 30 January in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) about the first four people in Germany infected with a novel coronavirus made many headlines because it seemed to confirm what public health experts feared: that someone who has no symptoms from infection with the virus, named 2019-nCoV, can still transmit it to others. That might make controlling the virus much harder.Chinese researchers had previously suggested asymptomatic people might transmit the virus but had not presented clear-cut evidence. “There’s no doubt after reading [the NEJM] paper that asymptomatic transmission is occurring,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told journalists. “This study lays the question to rest.”But now, it turns out that information was wrong. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German government’s public health agency, has written a letter to NEJM to set the record straight, even though it was not involved in the paper.  The letter in NEJM described a cluster of infections that began after a businesswoman from Shanghai visited a company near Munich on 20 and 21 January, where she had a meeting with the first of four people who later fell ill. Crucially, she wasn’t sick at the time: “During her stay, she had been well with no sign or symptoms of infection but had become ill on her flight back to China,” the authors wrote. “The fact that asymptomatic persons are potential sources of 2019-nCoV infection may warrant a reassessment of transmission dynamics of the current outbreak.”

Only a handful of children have been diagnosed with the coronavirus — and experts have a few guesses as to why  - Scientists are still learning about the coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 500 people and infected more than 24,000 in China. One of the biggest mysteries is why so few children have gotten sick. The outbreak was first reported on December 31, but no children younger than 15 years old had been diagnosed as of January 22. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine said at the time that “children might be less likely to become infected or, if infected, may show milder symptoms” than adults.Since then, doctors have recorded a few one-off cases among children: a 9-month-old girl in Beijing, a child in Germany whose father was diagnosed with the virus first, and a child in Shenzhen, China, who was infected but displayed no symptoms. On Wednesday, Chinese authorities confirmed that an infant in Wuhan, China, had tested positive for the virus 30 hours after being born; the baby’s mother is a coronavirus patient.But for the most part, kids do not seem very vulnerable to the virus.“From everything that we’ve seen, and for reasons that are unclear to us, it does seem that this is primarily impacting adults,” Richard Martinello, an associate professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider. “Some of the reports that have come out so far from China have been from adult hospitals and not pediatric hospitals, so it could just be that we’re not seeing that data yet.”

Novel coronavirus’ death rate going down – WHO – The case fatality rate of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is “going down,” the World Health Organization said Tuesday. WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe noted that the 2019-nCoV’s death rate fell to about 2 percent, during a Senate hearing on the government's preparations in addressing the 2019-nCoV outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The WHO previously said that the death rate was slightly higher -- at 2.3 percent. As of Tuesday, a total of 427 people have been reported to have died after getting infected with the virus, with two of the deaths reported outside of China. The WHO representative said that 88 percent of the 427 deaths were over 60 years old. The most affected gender was male, comprising 76 percent of the overall deaths. Abeyasinghe also said that 70 percent of the fatalities had underlying diseases. The number of deaths from the 2019-nCov has overtaken that from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China in 2002, which was 349 deaths, CNN reported. On Saturday, a 44-year-old Chinese man who visited the Philippines died from health complications after he caught the new virus, making him the first reported 2019-nCoV related fatality outside of mainland China. The second death outside the world’s most populous country was recorded in Hong Kong, one of China’s special administrative regions, bringing the official global death toll to 427 as of Tuesday morning. Epidemiology While the 2019-nCoV’s death rate was going down, the cases are “rapidly increasing,” adding that the virus spread remains a health risk globally, Abeyasinghe said. The official said that 48.7 percent of the 2019-nCoV cases affect individuals aged 40 to 64 years old, and added that the second most affected age group is over 65 year-old.

Coronavirus Update: Governments Prepare for Pandemic - Just a couple of weeks ago, scientists held out hope the new coronavirus could be largely contained within China. Now they know its spread can be minimized at best, and governments are planning for the worst. “It is not a matter of if—it is a matter of when,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “There is not a doubt this is going to end up in most countries eventually.” The U.S., with 11 diagnosed cases so far, plans to quarantine at military bases potentially more than 1,000 Americans evacuated from China’s Hubei province. State health departments are activating emergency programs to isolate the potentially infected—a piecemeal approach that could range from specialized facilities to hotels. Some hospitals have tents in stock to use as emergency isolation wards. “This is about mitigation at this point, and keeping the global spread as minimal as possible,” said Rebecca Katz, a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University. Other countries, including the U.K. and France, are also pulling some of their citizens out of China. The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern to guide developing countries that might not have robust health-care systems that could withstand the virus, which is known for now as 2019-nCoV. The outbreak has made more than 25,000 people sick in at least least two dozen countries. The vast majority of cases—and every death but two thus far—have been in mainland China, concentrated primarily in the Hubei province. Total containment isn’t in the cards, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Given the nature of this virus and how it’s spreading, that would be impossible. Our goal is to slow this thing down.” Measures taken in the U.S. have been criticized in China, where officials said the Americans are stoking fear and overreacting. The CDC responded that it has no choice. The infection is spreading rapidly and humans have no protection against it, Messonnier said. While most cases appear to be mild, the worry is that it will spread to a large number of people and turn deadly in those most vulnerable. “This is an unprecedented situation and we are taking aggressive measures,” she said. “We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic.”

 Experts envision two scenarios if the new coronavirus isn’t contained -- With the new coronavirus spreading from person to person (possibly including from people without symptoms), reaching four continents, and traveling faster than SARS, driving it out of existence is looking increasingly unlikely.It’s still possible that quarantines and travel bans will first halt the outbreak and then eradicate the microbe, and the world will never see 2019-nCoV again, as epidemiologist Dr. Mike Ryan, head of health emergencies at the World Health Organization, told STAT on Saturday. That’s what happened with SARS in 2003. Many experts, however, view that happy outcome as increasingly unlikely. “Independent self-sustaining outbreaks [of 2019-nCoV] in major cities globally could become inevitable because of substantial exportation of pre-symptomatic cases,” scientists at the University of Hong Kong concluded in a paper published in The Lancet last week. Researchers are therefore asking what seems like a defeatist question but whose answer has huge implications for public policy: What will a world with endemic 2019-nCoV — circulating permanently in the human population — be like?  Experts see two possibilities, each with unique consequences: 2019-nCoV joins the four coronaviruses now circulating in people. “I can imagine a scenario where this becomes a fifth endemic human coronavirus,” said Stephen Morse of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, an epidemiologist and expert on emerging infectious diseases. “We don’t pay much attention to them because they’re so mundane,” especially compared to seasonal flu. Although little-known outside health care and virology circles, the current four “are already part of the winter-spring seasonal landscape of respiratory disease,” Adalja said. Two of them, OC43 and 229E, were discovered in the 1960s but had circulated in cows and bats, respectively, for centuries. The others, HKU1 and NL63, werediscovered after the 2003-2004 SARS outbreak, also after circulating in animals. It’s not known how long they’d existed in people before scientists noticed, but since they jumped from animals to people before the era of virology, it isn’t known whether that initial jump triggered widespread disease. On the decidedly darker side, a fifth endemic coronavirus means more sickness and death from respiratory infections.  “I think there is a reasonable probability that this becomes the fifth community-acquired coronavirus,” Adalja said, something he expanded on in his blog. Webby agreed: “I have a little bit of hope that, OK, we’ll put up with a couple of years of heightened [2019-nCoV] activity before settling down to something like the other four coronaviruses.” The “seasonal” reflects the fact that viruses can’t tolerate high heat and humidity, preferring the cool and dry conditions of winter and spring, Webby said. That’s why flu, as well as the four coronaviruses, are less prevalent in warm, humid months. If the new coronavirus follows suit, then containment efforts plus the arrival of summer should drive infections to near zero. But also like flu viruses, that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Single Coronavirus Patient Estimated To Infect 3.6 People: Study - A new study has put the reproductive number of the novel coronavirus -- the average number of people who will contract the virus from one infected person -- at up to 3.6. According to researchers at the University of Hong Kong, the so-called R naught of the virus is between 2.24 and 3.58, based on their analysis of data in China in mid-January. The figure is significantly higher than the earlier estimate of 1.4 to 2.5 people by the World Health Organization. To stop an outbreak, the reproduction number has to be brought below one. The new virus appears to be more contagious than seasonal flu and on par with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2015. The study was published late last month in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Brace For Impact- Global Pandemic Already Baked In - 31 If we accept what is known about the virus, then logic, science and probabilities all suggest we brace for impact. Here's a summary of what is known or credibly estimated about the 2019-nCoV virus as of January 31, 2019:

  • 1. A statistical study from highly credentialed Chinese academics estimates the virus has an RO (R-naught) of slightly over 4, meaning every carrier infects four other people on average. This is very high. Run-of-the-mill flu viruses average about 1.3 (i.e. each carrier infects 1.3 other people while contagious). Chris Martenson (PhD) goes over the study in some detail in this video. Let's say the study over-estimates the contagiousness due to insufficient data, etc. Even an RO of 3 means the number of infected people rises geometrically (parabolically). This matters because it negates any plan to track every potentially infected person who came in contact with a carrier. Coronaviruses tend to be contagious in relatively close contact (within two meters / six feet) but masks may not be enough protection, as it may spread by contact with surfaces and through the eyes. 
  • 2. Along with its contagiousness, the most consequential feature of this virus is that asymptomatic carriers can transmit it to other people, who will also be unaware they've been infected with the pathogen. This means carriers have no reason to self-quarantine until they develop symptoms, which may be a week or more after they've begun spreading the virus to others. It's easy to imagine a situation where an asymptomatic carrier from Wuhan took a flight to Beijing, infecting passengers and people in the airport, who then got on flights going to international destinations, where a few days later they become asymptomatic transmitters of the virus. (The passenger from Wuhan might also have boarded a flight to the U.S. in Beijing, before flights from Beijing were restricted.) By the time the initial individual carrier from Wuhan develops symptoms, the virus has already gone through two geometric expansions and everyone infected has no idea they even have the virus.
  • 3. Nobody seems to be tracking the origin point of travelers. If an asymptomatic carrier from Wuhan took a train or flight to Beijing last week (exposing other passengers to the pathogen) and then boarded a flight from Beijing to SFO (San Francisco), the presumption would be that the traveler is from Beijing. Tens of thousands of people have boarded flights in China over the past month and deplaned in international destinations. The likelihood that some consequential percentage of these travelers originated from Wuhan, or were infected by someone from Wuhan, is high.

Chinese doctor who raised early alarm over coronavirus dies; Beijing declares 'people's war' –  (Reuters) - One of the first Chinese doctors who tried to warn the world about a new coronavirus died on Friday from the illness, prompting an outpouring of sorrow on Chinese social media, as Beijing declared a “people’s war” on the fast-spreading outbreak. Li Wenliang, 34, was an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the outbreak. He and seven others were reprimanded by Wuhan police last month for spreading “illegal and false” information about the coronavirus after he warned doctors on social media about seven cases of a mysterious new virus to try to help other physicians. Many ordinary Chinese people on social media described Li as a hero and a tragic figure, reflecting the incompetence of local authorities to tackle the emergence of the virus early in the outbreak. On Friday, China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, reported 69 new deaths, taking the total in China to over 600. It also reported nearly 2,500 new cases, taking the total in China to over 30,000, according to state television. Figures for all of mainland China were expected to follow shortly. Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reassure his citizens and the world that China would beat the coronavirus. “The whole country has responded with all its strength to respond with the most thorough and strict prevention and control measures, starting a people’s war for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. In a striking image of the epidemic’s reach, about 3,700 people moored off Japan on the Diamond Princess faced testing and quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 cases.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific asks 27,000 staff to take three weeks of unpaid leave as coronavirus crisis hits the industry - Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific is asking its 27,000 employees to take up to three weeks of unpaid leave, CEO Augustus Tang said Wednesday, as the airline faces a crisis in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak. 'I am hoping all of you will participate, from our frontline employees to our senior leaders, and share in our current challenges,' Tang said in a video message posted online. The request lays bare desperate times at Cathay, which was hammered last year by months of political chaos and protests in Hong Kong and has now been hurt further by the fallout from the virus outbreak. The coronavirus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, spread over the Lunar New Year holiday, which would normally be one of the busiest times for regional airlines. Instead dozens of international carriers have reduced or suspended flights to China in a bid to halt the pathogen's spread and as passenger numbers fall off a cliff. In his video message to employees, Tang warned Cathay was experiencing 'one of the most difficult Chinese New Year holidays we have ever had' because of the virus.

Wuhan coronavirus cases spike again as outbreak shows no signs of slowing - (CNN) The death toll and number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus continues to grow, with no signs of slowing despite severe quarantine and population control methods put in place in central China.The number of confirmed cases globally stood at 28,275 as of Thursday, with more than 28,000 of those in China. The number of cases in China grew by 3,694, or 15%, on the previous day. There have been 565 deaths so far, all but two of which were in China, with one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong.Two newborn babies in Wuhan, China, have been infected with the coronavirus, according to China's state broadcaster CCTV. The youngest baby was diagnosed at just 30 hours old.The baby's mother was also infected with the virus, and CCTV suggested that "there may be mother-infant transmission," where the mother passes the virus on to the baby in utero.Hong Kong announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people entering the semi-autonomous city from the Chinese mainland, including residents. The move comes after all but three border crossings were closed to try and contain the virus."It is expected that the measure will further reduce cross-boundary flow of people between Hong Kong and the Mainland, thus reducing the risk of transmission and spread of the disease in the community," the city's health authority said.Speaking Wednesday, the city's leader Carrie Lam said they were "seeing a worsening trend of the outbreak," as the number of confirmed cases grew to 21. At least three of those cases did not travel outside of Hong Kong during the incubation period, which suggests there may be community transmission taking place, Lam said.Hospital authorities have asked striking employees to return to work Thursday, as the number of cases in the city continues to grow. At least 7,000 healthcare workers walked out this week demanding a full closure of the border with China and extra gear for health workers.

China virus death toll jumps past 500, more cases on cruise ship off Japan - (Reuters) - Ten more people on a quarantined cruise liner in a Japanese port have tested positive for coronavirus, officials said on Thursday, as the virus death toll in mainland China hit 563, with almost 3,000 new cases reported. About 3,700 people on Carnival’s Diamond Princess are facing at least two weeks quarantine on the ship, which has 20 virus cases and testing is continuing. Japan now has 40 virus cases. “We are hopeful that the U.S. government will be sending transport for the Americans on board,” Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist aboard the ship, told Reuters. “It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also if we get sick to be treated in American hospitals.” In Hong Kong a cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day on Thursday pending testing after three positive cases onboard. Authorities said 33 crew members on the World Dream had developed respiratory tract infection symptoms and three had been sent to a hospital for isolation and management after developing fevers. All but one of the 33 tested negative for the disease, with the remaining test pending, the city’s health department said in a statement late on Wednesday. Taiwan’s health authority banned all international cruise ships from docking at the island from Thursday. Another hotspot emerged with at least three people contracting the disease after attending a mid-January company meeting held with 94 overseas staff, including one from Wuhan, at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore. Authorities have not revealed the name of the company, but the World Health Organization said it was investigating. The case provided more evidence the virus is spreading through human-to-human contact outside China, which the WHO has said is deeply concerning and could signal a much larger outbreak. The virus death toll in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563 on Thursday, its third consecutive record daily rise, as experts intensified efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has shut down Chinese cities and factories and could damage the world’s second-largest economy. Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases - more than 80% of the total reported by Chinese authorities.   Hubei province in central China has been in virtual lockdown for nearly two weeks, with its train stations and airports shut and its roads sealed off.  . There have been two deaths outside mainland China - in the Philippines and Hong Kong - both involving people who had been to Wuhan where more than 400 people have died. Nearly 260 cases have been reported in 31 other countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements from the authorities involved.

Coronavirus live updates: Cruise ship in Japan reports 41 new cases, China death toll hits 636 -  China says there were an additional 73 deaths and 3,143 new cases of the coronavirus in China as of the end of Feb. 6, the National Health Commission said in its daily update on Friday. This brings the total number of deaths in China to 636 and the cumulative number of confirmed cases to 31,161, the government said. Most of those who died on Thursday were from Hubei — the epicenter of the outbreak. A baby in Wuhan, who was born on Saturday, tested positive for the virus 36 hours after he was delivered, the Associated Press reported. Authorities said he was the youngest person known to be infected with the new coronavirus, according to the report. “The baby was immediately separated from the mother after the birth and has been under artificial feeding. There was no close contact with the parents, yet it was diagnosed with the disease,” Zeng Lingkong, director of neonatal diseases at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, told Chinese TV. It was not clear how the child got infected, AP said. An additional 41 people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which arrived at the Japanese port of Yokohama earlier this week, have tested positive. This brings the total number of confirmed cases from the cruise ship to 61, said Japan’s health ministry. About 3,700 passengers and crew were placed under mandatory quarantine for two weeks after 10 people aboard the cruise liner tested positive. — Tan Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reportedly called on his government to take “all necessary steps” in order to limit the economic impact of the virus outbreak. That could include dipping into budget reserves, Reuters said. “There’s a risk the coronavirus outbreak could hurt consumption, so we need to watch developments carefully,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura was quoted as saying on Friday, reported Reuters citing Jiji Press. Japan, which is preparing to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in July and August, is also concerned about the impact on inbound tourism, the report said.

Coronavirus live updates: China's economic growth forecast downgraded as infections pass 30,000 – latest news -Here is a global rundown of the latest figures for cases and deaths reported by health authorities around the world so far. China: 636 deaths and 31,161 confirmed cases on the mainland. In addition, Hong Kong has had one death, and 22 cases. Macao has had 10 cases.
Japan: 86 cases
Singapore: 30
Thailand: 25
South Korea: 24
Australia: 14
The ratings agency S&P has slashed its forecast of China’s economic growth for this year by 0.75 percentage points, saying the coronavirus will deliver a big temporary hit to the country’s economy that will spill over to the whole world. S&P said it now forecast Chinese GDP growth of 5%, down from its previous estimate of 5.7%, but cautioned that it was less confident in its figures than usual because of continuing uncertainty over the severity of the outbreak. This will flow through to the global economy because China accounts for a third of worldwide growth, S&P said. “The global impact will be felt through four real economy channels: sharply reduced tourism revenues, lower exports of consumer and capital goods, lower commodity prices, and industrial supply-chain disruptions,” it said. “If the virus cannot be contained, a material risk, the economic impact could develop exponentially with significant credit implications.” The agency said it expected a rebound next year that would make up lost ground, increasing its estimate of 2021 GDP growth from 5.6% to 6.4%. North Korea has reported its first case of the coronavirus, according to South Korean media. The patient, a woman from Pyongyang, recently returned to the North from China, the Joongang Ilbo, a daily newspaper, said on Friday, citing state-run media. The reports did not give details of when the woman was diagnosed or her state of health. The country has taken several measures to guard against the disease - which has affected all of its neighbours - amid warnings that an epidemic could put an intolerable strain on its poor healthcare infrastructure. North Korea has suspended flights from China and Russia and closed train routes across its borders with those two countries and. It has also imposed a ban on foreign tourism and suspended operations at a liaison office it runs with South Korea just north of the demilitarised zone, the heavily armed border separating North and South Korea.

Royal Caribbean Ship With 12 Quarantined Passengers Docks In NJ; Ambulances, CDC On Scene --A Royal Caribbean cruise ship that has 12 passengers quarantined over fears of coronavirus has docked in Bayonne, New Jersey, this morning with ambulances on the scene.The "Anthem of the Seas" arrived in New Jersey just hours ago, at about 6AM, in thick dense fog, according to ABC 6. Several ambulances were on standby at the scene. The passengers in quarantine will all be tested by the CDC, who was also awaiting the arrival of the ship on the scene. The passengers of the ship are all Chinese nationals - many of whom started exhibiting symptoms while aboard the ship, which was coming back from the Bahamas. The NY Post reported that some of the passengers "have pulmonary issues". Royal Caribbean said in a statement: “We are closely monitoring developments regarding coronavirus and have rigorous medical protocols in place onboard our ships. We continue to work in close consultation with the CDC, the WHO, and local health authorities to align with their guidance and ensure the health and wellbeing of our guests and crew.”Robert Isaacson, whose 75 year old mother is on the ship, said that crew members have not alerted passengers to the sick people on board. “We have been chatting throughout the cruise and she has not brought any mentions of the crew alerting the passengers of a potential situation involving sick passengers,” he said, referring to conversations with his mother. This news follows last night's news "Nightmare at Sea" news that 42 additional cases of coronavirus, including an infected passenger who got on the ship in Japan, had been discovered on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which is anchored in Yokohama, Japan.

American diagnosed with new coronavirus died in Wuhan, China --  A U.S. citizen diagnosed with the new coronavirus died in Wuhan, China on Thursday, the U.S. embassy said in a statement. “We can confirm a 60-year old U.S. citizen diagnosed with coronavirus died at Jinyintian Hospital in Wuhan, China on February 6. We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss. Out of the respect for the family’s privacy, we have no further comment,” the embassy said. It is the first known American death in an outbreak of a new coronavirus. Wuhan is the center of the outbreak and the capital of Hubei province, where most deaths and confirmed cases are located. Earlier Saturday, China’s National Health Commission said the virus has killed more than 700 people and infected over 34,000. Of those, 699 deaths and nearly 25,000 confirmed cases occurred in Hubei, according to the province’s figures. Hubei said 545 people in Wuhan have died in the outbreak as of the end of Friday. In January, the World Health Organization declared the fast-spreading virus a global health emergency. The designation enables the international agency to mobilize financial and political support to contain the outbreak. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued mandatory quarantine orders for the people it evacuated from Wuhan. It was the first time the agency had issued such orders in 50 years. Washington has continued to evacuate Americans from Wuhan and quarantining them at military bases across the U.S., including: March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California; Camp Ashland in Nebraska; Travis Air Force Base in California; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego; and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The Trump administration also announced that it would commit up to $100 million in existing funds to help the WHO, China and other infected countries fight the coronavirus outbreak. The WHO has been asking member countries for donations to help with response efforts after tapping $9 million from its contingency fund for emergencies earlier this week. 

Xi talks with Trump over phone on novel coronavirus outbreak (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke over phone with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday morning. Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government and people have been making all-out efforts to battle the disease, Xi said. China, he added, has carried out national mobilization, across-the-board deployment and swift responses, adopted the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures, and launched a people's war against the epidemic. Noting that China's efforts are gradually yielding positive results, Xi stressed that China has full confidence and capability to prevail over the epidemic and that the trend of the Chinese economy maintaining long-term growth will not change. Xi pointed out that China is dedicated to safeguarding the lives and health of not only its own people but also people all over the world. With an open, transparent and responsible attitude, China has kept the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as relevant countries and regions, including the United States, posted on the epidemic, and invited WHO and other experts to conduct field visits in Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicenter of the outbreak, he said. He added that China is the first line of prevention and control against this epidemic, and its timely, decisive and effective response measures have been highly appreciated by the WHO and many countries. Noting that China and the United States have maintained communication over the prevention and control of the epidemic, Xi said he appreciates Trump's positive comments on China's efforts on multiple occasions, and is grateful for the supplies donated by various sections of U.S. society.  For his part, Trump said the United States fully supports China's fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic and is willing to send experts to China and offer assistance in various other forms. He said the fact that China completed building special hospitals for novel coronavirus patients in an incredibly short time is impressive, and shows China's outstanding organizational and response capabilities.

WHO warns of global shortage of coronavirus protective equipment -  The world is facing a chronic shortage of gowns, masks, gloves and other protective equipment in the fight against a spreading coronavirus epidemic, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.  The U.N. agency has been sending testing kits, masks, gloves, respirators and gowns to every region, Tedros told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva. “However the world is facing a chronic shortage of personnel protective equipment, as you might imagine.  “This afternoon I will be speaking to the pandemic supply chain network to identify the bottlenecks and find solutions and push (for) fairness in distribution of equipment,” he said. As of 6 a.m. Geneva time (0500 GMT) there were 31,211 confirmed coronavirus cases in China and 637 deaths, as well as 270 cases in 24 other countries with 1 death, Tedros said. “For the last two days there had been fewer reported infections in China, which is good news, but we caution against reading too much into that. The numbers could go up again,” he said.Coronavirus: Hong Kong imposes quarantine rules on mainland Chinese  Hong Kong has begun a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, in a fresh effort to contain the new coronavirus.Visitors must isolate themselves in hotel rooms or go to government-run centres, while returning Hong Kong residents must stay inside their homes.Anyone caught flouting the new rules faces a fine and a prison sentence.Tens of thousands of travellers queued at the Chinese border city of Shenzhen ahead of the midnight deadline.Hong Kong has seen 26 confirmed cases of the virus and one person has died. The number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 34,546, with 722 deaths.Outside China, 270 cases have been confirmed in at least 25 countries, with one other fatality - in the Philippines. Meanwhile, another 41 people on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases on board to 61. There was some positive news on Friday when the World Health Organization (WHO) said there had been fewer reported infections in China in the past two days. However, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned against reading too much into those figures.  He also told reporters that the outbreak had caused a global shortage of protective medical equipment such as gowns, masks and gloves."When supply is short, and demand is high then there could be bad practices like hoarding in order to sell them at higher prices," he warned, urging suppliers to "uphold the protection of humanity" rather than looking to increase profits. The WHO also released new data from 17,000 patients that suggested 82% had a mild form of the disease, with 15% considered severe cases and 3% critical.

Video shows interior of new Wuhan ‘hospital’ resembles prison (Taiwan News) — Video has surfaced allegedly shot from inside the instant "hospital" hastily constructed in Wuhan appearing much more like a prison than a center to care for sick patients. On Monday (Feb. 3), Communist China claimed to have completed the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan to house 1,000 of the city's residents infected with the novel coronavirus (2019nCoV). The rapid construction of the hospital was widely trumpeted by Chinese state-run mouthpieces and parroted by Western media outlets as an example of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) superior ability to quickly respond to crises, while a de-emphasis was placed on the initial slow response that arguably allowed the virus to mushroom out of control. However, the dissident organization Himalaya Global released a video on its Twitter page Monday which was apparently secretly filmed by a Chinese contractor inside the new facility. The video starts with the contractor introducing the Spartan interior of Ward 1. The man starts out by ominously saying, "Once you are in, you can't get out." He then asserts that patients would be better off staying at home than checking into the new compound. The camera then focuses on the tiny windows that he said would be used to serve food to patients. In the background, another man can be heard saying that "the dead will be removed from that door." Incredibly, it is clear that each room has a small window with distinct vertical prison bars. The contractor says that those who do not recover "will be sent to the crematorium." Next, the man shows the interior of one of the rooms and points out that the food window can be opened from inside. However, he says that there is no way for the patients to escape because the only door to the room has a lock on the exterior and can only be opened from the outside. Netizens were shocked at the facility's strong resemblance to a prison, with many speculating that it was made from prefabricated components for the internment camps in Xinjiang. "I knew it. It's not so much a hospital as a "medical" internment camp." "Yeah all those rooms are prefab jail cells and nobody is asking why China has thousands of prefab jail cells ready to go at all times, which isn’t creepy at all and is very normal to have." "I don’t know of any hospitals where doors open one way." "Looks eerily like they used a prefab meant to build a Xinjiang internment/death camp. Considering how quickly they could scramble this together, it's not unlikely they took what they already had."

Doctor Warns Up To 30% Of Medical Staff Working In Wuhan Hospital Now Infected With nCoV - As we noted earlier, the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, which was confirmed early Friday by Wuhan City Central Hospital, the same hospital where Dr. Li worked, and where he was punished for warning medical students about the novel coronavirus in a private chatroom. Li and seven others were punished for their early warnings about the virus. Now, Li he has joined the more than 600 other Chinese who have succumbed to the virus's pneumonia-like symptoms and his death has ignited nationwide morning and demands for more free speech.  His portrait has become a symbol of resistance during an extremely difficult time on mainland China, where nearly 1/3 of the country's population is being held captive in their homes by China's sprawling security apparatus.  Over the last two days, Beijing has made a big show of opening two new hospitals in Wuhan that were built in under two weeks. Videos like this one have circulated widely in the western press - China's target audience.Time-lapse video shows new hospital being built in China in just 10 days. Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan has been built to help deal with coronavirus patients— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 3, 2020 We've already reported how the hospitals look more like prisons with medical equipment. But come to find out that most of the hospitals are actually being run by their patients. Dr. Feigl-Ding, the Harvard epidemiologist who is one of many academics slammed as an alarmist for telling the truth, tweeted that nearly one-third of the patients in one hospital in Wuhan are also medical staff. There's a common trope to describe this: something about lunatics running the asylum?  29% — that’s the % of the 138 #coronavirus infected patients who are actually infected medical staff in one Wuhan hospital. Almost 1 in 3 patients being hospital healthcare workers is just insane. New case series report in JAMA:— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) February 7, 20202) In addition to 29% medical staff, 12% of patients had gotten #coronavirus as hospital-acquired. Quote: “Hospital-associated transmission was suspected as the presumed mechanism of infection for affected health professionals (40 [29%]) and hospitalized patients (17 [12.3%]).”

American dies of coronavirus in China; five Britons infected in French Alps - (Reuters) - A 60-year-old American has died of the new coronavirus, the first confirmed non-Chinese death of the illness, U.S. officials said, as millions of Chinese began returning home after a Lunar New Year break that was extended to try to contain the outbreak.While the vast majority of cases have been in China, the virus has spread to some two dozen countries abroad, including five British nationals infected in a French mountain resort. The American man died on Thursday in Wuhan, epicenter of the virus outbreak in the central Chinese province of Hubei, a U.S. embassy spokesman said in Beijing on Saturday. He did not elaborate.A Japanese man in his sixties and hospitalized with pneumonia in Wuhan, capital of Hubei, also died after suffering symptoms consistent with the new coronavirus, Japan’s foreign ministry said. The virus has been a blow to China’s already-slowing economy, with Goldman Sachs cutting its first-quarter GDP growth target to 4% from 5.6% previously and saying a deeper hit is possible. “It’s certainly not going to be a return to normal next week,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics in Singapore. The death toll in mainland China rose to 723 on Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, looking likely to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Most of the deaths in China have occurred in and around Wuhan. Across mainland China, the number of cases stood at 34,598, the WHO said. The virus has spread to 27 countries and regions, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China - in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Both victims were Chinese nationals. China’s Communist Party rulers have sealed off cities, canceled flights and closed factories, a response that has dented the world’s second-biggest economy and had ripple effects globally for financial markets and businesses dependent on China. 

Coronavirus: First U.S. citizen dies in China as new cases keep increasing. - The number of cases of the new coronavirus continue to increase as the death toll rose to 772, including the first U.S. citizen. It marked the first confirmed non-Chinese death of the new virus and came at a time of increased criticism of the way Beijing is handling the epidemic. Very little is known so far about the U.S. citizen who died of the virus on Thursday in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak. The person was around 60 years old and died at a hospital. The New York Times hears word that the person was a woman and “had underlying health conditions.” The total number of cases increased by almost 3,400, reaching 34,546 amid anger inside China directed toward the ruling Communist Party over the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who was threatened by police after he tried to raise a red flag about the new virus more than a month ago. The doctor was hailed as a hero on social media, where mourning turned into attacks against the government and demands of freedom of speech. The topics “Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech” quickly trended on Weibo, the heavily censored Chinese platform that is similar to Twitter. They were deleted. The fact that the messages were even allowed to stay up for a few hours seemed to suggest that officials were having a hard time figuring out how to deal with the outrage.  The outrage inside China comes as experts abroad were still trying to get access to China. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been trying to send a team of experts but has not been invited to enter China. The World Health Organization tried to be diplomatic and said they were just “sorting out arrangements” but for now its experts haven’t been allowed to assess the situation personally. U.S. experts are included on a list proposed by the WHO. Officials think that China’s top leaders may not be eager to accept foreign assistance out of fear that it would be interpreted as a sign that China needs outside help to deal with the epidemic. For now, experts say that it is still difficult to know just how deadly the new virus is and how quickly it is spreading.

Coronavirus Deaths Hit 806, Surpassing Total From 2003 SARS Outbreak - Summary:

  • Officials reported an additional 81 deaths in Hubei on Saturday, bringing the death toll to 806: more than the total from the entire 2002-2003 SARS outbreak
  • WHO reported 31,481 confirmed global cases on Friday, up by 3,000+ cases from Thursday; SCMP says total cases closer to 35k
  • First American citizen has died
  • First Japanese citizen suspected of succumbing to virus
  • France elevates travel advisory to orange after 5 Britons fall ill in ski resort
  • Roundup of suspected infected in Wuhan continues
  • Beijing appoints Xi protege to help lead virus response
  • Vigil for Dr. Li held in Hong Kong
  • China blocks Foxconn plan to reopen factories

The coronavirus outbreak has just reached another grim milestone: The death toll has eclipsed that of the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.  China's Hubei province has also reported 2,147 additional cases as of Feb. 8 (early Sunday in Beijing), lifting the total of cases in Hubei alone to 27,100, though the number of new cases being reported out of Hubei continued to slow. Reported cases in China alone exceed 36,693 less than two months after surfacing in late December in Wuhan. SARS sickened just 8,100.  We noticed over the past few days that the 'anti-alarmists' who claimed that the outbreak wasn't even as deadly as the seasonal flu have gradually gone quiet. Everybody who played down the seriousness of this outbreak is been unequivocally proven wrong. To put this all in perspective: Confirmed death toll:
2020 Coronavirus: 806 (in 29 days)
2003 SARS: 774 (in 9 months)
If you're looking for a visual, here's a useful one (though this chart is slightly out-of-date): Within the next 24 hours the number of people killed by novel coronavirus in 6 weeks will exceed the number killed during the 9-month SARS outbreak. Pausing to mourn and commemorate the lives of those lost and re-dedicate to reducing future losses as effectively as possible. — Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) February 8, 2020

 Senator Tom Cotton Shreds China's Official Virus Story, Warns Of Super Laboratory Proximity -  A United States senator is casting major doubt on the Chinese government’s official story on the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, instead hinting that a biosafety laboratory working with the deadliest pathogens in the world could be the true source. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas dismantled a claim from China’s communist regime Thursday that pinned the coronavirus outbreak on a market selling dead and live animals.“China claimed — for almost two months — that coronavirus had originated in a Wuhan seafood market,” Cotton wrote on Twitter.“That is not the case.”In a video accompanying his post, Cotton explained that the Wuhan wet market (which Cotton incorrectly referred to as a seafood market) has been shown by experts to not be the source of the deadly contagion.Cotton referenced a Lancet study which showed that many of the first cases of the novel coronavirus, including patient zero, had no connection to the wet market — devastatingly undermining China’s claim.“As one epidemiologist said: ‘That virus went into the seafood market before it came out of the seafood market.’ We still don’t know where it originated,” Cotton said.“I would note that Wuhan also has China’s only bio-safety level four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”Watch Cotton’s full comments below.China claimed—for almost two months—that coronavirus had originated in a Wuhan seafood market. That is not the case. @TheLancet published a study demonstrating that of the original 40 cases, 14 of them had no contact with the seafood market, including Patient Zero.— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) January 30, 2020Cotton appears to be referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the country’s foremost virus research facility.The Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, which is part of the institute, is located only 20 miles from the Wuhan wet market, the “official” source of the outbreak according to China.Snakes, bats and other animals were identified as possible originators for the coronavirus in early investigations. The rapid spread of the virus, which makes previous contagions like SARS and swine flu look benign by comparison, seems to lend weight to the theory that the novel coronavirus is a tailored bioweapon.

India To Probe Wuhan Institute Of Virology -  The Indian government has ordered an inquiry into a study conducted in the Northeastern state of Nagaland (close to China) by researchers from the U.S., China and India on bats and humans carrying antibodies to deadly viruses like Ebola, officials confirmed to The Hindu. The study came under the scanner as two of the 12 researchers belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and it was funded by the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). They would have required special permissions as foreign entities.The study, conducted by scientists of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the U.S. and the Duke-National University in Singapore, is now being investigated for how the scientists were allowed to access live samples of bats and bat hunters (humans) without due permissions.The results of the study were published in October last year in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, originally established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.Bill Gates, the man who tops the Forbes richest person in the world list had issued a grave warning about a potential Coronavirus-like catastrophe that could kill 30 million people at the Munich Security Conference held in Germany in 2017: “Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.”

White House Asks Scientists To Investigate Whether 2019-nCoV Was Bio-EngineeredA week ago, we published details that raised questions about the source of the Wuhan novel coronavirus, specifically questioning the official theory for the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic, namely because someone ate bat soup at a Wuhan seafood and animal market as a fabricated farce.  The real reason behind the viral spread, we suggested, was that a weaponized version of the coronavirus (one which may have originally been obtained from Canada), was released by Wuhan's Institute of Virology (presumably accidentally ), China's only top, level-4 biohazard lab, which was studying "the world's most dangerous pathogens."  At the time we summarized the series of dots and asked "real reporters" to connect them:

  1. One of China's top virology and immunology experts was and still works at China's top-rated biohazard lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which some have affectionately called the real Umbrella Corp.
  2. Since 2009, Peng has been the leading Chinese scientist researching the immune mechanism of bats carrying and transmitting lethal viruses in the world.
  3. His primary field of study is researching how and why bats can be infected with some of the most nightmarish viruses in the world including Ebola, SARS and Coronavirus, and not get sick.
  4. He was genetically engineering various immune pathways (such as the STING pathway in bats) to make the bats more or less susceptible to infection, in the process potentially creating a highly resistant mutant superbug.
  5. As part of his studies, Peng also researched mutant Coronavirus strains that overcame the natural immunity of some bats; these are "superbug" Coronavirus strains, which are resistant to any natural immune pathway, and now appear to be out in the wild.
  6. As of mid-November, his lab was actively hiring inexperienced post-docs to help conduct his research into super-Coronaviruses and bat infections.
  7. Peng's work on virology and bat immunology has received support from the National "You Qing" Fund, the pilot project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the major project of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Of course, that is all ancient history and Zero Hedge was permanently banned from Twitter for raising such a conspiracy theory about a publicly-searchable person working a publicly-searchable place.  But, bygones being bygones, we moved on... until today when no lesser entity than The White House began asking questions about the origin of the deadly coronavirus.As ABC News reports, the director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in a letter to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, requested that scientific experts "rapidly" look into the origins of the virus in order to address both the current spread and "to inform future outbreak preparation and better understand animal/human and environmental transmission aspects of coronaviruses." Specifically, ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton asked the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease about concerns that stem from misinformation online that the novel coronavirus could have been engineered or deliberately released.

Virus threatens U.S. companies’ supply of Chinese-made parts and materials - WaPo - The battle to contain the Chinese coronavirus threatens to cut off U.S. companies from parts and materials they need to produce iPhones, automobiles and appliances and drugs to treat medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and malaria. Some of the United States’ best-known manufacturers such as General Electric, Caterpillar and the Big Three automakers, along with many smaller American businesses, depend on what is made in Chinese factories. Now, they confront life without those items. Major airlines in the United States and Europe are halting their cargo and passenger flights to China for up to two months. Recent visitors to the country are barred from entering the United States. After four decades of growing integration with the rest of the world, China almost overnight has become an economic island. Its temporary isolation — no one knows for how long — will hurt companies that depend upon Chinese inputs as well as those that sell to Chinese customers. Consumer electronics makers are among the most vulnerable, because many game consoles, smartphones and tablets are made in China. On Saturday, Apple announced that it had closed all of its corporate offices and retail stores in China — where it booked $44 billion in sales last year — until Feb. 9 because of the virus. “The concern is not the zombie apocalypse with people dying in the streets. The concern is that a huge chunk of the global economy gets put out of commission as people wait it out,” said Patrick Chovanec, managing director at Silvercrest Asset Management in New York. White House advisers so far have played down the disease’s effects, with President Trump’s top economic aide, Larry Kudlow, saying last week that he expects the virus to have “no material impact” on the U.S. economy. Most Wall Street economists, likewise, say the economic damage will be limited. Economists at JPMorgan Chase Bank on Friday cut their first-quarter global growth estimate by 0.3 percentage points to 2.3 percent. But they predicted a swift rebound that would return China and the global economy to their pre-crisis trends by midyear.

Vietnam moves to block coronavirus risk to supply chain - The port city of Haiphong, a rising manufacturing hub in northeastern Vietnam, has ordered companies to divulge their number of Chinese workers there daily, in an attempt to curb the risk posed by the coronavirus outbreak. The Haiphong People's Committee acted shortly before manufacturers in Vietnam fully resume operations Monday, with thousands of workers from China possibly returning from a Spring Festival holiday extended there until Sunday. Vietnam shares a border of more than 1,200 km with China, where the epidemic originated. Haiphong’s initiative to contain the repercussions of the epidemic came as the Chinese government seeks to cushion the impact on financial markets through such steps as a massive injection of liquidity. Haiphong recorded gross domestic product growth of more than 16% for 2019 thanks to an influx of foreign direct investment, giving the city a greater role in the region's supply chain. But a cluster of manufacturers has come under pressure, as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global emergency Friday. "Foreign companies must limit workers returning to factories in Haiphong from Hubei Province and other affected Chinese provinces," a statement posted Friday on Haiphong's municipal website said. "Areas for isolation must be arranged for those who must be present at the sites, in order to carry out health inspection and supervision." The People's Committee convened an emergency meeting Friday morning for representatives of the 90 companies operating in the Haiphong Economic Zone that have investment from mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. Most attendees represented manufacturers. These companies employ more than 1,600 Chinese workers, including 104 from Hubei, according to Haiphong Economic Zone Authority. Haiphong hosts more than 530 foreign investment enterprises, according to local media. As many as 3,000 Chinese workers are registered across the city. Le Van Thanh, the Communist Party chief of Haiphong, ordered a temporary ban on entry to the city by any Chinese citizen from Hubei during the epidemic effective Feb. 1, according to local reports. The labor ministry on Sunday adopted a nationwide step asking businesses across Vietnam to keep Chinese and other foreign workers who have traveled to coronavirus-affected locations from returning at this time. Names and other information on those who have come back from China must be reported per the authorities' requests. The returnees must be quarantined two weeks for health checks, starting from the day of reentry. Vietnam's state-owned broadcaster, citing labor ministry figures, reported Friday that 91,500 Chinese nationals had permission to work in the country before Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. At least 40% of them visited their homes in China during the holiday.

The Global Supply & Demand Shock Of The Coronavirus - Our analysis of the impact of the Coronavirus is a work in progress and nobody knows the endgame.  It is still the early days of the epidemic, and its dynamics will take time to understand. The scale of the impact will depend on how contagious and lethal it reveals itself.There is a supply shock to global manufacturing as many factories in the world’s supply chain will be shuttered for longer, which shifts the global supply curve left, increasing-price and production pressures.  Ergo component shortages, higher prices, and lower production.The 2 percent decline in the U.S. stock market and collapse in bond yields are signaling a potential global aggregate demand shock that offsets the supply shock. As of Friday, 10,000 cases have been confirmed by China, surpassing the total from the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic. The new virus has killed 171 people in China. The epicenter of the outbreak is Wuhan, one of China’s largest manufacturing centers. Foxconn and Pegatron have operations there, as do memory manufacturers such as XMC (nor flash) and Yangtze Memory Technologies Co. (non-volatile memory). Auto producers, such as General Motors, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler also populate the region.The electronics industry is poised for a cascading disruption that could change industry growth forecasts for the year. Bill McLean, president of semiconductor research firm IC Insights, said the virus has exacerbated the economic unease that has stalled semiconductor capital investment.“Brexit, trade issues and now the coronavirus are causing global uncertainty,” he said  at a Boston-based forum. “Uncertainty causes [businesses and consumers] to freeze.” Worldwide, semiconductor capital spending is forecast to decrease by roughly 6 percent this year, from $103.5 billion in 2019 to roughly $97.6 billion.Zhang Ming, an economist at government-backed think-tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned that the virus could push China’s economic growth below 5 per cent a year in the first quarter, reported the Financial Times. Economic consensus currently puts China’s GDP growth at 5.7 percent. That average has steadily declined since 2018, according to McLean.  — EE TimesMore than 300 of the Global Top 500 companies have a presence in Wuhan, including Microsoft and Siemens. Wuhan is located in the Hubei Province. Wuhan has 10 car factories, including those Honda, Renault, PSA and General Motors. The car industry represents around 20 percent of the city’s economy and employs 200,000 people directly and more than a million indirectly.

Coronavirus forces world’s largest telework experiment  - Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, working from home is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity. While factories, shops, hotels and restaurants are warning about plunging foot traffic that is transforming city centers into ghost towns, behind the closed doors of apartments and suburban homes thousands of businesses are trying to figure out how to stay operational in a virtual world. “It’s a good opportunity for us to test working from home at scale,” said Alvin Foo, managing director of Reprise Digital, a Shanghai ad agency with 400 people that’s part of Interpublic Group. “Obviously, not easy for a creative ad agency that brainstorms a lot in person.” It’s going to mean a lot of video chats and phone calls, he said. The cohorts working from home are about to grow into armies. At the moment, most people in China are still on vacation for the Lunar New Year. But as Chinese companies begin to restart operations, it’s likely to usher in the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.That means a lot more people trying to organize client meetings and group discussions via video chat apps, or discussing plans on productivity software platforms like WeChat Work or Bytedance’s Slack-like Lark. The vanguards for the new model of scattered employees are the Chinese financial centers of Hong Kong and Shanghai, cities with central business districts that rely on hundreds of thousands of office workers in finance, logistics, insurance, law and other white-collar jobs. One Hong Kong banker said he’s going to extend an overseas vacation, as he can work from anywhere with a laptop and a phone. Others say they are using the time typically spent wining and dining clients to clear their backlog of travel expenses. One said he’s shifted focus to deals in Southeast Asia. One of the most unsettling factors for employees is the fast-changing impact of the virus, which is prompting daily changes in corporate directives.

Woman wearing face mask attacked in possible coronavirus hate crime A woman wearing a face mask was attacked at a Chinatown subway station after allegedly being called a “diseased bitch” — in what police are treating as a possible hate crime sparked by coronavirus fears. Shocking video shared by the NYPD’s hate crimes unit shows a violent confrontation involving a woman with her face completely covered by a yellow face mask, glasses and the hood of a parka. An eyewitness claimed the victim had already been hit on the head when she ran to confront her attacker — who unleashed a flurry of blows after missing with a flying kick, eventually pushing her into a wall. “Don’t f—ing touch me! Don’t f—ing touch me, n—er,” the attacker screams as the woman shooting the video tries to pull him away. He had first confronted the victim over her face mask, according to a social media post by the woman who says she shot the footage at Grand Street station at 6 p.m. Sunday. “I clearly heard the words ‘diseased bitch,'” @x_ginko insisted in her post. “I also heard her asking him to go away.” Instead, the man “suddenly got very close to the woman’s face” and “hit her on the head with an audible sound,” @x_ginko insisted, saying she then started recording.

Interim List of Household Products and Active Ingredients for Disinfection of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) National Environment Agency. Many general household products contain the appropriate concentrations of active ingredients (A.I.) that are known to inactivate coronaviruses. For general precautionary cleaning, detergent and water are adequate. For disinfection of areas that are very likely to be contaminated with nCoV (e.g. bedroom of a person confirmed to have a CoV infection), disinfectant/cleaning products listed in Table 1 can be used.  The product list is based on currently available data and active ingredients known to be effective against coronaviruses (Table 2). Both tables will be updated as data from more products are gathered, and as more products are assessed to be appropriate.   Every product needs to be used in the right way and according to specification. NEA will not be responsible for any loss or damage arising from or incidental to any use of products/services in the listing. In addition to the use of cleaning agents, other treatments effective against coronavirus include steam and heat treatment. (Singapore, but many of the brands are global, and ingredients are listed.)

Coronavirus: The hit to the global economy will be worse than SARS - The new coronavirus outbreak will be worse for the global economy than the 2003 SARS epidemic was, data analysis firm IHS Markit predicts. While both outbreaks originated in China, nearly two decades separate the SARS outbreak from the new coronavirus outbreak. In that time, China has grown from the world’s sixth-largest economy to the second biggest today behind the U.S. The country has been a main growth driver worldwide, with the International Monetary Fund estimating that China alone accounted for 39% of global economic expansion in 2019. “Coronavirus will have a larger negative effect on the global economy than the SARS outbreak in 2003,” IHS Markit wrote, adding that China accounted for 4.2% of the global economy in 2003. The report says China now commands 16.3% of the world’s GDP. “Therefore, any slowdown in the Chinese economy sends not ripples but waves across the globe.” SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, first emerged in China’s Guangdong province before spreading to other countries. The virus infected about 8,000 people, claimed almost 800 lives worldwide and shaved 0.5% to 1% off China’s growth in 2003, according to various estimates. Though estimates vary, economists say that the SARS outbreak in China cost the global economy about $40 billion. Most of the economic cost of the outbreak, though, “is not related to the virus,” said CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council Gloria Guevara, who was the tourism minister for Mexico during the H1N1 outbreak. “It’s related to the panic.” The long-term economic impact of the new coronavirus outbreak will be determined largely by China’s containment measures, IHS Markit’s report says. The Chinese government has quarantined Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and, by IHS Markit’s count, 11 provinces have extended the Chinese New Year holiday to keep workers at home and prevent the spread of the virus. “If the current and unprecedented confinement measures in China stay in place until the end of February, and are lifted progressively beginning in March, the resulting economic impact will be concentrated in the first half of 2020,” the report says, “with a reduction of global real GDP of 0.8% in Q1 and 0.5% in Q2.” If China ends those restrictions on Feb. 10, as is currently scheduled, the impact on the global economy will be much more limited, the report says. Most factories in China would be closed around this time for observance of the Chinese New Year, which is factored into expectations. However, the report says the outbreak threatens to severely hamper several industries, especially automotive manufacturing.

China reports H5N1 bird flu outbreak in Hunan province - China reported an outbreak of a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 bird flu at a farm in Shaoyang city of the southern province of Hunan, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Saturday. The case occurred on a farm with 7,850 chickens, 4,500 of which have died of the bird flu. The authorities have culled 17,828 poultry following the outbreak.

New Outbreak Of H5N1 Bird Flu In China’s Hunan Province During Coronavirus Lockdown - As China’s Hunan province remains in the midst of a quarantine lockdown over a mysterious outbreak of a novel coronavirus, another strange pathogen has been reported in the same area. In addition to the novel coronavirus, a “highly pathogenic” strain of the H5N1 bird flu has also been reported in China’s Hunan province, but luckily, this illness does not appear to have crossed the barrier between animals and humans in this case.According to a report from Reuters over the weekend, the outbreak was initially reported on a farm in the city of Shaoyang, which is also in the Hunan province. However, despite being in the same province, Shaoyang is still about a 6-hour drive from Wuhan where the other outbreak is taking place.China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs reported that 4,500 chickens on the farm lost their lives to the H5N1 avian flu, which was over half of the chickens on the farm. A total of 7,850 chickens were on the farm before the outbreak occurred, and the ones that remained alive were culled by the government as a matter of caution.The outbreak may have spread to other farms, because in total, the Chinese government has admitted to euthanizing roughly 17,828 chickens to prevent the outbreak from spreading even further. The United States Geological Survey considers the bird flu to be a “high pathogenic” virus.

Bird Flu Is Back - China Faces Yet Another Viral Plague - First, they faced food shortages (and soaring food costs) as African Swine Fever swept across the nation cutting China's pork production in half and slaughtering hundreds of millions of their porcine pals. Then, they faced total economic shutdown and social lockdown as the deadly Wuhan Coronavirus spread across the nation faster than a Buzzfeed 'which cat suits your social justice needs best' article, killing hundreds and leaving 10s of thousands sick. And now, as if things weren't bad enough, according to the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the Information Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, bird flu is back! As Reuters reports, the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak of H5N1 subtype of poultry occurred in Shuangqing District, Shaoyang City, Hunan Province... close to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The case reportedly occurred on a farm with 7,850 chickens, 4,500 of which have died of the bird flu. Authorities have culled 17,828 poultry following the outbreak. As a reminder, Avian influenza is deadly to most birds, and it's deadly to humans and to other mammals that catch the virus from birds. Since the first human case in 1997, H5N1 has killed nearly 60% of the people who have been infected. But unlike human flu bugs, H5N1 bird flu does not spread easily from person to person. The very few cases of human-to-human transmission have been among people with exceptionally close contact, such as a mother who caught the virus while caring for her sick infant.

 4 Plagues Are Marching Across Asia Simultaneously: Coronavirus, African Swine Fever, H5N1 Bird Flu, & H1N1 Swine Flu - The coronavirus outbreak that is raging all over China right now has been making headlines on a daily basis all over the globe, and rightly so.  At this point we don’t know if it will ultimately become a horrifying global pandemic that will affect tens of millions of people, but what we do know is that the virus spreads very easily and the number of cases has been rising at an exponential rate.  Meanwhile, three other plagues have also been marching across Asia, and most people in the western world don’t even realize that this is happening.  What I am about to share with you in this article is quite chilling, and the months ahead will be very dark if these plagues continue to spread. Long before we ever heard of this new coronavirus, African Swine Fever was devastating pork farms from one end of China to the other.  There is no vaccine for “pig ebola”, there is no cure, and once it hits a farm the only thing that can be done is to kill every single pig so that it won’t spread anywhere else.  But even though draconian measures have been implemented, it has just kept spreading, and at this point “about two-thirds of China’s swine herd has been lost”… Meanwhile, there has been a very alarming resurgence of the H5N1 bird flu in China.  According to the Daily Mail, more than 17,000 chickens have been culled in an effort to keep this new outbreak from spreading further…  Unlike African Swine Fever, humans can become infected by the H5N1 bird flu. And according to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for human cases is approximately 60 percent. On top of everything else, the H1N1 swine flu is starting to spread once again.  In fact, more than 100,000 people in Taiwan “sought medical treatment for flu-like symptoms at hospitals across the country over the past week” and there have been 13 confirmed deaths

Agricultural area residents in danger of inhaling toxic aerosols - Excess selenium from fertilizers and other natural sources can create air pollution that could lead to lung cancer, asthma, and Type 2 diabetes, according to new UC Riverside research. The research team conducted previous UCR studies in the Salton Sea area, which contains selenium rich wetlands and soils toxic to birds and fish. These' studies also revealed that the area's concentration of aerosols, which are solid or liquid particles suspended in air, have increased in recent years. However, the full chemical makeup of the aerosols, or whether they would have any effects on humans, remained unknown. This motivated the team to create similar aerosol particles in the laboratory and study them. The team's new paper, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, details the composition of the selenium-rich aerosols and describes the multiple ways these particles can damage human lungs.  According to Bahreini, dangerous aerosols can occur anywhere there's excessive selenium in the soil, making agricultural workers and those living near contaminated soils more vulnerable to illnesses. Along with naturally occurring selenium in the environment, the excess from manmade sources gets digested by soil microbes and processed by plants. Once excreted, the selenium-containing vapors, which include the compound dimethyl selenide, mix with other airborne chemicals and eventually become the toxic selenium-containing aerosol, which stays in the air for roughly a week. Selenium in small amounts is important for regulating the immune system. Deficiency can cause thyroid issues, slowed growth, and impaired bone metabolism. As with most substances, too much can be poisonous. An excess of selenium can lead to swollen lungs, garlic breath, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological damage, and hair loss. Scientists once believed dimethyl selenide was less toxic than other forms of selenium. In fact, Bahreini said scientists once proposed planting specific grasses in wetlands and soils with excessive amounts of selenium to allow digestion and evaporation of selenium-containing vapors as a way to remediate these sites. However, earlier mouse studies showed the aerosols can cause lung injury and inflammation in mice. According to Ying-Hsuan Lin, an assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UCR, this newest study also shows how dimethyl selenide can form aerosols and affect humans.

Locust Swarms Prompt Somalia to Declare National Emergency -- Large swarms of locusts have ravaged crops in East Africa, prompting authorities in Somalia to declare a national emergency, making it the first country in the region to do so, as Al Jazeera reported. As EcoWatch noted last week, this locust storm came across the Red Sea from Yemen and first attacked Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Some Ethiopian farmers lost their entire crop yield to the notoriously voracious pests, which can eat their entire weight in 24 hours. Put another way, a small swarm can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in 24 hours.The ravenous swarms that have migrated over Somalia pose "a major threat to Somalia's fragile food security situation," said the country's Ministry of Agriculture in a statement, as the BBC reported. The invasion has authorities worried that the situation will not be under control by the time the harvest season begins in April."Food sources for people and their livestock are at risk," the statement added, according to Al Jazeera. "The desert swarms are uncommonly large and consume huge amounts of crops and forage."The country's statement and emergency declaration is designed to focus efforts and raise money to contain the invasion. Because the country has unstable food security, it cannot use planes to spray insecticides from above. Somalia needs surveillance, data collection, reporting and control activities before the April harvest, the agriculture ministry said in an emailed statement, as Bloomberg reported."Given the severity of this desert locust outbreak, we must commit our best efforts to protect the food security and livelihoods of Somali people," said Minister of Agriculture Said Hussein Iid, as Al Jazeera reported. "If we don't act now, we risk a severe food crisis that we cannot afford." East Africa is already experiencing a high degree of food insecurity, with more than 19 million people facing acute hunger, according to the regional Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, as Al Jazeera reported. To the southwest of Somalia, Kenya is facing the worst locust invasion it has seen in 70 years, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), as the BBC reported. The FAO has asked for international help in fighting the swarms, saying that without containment the swarms may grow 500 times by June. In its update, the FAO warned that the swarms are moving south toward Uganda and that breeding has taken place. "Breeding during February will cause a further increase with numerous hopper bands in all [Kenya, Ethopia, and Somalia]," the FAO said. "Some swarms may still reach Uganda and South Sudan in the coming days." The FAO's map of locust swarms shows a migration from Pakistan to Yemen. Pakistan, like Somalia, declared a state of emergency over locust swarms on Friday.

Second monarch butterfly sanctuary worker found dead in Mexico -  A second worker at Mexico’s famed monarch butterfly sanctuary has been found murdered, sparking concerns that the defenders of one of Mexico’s most emblematic species are being slain with impunity.The body of Raúl Hernández Romero, a part-time tour guide, was found on Saturday, showing injuries possibly inflicted by a sharp object, according to prosecutors in the western state of Michoacán.Hernández had been reported missing on 27 January in the town of Angangueo, in the heart of the federally protected Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco world heritage site some 180km west of Mexico City.His death came just days after the body of Homero Gómez González, who managed the El Rosario monarch butterfly reserve, was discovered floating in a well with a head wound. Gómez Gonzalez had been reported missing two weeks earlier. Officials in the state of Michoacán said they were unsure if the two deaths were linked – or related to the men’s work in the butterfly reserve. The state has seen a rising tide of violence in recent years, and the region around the monarch butterfly reserve has been rife with illegal logging, despite a ban imposed to protect the monarchs, which winter in the pine- and fir-covered hills.Some illegal clearcutting is also carried out to allow for the planting of avocado orchards – one of Mexico’s most lucrative crops and an important part of Michoacán’s economy.The deaths again called attention to the disturbing trend in Mexico of environmental defenders being k illed as they come into conflict with developers or local crime groups, who often have political and police protection.

Fireflies Face Extinction From Habitat Loss, Light Pollution and Pesticides, Study Says - A study published in BioScience Monday set out to assess the greatest threats to the world's approximately 2,000 species of fireflies. While very little population data exists for most species of the "iconic" glowing beetles, researchers in the field have observed a decline in recent years."We looked around and said, 'huh, there just don't seem to be as many fireflies around as there used to be,'" lead study author and Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, who has spent her career studying the mating rituals of a few firefly species, told Popular Science. So the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established a Firefly Specialist Group in 2018 to assess the glowing insects' conservation status. As part of that work, they sent out a survey to 350 members of the Fireflyers International Network asking them the chief risks faced by the species they studied.   The answer? Habitat loss, artificial light and pesticides, in that order. "Lots of wildlife species are declining because their habitat is shrinking," Lewis said in a Tufts press release, "so it wasn't a huge surprise that habitat loss was considered the biggest threat." However, some firefly species are particularly vulnerable because they require very specific conditions. The Malaysian firefly Pteroptyx tener, famous for its synchronized light shows, needs mangroves to flourish. Previous research had noted the species' decline due to the clearing of mangroves to plant palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms.  Artificial light is a major problem for fireflies because they use their famous bioluminescence to find mates, and bright human lights can disrupt these courtship signals. "In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms – including our own – light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study coauthor and Tufts PhD candidate Avalon Owens explained in the press release. The use of agricultural pesticides like organophosphates and neonicotinoids threatens fireflies, especially during their larval stages, when they spend as many as two years living below the ground or underwater. This makes them especially sensitive to pesticides that end up on lawns or in the soil, according to Popular Science.  Indeed, the plight of fireflies is reflected across the insect class. A November 2019 study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with extinction, which could lead to an "insect apocalypse" with serious consequences for humans and other life on Earth.

Bumblebees' decline points to mass extinction – study -- Bumblebees are in drastic decline across Europe and North America owing to hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures, scientists say. A study suggests the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in any given place has declined by 30% in the course of a single human generation. The researchers say the rates of decline appear to be “consistent with a mass extinction”.   Peter Soroye, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa and the study’s lead author, said: “We found that populations were disappearing in areas where the temperatures had gotten hotter. If declines continue at this pace, many of these species could vanish forever within a few decades.”The team used data collected over a 115-year period on 66 bumblebee species across North America and Europe to develop a model simulating “climate chaos” scenarios. They were able to see how bumblebee populations had changed over the years by comparing where the insects were now to where they used to be. Dr Tim Newbold, of University College London’s Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, said: “We were surprised by how much climate change has already caused bumblebee declines. Our findings suggest that much larger declines are likely if climate change accelerates in the coming years, showing that we need substantial efforts to reduce climate change if we are to preserve bumblebee diversity.” Bumblebees play a key role in pollinating crops such as tomatoes, squash and berries. The researchers say their methods could be used to predict extinction risk and identify areas where conservation actions are needed. The research is published in the journal Science.

Why rare beetles are being smuggled to Japan at an alarming rate - At 3 a.m. on a February morning in 2019, Reynaldo Zambrana is slashing at vegetation with a machete on a forested mountainside about 60 miles northeast of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. In the end, this hunt yields three Dynastes satanas, big shiny black scarab beetles endemic to Bolivia and known locally as lightbulb breakers. Along with the Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules), they’re members of the subfamily of rhinoceros beetles. With their impressive horns, they’re coveted by bug lovers, especially in Japan. Every January to May, satanas hunters in the mountainous municipality of Coroico hope to earn up to $30 for each live beetle they snag. On display in pet shops in Japan, the showiest satanas beetles may have a price tag of $500.  “On a good morning, we can catch up to five,” he says. “In a season, about 70 beetles can be captured per person. The largest I caught was 14 centimeters [five and a half inches].” In Bolivia, capturing, collecting, or storing wild animals has been prohibited since 1990, and laws allow for prison time of up to six years for people who get caught. Bolivia’s Environment Ministry classifies the satanas beetle as endangered, and under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates cross-border trade in animals and plants, importing and exporting them, is strictly regulated. Japan’s Invasive Alien Species Act—which aims to prevent adverse effects from introduced animals and plants on ecosystems, human security, agriculture, forestry, and fishing—prohibits the import of 148 species of animals and plants. Satanas and Hercules beetles, however, aren’t among them.  Entomologist Fernando Guerra Serrudo, an associate researcher at the Bolivian fauna collection, with the Institute of Ecology and the National Museum of Natural History in La Paz, worries about the scale of the trade in Dynastes beetles. “Illegal insect traffic moves a lot of money,” he says. “You can even sell fleas on the internet. Any type of insect has a price, and there are buyers.” He adds, “If high numbers of individuals continue to be extracted, the [beetles] will disappear.’’

Pesticides Are Killing off the Andean Condor -  High above the Argentinian plains, an Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) — one of the world's largest flying birdspecies — catches the distinctive aroma of decaying flesh on the wind. It's quickly joined by other condors, perhaps a dozen or more, who start circling in the familiar pattern of all carrion-loving vultures. Soon the massive condors spy the source of the delicious smell: a dead sheep or goat lying in a field. The hungry birds quickly angle in for descent, land around the body and begin to feed, tearing into the skin and meat with their sharp beaks.Then the condors also begin to die.At first they appear merely disoriented. Then they start to stumble, convulse and fall around the dead sheep. A few may try to fly, flapping mighty wings that span 10 feet — only to crash to the ground just a few yards away. Eventually the field is littered with dead condors. Few, if any, escape.This gruesome scene has played out several times in Argentina in recent years. In one incident that made worldwide headlines, 34 Andean condors died at a single site in 2018 — a major blow to a species with an estimated population of just 6,700 mature individuals, about 2,500 of which live in Argentina.What's killing these birds? Tragically, it's a case of persecution by pesticide. Livestock owners who needlessly fear the imposing condors — which only eat carrion (not live prey) — attract the birds with dead sheep and other animals laced with powerful, illegal neurotoxin pesticides such as carbofuran and parathion. They know that anything that eats the carcasses will quickly die — in theory, leaving the rest of nearby livestock "safe" from predators.Andean condors aren't the only target. Farmers also use the pesticide-laden bodies to lure in pumas, foxes, lynx, eagles and other predators that really do occasionally prey upon livestock.But it's condors that have been hit hardest by the practice. A new paper published Jan. 15 in the journalBiological Conservation calls the poisonings "the greatest threat to the Andean condor."

Armed ecoguards funded by WWF ‘beat up Congo tribespeople’ Exclusive: Inquiry into $21.4m conservation project reports ‘credible’ evidence of abuse Armed ecoguards partly funded by the conservation group WWF to protect wildlife in the Republic of the Congo beat up and intimidated hundreds of Baka pygmies living deep in the rainforests, an investigation into a landmark global conservation project has heard. A team of investigators sent to northern Congo by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to assess allegations of human rights abuses gathered “credible” evidence from different sources that hunter-gatherer Baka tribespeople living close to a proposed national park had been subjected to violence and physical abuse from the guards over years, according to a leaked draft of the report. The allegations, reported to the UN last year, included Baka tribespeople being beaten by the ecoguards, the criminalisation and illegal imprisonment of Baka men, summary evictions from the forest, the burning and destruction of property, and the confiscation of food. In addition, the UNDP’s social and environmental compliance unit heard how the ecoguards allegedly treated the Baka men as “sub-human” and humiliated some Baka women by forcing them to take off their clothes and “be like naked children”. The report says: “These beatings occur when the Baka are in their camps along the road as well as when they are in the forest. They affect men, women and children. Other reports refer to ecoguards pointing a gun at one Baka to force him to beat another and guards taking away the machetes of the Baka, then beating them with those machetes. “There are reports of Baka men having been taken to prison and of torture and rape inside prison. The widow of one Baka man spoke about her husband being so ill-treated in prison that he died shortly after his release. He had been transported to the prison in a WWF-marked vehicle.” The draft report, dated 6 January 2020, adds: “The violence and threats are leading to trauma and suffering in the Baka communities. It is also preventing the Baka from pursuing their customary livelihoods, which in turn is contributing to their further marginalisation and impoverishment.”

 State of the Union 2020: Trump touts trillion tree initiative - During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Trump didn’t breathe a word about climate change, the most serious threat to our security, health, economy, and natural world.  He did, however, mention his surprising new support for trees.“To protect the environment, days ago, I announced that the United States will join the OneTrillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world,” Trump said.  Last month, Trump announced that the US would join the program at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “We will continue to show strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and our forests,” Trump said at the event, but didn’t add any details about what the US would do to participate.The trillion tree program is also the newfound passion of Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce; at Davos, he launched a platform to manage it, called The company has also pledged to “support and mobilize the conservation and restoration of 100 million trees over the next decade.” The idea is that tree planting is a nature-based solution to climate change, since trees and soil can take in and store the heat-trapping carbon from the atmosphere that is warming the planet. Recently, there’s been a big surge in interest in this approach, especially since a controversial study in 2019 found that fully restoring degraded forests around the world would undo a large share of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.This idea seems to have struck a chord with some Republicans lately. Last year, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AK), wrote an editorial calling for preserving forests by creating markets for sustainable forest products like wood pellet biofuels and timber construction materials. This week, Westerman is expected to unveil a bill that would commit the US to planting 3.3 billion trees a year for the next 30 years. “The pragmatic, proactive thing to do is to plant forests and manage them so that you’re actually pulling carbon out of the atmosphere,” Westerman told the Hill.

Trophy 'Dream Hunt' With Donald Trump Jr. Starts Bidding at $10,000 - A national hunting group is under fire from animal rights groups for auctioning off the opportunity to spend a week in close quarters with Donald Trump Jr. in Alaska for a luxury "dream hunt" of Sitka black-tailed deer. The Safari Club International (SCI) will auction the trip at its annual convention. Bidding currently stands at $10,000. "This annual event is the largest meeting in the world of people who celebrate the senseless killing, buying, and selling of dead animals for bragging rights," Humane Society president and CEO Kitty Block told The Guardian Tuesday. "As our planet suffers an extinction crisis, it is business as usual for the trophy hunting industry and SCI, who continue to revel in spending millions of dollars every year to destroy imperiled wildlife." According to The Guardian:  The four-day event organized by Safari Club International (SCI) and advertised as a "hunters' heaven," will culminate on Saturday with an auction for a week-long Sitka black-tailed deer hunt in Alaska with Trump Jr, his son, and a guide. At the time of writing, bidding for the yacht-based expedition stands at $10,000 (£7,685).  Other prizes include the chance to shoot an elephant on a 14-day trip in Namibia, an all-inclusive hunt package to Zimbabwe to kill buffalo, giraffe and wildebeest, and a 10-day crocodile hunting expedition in South Africa. The proceeds from the auction, which campaigners say could exceed $5m, will fund SCI's "hunter advocacy and wildlife conservation efforts," according to the organization. Trump Jr.'s presence at the event led Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and member Al Jardine to call on their former bandmates to pull out of a scheduled appearance at the conference.  "This organization supports trophy hunting, which both Al and I are emphatically opposed to," tweeted Wilson, linking to a petition against the performance. The president's son will deliver a keynote address to the convention, a move that Independent reporter Chris Riotta noted was a bit on the nose for SCI, a group that claims to be concerned with conservation and protection.

Koalas Found 'Massacred' at Logging Site -- Australia's iconic koalas cannot catch a break. Nearly one third of the koalas in the state of New South Wales may have died in the country's devastating wildfire season, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC). And now, reports have emerged that dozens of the animals were killed at a timber plantation in the state of Victoria."Australia should be ashamed," 63-year-old Helen Oakley, who discovered the koalas while hiking in the area Wednesday, said in a Facebook video reported by ABC. "They've bulldozed 140 acres down and just killed all of our koalas."Oakley discovered the dead and injured koalas at a blue gum plantation near Cape Bridgewater in southwestern Victoria. She said she had found 10 dead koalas and dozens more trapped in blue gum stands on the property. Some of the trees had been bulldozed with koalas still in them.Victoria Animal Justice Party member of parliament Andy Meddick visited the scene Sunday and said he had found trees "bulldozed into piles," according to The Guardian."I saw at least 10 bodies in just one of those piles. A couple had literally been crushed to death when these trees have been uprooted," he said. "In one instance, a koala had her arm stuck between two branches and she had starved to death. Animals have been killed, injured and left to starve by whoever has done this."Friends of the Earth described the scene as a "massacre," according to AFP. Victoria's Conservation Regulation said it had looked at more than 80 koalas since arriving at the site Friday and that it had to euthanize around 30, The Guardian reported. Chief conservation regulator Kate Gavens said that at least 40 koalas had died, but that number was expected to rise as officials looked through another 10 kilometers (approximately 6.2 miles) of downed trees.

Hazard reduction burning had little to no effect in slowing extreme bushfires - Hazard reduction burning had little to no effect in slowing the most severe fires that devastated more than 5m hectares across New South Wales this summer, an analysis has found. Forest scientists from the University of Melbourne said initial results suggested hazard reduction was best used in a targeted way around assets to help protect them from less intense fires. It challenges claims by some politicians that state governments should substantially increase hazard reduction, possibly to meet a target of 5% of land each year. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has suggested he may introduce national standards that would report on how much hazard reduction the states carried out each year. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Morrison said hazard reduction was at least as important as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protect people as fire seasons worsened. The University of Melbourne desktop analysis used Rural Fire Service data to compare the size and severity of this season’s bushfires area with hazard reduction burns over the past five years. The majority of the area in which there had been prescribed burning had been razed again by bushfire in the past three months. Advertisement Patrick Baker, a professor of silviculture and forest ecology, said the prescribed burning did not “seem to have done much at all” in areas that faced a crowning bushfire that burned the canopy. He said the fire that devastated the NSW south coast between Batemans Bay and Jervis Bay over the new year scored 3.95 out of 4 on a severity scale despite recent hazard reduction burns in the area, some of which scored up to 3.8. “Pretty much the whole area was torched,”

Australia on standby for fire threat as heat, winds return -  (Reuters) - Australian authorities warned on Friday of severe fire danger in densely populated areas this weekend, declaring a state of emergency in the capital, Canberra, as soaring temperatures and strong whipped up huge, unpredictable blazes. FILE PHOTO: Melted metal from a vehicle destroyed in the recent bushfires is pictured in Conjola Park, New South Wales, Australia, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott With temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), emergency officials urged people to prepare for fires in parts of the southeast including hundreds of miles of coast south of Sydney that has already been badly hit in months of blazes. “Tomorrow will be the peak of the heatwave in NSW with some areas expected to reach extreme heatwave conditions,” the New South Wales (NSW) state Rural Fire Service said in a Facebook post late on Friday. Australia’s bushfires that have killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since September. About 2,500 homes have been destroyed as more than 11.7 million hectares (117,000 sq km) have been razed. Andrew Barr, chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), said the area’s first state of emergency since fatal wildfires in 2003 indicated the danger this weekend. Four people were killed and almost 500 homes destroyed in 2003. Officials said an out-of-control fire in the ACT’s south, on the doorstep of Canberra, had grown to 185 sq km, almost 8% of the territory’s land mass.

Australia floods: Fire-hit Australia faces ‘dangerous’ downpours BBC - The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) is braced for severe wet weather this weekend as downpours ease the bushfire crisis in the region.Severe weather warnings for rain, winds and flooding have been issued for coastal areas of the eastern state.Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned of "dangerous conditions" on Saturday and Sunday.There has already been flooding in Sydney and other areas along the coast.Friday was the wettest day recorded in well over a year in Sydney, where roads were closed and public transport delayed.Other NSW towns faced flood waters as well, including Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour, where 280mm and 250mm of rain fell respectively.The heavy rains are expected to continue until early next week, providing relief to some drought and fire-ravaged areas.NSW Rural Fire Service said the rain had extinguished a third of the blazes there, but as of Friday, 43 were still burning."Good rainfall is being recorded in parts of the state, with a hope it continues to drop where needed most," the fire service said. A weather system developing off the east coast of New South Wales is forecast to intensify over the weekend, after moving south from neighbouring Queensland. The BOM has issued a severe weather warning for a large stretch of coastline, from Coffs Harbour in the north to Batemans Bay in the south.

The Shocking Number of Florida Manatees Killed by Boats Last Year - Florida manatees had another deadly year in 2019. An estimated 531 manatees died in Florida waters in the past 12 months. That's a significant decrease from the number of deaths in 2018, when 824 manatees died, but it still represents a nearly 10 percent loss to their population in the state. Some manatees die from natural causes each year, but most of this year's mortalities were caused by a particularly human element: According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which keeps track of manatee mortality, at least 136 manatees died last year after being struck by speeding watercraft. That's nearly two times the number of manatees killed by boats in 2014. The number of boat strikes started to climb in 2016 — the same year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downlisting the species' conservation status from "endangered" to the lesser category of "threatened."As a result of this and other threats, manatee populations appear to be on the decline again. The most recent annual synoptic survey, conducted at the beginning of 2019, found 5,733 manatees in Florida waters — down from 6,620 just two years earlier. (Florida uses these surveys to provide a general view of manatee populations and but does not use them to assess long-term trends.) What else killed manatees this past year? Watch our video below to learn more

 $1 Million Worth of Shark Fins Seized at Miami Port - U.S. government officials found 1,400 pounds of shark fins worth $1 million hidden in boxes in Miami, Florida,according to CNN.In a news release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the shark fins were hidden in 18 boxes. The dried fins arrived from South America and were likely headed to Asia, the AP reported.Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia, especially in China. To meet the demand for the coveted dish, smugglers kill tens of millions of sharks every year, cutting the fin from a live shark, according to conservation groups, as the AP reported.The practice of shark finning is extremely wasteful and cruel. After the fin is cut off from the live shark, the rest of the shark is discarded. The practice has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 2000, according to the Miami Herald."The goal of this seizure is to protect these species while deterring trackers from using US ports as viable routes in the illegal shark fin trade," Christina Meister, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said as the Miami Herald reported.An international agreement between governments around the world is aimed to protect vulnerable animalsand plants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered S pecies (CITES) protects 12 species of sharks, which are included in Appendix II of CITES, according to CNN."The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told CNN. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case." While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S.

Researchers to release information on drinking water risks in NC — Coastal communities don’t need to worry too much about hexavalent chromium in their drinking water, but there are other contaminants to watch out for. This is according to statements Duke University professor of Earth and ocean science Dr. Avner Vengosh gave to the News-Times Wednesday in an interview. Dr. Vengosh is one of several researchers who will provide updates and information at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday on threats to drinking water in North Carolina. Four Duke University faculty and one scientist from NCSU will provide updates and background on threats to drinking water sources in the state. In addition to Dr. Vengosh, the scientists providing the updates and information include: Dr. Vengosh told the News-Times his part of the discussion will focus on two issues: coal ash contamination and hexavalent chromium contamination. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hexavalent chromium is an odorless and tasteless metallic element that may pose health risks if levels in drinking water exceed EPA standards. Coal ash, meanwhile, can contain contaminants such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic that, if left unregulated, may contaminate waterways, ground water, drinking water and the air.

How your clothes become microfibre pollution in the sea - From the polar ice cap to the Mariana Trench 10 kilometres below the waves, synthetic microfibres spat out by household washing machines are polluting oceans everywhere. The world has woken up over the last year to the scourge of single-use plastics, from bottles and straws to ear swabs and throw-away bags, resulting in legislation to restrict or ban their use in dozens of countries. A lot of this visible debris winds up in the sea, where it gathers in huge floating islands called gyres, entangles wildlife from turtles to terns, and hangs suspended in water like dead jellyfish. But a major source of marine pollution—microscopic bits of polyester, nylon and acrylic—has up to now gone largely unnoticed, experts say. Most people don't realise it, but "the majority of our clothes are made from plastic," said Imogen Napper, a researcher at the University of Plymouth. "We wash our clothes regularly, and hundreds of thousands of fibres come off per wash," she told AFP, "This could be one of the main sources of the plastic pollution into the environment." "How do we remove something that is so small?", she added. A 2015 report from the Ellen McArthur foundation estimated that half-a-million tonnes of microfibres leached into waterways every year, with 53 million tonnes of new textiles produced annually. The average family in the United States and Canada unleashes more than 500 million microfibres into the environment each year, according to the Ocean Wise organisation. The vast majority of those minuscule bits of textile—whether synthetic or not—are intercepted during water treatment, but nearly 900 tonnes winds up in the ocean all the same.

Could the Ohio River have rights? A movement to grant rights to the environment tests the power of local control - Can you imagine if the Ohio River and its tributaries had legal rights? While speculative, the idea isn't necessarily far-fetched. This month marks the one-year anniversary of residents in Toledo, Ohio, bestowing Lake Erie with its own bill of rights. In 2014, Ohio declared a state of emergency after about 110 people fell sick from an algae bloom and about half a million area residents were instructed not to drink tap water for three days. Unhappy with existing state and federal environmental protection, area activists got creative. Using an emerging legal strategy termed "rights of nature," they developed a ballot measure to give residents the ability to sue on behalf of Lake Erie, even if they can't show harm to humans. It's a unique move — and it's been challenged by conservative lawmakers and agribusiness groups like the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Opponents believe the measure will harm area industry and farmers, and after lobbying by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Republican-controlled state Legislature added language intended to nullify it in an appropriations bill signed into law in May. The lake's bill of rights also faces an ongoing lawsuit from an area farmer who said it wrongly exposes farmers to liability. Thomas Linzey, co-founder and senior legal counsel of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund [CELDF], sees the creation of the bill of rights as a tool to go beyond the protection offered by existing environmental regulations. His organization helped draft the measure, which has served as inspiration for similar proposals in cities like Buffalo, New York, and Flint, Michigan. "I think Toledo is a real watershed moment," Linzey said. Residents took local action because "it got bad enough for people to shift gears." In Pittsburgh, the idea of extending specific rights to a river is hypothetical — the mayor's office said that rights-of-nature legislation is not currently being discussed. The city, however, was previously a leader in rights-of-nature legislation with a 2010 ordinance that banned natural gas drilling by giving Pittsburgh residents the legal standing to sue on behalf of the natural environment. Ordinances of this type, however, are largely symbolic until courts either uphold or strike them down. "In Pittsburgh and wherever else these laws exist, they're just sitting there, not doing any good there," Linzey said. "Folks need to start picking them up and enforcing."

High water wreaks havoc on Great Lakes, swamping communities (AP) When Rita Alton's father built the 1,000-square-foot (93-square-meter), brick bungalow in the early 1950s near Manistee, Michigan, more than an acre of land lay between it and the drop-off overlooking the giant freshwater sea. But erosion has accelerated dramatically as the lake approaches its highest levels in recorded history, hurling powerful waves into the mostly clay bluff. Now, the jagged clifftop is about eight feet from Alton’s back deck. “The destruction is just incredible.” On New Year’s Eve, an unoccupied cottage near Muskegon, Michigan, plunged from an embankment to the water’s edge. Another down the coast was dismantled a month earlier to prevent the same fate. High water is wreaking havoc across the Great Lakes, which are bursting at the seams less than a decade after bottoming out. The sharp turnabout is fueled by the region’s wettest period in more than a century that scientists say is likely connected to the warming climate. No relief is in sight, as forecasters expect the lakes to remain high well into 2020 and perhaps longer. The toll is extensive: homes and businesses flooded; roads and sidewalks crumbled; beaches washed away; parks were rendered unusable. Docks that boats previously couldn’t reach because the water was too shallow are now submerged. At one point last year, ferry service was halted in the Lake Erie island community of Put-In-Bay after the vessels’ landing spot disappeared beneath the waves. On Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, portions of the only paved road washed away. Homeowners and agencies are extending battered seawalls, constructing berms and piling stones and sandbags. Some are elevating houses or moving them farther inland. Even shanties in a historic Michigan fishing village dating to 1903 are being raised. The state’s environment department has issued more than 400 permits for such projects. The situation is inspiring soul-searching over how to cope with a long-term challenge unique to this region. While communities along ocean coasts brace for rising seas, experts say the Great Lakes can now expect repeated, abrupt swings between extreme highs and lows. “It wasn’t long ago they were worried about Lake Michigan drying up. Now it’s full,” said Rich Warner, emergency services director for Muskegon County. “All these ups and downs — I don’t know if that’s something you can truly plan for.”

Thailand scraps China-led project to blast open Mekong River (Reuters) - Thailand has scrapped a Chinese-led project to blast rapids on the Mekong River that had been opposed by local people and environmental groups, a government spokeswoman said on Wednesday. China initiated a plan to dredge the Mekong River in 2001 to make room for large ships to carry goods from its landlocked southern province of Yunnan to ports in Thailand, Laos, and the rest of Southeast Asia. The plan had been opposed by conservationists and communities in Thailand living along the Mekong River. They feared it would harm the environment and benefit only China. The Thai cabinet agreed to scrap the dredging plan during a weekly meeting on Tuesday. “The communities affected and non-profit groups were against the plan, fearing it would affect the way of life, and China also had no funding for it ... So we ended the project,” said Trisulee Trisaranakul, a deputy government spokeswoman. “It didn’t take off yet. We were only doing environmental and social impact assessments,” she told Reuters.

Sea level rise accelerating along US coastline, scientists warn  - The pace of sea level rise accelerated at nearly all measurement stations along the US coastline in 2019, with scientists warning some of the bleakest scenarios for inundation and flooding are steadily becoming more likely.Of 32 tide-gauge stations in locations along the vast US coastline, 25 showed a clear acceleration in sea level rise last year, according to researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Vims).The selected measurements are from coastal locations spanning from Maine to Alaska. About 40% of the US population lives in or near coastal areas.The gathering speed of sea level rise is evident even within the space of a year, with water levels at the 25 sites rising at a faster rate in 2019 than in 2018. The highest rate of sea level rise was recorded along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, with Grand Isle, Louisiana, experiencing a 7.93mm annual increase, more than double the global average. The Texas locations of Galveston and Rockport had the next largest sea level rise increases.Generally speaking, the sea level is rising faster on the US east and Gulf coasts compared with the US west coast, partially because land on the eastern seaboard is gradually sinking.Researchers at Vims said that the current speed-up in sea level rise started around 2013 or 2014 and is probably caused by ocean dynamics and ice sheet loss. Worldwide, sea level rise is being driven by the melting of large glaciers and the thermal expansion of ocean water due to human-induced global heating.“Acceleration can be a game changer in terms of impacts and planning, so we really need to pay heed to these patterns,” said John Boon, Vims emeritus professor and founder of institute’s project to chart sea level rise. The US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) has also reported an acceleration in sea level rise, warning that if greenhouse gas emissions are not constrained there may be a worst-case scenario of as much as a 8.2ft increase by 2100, compared with 2000 levels.

 Sea Level Rise Is Speeding up Along Most of the U.S. Coast -- Sea level rise in most of the U.S. is speeding up.That's the conclusion of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) latest annual sea level "report card" that measures tide gauges at 32 locations along the U.S. coast. At 25 of the 32 sites, sea level rise accelerated at higher rates in 2019 than it did in 2018."Acceleration can be a game changer in terms of impacts and planning, so we really need to pay heed to these patterns," VIMS emeritus professor John Boon said in a university press release.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said that if greenhouse emissions are not reduced, sea levels could rise 8.2 feet from 2000 levels by 2100, The Guardian reported.The VIMS researchers said their findings suggest that U.S. coastal cities may need to start planning for that worst-case scenario."We have increasing evidence from the tide-gauge records that these higher sea-level curves need to be seriously considered in resilience-planning efforts," VIMS marine scientist Molly Mitchell said in the press release. The researchers said that sea level rise began to accelerate in 2013 and 2014 due to the movement of the ocean and the melting of ice sheets. So far, sea levels are rising faster on the East and Gulf Coasts than on the West Coast. In the case of the Gulf Coast, fossil fuel extraction is attacking the land on two fronts. Emissions contribute to the climate crisis, which raises sea levels, and the pumping of oil causes land to sink. In 2019, the three locations that saw the highest rates of sea level rise were all on the Gulf: Grand Isle, Louisiana at 7.93 millimeters per year (mm/yr), Rockport, Texas at 6.95 mm/yr and Galveston, Texas at 6.41 mm/yr. Sea level rise rates did also accelerate in seven of eight West Coast stations measured, with the exception of Alaska. "Although sea level has been rising very slowly along the West Coast," Mitchell said, "models have been predicting that it will start to rise faster. The report cards from the past three years support this idea." This change would be due to shifting wind patterns caused by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. In Alaska, meanwhile, all four stations showed sea levels falling because of mountain building.

The Arctic’s thawing permafrost is releasing a shocking amount of dangerous gases - In the black spruce forests along the Tanana River in central Alaska, scientists watched for years as trees tipped, leaned, and toppled into boggy ground. Over time, the earth below weakened and grew soupy. This once-hard soil, thick with ice, was heating up, sinking and filling with rain and snow melt. Scientists have known for decades that as rising temperatures thaw the northern latitudes, previously frozen soil called permafrost will release greenhouse gases, which in turn will speed up global climate change. But based in part on what they learned by studying Alaska’s “drunken forests,” Turetsky, Jones and a team of experts this week confirmed something else: Warming of small patches of frozen ground that contain large veins of ice will release far more emissions than once thought. This process, called “abrupt thaw,” will probably hit just 5 percent of Arctic permafrost. But that will likely be enough, conservatively, to double permafrost’s overall contribution to the warming of the planet, the team of researchers led by Turetsky concluded in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience. “It’s a little change, but it can have a big punch,”    Permafrost will still produce fewer emissions than our own burning of coal, oil and natural gas. David Lawrence, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said that—until now— thawing permafrost had been expected to amplify human-caused climate change by about 10 percent. But doubling that figure is significant because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the global organization that estimates how quickly we need to stop burning fossil fuels to keep the worst warming at bay—has not taken permafrost fully into account.

 Arctic Permafrost Is Melting so Fast, It's Gouging Holes in the Landscape -  Current estimates of carbon emissions from melting Arctic permafrost rely on a model of a gradual melt. New research has found abrupt thawing of permafrost which means carbon emissions estimates should be doubled. The rate at which permafrost is thawing in the Arctic is gouging holes in the landscape, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not considered the phenomenon of thermokarst — the degraded land ravaged by an abrupt thaw. When the permafrost that supports the soil disappears, then hillsides collapse and enormous sinkholes suddenly appear, as Wired reported. The effect runs through meters of permafrost and takes a matter of months or a few years. That upends the traditional models of permafrost thawing, which look at a few centimeters of permafrost melt over several decades. The rapid change to the permafrost shocks the landscape, causing an enormous release of carbon. The researchers found that abrupt thawing will happen in less than 20 percent of the permafrost zone, "but could affect half of permafrost carbon through collapsing ground, rapid erosion and landslides," the authorswrote in the study. Not only does an abrupt thaw release carbon, but it also releases a tremendous amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. So, while only 5 percent of the permafrost may experience abrupt thaw at one time, the emissions will be equal to a much larger area going through a gradual thaw. This can rapidly change the landscape drastically."Forests can become lakes in the course of a month, landslides occur with no warning, and invisible methane seep holes can swallow snowmobiles whole," Turetsky said in a statement from the University of Colorado Boulder. "Systems that you could walk on with regular hiking boots and that were dry enough to support tree growth when frozen can thaw, and now all of a sudden these ecosystems turn into a soupy mess," Turetsky added. The most worrisome permafrost is the type that holds a lot of water because frozen water takes up more space than water. When it thaws it loses a lot of volume. "Where permafrost tends to be lake sediment or organic soils, the type of earth material that can hold a lot of water, these are like sponges on the landscape," Turetsky said, as Wired reported. "When you have thaw, we see really dynamic and rapid changes."

Deep ocean oxygen levels may be more susceptible to climate change than expected Much more oxygen than previously thought is transported deep into the ocean interior through a 'trap door" in the Labrador Sea that some researchers say could be closing as a result of climate change. This was reported by scientists from Dalhousie University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego in a paper published today in the journal Nature Geosciences. They measured the transfer of gases, including oxygen and carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere to depths as great as two kilometres. The oxygen taken up by the ocean over a year in the Labrador Sea was 10 times larger than typically estimated. Large numbers of air bubbles, injected during violent, winter storms, were responsible for the difference. The higher oxygen supply also implies higher-than-expected demand for oxygen by deep-sea ecosystems. The Labrador Sea is one of only a handful of locations worldwide, where the atmosphere and deep ocean connect, directly. A 'trap door' to the deep ocean opens there for a few months each winter, when surface water becomes cold and dense enough to sink into and mix with deep, oxygen-deficient waters. "While bubble-mediated gas transfer has been recognized for decades, our measurements show how critically important it is when the 'trap door' is open and a vast volume of oxygen-deficient deep ocean water is exposed to the atmosphere," says Dariia Atamanchuk, a research associate in Dalhousie's Department of Oceanography and lead author of the study.

Scientists find record warm water in Antarctica, pointing to cause behind troubling glacier melt - A team of scientists has observed, for the first time, the presence of warm water at a vital point underneath a glacier in Antarctica—an alarming discovery that points to the cause behind the gradual melting of this ice shelf while also raising concerns about sea-level rise around the globe. "Warm waters in this part of the world, as remote as they may seem, should serve as a warning to all of us about the potential dire changes to the planet brought about by climate change," explains David Holland, director of New York University's Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Global Sea Level Change, which conducted the research. "If these waters are causing glacier melt in Antarctica, resulting changes in sea level would be felt in more inhabited parts of the world." The recorded warm waters—more than two degrees above freezing—flow beneath the Thwaites Glacier, which is part of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. The discovery was made at the glacier's grounding zone—the place at which the ice transitions between resting fully on bedrock and floating on the ocean as an ice shelf and which is key to the overall rate of retreat of a glacier. Thwaites' demise alone could have significant impact globally. It would drain a mass of water that is roughly the size of Great Britain or the state of Florida and currently accounts for approximately 4 percent of global sea-level rise. Some scientists see Thwaites as the most vulnerable and most significant glacier in the world in terms of future global sea-level rise—its collapse would raise global sea levels by nearly one meter, perhaps overwhelming existing populated areas. Scientists find record warm water in Antarctica, pointing to cause behind troubling glacier melt.

Warming oceans could cause Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse, sea level rise - A new study suggests the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is less stable than researchers once thought. As in the past, its collapse in the future is likely. The finding is based in part on the results of a paper published this week in Nature, co-led by University of Wisconsin–Madison atmospheric scientist Feng He and Oregon State University's Peter Clark, which looks back at the last two time periods in which the planet transitioned from a glacial state, when ice sheets covered large swaths of the globe, into an interglacial state, such as the one we are in now. The goal of the study, He says, was to better understand what contributes to rising sea levels. This has challenged researchers because of the large amount of uncertainty involved in understanding the contributions made by the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. "Essentially, we just don't know how fast they are going to melt, whether the marine-based Antarctic ice sheet will collapse, or how quickly it will happen—whether it's 100 years or 1,000 years," says He, associate scientist in the Center for Climatic Research at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. "By 2200, there is a possibility of 7.5-meter sea level rise when accounting for the instability of the western and eastern Antarctic Ice Sheet." Overall, the study found that warming below the surface of the planet's oceans is a significant contributor to ice sheet melt, particularly in the Antarctic, where a large portion of the ice sheet exists under the water. During the last two transitions from glacial into interglacial periods, that warming was largely driven by the disruption of a process known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), akin to an oceanic conveyor belt that carries warm waters northward and cold waters south. Sub-surface warming, also referred to as oceanic forcing, was likely responsible for the collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice sheet during Earth's last interglacial period going back 125,000 years, which led to three meters of sea level rise. Overall, seas rose by up to nine meters, or nearly 30 feet, during the last interglacial period.

Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3C  Antarctica has logged its hottest temperature on record, with an Argentinian research station thermometer reading 18.3C, beating the previous record by 0.8C. The reading, taken at Esperanza on the northern tip of the continent’s peninsula, beats Antarctica’s previous record of 17.5C, set in March 2015. A tweet from Argentina’s meteorological agency on Friday revealed the record. The station’s data goes back to 1961. Antarctica’s peninsula – the area that points towards South America – is one of the fastest warming places on earth, heating by almost 3C over the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Almost all the region’s glaciers are melting. The Esperanza reading breaks the record for the Antarctic continent. The record for the Antarctic region – that is, everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude – is 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.

Fridays for Future Movement Urges Greater Global Focus on Africa's Climate Champions -The Fridays for Future movement held a press conference Friday focused on the need for the world to better recognize the amazing climate activism taking place in Africa — a continent that is already enduring severe impacts of global heating in spite of its limited contributions to creating the crisis.Climate activists and experts joined the event via video, including Vanessa Nakate of Fridays for Future Uganda, who was cropped out of an Associated Press photo with four white school strikers while attending the World Economic Forum's summit in Davos, Switzerland last week. The incident put a spotlight on the erasure of Africans in conversations and reporting about the climate emergency.Joining Nakate for the live-streamed conference were movement founder Greta Thunberg of Sweden; Fridays for Future activists Ell Ottosson Jarl of Sweden, Makenna Muigai of Kenya, and Ayakha Melithafa of South Africa; and Ndoni Mcunu, a climate scientist at the Global Change Institute at University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. In a Facebook post about the press conference, Fridays for Future International said that following the photo incident, which the AP called a "terrible mistake" and apologized for, "The media must report fairly and justly on the climate crisis throughout the world." Not only do journalists and news outlets often lack African voices in climate coverage, they also fail to report on how global heating is impacting the continent. A new CARE International analysis that Common Dreamsreported on this week found that nine of the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises in the world last year were in Africa, and many of those crises were climate-related.   Nakate, according to BuzzFeed, now sees the photo incident at Davos as an opportunity to make climate discussions, including in the media, more inclusive: "After the picture and everything that happened, I received quite a number of messages and support from different parts of the world,"  Nakate said. "I believe that the media will start to cover stories from different parts of the world, because I believe that each country has an activist, and every activist has a story to tell, a solution to give." Thunberg, who was in the photo at Davos and expressed support for Nakate after she was excluded from it, said Friday that "the African perspective is always so under-reported" and with the press conference, she hoped to use her platform to direct some focus to activists on the continent.

Youth Activists Call on California State Teachers Retirement System to End 'Toxic Relationship' With Fossil Fuel Companies - Youth climate activists in California descended on the state's capitol Sacramento on Thursday to demand divestment from the fossil fuel industry from public school teachers' pension system. "You want to be in a relationship with fossil fuel companies?" Sujeith, a sixth-grader from Oakland, asked the board of the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS. "What have they done before other than pollute the planet? That sounds like a toxic relationship." Thursday's action was aimed at pressuring the board of CalSTRS, which manages pensions for the state's public school teachers, to divest from fossil fuels. The fund has claimed that divestment would be a financial burden on its members. "CalSTRS is playing roulette with our pensions and our children's future by holding onto these doomed assets," said CalSTRS member Paula Buel, a retired teacher who volunteers with climate advocacy group Fossil Free California.As Common Dreams reported, perceiving fossil fuels as "doomed assets" is no longer unique to the climate movement. CNBC anchor Jim Cramer called the industry "in the death knell phase" on Friday and announced he was no longer recommending investing in fossil fuels.While CalSTRS did vote on Thursday to institute "Belief 9," a policy statement on the risks of climate investment, that's no substitute for real action, said Fossil Free California executive director Vanessa Warheit. "We appreciate CalSTRS' efforts to engage corporations to help mitigate their climate-related risk," said Warheit. "But engaging with the energy sector — which is currently 100% comprised of fossil fuel companies — is a waste of staff time and resources."

  Georgetown Announces Fossil Fuel Divestment, Students Across U.S. Demand Their Schools Follow Suit - Student-led anti-fossil fuel campaigns at universities across the country pointed to Georgetown University Friday as the school's board of directors announced it would divest from fossil fuels and redouble its efforts to invest in renewable energy instead.The university's decision came after a sustained pressure campaign from Georgetown University Fossil Free (GUFF), a student group which submitted multiple proposals to the Georgetown Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility before the panel recommended the divestment this week. The school community also voted on a referendum regarding divestment on Thursday, within more than 90 percent voting in favor.GUFF issued a statement thanking the board of directors for its decision to divest and the school community for participating in the campaign."We are thrilled that our university has taken this important step in supporting climate justice, student voices, and financial accountability," GUFF wrote.Similar groups at other schools called on administrators to follow suit:Under Georgetown's new policy, the board of directors said, "The university will continue to make investments that target a market rate of return in renewable energy, energy efficiency and related areas while freezing new endowment investments in companies or funds whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels." The school will divest from public securities in fossil fuel companies in the next five years and existing investments in those companies in the next decade.

Risk of ‘stranded assets’ from 2025, new oil report warns - The lack of urgency in setting new regulations to drive climate action is likely to result in a "forceful, abrupt, and disorderly" policy response from 2025 that will seriously hit the fossil-fuel industry, a new report has warned. "We do not know when or how an inevitable policy response will come, which makes it hard for companies to plan," said Andrew Grant, senior analyst and author of the report of the financial think tank Carbon Tracker published on Friday (31 January). However, according to Grant, preparing in advance and the industry aligning their investments with climate targets "will deliver the highest returns for the lowest risk under any outcome". The report urges governments to implement policies that limit new investment in fossil fuel projects to ensure a smooth transition towards sustainability, stable prices and predictable valuations. Carbon Tracker's latest analysis warns companies that their future investments on oil and gas projects based on 'business as usual' government policies are likely to be in danger as tougher policies enter into force. Oil companies "risk being left with stranded assets" assuming that governments will not take "forceful action" to limit climate change, Grant said. However, the study indicates that a swift in climate change policies from 2025 onwards could cause sharp changes in oil pricing, wiping out the value that was assumed beforehand. The loss of value of new projects will be mainly driven by investing based on signals sent by the oil price, what can lull investors into "a false sense of security". Oil demand is expected to grow by 0.6 percent a year over the next five years, before a "dramatic" decline in the oil price takes place over the period 2025-2040, the analysis states. However, the longer that price signals lead to over-investment, the more disruption fossil-fuel industry face later on when increasingly drastic measures are required.

‘Uninsurable and Unhedgeable’: Central Banks Warn of Financial Crisis from Climate Change - Like black swan events, “green swan” events will be very difficult to predict and will hit with little warning. The potential for a cascading series of crises stemming from climate change threatens global financial stability, and the world’s central banks are not equipped to respond to them, or even predict what exactly might unfold, the 100-page BIS report said.  The financial risk from climate change is typically put into two categories: physical risk and transition risk. The former refers to natural disasters or some other climate-related calamity that imposes steep costs on society from physical damage, such as a drought or a hurricane. Transition risk refers to the repricing of assets as the global economy shifts towards cleaner energy, such as an oil company losing much of its value following the passage of a painful carbon tax. Both types of risk “are characterized by deep uncertainty and nonlinearity,” BIS said. Worse, they will interact with each other, resulting in feedback loops that could deepen financial stress. The destruction of coastal real estate could trigger bank failures or the collapse of insurance marketsas losses pile up, for example. The ripple effects are difficult to predict, and the 2008-2009 financial crisis is a reminder that the financial system can seize up in an instant. However, green swan events are different from a typical “black swan” event in that while the details or timing of the disaster are unpredictable, there is nevertheless a high degree of certainty that climate catastrophes will indeed happen. And they are “even more serious than most systemic financial crises: they could pose an existential threat to humanity,” the BIS report warned. Central banks have dangerously few tools at their disposal to respond to climate-related financial crises. Ahead of time, central banks can do stress tests, work with financial markets on disclosure, study regulation, and recommend certain policies. They can also exclude debt of carbon-intensive industries when they purchase bonds, for instance, or require lenders to hold more capital reserves. But “climate-related risks will remain largely uninsurable or unhedgeable as long as system-wide action is not undertaken,” the BIS said.  This is not the first time that someone has warned about climate change bringing down the financial system. The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned for years about the financial risks from a changing climate and did so again recently. Various organizations havewarned of “stranded assets” for years.  But the latest report from the BIS is notable because of who is issuing the warning. The BIS is an organization made up of 60 central banks from around the world, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. It’s often likened to the central bank of central banks. In other words, this is not an environmental group or even a collection of socially responsible investors urging a greening of finance. Rather, the world’s most powerful financial institutions are sounding the alarm that “a new global financial crisis triggered by climate change would render central banks and financial supervisors powerless,” as the report warned.

Chevron Seeks to Move All Climate Lawsuits to Federal Courts - Chevron attorney Ted Boutrous has sent letters to three appellate courts, arguing that the recent dismissal of the landmark youth climate case, Juliana v. United States, supports the argument by fossil fuel companies that all climate liability suits belong in federal court and should be similarly dismissed.A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month dismissed Juliana, but the case was significantly different from the climate liability cases Boutrous argues should be dismissed on the same grounds. In Juliana, the young plaintiffs sued the U.S. government for violating their rights by exacerbating climate change. The Ninth Circuit panel ruled they did not have standing because climate change cannot be addressed through the judicial branch of government and instead must be addressed by the executive and legislative branches. The cases Boutrous refers to in the letters, which were sent Wednesday to the Ninth, Fourth, and First Circuit courts, were filed in state courts against fossil fuel companies, alleging they violated state laws by selling a product they knew to be the main driver of global warming. Boutrous argues the Juliana ruling supports the fossil fuel companies’ argument that claims made by municipalities “arise under federal law, and thus support federal jurisdiction, even if those claims ultimately fail for lack of remedy.”Dozens of municipalities across the country have filed lawsuits against Chevron and other companies seeking compensation for impacts that have already happened and for infrastructure improvements needed to protect their residents from the increasing effects of climate change. The communities emphasize that these companies knew decades ago their products would cause these impacts.The jurisdictional question has been hotly contested in all of the suits, with the municipalities trying to get the cases heard in state court under state laws, and the industry fighting to put them in federal court, where they think they have a better chance of shaking the suits — thus the new emphasis on the federal dismissal of Juliana.  Doug Kysar, a deputy dean and professor at Yale Law School, said the Juliana case is far different from the liability cases and judges are unlikely to adopt Boutrous’ logic. “From a legal perspective, the relevance of the recent Juliana opinion is slim to nonexistent,” Kysar said. “The defendants’ argument, which … seems to suggest that all climate liability suits must be heard in federal court, is not rooted in law but in a perception that federal courts will cater to the defendants’ economic interests.”

Rex Tillerson Questions Human Role in Curbing Climate Change-- Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. secretary of state under President Donald Trump and ex-chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., told an industry conference in Houston that he questions whether there is anything humans can do to combat climate change. “With respect to our ability to influence it, I think that’s still an open question,” Tillerson said Tuesday at the Argus Americas Crude Summit. “Our belief in the ability to influence it is based upon some very, very complicated climate models that have very wide outcomes.” Tillerson’s comments stand in stark contrast to the scientific consensus that cutting emissions can help slow humanity’s contribution to global warming. The remarks come less than a month after New York’s attorney general said she wouldn’t appeal a court ruling rejecting the state’s claim that Exxon misled investors for years about its internal planning for risks associated with climate change. Exxon doesn’t dispute that its operations produce greenhouse gases or that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, according to court documents from that case. Within weeks of his promotion to CEO in 2006, the Exxon lifer acknowledged the threat from climate change and the need for alternative fuels to reduce greenhouse gases. Still, while leading the Western Hemisphere’s biggest oil company, Tillerson was an opponent of climate-friendly shareholder resolutions and carbon cap-and-trade systems. He also was a leading proponent of fracking and relished public debates with activists over the technical nuances of the United Nations climate research. On Tuesday, Tillerson said he’s long taken the view that climate change “is a very serious matter.” Scientists should be allowed to continue their work on global warming without fear that their funding will be cut off if they come to “the wrong conclusion.” He went on to say that the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is “fine,” but that modeling the impact of certain mitigation efforts on temperatures is more complicated. “Whether or not anything we do will ultimately influence it remains to be seen,” he said in response to a question on rising concern about climate change. “One day we’ll know the answer to that, but our ability to predict the answer to that is quite complicated.”

Trump's new trade deal is disastrous for the planet - During the Democratic debate last month, Senator Bernie Sanders was explaining his opposition to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump's climate-destabilizing NAFTA reboot, when he was cut off by a moderator. "We're going to get to climate change, but I'd like to stay on trade," she said."They are the same," Sanders shot back.Sanders is right. Trade deals can encourage corporations to export both jobs and pollution. They can weaken climate policies and encourage the extraction of more fossil fuels — exacerbating climate change. Or they can be written to address humanity's most urgent threat.As a number of leading members of Congress and virtually every major environmental group have made clear, Trump's USMCA opts for ignoring the health of the planet. Despite these warnings, Trump signed his pro-polluter trade deal last week.The deal's chapter on the environment fails to even mention "climate change." Nor does it include meaningful standards to prevent corporations from dumping toxic pollution in border communities. Instead, the deal makes it easier for polluters tooverheat our planet — which can lead to more extreme weather, more lost homes, more lost harvests and more lost lives. Trade deals like the original NAFTA have helped make the United States the world's largest outsourcer of carbon pollution. Thanks to NAFTA, the United States now imports goods like electronics from Mexico that were once made here with substantially fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Because the USMCA fails to include binding climate pollution standards that would apply across borders, companies will simply continue outsourcing pollution to wherever environmental standards are lowest. For US workers, that means lost jobs. For our communities, it means more climate crisis. Whether the emissions are released in Oaxaca or Ohio, they still help cook the planet.

Land Bureau May Exempt Plans From Environmental Review - The Bureau of Land Management may stop studying how its long-term blueprints for millions of acres of public lands would affect the environment, according to a document shared with Bloomberg Environment. Land use plans are updated every two decades or more, and govern the management of more than 245 million acres of public land under BLM control. They determine, for example, which lands are developed for fossil fuels and mining, grazed by livestock, or protected from development entirely. The BLM may propose a land use planning rule that will “remove NEPA requirements from the planning regulations,” referring to the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the document on possible changes to such rules that was shared with states and former BLM officials. “We don’t currently have a timeline to start the rulemaking process for this proposal,” BLM spokesman Jeff Krauss said Tuesday. “If we move forward with a proposed rule, we will notify the public, as required by law.” The BLM didn’t respond to specific questions about the proposal. The Trump administration is considering the BLM changes alongside a broader proposal to exempt some federal projects from NEPA requirements, speed up the permitting process, and overhaul other public lands-related rules, including grazing regulations. Current federal regulations require that all proposed BLM plans for land use undergo environmental studies. An environmental impact statement for each plan must be published, and the public must be allowed to comment. If the BLM’s idea became a new rule, it would eliminate the need for reports on the environmental effects of land use plans. For example, if a plan proposes opening large areas to oil and gas development, the government wouldn’t be required to study the environmental impact of such a plan.

Trump Blowing Up Arizona National Monument for Border Wall - CONTRACTORS WORKING FOR the Trump administration are blowing apart a mountain on protected lands in southern Arizona to make way for the president’s border wall. The blasting is happening on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a tract of Sonoran Desert wilderness long celebrated as one of the nation’s great ecological treasures, that holds profound spiritual significance to multiple Native American groups. In a statement to The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the blasting began this week and will continue through the end of the month. “The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” the statement said, referring to an area also known as Monument Hill. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.” The agency added that it “will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Intercept that he has zero faith that the Department of Homeland Security’s “environmental monitor will do anything to avoid, mitigate, or even point out some of the sacrilegious things that are occurring and will continue to occur, given the way they’re proceeding.” Grijalva’s blunt assessment is based on a visit he made to Organ Pipe last month, alongside archaeologists and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose ancestral homelands and sacred burial sites are in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s border wall expansion. One of those burial sites lies just beyond the westward advance of the border wall, Grijalva explained. “It’s right in the path,” he said, meaning that “the one indignation of the blasting on the hill is shortly to follow with other indignations and disrespect.”

 Kohler to pay $20M penalty for California engine emissions (AP) — Kohler Co. has agreed to pay a $20 million civil penalty to resolve allegations that emissions from its small spark-ignition engines violated the Clean Air Act and California law. The Wisconsin-based company reached the agreement Thursday with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. Regulators say the alleged violations involved Kohler’s manufacture and sale of millions of small, non-road, non-handheld spark-ignition engines that did not conform to certification applications Kohler was required to submit to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board. Regulators also allege that more than 144,000 of the engines also were equipped with a fueling strategy known as a “defeat device” designed to cheat emissions testing standards. Small, spark-ignition engines are used in lawn mowers, ride-on mowers, commercial landscaping equipment and generators. The engines in question were sold from 2010 to 2015. “Today’s settlement holds Kohler accountable for flouting federal law, and evens the playing field for others in the regulated community who invest in compliance programs designed to prevent illegal and harmful emissions to the air,”

Electric or Not, Big SUVs Are Inherently Selfish - The Hummer brand—including the original H1 and its successors, the similarly monstrous yet half-priced H2 and even more affordable H3—sold more than 308,000 vehicles in the U.S. between 2002 and 2010 when it was discontinued as part of General Motors’ restructuring following its 2009 bankruptcy and $50 billion government bailout. During the Super Bowl, GM announced the Hummer is back with a 30-second ad spot featuring Lebron James. And not only is it back, but it’s electric. GM is betting it'll be able to sell the Hummer for all the same reasons it used to, with the added pitch that electric drivetrains provide better performance, such as a zero-to-sixty time of three seconds. Saving the planet will not, it seems, be a big part of the sales pitch. The sidelining of the environmental benefits of EVs aligns with the role Hummer and other gigantic SUVs have played in our environmental challenges. The Hummer, in all its militaristic aggressiveness, is the very embodiment of the wasteful excess that contributed to the climate crisis in the first place. Cars are inherently about projecting a self-image, and hundreds of thousands of Americans chose to project one of profound, pathological selfishness. The electrification of the Hummer is not a signal of climate progress. It is a declaration that it’s still OK to be an asshole.

Obama Helped Make Cars More Efficient, but Now They Spew Black Carbon --If you’re getting more bang for your buck at the gas pump today than you were a decade ago, you can thank the Obama administration. Obama’s 2012 updates to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE standards, made new cars more fuel-efficient and reduced their carbon dioxide emissions. But a study published this week casts a dark shadow over that success story. Researchers found that the path we’ve chosen to better fuel economy could end up costing the U.S. hundreds of lives each year.“I think this was a classic case of unintended consequences,” said Rawad Saleh, an assistant professor at the Air Quality and Climate Research Laboratory at the University of Georgia and a co-author of the study. Here’s what happened. To get in line with the CAFE standards, automakers leapt at a technology called the gasoline direct injection, or GDI, engine. In 2008, GDI engines were in a mere 2.3 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S., but by 2018, that number jumped to 51 percent. The EPA expected it to rise to 93 percent by 2025 under the rules set out under Obama, which the Trump administration is trying to roll back. Before GDIs came along, most cars had port fuel injection engines, or PFIs. With a PFI engine, gasoline mixes with oxygen from the air, forming a vapor, before reaching the engine. In a GDI engine, the liquid fuel is injected directly. GDI engines produce more power for every drop of fuel, but the fuel burns less uniformly. The result is a car that emits less CO2 per mile driven, but the incomplete combustion creates more particulate pollution, like black carbon. Black carbon is one of many pollutants known as “particulate matter 2.5” or PM2.5 — tiny, inhalable, solid particles that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller and are linked to respiratory diseases, asthma, and premature death for people with heart or lung disease. Exposure to black carbon has also been associated with cancer and birth defects. Unlike CO2, a gas that hangs around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, black carbon particles float around for a few days to a few weeks before falling back to earth. The dark surface of the particles directly absorbs radiation from the sun, adding heat to the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

UK government plans to ban the sale of diesel and gasoline cars by 2035 - The U.K. government wants to end the sale of new diesel and petrol (gasoline) cars by the year 2035. The plans, which were announced Tuesday and are subject to consultation, also include hybrid vehicles. U.K. authorities had previously said the sale of new petrol and diesel vans and cars would end in 2040. Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s transport secretary, said that the government’s £1.5 billion ($1.95 billion) strategy to “make owning an electric vehicle as easy as possible” was working, claiming that in 2019 a “fully electric car was sold every 15 minutes.” In practice, ending the sale of petrol, diesel or hybrid cars or vans would leave consumers with a choice between electric and hydrogen vehicles. “Drivers support measures to clean up air quality and reduce CO2 emissions but these stretched targets are incredibly challenging,” Edmund King, the president of driving association the AA, said in a statement issued in response to the government’s new target. “We must question whether we will have a sufficient supply of a full cross section of zero emissions vehicles in less than fifteen years,” King added. Battery electric vehicle registrations in the U.K. grew to 37,850 in 2019, according to recent figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. This represents an increase of 144% compared to 2018, when 15,510 were registered. While this growth is encouraging for advocates of low and zero emission vehicles, the market share for battery electric vehicles in 2019 was just 1.6%, while hybrid electric vehicles had a 4.2% share. At the other end of the spectrum, petrol had a market share of 64.8%, while diesel’s share was 25.2%.

Solar Industry Waits to Assess Ripple Effects From China's Coronavirus Outbreak  -The novel coronavirus, a respiratory illness that’s sickened more than 17,000 and killed more than 360 people in China as of Feb. 3, may impact the Chinese-rooted solar energy supply chain, potentially contributing to labor shortages, equipment delays and global price increases. Determining the full impact of the virus is currently impossible due to high uncertainty. Cases of the virus, which originated in the Chinese province of Hubei, are still rising and have been reported in more than 20 other countries. “At this point, this is still early in the development of the epidemic, and many different scenarios could play out,” Xiaojing Sun, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, said in a Jan. 31 interview. “It’s still very fluid.” Because the virus’ rise occurred during the Chinese Lunar New Year, the Chinese government extended the holiday to prevent its spread. Work shutdowns continue at several module manufacturers, and production is unlikely to start back up again until well into February. “Everything is on hold until at least [February 3], and that’s just official Chinese policy,” said Sun. “Many local governments want their laborers to resume work a little later.” But shutdowns through February 9 apply in several provinces with a solar manufacturing footprint including Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui. Companies including Trina, Hanwha Q Cells, JA Solar and Enphase have manufacturing facilities in those locales, according to a Thursday note published by Roth Capital Partners. Hubei, the province where the first case of novel coronavirus was reported, is home to many laborers who work elsewhere, according to Sun. Quarantines there could put further pressure on Chinese companies, which may experience labor shortages as they restart production.

 Oak Ridge National Lab scientists make geothermal battery for homes - A modern remix of old technologies that cuts home energy bills has the potential to utterly transform homes in the future, and the system was created in East Tennessee's own Oak Ridge National Lab. Scientists have developed prototype geothermal “batteries” that, unlike conventional batteries, actually tap and store the heat energy of the Earth to provide heating, cooling and hot water. Unlike natural gas or oil furnaces, there are no emissions and no household pollutants like carbon monoxide. “This is not a small thing,” said Bob Wyman co-founder of Dandelion, a home geothermal company. “This is something you might see installed in tens of millions of homes around the country.” The geothermal battery is a device that uses water tanks, the ambient heat of the Earth and heat pumps (like those you might find in a refrigerator) to maintain a reservoir of hot or cold water that can be used to heat or cool the house. By tapping into and storing the Earth’s heat, the geothermal battery can run at high efficiency regardless of the weather.

Is natural gas a bridge fuel too far with the rise in renewables? - Natural gas has long been seen as the fuel to build the bridge to a clean-energy future, one where dirtier-burning coal plants are phased out and homes, factories and vehicles are powered by electricity from wind, the sun and power stored in batteries. However, as costs of renewable energy projects have plummeted and the number of coal-plant closures in Colorado and other parts of the country has risen, there are questions about the need for natural gas as a bridge fuel. The future that natural gas was supposed to be a transition to is already here, say renewable energy advocates and analysts. New projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration say electricity generated by renewable energy will surpass natural gas generation in 2045. “Our analysis suggests that the bridge is already behind us and it was quite a bit narrower than we thought,” said Mark Dyson, a principal with the Aspen-based Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit research organization that consults with businesses and communities on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Dyson is a co-author of a 2019 report that said renewable energy is cost-competitive with new natural gas facilities. The report, “The Growing Market for Clean Energy Portfolios,” said wind, solar and battery storage would cost less than 90% of the proposed gas-fired plants. Investments in renewable energy instead of gas plants would save customers more than $29 billion and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 100 million tons, according to the report.

Gov. Wolf’s budget proposes boosting staff at Pa.’s departments of environmental protection, and conservation and natural resources | StateImpact Pennsylvania - Gov. Tom Wolf proposed money for additional staffing at the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and he renewed his support for a package of pipeline reforms, in his annual budget released Tuesday. The DEP would get $171.6 million from the general fund in Wolf’s proposed budget. Other sources of funding for the agency would result in a total budget of $553.8 million. After decades of cuts to DEP under both Democratic and Republican administrations, it’s the first time proposed spending from the general fund for environmental protection has risen above $165.6 million, the level it reached in 1994-1995, according to former DEP Secretary David Hess. “Those cuts had to be backfilled by permit fee increases,” Hess said. “Those kinds of fee increases were unsustainable.” Hess said when he ran DEP from 2001-2003, funding for the agency did not depend so much on permit fees. About half of DEP’s current budget relies on those fees, while just 20 percent comes from the general fund, he said. Federal funds make up the rest. In the early 2000s, permit fees, general fund dollars and federal funds each contributed about one-third. One result of those cuts has been a 25 percent drop in DEP staff between 2003 and 2018. The budget calls for an additional $1 million for hiring new DEP staff to support the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Both the state of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently said they plan to sue the EPA and Pennsylvania for not doing enough to reduce agricultural run-off that contributes to bay pollution.

Wolf's Support for Petrochemicals Raises Climate Worries as Pennsylvania Tries to Cut Carbon Emissions - Since his second term began last year, there’s been a theme for Tom Wolf’s tenure as Pennsylvania’s governor: climate change.  After Pennsylvania experienced the wettest year on record in 2018, Wolf said the state would be setting its first-ever carbon reduction targets — 26 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.  He said floods in 2018 were evidence that climate change had already come to Pennsylvania. Scientists say global warming will make the state’s weather wetter, since warm air holds more moisture. “It’s affected our farmers, and the crops that they grow,” he said. “It’s devastated our homes. It’s affecting us each and every day.” Wolf followed that up with plans to join regional initiatives to reduce carbon from the transportation and electricity sectors.   The steps pleased many in the environmental community, includin g Joe Minott of the Clean Air Council.  While Minott says Wolf deserves praise, there is a “but.” The governor also supports fossil-fuel and petrochemical industries that contribute to the emissions he wants to eliminate.Wolf has extolled the jobs that Shell’s Beaver County ethane cracker will create for Western Pennsylvania. The cracker, a massive plant that will turn natural gas into plastic pellets, would be “part of (an) energy efficient future,” Wolf recently told a radio interviewer.  “I think if we get this right, these are going to be jobs that stay here,” he told a group of local officials in Beaver County in 2016.The plant, which received a $1.65 billion tax credit from Pennsylvania, is under construction, employing around 6,000 people. When it’s built in the next few years, it’s expected to employ 600. Along with jobs, Minott says the ethane cracker will be bringing something else to the region — a large carbon footprint.  The Beaver County plant is permitted to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year — the equivalent CO2 of about 400,000 more cars on the road, according to the EPA’s carbon footprint calculator.

Opponents Of CMP Transmission Line Submit Signatures For Statewide Vote On Project - The stage is being set for a statewide battle over Central Maine Power’s plan to build a power line through Maine’s western woods. Opponents today submitted more than enough signatures to put the project’s future on the November ballot. Energized activists who worked on the voter petition drive carted dozens of file boxes filled with petitions into the Augusta state offices for delivery to the secretary of state. “Goodbye corridor!” says Meg Osgood of Portland, one of dozens of canvassers taking a celebratory turn after months of door-knocking and staffing tables. The 141-mile project would bring electricity from Canadian hydropower dams into the New England grid to serve Massachusetts consumers. Mostly it would expand the footprint of existing power line corridors in Maine, but some 53 miles of new corridor would be cut from the Canadian border to cross the Kennebec River Gorge before joining existing lines in Caratunk. The effects on scenic and ecological resources, as well as the region’s outdoors economy, has galvanized the opposition. “The chance for Mainers to have a say is a big thing in this state,” says Steven McCarthy, a building contractor from Rome, Maine. “We’ve been railroaded with a lot of projects, and we didn’t want that to happen with this one. Furthermore, the environmental impacts are not only being affected here in Maine but also in Canada, They’re not being fair to the First Nations and indigenous people. And they’re not being fair to the citizens of the state of Maine, who overwhelmingly do not want this project.” The proposed measure would reverse a decision by state utility regulators to permit the project. Project supporters say that would mark a questionable end-run around the Public Utilities Commission and the statutes its decision was based on. CMP has poured millions of dollars into a political action committee called Clean Energy Matters, which has been placing ads on television and online calling attention to jobs and other economic benefits of the project. The PAC and CMP are also highlighting what they say would be reductions in climate-warming greenhouse gases that would result from bringing low-polluting hydropower into the region. Dickinson notes that some of the project’s opposition is funded by natural gas generation companies who do business in Maine and who could lose profits over the 20-year span of the hydropower contract.

Cuomo OKs $341 million to rebuild 86-mile stretch of transmission lines  — The rebuilding of an 86-mile stretch of New York Power Authority transmission lines moved a step closer to the start of construction this year after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $341 million in funding for the project on Thursday. The Power Authority’s Board of Trustees had authorized the $341 million in funding for the Moses-Adirondack Smart Path Reliability Project during its December meeting. During this week’s meeting, NYPA trustees also approved a five-year, $294 million construction contract to Michels Power to construct the new transmission lines. They had previously approved $142.6 million for phase one of the project, which is estimated to have an overall cost of $483.8 million. The $341 million will support construction of new lines primarily on existing rights of way, except for a small re-route around SUNY Canton, to minimize the impact on the environment and to adjacent property and landowners. The state Public Service Commission announced in November that it had approved the project to rebuild a major north-south transmission line, which runs through St. Lawrence and Lewis counties and includes 78 miles constructed by the federal government in 1942 and acquired by the Power Authority in 1950. With the funding and the previous approval of the project’s first Environmental Management and Construction Plan by the Public Service Commission, construction is expected to begin this year and be completed in 2023. NYPA officials say the project is expected to support hundreds of jobs during its construction.

 Indiana coal bill passes in the House, heads to Senate - The controversial Indiana bill that could delay closing coal plants and raise rates for customers is still alive and on its way to the Senate.In a relatively close vote, House Bill 1414 passed out of the House, 52 to 41. In fact, the vote was tight enough that House Speaker Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, cast a "yes" vote — the speaker does not normally vote unless it will make a difference in the outcome. He has previously claimed that the bill — which raises the bar for utilities wanting to close power plants, at a time when coal-fired plants are the only ones closing — is not a bailout for the coal industry. The bill's author, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has echoed that statement.Supporters of the bill, whose provisions are currently set to expire in May 2021, have defended it in part as a stopgap measure to help Indiana as it pivots to cleaner energy sources.  The goal of the bill, Soliday said during his comments on the floor, is that "whether it's coal or rabbits on a treadmill" that provide Hoosiers' electricity, the state "is in a transition, and all we're asking is to be able to manage it."In the Senate, the bill will likely be assigned to the Utilities Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. Merritt said recently that he is aware of the bill, but could not speak to specifics. He added that he is very open-minded about it and knows there are a lot of entities against it. Those entities include Indiana's five investor-owned utilities, through the Indiana Energy Association; the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; the Indiana Industrial Energy Consumers group; the Indiana Conservative Alliance for Energy; the National Taxpayers Union; the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP; trade associations such as Advanced Energy Economy; consumer advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition; and environmental organizations the Hoosier Environmental Council and Sierra Club.  The only group that spoke in favor of this bill during hearings of the House utilities committee, chaired by Soliday, was the Indiana Coal Council.

TVA Takes Its Last Coal-Fired Unit Offline At Western Kentucky Power Plant - The Tennessee Valley Authority shut down the last operating unit at its coal-fired power plant in western Kentucky over the weekend.The TVA board of directors voted last year to retire the unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County.For more than 50 years, the Paradise Fossil Plant has kept the lights on for nearly ten million customers across seven southeastern states, including Kentucky and Tennessee. Unit 3 was one of the biggest power plants in the world when it came online in 1970.  TVA determined that it could generate or buy cheaper and cleaner power from other sources rather than continuing to rely upon its aging, coal-fired unit.  Engineering Manager Jim Phelps says the plant near the Green River broke several records for run times, and Unit 3 offered environmental protection with the installation of the largest air emissions scrubber in the world. The other two coal-fired units at Paradise were retired in 2017 and replaced by a natural gas plant next to the fossil plant.

TVA asking for help identifying family of cemeteries at Gallatin plant — A federal utility is proposing to relocate 40-50 cemeteries at the Gallatin Fossil Plant property in order to expand coal ash storage. The Tennessee Valley Authority says the cemeteries were there when the utility bought the land in the 1950s. Their proposal is to expand the fossil plant to make room for a coal ash landfill. “This is part of an overall plan to move to a more secure location all the coal ash that we have in Gallatin fossil plant since the 1970’s – so it’s a good move for the environment and we think it’s the best option for the Gallatin fossil plants,” said Scott Brooks, TVA spokesperson. Currently, they’ve only made contact with some family members of the gravesites. “We’re trying to identify everyone we can to make sure that we’re working with family members and loved ones before we take this step ,”

TVA plans new site for soil at Kingston plant -  The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to create an new site to dig up soil and other fill material to support projects at Kingston Fossil Plant. The utility has released details on this new site. The site will be on about 62 acres of TVA property at Kingston, a news release stated. The utility has more information in the final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact posted at The website and the TVA news release stated TVA anticipates using the soil for a landfill for coal ash and other byproducts of burning coal. “Demand for soil and other material to support current and future projects is expected to be greater than existing supply in the two current borrow areas at Kingston. Additional fill material will be needed for the second phase of a dry storage landfill for coal ash and other coal combustion residuals at Kingston, as well as other future projects at the site,” a news release stated. Ongoing projects such as proposed construction of a waste water treatment plant are expected to exhaust the existing sources of TVA’s dirt for projects the news release stated. The news release refers to these places, the old ones and the new one as “borrow sites.” TVA plans to dig at the new “borrow site” in phases of about five to 10 acres at a time. The utility stated in its news release this phasing will “help minimize visual impacts from removal of trees, vegetation and soil.

Juliette residents outraged over coal ash contamination from Plant Scherer -- Dozens of Juliette residents came out to a special called meeting about an ongoing coal ash storage problem they say it plaguing their city. Many outraged residents showed up to The Sanctuary Baptist Church Tuesday night to express worries about their water situation. Fletcher Sounds, Executive Director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, says the main chemical that has contaminated wells -- hexavalent chromium -- is highly detrimental to anyone who consumes it. Officials say the contamination comes from the nearby Plant Scherer. The next meeting on this issue is planned for Thursday.

Fee to store toxic coal ash at Georgia landfills could go up -  - Legislation increasing the fee to store toxic coal ash in Georgia landfills cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday. Coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal at power plants to generate electricity, can contain compounds that cause cancer after long exposure. The state’s top energy producer, Georgia Power, is moving away from storing coal ash is liquid ponds to instead disposing it in dry landfills going forward. Since July, landfills have charged power companies a lower fee to take coal ash compared to other forms of waste. The fee for almost all landfill garbage is $2.50 per pound, while coal ash is $1. Superior Landfill on Little Neck Road in Savannah, operated by Waste Management, is one of the five landfills that accepts coal ash. That change was made in 2018 legislation that raised the landfill fee for all waste but gave coal ash a special carve-out. Georgia environmentalists worry the lower fee could spark an influx of out-of-state coal ash to Georgia landfills. Five landfills in Georgia have taken in millions of tons of coal ash since 2017, with much of it originating from power plants in Florida and North Carolina, according to state Environmental Protection Division records. House bill 123 would raise the fee for dumping coal ash up to $2.50, the same as all other waste. Its sponsor, Sen. William Ligon, said the uneven fee amounts incentivize outside companies to send their coal ash to Georgia.

 Japan to Build 22 Coal-Burning Power Plants - Japan is planning to build as many as 22 new coal plants at 17 different sites over the next five years, The New York Times reports, a sharp uptick in coal-fired power as the rest of the world eases off coal and looks to cut emissions.The projects would collectively emit as much carbon dioxide per year as all of the passenger cars sold in the U.S. Activists say that the Japanese government allowed one of the projects, in Yokosuka, to get the green light without proper environmental review after the country was forced to close its nuclear program because of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The coal plants are coming as the Japanese government touts the environmental friendliness of this summer's Tokyo Olympics.

Judge sets trial in lawsuit involving Santee Cooper (AP) — A state judge has set April 20 as the start date for a trial deciding whether state-owned utility Santee Cooper should refund possibly billions of dollars to some 2.2 million ratepayers. The date set Thursday by state Judge Jean Toal was a victory for Santee Cooper’s ratepayers, who have been certified to join together to sue the utility, and whose lawyers had been pushing for more time to prepare their case. The trial previously was slated to begin Feb. 24. The lawsuit involves the $9 billion failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. For years, Santee Cooper’s ratepayers have paid extra fees on their monthly bills to pay for what turned out to be a doomed and very expensive project to build two nuclear powered electric generators in Jenkinsville, about 25 miles northwest of Columbia. Santee Cooper was the junior partner on the project with the now former Cayce-based SCE&G, which was acquired by Dominion Energy in January 2019. The case seeks to force Santee Cooper to refund customers what they have already paid in higher power bills for the project while also preventing the utility from charging customers any further for the unfinished plant, news outlets reported. “The heart of this case is that the plaintiffs don’t want to pay for something they have never received a benefit for,”

The U.S. May Soon Have the World's Oldest Nuclear Power Plants - In December federal regulators approved Florida Power & Light’s request to let the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant’s twin nuclear reactors remain in operation for another 20 years beyond the end of their current licenses. By that point they’ll be 80, making them the oldest reactors in operation anywhere in the world.  “That’s too old,” said Rippingille, a lawyer and retired Miami-Dade County judge. “They weren’t designed for this purpose.” With backing from the Trump administration, utilities across the nation are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s as they run up against the end of their 60-year licenses. “We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame.” Indeed, the move comes as other nations shift away from atomic power over safety concerns, despite its appeal as a carbon-free alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Japan, which used to get more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, shut down all its plants in 2011 after a tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima. Only a handful have restarted while others that can’t meet stringent new standards are slated to close permanently. Germany decided that year to shutter its entire fleet by 2022 and is now having trouble meeting its ambitious climate goals. Other nations such as France and Sweden are allowing reactors to retire while they diversify into solar and wind power.

First Nation rejects nuclear waste site near Lake Huron, utility now looking at "alternatives" - Activists are wary of declaring total victory after plans for a permanent nuclear waste storage site near the Canadian shore of Lake Huron were voted down Friday. Members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation overwhelmingly voted against Ontario Power Generation’s plan to create a Deep Geologic Repository for low and intermediate nuclear waste less than a mile from the shore of Lake Huron. The project has been opposed by environmentalists and residents who feared the potential damage to the Great Lakes. The utility insisted the project was safe. Beverly Fernandez is with the group "Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump." She says they’re happy a negative vote by a First Nation community in Canada stopped the project. But Fernandez expects there will be efforts to place future nuclear waste storage facilities in the Great Lakes basin. “You know we will continue to need the involvement of the U.S.,” says Fernandez, “People in Michigan who have stood up to oppose this. Their voices will certainly be needed again in the future.” Ontario Power Generation says it will now examine “alternate” solutions for a future low and intermediate-level nuclear waste repository. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint Township) hopes the Canadian government will locate the facility outside the Great Lakes basin.

 Japan panel recommends ocean release for contaminated Fukushima water(Reuters) - A panel of experts advising Japan’s government on a disposal method for radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday recommended releasing it into the ocean, a move likely to alarm neighboring countries. The panel under the industry ministry came to the conclusion after narrowing the choice to either releasing the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean or letting it evaporate - and opted for the former. Based on past practice it is likely the government will accept the recommendation. The build-up of contaminated water at Fukushima has been a sticking point in the clean-up, which is likely to last decades, especially as the Olympics are due to be held in Tokyo this summer with some events less than 60 km (35 miles) from the wrecked plant. [nL4N29R14D] Neighboring South Korea has retained a ban on imports of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima region imposed after the nuclear disaster and summoned a senior Japanese embassy official last year to explain how the Fukushima water would be dealt with. Its athletes are planning to bring their own radiation detectors and food to the Games. In 2018, Tokyo Electric apologized after admitting its filtration systems had not removed all dangerous material from the water - and the site is running out of room for storage tanks. But it plans to remove all radioactive particles from the water except tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate and is considered to be relatively harmless. “Compared to evaporation, ocean release can be done more securely,” the committee said, pointing to common practice around the world where normally operating nuclear stations release water that contains tritium into the sea.

Japan Set To Release 1.2 Million Tons Of Radioactive Fukushima Water Into Ocean, Causing "Immeasurable Damage" Just in case a global viral pandemic, whose sources are still unclear and apparently now include human feces, wasn't enough, the global outrage meter is about to go "up to eleven" with Japan now set to flood the world's oceans with radioactive water. In a move that will surely prompt a furious response from Greta Thunberg's ghost writers (unless of course it doesn't fit a very narrow agenda), a panel of experts advising Japan’s government on a disposal method for the millions of tons of radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant on Friday recommended releasing it into the ocean. And, as Reuters notes, based on past practice it is likely the government will accept the recommendation. Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, has collected nearly 1.2 million tonnes of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting since the plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The water is stored in huge tanks that crowd the site. The panel under the industry ministry came to the conclusion after narrowing the choice to either releasing the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean or letting it evaporate - and opted for the former, even though it means that Japan's neihgbors will now have to suffer the consequences of the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Previously the committee had ruled out other possibilities, such as underground storage, that lack track records of success. At the meeting, members stressed the importance of selecting proven methods and said "the government should make clear that releasing the water would have a significant social impact." Japan's neighbor, South Korea, has for much of the past decade retained a ban on imports of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima region imposed after the nuclear disaster and summoned a senior Japanese embassy official last year to explain how the Fukushima water would be dealt with. They will soon have a very unsatisfactory answer. The build-up of contaminated water at Fukushima has been a major sticking point in the clean-up, which is likely to last decades, especially as the Olympics are due to be held in Tokyo this summer with some events less than 60 km from the wrecked plant and the Fukushima seclusion zone which will remain uninhabitable for centuries. According to Reuters, athletes are planning to bring their own radiation detectors and food to the Games.

 More than half of the world’s millennials fear a nuclear attack will happen in the next decade - A report released in January found that a majority of millennials around the world fear it is more likely than not that a nuclear attack will happen sometime in the next decade. The study was conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which surveyed 16,000 millennials (defined in this study as adults between the ages of 20 and 35) in 16 countries in 2019: Afghanistan, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, Syria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States. Half of the countries in the study are currently experiencing military conflict. Millennials consider war and armed conflict to be among the top five most important issues affecting people around the world today. Notably, unemployment and poverty also ranked in the top five most important issues for millennials. Despite the glorification of the military by the media and politicians, youth and workers across the world are overwhelmingly hostile to war and militarism in all forms. The report reflects an understanding among youth that nuclear weapons pose an immediate threat to all of humanity. The study found that millennials overwhelmingly oppose the use of weapons of mass destruction, in any form—nuclear, biological or chemical—and in all circumstances. More than three in five millennials have the same opinion opposing anti-personnel landmines, at 63 percent, and cluster bombs, at 64 percent. Unsurprisingly, after nine years of war stoked by American imperialism and its Islamist proxies, Syrian millennials showed the highest levels of disapproval for weapons of mass destruction, with 96 percent saying that it is never acceptable to use chemical or biological weapons, while 98 percent said it is never acceptable to use nuclear weapons. Over the last five years, the United States has carried out a direct bombardment of Syria under the guise of fighting ISIS, which has included leveling entire cities in the country. Many youth throughout the world have drawn their conclusions about war and militarism from firsthand experience. Across all 16 countries surveyed, one in four millennials, 27 percent, said they have had direct experience of war and armed conflict. For this study, direct experience includes participation in combat, being wounded, being forced to leave their home, losing contact with a close relative, or any other situation that could arise due to armed conflict.

Coal industry group revives reliability argument to Ohio lawmakers - A coal industry group leader revived an argument to Ohio lawmakers last week that coal-fired power plants are critically important for electric grid reliability. The claim was the linchpin of a failed attempt last decade for power plants to get guaranteed payments for coal and nuclear plants that had months of on-site fuel storage. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and PJM Interconnection ultimately rejected that proposal for “fuel security,” as proponents called it. The Ohio Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee invited Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of America’s Power, to speak at its Jan. 28 session as part of its ongoing effort to develop a “comprehensive energy policy,” committee Chair Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, said. The industry group advocates on behalf of coal-fired power plants.  The timing of the testimony, as the committee considers legislation to further hinder wind energy development in the state, concerned clean energy advocates.  Among other things, Bloodworth claimed that coal plants with large, on-site fuel storage reserves are critical resources during extreme weather events, such as a prolonged, deep freeze — a conclusion that’s been undercut by recent PJM and FERC decisions, as well as independent studies. “It’s kind of a red herring” to equate so-called fuel security with reliability, said Dan Sawmiller, director of Ohio energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. In reality, the vast majority of power outages result from downed wires and otherdistribution problems — not generation issues. And coal plants are vulnerable to weather disruptions. A 2014 report from grid operator PJM Interconnection found that both coal and natural gas plants had generation outages during a polar vortex that year. Coal-fired plants had 34% of the peak problem day’s outages, by fuel type, the report said.

FirstEnergy foray into energy brokering raises issues of fair competition - A FirstEnergy subsidiary is seeking permission from Ohio regulators to advise customers on which electricity suppliers they should choose.  The company’s application to operate as an energy broker and aggregator is an apparent reversal for FirstEnergy, which spent years legally separating from its non-regulated electricity businesses, including its former generation subsidiary.Critics say the move raises potential conflict of interest questions. It also comes as state lawmakers consider a bill that would broaden the range of services that regulated utilities could offer customers.FirstEnergy owns three regulated utilities in Ohio: Ohio Edison, Toledo Edison and the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. They have a monopoly on providing electricity distribution services in their respective territories, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio regulates their rates. Under a 1999 law, electricity generation is supposed to be a competitive market. Over the following years, utilities transferred their power plants to separate affiliates. Different companies compete with each other to supply electricity, and the law lets customers choose their supplier.Customers can also obtain electricity through brokers or aggregators. They act as intermediaries, basically doing the shopping for the customer and either choosing or recommending a supplier. Community aggregators such as NOPEC work with large groups of customers from different municipalities, following a vote by the community to allow aggregation. Brokers tend to be for-profit companies, which individual customers choose and which can provide various services besides shopping for electricity supply.

Anti-House Bill 6 group misses deadline to report campaign donors, spending details - —The group that unsuccessfully pushed for a referendum overturning Ohio’s nuclear bailout law missed a state deadline last week to disclose its campaign donors and spending activity, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office. However, it remains to be seen whether the group, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, will be penalized for missing the reporting deadline, as state officials in general give ample opportunity for political organizations to file late before imposing fines. The group, along with other political organizations, had until last Friday to submit its campaign-finance information for 2019. Under state law, if LaRose’s office (or another outside party) files a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about a group that won’t submit a campaign-finance report, the OEC is allowed to fine the group as much as $100 per day until the group complies. In practice, however, the OEC rarely imposes fines that heavy, especially against first-time offenders like Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, according to OEC officials. LaRose spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said in a statement that the secretary of state’s office "will be reaching out to give them the opportunity to submit a report.” Sheehan continued: “If there comes a determination that the committee will not be submitting the appropriate report, our office will refer the campaign committee to the Ohio Elections Commission for their consideration.” A spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Monday

Backers on both sides of nuclear bailout remain secret — The first campaign finance deadline since passage of the nuclear plant bailout law has come and gone, and Ohioans still have little idea whose deep pockets poured millions into the fight. Protect Ohio Clean Energy Jobs, the political action committee for the pro-House Bill 6 group Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance, filed its annual report by Friday's deadline indicating that it had raised $90,000 from a single source, 17 Consulting Group LLC. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group behind the failed petition effort to put the law on the Nov. 3 ballot, did not file an annual report, although Maggie Sheehan, spokesman for Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said it was required to do so. Gene Pierce, the group's spokesman, did not return messages on Monday. Failure to file could carry daily fines of $100. “...since it has already come to our attention that this campaign committee has not properly filed, we will be reaching out to give them the opportunity to submit a report,” Ms. Sheehan said. “If there comes a determination that the committee will not be submitting the appropriate report, our office will refer the campaign committee to the Ohio Elections Commission for their consideration.” The group also had created an LLC, so even if it had met the deadline Ohioans were unlikely to know specifically which individuals, corporations, and organizations poured money into the referendum effort. As expected, another nebulous group calling itself Ohioans for Energy Security filed no reports despite having purchased millions in TV and radio ads and direct mailings to claim the Chinese were behind the effort to undermine Ohio's energy security. Unlike the referendum group, Energy Security never registered as a PAC with the secretary of state's office, which would have triggered subsequent campaign filings. “We were not required to (file),” spokesman Carlo Loparo said. “The group is an LLC, which has the right under the First Amendment to advocate for public policy positions.” Meanwhile, House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford), who successfully pushed for passage of the law, reported receiving for his own campaign committee nearly $45,000 total from interests related to FirstEnergy Solutions, the owner of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Oak Harbor and Perry plant east of Cleveland. John Judge, FES’ president and CEO, and FirstEnergy PAC, the committee for the Akron-based corporation that spun off FES, each gave $13,292. Anthony Alexander, FirstEnergy Corp.'s former president, contributed $5,000, as the speaker's committee took in just over $1 million total during the second half of 2019.

Utica Shale well activity as of Feb. 1 --

  • DRILLED: 154 (154 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 124 (123)
  • PERMITTED: 478 (473)
  • PRODUCING: 2,434 (2,434)
  • TOTAL: 3,190 (3,184)

Six horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended Feb. 1, and 12 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.  Top counties by number of permits:

  • 1. BELMONT: 673 (670 as of last week)
  • 2. CARROLL: 525 (525)
  • 3. HARRISON: 499 (496)
  • 4. MONROE: 428 (428)
  • 5. GUERNSEY: 280 (280)
  • 6. JEFFERSON: 262 (262)
  • 7. NOBLE: 227 (227)
  • 8. COLUMBIANA: 163 (163)

Column: Anti-protest law serves energy interests, not Ohioans - Ohio’s General Assembly is once again playing fetch for that wonderful group of people who do so much for Ohio: Polluters. An Ohio House committee OK’d Senate Bill 33 last week; the Senate passed it last year. It purports to shield protect “critical infrastructure” – pipelines, fracking rigs, maybe even that telephone pole in front of your house – from those silly Ohioans who want to protect our state’s water, air and land. In committee testimony last year, Jen Miller of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. warned that SB 33 is so broad that “even innocuous acts like ... posting flyers on telephone poles could be considered unlawful, because a telephone poll is considered critical infrastructure and the term ‘damage’ is quite vague.”  SB 33 does indeed define phone polls as critical infrastructure, but in fairness, only if a pole is fenced or has a warning sign. Still, knowing how utilities slice and dice laws, what’s to stop a pole’s owner from adding a tiny-print “warning” to a pole’s asset or ownership tag – those metal slivers about as big as a stick of Doublemint. So if SB 33 passes, take care before you tape a flyer to a phone pole, hoping someone has found your pal Fido or Kitty, because you might get busted as an eco-terrorist. You’d think Ohio’s current laws against trespassing and vandalism aren’t enough to protect “infrastructure.” But of course SB 33′s real aim to is to shut up Ohioans concerned about the state’s air, water and lands. In the eyes of the state Senate, so far, and maybe soon in the eyes of Ohio’s House, an Ohioan is entitled to free speech only if she or he thinks Ohio’s environment is peachy keen.  SB 33 is based on “model” legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council. A pithy explainer posted in September by Greenpeace’s Connor Gibson: ”[ALEC] is a one-stop -shopping outlet for large companies seeking state legislators to move their agenda through statehouses, coast to coast.” Charles Koch, the right-wing zillionaire, has been a big ALEC booster. Ohio’s General Assembly has long been has been ALEC-friendly, and SB 33 sponsored by Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Republican from Jefferson County’s Adena, is the latest item of ALEC merchandise on display. The Ohio Senate passed the bill 24-8 in May, with Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Sean O’Brien, of suburban Warren, voting “yes.”

JobsOhio puts $20 million toward possible petrochemical site - The state’s economic development organization has given $20 million for site preparation for a potential petrochemical plant in Belmont County. The grant brings to $70 million the amount the state has invested in the project. Companies expect to announce this summer if they are moving forward with the plant.JobsOhio has invested $20 million in an eastern Ohio site being considered for a massive petrochemical pThe state’s economic development organization said Friday it awarded the grant to Thai chemical company PTT Global Chemical America and its South Korean partner, Daelim Industrial Co. With this award, JobsOhio has committed $70 million in grants and loans to the project, according to JobsOhio records.Economic development officials announced in 2015 that PTT was considering the site along the Ohio River near Shadyside in Belmont County for the project. PTT later brought on Daelim as a partner.A similar project is being developed by Royal Dutch Shell in western Pennsylvania.The plant would take ethane, a component of natural gas, and break it down to produce ethylene, which is used in chemical manufacturing. The county is an attractive site because of its proximity to the plentiful, cheap natural gas of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The plant would be built on the site of FirstEnergy’s former R.E. Burger power plant, which closed in 2011. If the companies proceed, it would be an economic boon for eastern Ohio, employing several thousand workers during construction and several hundred once the plant became operational.But critics have complained about potential greenhouse gas emissions from the plant.The companies said Friday that they anticipate making a final decision on whether to proceed by July. The $20 million allows site preparation to continue, said Dan Williamson, a spokesman for the companies.

Montage Slashing Appalachia Spending by 44% -- Montage Resources Corp. has joined its Appalachian peers by announcing it will cut capital spending this year by nearly 50% from the midpoint of 2019 guidance.The company issued a 2020 budget this week of $190-210 million, or a 44% decrease at the midpoint of the latest 2019 spending forecast of $357.5 million. Montage has not yet released its year-end financial results. The company was formed early last year after a merger  between Appalachian pure-plays Blue Ridge Mountain Resources and Eclipse Resources. Production has increased steadily since, and the company said it likely would remain unchanged this year. Production of 570-590 MMcfe/d is forecast for 2020, an increase of about 6% year/year Appalachia’s leading producers already have announced spending cuts and lower growth rates for 2020 as gas prices have continued to fall since last year. Montage said it has 56% of this year’s natural gas production hedged at a weighted average floor price of $2.64/MMBtu. The strip shows gas well under $2.50 for the remainder of the year.The company also said it would focus primarily on its liquids-rich acreage in Ohio’s Marcellus Shale. This year’s production is still expected to consist of 80% natural gas and 20% oil and liquids.Given the Utica’s performance in the state, operators have focused less on the Marcellus. Only 51 Marcellus wells have been drilled in Ohio, compared to 2,712 Utica wells. Montage started ramping up its activity in the play in 2019.Montage plans to drill 17-20 gross wells and complete 18-22 gross wells this year. The company plans to drill about 65% of its wells in the Marcellus, with the remainder targeting the Utica.

 Enbridge prepping to replace pipeline under St. Clair River - Enbridge crews are doing preparation work this week, as the company moves to replace a section of its Line 5 pipeline running beneath the St. Clair River. The 65-year-old line that delivers Canadian crude oil to Michigan and Ontario, crosses the U.S. Canada border at the St. Clair River from Marysville to Sarnia. It’s a 1,000 kilometre-long line stretching from Sarnia all the way to Superior, Wisconsin. The first phase of the project involves getting the area ready for construction activities. Spokesman Ken Hall said the work will take place at their pipeline right-of-way, between St. Clair Parkway and Virgil Ave., and along the south side of Lasalle Line adjacent to the Shell refinery. “We’re going to place construction mats on our easement, and along the side of Lasalle Line where we’ll be stringing the pipe,” said Hall. “Once that’s done, we’ll bring the pipe in and we’ll be welding it all in place. It’s a long string of pipe that we’ll then prepare to pull back to the American side. So, in the next couple of weeks, you’ll see trucks coming in and flatbeds bringing the mats and cranes. There will also be more pick up trucks as our workers start to assemble and weld the pipe.” Hall said there will be 50 to 60 workers on the Canadian shoreline over the next couple of weeks. He said there will be a temporary access ramp off the south shoulder of Lasalle Line. Restrictions will typically be in place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily for about two weeks. Drivers are encouraged to slow down and be prepared for slow-moving vehicles. Enbridge plans to start horizontal directional drilling under the river in early March, which will bury the pipeline even deeper than before. The project, estimated to cost $20 million, is scheduled to be completed by July.

The well next door: East Pittsburgh and North Braddock diverge on the local impact of proposed fracking -  On either side of the invisible border between North Braddock and East Pittsburgh, you can see, hear and sometimes smell the Edgar Thomson Steel Works below. But the prevailing view of a proposal to frack on the mill site is dramatically different on the two sides of that line. East Pittsburgh’s leaders, guided by an environmentalist group, in January tried to hamstring the two-plus-year-old proposal to drill for natural gas on the U.S. Steel mill site. That borough’s five-member council, in 2017, backed drilling with just one dissenting vote. But a council with three first-term members voted Jan. 21 for a one-two punch of zoning-related measures with the potential to knock the site entirely out of East Pittsburgh, potentially forcing the would-be driller back to the beginning of the arduous permitting process. Some North Braddock officials, by contrast, have taken the position that revenue from fracking could help their borough address blight. Nobody yet knows the amount of money the neighboring boroughs could get if fracking was permitted on the mill site, but “if it was a sizeable amount, it would open opportunities: Perhaps go out and borrow some money and tear down some houses,” said North Braddock Borough Manager Doug Marguriet, whose municipality struggles with 400-odd vacant buildings. East Pittsburgh Councilwoman Stacey Simon isn’t swayed by estimates that fracking on the site could bring her borough $60,000 or more. “Our budget is small, but it’s over $1 million and, to me, that’s really not worth it when you think about the long-term impact [fracking] could have,” Simon said. “Nobody wants to buy a house near a fracking well, or most people don’t.” U.S. Steel has argued that having a fuel source right on the Edgar Thomson property, powering its operations, would strengthen the company’s operations in its home region. “Having available clean burning and competitively priced energy resources would provide our Mon Valley facilities, and the many good paying, union jobs they support, with a key advantage in a fiercely competitive global steel market,”

"A Nationwide Fracking Ban Would Be Invaluable for Human Health": Physicians for Social Responsibility Applauds First Proposed Nationwide Ban on Fracking - —Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) applauded the first legislative proposal for a nationwide ban on fracking for natural gas and related operations, including extraction, processing, transport and export. The proposed bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), would greatly benefit health and the climate, the national physician-led organization stated.In light of the bill’s announcement, PSR released the following comment:“Physicians for Social Responsibility applauds the introduction of legislation for a comprehensive fracking ban. A nationwide fracking ban would be invaluable for human health,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility.“Fracking harms human health, contaminates huge amounts of water, and pollutes the air. It exposes local communities to chemicals known to be toxic to humans and animals.“Scientific studies have documented high levels of serious health impacts among people who live near active fracking sites.  Studies have found that living near active fracking wells is associated with increased rates of hospitalization for cardiac, neurological, urological and cancer-related issues.  Studies have also linked proximity to active fracking to premature birth, low birth weight and congenital heart defects.“Recent investigations have even documented that fracking wastewater can be radioactive, especially in the Marcellus Shale. Yet we have seen fracking wastewater trucked through communities, used as irrigation water, and even spread as a de-icer on roads.“It’s not only local communities who are at risk. All of us are endangered, because when fracked gas leaks into the atmosphere, it accelerates climate change.  And gas leaks into the atmosphere at every step of the way, from the well sites to the processing equipment to the pipelines to the distribution lines that carry gas to our homes.  Fracking is speeding up the climate change juggernaut even as we hurtle towards the cliff. “PSR and our colleagues in Concerned Health Professionals of New York have highlighted the scientific evidence of fracking’s harm to health in the encyclopedic fracking science Compendium. Based on the evidence, PSR has supported a total ban on fracking for years and would welcome making that ban nationwide.”

These Southwestern Pa. reps who support fracking have direct sources of income from fracking companies  Though natural-gas drilling, aka fracking, only really started in Pennsylvania about 10 years ago, it has gained a political hold on Pennsylvania that any industry would envy. Virtually all statewide elected officials in the Keystone State support fracking. Republicans do so enthusiastically, but even Democrats who are calling for better environmental regulations still defend the industry as a necessary and important source for jobs in rural areas. Despite this widespread support, research shows that fracking has led to well-water contaminations and copious amounts of methane being spewed into the atmosphere. Additionally, the industry failed to deliver on the manufacturing jobs it promised would be created by drilling for natural gas. Only a handful of progressive and environmentally focused politicians have come out in total opposition to fracking. And when criticism of the industry is made public, it often becomes a lightning rod, as when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said last year that fracking should be rolled back and future petrochemical plants should be avoided. In response, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Democratic Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai condemned Peduto's statement. Any high-profile criticism of the industry tends to provoke ardent defense from its supporters, and that goes beyond just words: some area legislators might also personally benefit financially from a more robust natural gas industry and fewer regulations keeping it accountable. Last November, the government-accountability group Eyes on the Ties revealed that three Southwestern Pennsylvania state legislators have direct incomes related to the natural-gas industry, including one that is a part-owner of a company that supplies equipment to fracking companies. All three of them are champions of the fracking industry, and have voted to cut regulations for natural-gas drilling in the state.State Rep. Josh Kail (R-Beaver) owns stake in his brother's fracking-related company, among other ties to the industry. State Sen. Elder Vogel (R-New Sewickley) invests in two energy companies with ties to Pittsburgh regional fracking. And state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Monongahela) has leased the mineral rights of her property to natural-gas companies.

Some shale gas reserves aren't what they used to be -- A new round of impairments is underway in the oil and gas industry, where companies are forced to recalculate and reduce the value of their assets to reflect a down market. CNX Resources Corp., a Cecil-based exploration and production company, joined the fray Thursday by writing down $446 million in assets in Central Pennsylvania. The drop means the oil and gas reserves in those areas are no longer considered economic and will not be developed in the near future. The reason for the change was continued low natural gas prices, which have been putting a damper on corporate earnings for many months. Next month, Downtown-based EQT Corp., the largest natural gas producer in the country, is expected to write down between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion in assets, the company said in a public filing earlier this month. That comes on the heels of a blockbuster $10 billion impairment by Chevron Corp. last month, more than half of which was attributed to Appalachian oil and gas assets. Chevron announced it has put its operations here up for sale and will be leaving the basin. A Chevron rig drilling for natural gas in Lawrence County in 2013. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Chevron plans to leave Appalachia, following the footsteps of other giants In a cyclical commodity business, impairments also come in waves. The last one hit around 2015, after spot natural gas prices fell and stayed below $3 per million British thermal units, where they’ve mostly remained since then. Since the beginning of 2020, prices have been closer to the $2 mark and even dipping below it. This means some prospects that could have made money in a better market are no longer viable. Impairments aren’t necessarily indicators of how well a company is operating. CNX, for example, as well as many of its peers, has consistently driven down the cost of getting its gas out of the ground. It would have turned a profit for the past quarter if not for the impairment charge. Instead, these write-downs have the effect of shrinking the collateral that companies leverage to borrow money. On the ground, it means that some oil and gas leases will be allowed to expire without follow-up and some potential drilling locations are now off the table.

Wolf promises veto on natural gas tax incentive  - Gov. Tom Wolf has pledged to veto a bill offering millions of dollars in tax credits to businesses that build new petrochemical or fertilizer production plants in Northeastern Pennsylvania, his spokesman said Monday. The Senate is poised to vote this week on the measure, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, that the Revenue Department expects will cost Pennsylvania $1 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. Administration spokesman J.J. Abbott confirmed to the Capital-Star on Monday that Wolf would oppose Kaufer’s bill, which requires companies to use Pennsylvania natural gas to produce petrochemicals and fertilizers. “[Wolf] believes such projects should be evaluated on a specific case-by-case basis,” Abbott said in an emailed statement. The Senate on Monday amended Kaufer’s bill to require tax credit recipients to pay workers prevailing wage and to make “a good faith effort” to employ local contractors during construction. The amendment also lowered the amount of money firms are required to invest in construction from $1 billion to $450 million. The bill originated in the Republican-sponsored Energize PA package last year, and was the only component that passed through the House. 

Pa. Lawmakers send natural gas tax credit for Wolf, who’s promised veto - Setting the stage for a gubernatorial veto and potential override showdown, state lawmakers have approved a multi-million dollar tax credit designed to bring methane processing plants to northeastern Pennsylvania. The majority-Republican Senate split 39-11 Tuesday on the measure sponsored by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, that offers millions of dollars in tax credit to businesses that use Pennsylvania natural gas to produce fertilizer and petrochemicals. The Republican-controlled House passed it hours later on a final vote of 157-35, before sending it to Wolf’s desk. The measure received broad bipartisan support in both chambers. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf told the Capital-Star that the York County Democrat would veto the bill, which faces fierce opposition from environmental advocates. But the General Assembly can override gubernatorial vetoes with two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate. Both chambers passed that threshold with their votes Tuesday. The bill initially called for businesses to spend $1 billion and create 1,000 jobs to qualify for the tax credits. But an amendment the Senate approved Monday lowered the required capital investment to $450 million and the job creation requirement to 800 positions. The change also requires tax credit recipients to pay workers the prevailing wage and to make “a good faith effort” to hire local firms for construction.

 Bill potentially allocating billions in subsidies to future petrochemical facilities clears Pa. legislature - After a highly publicized disagreement between Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald over the future of the petrochemical industry in the region, many elected officials in Allegheny County stayed silent. Peduto argued against new petrochemical facilities, aka cracker plants, coming to the Pittsburgh region. He supported winding down fracking in the area and instead focusing on thearea’s tech and corporate sector. Fitzgerald voiced support for the industry and said it was important for the economies of counties outside of Allegheny. Pittsburgh City Paper sought to get area politicians’ thoughts on the disagreement over the region’s economic direction, but the majority of politicians didn’t indicate which way they landed on the support for future cracker plants and the continuation of fracking.Today, a bill that passed through Pennsylvania’s General Assembly sheds light on that support. And more than a dozen that were silent before, supported a bill that, if enacted, will provide potentially billions to companies looking to build out the petrochemical industry in Pennsylvania. HB 1100 passed through the state House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, by a vote of 157-35 in the House and 39-11 in the Senate. Only five out of Allegheny County’s 28 state legislators voted against the bill; 16 backed it and two didn’t vote.The bill would provide tax breaks to petrochemical companies that produce a capital investment of $450 million or more, and at least 800 jobs. Originally, the requirements were higher, but they were amended by state Sen. John Yudichak (I-Luzerne) to allow more businesses to apply for the tax credits. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue estimates that the tax credit program will cost the state approximately $22 million per plant per year, until 2050. Before the bill was amended, the estimated cost of the bill was more than $1 billion over 10 years.

Philly refinery’s former owner, Sunoco, files formal objection ahead of bankruptcy sale - Several key parties, including former owner Sunoco Inc., filed protests Monday of the proposed Philadelphia Energy Solutions bankruptcy reorganization, complicating a scheduled Thursday confirmation hearing that could include the sale of the refinery complex, shut down since a devastating June fire.Sunoco, which owned the refinery before 2012 and is responsible for remediating the contaminated property, objected to the efforts of PES to remove restrictive covenants added to the property’s deed in 2012 that limit the ability of a potential buyer to reuse the property for a nonrefining use. Sunoco says that PES’s attempt to remove the language, which was added to protect Sunoco’s interests, “is in direct violation of Pennsylvania law and the Bankruptcy Code.” Sunoco’s objections are just one of several protests filed by a deadline Monday to a proposed reorganization plan for PES, which agreed to sell its 1,300-acre refinery complex for $240 million to Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a Chicago company that reuses industrial properties.“Hilco indicated to Sunoco that it intends to redevelop the land where the refinery is located for a use or uses unrelated to the refinery, which Sunoco contends may not be permitted by the covenants and restrictions contained in the deeds,” Sunoco said in its filing. The deed restrictions, first reported by The Inquirer on Thursday, provide that the land can be used only for nonresidential commercial or industrial activity, and also limit disturbances of its soil — contaminated after 150 years of oil processing — to only uses related to refining, chemical production, or the energy industry.

This Philadelphia Refinery Is the Country’s Worst Benzene Polluter. Trump Wants To Keep It Open - Before it exploded last June, Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) — the largest crude oil refinery on the East Coast — was processing 335,000 barrels of oil each day. It was also producing some of the highest levels of benzene pollution of any refinery in the country, according to a new reportby nonprofit watchdog group the Environmental Integrity Project. The report, which follows a recent investigation of PES’s benzene pollution by NBC News, found that 10 refineries across the U.S. were releasing cancer-causing benzene into nearby communities at concentrations above the federal maximum in the year ending in September 2019. Under 2015 EPA rules, facilities are required to investigate where their toxic emissions are coming from, then take immediate action to reduce impacts — both of which PES failed to do. The refinery had an annual average net benzene concentration that was more than five times the EPA standard, beating a long line of refineries in the oil-friendly state of Texas. Out of the 114 refineries that the group examined across the country over the course of a year, PES emitted the highest levels of benzene. That includes the period after the refinery was shut down following the explosion.  Rather than make repairs and clean up the mess after the June incident, PES shut down the facility and filed for bankruptcy. The company put the 1,300-acre waterfront property up for sale, either to be maintained as a refinery or to be turned into housing or mixed-use development. And last month, after a closed-door auction in New York City, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a Chicago-based real estate company, was the selected winner. But just when it seemed the PES refinery complex would shut down for good, the Trump administration got involved, offering its help last week to spurned bidders who are challenging Hilco’s victory because they want to keep the property processing crude oil. The idea of keeping the refinery active doesn’t sit well with some environmental activists, especially in light of the new benzene report.  More than 5,100 people live in the area within a one-mile radius of the PES refinery. Most of the residents are black, and 70 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. These residents also suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and cancer. In a letter sent to the City of Philadelphia Refinery Advisory Group — a group the city created in wake of the June 21 explosion — at the end of October 2019, Drexel University researchers summarized the health impacts of living near the PES refinery based on data they’d gathered. They listed negative birth outcomes, cancer, liver malfunction, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. They also included mental health impacts such as stress, anxiety, and depression that come with living near a large industrial site like PES. “Because the PES refinery is immediately surrounded by several neighborhoods, communities near the refinery will be disproportionately affected by compounds released by it,” Kathleen Escoto, a graduate student at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel who was one of the authors of the letter, told Grist. “If the refinery released the highest levels of benzene in the country, especially considering its proximity to densely-populated areas, then the burden of disease that the refinery has on the surrounding communities is even worse than we thought.”

10 US oil refineries exceeding limits for cancer-causing benzene, report finds - At least 10 US oil refineries have been emitting cancer-causing benzene above the federal government’s limits, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project. The group reviewed a year of air monitoring data recorded at the fence lines of 114 refineries, as reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. The facilities are not breaking the law, but they are required by EPA to analyze the causes of the emissions and try to reduce them. Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said while some refineries have made improvements, others are still releasing benzene at harmful rates. “Benzene comes with elevated cancer risk but also lots of non-cancer issues that are harder to quantify,” Schaeffer said. People can get sick from low levels in the long term or high levels in the short term. Benzene is just one of multiple dangerous pollutants emitted by refineries – which turn oil into gasoline and other products. Studies have shown the populations living around refineries – often people of color and low-income families – to have worse asthma and other respiratory problems. Benzene harms cell processes. It can keep bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells and can damage the immune system and increase the risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Over the long term, benzene exposure causes other problems, including cancer, according to the Department of Human Health and Services.

PennEast Makes Clear It’s Digging In Despite Roadblocks to Controversial Pipeline - Throughout its long fight to win approval for a 120-mile-long new natural gas pipeline through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, PennEast Pipeline LLC has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to be in it for the long haul. The past several days underlined that steadfastness with a flurry of moves by the company, some of which may have bolstered its five-year quest to win approval for the controversial project, and others that guaranteed new delays in its efforts. Late last week, PennEast filed amendments to its $1 billion project, proposing to build it in two phases. Initially, it would focus on 68 miles in Pennsylvania where it has won most of the approvals it needs to begin construction, targeting completion by November of next year. The other portion in New Jersey would be set to deliver gas in 2023, pending more complicated permit approvals in the state. In a press release, Anthony Cox, chair of the company’s Board of Managers, said the action “again proves the PennEast partners are fully committed to the entire project and meeting the needs of its customers for safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy.’’ Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sided with PennEast last week in seeking to overturn an adverse federal appeals court ruling that threatens to block the project from moving forward in New Jersey. The agency issued an order saying the decision could disrupt the natural gas sector’s ability to construct interstate pipelines. Company wants to withdraw one application In addition, PennEast asked the Delaware River Basin Commission to withdraw the company’s applications for a water withdrawal permit for the original route of its project in Pennsylvania. The project, widely opposed by local groups and environmentalists on both sides of the Delaware River, aims to deliver cheap natural gas to customers in both states. New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel, however, argues the proponents have failed to demonstrate a need for the project. Finally, PennEast won an extension until March 4 to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision saying the company could not exercise eminent domain over 40 state-owned lands. The extension could push a hearing by the Supreme Court, if it decides to review the case, until next fall, according to opponents.

Regional LNG Finds Growing Demand off the Pipeline Grid  | Rigzone - While massive world-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects around the coast of North America have dominated headlines, smaller-scale regional LNG is also growing quickly. There are at least five operations, four fixed facilities in various stages of commercialization, and one using truck-mounted Cryobox liquefaction units to monetize stranded gas. World-scale liquefaction trains load into large specialized tanker ships. Regional LNG liquefaction plants ship LNG in intermodal tank containers, also known as ISO tanks. Some also have facilities for loading tank trucks and rail cars, and one also does direct bunkering of LNG for ship fuel. Most recently Edge Gathering Virtual Pipelines signed a new development deal late in January with one of the largest producers to station Cryobox in the Marcellus. Mark Casaday, CEO of Edge, says the new deal is the firm’s second in the Marcellus. It is actively pursuing similar projects in the Bakken and Permian where the flaring of stranded gas has become a serious problem for the industry. The tenured small-scale operation is Fortis, which has been shipping LNG in tank containers to China since late 2017. Jax LNG recently went into operation in Jacksonville, Fla., with 15 million cubic feet per day at the inlet. Jax is a partnership of Pivotal LNG, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company Gas, and NorthStar Midstream. The latter is backed by Oaktree Capital Management, and Clean Marine Energy. Nearby, the $500-million Jacksonville Eagle operation has two LNG operations going: ISO-tank loading and a ship bunkering. The company tells Rigzone that it is approaching final investment decision for an LNG export facility. And the major midstream and utility company Dominion Energy began construction late in 2019 on modular LNG project in north central Pennsylvania, a joint venture with Rev LNG called Niche LNG, not too far from Edge’s latest installation. Edge was barred from naming its Marcellus client, but Casaday said the initial installation is for two Cryoboxes in Tioga County. Each unit takes 1 million cubic feet a day of gas at the inlet, and loads 75% of it into the tank; the balance is used as fuel. The output is between 9,000 and 10,000 gallons of LNG. “Over the next year we expect to add three or four more locations, each with two to four Cryoboxes.”

US Natural Gas Prices Continue Freefall This Winter - After the lowest summer U.S. natural gas prices since 1998, the market has continued to fall this winter 2019-2020. The cold weather has simply not arrived. In fact, after the second warmest November on record, nine of the ten weeks ending November 23 to January 25 were all “warmer” than normal, as recorded by Heating Degree Days. In turn, the storage withdrawals to meet winter’s collision of heating and power demand have been much lower than normal (see Figure). By the close of January, U.S. gas inventories stood almost 25 percent above the same time last year and 10 percent above the five-year average. On January 21, Henry Hub spot prices crashed below $2 per MMBtu for the first time since the end of May 2016. Beyond just very mild winter weather, U.S. gas prices have remained at historic lows due to record domestic supply that seemingly will not stop. After rising some 13-15 percent in 2018 output rose another 10-12 percent in 2019 to almost 93 Bcf/d. This has led to a 3-4 Bcf/d oversupply in terms of U.S. gas production rising above consumption. Not even a booming export complex that in 2019 averaged 5.8 Bcf/d of LNG feedgas and 5.1 Bcf/d of piped supply to Mexico has been able to slow the fall in pricing. The main problem for U.S. overproduction has been that activity in the Permian basin – a West Texas play that now accounts for 20 percent of the country’s gas supply – is not being driven by price signals. The light, tight oil revolution in the Permian continues to yield an oversupply of basically “free” associated gas. So much so that prices at the local Waha gas hub have often been drifting into the negatives, meaning that producers are actually paying companies to take the gas away to allow for more crude extraction. Yet, with such extreme low prices combined with some well freeze-offs, U.S. gas production dipped to 89 Bcf/d to close January, the lowest since summer. For sure, the key gas market question this year will not just be the expanding LNG export boom but also domestic production. The obvious assumption is that production growth will slow down, but the bigger question remains: will output actually decline in the absolute sense?

US natural gas falls to four-year low - US natural gas futures fell to their lowest in almost four-years on Monday on forecasts for warmer weather through mid-February than previously expected. “There is not yet enough expectations for significant late-winter weather to get the market really excited," Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston, said in a report. Traders also said the gas market was weighed down by a sharp drop in crude futures, which fell to their lowest since January 2019 due to worries the coronavirus will reduce global oil demand. Front-month gas futures for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) fell 2.2 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $1.819 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest since March 2016. Since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November, futures have collapsed 37%. Record production and mild weather have enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making shortages and winter price spikes less likely. Lack of supply concerns caused speculators last week to boost short positions on the NYMEX by the most since October 2018 to an all-time high. But an increase in speculative longs on the NYMEX to their highest since April helped trim net shorts on the NYMEX and Intercontinental Exchange for the first time in four weeks, according to US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data going back to 2010. Meteorologists projected the weather in the US Lower 48 states will remain near- to warmer-than-normal through February 18. That is warmer than Friday's outlook, which called for cold from February 11-15. Refinitiv projected average demand in the Lower 48 states, including exports, would rise from 117.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 122.3 bcfd next week. That is lower than Refinitiv's estimates on Friday of 117.6 bcfd for this week and 126.9 bcfd for next week due to lower heating demand forecasts. The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants held at 9.3 bcfd Sunday, the same as Saturday, according to Refinitiv data. That compares with an average of 9.3 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on January 31. Gas output in the Lower 48 states edged up to 94.4 bcfd Sunday from 94.1 bcfd Saturday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and an all-time high of 96.8 bcfd on November 30.

US natural gas futures flat for colder weather  US natural gas futures were little changed on Thursday as forecasts for cooler weather, higher heating demand and slowing output offset a bigger-than-expected storage draw last week and a collapse in global liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices. That keeps prices within a nickel of a near four-year low. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 137 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Jan. 31. That was higher than the 129-bcf draw analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decline of 228 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 143 bcf for the period. The decrease for the week ended Jan. 31 cut stockpiles to 2.609 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 8.3% above the five-year average of 2.410 tcf for this time of year. Front-month gas futures for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 0.1 cent, or 0.1%, to settle at $1.862 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Monday, the contract closed at $1.819, its lowest settle since March 2016. Since hitting an eight-month high of $2.905 per mmBtu in early November, futures have collapsed 36%. Record production and mild weather have enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making shortages and winter price spikes unlikely. Shares of US LNG companies tumbled as China's biggest importer of the fuel suspended some purchases amid weaker demand and a global glut that has driven prices to record lows. In Texas, meanwhile, forward gas prices at the Waha hub in the Permian basin fell into negative territory for March-June on expectations there will not be enough pipelines to transport all the gas associated with the region's record oil production. Gas output in the US Lower 48 states fell from 93.7 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Tuesday to a near five-month low of 92.5 bcfd on Wednesday due primarily to temporary well freeze-offs in Texas during a snowstorm, according to traders and Refinitiv data. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and an all-time high of 96.8 bcfd on November 30.

US working gas in storage falls by larger-than-expected 137 Bcf: EIA — US working gas in storage dropped at a higher-than-expected rate last week, but still less than normal, as volumes pushed to 30% over this time last year, and futures remain flat. Storage inventories fell 137 Bcf to 2.609 Tcf for the week ended January 31, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was more than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 126 Bcf withdrawal. It was even outside the range of those polled as the largest draw expected was 136 Bcf. But it was still weaker than the 228 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 and the five-year average draw of 143 Bcf, according to EIA data. Massive storage volumes now tower 615 Bcf, or 30.8%, above the year-ago level of 2.222 Tcf and 199 Bcf, or 8.3%, more than the five-year average of 2.41 Tcf. Storage levels in the EIA's Midwest and South Central regions are now 36% and 34%, respectively, more than this date in 2019. US level residential and commercial demand for the week ended January 31 fell 10.6 Bcf/d compared with the week prior, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. The warmer-than-normal winter has dramatically weakened residential and commercial demand year on year throughout the season. Winter-to-date residential and commercial demand has averaged 38.9 Bcf/d, down 3.7 Bcf/d winter on winter, according to Platts Analytics. The NYMEX Henry Hub March contract was static at $1.861/MMBtu in trading following the weekly storage report. Barring any major forecast changes, as weather across major demand regions looks to disappoint in February, there appears to be little upside for balance-of-winter prices. Notably, the price curve is fully upward-sloping over the next 12 months, rising from $1.89 in March to $2.56 next January, before tapering down slightly in February 2021. Platts Analytics' supply-and-demand model forecasts an 88 Bcf draw for the week ending February 7, which is 43 Bcf below the five-year average. The following week also shows a potential draw of less than 100 Bcf. The week in progress has seen fundamentals continue to widen, with demand falling amid a measurable recovery in onshore production. Total demand is down 3.4 Bcf/d week on week to an average 109 Bcf/d, with declines spread across most downstream sectors, but with residential and commercial driving the largest share of the drop. Upstream, total supplies are up 0.7 Bcf/d at an average 96.2 Bcf/d, led by a roughly 0.5 Bcf/d increase in onshore production volumes.

A Seven-Mile Gas Pipeline Outside Albany Has Activists up in Arms - Back in February 2019, National Grid, a natural gas and electric utility, applied for a permit to build a small 7.3-mile natural gas pipeline across several towns in New York's Upper Hudson River Valley. It would make it easier to transfer gas in the Albany area between two large interstate pipelines. Anticipating quick approval by state regulators, the utility—which also services New York City and Long Island—expected to begin construction by fall 2019. Already into January 2020, however, the pipeline—dubbed the E37 Reliability and Resiliency Project—has yet to get approval, and could become the latest casualty in the escalating fight over the future of New York's energy economy. Facing resistance from residents who don't want a pipeline crossing their land under any conditions, and state lawmakers who have made ambitious climate pledges to reduce New York's reliance on fossil fuels, utility companies appear to be struggling to get even the smallest projects built. Climate activists, meanwhile, say utilities are using a "segmentation" strategy to enhance profits and expand the capacity of large interstate pipelines through small local segments like E37. They want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which typically gets involved only in interstate pipelines, to regulate them. A protest is planned for Thursday in Albany, at which activists say they will present Gov. Andrew Cuomo with a petition opposing the pipeline.

Compressor station foes to meet with regulators Friday - News -  — Residents fighting the construction of a natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River say they are finally sitting down with regulators to voice their concerns, including that crews working to excavate contaminated fill at the site are allowing hazardous materials to spread. Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said she and several other members will meet Friday with Millie Garcia-Serrano, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s southeast office, and other officials to discuss their concerns about ongoing work at the site, including what they see as blatant violations and shortcomings in regulator oversight. “We have a lot of questions about the lack of oversight, and violations of the (release abatement measure) plan that we’ve been asking for three months,” Arena said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to the beginning of a conversation and to get them engaged in actual oversight.” The compressor station is being built by Algonquin, a subsidiary of Enbridge, and is part of the Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Algonquin got the final go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November and started cleanup of existing contamination at the site shortly after. The company also needed several state permits, all of which were granted by regulators despite vehement and organized opposition from local officials and residents. The town of Weymouth alone filed two dozen lawsuits attempting to stop the project.

Exeter voters to weigh in on proposed Granite Bridge pipeline - -- A citizen’s petition on the March 10 Town Meeting ballot calls for residents to oppose the Granite Bridge pipeline project, currently under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Granite Bridge is the proposed $414 million, 27-mile, 16-inch natural gas pipeline from Exeter to Manchester to be constructed by Liberty Utilities within the Route 101 right of way, designated by law as a state Energy Infrastructure Corridor. The project, which includes constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tank in an abandoned quarry in Epping, is more than a year into the PUC review process. If approved by the PUC, the pipeline application is then reviewed by the state Site Evaluation Committee, which can take upwards of another year-plus before construction could begin. The petition, appearing on the March ballot as Article 25, states in part, “the scope of the project vastly exceeds the current and future energy needs of New Hampshire. The likely changes in energy production could result in ratepayers paying for technology that will be obsolete before it’s operational.” “We’re not going to get rid of fossil fuels overnight, but we’re not in a position to ramp up fossil fuel infrastructure either,” said resident Sherri Nixon, the lead petitioner. “By the time this pipeline is up and running, we should be well on our way towards being reliant on renewable energy.”

Fight to stop gas-powered generation plant may be futile -  A coalition of activists is waging war against a gas-fired electric power plant to be built in Killingly, a forested town nestled along the Rhode Island border. The climate change protesters have held rallies and demanded a moratorium on gas-fueled plants, including this one. They have warned that new fossil fuel-powered plants will doom global efforts to keep temperature hikes at a sustainable level. And they called on Gov. Ned Lamont to stop the plant — although it’s not clear he has that power. Despite the uprising, the plant is close to construction, its developer said, and there is likely nothing anyone can do to stop it. The owner, NTE Energy, has obtained Connecticut Siting Council approval to build the 650-megawatt facility capable of powering 500,000 homes. NTE earlier received permission from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. A crucial air permit is in hand and only a few routine permits are still needed. .

Racism and ecological injustice combine in 'reckless, racist' Atlantic Coast Pipeline fight - The Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign - Nearly four decades since the birth of the environmental justice movement in the 1980s, we face a new Goliath of ecological injustice. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline — a project that starts in West Virginia and cuts through Virginia and North Carolina — is poised to threaten poor, rural, black and indigenous communities across those states, forcing us to recognize and respond to the fact that marginalized communities still bear the bulk of our nation's environmental burden. As we stand with those around the country who are joining with the Poor People's Campaign and organize toward the Mass Poor People's Assembly in Washington, D.C., on June 20, we have borne witness to poor people and communities of color who are burdened with industrial pollution. We see the intersections of poverty, ecological devastation and systemic racism. We cannot address one without being conscious of the other. We continue to encounter communities caught in a vise grip between the Trump administration's efforts to weaken health-based regulations and companies with little regard for the people who live in the shadow of industrial pollution.  If it is built, the 600-mile natural gas pipeline would cut through some of the best preserved forests in Virginia, through rural areas predominantly populated by people of color and low-income households, and end in a predominantly Lumbee Indian community in southern North Carolina. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy — the chief owners of both the project and the utilities that would buy the bulk of the gas for power plants — have not demonstrated that we need this pipeline costing more than $7 billion to meet our energy needs. Nevertheless, their utility customers will be asked to pay for it. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have three compressor stations, poisoning the air in each of the surrounding communities. Compressor stations that use gas-fired turbines emit toxins and fine particle pollution that increase the risk and severity of respiratory illnesses for nearby residents. Unsurprisingly, no posh suburbs or gated communities will have to suffer from this pollution. Instead, these compressor stations were slated for rural areas with above-average rates of poverty and, in North Carolina and Virginia, predominantly African American neighborhoods.

Virginia lawmakers vote to block offshore drilling in rebuke to Trump plan - (Reuters) - Virginia Democratic-led lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill to block future oil and gas development off the state’s coastline, reflecting opposition to the Republican Trump administration’s efforts to open Atlantic waters to fossil fuel exploration. Democrats control both chambers of Virginia’s state legislature, and the governor is also a Democrat. The bill passed by the state House of Delegates prohibits infrastructure such as pipelines or gathering systems in state waters that could be used to transport oil and gas drilled in federal waters to Virginia’s shores. It also repeals a state policy to support U.S. efforts to explore for offshore oil and gas. A companion bill was approved in the state’s Senate last week, and the legislation is expected to be sent to Governor Ralph Northam shortly. A representative for Northam said he supports the bill. “Governor Northam has long been opposed to offshore drilling off Virginia’s coast,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email. California has also banned new oil and gas infrastructure in state waters since President Donald Trump’s administration proposed in 2018 to open up the Atlantic, Pacific and new parts of the Arctic oceans to offshore drilling. The offshore drilling plan was part of a broader effort by the administration to maximize domestic energy production, but has drawn vehement opposition from nearly every coastal state over concerns related to potential oil spills that could spoil beaches and hurt their lucrative tourism industries. The proposal has since been put on hold due to a court ruling, though the administration is still processing permit requests for seismic testing in the Atlantic. ADVERTISEMENT The text of the Virginia bill and the outcome of the vote were posted on a state legislative website. Democrats have made huge political gains in Virginia in recent years, buoyed by a backlash against Trump, particularly in suburban areas.

Low US gas prices a spur for new LNG export projects: executives — Low US gas prices are bolstering the prospects of companies looking to develop new LNG export projects, as customers increasingly expect those domestic prices to remain low or fall further, executives at an LNG forum in Florence, Italy, said Monday. Speaking at the Baker Hughes AM2020 conference, the heads of Venture Global and NextDecade voiced optimism about the growth in worldwide demand for natural gas, and played down the weakness of global LNG spot prices as a short-term issue. Both companies have projects on the table, although not yet developed. Their comments echoed the bullish view on LNG exports of US assistant secretary for fossil fuels, Steven Winberg, who told S&P Global Platts this week that US LNG exports could rise by 50% over the next three to four years.  "Our customers view the long-term gas prices in the US as very stable and maybe even trending down." "There's massive demand for LNG. It's growing extremely well and we think that will continue for a long time. From our perspective a lot of people in the market continue to underestimate what that growth is going to be, so there's huge opportunities to innovate," he said. Sabel said one disadvantage for US LNG developers was a difficult regulatory approval regime for new projects, saying the regime right now was relatively good, but the future unpredictable. "It can be a meaningful disadvantage relative to other markets," he said. However, NextDecade CEO Matt Schatzman, whose company is developing projects in Texas, was similarly bullish overall on the prospects for US LNG exports, saying domestic gas prices of around $2/MMBtu or lower were "very helpful to exporters." "The spot prices for LNG are very low right now, probably $4/MMBtu or less into Asia. That's not sustainable and doesn't help the development of LNG projects, but we think the short-term indications in the LNG market are not indicative of the long-term requirements," he said. With LNG buyers seeking to eliminate price risk, the risk for US gas exports would be borne not by LNG exporters, but by US upstream gas producers, Schatzman said. He went on to say that major economies, such as India, had already decided on the switch to gas, based not only on concerns about global warming, but the need to improve local air quality.

Virus Has US Gas Exporters Fearing Production Cuts-- A grim situation for U.S. natural gas exporters has gotten even worse as the coronavirus outbreak sends global prices plunging on concern that China’s demand for the fuel will collapse. Suppliers of American liquefied natural gas were already under pressure from depressed prices arising from a global glut and an unusually mild domestic winter. Now, with the virus threatening to disrupt industrial production across China, Asian spot LNG prices have hit a record low. Faced with prospect of being unable to even cover their shipping costs, customers such as commodity trading houses may simply refuse to load U.S. cargoes. Those cancellations could force LNG export terminal operators to cap, or “shut in,” production of the fuel as their storage tanks fill up. “Forward prices for summer are now at levels where U.S. LNG shut-ins begin to seem viable,” said Edmund Siau, a Singapore-based analyst with energy consultant FGE. “There is usually a lead time before a cargo can be canceled, and we expect actual supply curtailments to start happening in summer.” Such an outcome would be a blow to the young and fast-expanding U.S. LNG industry. New export terminals from Maryland to Texas have sprung up to make the country one of the world’s top suppliers, while also providing a crucial outlet for soaring production from shale basins. China hasn’t directly imported LNG from the U.S. in a year amid trade tensions and tariffs on the fuel. But it’s the world’s fastest-growing buyer, and a slowdown or decline in demand there will have an effect that ripples right across the market. China’s big state-owned LNG importers are said to be considering force majeure declarations on contracted cargo deliveries, which would further burden an oversupplied market. Brimming global gas stockpiles are increasing the risk that cargoes will be curtailed, according to Nina Fahy, head of North American natural gas for Energy Aspects Ltd., and Madeline Jowdy, senior director of global gas and LNG for S&P Global Platts. “The full impact of the coronavirus on global gas markets is yet to be felt as lower LNG demand expectations for the Lunar New Year were already built into most forecasts,” Jowdy wrote in an email.“The global LNG outlook is going from bad to worse for suppliers.”

The new normal for crude oil exports - The latest Energy Information Administration weekly data shows that U.S. crude oil exports have averaged above — usually well above — 3 million barrels per day for 12 consecutive weeks. The weekly data that runs through the end of January is a sign that 3 million-plus is the new normal for U.S. crude exports. The growth has been enabled by booming shale production that produces light oil that many refineries are not optimized to run. That has created a spillover effect as companies are building new pipeline and port infrastructure to handle the rise. The intrigue: Politically, it raises the stakes of the White House race. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both called for ending U.S. oil exports as part of their climate platforms. The weekly data is noisy, but on a multiweek basis it is consistent with more complete monthly data, which arrives after a lag. Exports averaged over 3 million barrels per day in November, the most recent period in the monthly tallies, as well as October and September. Flashback: Legislation to remove heavy export restrictions was enacted at the end of 2015.

Despite the U.S. becoming a net petroleum exporter, most regions are still net importers -   (EIA) In November 2019, the United States exported 772,000 barrels per day (b/d) more petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products) than it imported, marking the third consecutive month in which the United States was a net petroleum exporter. Although the United States is a net petroleum exporter as a whole, most regions other than the U.S. Gulf Coast region remain net petroleum importers. Net petroleum trade is calculated as the total imports of crude oil and petroleum products minus the total exports of crude oil and petroleum products. In September 2019, the United States became a net petroleum exporter for the first time since monthly records began in 1973. The United States is a net importer of crude oil. In November 2019, the latest monthly data, it imported 5.8 million b/d of crude oil and exported 3.0 million b/d of crude oil. The United States is a net exporter of petroleum products (such as distillate fuel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel). In November 2019, the United States exported 5.8 million b/d of petroleum products and imported 2.2 million b/d of petroleum products. Regional petroleum trade patterns are still determined by geographical factors, existing infrastructure, regional balances of supply and demand, and other constraints—factors that often change slowly. In recent years, significant growth in crude oil output and infrastructure changes to refineries, pipelines, and terminals in the U.S. Gulf Coast region have led to most of the changes in U.S. petroleum trade patterns. monthly regional net crude oil trade. Of the five regions (also referred to as Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts), only the U.S. Gulf Coast currently exports more crude oil than it imports: 2.9 million b/d of exports compared with 1.2 million b/d of imports in November. The Gulf Coast continues to import primarily heavy, high-sulfur crude oil, which most Gulf Coast refineries are configured to process. Imports from Mexico and Canada are nearly tied as the largest sources of Gulf Coast crude oil imports. Canada is also the largest source of crude oil imports for the Midwest, which is now the largest crude oil importing region; crude oil net imports totaled 2.5 million b/d in November. In other regions, crude oil trade patterns are relatively unchanged.

 BP oil spill cash rebuilds eroded Louisiana pelican island (AP) — A Louisiana island that provides a crucial nesting ground for pelicans and other seabirds is being restored to nearly its former size after decades of coastal erosion and a devastating offshore oil spill 10 years ago. Gov. John Bel Edwards visited the island Monday, unveiling a sign dedicating it as a wildlife refuge. “The walk we just made wouldn’t have been possible a few weeks ago,” the governor said after crossing an expanse of sand bearing tread marks from heavy equipment used to create and grade new land. He spoke at a podium set up before waist-high mangroves, which contractors left untouched for pelicans to nest on. About 6,500 brown pelicans and 3,000 smaller seabirds cram their nests every summer onto Queen Bess Island, which shrank from 45 acres (18 hectares) in 1956 to about 15 acres (6 hectares) of marsh by 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon spill fouled its beaches with oily gunk. Until the restoration, only about 5 acres (2 hectares) — most of it along the island’s edges and the outlines left by short-lived restorations in the 1990s — was high enough for pelicans to nest, said Todd Baker, a biologist supervising restoration for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Once a mere strip of land, the island now covers 37 acres (15 hectares), with most of it for the increasingly cramped birds. Edwards said the $18.7 million project to enlarge and maintain the island is part of $550 million that that has restored more than 4,200 acres (1,700 hectares) of Louisiana’s coast and islands. More than $800 million in additional work is expected across Louisiana this year, he said. Though barely a blip of an island off the Gulf of Mexico in Barataria Bay, Queen Bess plays an outsize role as one of Louisiana’s largest rookeries for brown pelicans, supplying real estate for up to a fifth of the state’s nests. It’s also where the pelican, Louisiana’s state bird, was reintroduced in the 1960s after pesticides had killed off the state’s entire population.

Louisiana seeking $150M grant to elevate oil and gas highway (AP) — Louisiana is making a pitch for millions of dollars in federal financing it hopes will help elevate a state highway leading to a critical national oil and gas hub. Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers pledged $150 million in oil spill recovery money for improvements to LA Highway 1 in Lafourche Parish heading to Port Fourchon. Louisiana’s leaders want the federal government to match that with another $150 million. Jefferson Parish U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who is the No. 2 House Republican, said he met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday to talk of the state’s request. Chao’s department is overseeing a $900 million infrastructure grant program that Louisiana has targeted to provide the $150 million in federal financing, to help elevate an 8.3 mile stretch of Highway 1 from Golden Meadow to Leeville. Scalise said he stressed not only the highway’s use as a key hurricane evacuation route, but also its importance to the national energy infrastructure at Port Fourchon. “It will be an aggressive competition, but I think we have an incredibly strong story,” he said.

630 gallons of crude oil spills in Tabbs Bay near Baytown -  — The Coast Guard responded Saturday to a crude oil spill in Tabbs Bay near Baytown.Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston watchstanders received a report of a the discharge via an oil wellhead. Officials estimate 630 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled.The Coast Guard said the source of the r elease has been secured, and the spill has been contained.

Oil spill contained in bay on eastern outskirts of Houston (AP) — A 630-gallon (2,385-liter) oil spill in a bay on the eastern outskirts of Houston has been contained and is being cleaned from the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday. Coast Guard Petty Officer Paige Hause said the mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) spill occurred Saturday at Baytown from a wellhead that was closed and abandoned in 1980s, but it is unclear who the current owner is. “That’s still part of the investigation ... to determine who the responsible party is,” Hause said. Hause said the spill is not considered large, but the health and environmental impact has not been determined, with surveys of the area now underway. Hause said an absorbent material has been spread along the shoreline of the bay and oil is being vacuumed from the water. The efforts seek to keep oil out of the Houston Ship Channel, which was closed nearly a year ago after flammable chemicals from a petrochemical storage facility seeped into what is one of America’s busiest shipping lanes. Environmental officials with Harris County, the state of Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return phone calls for comment. 

Texas oil spill restarts after previous containment - (Reuters) - A crude oil spill near Baytown, Texas, has restarted after earlier being contained, U.S. Coast Guard officials said in an updated statement on Sunday.About 630 gallons of diesel fuel spilled in Tabbs Bay and approximately one mile (1.6 km) of shoreline has been affected, officials said.The cause of the spill is under investigation.“The source of the release was initially secured but has since begun to leak again,” they said. “Personnel on-scene are developing mitigation plans and strategies to re-plug and secure the wellhead.”  Emergency responders had placed roughly 700 feet (213 meters) of floating boom lines as of Sunday night to contain the spill and prevent damage to the Houston Ship Channel, the nation’s largest petroleum export port. About 2,000 feet (610 meters) of absorbent material was placed along the shoreline.

Ignition of natural gas blamed in fatal oil well accident - A second worker has died from injuries suffered in a Burleson County oil well fire, which authorities suspect was caused by the ignition of natural gas rising to the surface.The worker, who was not identified, died two days after the fire broke out at the well operated by Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City, according to the company. The other worker killed in the explosion was identified in a court filing as Windell Beddingfield, 38, of Tyler. Beddingfield, an employee of Eagle Pressure Control, a Fort Worth oil field services company, died at the scene Wednesday. His mother, Linda Milanovich, filed a request for an injunction before a state District Court in Caldwell on Friday afternoon to preserve evidence in advance of a potential lawsuit. Officials from Eagle Pressure Control could not immediately be reached for comment. Milanovich is seeking a hearing as soon as Monday or Tuesday, said her lawyer, Eric Allen with the Houston office of the law firm Zehl & Associates.“Distraught is the best way to explain what the family is going through right now,” Allen said.Fatal Accident: One dead, three burned in fire at Chesapeake Energy wellCrews were working on upgrading a wellhead at the surface when an unexpected amount of natural gas entered the 8,500-foot-deep well and ignited around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a preliminary inspection report from the Railroad Commission of Texas shows. The cause of the ignition is not clear and remains under investigation by state and local authorities.Eleven people from Chesapeake, Eagle Pressure Control and Alice oil field services company C.C. Forbes were working on the well pad at the time of the accident, the Railroad Commission report said.Beddingfield died at the scene, and three other men were transported by helicopter to hospitals in Houston and Austin.Beddingfield, nicknamed “Bubba” by family members, is survived by a wife and a 16-year-old daughter.Chesapeake officials said the crews were performing workover operations at the time of the accident. In the oil and natural gas industry, workover crews are typically called to perform maintenance or other types of work to improve a well’s sagging productivity. Chesapeake said none of its employees were injured.

3rd man dies after gas blast at Chesapeake Energy oil well near Bryan - A third man has died after a gas explosion Wednesday at a Chesapeake Energy oil well in Burleson County, according to media reports.Oil field worker Brian Maldonado, 25, of San Diego, Texas, died on Saturday, the Alice Echo News-Journal reported.Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but Maldonado was part of a crew working at a Chesapeake Energy oil well west of Bryan, Texas, when natural gas in the well ignited at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The blast killed 38-year-old Windell Beddingfield of Tyler at the scene; Maldonado and two other men were taken by helicopters to hospitals in Houston and Austin.A second worker, who has yet to be identified by authorities or company officials, died Thursday.Maldonado was flown to the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin, where he underwent surgery Thursday afternoon, the Alice Echo-News Journalreported. Eleven people from Chesapeake, Fort Worth oil field service company Eagle Pressure Control and Alice oil field service company C.C. Forbes were working at the well at the time of the incident, a report from the Railroad Commission of Texas shows. Investigators believe that an unexpected amount of natural gas entered the well and ignited. What caused the ignition remains under investigation.Officials from Chesapeake and C.C. Forbes could not immediately be reached for comment but said in previous statements that they are cooperating with regulators and investigators.

Fatal oil well accident investigation widens - Federal officials are now joining an investigation into a fatal Chesapeake Energy accident that left three men dead and another in the hospital.The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has deployed a team to investigate the Burleson County accident.The federal investigation will run alongside ones being conducted by state and local authorities.Known as CSB, the federal agency was launched in 1998 to investigate accidents and to determine the conditions and circumstances that led up to them.As part of its work, the agency identifies the cause or causes of accidents so that similar events might be prevented.The well fire occurred about two years after a well explosion in Oklahoma killed five workers. The board also investigated that accident, finding blame not only with the company that owned and operated the rig, but also the entire energy sector and government for a woeful lack of regulation and supervision of onshore oil and gas drilling. We'll see where the investigation into the Chesapeake Energy accident leads.

Chesapeake Energy, others sued for $1 million in fatal Texas oil-well blast -  (Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp and three oilfield service firms were sued by the daughter of a worker who suffered fatal injuries when a Texas oil well exploded in flames last month. The wrongful death suit seeks at least $1 million from Chesapeake Energy, Forbes Energy Services, Eagle Pressure Control and Halliburton Co. It was filed this week in Harris County District Court by Madison Hendrix, whose father, Brad Hendrix, died in a hospital days after the blast. Hendrix alleged that Chesapeake, the well owner, and the oilfield service companies were negligent, failed to provide a safe work environment or adequate medical care to the workers. Chesapeake declined to comment and Eagle Pressure Control did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Forbes Energy Services said it was “beyond saddened that three fatalities have been confirmed” and offered its “deepest sympathy and condolences” to families affected by the incident. Attorneys representing Hendrix did not respond to a request for comment. Halliburton said it was not performing any services on the rig when the well-control incident occurred. Its well-control unit, Boots & Coots, was hired to handle the post-incident well intervention work, a spokeswoman for the company said.

U.S. oil fields flared and vented more natural gas again in 2019: data - (Reuters) - The U.S. drilling industry flared or vented more natural gas in 2019 for the third year in a row, as soaring production in Texas, New Mexico, and North Dakota overwhelmed regulatory efforts to curb the practice, according to state data and independent research estimates. Flaring, or deliberately burning gas produced as a byproduct to oil, can worsen climate change by releasing carbon dioxide. Venting releases unburned methane, which is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Oil drillers tend to flare or vent gas when they lack pipelines to move it to market, or prices are too low to make transporting it worthwhile. “You’ve got a real waste issue,” said Colin Leyden, a policy advocate for the Environmental Defense Fund, which tracks flaring. “And everyone should be concerned about that.” In the Permian Basin underlying Texas and New Mexico, the largest U.S. shale basin, flaring and venting totaled about 293.2 billion cubic feet last year, according to state regulatory data compiled by independent energy researcher Rystad – up about 7% from 2018. In North Dakota’s huge Bakken oil field, meanwhile, the volume was just over 200 Bcf, up 36% from 2018, Rystad said. Combined, that would put volumes of flared and vented gas from America's two biggest oil fields at 493.2 Bcf, more than 5% above the national 2018 total of 468.3 Bcf reported here by the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). That volume of gas, if released directly to the atmosphere, would have the climate impact of about seven coal-fired power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator. Texas, New Mexico, and North Dakota led a 66% nationwide increase in flaring and venting in 2018, and represented 90% of the national total that year, according to the EIA. The agency will not release its 2019 flaring and venting estimates until late this year.

Texas Regulator Readies First Flaring Report Amid Backlash - A Republican defending his seat on Texas’s all-powerful energy regulator is preparing a first-of-its-kind report on natural gas flaring, a practice that’s come under fire from environmental groups and even some producers. The report will showcase flaring trends, its proportion to surging oil production and potentially a list of the best and worst operators, said Ryan Sitton, a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, which actually oversees the oil and gas industry in the state despite its name. His office has been working for the last six months to aggregate data reported by oil and gas operators

Six Texas oil refineries spewing cancer-causing pollutant above threshold  Eight years ago, two environmental nonprofits sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency was a decade overdue in updating limits on how much hazardous air pollution the country's oil refineries could emit; the groups hoped a lawsuit would force it to act. The result was a regulation that required more than 100 refineries to monitor — and report — levels of cancer-causing benzene along the perimeters of their facilities and to make fixes when concentrations exceed a certain threshold. On Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project — one of the two nonprofits that sued the EPA in 2012 — released an analysis of the publicly available monitoring data refineries began sending to the EPA in January 2018. It found that 10 of them had reported benzene levels above the established threshold over a one-year period that ended in September. Six of those refineries are in Texas, including three in the Houston metro area. The Texas refinery that reported the highest concentrations of the hazardous pollutant at its fence line was Total Port Arthur Refinery in Port Arthur, with levels 148% greater than limit, according to the report. “These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices to reduce the leakage of this cancer-causing pollutant into local communities,” Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. “EPA in 2015 imposed regulations to better monitor benzene and protect people living near refineries, often in working-class neighborhoods. Now, EPA needs to enforce these rules.” The EPA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ten U.S. refineries emitted excessive cancer-causing benzene in 2019: report -  (Reuters) - Ten U.S. oil refineries, including six in Texas, released the cancer-causing chemical benzene in concentrations that exceeded federal limits last year, according to government data published by the green group Environmental Integrity Project on Thursday. The study is based on the first full year of data reported by U.S. refineries since a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule was implemented in 2018. The rule requires continuous monitoring of air pollutants around plants to protect nearby communities, many of which are disproportionately poor, black and Hispanic. “These results highlight refineries that need to do a better job of installing pollution controls and implementing safer workplace practices,” EIP Executive Director Eric Schaeffer said in a statement. “Now, EPA needs to enforce these rules.” In an emailed statement, the EPA said that “it is important to note that benzene concentration levels monitored at the perimeter of a refinery do not reflect benzene levels in the community.” The agency added that its limits are stringent “in order to provide ample opportunity for early action.” EPA said it would not comment on ongoing or potential enforcement actions. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause blood disorders and leukemia, according to the agency. Monitoring for benzene is meant to be a tool that allows for “early detection of potential problems,” But the EPA’s data “is not intended as a measure of community exposure or health risk and could inadvertently provide misleading results to the public,”

 Enterprise Products Partners Wins Court Appeal - Enterprise Products Partners LP has won in its appeal against Energy Transfer Partners in the Supreme Court of Texas. The appeal stems from a 2014 Dallas jury verdict against Enterprise in a lawsuit filed by Energy Transfer over a proposed pipeline project that was cancelled due to a lack of customer support. A panel of the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment for all ETP’s claims against Enterprise, and the Supreme Court of Texas unanimously supported the ruling. In April of 2011, Enterprise and Energy Transfer signed agreements disclaiming any partnership or joint venture without documents and board approvals of the two companies. Definitive agreements were never executed, and board approval was never obtained. The parties signed these disclaiming agreements precisely to avoid this type of lawsuit, Enterprise said in a written statement. Enterprise Products Partners is a North American provider of midstream energy services to producers and consumers of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil, refined products and petrochemicals. Its services include natural gas gathering, treating, processing, transportation and storage; NGL transportation, fractionation, storage and export and import terminals; crude oil gathering, transportation, storage and export and import terminals; petrochemical and refined products transportation, storage, export and import terminals and related services; and a marine transportation business that operates primarily on the United States inland and Intracoastal Waterway systems.

Permian Proves to be Double-Edged Sword for Exxon, Chevron - Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. are discovering that the vaunted Permian Basin is a double-edged sword: surging shale supplies there are driving down global energy prices. North America’s largest oil explorers posted their weakest results in years on Friday, bedeviled by poor performances in almost all of their business lines. The main culprit: excess supplies of everything from gas to motor fuels and polyethylene. Exxon, which in recent years positioned the Permian as a linchpin of its global growth strategy, on Friday disappointed some analysts by saying output in the world’s biggest shale patch won’t expand in a smooth, uninterrupted fashion. Cash flow failed to cover its dividend for the eighth quarter in the last ten as the company boosted spending on new projects. For Chevron, while Permian wells helped lift worldwide production to an all-time high, that wasn’t enough to patch over a massive writedown in the value of gas fields and the deepest quarterly loss in a decade. Analysts questioned whether the company has enough in the tank to keep growing beyond the mid-2020s. Just to cover project spending and dividend payouts without borrowing, Exxon would have needed international crude prices around $100 a barrel, according to Citigroup Inc. analyst Alastair Syme. That’s well above the $62 fourth-quarter average. “Shareholder returns are poor, and debt is rising in a way that suggests that attractive dividends yields are unsustainable,” veteran oil-industry analyst Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities USA LLC said in a note to clients. “What is so concerning about these mega-oil results is that they come in a quarter that featured an average $62/bbl Brent price.” Investor Backlash Exxon shares fell so much on Friday that the decline wiped out $12 billion in market value in less than three hours. The last time the stock traded this low was in late 2010, when Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods was a freshly minted vice president of supply and transportation, still several promotions away from the top job. Chevron also slumped, dropping as much as 4.5% for one of the day’s worst showing on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The weak results were presaged by Shell’s gloomy earnings report on Thursday that prompted the European supermajor to slow share buybacks. The pain is far from over: Woods warned that conditions in its chemical business will continue to be “challenging” through 2020 and predicted the worldwide gas glut will take some time to burn off. Years of high spending on new projects will position the Exxon to “capture the eventual upswing” in prices, he said.

US oil, gas rig count drops 16 to 838 on the week amid disciplined early 2020 outlooks— The total US oil and natural gas rig count dropped by 16 to 838 on the week, drilling data provider Enverus said Thursday, with the biggest in-basin changes coming from Appalachia amid persistently lower gas prices, and the Permian Basin. Each of the two basins lost five rigs, bringing the number in the Permian down to 418 rigs and to 46 in Appalachia, a largely gas-prone region, as dismal gas prices stayed largely well below $2/MMBtu. Appalachia includes both the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale plays. The Marcellus lost four rigs, leaving a total 36, while the Utica lost one rig, leaving 10. The total US rig count has largely bobbed at or below 840 since late December. Those levels were last seen in February 2017 when the domestic count was rapidly rising in response to oil prices that were then breaking through stalemated levels of below-$50/b the year before. Crude oil was trading just above $50/b on Thursday. Intra-basin rig counts largely stayed the same or were up or down by one or two rigs against last week. Outlooks from North American land drillers this week show a needle that isn't moving much this year compared to 2019, even with a relative bright spot of the Permian Basin, sited in West Texas and New Mexico. "Capital discipline [by E&P companies] will remain a prevailing theme" for 2020, John Lindsay, CEO of driller Helmerich & Payne, said on his company's earnings call earlier this week. "We expect industry activity to look similar to the average level experienced during the second half of calendar 2019, which implies a modest increase from current levels," Lindsay said. Permian/Bakken Shale producer Oasis Petroleum said its capital spending would be $700 million-$730 million for 2020 -- 5% less than its earlier projected $750 million capital budget. Rigs in the Bakken remained flat this past week at 54. Cabot Oil & Gas has pared its 2020 capex substantially year on year to $575 million, down 29% from projected spending last year.

 Indianapolis-based Miller Pipeline sold as part of $850M deal - CenterPoint Energy Inc. has agreed to sell two subsidiaries, including Indianapolis-based Miller Pipeline, for $850 million to infrastructure services provider PowerTeam Services LLC, the companies announced Monday. Houston-based CenterPoint acquired Miller Pipeline, which employs more than 3,500 people, when it purchased Evansville-based gas and electric utility Vectren Corp. in early 2019. In addition to Miller Pipeline, Atlanta-based PowerTeam will receive Big Lake, Minnesota-based Minnesota Limited, which CenterPoint also acquired in the Vectren deal. Minnesota Limited has more than 1,400 employees. Miller Pipeline and Minnesota Limited are two of the county’s leading natural gas distribution and transmission pipeline contractors, providing services to customers in 35 states. The two companies are collectively known as MVerge. The deal is expected close in this year’s second quarter. CenterPoint said it will use proceeds from the sale to extinguish outstanding debt.

In Iowa, Candidates Slam DAPL as Documents Show Expansion Tied to Exports --Steve Horn - Ed Fallon, a long time progressive political activist in Iowa and founder of the grassroots organization Bold Iowa, has dogged presidential candidates before the state’s first in the nation primary caucuses for more than two decades.A member of the Iowa legislature from 1993-2006, Fallon has worked on issues such as opposing war, sustainable agriculture, and in more recent years, the climate crisis. This year, Fallon and others at Bold Iowa confronted every Democratic Party candidate about their position on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and other climate change issues. DAPL brings oil extracted in North Dakota diagonally across Iowa and eventually into Illinois where it connects with the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCO). ETCO then brings the oil down to Gulf of Mexico refineries, and soon perhaps increasingly to the global export market.Fallon’s most recent encounter, one with former Vice President Joe Biden on January 26, ended with Biden gently pushing him away and telling him to “go vote for somebody else.” Though a supporter of Tom Steyer, Biden assumed Fallon supported Bernie Sanders. For Bold Iowa, a central part of their organizing strategy in the months leading up to the caucuses was confronting candidates in person. “We’ve got over 250 people statewide, who early last year agreed to birddog candidates on climate and most of them have been to at least one and some of them a dozen or more events,” Fallon said. “I mean, several people have been to probably 50 events.” They also asked candidates questions on issues such as their stances on the Green New Deal and how they will respond to the climate crisis if they become president. But it is Dakota Access, the pipeline owned by the Dallas-based company Energy Transfer Partners, that has taken center stage. The pipeline was subject to the most prolonged and largest mobilization against a pipeline proposal in U.S. history near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. “In terms of local connections to climate change, it’s the biggest issue here in Iowa,” Fallon said.

Minnesota utility regulators give key approvals to Line 3 pipeline project - Months after a court decision threw its future into question, the Line 3 pipeline replacement project is moving closer to regaining the permits it needs to begin construction. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3 to 1 Monday on three key approvals for the project: a revised environmentalreview, a certificate of need and a route permit. The PUC originally voted to approve the controversial oil pipeline project in June 2018. Calgary-based Enbridge Energy is proposing to build the new line, which would replace an aging crude oil pipeline that stretches across northern Minnesota. The new line would be built along a different route, and would have the capacity to transport about twice as much oil as the current pipeline is allowed to carry. But last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected an environmental study that was originally prepared for the project because it failed to assess the impacts of a hypothetical oil spill in the Lake Superior basin. The Minnesota Department of Commerce revised that study, known as an environmental impact statement, to include an analysis of a potential spill into Little Otter Creek. The creek flows into the St. Louis River, which forms the headwaters of Lake Superior.  Matt Schuerger was the only commissioner to reject the revised environmental study — and the only commissioner to vote against the project’s certificate of need and route permit. He said he agreed with several pipeline opponents — including the groups Honor the Earth and Friends of the Headwaters — that the selection of Little Otter Creek as a spot to model a potential spill did not adequately represent the risks of a potential spill to the St. Louis River estuary, the Duluth-Superior harbor and Lake Superior.

State regulators approve Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement - Minnesota regulators gave Enbridge Energy the green light to replace its 1960s-era Line 3 pipeline. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 3-1 Monday to approve an updated environmental review for the $2.6 billion project after finding it adequately assessed for potential oil spills. The PUC also voted 3-1 to approve Enbridge's certificate of need and route permit for the pipeline. The PUC previously approved the above permits, which the Minnesota Court of Appeals vacated in June, saying that the Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) didn’t adequately assess the effects of a possible oil spill near the Lake Superior watershed. The DOC later said there isn't much likelihood of a potential oil spill reaching Lake Superior. The Enbridge project would replace Line 3’s 337-mile long, 34-inch pipeline in Minnesota, which is operating at 51 percent capacity due to corrosion, with a new 36-inch pipeline. The replacement would boost average oil flow to 760,000 barrels per day. Supporters claim the project will create 8,600 jobs. Enbridge says the company would pay around $65 million in Minnesota property taxes in the project’s first functional year. Critics point to past harmful crude oil spills that contaminated water sources. Commissioner Matt Schuerger cast the lone vote against Enbridge, citing climate-change concerns and long-term lower demand for crude oil due to electric vehicles.

 In second Line 3 approval, state regulators take up safety, spills — and climate change  - Minnesota utility regulators have once again given their blessing to Line 3, the oil pipeline replacement project Enbridge Energy has proposed for northern Minnesota — but not before having a sometimes heated discussion about the project's impact on climate change.About a year and a half ago, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission first approved Line 3. But after the state appeals court threw out the project's environmental review, the project was back in front of commissioners.They were faced with three decisions:First, whether to approve the revised environmental study — which had been updated to include analysis of a potential oil spill in the Lake Superior basin.Then, whether to reissue the project's certificate of need — essentially, a declaration that the state needs the project.And last, whether to reapprove the project's route.The last time Line 3 came before the commission — in June 2018 — the commissioners approved the need for Line 3 and the environmental impact study unanimously.But Monday, Commissioner Matt Schuerger said several things had changed since 2018 that caused him to change his vote on all three questions before the PUC. He said it was no longer clear whether there was proven demand for the extra oil the pipeline would carry — nearly twice the capacity of the current Line 3. And he said the science of climate change has become even clearer in the last year and a half."We will not flip the switch and stop using oil, I don’t contend that,” he said during deliberations, “but I do understand that there are actions being taken by jurisdictions around the world, around the country and especially in this state, to act and change the way we use energy."  Groups opposing the Line 3 project have argued that building a new pipeline undermines efforts the state is making to address climate change: The extra crude oil the expanded pipeline would carry would eventually be burned, creating more greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

The long, exhausting battle against Enbridge for our lands and water - - Winona LaDuke - Enbridge’s 7-year battle for a new pipe line has worn us all thin. We have poured out by the thousands, over 68,000 people went to testify against the Enbridge tar sands pipeline. We have driven thousands of miles. We have cried, talked about how much we love our water, and we have faced gauntlets of police. We’ve been turned away by state officials. We’ve seen our prayers for a system (which is supposed to work for the people, not the corporations) trampled. That’s Enbridge’s Line 3 Battle. Here we are in 2020 and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Enbridge are still trying to shove a pipe down our throats – through 44 wild rice watersheds, crossing the Mississippi, and all to bring the dirtiest oil in the world to some tankers and sell this stuff overseas. It’s called regulatory exhaustion. In early February, PUC will again review the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) it has modified. This is supposed to talk about the actual impact of putting the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants on line, using 400 more megawatts of power to move some sludge across the north, and poisoning the fragile social graces of the north, by encouraging racism, Indian hating, and threats. The PUC was court-ordered last June to fix this EIS by including the impact of a possible oil spill on Lake Superior and the Lake Superior Watershed. The company and PUC have come back with a very light-handed statement. More people testified last month in Duluth about why this supplemental environmental impact statement was faulty. Then in January, the Appeals Court also told the PUC that it must do an environmental impact statement for the Nemadji Trail Energy Center, a core part of new power needs for the new pipeline. It would appear that the PUC perceives it can just approve projects without a rigorous environmental assessment, because this is the third time that PUC has been court ordered to do a statement prior to approving a project: It failed to prepare an EIS for the proposed Sandpiper crude oil pipeline; it failed to prepare an adequate EIS for Line 3; and it failed to conduct an environmental review for Nemadji Trail Energy Center.

Trump Moves to Open Utah Monuments for Mining and Drilling — The Trump administration on Thursday implemented plans to downsize two national monuments in Utah, ensuring the lands previously off-limits to energy development will be open to mining and drilling. The action comes despite lawsuits by by conservation, tribal and paleontology groups seeking to restore the original boundaries. The lands have generated little interest from energy companies in the two years since President Donald Trump cut the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half, said Casey Hammond, acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with the U. S. Department of the Interior. Hammond said the department had a duty to work on the management plans after Trump signed his proclamations in December 2017, despite the pending lawsuits. “If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved we would never be able to do much of anything around here,” he said. Conservation groups that have called the decision the largest elimination of protected land in American history criticized the administration on Thursday for spending time on management plans they believe will become moot. They contend Trump misused the Antiquities Act to reverse decisions by previous presidents. A federal judge last year rejected the administration’s bid to dismiss the lawsuits. In a recent court filing, tribal groups said the Bears Ears lands are “a living and vital place where ancestors passed from one world to the next, often leaving their mark in petroglyphs or painted handprints, and where modern day tribal members can still visit them.”

Elk Creek Pipeline, Demicks Lake Gas plant completed - Oneok bought into the Bakken in 2008 with the Grasslands plant in Sidney, Mont., a plant that at the time could process 50 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. Twelve years and $10 billion dollars later, it will soon reach its goal of processing 1.4 billion cubic feet of the Bakken’s natural gas per day. “That is billion with a ‘B,’” Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford noted in recent remarks to a crowd of dignitaries gathered to mark completion of the Elk Creek Pipeline and the Demicks Lake Gas plant, which was mothballed during the downturn amid a drastic drop in oil prices. “I don’t know how many times I asked (Oneok officials), 'When that is coming back?'” Sanford said, adding he had followed media coverage of the plant’s fate when the plant was put back on the drawing board two years ago. “It took two years from that point to get something like this built,” Sanford said, adding that flaring then was 284 million cubic feet per day. “Now it’s 546 million,” Sanford said. “It’s doubled in that two years, and we wish we lived in a fantasy land that the 400 this plant represents is going to take all of it. But we know it won’t. We don’t know how much is covered under exemptions, but we know that this has to take a good chunk of that flaring down.” “At one point in the summer, we had more than 12,000 contractors working across our locations in our footprint,” Burdick said. “And we did it all in a safe and environmental way. The goal is obviously, now that these assets are in place, let’s go put out the flares.”

Radioactive oilfield waste topic of study following Williams County landfill denial - Officials in oil patch counties hope a study on radioactive waste will offer guidance on how to handle applications from companies seeking to store the material in landfills. The study commissioned by the Western Dakota Energy Association comes after Williams County in December denied a request from Secure Energy Services to begin disposing of the waste at the company's landfill north of Williston. The process of reviewing that application prompted a lot of questions from the public and among county officials, including Williams County Commissioner David Montgomery. “My concern was once we open that window of opportunity, if we did for one facility, how many more are we going to get?” he said. “If we approve one, it’s pretty hard to deny any more.” The study seeks to collect and consolidate a significant amount of information from the state, counties and the oil and gas industry about radioactive waste to try to answer officials’ questions and help them plan, “What I’m trying to do is help the counties gather this information and put it into a format that is understandable for them and for them to share with their constituents, the public,” he said.

Pipeline CEO 'scared to death' of fracking ban -- Thursday, February 6, 2020 -- — The CEO of the company known for the Dakota Access pipeline said yesterday he's terrified of the risk from politicians who want to end hydraulic fracturing — a position that's supported by some Democrats running for president.

Saltwater spill near Sherwood larger than initially reported - A saltwater spill in Renville County initially reported more than two weeks ago as 200 barrels is larger and could have contaminated as much as 400,000 square feet of soil. “We know it’s bigger, we know it’s impacting a very large area,” said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. Officials do not yet have an updated spill volume. The initial 200-barrel amount reported by operator Cobra Oil & Gas on Jan. 13 is equivalent to 8,400 gallons. The fluid that spilled, commonly known as brine, is highly saturated saltwater that comes up alongside oil and gas at well sites. It’s typically injected back underground at disposal wells for permanent storage. When it spills and is not contained to a well pad, it can render farmland infertile. The brine leaked from a pipeline and contaminated a field north of Sherwood near the Canadian border. A number of pipelines exist in the area, and it’s possible the leak could have come from more than one, Suess said. Workers at the site are trying to determine the scope of the spill -- how far contamination has extended horizontally and vertically from the site of the leak, he said. “This is an older pipeline that was probably leaking for a period of time,” he said. “We’ve got to find out exactly how far it’s gone.” A summary of the incident maintained by the state says the contamination is 8 feet deep in some areas.The landowner, Sherwood resident Allan Engh, said people involved in the cleanup of the site told him the brine could have contaminated as much as 400,000 square feet of soil, which is about 9 acres. Suess said that estimate could be accurate but the official number is not yet known.So far, the reclamation effort has involved digging up the soil around the pipeline to expose part of the line, and crews have been hauling away brine and groundwater. “It’s that initial scramble to contain as much as they can to keep it from spreading,” Suess said.

California’s multibillion-dollar problem: the toxic legacy of old oil wells – Center for Public Integrity — Across much of California, fossil fuel companies are leaving thousands of oil and gas wells unplugged and idle, potentially threatening the health of people living nearby and handing taxpayers a multibillion-dollar bill for the environmental cleanup. From Kern County to Los Angeles, companies haven’t set aside anywhere near enough money to ensure these drilling sites are cleaned up and made safe for future generations, according to a months-long data analysis and investigation by the Los Angeles Times and the Center for Public Integrity. Of particular concern are about 35,000 wells sitting idle, with production suspended, half of them for more than a decade. Though California recently toughened its regulations to ensure more cleanup funds are available, those measures don’t go far enough, according to a recent state report and the Times/Public Integrity analysis. California’s oil industry is in decline, which increases the chances that companies will go out of business. That in turn could leave the state with the costs for cleaning up their drilling sites, which if left unremediated can contaminate water supplies and waft fumes into people’s homes. Under federal, state and local laws, fossil fuel companies are required to post funds, called bonds, to ensure that wells are ultimately plugged and remediated.  Industry representatives say they are doing their part to pay for cleanup in California, but their bonds are woefully inadequate to meet the expected costs. The Times/Public Integrity investigation found that bonds posted to the state by California’s seven largest drillers, which account for more than 75% of oil and gas wells, amount to about $230 on average for every well they must decommission.. By contrast, the average per-well cost for capping wells and dismantling associated surface infrastructure in California is between $40,000 and $152,000, depending on whether a well is in a rural or urban area, according to a study released in January by the California Council on Science and Technology. The result is a yawning gap between what the industry has provided and what ultimately will be needed. Companies have given the state only $110 million to clean up the state’s onshore oil and gas wells, the council found. By contrast, it could cost roughly $6 billion for that cleanup, according to a Times/Public Integrity analysis of state data provided to the science and technology council. Decommissioning offshore oil wells and platforms, which is not included in those figures, will cost several billion dollars more.

Shell Divests California Refinery - Shell Oil Products US (Shell) has formally closed on the sale of the Martinez Refinery in California to PBF Energy, Inc., Royal Dutch Shell plc reported Saturday. PBF acquired the Bay Area refinery and the facility’s inventory for $1.2 billion, and the deal includes crude oil supply, product offtake agreements and other adjustments, Shell added. As a June 12, 2019, Rigzone article announcing the transaction points out, the Martinez facility was Shell’s only refinery in the Golden State. The deal gives PBF its second refinery on the West Coast. “The acquisition of Martinez is a significant strategic step for PBF as we expand our West Coast operations,” commented PBF Chairman and CEO Tom Nimbley in a separate written statement. “Martinez is a top-tier asset, is a perfect complement to our existing assets and provides increased opportunities for PBF’s West Coast to deliver value.” Located 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, the 157,000-barrel-per-day high-conversion Martinez Refinery boasts a Nelson Complexity Index of 16.1, noted PBF, which also owns a former Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery in Los Angeles County. PBF and Shell stated that they have agreed to jointly move forward with reviewing the feasibility of building a proposed renewable diesel project at Martinez that would repurpose existing idled equipment. According to Shell, crude supply and product offtake agreements from the sale will enable PBF to supply Shell-branded businesses with Shell-branded fuels. The supermajor added that the deal excludes its associated branded fuel businesses, aviation terminal and Catalysts business in the area. Shell stated that its presence in California will focus on Upstream and New Energies business investments. It also noted that local employees providing dedicated support to the Martinez facility were all offered employment with PBF.

Belugas Are Dying off in Alaska and Oil and Gas Operations Are to Blame, Says Lawsuit - Two environmental groups made a formal announcement that they will file a lawsuit to protect endangered beluga whales whose numbers have plummeted recently, as the AP reported.The suit aims to void permits allowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that opened up oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet in southern Alaska. The suit alleges that NOAA violated theEndangered Species Act by issuing the permits without protecting Cook Island belugas. The law requires the formal 60-day notice before the agency can be sued, according to The Associated Press.The Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper teamed up to send notice that they will sue NOAA.NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a disturbing new population estimate last week that showed whale numbers are far lower than previous estimates and their numbers are dropping rapidly, asReuters reported.The NMFS report estimated that only 279 beluga whales remain in Cook Inlet, a steep decline from the nearly 1,300 that lived there in 1979. The population decline has accelerated to an annual rate of 2.3 percent over the last decade, which is four times faster than previous estimates, according to NMFS, as Reuters reported.Cook Inlet runs almost 200 miles from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. It supplies energy for the south-central part of the state. The industrial activities there threaten beluga whales, which swim there and feast on salmon and other fish, according to The Independent. The Center for Biological Diversity said these "daunting" numbers mean exploration planned by Hillcorp Alaska needs to stop immediately, as The Independent reported.

Democratic senators ask banks to prohibit funding Arctic drilling - A group of 15 Democratic senators wrote to 11 major banks last week asking them to ban funding oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "The scale of your banks’ assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks," the senators wrote. "We respectfully urge you to reassess your current environmental and climate policies and update them to include a prohibition on funding for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," they continued. Their letter follows a December announcement by Goldman Sachs that it would prohibit financing for new drilling or exploration in the Arctic, including in the refuge. "As one of the largest banks operating in the United States, we write to ask that you join your peers in the U.S. and abroad and commit to stop financing of oil and gas drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," the letter stated. "Protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not only intrinsically important, it is also critical in the broader context of wilderness protection, Indigenous rights, working to combat climate change, and preparing the U.S. economy to weather the growing impacts of the climate crisis." Their letters were addressed to executives at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corporation, Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Morgan Stanley, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., TD Bank, Capital One Financial Corp., Citizens Financial Group, Inc., and HSBC North America Holdings Inc.

Trump State of the Union’s brief environmental interlude: more oil, more trees - The reality TV president delivered a reality TV State of the Union Tuesday night. Over the course of 80 sometimes raucous minutes, he awarded a school voucher to a Philadelphia 4th grader, had the first lady present conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and reunited a military service member with his family.Along the way, he ticked off a checklist of statistics, claims, and promises designed to galvanize his colleagues on the right side of the aisle. The most prominent parts of the speech touted the strong economy, celebrated the administration’s crackdown on immigration, and decried an alleged Democratic attempt to engineer a socialist takeover of healthcare.One phrase that didn’t pass the president’s lips — to nobody’s surprise — was climate change.Trump devoted just a few seconds of his address to energy and environmental issues: first by celebrating the massive oil and gas boom that has made the U.S. a net exporter of oil, and later by reiterating his commitment to joining an international initiative to plant one trillion trees worldwide.The president took credit for the recent increase in domestic fossil fuel production, suggesting that it was his administration’s “bold regulatory reduction campaign” that made the U.S. the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world. But the U.S. actually reached that milestone under the Obama administration. Thanks to the explosion in fracking beginning in 2008, the U.S. became the top producer of natural gas in 2009 and of oil in 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration.The president then went further, claiming that the boom has made the U.S. “energy independent” — ignoring the fact that the country is still subject to the global oil market, and that turbulence in the Middle East and elsewhere has the ability to affect gas prices in the U.S.The dramatic increase in stateside oil and gas extraction has also generated environmental and public health consequences that went unacknowledged in Tuesday’s address. Though U.S. emissions likely fell by about two percent last year, those reductions are nowhere close to the cuts required to meet the targets set under the international Paris Agreement, which scientists say are essential to avoiding the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Research also suggests that increased pollution from the oil and gas boom could reverse that fragile progress.

Shale pioneer John Hess says key U.S. fields starting to plateau (Reuters) - Shale pioneer John Hess said on Tuesday that key U.S. shale fields are starting to plateau, calling shale “important but not the next Saudi Arabia.” Over the past decade, the shale revolution turned the United States into the world’s largest crude producer and a force in energy exports. Yet that did not translate to higher stock prices or returns for investors, with the S&P 500 Energy sector only gaining 6% in a decade, far less than the 180% return for the broader stock market. Companies remain under pressure to trim budgets and produce enough free cash flow to pay investors higher dividends or buy back shares. The biggest industry challenge is the lack of long-term investment, Hess said. Production in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas is starting to plateau, while the Bakken field in North Dakota where Hess is a major producer will hit its peak production levels within the next two years, said Hess, who spoke Tuesday in Houston at the Argus Americas Crude Summit. The Permian Basin, the top U.S. shale field in Texas and New Mexico, will plateau in mid-decade and is already facing well interference issues, Hess said. That means the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will continue to act as the “Federal Reserve of oil,” he said. Hess plans to use cash flow from the Bakken to invest in longer-term offshore investments. The company is relying on offshore Guyana, one of the world’s most important oil and gas discoveries in the last decade, which is being developed by a consortium led by oil major Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N). In the Bakken, Hess said the company expects to reach 200,000 barrels per day of production next year. It would then sideline two of its six drilling rigs in the field for several years to hold production steady. In the short term, “the oil market is awash in oil right now, in part because of panic created by the coronavirus,” Hess said. “It’s a major headwind.” The industry also has to respond to the threat of climate change, Hess said.

Jim Cramer, ‘Mad Money’ host, declares fossil fuels dead  --ExxonMobil and Chevron stocks sank Friday morning after both oil companiesreported disappointing fourth quarter earnings. How does influential TV financial analyst Jim Cramer make sense of that? The Mad Money host thinks it’s time to ditch oil companies — and not just because they’re currently a drag on the Dow.On Friday’s Squawk Box, a pre-market morning show, the TV host and former hedge fund manager stunned CNBC anchor Rebecca Quick by saying that oil companies are in the “death knell phase.”“I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done,” he said. “We’re starting to see divestment all over the world. We’re starting to see … big pension funds saying, ‘Listen, we’re not gonna own them anymore.’” “The world’s changed,” Cramer added later. “This has to do with new kinds of money managers who frankly just want to appease younger people who believe that you can’t ever make a fossil fuel company sustainable.”

Oil Sands Spending Set for First Jump Since 2014 Crash  -- Investment in Canada’s oil-sands is forecast to grow for the first time since prices crashed in 2014. Capital spending in the the world’s third-largest crude reserves is projected to rise 8.4% to C$11.6 billion ($8.8 billion) this year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main lobbying group. The forecast signals a tentative return of optimism to the oil sands, where pipeline bottlenecks and environmental opposition made expansion difficult even after oil prices rebounded in recent years. CAPP attributes the expected gain to tax cuts implemented by Alberta’s new government and an easing of the province’s output limits. “The increase in capital investment is a very positive sign for the upstream sector, and there is a lot more work to be done to keep this momentum,” CAPP Chief Executive Officer Tim McMillan said in a statement. That work includes Alberta’s plans to reduce red tape, as well as reforms to municipal taxes, he said. Even with this year’s increase, the industry is still a long way from its headiest days. The projected oil-sands spending for 2020 is about a third of the peak of C$33.9 billion in 2014, according to CAPP figures. Expenditures for Canada’s oil and natural gas sector as a whole may increase 5.4% to C$37 billion. Outside the oil sands, spending is projected to rise 4.1% to C$25.4 billion. The additional C$2 billion in capital spending this year will create or sustain about 11,800 direct and indirect jobs across Canada, the organization projected.

Trudeau's Oil Pipeline Gets a Win in Court- The Canadian government’s plan to expand a major oil pipeline cleared a key legal hurdle, providing optimism that the project may proceed and sending a lifeline to the country’s ailing energy industry. The Federal Court of Appeals in Ottawa ruled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government adequately consulted with indigenous communities along the line’s route and that the regulatory review of the project included all necessary elements. The ruling signals that one of the final remaining major legal challenges to the project may be overcome, which would help keep construction from being interrupted and allow the expanded line to start shipping oil by its 2022 target. However, the ruling is almost certain to be appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court, “The final judicial review rests at the Supreme Court of Canada level, and until it’s weighed in, the process is not over.” The Trans Mountain project has been highly anticipated by Canada’s oil producers, which have suffered from a lack of pipeline capacity that has weighed on local crude prices and stymied plans to expand output. The project would boost daily shipping capacity by 590,000 barrels, to a total of 890,000 barrels. Expanding the line, which runs from Edmonton to a shipping terminal near Vancouver, also would open the possibility of developing new markets for Canadian crude in Asia and reducing dependence on U.S. refiners. The Trans Mountain expansion has had a long and troubled history. Amid mounting opposition, original owner Kinder Morgan Inc. threatened to walk away from the project, prompting Trudeau’s government to agree to buy the existing line for about C$4.5 billion ($3.4 billion) in 2018 to salvage the project. Before that deal had even closed, the appeals court nullified the Trans Mountain expansion’s approval in August 2018, ruling that the project’s regulatory review was flawed because it didn’t examine the effects of additional tanker traffic. The court also said Trudeau’s government hadn’t consulted enough with First Nations along the route. The Federal Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the government’s additional consultation was “a genuine effort in ascertaining and taking into account the key concerns of the applicants, considering them, engaging in two-way communication, and considering and sometimes agreeing to accommodations.”

Canadian court upholds Trans Mountain pipeline expansion approval - Canada’s federal court of appeal has dismissed legal objections to the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific coast. In a 3-0 decision, the court rejected four challenges from First Nations in British Columbia to the federal government’s approval of the project. That means construction can continue on the project, though the First Nations have 60 days to appeal to the supreme court. The natural resources minister, Seamus O’Regan, said the ruling proves that if consultations and reviews are done properly, major projects can be built in Canada. “The courts have acknowledged that we listened and that we want to do things right,” O’Regan said. The pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of an existing line to carry oil extracted from the oil sands in Alberta across the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. It would end at a terminal outside Vancouver, resulting in a sevenfold increase in the number of tankers in the shared waters between Canada and Washington state. Tanker traffic is projected to balloon from about 60 to more than 400 vessels annually as the pipeline flow increases from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day. The decision is a blow for indigenous leaders and environmentalists, who have pledged to do whatever necessary to thwart the pipeline, including chaining themselves to construction equipment What if Canada had spent $200bn on wind energy instead of oil? Read more Chief Lee Spahan of the Coldwater Indian Band said in a statement an appeal to the supreme court is under consideration. Many indigenous people see the 620 miles (1,000km) of new pipeline as a threat to their lands, echoing concerns raised by Native Americans about the Keystone XL project in the US. Many in Canada say it also raises broader environmental concerns by enabling increased development of the carbon-heavy oil sands. Justin Trudeau’s government bought the existing pipeline and the expansion plan in 2018 after political opposition to the project from the British Columbia government caused Kinder Morgan Canada to pull out from building the expansion

Enbridge Says Mainline Opponents are Stalling for Time  | Rigzone -- Enbridge Inc. said opponents of its plan to convert the Mainline oil pipeline network to a contract system may be stalling for time, hoping to see what happens on other lines that are in the works before making long-term commitments on its system. Opponents of Enbridge’s proposal, including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and the Explorers & Producers Association of Canada, have asked that the Canada Energy Regulator split the approval process for the plan into two. The first part would address whether the conversion should even be allowed. That scenario would be unique, and would likely make the entire regulatory process longer, said Vern Yu, the head of Enbridge’s liquids pipelines business. Pipeline projects including the Trans Mountain expansion, TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL and Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion face key obstacles this year that could affect their timelines or even their ultimate fate. “It might be strategic from some of these shippers because it would help them gain more clarity on what’s happening on some of the other pipelines that are under development,” Yu said in an interview. “It would be a way for them to gain an advantage as they make decisions going forward.” Yu reiterated that Enbridge’s plan to lock shippers on the Mainline into contracts of as long as 20 years -- a change from the current system, in which space is allocated on a monthly basis -- has the support of customers accounting for more than 70% of the volume on the system. The plan will provide shippers with certainty on tolls and market access. Oil-sands producer Cenovus Energy Inc. and LyondellBasell Industries NV, which owns a Houston refinery that receives crude from the Mainline, were among companies noting their support of the change in filings on Thursday. The Mainline is Canada’s largest oil pipeline network, with the capacity to ship about 2.85 million barrels a day.

Canadian Town Evacuated After Another Oil Train Derails and Burns - Early in the morning of Feb. 6, an oil train derailed and caught fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, resulting in the Canadian village's evacuation. This is the second oil train to derail and burn near Guernsey, following one in December that resulted in a fire and oil spill of 400,000 gallons.According to the CBC, eyewitness Kyle Brown reported that "he saw a huge fire after the train derailed.""It looks like an inferno," said Brown. "Like a war zone, really. It is pretty bad."The Canadian Pacific (CP) train was carrying crude oil and reportedly derailed approximately 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from town. News reports indicate that the train crew escaped without harm.Local resident Blaine Weber spoke to the Global News after this second derailment and expressed frustration that Canadian Pacific Railway, the rail company operating the trains, has not been forthcoming with answersabout the derailments."CP doesn't seem to be answering any questions from either the public or the authorities," Weber said. Canadian Pacific also is under scrutiny over a potential cover up of the details surrounding a runaway freight train accident in 2019 that resulted in the death of all three crew members. A month ago I wrote that the forecast for oil by rail for 2020 would include more trains, fires, and spills. The Canadian oil industry is moving record volumes of oil by rail to the U.S. and with that increase, expect to see more accidents. Last week, Reuters reported that the CEO of Imperial Oil, a Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, which lobbied against new oil-by-rail regulations in the U.S., was eager to ship more oil by train. "We see with the current differentials and arbitrage, it makes good economic sense for us to ship barrels on the rail," said Brad Corson, CEO of Imperial. As DeSmog has reported in detail, these trains are currently unsafe to operate. The new tank cars that regulators and the rail industry promised were a safety improvement for reducing oil spills and explosions have now failed in five out of five major derailments. U.S. regulations requiring oil trains to have modern braking systems, known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes — which Canadian operators would have had to comply with as well — were repealed in 2017.

BP full-year net profit falls 21% on weak oil and gas prices - Energy giant BP reported better-than-expected full-year net profit on Tuesday, outperforming analyst expectations despite lower oil and gas prices. The U.K.-based oil and gas company posted full-year underlying replacement cost profit, used as a proxy for net profit, of $10 billion in 2019. That compared with $12.7 billion full-year net profit in 2018, reflecting a year-on-year fall of 21%. Analysts had expected full-year net profit to come in at $9.7 billion in 2019, according to data from Refinitiv. Shares of BP were up more than 4%. “BP is performing well, with safe and reliable operations, continued strategic progress and strong cash delivery,” Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, said in a statement. Underlying replacement cost profit for the fourth quarter and full-year 2019 was $2.6 billion and $10.0 billion respectively, compared to $3.5 billion and $12.7 billion for the same periods a year earlier.  Gulf of Mexico oil spill payments for the year totaled $2.4 billion on a post-tax basis, and are expected to be less than $1 billion in 2020.   A dividend of 10.5 cents per share was announced for the quarter, an increase of 2.4% on a year earlier.  The energy giant’s full-year results follow disappointing earnings from oil and gas companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Shipping Lines Turn to LNG-Powered Vessels, But They’re Worse for the Climate - Oceangoing ships powered by liquified natural gas are worse for the climate than those powered by conventional fuel oil, a new report suggests. The findings call into further question the climate benefits of natural gas, a fuel the gas industry has promoted as a "bridge" to cleaner, renewable sources of energy but is undermined by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.The most commonly used liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine used by cruise ships and cargo vessels today emits as much as 82 percent more greenhouse gas over the short-term compared to conventional marine fuel oil, according to the report, published earlier this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an environmental think tank."If we are serious about meeting the Paris [climate] agreement, temperature goals and decarbonizing the international shipping industry as part of that, then a switch to LNG as a marine fuel is counterproductive," Bryan Comer, ICCT researcher and a co-author of the study said. Shipping companies are increasingly turning to liquified natural gas, which is cleaner burning than conventional fuel oil and, with the glut of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, increasingly inexpensive. When burned, natural gas emits less carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides than conventional marine fuel. Methane, the primary component of natural gas is, however, more than 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If even a small amount of methane leaks into the atmosphere instead of being burned, those emissions can outweigh the fuel's lower carbon dioxide emissions.    The current study, which was funded by environmental group, found that the LNG engine most widely used by the shipping industry and by cruise ship companies, allowed 3.7 percent of methane to pass unburned through the engine and into the atmosphere. This is due partly to ship engine designs that typically include an open "crankcase" that vents a small amount of unburned gas, and engine tuning that lowers nitrous oxide emissions at the expense of increased methane emissions.  . A recent study by scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund and more than a dozen research institutions found 2.3 percent of methane leaks into the atmosphere from gas wells, pipelines, storage facilities and other infrastructure.

Natural gas prices tumble to historic lows as one energy CEO quips: 'Send me an ice blizzard - 'The chief executive of Austrian energy firm OMV has quipped that he needs a bout of extreme cold weather to boost profits at a time of historically low natural gas prices. “Honestly speaking, if I have one wish for free, please send me an ice blizzard for the gas prices,” Rainer Seele, CEO of OMV, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday. His comments came shortly after the oil and gas group conceded lower commodity prices had squeezed profits in the final three months of 2019, reflecting an industry-wide trend. Natural gas prices traded at around $1.86 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) on Friday, up around 0.1% on the session. The commodity is almost 30% below where it traded a year earlier — and down nearly 15% since the start of 2020. In Asia, the benchmark Japan-Korea-Marker (JKM) spot price for liquefied natural gas (LNG) closed at an all-time low of $3.00 MMBtu for the second consecutive session on Thursday, according to data provided by S&P Global Platts. The price reporting agency said the JKM spot price had fallen dramatically since the start of the year, following significant pressure due to high stocks globally, a warmer-than-average winter in North Asia and a continued rapid supply build — especially from new projects on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Disruption and curtailment fears in China as a result of the fast-spreading coronavirus has also compounded the pressure on LNG prices, S&P Global Platts said, with China’s biggest importer of LNG declaring force majeure on some contracts on Thursday. China’s National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) announced it had suspended contracts with at least three suppliers on Thursday, Reuters reported, citing two unnamed sources.  Analysts said the move was likely to further dim China’s demand outlook and raised concerns about its impact on global trade flows and prices. China is the world’s second-largest importer of LNG.“The coronavirus outbreak is not fundamentally changing the direction of the LNG market. It was already weak and heading in this direction,” Ira Joseph, global head of power and gas analytics at S&P Global Platts, said in a research note.Joseph added that S&P Global Platts had predicted $3 JKM prices would emerge this year, with the coronavirus outbreak seen acting as a catalyst for this historic price collapse “and creating conditions for it to last longer.”

ExxonMobil Got Congress to Trade Arms for Offshore Gas  -Steve Horn - In a bitterly divided Congress, lawmakers still managed to come together to help ExxonMobil pass major legislation that could remake the geopolitics of the Middle East and Europe.During the holiday season legislative blitz in December, legislators tucked an obscure provision into the omnibus spending package that lifted arms restrictions and boosted a controversial pipeline deal in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.The omnibus includes provisions from the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, legislation introduced in the House and Senate last year. It promises a range of U.S. assistance for the development of natural gas resources off the coasts of Israel and Cyprus, including support for constructing pipelines and liquified natural gas terminals and the creation of a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center in the region run by the U.S. Department of Energy.Cyprus, one of the smallest states in the European Union, has come under increasing pressure from Turkey, which opposes the development of new gas fields off the disputed coasts of the island state and has used its navy to threaten drilling vessels.In response, the legislative text also repeals the prohibition of weapons transfers to Cyprus put in place in 1987, promotes greater U.S. military assistance to Greece and Cyprus, and instructs the U.S. to maintain its newly situated predator drone fleet in the region.While the provision received scant coverage in American media, its passage prompted a flurry of activity. On January 2, leaders of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus appeared together to sign a trilateral deal to build a new $6.7 billion pipeline to bring gas from offshore fields in Israel and Cyprus to Greece, Italy, and Bulgaria. The new EastMed pipeline could transport as much as 20 billion cubic meters of gas to those countries annually, pitched as a way to lessen Russian and Turkish energy influence in the region. Days later, Russia and Turkey announced plans for their own joint venture, the TurkStream Pipeline.  The authorization of the military assistance and pipeline support never received a single hearing, an up or down vote, or any open debate. Its inclusion in the must-pass spending package reflects the powerful lobbying coalition that came together in support of the deal.

Climate Activists Sound Alarm on Mediterranean Natural Gas Pipelines - Real News Network video – Steve Horn - Activists say the environmental risks of natural gas drilling are being ignored in the rush to challenge Russia's control of the European energy market.

U.A.E. Makes Significant Gas Field Discovery  | Rigzone - Dubai and Abu Dhabi made what could be the world’s largest natural gas discovery since 2005 as the two biggest sheikhdoms in the United Arab Emirates aim to push the country to energy self sufficiency. The Jebel Ali reservoir located between the two emirates has 80 trillion cubic feet of gas resources, according to tweets by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the U.A.E.’s prime minister and Dubai’s ruler. The country is seeking to become self-sufficiency in gas supply by 2030, a step that would allow it to break its reliance on imports from Qatar, with which it has been locked in a 2 1/2-year diplomatic dispute. “This is an enormous discovery for the U.A.E.,” said Liam Yates, an analyst at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. The deposit could meet the country’s entire gas demand for nearly three decades, depending on the amount of gas that can be recovered from the reservoir, he said. Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., the government-owned energy giant known as Adnoc, will jointly develop the reservoir with distributor the Dubai Supply Authority. The U.A.E., an OPEC member and a major oil exporter, is looking to gas and other sources of energy to diversify and guarantee security of supply. The burgeoning Middle Eastern business and tourism hub is building nuclear, solar and coal-fired power plants, while Adnoc has invited international companies to help tap previously inaccessible gas deposits. The Jebel Ali discovery is the biggest since the Galkynysh field was found in Turkmenistan 15 years ago, according to WoodMac’s Yates. The announced resources would make it the fourth-biggest gas field in the Middle East behind Qatar’s North Field and Iran’s South Pars, which are part of the same Persian Gulf deposit that make up the world’s largest offshore gas field. Abu Dhabi’s Bab field is the third-largest, according to WoodMac. While the U.A.E. is among the world’s 10 biggest holders of gas reserves, the Jebel Ali project marks the first time Adnoc has explored for the fuel in Dubai. The company drilled more than 10 wells to make its discovery, and will use both standard and unconventional drilling techniques to pump out the fuel, it said. 

Russian Oil Firm Could Sign Fuel-For-Diamonds Deal In This African Nation - Russian oil firm Tatneft could strike a deal with Zimbabwe to supply fuel to the crisis-stricken African country in exchange for diamonds, the Zimbabwe Independent reported on Friday, describing the potential deal as ‘murky’ because Zimbabwe’s Minister of Mining, Winston Chitando, told the news outlet that he was not aware of any such development.  “It is the first time I am hearing of that. The bottom line is that it is not true. I maintain that it is not true,” Chitando told the Zimbabwe Independent. The potential deal, reportedly worth US$1.4 billion, would see Russia’s Tatneft ship in fuel to Zimbabwe via the Port of Beira in Mozambique, according to the Zimbabwe Independent. Last week, Tatneft’s general director Nail Maganov told Russia’s news agency Interfax that Tatneft was indeed working on an agreement to supply fuel to Zimbabwe as part of a fuel-for-diamonds deal. “We are working on this issue. I want to say that this is a real thing… I know that the fuel supply is real,” Maganov told Interfax on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. Previous reports had it that Russia’s diamond mining giant Alrosa would also be involved in the deal. Alrosa is not part of this fuel for diamonds scheme, Alrosa’s press service told Interfax last week.  Zimbabwe is looking at alternatives to buying fuel amid a raging economic crisis and hyperinflation, where fuel, food, basic commodities, and necessities are scarce, while a currency shortage doesn’t allow the authorities to buy fuel on the free market. Zimbabwe also faces a hunger crisis due to drought, the World Food Programme (WFP) said in December. The economy is in tatters, and Zimbabweans are going hungry and cannot afford basic necessities amid the hyperinflation.

 Angola probes oil spill in Soyo region - (Xinhua) -- Angola's environment ministry is investigating an oil spill in the beaches of Soyo, in the country's northern province of Zaire, the ministry said on Monday.The spill happened on the dawn of Saturday, affecting the Quinfuquena beach, in Soyo municipality, the ministry said in a statement.Located at the mouth of the Congo River, Soyo is the largest oil-producing region in Angola.The ministry considers it premature to give any information about the origin of the spill as well as its environmental impact, the statement said.

 EDL says minor oil spill contained off Zouk - Civil Defense crews in cooperation with Electricite du Liban and Karadeniz, the Turkish firm that owns the power ship Fatmagül Sultan, have managed to contain a minor oil spill off Zouk’s coast, EDL said on Tuesday. In a statement, EDL said the spill occurred as a ship was unloading fuel oil into the tanks of the Zouk power plant at 10:40 pm Monday. “The pumping pipeline burst off, which resulted in the leakage of around 100 cubic meters of fuel oil, part of which landed on land and another into the sea and were immediately contained,” EDL added. “Efforts to clean the shore and pull the leaked quantities have been ongoing since 1:00 am,” EDL went on to say. Karpowership, a subsidiary of Karadeniz Holding, meanwhile announced that the power ship Fatmagül Sultan was “in no way related to the fuel leak,” denying media reports that claimed otherwise. “The aforementioned leak is due to a cracked pipe used to pump fuel into EDL tanks, and is not related in any form to the Powership Fatmgül Sultan. It is worth mentioning that Karpowership’s staff operating Fatmagül Sultan was completely mobilized to assist the Civil Defense units and the workers at EDL to contain the leak,” it added.

Lebanon immediately contained an oil spill last night - A cracked pipe led to the leakage of around 100 cubic meters of fuel oil. Civil defense crews in collaboration with Electricite du Liban (EDL) and Karadeniz, a Turkish firm that owns the power ship Fatmagül Sultan, were able to contain a minor oil spill off Zouk's coast last night. The spill occurred as a ship was unloading fuel tanks for the Zouk power plant at 10:40 pm on February 3rd. EDL stated, "The pumping pipeline burst off, which resulted in the leakage of around 100 cubic meters of fuel oil, part of which landed on land and another into the sea and were immediately contained." They've been cleaning the oil spill since 1:00 AM on Wednesday and were able to complete the clean up by night time. Karpowership, a subsidiary of Karadeniz, said that the Fatmagül Sultan is in no way related to the spill that took place, saying that it was likely caused by a cracked pipe that was used to pump fuel into EDL's tanks. "It is worth mentioning that Karpowership’s staff operating Fatmagül Sultan was completely mobilized to assist the Civil Defense units and the workers at EDL to contain the leak,” they added. Via Daily Star This is, however, not the first oil spill that the company was allegedly involved in. They previously denied responsibility for a spill that took place in Zouk on May 3rd, 2019. According to their website, the Karpowership was awarded a contract in 2012 by EDL under former Prime Minister Najib Mikati to provide 2 power-ships producing 270 Megawatts of electricity. The capacity had increased since then reaching 370 Megawatts in 2016 for another two years, using ships that were docked in the Zouk and Jieh municipalities. The company provides 25% of Lebanon's electricity and they claim that they are the cheapest and most reliable source of electricity for the country. The Lebanese government is said to pay the company $142 million a year. However, there are claims that the contract amounts to $1.8 billion, which Karpowership denies. This makes the Turkish company one of Lebanon's largest contributors of electricity in the region.

Dibrugarh river fire caused by oil spill dies out after two days - A fire on a stretch of the Burhidihing river in eastern Assam's Tengakhat area of Dibrugarh district, which had been burning for the last two days, finally died out on its own on Monday morning. Crude oil from a central tank pump of Oil India Limited (OIL) in the district had trickled into the river causing the fire. In a statement released on Monday, OIL said on January 28 at around 10.30 am, the remote operated shut-off valves and motor-operator valves of the inlets and outlets of all the crude oil storage tanks had stopped functioning, leading to leaks developing at five points. "Immediate action was taken to rectify the leakage and a restoration job was undertaken. Action was also initiated to recover and clean the spilled crude oil in and around the affected site. However, the crude oil at one of the delivery lines had managed to trickle into the nearby Burhidihing river. It appears that some miscreants set fire to the oil floating on the river," Jayant Bormudoi, senior manager, corporate communications and public affairs, OIL, said. He added, "There has been no casualty and the fire doused on its own. The situation is absolutely under control now. Presently, normal operations have resumed and all leakages have been checked." Bormudoi said that an enquiry committee has been set up to find the root cause of the incident. "A joint team, including Tengakhat circle officer, state pollution control board officials, members of the fisheries department and experts from OIL are assessing any possible damage to the environment. Necessary action will be taken on the basis of the observations made by the committee," he added.

 Diesel spill in Akaroa Harbour - Diesel is rising up from the shoreline on the south side of the Akaroa wharf. Environment Canterbury said it is aware of "small and intermittent amounts of diesel" rising up from the shoreline on the south side of the wharf in Akaroa Harbour. Oil spill responders are at the site investigating the source of the diesel and assessing the situation. ECan regional on-scene commander for oil spill response Richard Purdon said: “We are aware of the issue and are currently investigating the source and cause of the diesel. "The leak appears very small and intermittent, but the sooner we can isolate the source, the sooner we can stop it. "For the moment, harbour activities can continue as normal. "As soon as we know more, we will update the community and all relevant organisations," Mr Purdon said.

Deepwater Drilling Takes Off - Oil majors have boosted demand for floating drilling units as deepwater drilling takes off, according to Rystad Energy. The independent energy research and business intelligence company revealed that demand from the world’s top oil companies for these units has climbed steadily in the past two years and noted that it’s set to rise further through 2020 and 2021 as majors “step up” development and exploration activity in deepwater basins. Floater demand surged from around 50 contract years in 2010 to peak at about 80 contract years in 2014, according to Rystad, which highlighted that the oil-price slump caused majors to scale back floater contract commitments to less than 35 contract years in 2017. Since then, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Total and Eni have steadily increased deepwater contracting activity, having added almost 10 contract years since 2017, Rystad revealed. Last month, Rystad’s head of upstream research, Espen Erlingsen, said telltale signs have emerged that we are entering a new offshore investment cycle. “This trend was perhaps illustrated most profoundly by the rising swell of offshore project approval activity by operators in 2019,” Erlingsen added in a company statement released in January. Erlingsen also highlighted that global public E&P company offshore free cash flow in 2019 was the third best year on record at nearly $90 billion. This figure reached $107.6 billion in 2018 and $53.9 billion in 2017, $2.3 billion in 2016, -$14.6 billion in 2015, $27.4 billion in 2014, $33.5 billion in 2013, $59.1 billion in 2012, $92.3 billion in 2011 and $61.2 billion in 2010, according to Rystad data. Total offshore capital expenditure grew by five percent last year versus 2018, with a seven percent rise in deepwater spending and a three percent boost in investments on the continental shelf, Erlingsen noted. “For 2020, offshore investments are on track to grow eight percent, with deepwater up 12 percent and shelf spending up two percent,” Erlingsen stated.

 Global oil demand could peak ‘much sooner’ than 2040, IMF says    - Global oil demand will peak around 2040 – or “much sooner” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a new report on the future of oil. The IMF said that this could have a “significant” impact on oil-exporting countries, predominantly those in the Middle East whose existing financial wealth could be depleted in the next 15 years if major reforms aren’t undertaken. “Growth of global oil demand will significantly decelerate, and its level could peak in the next two decades,” the IMF said in its report entitled, “The Future of oil and fiscal sustainability in the GCC Region,” published Thursday. The IMF said analysis of past oil market developments revealed “a strong and sustained declining trend in the global oil demand, after accounting for income and population growth.” This reflected a range of factors, the IMF said, such as long-term improvement in energy efficiency and substitution away from oil, trends that had so far been “veiled by the effects of economic and population expansion.” “But it is poised to become more visible in the coming years, resulting in a path of gradually slowing—and eventually declining—global demand for oil. The latter would peak by around 2040 in our benchmark projection or much sooner in scenarios of stronger regulatory push for environmental protection and faster improvements in energy efficiency.” Growth of global demand for natural gas is also expected to slow, the Fund said, “although it is expected to remain positive in the coming decades.”

 Coronavirus paralyses short-term oil, gas sales into China -(Reuters) - Short-term sales of crude oil and liquefied natural gas into China almost ground to a halt this week as the coronavirus slows economic activity and cuts demand and buyers ponder legal action to avoid having to honour purchase agreements, trade sources said. Typically, trade would have revived after the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January, but China has extended the break into February to try to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has claimed nearly 500 lives. As a result, commodity supply chains have been disrupted with shipments cancelled or delayed and stocks piling up, especially as mild weather had already slowed heating fuel demand. Spot crude trade into Shandong, home to independent refiners that account for a fifth of China’s imports, is at a halt, three traders said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Coronavirus and the impact on oil consumption: Kemp - (Reuters) - Oil traders are struggling to estimate the severity and duration of the hit to global consumption from the outbreak of coronavirus in China, based on evidence from previous epidemics of coronaviruses and influenza. Medical researchers recognise three global pandemics of influenza in the course of the 20th century, in 1918/19 ("Spanish influenza"), 1957/58 ("Asian influenza") and 1968/69 ("Hong Kong influenza"). More recently, there have been coronavirus outbreaks in 2003 (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and 2013 onwards (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). Most influenza and coronavirus outbreaks have followed virus mutations as they have passed back and forth between human and animal hosts, which is why China's live animal markets have been such a high-risk factor. Most uncontrolled outbreaks have lasted roughly three months, though in some instances there have been multiple waves, such as the three waves of influenza during the summer, autumn and winter of 1918/19. The transmission and severity of an outbreak is largely determined by two parameters: the basic reproduction number (R0) and the case fatality rate (CFR). Eventually, when enough individuals have contracted the disease, developed immunity, recovered, and are no longer susceptible, the transmission rate will decline, which is why epidemics eventually fade out. R will eventually decline below 1 because there are simply not enough susceptible individuals left in the population for the virus to continue spreading, as many have already been exposed and died or recovered. The case fatality rate measures the number of infected individuals who eventually die of the disease or complications, such as secondary bacterial infections. One reason the pandemic of 1918 proved so deadly is that in an era before antibiotics many of those who contracted viral influenza went on to contract bacterial pneumonia.  In any respiratory epidemic, the biggest impact on the economy and oil consumption comes from the containment measures, such as quarantine and social distancing, taken to bring the epidemic under control. Some measures will be ordered by the government to deal with a public health emergency but others will be taken voluntarily by businesses and individuals concerned about limiting exposure to the disease. Social distancing measures can have a large negative impact on both business and consumer spending as well as on manufacturing production, services provision and transportation networks. Like the course of the epidemic, the economic impact tends to be acute rather than lasting, compressed into the space of a few weeks or months. As the outbreak burns itself out, or is effectively controlled, the need for extreme quarantine and social distancing measures declines and activity returns to normal. As the outbreak fades, concern about health risks is eventually displaced by commercial pressure to resume normal activities. Businesses, employees, transport companies, schools are forced to resume near-normal activity in order to earn revenue, get paid, and pass examinations. If a typical epidemic lasts less than 13 weeks, peaking around half-way through, the impact on economic activity is likely to follow a similar pattern.

China aviation fuel sales down 25% in last week of Jan due to virus: source - (Reuters) - China’s aviation fuel sales slumped by a quarter at the end of January as domestic and international air traffic shrank amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, a senior oil industry source said on Wednesday, adding first-quarter sales could be halved. Between Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, aviation fuel sales in the world’s second-largest consumer fell nearly 25% from a year earlier to 555,000 tonnes, the Beijing-based source with direct knowledge of the matter said. The number of flights seeking refueling dropped by a similar margin to 84,000 during the same week. Jet fuel sales - for domestic and international flights - were 3.07 million tonnes in January, 0.2% lower than the same month last year, said the source, who declined to be named because he’s not authorized to speak to the media. A spokesman for China National Aviation Fuel Company, the country’s near monopoly jet fuel distributor, said he was not in a position to comment immediately. The source said the drop in demand will be much bigger in February because of steeper cuts in flights, likely bringing first-quarter jet fuel consumption down by half compared to the same period a year earlier. The suspension of flights to China by global airlines resulted in Asian refining margins for jet fuel in January showing their biggest monthly decline in a more than a decade. Refining margins, or cracks, for jet fuel narrowed by 34% in January, their steepest monthly drop according to data going back to as far as April 2009, Refinitiv Eikon showed.

China's independent refiners slash operations as virus hits fuel sales - (Reuters) - Independent refineries in China’s eastern Shandong province, who collectively import about a fifth of the country’s crude, have slashed output by 30% to 50% in just over a week as the coronavirus outbreak hit fuel demand and distribution, executives and analysts said. Utilisation rates dropped below 50% by the end of January at key plants, from around 66% a week earlier, the lowest since at least 2015, according to surveys of around 40 plants conducted by local consultancies JLC Network Technology and Longzhong Information Group. The sudden production cut left crude oil storage tanks full at China’s top crude import terminal of Qingdao, causing delays in discharging cargoes and leaving refiners, already under pressure from weak margins, facing hefty demurrage charges to compensate shipowners for delays. “The situation is grim - we have gasoline and diesel demand shrinking on one hand, and fuel logistics stalling on the other as local governments put in traffic curbs to contain the spread of the virus,” said a plant executive based in Dongying, a refining and chemicals hub in Shandong. He and other executives declined to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak to the media. While the central province of Hubei, where the virus first emerged, is in virtual quarantine, authorities elsewhere in China have placed restrictions on travel and business to try to contain the spread of the virus.

China Oil Demand Said to Have Plunged 20 Percent -- Chinese oil demand has dropped by about three million barrels a day, or 20% of total consumption, as the coronavirus squeezes the economy, according to people with inside knowledge of the country’s energy industry. The drop is probably the largest demand shock the oil market has suffered since the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, and the most sudden since the Sept. 11 attacks. It could force the hand of OPEC and its allies, which are considering an emergency meeting to cut production and staunch the decline in prices, which are headed for the lowest close in four months. “It is truly a black swan event for the oil market,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York who has more than 15 years of experience in energy trading. “There was some hope for the demand outlook this year before the outbreak, but that has been knocked off its block. OPEC+ has to react. If there are no further production cuts, there will only be more price losses.” China is the world’s largest oil importer, after surpassing the U.S. in 2016, so any change in consumption has an outsize impact on the global energy market. The country consumes about 14 million barrels a day -- equivalent to the combined needs of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., Japan and South Korea. The price of Brent, the global oil benchmark, has fallen more than 10% since Jan. 20, when financial markets first took notice of the magnitude of the health crisis in China. The April contract extended losses in Asian trade on Monday, dropping 0.4% to $56.42 a barrel in London as of 8 a.m. in London. West Texas Intermediate was steady near the lowest close since August after falling 2.2% earlier. Chinese and Western oil executives, speaking on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the decline was measured against normal levels for this time of year. It’s a measure of the current loss in demand, rather than the average loss since the crisis started, which would be smaller. Beijing has locked millions of people in quarantine and the New Year holiday has been extended. Flights have been canceled and authorities across the globe are trying to contain the virus’s spread. Traditionally during the New Year holiday, gasoline and jet-fuel demand increase as hundred of millions go back home, while gasoil consumption drops as industrial activity slows. The collapse in Chinese oil consumption is starting to reverberate across the global energy market, with sales of some crudes slowing to a crawl and benchmark prices in free-fall. Sales of Latin American oil cargoes to China came to a halt last week, while sales of West African crude, a traditional source for Chinese refineries, are also slower than usual, traders said.

Chinese LNG importers consider invoking force majeure  Chinese state-backed importers of liquefied natural gas are examining if they can provisionally halt contracts for the supercooled fuel, as the coronavirus outbreak depresses energy demand in the world’s second-largest economy. Two sources briefed on the discussions said the move could see the temporary cancellation of contracts — under a condition known as force majeure — by companies such as China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and possibly Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation. Gas demand has fallen rapidly after the extended Chinese new year holiday, as Beijing struggles to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control by shutting down cities and restricting travel. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside normal business hours. “China’s LNG market got off to a very weak start this year,” said an official at Huayou Zhonglan Energy Co, a LNG factory based in the southwestern city of Bazhong. It is not one of those considering force majeure. “Our future depends on how quickly the government puts the disease under control.” The temporary cancellation of contracts would create new headaches for LNG suppliers, who are already grappling with record low prices in Asia following a mild winter and growing output from projects in the US and Australia. Prices in Asia have fallen towards the $3 per million British thermal units (mmbtu) mark for the first time in history, down from more than $5/mmbtu mid-January, while prices are also weak in Europe and Latin America. LNG and oil prices have been hit hard as flights have been halted, motorists have stayed off the roads and factories have shut for longer than anticipated. “This is terrible news for the global LNG market, which is already in a very depressed state,” said Jonathan Stern at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. “If the spot price is further depressed, it causes all types of mayhem, especially for long-term buyers with the price linked to oil.” Most buyers of LNG tend to purchase the fuel through long-term contracts pegged to oil prices, which have become more expensive than buying LNG on the spot market. There are question marks, however, over whether Chinese LNG buyers will be able to trigger force majeure provisions, given they are often designed for more conventional problems such facility outages that might stop a buyer taking supplies.  But sellers may be willing to be flexible, people in the industry said, given China’s problems with the virus and the fact the country is set to become the biggest buyer of the fuel in the next few years.

Funds dump oil as fears about coronavirus hit to demand grow: Kemp- (Reuters) - Hedge funds were heavy sellers of crude oil and refined products last week as the worsening coronavirus outbreak stoked fears about a China-led slowdown in oil consumption in 2020. Sunny optimism at the start of the year about an acceleration in the global economy has evaporated, replaced instead by extreme concern that the coronavirus and quarantine measures will hit oil consumption hard. Travel restrictions within China, the reduction in passenger flights to and from the country, and the slump in freight movements will all severely dent oil demand, especially for middle distillates such as diesel and gasoil. Hedge funds and other money managers sold petroleum futures and options in the six most important contracts equivalent to 147 million barrels in the week to Jan. 28, according to data from regulators and exchanges. Fund sales were the largest in any one week since July 2018 and among the heaviest at any time in the last eight years, the period for which detailed data is available ( Portfolio managers last week sold NYMEX and ICE WTI (56 million barrels), Brent (27 million), U.S. gasoline (28 million), U.S. diesel (16 million) and European gasoil (20 million). Fund selling in oil started shortly after Jan. 7, initially in small volumes, reflecting profit-taking after a large accumulation of bullish positions late last year, but has accelerated more recently. Funds have sold a total of 236 million barrels of crude and products over the last three weeks, after buying 533 million barrels over the previous three months. A new cycle of short-selling appears to have started in NYMEX WTI with fund managers adding 39 million barrels of additional short positions since Jan. 7. Following the heavy sales, hedge fund positioning in crude and products appears close to neutral, with bullish long positions outnumbering bearish short ones by 4:1, slightly below the long-term average of 5:1. The long-short ratio has fallen from almost 7:1 at the start of the year but remains well above the recent low of less than 3:1 in early October. Since the turn of the year, long-short ratios have fallen from 9:1 to 4:1 in WTI; 13:1 to 8:1 in U.S. gasoline; and 13:1 to 3:1 in European gasoil.

Oil falls more than 2%, sinking to lowest level in more than 1 year - Oil prices fell more than 2% on Monday, dragged down by concern over demand in China after the coronavirus breakout, though the possibility of deeper crude output cuts by OPEC and its allies offered some price support. U.S. West Texas Intermediate fell $1.42, or 2.8%, to trade at $50.13, its lowest level since Jan. 2019. Earlier in the session WTI slid more than 3%, trading as low as $49.92 per barrel. Brent crude was down $2.17, or 3.8%, trading at $54.43 per barrel, its lowest level since Jan. 3, 2019. On the first day of trade in China after the New Year holiday, investors erased $393 billion from China’s benchmark equities index, sold the yuan and dumped commodities as fears about the virus dominated markets. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said the spread of the coronavirus had hit oil demand and called for an effort to stabilise oil prices. “The oil market is under pressure and prices have dropped to under $60 a barrel and efforts must be made to balance it,” he said. Zanganeh also said that Iran would agree to the bringing forward of OPEC’s next meeting meeting if the rest of the group agreed to production cuts. OPEC and its allies, a group know as OPEC+, are considering a further cut in their oil output of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), two OPEC sources and a third industry source told Reuters.

Oil drops 2.8% on coronavirus fears, dips below $50 per barrel - Oil fell to its lowest level in more than a year on Monday as the coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact on demand further hammered crude prices. “The oil market has been subject to many supply shocks over recent years, but an acute demand shock has not been felt since the 2008 financial crisis,” RBC’s Michael Tran said in a note to clients Monday, adding that the coronavirus has “roiled the oil market.” U.S. West Texas Intermediate fell 2.8%, or $1.45 per barrel, to settle at $50.11 per barrel. Earlier in the session, WTI fell more than 3% to $49.92, its lowest level since Jan. 2019. International benchmark Brent crude dropped 3.9%, or $2.21, to $54.41 and hit its lowest level since Jan. 3, 2019. “The supply / demand profile in crude oil was already looking extremely fragile for the first half of 2020 before the virus hit,” “Crude will remain very reactionary to any headlines that indicate the virus will have a sustained impact on global demand.” China is the world’s largest oil importer and the second-largest oil consumer, so a demand slowdown could have a big impact on prices. WTI and Brent are trading in bear-market territory of at least 20% price declines from recent highs and are coming off four straight weeks of losses. RBC’s Helima Croft said the market is focusing “on a sum-of-all-fears scenario for demand,” and said that “all eyes are now on whether OPEC can alter the sentiment through collective action.” The energy alliance’s Joint Technical Committee, a nonministerial sub group that reviews the oil market, will reportedly hold meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Vienna to discuss options to mitigate the impact from the coronavirus outbreak. The action could include additional production cuts. A full OPEC meeting could take place next week. “OPEC is looking at this very, very carefully, just thinking to themselves, we need to do something here just to help support oil prices.”  Earlier in the session, WTI briefly turned positive after The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia was considering a 1 million barrels per day cut in order to stimulate prices. The newspaper cited OPEC officials.

Oil Crashes Into Bear Market As Chinese Oil Demand Said To Plummet 20% Due To Coronavirus Demand - While the world awaits with bated breath the clobbering that awaits Chinese assets when they reopen in a few hours after the Lunar New Year with the PBOC set to injects billions to prop up stocks while banning short selling as reported earlier, moments ago we got a dismal advance look at just how dire the impact on both the Chinese, and global, economies will be as a result of the coronavirus.According to Bloomberg, Chinese oil demand has dropped by about three million barrels a day, or 20% of total consumption, as a result of the creeping economic paralysis unleashed by the coronavirus epidemic. The drop is said to be the largest demand shock the oil market has suffered since the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009, and the most sudden since the Sept. 11 attacks. More importantly, the plunge in Chinese demand will likely force the hand of the OPEC cartel, which is already considering an emergency meeting to cut production and staunch the decline in prices (and to which one can only say that Saudi Arabia picked its Aramco IPO window exquisitely).Chinese and Western oil executives, speaking on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the decline was measured against normal levels for this time of year. It’s a measure of the current loss in demand, rather than the average loss since the crisis started, which would be smaller.As a reminder, in 2016 China surpassed the US as the world’s largest oil importer (which in turn, has become energy independent in recent years, as a result of an explosion of shale oil production, at l east until the day of reckoning for all those junk bonds keeping the US shale industry finally comes), and is the world's marginal oil price setter, so any changes in consumption have an outsize impact on the global energy market.

Oil prices plummet as coronavirus epidemic drastically curtails Chinese demand - By the close of Monday, on the first day of trading after the Lunar New year holiday, the Shenzhen Composite Index posted an 8.4 percent loss trading at about 9,780, while the Shanghai Composite fell 7.72 percent to close at about 2,747. Yet, in most of the major financial markets, stocks regained some of their losses from earlier in the week, likely due to news that the Chinese would pump $173 billion into the financial system. Concerning, however, is that oil prices have fallen by more than 2 percent over concerns that the coronavirus epidemic will dampen China’s demands. Brent crude was down $2.17, trading at $54.43 per barrel, its lowest level since last January. The drop in Chinese markets on Monday meant investors’ losses totaled $393 billion from China’s benchmark equities index. China is the world’s top oil importer and uses over 10 million barrels per day according to data released by the General Administration of Customs in October 2019. This was a 10.8 percent increase over the previous year. Presently, because of the lockdown in several provinces encompassing 16 cities and over 50 million people—which has steeply affected vital production in the industrial base—estimates place Chinese demands for oil at 2.5 million barrels a day, or only about 20 percent of last year’s high. According to the New York Times, officials from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Russia, have agreed to meet this week to discuss their concerns over the oil markets. On the agenda is the plan for an emergency ministerial-level meeting ahead of schedule to consider production cuts of up to 1 million barrels a day. This accounts for about 1 percent of world supplies. According to Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, “They are absolutely trying to put a floor under prices … people are fearing the worst.” Gary Ross, chief executive of Black Gold Investors, told the Times that the cuts in Chinese oil purchases would lead to massive gluts in Europe and the United States, leading to “a vicious circle of selling pressure with no hope in sight.”

Oil Slides After Virus Curbs China Demand -- Oil extended the worst start to a year since 1991 after China’s oil consumption was said to plunge by 20% amid efforts to control the spread of coronavirus. Futures in New York sank to the lowest levels in a year on Monday as oil demand in the world’s biggest importer dropped by around 3 million barrels a day, according to people with inside knowledge of the country’s energy industry. West Texas Intermediate and Brent forward curves weakened sharply -- with Brent flipping to contango for the first time since July -- further signaling slack demand for crude. The outbreak threatens what could be the largest demand shock since the global financial crisis. The effects are starting to ripple around the globe, as some Chinese refineries slow down or halt operations and cargoes of West African oil are being resold. OPEC and its allies are considering an emergency meeting to discuss deeper crude production cuts in an effort to stabilize prices.  Traditionally during the New Year holiday, gasoline and jet-fuel demand increase as hundred of millions of Chinese go back home, while gasoil consumption drops as industrial activity slows. Business activity in China is expected to decline, prompting Beijing to consider seeking flexibility on its trade deal with the U.S. that’s supposed to take effect this month, according to people familiar with the matter.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke by phone and confirmed their readiness to continue cooperation to keep the global oil market stable, the Kremlin said in a statement. Citigroup Inc. slashed its price forecasts for across commodities as it said the impact of the coronavirus looks much worse than it initially thought. Chinese government measures amount to a “major shutdown of the economy” and even with a deeper OPEC+ production cut it will drive weaker oil balances,  West Texas Intermediate for March delivery fell $1.45 to settle at $50.11 a barrel at on the New York Mercantile Exchange, sinking as low as $49.91 during the session. Brent for April delivery fell $2.17 to $54.45 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Both benchmarks settled more than 20% below their recent highs, the common definition of a bear market. Chinese refineries are storing unsold petroleum products such as gasoline and jet fuel, according to the executives. But stockpiles are growing every day, and some refineries may soon reach their storage limits. If that were to happen, they would have to cut the amount of crude they process. One executive said that refinery runs were likely to be cut soon by 15-20%.

Oil Bear Market Sends Tanker Rates Plunging, Hopes For Global Rebound Fade -- The coronavirus outbreak has sent Chinese oil demand, energy prices, and tanker freight rates plunging in the last three weeks. With more than a dozen cities locked down, 50 million people or more quarantined, and large manufacturing hubs shuttered, oil demand in China has collapsed by nearly three million barrels per day, or 20% of total consumption, as a result of the creeping economic paralysis unleashed by the coronavirus epidemic. The drop is said to be the most massive demand shock the oil market has suffered since the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009. China surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest oil importer back in 2016, so any changes in consumption have a profound impact on the global energy market. That's why Brent tumbled into a bear market Sunday night, plunging over 22% since its January 8 peak.    And is accelerating lower this morning with WTI back below $50 for the first time since Jan 2019. The shock also has sent freight rates for very large crude carriers (VLCC) on Mideast Gulf and U.S. Gulf to Asia routes to their lowest since mid-September, shipbrokers told Reuters. "The market had gone back to what it was before the COSCO sanctions came in," said one shipbroker referring to U.S. sanctions on the state-owned Chinese shipping firm. The plunge in freight rates wasn't limited to just tankers. We've noted that the Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index continues to plunge as the virus outbreak shuts down about two-thirds of China's economy, leading to an economic shock that is starting to vibrate across the world, seen mostly in commodity prices, shipping rates, bond markets, widening credit spreads, and global equity prices at the moment.  Baltic Dry Index seems to have caught the Corona Virus as well. — Mileura Capital (@mileura1) February 3, 2020 Former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman Stephen Roach said last week that China's economy going offline is a notable shock that is occurring at the same time the global economy continues to decelerate, which could tilt the world into recession.

Risk of oil supply disruptions can have an immediate effect on oil prices - (EIA) Crude oil supply disruptions—realized or expected—can have large and immediate effects on crude oil prices. Two recent events, the September 2019 attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais (which disrupted crude oil volumes) and the January 2020 military operations in Iraq (which did not disrupt crude oil volumes), led to relatively large daily price changes and intraday price movements—movements within single trading days. Intraday prices of front-month Brent crude oil futures for the two events followed a broadly similar path at first: an upward movement as market participants reacted to the news and a downward movement as new information was incorporated.In the case of the September attacks on Saudi Aramco, the initial price increase was delayed because the event took place over the weekend when the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE)—the exchange on which Brent futures are traded—was closed. Consequently, when Brent futures resumed trading, market participants had already had two days to react to the news. Brent crude oil prices opened at $71.57 per barrel (b) at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on September 15, 2019, before falling to $67.00/b within 23 minutes of trading and $65.09/b after a further nine hours of trading.Prices following the January 2020 military action in Iraq initially played out similarly: an early large upward movement followed by an eventual downward reversion. But unlike the Aramco attacks, Brent was actively traded while the military operation occurred. Although the precise timing of the January U.S. military operation in Iraq varies by report, it took somewhere between three to five hours for the market to react, reaching $67.44/b by 9:00 p.m. EST. The nature of these two events were different. The attacks on Aramco took physical barrels of oil off the markets.According to Aramco, the attacks on Khurais shuttered the 1.2 million barrel per day (b/d) field for 24 hours. Crude oil processing at the Abqaiq facility was reduced to just 2.0 million b/d on September 17, a small fraction of itsestimated capacity of about 7.0 million b/d. The January U.S. military operation in Iraq, however, did not directly affect physical barrels in production, storage, or transit, but it did affect the perceived risk that future barrels could be affected.

Saudi Arabia Pushes For OPEC Production Cut Of Up To 1 Million B/d As Outbreak Weighs On Demand - Half of China's economy - the second largest in the world - is expected to be offline through at least mid-February. Traders started pricing in the impact on oil demand weeks ago. And now that it's become clear to everybody that this problem isn't going away any time soon, and after oil prices recorded their largest monthly drop in 30 years, OPEC might step in to 're-balance' the global energy market.  Confirming earlier whispers, Saudi Arabia is reportedly pushing for a major, short-term oil production cut, WSJ reported Monday morning, citing anonymous OPEC officials.  A group of OPEC countries and their allies - collectively known as OPEC+ - are planning to meet Tuesday and Wednesday to debate possible action thanks to the outbreak in China, the world’s largest oil importer and consumer. One scenario being discussed is that Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s kingpin, would lead a collective reduction of 500,000 barrels a day. The production cut will remain in place until the outbreak has subsided, cartel officials said. Another, more drastic, option being considered would involve a temporary cut of 1 million b/d, a cut that would deliver a decisive 'jolt' to the market (and potentially trigger another flurry of angry Trump tweets about oil prices - the 'invisible tax' - being too high. According to WSJ, the cartel is still split on what to do. Plans to schedule a full meeting of the cartel and its Russia-led allies were scrapped in favor of a smaller meeting to discuss the impact of the virus outbreak on global demand. OPEC and its allies are split over how to manage oil supply in the face of the deadly coronavirus, which has already eroded demand in China. Collective responses by oil producers tend to be more efficient in supporting crude prices, which have lost 15% in the past month.  Despite the Saudi prodding, the cartel and 10 allied nations led by Russia stopped short of scheduling an emergency meeting of its full delegation this week and will instead hold a technical meeting to access the virus’s impact and make recommendations to members.

OPEC reportedly considering large production cut as coronavirus prompts crude collapse - OPEC and its allies could cut production by more than a million barrels a day at a rescheduled meeting this month, as policymakers work to arrest a double-digit collapse in the price of oil. “I think it is a ‘go big or go home’ moment for the organization,” Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told CNBC Monday. “If you are going the route of an extraordinary meeting, you will have to come up with a substantial reduction in order to prevent the market from further tanking,” she said, adding that OPEC may potentially cut production in the “1 million (barrel) plus range” this month. The Wall Street Journal also reported on Monday, citing OPEC officials, that kingpin Saudi Arabia was considering an option to cut by 1 million barrels a day to jolt markets. Representatives from OPEC are reportedly planning to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday in Vienna to discuss options to mitigate the impact of a loss of demand arising from the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Various scenarios are under active consideration. While Croft suggested OPEC could cut “potentially in the million plus range,” other analysts have suggested a smaller cut may be more likely.  U.S. West Texas Intermediate was trading at $51.51 a barrel on Monday, having fallen more than 15% since the start of the year. Brent crude traded at $56.26 a barrel, having fallen 13% in the same period. Brent is now at its lowest level since January 2019. Oil has struggled following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China that was first reported in late December and has spread globally in recent weeks. China’s National Health Commission said there have been 17,205 confirmed cases and 361 deaths in the country as of the end of Sunday. OPEC and its allies last year agreed to reduce supply by 1.7 million barrels per day until its next meeting in March 2020, but the group is now likely to reschedule its March 5-6 meeting for February, underscoring the severity of the situation and ongoing price declines.

Can OPEC Stop Oil Prices From Crashing Further? - WTI fell below $50 per barrel during intraday trading on Monday, as fears of a major shock to global demand continue to grow. Bloomberg reported that China’s oil consumption is down by 3 mb/d, or 20 percent, at least as of now. Millions of people are quarantined and thousands of flights have been cancelled. Oil prices rebounded on Tuesday as OPEC+ began considering more aggressive action to head off a disastrous surplus.   OPEC’s Joint Technical Committee (JTC) is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to assess the status of the oil market. The JTC could recommend deeper production cuts, and the full OPEC+ could hold a ministerial meeting as soon as the end of next week. The main option under consideration is additional cuts of 500,000 bpd, although by Tuesday, news reports suggested they might consider even larger reductions. In a sign that the coronavirus is having a serious impact on the fundamentals of oil supply and demand, China’s independent refiners cut processing by 30 to 50 percent in just over a week due to the sharp fall in consumption. “The situation is grim - we have gasoline and diesel demand shrinking on one hand, and fuel logistics stalling on the other as local governments put in traffic curbs to contain the spread of the virus,” a plant executive based in Dongying, a refining and chemicals hub in Shandong, told Reuters.  Citigroup struck a bearish tone, raising the possibility that Brent falls as low as $47 per barrel in the next three months.  ExxonMobil reported disappointing earnings for the fourth quarter and continues to cover its dividend by selling off assets and taking on debt. Goldman Sachs cut its outlook for Exxon to Sell from Neutral, and the bank raised doubts about Exxon’s long-term returns. Other analysts piled on. “Shareholder returns are poor, and debt is rising in a way that suggests that attractive dividends yields are unsustainable,” Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities USA LLC said in a note to clients. The oil major’s share price is at a 10-year low.   BP reported earnings of $2.6 billion in the fourth quarter, down from $3.5 billion a year earlier. The company’s share price was up nearly 5 percent in early trading on Tuesday, following a dividend hike. Meanwhile, the company’s CEO Brian Gilvary said that global oil demand growth could fall by 300,000-500,000 bpd this year because of the coronavirus.   . EQT is hoping to raise $1 billion by selling off some of its royalty income, according to Reuters. The natural gas giant has quickly fallen into a crisis with gas prices now well below $2/MMBtu.   Moody’s issued more credit downgrades than upgrades in the oil and gas sector for the fifth consecutive quarter in the 4Q2019. The rate of downgrades to upgrades magnified at the end of last year. “Volatile oil prices throughout 2019 and natural gas prices that steadily declined in the second half of the year led speculative-grade investors to shun all but the strongest oil weighted companies, increasing default risk for companies that already had low ratings,” Moody's said in a report.

Citi Does Not See Oil Revival from Virus Until 4Q -- Citigroup Inc. slashed its price forecasts for commodities from oil to copper and iron ore as it said the impact of the coronavirus looks much worse than it initially thought. Oil came in for the most severe downgrades, with the bank cutting estimates for the first three quarters. Citi also reduced its first-quarter copper projection by almost a fifth, noting the outbreak had “drastically shifted” the Chinese and global economic outlook, analysts including Ed Morse, wrote in a note. Chinese government measures amount to a “major shutdown of the economy” and even with a deeper OPEC+ production cut it will drive weaker oil balances, Morse, the global head of commodities research, said in the note. “There would be critical knock-on indirect effects for all commodities.” The lender slashed its first-quarter Brent oil estimate to $54 a barrel from $69. Reductions in projections for the following two quarters are based on its view the virus will have a longer and deeper impact than previously anticipated. It said the global crude benchmark could fall as low as $47 a barrel, which would be the weakest level in two and a half years. Oil demand in the world’s biggest importer has dropped by around 3 million barrels a day, or 20% of total consumption, according to people with inside knowledge of the country’s energy industry. The Wuhan virus looks set to be the biggest demand shock for oil markets since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, with OPEC+ considering an emergency meeting. Citi cut its second-quarter crude forecast to $50 a barrel from $68 and its estimate for the following three months to $53 from $63. It revised up its fourth-quarter projection to $58 a barrel from $57. Brent has fallen 13% since Jan. 20, when financial markets first took notice of the magnitude of the crisis in China. It was trading around $56.50 a barrel on Monday. The downgrades underscore the increasing concern traders are having about demand in the world’s largest energy user and metal producer amid the extreme measures the Chinese government has taken to stop the spread of the virus. Citi cut its first-quarter copper forecast to $5,000 a ton from $6,000 and its coking coal projection to $150 a metric ton from $170.

Oil Prices Rise As Equities Rebound - Oil prices rose on Tuesday as global equity markets rebounded amid hopes that China would roll out more stimulus measures to provide liquidity to markets and boost consumption amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak. The optimism emerged after China's central bank unexpectedly lowered the interest rates on reverse repurchase agreements by 10 basis points on Monday as part of efforts to relieve pressure on the economy from a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak. China's Shanghai Composite index rose 1.3 percent today after falling as much as 7.7 percent on Monday as traders returned to their desks following the week-long Chinese New Year vacation. Benchmark Brent crude rose 0.8 percent to $54.87 a barrel, after having fallen as much as 4 percent to hit its lowest level in about 13 months the previous day. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 1.5 percent at $50.84 after a 2.8 percent plunge on Monday. The rebound of oil prices also reflected optimism that OPEC and its allies would consider further supply cuts to support prices. As the death toll in mainland China from the new type of virus rose to 425, China said it would welcome assistance from the United States to fight the virus outbreak. Saying that the crisis was "a major test of China's system and capacity for governance," China's leader, Xi Jinping, has signaled a more assertive strategy for dealing with the virus outbreak.

Oil prices rebound on hopes for OPEC+ supply cuts - Oil prices clawed back ground on Tuesday amid hopes for new output curbs from OPEC and its allies to offset any potential drop in demand triggered by the coronavirus outbreak. Brent crude gained 50 cents, or 0.9%, to trade at $54.95 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 66 cents, or 1.3%, at $50.77 a barrel. Tuesday’s gains marked a rebound after an extended slide over the last two weeks on concern over the global economic impact of China’s coronavirus, which pushed crude prices on Monday to their lowest level in more than a year. People familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, were considering cutting crude output by a further 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) due to the impact on demand from the coronavirus. Still, OPEC+ may face an uphill battle to agree on further cuts so soon after its last output pact, and the lack of clarity over how long the crisis will last may stay their hand. “Any changes in supply policy ... will be decided on the basis of their assessment of the duration of the impact of the coronavirus”, BNP Paribas global head of commodity strategy Harry Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum. “If the producer group believes the outbreak to be contained with effects tapering out after a short period like SARS, they have the option to stand pat and weather the lower price environment and until demand returns.” BP’s CFO Brian Gilvary told Reuters the economic slowdown brought on by the virus will reduce oil consumption for the whole year by 300,000 to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), roughly 0.5% of global demand. “We will see how it plays out, but that will soften (demand). If OPEC roll their cuts through the end of year, that should sweep up any excess of supply and re-balance the market.”

Oil Up Before OPEC+ Meeting to Assess Demand -- Oil climbed toward $51 a barrel before OPEC and its allies gather Tuesday for an urgent meeting to assess the impact of the coronavirus on global demand. While futures have slumped more than 20% since early January as the virus curtailed demand in a market awash with crude, commodities are stabilizing globally on Tuesday as traders assess China’s measures to support economic growth. Technical experts from the OPEC+ coalition will meet in Vienna and their assessment on the outbreak may determine whether the group convenes a ministerial meeting later this month to consider new output cuts. The virus has upended trade flows and probably led to a 20% cut to China’s oil demand as the crisis hits the world’s biggest commodities importer. Refineries are curbing operations and shutting plants, while the nation’s top processor is seeking to re-sell millions of barrels of West African crude it no longer needs because of the squeeze to consumption. “The coronavirus is prompting growth downgrades around the world and oil demand is taking a big hit,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore. “It looks highly likely to me that OPEC+ will extend its production cuts from March to June. It’s a logical response given how depressed prices are now.” West Texas Intermediate for March delivery added 36 cents to $50.47 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 8:01 a.m. in London after falling as much as 0.9% earlier. The contract slumped 2.8% to the lowest since January 2019 on Monday. Brent gained 0.3% after dropping 3.8% on Monday. Energy to metals have stabilized, while iron ore and crude in China recovered some ground after plunging earlier. The firmer tone came even as steel mills and processing plants remain shut throughout the country.

Russia’s reluctance for a production cut exposes possible crack in three-year-old OPEC alliance  - Russia’s reluctance to jump on board a bigger OPEC production cut may signal a potential fissure within the oil producer alliance, known as OPEC plus. Led by Saudi Arabia, other OPEC producers and Russia were considering an emergency meeting to cut production in response to the impact of the coronavirus, but it’s not now clear whether that will happen. A committee advising the producers met for three days in Vienna and on Thursday recommended a 600,000 barrel a day reduction in production to bring relief to the oil market, according to reports. The Joint Technical Committee, made up of representatives of producing countries, is not a decision making entity, and it only makes recommendations to the ministers of OPEC countries and its allies, including Russia. However, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said time is needed to weigh any impact on the oil market from the virus, which has led to a steep decline in energy demand due to a massive shutdown of transportation within China and elsewhere. OPEC’s regular meeting is set for March 5, but there were expectations it could hold an emergency session with Russia and other non OPEC allies next week. An earlier meeting was still possible, but there has been no announcement. “The optics are not great. You hold a special technical meeting to look like you’re ahead of the situation. Now you’re in a muddle about what happened,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodities strategy at RBC. “We have two competing narratives. One, they agreed on a 600,000 barrel cut, and the other that the Russians rejected it.”

Coronavirus to hit oil demand by around 0.5% in 2020: BP CFO –   (Reuters) - The global economic slowdown in the wake of China’s coronavirus outbreak is set to reduce global oil demand in 2020 by up to 0.5%, BP’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary said on Tuesday. The drop in industrial activity and flight cancellations has so far hit oil demand by around 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), Gilvary told Reuters, after BP (BP.L) reported its fourth quarter results. For the whole year, the slowdown will reduce consumption by 300,000 to 500,000 bpd, roughly 0.5% of global demand, according to Gilvary. The impact in China has been more pronounced, reducing demand by around 1 million bpd, he added. Oil prices have dropped by over 20% from their early January peak to hit a one-year low this week.

OPEC+ considering further 500,000 bpd oil output cut: sources - (Reuters) - OPEC and its allies are considering cutting their oil output by a further 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) due to the impact on oil demand from the coronavirus, three OPEC+ sources and a industry source familiar with the discussions said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, are considering holding a ministerial meeting on Feb. 14-15, one of the OPEC+ sources said, earlier than a current schedule for a meeting in March. Oil LCOc1 has fallen $10 a barrel this year to $56, lower than the level many OPEC countries need to balance their budgets. The coronavirus outbreak in China could cut oil demand by more than 250,000 bpd in the first quarter, analysts and traders say. OPEC member Iran said on Monday the spread of the virus had hit oil demand and called for an effort to stabilize prices, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported. “The oil market is under pressure and prices have dropped to under $60 a barrel and efforts must be made to balance it,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, said. The Wall Street Journal reported that another option being considered is a temporary cut of 1 million bpd by the Saudis to support the market. Reuters was not able to verify the report.

Oil prices jump 4% after reports of coronavirus drug breakthrough (Reuters) - Oil prices jumped about 4% on Wednesday on media reports that scientists had found a drug breakthrough for the fast-spreading coronavirus, an outbreak that continues to weigh heavily on global economic activity and oil demand. The World Health Organization played down the media reports, saying there were “no known effective therapeutics” against the virus. Lending further support to oil was news that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its producer allies were considering further output cuts to counter a potential squeeze on global oil demand. Brent crude oil futures LCOc1 were up $1.88, or 3.5%, at $55.84 a barrel by 1:23 p.m. EST (1623 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 gained $1.81, or 3.7%, to $51.42. Prices held gains after data showed U.S. crude inventories USOILC=ECI rose by 3.4 million barrels in the week to Jan. 31, compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a rise of 2.8 million barrels. “The report probably had nothing shocking enough to ruin the momentum of the big crude comeback that we are seeing today,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “The main reason oil sold off as hard as it did wasn’t because of what we knew, it was what we didn’t know. Now, it seems like we can quantify the demand destruction and look ahead.” China's Changjiang Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday that a team of researchers led by Zhejiang University Professor Li Lanjuan had found that drugs Abidol and Darunavir can inhibit the virus here in vitro cell experiments. Separately, Sky News reported that a British scientist has made a significant breakthrough in the race for a vaccine by reducing part of the normal development time from two to three years to only 14 days. Still, refineries including China’s Sinopec, Asia’s top refiner, have slashed throughput as the virus cuts demand for refined fuels.

Oil prices jump 2% as virus vaccine reports spur hope (Reuters) - Oil prices jumped about 2% on Wednesday on media reports that suggested scientists were developing a vaccine for the fast-spreading coronavirus, even as world health experts said treatments have not yet been found.  Also supporting oil was news that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its producer allies were considering further output cuts to counter a potential squeeze on global oil demand. The outbreak has killed nearly 500 people and is weighing on global economic activity and oil demand. The World Health Organization played down the media reports, saying there were “no known effective therapeutics” against the virus. Brent crude oil futures LCOc1 ended the session up $1.32, or 2.5%, at $56.46 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 gained $1.14, or 2.3%, to settle at $50.75. Both contracts rose more than 4% during the session. Prices held gains after data showed U.S. crude inventories USOILC=ECI rose by 3.4 million barrels in the week to Jan. 31, compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a rise of 2.8 million barrels. “The main reason oil sold off as hard as it did wasn’t because of what we knew; it was what we didn’t know. Now, it seems like we can quantify the demand destruction and look ahead.” China’s Changjiang Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday that a team of researchers led by Zhejiang University Professor Li Lanjuan had found that drugs Abidol and Darunavir can inhibit the virus in vitro cell experiments.

Russia backs OPEC+ proposal to cut oil output: Lavrov -  (Reuters) - Russia supports a recommendation to deepen OPEC+ global oil supply curbs to compensate for a drop in demand caused by the coronavirus, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday. A technical panel that advises the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led by Russia proposed a provisional cut in output of 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), three sources told Reuters earlier. That is about 0.6 percent of global supply and would extend current curbs of 1.7 million bpd. The OPEC+ group pumps more than 40 percent of the world’s oil. “We support this idea,” Lavrov said when asked about the panel’s proposal at a news conference in Mexico City, according to a live translation of his comments into Spanish.

 Oil moves higher as traders eye production cuts   - An OPEC+ technical panel has recommended a provisional cut in oil output of 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) in response to the coronavirus’ impact on energy demand as it awaits Russia’s final position on the proposal, three sources said. The Joint Technical Committee (JTC) is not a decision-making body but does advise the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, a grouping known as OPEC+. OPEC and its allies led by Russia produce over 40 percent of global oil and the new proposed cut would constitute around 0.6 percent of global supply. Brent lost 23 cents, or 0.3%, to trade at $55.05 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 20 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $50.95 per barrel. OPEC+ ministers have not decided on further action, but the recommendation on Thursday by all the members of the JTC, which includes Saudi Arabia and Russia, would signal progress towards a decision. “The recommendation is for a cut of 600,000 bpd. Russia has asked for more time for consultations,” one of the sources said. Another OPEC source said the proposed output cut of 600,000 bpd, if agreed by all members, will start immediately and continue until June. “The 600,000 bpd has taken into consideration the expected return of Libya oil production and all scenarios such as oil demand growth elsewhere,” the second source said, adding that the proposed cut was enough to counter the expected drop in oil demand due to the coronavirus. The OPEC+ ministers have yet to decide on whether to bring forward their upcoming policy meeting to February from March 5-6, the sources said.

 Oil prices flat; OPEC+ mulls supply cut as virus hits demand -  (Reuters) - Oil futures gave up early gains and settled narrowly mixed on Thursday, as OPEC and its partner Russia gave mixed signals about possible further output cuts to mitigate the impact of any weakening in global demand due to the coronavirus outbreak. Brent crude LCOc1 futures lost 35 cents to settle at $54.93 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures rose 20 cents to settle at $50.95 a barrel. Both contracts rose more than $1 a barrel early, then pared gains as traders waited to see whether Russia was on board with possible further output cuts along with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies. “The Russians are raining on the news,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “The production cut probably is needed to get off the short-term demand destruction.” As the coronavirus outbreak has sapped energy demand, an OPEC+ technical panel has recommended a provisional oil output cut of 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), two sources said. The panel proposed that the cut start immediately and continue until June if all members agree to it, a source said. The Joint Technical Committee (JTC) advises the OPEC+ group but makes no decisions.

Oil falls 1% as Russia needs time to mull more OPEC+ supply cuts - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell 1% on Friday as Russia said it needed more time before committing to output cuts sought by other large producers while the coronavirus outbreak fanned worries about global crude demand. Oil prices posted their fifth straight weekly decline, as speculators have backed away due to weaker consumption figures and expectations that the coronavirus, which has killed more than 600 people, will remain a drag on demand. Brent crude LCOc1 futures lost 46 cents, or 0.8%, to settle at $54.47 a barrel. Brent sank 6.3% for the week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 fell 63 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $50.32 a barrel. The contract lost 2.4% for the week. This week, a panel advising OPEC+, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies led by Russia, suggested provisionally cutting output by 600,000 barrels per day (bpd). On Friday, Russia Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow needed more time to assess the situation. “Russia’s lack of commitment thus far to such a deal is providing one additional bearish element that is currently precluding the complex from sustaining price advances,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Prices have fallen about a fifth since the outbreak of the virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan. China is the world’s biggest importer of crude, taking in roughly 10 million bpd in 2019. Novak predicted global oil demand may fall by 150,000 to 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2020 in part because of the virus. The OPEC+ group this year deepened existing cuts to roughly 1.7 million bpd, nearly 2% of global demand, yet prices have remained in a narrow band. Producers in OPEC+ are scheduled to meet in Vienna on March 5-6, although the meeting could be brought forward because of concerns surrounding the virus. Forecaster Eurasia Group said it estimates a contraction in oil demand in China of as much 3 million bpd in the first quarter from 2019 levels. Sources have told Reuters that Chinese policymakers are preparing measures, including more fiscal spending and interest rate cuts, amid expectations that the outbreak will have a devastating impact on first-quarter growth.

Oil Posts Longest Weekly Losing Streak Since 2018 -- Oil declined for the fifth straight week as the spreading coronavirus clouded the demand outlook and OPEC awaited Russia’s decision on whether to cut production.  Futures in New York fell 2.4% for the week, posting the longest weekly losing streak since 2018. Chinese refiners are processing 15% less crude than before the outbreak as the infection crimps demand. Meanwhile, Russia hesitated to accept a proposal by OPEC+ to cut output by 600,000 barrels a day. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak promised an answer to the proposal in “days.” “It’s wait and see right now,” said Rob Haworth, who helps oversee about $150 billion at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Seattle. “Investors have tried to reprice for what they think demand shortfall could be due to the coronavirus and the quarantines, but all those are really guesses for everyone at the moment.” In the U.S., gasoline futures rose to the highest in more than a week after Phillips 66 shut the sole fuel-making unit at its Bayway refinery in New Jersey, the largest on the East Coast. Futures rose 1.7% to settle at $1.5239 per gallon. Majors including Total SA and BP Plc projected a significant hit to global oil demand this year due to the virus, compounding fears of a supply glut plunging the market’s structure into a bearish contango. Both state-owned and private refineries in China have scaled back processing by at least 2 million barrels a day over the past week, said people with knowledge of operations at the nation’s largest complexes. So-called throughput could fall further as demand for aviation and transportation fuels continues to shrink as entire cities remain locked down and travel is restricted, the people said. West Texas Intermediate for March delivery fell 63 cents to settle at $50.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent for April delivery lost 46 cents to settle at $54.47 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange putting the premium over WTI at $3.92.  China’s January trade data was scheduled to be released Friday, but will instead be announced together with February’s numbers, according to the customs administration.

Libya Is Being Torn Apart by Outsiders -Ghassan Salamé is the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. He took over this job in 2017, six years after the catastrophic NATO war on Libya. What Salamé inherited was a country torn into shreds, two governments in place—one in Tripoli and one in Tobruk—and one civil war that had too many factions to name. For Salamé, who is from Lebanon, this kind of multidimensional conflict is not unfamiliar; nor is it peculiar to have several foreign countries intervene for their own narrow ends and thereby make peace impossible. Last year, it became clear that the already chaotic Libya would slip into disaster. The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) lost control of the eastern half of the country, which had been seized by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar. Backed by Turkey and Qatar, the GNA held on by a hair, while the LNA—backed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt—swept through the south of the country and threatened the capital of Tripoli. Salamé came to the United Nations on May 21, 2019, to beg for the UN to sanction countries that continued to deliver arms into Libya. “Without a robust enforcement mechanism, the arms embargo into Libya will become a cynical joke,” he said. “Some nations are fueling this bloody conflict.” Ten days after the Berlin meeting, the African Union (AU) met in Brazzaville for a high-level meeting on Libya. The AU had not been initially invited to Berlin, but at the last minute, President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville was invited, but he had no real role there.Pressure on the AU has not come from within Libya but from some of its neighbors. These neighbors—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—have suffered from the spillover of this war, with al-Qaeda and ISIS growing in strength from southern Libya into these countries.Estimates suggest that more than 4,000 people were killed by these groups in the past year. The Sahel has become a membrane for arms, drugs, terrorists, and migrants—a zone of instability and danger.The AU could not move an agenda. But at the AU meeting, the Algerians said that they would host a platform to continue to pressure for peace in Libya. Algeria and Tunisia are trying to develop their own outreach to the Libyan sides. Leaders from Turkey, Italy, and the various Libyan groups have come to Algiers to meet the new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Tebboune likes the attention; protests in Algeria can be quelled by the warning that it should not be allowed to slip into the Libyan state. The more he talks about Libya, the more he justifies his own rule. Tebboune’s view is to ignore Serraj and Haftar, to ignore the UN and the AU, and to turn to older institutions. He wants to convene a conference of Libyan tribal chiefs in Algiers. It is a sign of hopelessness that such a bizarre idea can be floated and taken seriously.

 Recording shows Iran knew immediately it had shot down plane: Zelenskiy (Reuters) - A leaked audio recording of an Iranian pilot talking to the control tower in Tehran shows that Iran knew immediately it had shot down a Ukrainian airliner last month, despite denying it for days, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. On the recording, played on a Ukrainian television station late on Sunday, the pilot of another plane can be heard saying he saw “the light of a missile” in the sky before Ukrainian International Airways flight 752 crashed in an explosion. Tehran blamed the Ukrainian authorities for leaking what it described as confidential evidence, and said it would no longer share material with Ukraine from the investigation into the crash. All 176 people aboard the flight were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff en route from Tehran to Kiev on Jan. 8. The leaked audio “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile,” Zelenskiy said in a television interview. “He says that ‘it seems to me that a missile is flying’, he says it in both Persian and English, everything is fixed there,” Zelenskiy said. After denying blame for three days, Iran acknowledged shooting the plane down, saying it had done so by mistake while under high alert, hours after it had fired at U.S. targets in retaliation for a U.S. strike that killed an Iranian general. Iran has said it worked as quickly as possible to determine what happened to the plane. The Iranian commander who first acknowledged the plane had been shot down said he informed the authorities on the day of the crash.

Iraqi Officials Say ISIS—Not Iran—Behind Attack Trump Used to Justify Soleimani Assassination — In a “bombshell” revelation that calls into question one of the Trump administration’s stated justifications for assassinating Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani—a move that nearly sparked a region-wide military conflict—Iraqi intelligence officials told the New York Times that they believe ISIS, not an Iran-linked militia, was likely responsible for the Dec. 27 rocket attack that killed an American contractor at an air base near Kirkuk, Iraq. The Times reported Thursday that “Iraqi military and intelligence officials have raised doubts about who fired the rockets… saying they believe it is unlikely that the militia the United States blamed for the attack” was responsible. “All the indications are that it was Daesh,” Brigadier General Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi chief of intelligence for the federal police at the K-1 air base, told the Times, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “We know Daesh’s movements.” The Trump administration has not released a single piece of evidence showing that the Iraqi militia Khataib Hezbollah, which has ties to Iran, was responsible for the attack on K-1. The group has denied carrying out the attack. The U.S. responded to the rocket attack days later with deadly airstrikes on Khataib Hezbollah targets in Iraq and Syria, setting off a dangerous escalatory spiral that brought Iran and the U.S. to the brink of war. On Jan. 2, the U.S. assassinated Soleimani with a drone strike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump. Following the assassination, which was widely condemned as an act of war, the U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement claiming without evidence that Soleimani “orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months—including the attack on December 27th—culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.” As the Times reported: The rockets were launched from a Sunni Muslim part of Kirkuk Province notorious for attacks by the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group, which would have made the area hostile territory for a Shiite militia like Khataib Hezbollah.  Khataib Hezbollah has not had a presence in Kirkuk Province since 2014. The Islamic State, however, had carried out three attacks relatively close to the base in the 10 days before the attack on K-1. Iraqi intelligence officials sent reports to the Americans in November and December warning that ISIS intended to target K-1, an Iraqi air base in Kirkuk Province that is also used by American forces“We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure,” Brig. Gen. Adnan said of the area from which the rocket attack was launched. “How could it be that someone who doesn’t know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?”

Is Iraq About To Switch From US to Russia? -- Today Juan Cole reports from a newspaper in Iraq that since Mohammed al-Allawi has become the new prime minister in Iraq, there has been a meeting in Baghdad between the Russian ambassador and the Iraqi military Chief of Staff, and the Iraqi president, Saleh, will be visiting Moscow shortly. A variety of issues and possible areas of cooperation apparently are being discussed, but the biggie apparently is that there is serious discussion of Russia replacing the US in providing air support for the Iraqi military for its ongoing campaign against the remnants of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.   It looks like the new PM is very much a part of the move in the Iraqi parliament to get US troops out of Iraq, something that those in Washington have been pretending is not for real.  Juan Cole reports that key in this discussion is that when Trump killed Iranian general Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, he also killed Iraqi general al-Mohandis, a point I have posted on here before, and one that almost nobody talks about in the US (In the Dem debate just over ABC's David Muir tried to get the Dem candidates to say they would have killed Soleimani).  But what has got lots of Iraqis upset about this is that it was a blatant violation of iraqi sovereignty.  Cole reports on Putin sending out a message promising to respect Iraqi sovereignty.  This may not come to pass, but for sure the only thing that Trump had to say about all this was to brag about killing Soleimani, no mention of the 67 American soldiers suffering brain injury due to the Iranian missile attack in response to this, and also the 170 people who died in an airplane accidentally shot down by the Iranians due to their being on high alert as a result of Trump's attack, much less a word about leaders and people in Iraq being upset over his also killing one of their generals in violation of their sovereignty.

US Forces Block Another Russian Convoy as Tensions Rise in Northeast Syria  - U.S. forces in northeast Syria again prevented Russian military convoys from touring near the Iraqi border on Friday, in what locals described as an increased escalation between both sides over freedom of navigation in the predominantly Kurdish region. A VOA reporter saw American Humvees patrolling the main road of al-Malikiyah town, also known as Derik, in northeast Hasakah province, in what local sources said was an effort to prevent an approaching Russian convoy from passing by the region. The sources said the dispute was over the control of M4 highway, al-Malikiyah and Tall Tamr areas that became a dividing line between the two sides following the October 2019 Turkish incursion that forced the U.S. to pull out from much of the Turkey-northeast Syria border region. “I see [U.S. and Russian forces] a lot on these roads. They have their own disputes. They block roads here and there. For example, in Xana Sere village and in Derik,” a resident of al-Malikiyah, who for security reasons did not want to be named, told VOA. This was not the first time U.S. forces had encountered Russian patrols in the area. Nishan Mohammad, a local reporter, last week told VOA he saw at least three similar standoffs in which U.S. soldiers stopped Russian military vehicles and forced them to head back to their bases. Contacted by VOA, Syrian Democratic Forces officials declined to comment on the matter, citing the sensitivity of the issue. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday that U.S. troops had blocked a Russian convoy from al-Kharita village in Hasakah road heading toward Jabal Qazuzana. The observatory reported that on the same day, a group of Russian forces from Tall Tamr was heading to Hasakah, only to be barred from further advancing by U.S. troops near a U.S. base in the al-Wazir area.

Russia Says Israel Used Civilian Plane as Human Shield During Syria Strikes— Russia accused the Israeli army of using a civilian flight carrying 172 passengers as a shield during its air strikes on targets in Syria on Thursday. According to Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, the passenger plane was flying from Tehran to Damascus International Airport, but made an emergency landing at Russia’s Hmeimim air base near Latakia in northwest Syria after coming under fire from Syrian air defences. “The recourse to civilian aircraft as cover or to block a riposte by Syrian forces during military air operations has become characteristic of the Israeli air force,” the ministry spokesperson said in a statement published by Russian media on Friday. Israeli radars have “a clear view of the situation in the skies around Damascus airport”, Konashenkov said, accusing Israel of “making a total mockery of the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians”. Syria on Thursday said it had intercepted Israeli missiles on military targets in Damascus and the south of Syria. An opposition group said 23 Syrian and foreign soldiers allied with President Bashar al-Assad’s government were killed in the attacks. Israel has yet to comment on the air strikes, but it has repeatedly bombed Iranian militia targets in Syria, which it says aim to end Iran’s military presence in the war-torn country.

Trump's Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan Is Especially Flawed When It Comes to Water Rights -- One reason the Palestinians swiftly rejected the flawed U.S. peace plan was that it does nothing to address their claims for water rights.  Among many other problematic aspects of the Trump administration’s peace plan for the Middle East, one glaring fault is its lack of any serious attention to the contentious question of how to divide up precious water resources between the Israelis and Palestinians. One of the many reasons that the Palestinian leadership dismissed the proposal out of hand was that it included a demand for Palestinians to cede the water-rich West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley to Israel.“What struck me when I looked at the plan is how devoid it was of a historical context. There was no recognition of the past agreements that dealt with water, or recognition of the steps that had been put into place to allow for water sharing, or recognition of water rights,” said Erika Weinthal, an expert on water politics and conflict at Duke University. Access to water has for decades been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many regional tensions more broadly. The arid region has limited supplies of water that are increasingly in demand for agriculture, and what water exists is largely shared across national boundaries, including the Jordan River and the critical underground aquifers in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip. That geology and geography helps explain why water conflicts have been behind a lot of the region’s sharpest clashes for centuries and even millennia, going back to when the biblical Isaac and the Philistines fought over access to water wells. More recently, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamed water for ultimately sparking the Six-Day War in 1967. Since 1967, water has remained a big irritant in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in part because Israel made control of access to water a cornerstone of its approach to the Palestinians. Water access for Palestinians in the West Bank is limited enough, with catastrophic impacts on farmers, whose rain-watered fields yield smaller and less valuable harvests than the lush fields of their water-rich neighbors. In the Gaza Strip, the situation is genuinely dire: More than 90 percent of the water is unfit for human consumption, and the sole aquifer is being invaded by seawater. “Water is always mentioned as one of the core issues in the conflict—not as high as Jerusalem or the question of refugees, but it’s always been one of the core issues,”

Ex-Israeli Army Chief Admits to Arming Syrian Rebels  — Former Israeli army General Gadi Eisenkot has gone on record affirming long-held allegations that Israel has directly provided weapons to Syrian opposition fighters against the government of President Bashar Al-Assad. According to Haaretz, the revelations made last month, depart from Israel’s previous media policy on the subject, whereby it has insisted that Tel Aviv has only provided humanitarian aid to civilians, via field hospitals in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and healthcare facilities in northern Israel. Eisenkot has become the most senior Israeli official to admit Israel’s role in the Syrian conflict and its support for armed opposition groups, including terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda. In 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has been supporting the rebels for years and that the Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups, including sending undisclosed payments to help pay the salaries of fighters, with an established Israeli military unit that overseas such support. “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” said Moatasem Al-Golani, spokesman for the rebel group Fursan Al-Joulan. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

Assault on Syria's Idlib pushes 700,000 to flee in potential 'international crisis,' says U.S. envoy  – An assault on rebel-held northwest Syria by government forces has pushed some 700,000 people to flee toward the Turkish border and raised the specter of an international crisis, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said on Thursday. Backed by Russian air power, government forces have advanced on Idlib at a rapid clip since last week, taking back dozens of towns and upending a region where millions have taken refuge since the start of Syria’s nearly nine-year war. The campaign has ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey fears a fresh wave of migrants piling across its border and has a dozen observation posts in Idlib, part of a de-escalation agreement it says Russia is now violating. Speaking at an online news briefing, Jeffrey said that in the last three days Syrian government and Russian warplanes had hit Idlib with 200 airstrikes “mainly against civilians,” and that several Turkish observation posts had been “cut off” by the government advance. There are “massive movements of troops pushing back hundreds of square kilometers and setting — I think now — 700,000 people who are already internally displaced on the move once again towards the Turkish border, which will then create an international crisis,” said Jeffrey. Moscow and Damascus say they are fighting jihadi militants who have stepped up attacks on civilians in Aleppo in northern Syria, but rights groups and rescue workers say airstrikes have demolished hospitals, schools and hit other civilian areas. In a significant milestone for President Bashar Assad’s stated drive to reclaim all of Syria, government forces on Tuesday took Idlib’s second-biggest city, Maarat al-Numan, an urban center that straddles the M5 international highway linking the capital, Damascus, to Aleppo and is considered vital for trade.

Syrian rebels launch attack near Aleppo - Turkish-backed Syrian rebels attacked government-held positions northeast of Aleppo on Saturday, rebel sources and a war monitor said, opening a new front against Syrian army forces that have made significant advances in nearby Idlib over the last week. The attack was focused on territory near the city of al-Bab, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian opposition allies since 2017. Syrian state media made no mention of a new attack. Turkish forces were not taking part, rebel sources said. Rebel sources said their fighters had taken three villages so far. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, described it as a fierce attack "carried out by factions loyal to Ankara." Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air power, have made rapid advances in Idlib this week, capturing the town of Maarat al-Numan which is located about 100 km (60 miles) southwest of al-Bab. Idlib and the area north of Aleppo form part of the last major rebel-held territory in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has taken back most of the ground once held by his enemies with Russian and Iranian support. The government's latest Idlib advance has triggered a fresh wave of civilian displacement, with hundreds of thousands moving towards the Turkish border. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey may launch a military operation in Idlib unless the fighting there is halted. U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said on Thursday the Idlib fighting raised the spectre of an international crisis.

Jihadist car bomb attacks target Syrian pro-government forces in Aleppo - (Reuters) - Syrian insurgents carried out two suicide car bomb attacks in an assault on pro-government forces in Aleppo on Saturday and opened a new front northeast of the city, an attempted fightback after territorial gains for President Bashar al-Assad. Backed by Russian air power, Syrian government forces had made a significant advance into the rebel-held northwest this week, seizing the town of Maarat al-Numan, part of an offensive to secure the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo. The suicide attacks were carried out by jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and targeted the Jamiyat al Zahraa area on the western edge of Aleppo. A third car bomb was set off by remote control, a source with the group said. A news outlet linked to the group, Ebaa, published a video which it said showed elite Tahrir al-Sham fighters pledging “allegiance to death and jihad” before the attack on Jamiyat al-Zahraa, watched by the group’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani.The northwestern corner of Syria including Idlib province and adjoining areas of Aleppo is the last major rebel foothold in Syria, where Assad has taken back most of the ground once held by his enemies with Russian and Iranian support. Syrian state news agency SANA said army troops had destroyed four car bombs before they reached their targets. Syrian army forces were firing rockets and artillery at militant groups on the Jamiyat al-Zahraa front, it said. Militants had also fired rockets at residential districts of Aleppo.

Head Of Iran's IRGC Operations In Syria Killed Near Aleppo - Iranian state media sources have reported the death of Asghar Bashpour on the front lines of fighting in Aleppo province, which renewed days ago as Turkish-backed Syrian jihadists poured into the countryside around the major northern city. The Syrian Army has also been on a major offensive against al-Qaeda's Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to retake neighboring Idlib province.Crucially, Bashpour was an elite commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force who is said to have been close to its slain leader Qassem Soleimani. The news was announced by Tehran Radio and then circulated among various Middle East sources, including The Times of Israel on Monday. His death occurred Sunday while reportedly supporting military operations of pro-Assad forces. Israel has long claimed that Iranian entrenchment inside Syria is ultimately aimed at harming Israeli security and interests. Over the past years the Israeli Air Force has conducted hundreds of incursions and strikes inside Syria, against what Tel Aviv describes as Iranian proxies and troops. The Times of Israel describes the newly slain Asghar Bashpour and friend of Soleimani as follows: He is said to have been at the forefront of the Quds Force’s operations against anti-regime rebels in Syria, where Iran has been a key backer of President Bashar Assad since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Regional sources say he was senior commander in the Quds Force responsible for overseeing all Iran-backed special operations in Syria. State-run IRIB news agency describes that Pashapour was “one of the first to go to Syria with Qassem Soleimani.”

Rare Direct Clash Between Turkish & Syrian Armies Leaves Scores Dead & Wounded -- Turkey has accused the Syrian Army of shelling Turkish positions in Idlib, killing six troops and a civilian, and wounding an additional seven soldiers, according to Al Jazeera.  Turkey's Defense Ministry said its military immediately hit back against Syrian positions, destroying the source of fire; however, it's unclear the extent to which the Syrian side suffered casualties. Turkey claims it's defensive attack killed and wounded scores of Syrian troops. Defense officials further condemned the aggression given they say Turkey gave advanced notice of their coordinates as part of a cooperative agreement with Russia. But Russia responded Monday to the criticisms by saying the Turkish positions were hit out of a lack of information.  Though disputed by Syrian sources, President Erdogan subsequently claimed the Turkish counterattack killed between 30 and 35 Syrian troops, which involved fighter jets and artillery unleashed on Syria's military.  "Those who test Turkey's determination with such vile attacks will understand their mistake," he said, suggesting further Russia authorized such defensive strikes when needed. "It is not possible for us to remain silent when our soldiers are being martyred," Erdogan added. However, Syrian Army statements and sources still say despite the Turkish interference they've advanced on the flashpoint town of Saraqeb, considered crucial to liberating Idlib. In an alarming sign that the Syrian and Turkish armies could be on the brink of broader war in Idlib and northern Syria, the Britain-based opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkey shelled Syrian Army positions across three provinces, killing a total of eight soldiers as of Monday.

Turkey Gives Assad Deadline to Pull Back or Face Military Action — Turkey has given the Syrian government until the end of this month to withdraw from recently seized territory in Idlib province, where several Turkish observation stations are besieged, or face military action.  “I expressed the need for the regime forces to fall back to Sochi deal borders in my phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin last night,” Erdogan said in an address to his party’s group meeting on Wednesday. “We hope that they will complete retreating behind our stations in February. If they don’t, we will be forced to [do] it ourselves.” Erdogan’s remarks came after Syrian government forces shelling killed eight Turkish soldiers on Sunday near the strategic town of Saraqeb, where Turkey has been deploying tanks, armoured vehicles, rocket launchers and commandos to stop the offensive.  The town sits on the M4 and M5 highways, and taking it would expose Idlib city, the opposition’s last major stronghold, which would be in artillery range.Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russian military, have made rapid gains in recent weeks, as they look to prise northwestern Idlib province from rebel hands. The UN estimates more than 500,000 people have been displaced towards the Turkish border since fighting intensified in December. On Monday, the Turkish military retaliated for the deadly shelling by pummelling Syrian government positions. Ankara claimed it had “neutralised” more than 70 Syrian soldiers, based on radio communications it had intercepted. Erdogan said on Wednesday that the deadly attack on Turkish forces was a turning point for Ankara in Syria. “As the regime responds to the smallest [ceasefire] violations with heavy attacks that also target civilians, from now on we will retaliate to the regime violations in the same way,” Erdogan said.

Pipeline Or Pipe-Dream- Israel, Turkey Hydrocarbon Conflict Brewing In The Med  - Massive natural gas discoveries off the eastern coast of Israel and Palestine is slated to make Tel Aviv a regional energy hub. Whether Israel will be able to translate positive indicators of the largely untapped gas reserves into actual economic and strategic wealth is yet to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the Middle East is already in the throes of a major geostrategic war, which has the potential of becoming an actual military confrontation.Unsurprisingly, Israel is at the heart of this growing conflict.“Last week, we started to stream gas to Egypt. We turned Israel into an energy superpower,” Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, bragged during a cabinet meeting on January 19.Netanyahu’s self-congratulating remarks came on the heels of some exciting financial news for the embattled Prime Minister, as both Jordan and Egypt are now Tel Aviv’s clients, receiving billions of cubic meters of Israeli gas.For Netanyahu, pumping Israeli gas to two neighboring Arab countries constitutes more than just economic and political advantages – it is a huge personal boost. The Israeli leader is trying to convince the public to vote for him in yet another general election in March, while pleading to Israel’s political elite to give him immunity so that he can stay out of prison for various corruption charges.For years, Israel has been exploiting the discovery of massive deposits of natural gas from the Leviathan and Tamar fields – located nearly 125 km and 80 km west of Haifa respectively – to reconstruct regional alliances and to redefine its geopolitical centrality to Europe.The Israeli strategy, however, has already created potentials for conflict in an already unstable region, expanding the power play to include Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, and Libya, as well as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Russia.

ISIS claims attacked Egypt-Israel gas line, gas flow undisrupted - Militants attacked a gas pipeline in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula on Sunday night, reportedly aiming to disrupt gas flow between Israel and Egypt. Israeli authorities said gas supply between the countries remained unaffected. The Islamic State’s Sinai Province affiliate claimed responsibility on Monday for the attack on the pipeline. Local sources told Paris-based AFP that the gas pipeline targeted was in fact a domestic supply line for a local power station. In a statement, the Sinai affiliate said it had detonated a number of explosives next to a pipeline linking “the Jews” and “the apostate Egyptian government,” and had caused damage to the pipeline. The attack happened near the city of El-Arish, with initial reports claiming that the targeted pipeline was a line carrying gas from Israel’s Leviathan gas platform to Egypt. The partners operating the offshore platform stated that no damage had been caused to the EMG pipeline connecting the countries, and gas flow was continuing as usual. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office stated on Sunday night that gas was continuing to flow from Israel to Egypt and it was working with relevant authorities to investigate the nature of the incident. Reports on Monday morning stated that the pipeline that was hit by the attack was actually a domestic one that leads to a power station in El-Arish, which supplies electricity to homes and factories in the central Sinai, according to AFP.

Yemen's Houthis eye oil-rich Marib after making swift gains -  Fresh from rapid gains in Sanaa province, Yemen’s Houthi movement is seeking to push into wealthy government-held areas of Marib, which holds some of the country’s most important oil and gas resources.The battle for Marib is the latest development in a protracted Yemeni conflict between the Houthi movement and a western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to reinstate the government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. On Wednesday, Houthi spokesman Yehia Saria said his fighters had fended off an attack on them by pro-Hadi forces in the Nehm district, which lies 60 kilometres to the northeast of the capital Sanaa.According to Saria, pro-government forces launched their attack on Nehm in mid-January. Their defeat, the Houthi spokesman said, allowed the Houthis to launch a blistering counterattack and successfully capture the entire district.Now they are looking to push further in an operation called "Al-Bunyan al-Marsoos", seeking to capture Hadi-held parts of Marib province nearby.“Al-Bunyan al-Marsoos operation has liberated 2,500 kilometres of territory, and the enemy has lost thousands of forces,” Saira claimed. The internationally recognised government has yet to comment on the Houthi statement.Hadi’s forces are now on the back foot. Where once they spoke about taking the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, now they discuss ways to defend Marib, a strategic oil and gas hub.In addition to its oil fields and its Safer oil refinery, Marib also is a key producer of natural gas, supplying the entire country.

U.S. kills al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula leader in Yemen: Trump - (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States had killed Qassim al-Raymi, the leader of Islamist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in a counterterrorism operation in Yemen. “Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces,” Trump said in a statement. “His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security,” the president said. He did not say when Raymi was killed. The United States regards AQAP as one of the deadliest branches of the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin Laden. Reports in Yemen have suggested in recent days that Raymi had been killed in a drone strike in Marib. Reuters was unable to verify the reports. One Yemeni government official told Reuters there had been a drone strike in Marib but it was not Raymi who had been killed.

US demands more from Taliban on ceasefire before deal - (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday demanded “demonstrable evidence” from the Taliban that they can and will reduce violence before signing a deal that would lead to Afghanistan peace talks and a withdrawal of American troops from the country. Speaking at a news conference in neighboring Uzbekistan, Pompeo said a deal is close but that they have been close before and failed because the Taliban was unable to demonstrate seriousness. He said more work remains to be done so that peace talks can get started. “We’re working on a peace and reconciliation plan, putting the commas in the right place, getting the sentences right,” he said. “We got close once before to having an agreement: a piece of paper that we mutually executed and the Taliban were unable to demonstrate either their will or capacity or both to deliver on a reduction in violence.” “So, what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks ... will have a less violent context,” he said. “We’re hopeful we can achieve that but we’re not there yet, and work certainly remains.” Pompeo’s comments came just two days after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul and told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani there has been “no notable progress” in talks with the Taliban. However, Khalilzad said he was hopeful of reaching an understanding with them on a reduction of hostilities, without offering any time frame.

China’s $22 Billion Injection May Help Ease Global Market Rout - A $22 billion injection into Chinese markets won’t be enough to prevent the country’s stocks and currency falling on Monday, but it may ease a global sell-off sparked by the spread of the coronavirus.That’s according to analysts after the People’s Bank of China and other regulators announced a slew of measures to shore up their financial markets when they re-open following the Lunar New Year holiday.The central bank said Sunday it will use reverse repurchase agreements to supply 1.2 trillion yuan of liquidity on Monday, with the figure coming to 150 billion yuan ($21.7 billion) on a net basis, according to Bloomberg calculations.“This is well beyond the band-aid fix,” said Stephen Innes, a Bangkok-based chief market strategist at Axicorp. “If this deluge doesn’t hold risk-off at bay, we are in for a colossal beat down. In addition, the PBOC will likely intervene in the currency market, so I would expect them to layer the soothing market balm thick and heavy.”…. In a containment scenario — with a severe but short-lived impact — it could take China’s first-quarter gross domestic product growth down to 4.5% year-on-year, according to Bloomberg Economics. That would be the lowest quarterly figure since at least 1992.

China asks businesses to resume operation orderly - (Xinhua) -- Chinese authorities Thursday asked businesses outside Hubei Province to resume operation in an orderly manner while continuing to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak. This will provide better guarantee for the prevention and control work and help maintain normal economic and social order, according to a high-level meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. The meeting of the leading group of the CPC Central Committee on the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which is headed by Li, also stressed maintaining concerted epidemic control efforts in Hubei, especially its capital city of Wuhan, where the outbreak hit hardest. A variety of measures should be adopted to add hospital beds and medical staff in Hubei, according to the meeting. Businesses outside Hubei are encouraged to create ways to make workplaces less populated or allow staff to take shifts to make production at full throttle. The shortage of machinery, staff or fund should be addressed through coordination to put the whole industry chain in normal operation, it said. Schools are asked to postpone start of new semester in an appropriate manner. Railway and civil aviation authorities should roll out measures for passengers to sit less densely during their trips back from holiday and avoid travel peak to reduce the risks of virus spreading, it said.

 India Announces $40 Billion Emergency Fiscal Injection As Economy Plunges - India's economy is rapidly decelerating and could be headed for a financial crisis. As an emergency response to plunging growth rates and falling energy consumption, along with a manufacturing hub grinding to a halt, the government has just announced a massive $40 billion fiscal injection in its budget for 2020/21 to prevent a hard landing, reported Reuters.Emergency fiscal measures by government are typically for an economy that is in a recession or certainly headed towards one. However, India isn't in a recession, but growth rates are rapidly decelerating and now being referred to as "great slowdown.""Look at electricity generation growth, it's falling off the bottom, and it's never been like this ever. So this is the sense in which I would say this is not just any slowdown, this is the great slowdown that India is experiencing and we should look at it with all seriousness ...and the economy seems headed for the intensive care unit," former Indian Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian warned last month.  Economic growth in the country is expected to fall under the 5-handle this year, will be the weakest since the global financial crisis in 2008-09.

 Six children die from hunger and tainted water in Argentina’s Salta Province - News of the death of six extremely malnourished children in the province of Salta, in northwestern Argentina, has exposed a crisis of hunger of immense proportions in this South American nation, an important exporter of food to the rest of the world. A seventh victim was an adult woman, who died giving birth. All six children died in January. Thirty-seven other starving children are now hospitalized in Tartagal Hospital, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) away from the region. The children belong to the indigenous Wichi tribe, which is concentrated near the Bolivian border. The Peronist government has declared a health emergency in response to the deaths. The sixth victim was 21 months old. He died on January 26 while being transported from one health clinic to another. Diagnosed with “chronic malnutrition,” he had suffered 10 days of vomiting and diarrhea, was feverish and severely dehydrated. The first three children who died, all below the age of three, shared the same symptoms. While the Salta government declared a health emergency in response to these deaths, starvation is not new to this region, which borders Bolivia and Paraguay. Neither are the empty yearly declarations of health emergencies. No preventive measures have been taken by government authorities, provincial or federal, under growing conditions of near famine. Because of the savage austerity measures that are in place—Argentina is mired in a crisis of debt and economic depression—there are diminishing resources made available to prevent these very predictable deaths. Given the distance to Tartagal Hospital, and conditions in the area, in the past health workers were assigned to visit villagers, going from home to home on bicycles, resolving health issues, providing vaccinations and measuring heights and weights. That is no longer the case. Compounding the conditions of hunger, there is a shortage of drinking water. Much of the water in the region is contaminated with toxic chemicals from agribusiness and oil production. Spokespersons for the indigenous tribes that inhabit this region in the northwest corner of the country blame the “extreme poverty” of the region on the same “political process” that is affecting the rest of the country, as well as the privatization of the national oil company YPF in 1992 (and its increasing exploitation with no regard to its environmental impact).

Any Child Who Dies of Hunger Is a Murdered Child -- There were three women: a grandmother, a mother, and an aunt. I’d been watching them for a while as they milled around the hospital cot; as they slowly collected their two plastic plates, their three spoons, their small, sooty pot, their green bucket, and handed them to the grandmother. And I kept watching while the mother and the aunt tied up their blanket, their two or three little T-shirts, and their rags into a cloth so the aunt could place it on her head. But I shook when I saw the aunt lean over the cot, lift up the baby boy, and hold him in the air, then look at him with a strange expression on her face, as if puzzled, as if incredulous, then place him on his mother’s back the way children in Africa are carried on their mothers’ backs—their legs and arms spread, chest pressed against the mother’s back, head turned to one side—and the mother tied him on with another cloth, the way small children are tied to their mothers in Africa. The child stayed in its usual place, ready to return home. Dead.  This is when I think this book originated, a few years ago when I was in a town deep in Niger, sitting with Aisha on a straw mat in front of the door to her hut—with midday sweat, on dry earth, under the shadow of a spindly tree, within earshot of children scattering about—as she told me about the single ball of millet she ate daily, and I asked her if that was true, that she only ate one ball of millet a day, and that’s how we had our first cultural misunderstanding:  “Well, every day I can.”  She spoke while lowering her eyes in shame, and I felt like such an ass. Aisha was thirty or thirty-five years old; she had a concave nose, sad eyes, and a lilac fabric covering the rest of her face. We kept talking about food and her lack thereof,  and I was foolishly unable to see that I was face-to-face with the most extreme form of hunger. There’s nothing more frequent, more constant, more present in our lives than hunger—and yet, for most of us, there’s nothing farther removed from us than real hunger. We know hunger, we’re used to hunger: we feel hungry multiple times a day. But the distance between that repetitious, daily hunger we feel—one that we can repeatedly satisfy—and the desperate hunger that is never satisfied, is an entire world. Hunger has always been the force behind social change, technical progress, revolutions, counterrevolutions. Nothing has had a greater influence on human history. No illness, no war has killed so many people. There is no plague as lethal, and at the same time as avoidable, as hunger. For so long, I had no idea.

Negative Rates Are Forcing German Banks To Hoard So Much Cash They're Running Out Of Space- The increasingly unstable and unpredictable world isn't the only reason why betting on safe-makers and security companies might not seem like a bad idea to some savvy investors. But those aren't the only reasons. In the era of NIRP, "cashless societies" like Sweden are at a clear disadvantage. When banks are charging wealthy customers additional fees for storing their cash on deposit, the option to transition a chunk of one's fortune to cash suddenly makes sense. And as Bloomberg reported Friday, this phenomenon hasn't been lost on German banks. To help them keep as little money in reserve accounts as possible, banks in Germany are reportedly stuffing vaults with euro banknotes in to keep them handy for customers (and avoid the additional NIRP tax on deposits). Some banks have hoarded so much cash that they're running out of room and are searching for more storage. This behavior has been going on for years, practically since Draghi introduced negative rates almost six years ago.But the trend has gotten so out of hand German banks are running out of space to stash the notes.The physical cash holdings of German banks rose to a record 43.4 billion euros ($48 billion) in December, according to Bundesbank data published on Friday. That’s almost triple the amount at the end of May 2014, the month before the European Central Bank started charging for deposits and raising the pressure on Germany’s already beleaguered banks.By the end of last year, German banks were holding a record amount of physical cash. In theory, negative interest rates are supposed to spur inflation and economy growth by encouraging businesses to borrow, however, the policy has arguably failed in Europe, as growth has remained sluggish over the last five years, while the eurozone's savers and bankers have suffered. "These days it’s better to keep funds in cash rather than park them at the ECB," said Andreas Schulz, who runs a savings bank close to Berlin. "That’s despite the risk, insurance costs and logistical hassle involved. It’s a ludicrous demonstration of the consequences of the ECB’s interest-rate policy."Munich-based precious metals trader Pro Aurum said it has received several requests from banks to store notes in its vaults, but the company had to turn them down.  "The ECB’s negative interest rates make hoarding cash attractive,"  European banks have repeatedly warned that they can't pass on all the liquidity they have as credit, but holding cash won't help banks escape the entirety of the burden of negative rates. In fact, the volume of notes that banks are hoarding is still small compared with their overall deposits. But the trend has become grist for German critics of the ECB, who argue that negative interest rates are causing more harm than good.

Europe Can’t Afford to Alienate the UK - Der Spiegel - Just over 47 years ago, when the United Kingdom finally joined the European Economic Community, following intense debates and a close vote in parliament, the era-defining event was celebrated with a gala concert in London. It included a “Fanfare for Europe,” composed especially for the occasion. An idealistic, conservative prime minister – Edward Heath – had led Britain into Europe. In an effort to convince the skeptics, he said: “We have the chance of new greatness. Now we must take it.” His eventual successor, Boris Johnson – a gambler rather than an idealist – used almost the same words to mark the country’s plunge into independence. He won his bet with the promise that Britain’s departure from the European Union would give control back to the people of Britain. He sold the illusion that a proud nation state is still the most powerful force of all, even in this age of globalization – freed of the shackles of a woeful and tedious alliance that had been inaccurately sold as a community of fate. The EU considered the impending tragedy of Brexit to be so absurd, so idiotic and backward, that it was long unwilling to accept it as a possibility. Brussels did nothing to help the lamentable Prime Minister David Cameron win the referendum. The EU thought it had to be unyielding in negotiations with Cameron’s successor Theresa May (“this deal or no deal”) in order to convince Britain not to go through with it and to scare others away from trying. But the EU achieved exactly the opposite: In the three-and-a-half years since the June 2016 referendum, the British only became more determined to leave and more disgusted with the bloc. The Continent must now be at pains to avoid repeating those mistakes by once again transforming negotiations over future relations into an obstacle course. The temptation to succumb to resentment and take steps to penalize Britain remains strong in Brussels. Simply allowing a powerful member state like the UK to leave unpunished calls the EU’s own self-image into question. The European project is rooted in the belief that there is no other option – in the rationally, though not emotionally, coherent conviction that European nation states must sacrifice a portion of their independence in order to find success in a globalized world.

 Brexit, the day after: A divided Britain grapples with leaving the EU - After 47 years in the bloc and three and a half years after a national referendum set the Brexit ball rolling, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Friday at 11pm London time, midnight in Brussels. There were celebrations and tears across the country as the EU's often reluctant member became the first to leave an organisation set up to forge unity among nations after the horrors of World War II. Thousands of people waving Union Jack flags packed London's Parliament Square to mark the moment of Brexit at 11pm UK time (2300 GMT), midnight in Brussels. "We did it!" declared Nigel Farage, the former member of the European Parliament who has campaigned for Brexit for years, before the crowd began singing the national anthem. It was a largely good-natured gathering, aside from one Brexit supporter who earlier set an EU flag alight. But Brexit has exposed deep divisions in British society, and many fear the consequences of ending 47 years of ties with their nearest neighbours. Some pro-Europeans, including many of the 3.6 million EU citizens who made their lives in Britain, marked the occasion with solemn candlelit vigils. Brexit has also provoked soul-searching in the EU about its own future after losing 66 million people, a global diplomatic big-hitter and the clout of the City of London financial centre. In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson - a figurehead in the seismic 2016 referendum vote for Brexit - acknowledged there might be "bumps in the road ahead". But he said Britain could make it a "stunning success". Johnson predicted a "new era of friendly cooperation" with the EU while Britain takes a greater role on the world stage.

Brexit: Warmed Over Chicken - Yves Smith -- The latest iteration of this far-too-familiar play is Boris Johnson acting as if he can threaten the EU with a no deal at the end of the transition period. Specifically, Johnson has made a big show of poking the EU in the eye by setting forth his tough guy negotiating demands over this past weekend. Admittedly, the Prime Minister isn’t setting out his position formally until Monday, but there’s no mystery as to what it will be: a rejection of accepting EU rules yet saying it wants a Canada-style free trade agreement. From the BBC:Britain will “not be aligning with EU rules” in any post-Brexit trade deal, the foreign secretary has said….But Irish PM Leo Varadkar said the UK needed to commit to a level playing field to get a free trade deal…Reports in recent days have suggested EU chiefs want the UK to continue to follow EU rules on standards and state subsidies – while accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in any trade disputes.The PM is expected to say that he will accept no alignment and no jurisdiction of the European courts when talks start in March. And wags believe the reason for the rollout was to create the impression that the UK was driving the agenda by virtue of preceding Michel Barnier’s remarks this week. The Financial Times’ version was entertaining: Boris Johnson is on course for a significant clash with the EU in trade talks on the future relationship with the bloc, with both sides setting out opposing stances on whether a deal will include alignment on rules.The British prime minister will set out his approach to the negotiations on Monday in a speech outlining his vision for the UK after Brexit. He will state that Britain will maintain high standards “without the compulsion of a treaty”.But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, will say the opposite when he unveils the bloc’s proposal for its future relationship with the UK. He is expected to insist that Britain’s future market access be directly linked to its willingness to align with EU rules. Aside from the fact that trade does not operate on a “trust me” basis, Johnson himself doesn’t have a great reputation in that category and is proving to be true to form. Assuming his speech Monday lives up to the previews, Johnson will repudiate parts of the Political Declaration, the statement of intent about the so-called future relationship with the EU, that his Government just agreed to. Specifically:In that spirit, this declaration establishes the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation with a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement at its core, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation…..This balance must ensure the autonomy of the Union’s decisionmaking and be consistent with the Union’s principles, in particular with respect to the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union and the indivisibility of the four freedoms… This partnership will be comprehensive, encompassing a Free Trade Agreement, as well as wider sectoral cooperation where it is in the mutual interest of both Parties.It will be underpinned by provisions ensuringa level playing field for open and fair competition… To that end, the Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.

Brexit: Fish-y Business --  Yves Smith -- Neither side is acting much like it wants a deal. Perhaps this is just a weird posturing phase resulting from the EU trying to figure out how to contend with the theatrical and deliberately provocative Boris Johnson. Or it may be the EU taking the gloves off now that the UK is no longer in its club. “Die in a ditch” Johnson maintains he won’t ask for an extension and won’t take EU rules. Wellie, in contrast to what the British press would have you believe, even Canada, which Johnson insists is his current model for the UK-EU trade deal, did in fact agree to treaty provisions that are functionally equivalent to the “level playing field” that Michel Barnier featured prominently in hisdraft negotiating guidelines and he reiterated were required for a no-tariffs, no-quotas treaty.  Oh, and the UK also signed up for them in the Political Directive. Yes, that document is legally non-binding, but as we’ve pointed out, in negotiations, retrading parts of a non-binding letter of intent usually comes at a cost, including potentially cratering an agreementThere is also a lot of consternation on the UK side about Barnier in many (but not all) respects taking what has been seen as a maximalist position, particularly in putting forth a negotiating process of seeking an overall deal, so that various issues could be traded off against each other. The UK wants much more of an “each issue its own deal” approach, as Switzerland has. The EU has indicated for some time its not amenable to having a ton of bilateral agreements. Taking a very high level view, what Barnier appears to be doing as his default is working forward from the Political Declaration. If you were dealing with a rational counterparty, it would be entirely logical to say, “We agreed to these general ideas, all I’m doing is following them.” And the Political Declaration envisaged the soft Brexit that Theresa May wanted to achieve. It goes on about having a close relationship and also mentions that the trade agreement could be negotiatedunder Article 217, which is also referred to as an Association Agreement (the other avenue for negotiating a trade pact with a third country is under Article 207, under which the EU has reached both simple free trade agreements and “comprehensive economic trade agreements” as it did with Canada.. The UK and EU are making fish a do or die issue, each putting it on a short list of must haves when the fishing industry is a trivial part of both economies.The bone of contention is that the UK’s territorial water have most of the fish that both UK and EU land. But most of the fish the UK consumes (about 80%) is from Norway, mainly the cod for fish and chips. By contrast, most of the fish pulled from UK waters (as well as shellfish like scallops and langoustine) go to the EU.And in the first round of the spat, which took place outside the negotiating table, the UK fishermen lost: Now here is the even nuttier part. The EU is willing to trade getting access to the UK’s fish for making concessions on the vastly bigger and far profitable financial services industry, which per the Financial Times accounted for 7.1% of the UK economy in 2018. I am not making this up. Not only is the EU dumb enough to make this offer, but the UK, which really needs those services exports, is saying it’s going to die on its hill of fish instead. The Financial Times points out that fishing is the mainstay of many coastal towns, and I can see knock-on effects (loss of summer tourist business if these towns start having boarded-up sections) but this still seems blown way out of proportion.

UK regional productivity gaps as wide as in 1901, no easy fix seen: report (Reuters) - Gaps in economic productivity between London and other regions of the United Kingdom are as wide as they were in 1901 and there is no quick fix to overcome them, a report for the British government said on Tuesday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to ‘level up’ parts of the United Kingdom where growth has lagged behind, in part through higher spending on transport infrastructure expected in next month’s annual budget. Many of these areas voted for Britain to leave the European Union, and some also voted for Johnson’s Conservative Party for the first time in December’s parliamentary election. However, better transport links alone are unlikely to redress the productivity gap, according to the report by the government’s Industrial Strategy Council, an advisory body of academics, business and community groups. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist who chairs the group, said skills, innovation, housing and community and civic groups played an important role, with complex links in terms of boosting or retarding local economies. “Regional difficulties typically have deep roots and are long-lasting,” Haldane wrote in a foreword to the report. “For well-performing places, this is a virtuous circle. For left-behind places, it is a vicious one.” Solving this problem will be slow, and focusing on just one piece of the picture is unlikely to be effective, he added. Regional inequality has declined slightly since the financial crisis, the report showed, largely due to a fall in output per hour worked in London.

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