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Saturday, June 25, 2022

week ending Jun 25

Fed chief says recession ‘a possibility’ as bank hikes rates - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged Wednesday that the central bank’s battle against high inflation could tip a so-far resilient U.S. economy into a recession. Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, the Fed chief ceded that the bank’s ongoing series of interest rate hikes could slow the economy enough to halt job gains and economic growth — the two signs of an economy in retreat. Inducing a recession is “not our intended outcome but certainly a possibility,” Powell said when asked by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) if the Fed could trigger a downturn. “And, frankly, the events of the last few months around the world have made it more difficult for us to achieve what we want,” he added. Powell’s appearance before the committee comes amid growing concern over the outlook for the U.S. economy and the rising chances of a recession hitting the nation sometime within the next two years. The Fed last week issued a 0.75 percentage point interest rate hike — the largest since 1994 — after Labor Department data showed inflation continuing to surge in May. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the panel of Fed officials in control of interest rates, was expected to hike rates by 0.5 percentage points at the conclusion of its previously scheduled meeting last month. But the FOMC moved faster than Powell and many of his colleagues signaled before the May surge of inflation triggered alarm at the Fed and in financial markets. A sharp rebound in oil prices and shocks to food, fertilizer and other key commodity supplies have also pushed prices higher across the world. When the Fed hikes interest rates, economic activity tends to slow as consumers and businesses feel the weight of higher borrowing costs. As spending declines, firms are often forced to keep prices stable or cut them, which throws cold water on inflation. Powell said Wednesday the Fed will likely need to raise rates above a “neutral” level — one that neither stimulates nor constrains the economy — and to a “moderately restrictive” point. Fed officials expect to raise their baseline interest rate to a midpoint of roughly 3 percent by the end of the year, according to projections released last week. The Fed’s goal is to slow the economy enough to reduce inflation without forcing Americans out of their jobs or stalling the growth altogether. But inflation has continued to surge despite several rapid rate hikes, and economists fear it may not come down until the Fed raises rates to a high enough level to slow the economy into recession.

Powell's warning: 'Surprises could be in store' on inflation - Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell vowed to do whatever it takes to tackle inflation but admitted he can’t control some cost spikes, including the most politically sensitive one — prices at the pump. Powell told the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday he doesn’t expect gas or grocery prices to go down as a result of the Fed’s campaign of rate hikes, which are designed to dampen spending but can’t help fix insufficient supply. “There’s really not anything that we can do about oil prices,” he said. “They’re set at the global level.” Fuel prices have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adding to inflation woes that could lead to significant electoral losses for Democrats this year. In a bid to address Americans’ anxiety, President Joe Biden called for a three-month pause on the federal gasoline tax, though it stands almost no chance of passage in Congress. Powell said inflation wouldn’t be this high without strong demand for goods and services by American consumers, but he also stressed that global supply chains are still experiencing strains, which the Fed doesn’t have the tools to address. And surging food prices “would certainly be much lower” if not for the war in Ukraine, he said. Powell appeared before the committee a week after the Fed pulled the trigger on a three-quarter percentage point rate hike — the largest single-meeting increase in nearly 30 years. Democrats on the panel expressed worry that the Fed was engaging in aggressive rate hikes to fight inflation that they say is predominantly caused by supply chain problems and the war. They fear it might hurt the economy without helping much on prices. “Rate increases make it more likely that companies will fire people and slash hours to shrink wage costs,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “Rate increases also make it more expensive for families to do things like borrow money to buy a house. Inflation is like an illness, and medicine needs to be tailored to the specific problem, otherwise you could make things a lot worse. And right now, the Fed has no control over the main driver of rising prices.”

Fed Chair Powell: Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress -This testimony will be live here at 9:30 AM ET. Report here. From Fed Chair Powell: Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress. An excerpt on inflation: I will begin with one overarching message. At the Fed, we understand the hardship high inflation is causing. We are strongly committed to bringing inflation back down, and we are moving expeditiously to do so. We have both the tools we need and the resolve it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses. It is essential that we bring inflation down if we are to have a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all....Over coming months, we will be looking for compelling evidence that inflation is moving down, consistent with inflation returning to 2 percent. We anticipate that ongoing rate increases will be appropriate; the pace of those changes will continue to depend on the incoming data and the evolving outlook for the economy. We will make our decisions meeting by meeting, and we will continue to communicate our thinking as clearly as possible. Our overarching focus is using our tools to bring inflation back down to our 2 percent goal and to keep longer-term inflation expectations well anchored.

Michael Hudson: The Fed’s Austerity Program to Reduce Wages - To Wall Street and its backers, the solution to any price inflation is to reduce wages and public social spending. The orthodox way to do this is to push the economy into recession in order to reduce hiring. Rising unemployment will oblige labor to compete for jobs that pay less and less as the economy slows.This class-war doctrine is the prime directive of neoliberal economics. It is the tunnel vision of corporate managers and the One Percent. The Federal Reserve and IMF are its most prestigious lobbyists. Along with Janet Yellen at the Treasury, public discussion of today’s inflation is framed in a way that avoids blaming the 8.2 percent rise in consumer prices on the Biden Administration’s New Cold War sanctions on Russian oil, gas and agriculture, or on oil companies and other sectors using these sanctions as an excuse to charge monopoly prices as if America has not continued to buy Russian diesel oil, as if fracking has picked up and corn is not being turned into biofuel. There has been no disruption in supply. We are simply dealing with monopoly rent by the oil companies using the anti-Russian sanctions as an excuse that an oil shortage will soon develop for the United States and indeed for the entire world economy.Covid’s shutdown of the U.S. and foreign economies and foreign trade also is not acknowledged as disrupting supply lines and raising shipping costs and hence import prices. The entire blame for inflation is placed on wage earners, and the response is to make them the victims of the coming austerity, as if their wages are responsible for bidding up oil prices, food prices and other prices resulting from the crisis. The reality is that they are too debt-strapped to be spendthrifts. The pretense behind the Fed’s recent increase in its discount rate by 0.75 percent on June 15 (to a paltry range of 1.50% to 1.75%) is that raising interest rates will cure inflation by deterring borrowing to spend on the basic needs that make up the Consumer Price Index and its related GDP deflator. But banks do not finance much consumption, except for credit card debt, which is now less than student loans and automobile loans.Banks lend almost entirely to buy real estate, stocks and bonds, not goods and services. Some 80 percent of bank loans are real estate mortgages, and most of the remainder loans are collateralized by stocks and bonds. So raising interest rates will not lead wage-earners to borrow less to buy consumer goods. The main price effect of less bank credit and higher interest rates is on asset prices – deterring borrowing to buy homes, as well as for arbitragers to buy stocks and bonds. The most immediate effect of the Federal Reserve’s credit tightening will be to reduce America’s home-ownership rate. This rate has been falling since 2008, from nearly 68 percent to just 61 percent today. The decline got underway with President Obama’s eviction of nearly ten million victims of junk mortgages, mainly black and Hispanic debtors. That was the Democratic Party’s alternative to writing down fraudulent mortgage loans to realistic market prices, and reducing their carrying charges to bring them in line with market rental values. The indebted victims of this massive bank fraud were made to suffer, so that Obama’s Wall Street sponsors could keep their predatory gains and indeed, receive massive bailouts. The costs of their fraud fell on bank customers, not on the banks and their stockholders and bondholders. . The Fed’s policy of raising interest rates will greatly increase the interest charges that prospective new home buyers will have to pay, pricing the carrying charge out of reach for many families.As the United States has become more debt-ridden, more than 50 percent of the value of U.S. real estate already is held by mortgage bankers. Homeowners’ equity – what they own net of their mortgage debt – has fallen even faster than home ownership rates have declined.Real estate is being transferred from “poor” hands to those of wealthy landlord corporations. Private capital companies – the funds of the One Percent – are going to pick up the pieces to turn homes into rental properties.

Senators ask Powell to alter Fed-pick process to boost diversity - Democratic senators led by Bob Menendez urged the Federal Reserve to take a more active role in the selection process of the heads of its regional banks so that more diverse candidates would be considered. In a letter to Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who will appear before Congress Wednesday and Thursday as part of legally mandated semiannual testimony, the lawmakers asked the Fed’s Washington-based Board of Governors to work with the 12 reserve banks to establish a standardized process for appointing its presidents and directors that “promotes meaningful transparency and public input.” “The current makeup of the Federal Reserve banks does not reflect the demographic and economic diversity of the districts they serve,” Menendez and Sens. Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Catherine Cortez Masto, Ben Ray Lujan, Bernie Sanders, Richard Durbin, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla wrote in a letter sent to Powell on Tuesday. The request comes on the heels of the appointment of a new president to the Reserve Bank of Dallas. Menendez had called for the new chief to be a Latino because Hispanic Americans make up almost 40% of the bank’s district. The New Jersey senator, a Latino, has criticized the Fed for its lack of diversity and in particularly for never having been led by a Latino American in its 108-year history. 'Critical decisions' “We just cannot continue down the same path and expect a different result,” Menendez said in an interview following the Dallas Fed announcement. “They’re making critical decisions that have consequences to one thing: the citizens of America. They’ve repeatedly ignored that when the Fed is making decisions on policy.” While two of the final candidates for the Dallas job were Latino, they were not chosen, Menendez said. The bank’s selection committee, made up of some of its directors, instead chose Lorie Logan, manager of the Fed’s system open market account at the Reserve Bank of New York, who isn’t Hispanic. The Board of Governors has final say over the selection committee’s pick.

China And Japan Cut US Treasury Holdings As Federal Reserve Hikes Rates - A strange narrative of "defeated inflation" is circulating in the mainstream in the wake of the Federal Reserve's recent 75bps interest rate hike, but we've seen this kind of false optimism from the Fed and the media before. Economists calling for a deflationary reaction might be holding their breath for a while as price inflation continues to climb for many months to come. This consequence is reinforced by the decline in foreign investment in US Treasury bonds.Higher interest rates and the promise of increasing yields have not been enough to lure outside investors into treasury markets, with treasuries now facing the worst bond market collapse in half a century. With the yield curve inverting once again, long term bonds are coming under scrutiny and the question now is: How will the US government pay off its exponential debts without ongoing stimulus from the Fed and an ever increasing balance sheet?More printing means more price inflation, but no printing also means more price inflation. This uncertainty has led China to dump US Treasuries to the lowest level in 12 years, and Japan, once a stalwart pillar of US investment, is cutting their holdings as well. Arguments can be made that this is part of molding currency markets to artificially increase or decrease exchange rates, but regardless of the reason, the decline in US treasuries along with the ongoing decline in the US dollar as the world reserve currency leads to one thing: More inflation.Overseas dollar holdings are in the tens of trillions. Estimates suggest that around 60% to 75% of all dollars are held in overseas coffers for use in international trade. Failing US bonds indicate a trend towards a decline in dollar usage. The end result would eventually be the reverse flow of dollars back into the US, causing even more inflation than we already have.The Fed's 75bps rate hike is a drop in the bucket compared to what will be needed to slow the inflationary/stagflationary crisis. Yield curve inversions can be a sign of coming recession, but not necessarily an end to price inflation. Yet, mainstream economists are already predicting deflation back to balance? This seems to be another disinformation campaign much like the "inflation is transitory" narrative of the past two years, which even Janet Yellen now admits was utterly wrong. The reaction of foreign creditors does not suggest an end to inflation; in fact, it indicates the opposite.

Chicago Fed: "Index suggests economic growth declined in May" - "Index suggests economic growth declined in May." This is the headline for this morning's release of the Chicago Fed's National Activity Index, and here is the opening paragraph from the report: The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to +0.01 in May from +0.40 in April. Two of the four broad categories of indicators used to construct the index made negative contributions in May, and two categories deteriorated from April. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, decreased to +0.20 in May from +0.40 in April. [more] The Chicago Fed's National Activity Index (CFNAI) is a monthly indicator designed to gauge overall economic activity and related inflationary pressure. It is a composite of 85 monthly indicators as explained in thisbackground PDF file on the Chicago Fed's website. The index is constructed so a zero value for the index indicates that the national economy is expanding at its historical trend rate of growth. Negative values indicate below-average growth, and positive values indicate above-average growth. The first chart below shows the recent behavior of the index since 2007. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, together with the 3-month moving average (CFNAI-MA3), which is more useful as an indicator of the actual trend for coincident economic activity.

Five High Frequency Indicators for the Economy These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment. Notes: I've added back gasoline supplied to see if there is an impact from higher gasoline prices. Apple has discontinued "Apple mobility", and restaurant traffic is mostly back to normal. The TSA is providing daily travel numbers. This data is as of June 19th.This data shows the 7-day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Light Blue), 2020 (Black), 2021 (Blue) and 2022 (Red). The dashed line is the percent of 2019 for the seven-day average. The 7-day average is down 12.1% from the same day in 2019 (87.9% of 2019). (Dashed line) Air travel has been moving sideways over the last several months, off about 10% from 2019. This data shows domestic box office for each week and the median for the years 2016 through 2019 (dashed light blue). Black is 2020, Blue is 2021 and Red is 2022. The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through June 16th. Movie ticket sales were at $297 million last week, up about 47% from the median for the week due to Jurassic Park. This graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four-week average. The red line is for 2022, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2021. Dashed purple is 2019 (STR is comparing to a strong year for hotels). This data is through June 11th. The occupancy rate was down 4.1% compared to the same week in 2019. The 4-week average of the occupancy rate is slightly above the median rate for the previous 20 years (Blue). This graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week of 2019. Blue is for 2020. Purple is for 2021, and Red is for 2022. As of June 10th, gasoline supplied was down 7.9% compared to the same week in 2019. Recently gasoline supplied has been running somewhat below 2019 levels. Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage. This graph shows how much MTA traffic has recovered in each borough (Graph starts at first week in January 2020 and 100 = 2019 average). Manhattan is at about 39% of normal. This data is through Friday, June 17th.

A recession is ‘not inevitable,’ Biden administration officials say - Biden administration officials on Sunday backed the president’s position that a recession is “not inevitable” as some economists and investors warn a period of economic decline is looming.The administration is sticking to its message that the warnings of a recession underestimate the “resilience” of the U.S. economy as it emerges from a pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine fuels price increases across the globe.“Not only is the recession not inevitable, but I think that a lot of people are underestimating those strengths and the resilience of the American economy. We have been through Delta and Omicron. We’ve had a war in Europe and all of the impacts that that has had and through it, the American economy has remained resilient. What we want to focus on now is taking every step we can to continue that progress,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said on “Fox News Sunday.”Deese’s message echoed what Biden said in a sit-down interview with the Associated Press last week, where he acknowledged that Americans are “really, really down” after years of a pandemic, a volatile economy and now record-high prices at the gas pump. Both Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen used the same language in separate interviews on Sunday.“I expect the economy to slow. It’s been growing at a very rapid rate as the economy, as the labor market is recovered and we reached full employment. It’s natural now that we expect to transition to steady and stable growth. I don’t think recession is at all inevitable,” Yellen said on ABC’s “This Week.”“Clearly, inflation is unacceptably high, it’s President Biden’s top priority to bring it down. And Chair Powell has said that his goal is to bring inflation down while maintaining a strong labor market. That’s going to take skill and luck, but I believe it’s possible. I don’t think a recession is inevitable,” she said, referring to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.The Fed took aggressive action last week to address skyrocketing prices, launching its biggest interest rate increase in nearly three decades. While the move seemed aimed at reassuring the public, there are concerns that the central bank might cause a recession as it tries to bring down inflation. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who has been a thorn in the administration’s side when it comes to his assessments about the White House’s economic policy, said Sunday that all the “precedents point towards a recession.”Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Summers said it’s likely that by the “end of next year, we would be seeing a recession in the American economy.”

Larry Summers says Americans will have to lose jobs to ease inflation -The U.S. unemployment rate must rise before Americans see any relief from inflation, economist and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said Monday. U.S. inflation is sitting at roughly 8.6% year-over-year, the highest point in 40 years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Summers argues the U.S. must sustain a jobless rate of more than 5% for five years if inflation is to drop. "We need five years of unemployment above 5% to contain inflation – in other words, we need two years of 7.5% unemployment or five years of 6% unemployment or one year of 10% unemployment," Summers said in a London speech, according to Bloomberg. "There are numbers that are remarkably discouraging relative to the Fed Reserve view," he added. The U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at 3.6%. Summers' statement came hours after President Joe Biden argued that a recession was not "inevitable." He said he came to that conclusion after a conversation with Summers. Biden made the statement during a testy exchange with reporters while on vacation in Delaware this weekend. "Economists are saying that a recession is more likely than ever," a reporter can be heard saying to Biden on a beach. "Now you sound like a Republican politician, I'm joking, that was a joke, that was a joke," Biden said. "But all kidding aside, no I don't think it is. I was talking to Larry Summers this morning, there's nothing inevitable about a recession." During a Sunday appearance on NBC, Summers himself had predicted that a recession was likely. Several high powered CEOs have also begun bracing for a recession. "My best guess is that a recession is ahead. I base that on the fact that we haven't had a situation like the present with inflation above 4% and unemployment beyond 4% without a recession following within a year or two. And so I think the likelihood is that in order to do what's necessary to stop inflation the Fed is going to raise interest rates enough that the economy will slip into a recession," Summers said this weekend.

Tariffs and Inflation - Jason Furman and Janet Yellen have both suggested that cutting Trump’s tariffs would be anti-inflationary. But most economists agree that the incidence of the tariffs is for the most part on US consumers, not foreign suppliers (pace the treasonous and ignorant former president, who crowed about all the revenues we were raising from China). So how is a tax cut anti-inflationary? There is a supply-side effect, which is all to the good, but the demand-side effects may well wash that out. So get rid of the tariffs but reverse the Trump tax cuts, which Manchin favors, through reconciliation. Taxes remain the same, so we’ve neutralized the effects on demand; and we still get the good supply side effects of a more rational global division of labor.

Revoking tariffs would not tame inflation: But it would leave our supply chains even more vulnerable to disruption -EPI Blog -With dwindling options on inflation and a mounting chorus of special interest business lobbies, the Biden-Harris administration is reportedly considering removing some Trump-era tariffs in an effort to moderate rising prices in the U.S. economy. Tempting as such an action may seem, it is certain to have unnoticeable effects on overall prices—at best. And the action will ensure, moving forward, that our supply chains will be even more vulnerable to the kinds of disruption risks we are seeing play out right now. These tariffs offer a tangible policy response to a real-world economy rife with market failures that invalidate the predictions of canonical economic trade models used to argue against keeping the tariffs. In the absence of a more comprehensive approach to U.S. industrial strategy, the tariffs are working to resuscitate America’s industrial base and have done so with no meaningful adverse impacts on prices. Pulling the rug from under this rebuild now, without first putting in place other policy solutions to address costly market failures, risks undoing this progress and jeopardizing the financial conditions in industries that are critical to building the infrastructure and renewable energy investments needed to power future economic growth.Key takeaways:

  • Section 232 and 301 tariffs have nothing to do with the current inflationary spike. The tariffs—implemented in 2018—had little effect on U.S. prices, and inflation only spiked after the pandemic recession began in February 2020.
  • Eliminating tariffs would not significantly reduce inflation. At best, removing these tariffs would result in a one-time price decrease of 0.2%—a drop in the bucket when consumer prices have risen by more than three times as much, on average, every month since January 2021, driven largely by pandemic-related global supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine.
  • Removing these tariffs would undermine U.S. steel and aluminum industries and increase domestic dependence on unstable supply chains. Tariff removal would result in job losses, plant closures, cancellations of planned investments, and further destabilize the U.S. manufacturing base at a time of intensifying strategic importance for good jobs, national security, and the race to green industry.

Two broad sets of tariffs implemented under U.S. trade law in 2018 are under review by the Biden-Harris administration. The first and biggest group retaliated against findings of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer in U.S. companies doing business in China, following a United States Trade Representative (USTR) investigation under Sec. 301 authority. This led the Trump administration to negotiate a “Phase One” economic agreement with China.The second set of tariffs invoked national security concerns under Sec. 232 of the trade act to bolster U.S. steel and aluminum industries, perennially at risk of financial insolvency amid long-running, state policy-driven global supply gluts. Since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China’s mushrooming steel investment accounted for nearly 70% of the growth in the world’s steel production capacity—a 423% increase—though the tariffs apply more broadly to cover imports from a range of countries where industrial policies are driving investment on a non-commercial basis, worsening chronic overcapacity in global steel and aluminum markets, among other energy- and carbon-intensive basic industries. Ever since these tariffs were enacted, business lobbies and orthodox economists have warned that tariffs would devastate the economy. One can debate what alternative policy outcomes were possible or preferable, but it is clear that tariffs didn’t make the sky fall. The data show no material adverse impact on consumers or the broader U.S. economy. Previous EPI analysis has shown that the Section 232 measures on steel andaluminum imports have had no meaningful real-world impact on the prices of the leading metal-consuming products (such as motor vehicles, machinery, construction materials, and more).

 Fed chairman contradicts Biden, says Russia’s Ukraine invasion not the main inflation driver --Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday appeared to contract President Biden’s repeated insistence that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the primary driver behind inflation in the U.S. During a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., got Powell to admit that inflation was high well before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Hagerty noted that in December 2021, inflation has risen to 7% – up from 1.4% in January 2021, when President Biden took office. Since Russian tanks rolled across the border of Ukraine, inflation has risen incrementally to its current level of 8.6%. With these statistics stated, Hagerty asked Powell if he believed the war in Ukraine was the "primary driver" of inflation as the Biden administration has tried to portray. "No inflation was high … certainly before the war in Ukraine broke out," Powell said. "I’m glad to hear you say that. The Biden administration seems to be intent on deflecting blame," Hagerty said, noting that as recently as Sunday, the administration "spread the misinformation that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the ‘biggest single driver of inflation.’" "I’m glad you agree with me that that is not the truth," Hagerty told Powell. Powell has sought to reassure the public that the Fed will raise interest rates high and fast enough to quell inflation, without tightening credit so much as to throttle the economy and cause a recession. Powell's testimony comes exactly a week after the Fed announced its three-quarters-of-a-point increase, its biggest hike in nearly three decades, to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%. With inflation at a 40-year high, the Fed's policymakers also forecast a more accelerated pace of rate hikes this year and next than they had predicted three months ago, with its key rate reaching 3.8% by the end of 2023. That would be its highest level in 15 years.

Senate panel approves record US military budget for 2022-2023 -The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to approve a record $858 billion in military spending for Fiscal Year 2023, an increase of $45 billion over the Biden administration’s budget request, and nearly $80 billion over the amount appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year. The vote came by a margin of 23-3, demonstrating the support of both capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans, for a further build-up of the US war machine, including the US intervention in the war in Ukraine. It is the 62nd consecutive year that the two parties have joined together to approve the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which has rubber-stamped US wars in Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as military aggression in Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and across the Middle East and North Africa. The gargantuan sum of $858 billion proposed under the NDAA is approximately a 10 percent increase over what was authorized last year and nearly 6 percent more than the Biden administration asked for. Much of the increase was to take into account the impact of inflation, particularly skyrocketing fuel costs, on the operations of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. American workers are expected to tighten their belts to pay for gasoline approaching $6 a gallon, but the US war machine will not be restricted in any way by such considerations. The Biden administration budget was already based on assuming a 7 percent inflation rate, but both Senate Republicans and Democrats insisted on a higher figure in calculating the Pentagon’s costs. The White House proposed an increase of $31 billion over the current fiscal year, from $782 billion to $813 billion. The Senate committee version of the NDAA thus represents a total increase of $76 billion over the current year.

House committee votes to up Biden defense budget plan by $37B -The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to approve approximately $37 billion more in military spending than President Biden proposed. During a markup of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, the committee voted 42 to 17 to increase top-line spending from $802 billion to about $840 billion. The increase, which was opposed by committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), was proposed in an amendment sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Elaine Luria (Va.). The billions of extra dollars would go toward more aircraft, ships, assistance for Ukraine, as well as combatting the current inflation crisis “to improve servicemember quality of life,” according to a statement put out by Golden after the vote. “We need only look to world events in Ukraine, read reports regarding China’s plans and actions in the South China Sea, or simply read the latest headlines about Iranian nuclear ambitions and North Korean missile tests, as well as ongoing terrorist threats, in order to see why this additional funding is necessary to meet the security challenges of our time,” Golden said in the statement. The extra dollars bring the House committee’s version closer to the $857 billion bill the Senate Armed Services Committee passed last week. Both armed services committees have blasted past the Biden administration’s original $813 billion defense top line.

U.S. to send four more long-range rocket launchers to Ukraine in new aid package - The White House will send four additional rocket launchers to Ukraine, as part of a new $450 million package of military assistance, the Department of Defense announced on Thursday. The move will double the number of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems sent to Ukraine amid that nation’s battle with Russian forces for control of the eastern Donbas region. “The United States continues to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with capabilities to meet its evolving battlefield requirements,” acting Pentagon press secretary Todd Breasseale said on Thursday in a news release. In addition to the rocket launchers, the aid package also includes weapons and equipment such as rounds of ammunition, tactical vehicles, machine guns and patrol boats. National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said at Thursday’s White House press briefing that the new aid package would bring the United States’ total security assistance to Ukraine to about $6.1 billion since Feb. 24. “The United States will continue to bolster Ukraine’s defenses and support its sovereignty and its territorial integrity,” Kirby said. “The bravery and determination of the Ukrainian armed forces, let alone their fellow citizens, continues to inspire the world, and we are committed to standing with them as they fight for their freedom.” The news comes days after POLITICO first reported that officials crafting the next tranche of aid at the Pentagon were leaning toward sending four units of the HIMARS mobile rocket launcher. The first four units the U.S. approved arrived in Ukraine this week, along with medium-range rockets that can strike targets up to 50 miles away, Ukrainian officials announced. The United Kingdom is also sending three units of a similar weapon, the American-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, with a range of 50 miles. Germany will also transfer three M270s to Kyiv. The first group of roughly 60 Ukrainians being trained on the HIMARS is now ready to use them, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said last week.

US will double number of long-range missile launchers deployed in Ukraine -The United States is preparing to further intensify its involvement in the war against Russia, doubling the number of long-range missile launchers sent to Ukraine. In recent weeks, the US has already vastly expanded its involvement in the war, sending a range of top-tier modern weapons systems to Ukraine and directly training thousands of Ukrainian troops on how to operate them. Over the past month, the US announced that it would be deploying M777 towed howitzers, M109 self-propelled howitzers, Harpoon anti-ship missiles systems, and HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) medium-to-long-range guided missile launcher vehicles. On Sunday, Politico cited two Defense Department officials saying the United States was planning to “double the number of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems sent to the country.” The US has already announced that it would send four HIMARS systems together with guided munitions capable of hitting targets 48 miles away. The UK is sending three American-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System vehicles, and Germany is sending three more. According to the Pentagon, the US has so far sent $6.3 billion in weapons to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration, in 12 separate installments. To date the US has committed:

  • Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
  • Over 6,500 Javelin anti-armor systems
  • Over 20,000 other anti-armor systems
  • Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • 126 155mm howitzers and 260,000 155mm artillery rounds
  • 108 tactical vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers
  • 20 Mi-17 helicopters
  • 200 M113 armored personnel carriers

With each new arms shipment, it is becoming increasingly impossible to deny the reality that the war being waged in Ukraine is a direct conflict between NATO and Russia, pitting the world’s two most powerful nuclear arsenals in a standoff that is rapidly spiraling out of control. The massive expansion of arms shipments is taking place as Russia appears poised to cut off thousands of Ukrainian troops fighting in the so-called “Sievierodonetsk pocket” in the East Ukrainian cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. On Sunday, the Kremlin claimed to have killed over 50 Ukrainian generals and officers in an attack on a center of the Ukrainian army in the Dnepropetrovsk region, including members of Ukraine’s general staff.

Russian hackers targeting U.S., other Ukraine allies - Russian intelligence agencies have been hacking into scores of organizations in the U.S. and other Ukraine-allied countries, according to a Microsoft report that shows Russia waging a global cyberwar alongside its attacks in Ukraine. In the report released Wednesday, Microsoft said that Russian hackers have attempted to infiltrate networks at more than 100 organizations in the U.S. and dozens across 42 other countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Targets have included the foreign ministries of NATO states, humanitarian organizations, think tanks, IT groups and energy suppliers. The hackers successfully infiltrated these networks in almost 30 percent of the attempts, and managed to steal data in about a quarter of those instances. The report illustrates the global breadth and reach of the Russian cyber campaign being waged to try to dissuade Ukraine’s allies from providing aid or to disrupt their operations. The volume of attempted hacks is also significantly higher than previously reported. “The destructive cyberattacks have been underreported because in a way, they are invisible to the naked eye, you only know they happen when they succeed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said during remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. “But what we see from our perspective at the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center and the literally 24 trillion signals a day is that it has been a formidable, intensive, even ferocious set of attacks.” The U.S. has been the main target, but Russian hackers have also directed attacks at Polish groups helping deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine, along with organizations in Baltic nations and Turkey. Ukraine has also been widely targeted. Microsoft found evidence that the Russian military conducted cyberattacks against 48 Ukrainian government agencies and other organizations, though Ukraine has been able to successfully repel most of these attacks. These have included cyberattacks coordinated with missile strikes on railroads and other transportation systems, and an attempt to breach the network of the nuclear power company in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine in early March — the day before it was occupied by Russian troops.

 Chinese State-Backed Hackers Targeting Major Telecom Companies: US Security Agencies -U.S. security agencies have warned that hackers backed by the Chinese regime have been targeting “major telecommunications companies and network service providers” since 2020.In a June 7 cybersecurity advisory, they urged those affected to take immediate remedial action.The advisory, coauthored by the National Security Agency (NSA), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said the hackers “continue to exploit publicly known vulnerabilities,” using tactics to bypass defenses and keeping themselves undetected.The agencies pointed out that the hackers allegedly utilized open-source tools, such as RouterSploit and RouterScan, and known software flaws in networking devices such as routers.“[T]hese devices are often overlooked by cyber defenders, who struggle to maintain and keep pace with routine software patching of Internet-facing services and endpoint devices,” noted the agencies.The agencies did not identify the victim companies in the advisory, but they included a list of the common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) most frequently exploited by the Chinese regime’s hackers since 2020, together with vulnerability types and the major vendors—Cisco, Citrix, D-Link, Fortinet, and Netgear.They urged potential victims to shore up their networks by applying immediate patches, updating infrastructure, and disabling unnecessary ports and protocols. The advisory is the latest of the U.S. government’s series of warnings on “Chinese malicious cyber activities,” which date back to 2017. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) lists all of its advisories, alerts, and malware analysis reports on “Chinese malicious cyber activities” from April 2017 onward. According to CISA’s list, Chinese regime-linked hackers targeted and intruded on U.S. oil and natural gas companies from 2011 to 2013.

The pro-Putin preacher the U.S. won't touch - He is one of Vladimir Putin’s most prominent supporters — a man of the cloth who offers spiritual cover for the autocrat’s invasion of Ukraine, all while suspected of profiting from that connection and ties to Russia’s security services. But Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has yet to be sanctioned by the United States, despite appeals by Ukrainian activists and others who see him as a destructive force in an already brutal war. The British and Ukrainians recently imposed sanctions on Kirill, while a European Union effort in early June was blocked by one country. Kirill’s reputed wealth, friendliness with Putin and long-suspected ties to Russia’s spy and security outfits have drawn comparisons to the dozens of oligarchs whose Kremlin connections have led to a battery of U.S. sanctions in recent months. It’s his preaching, however, that detractors say is the biggest problem — but which also could be the very reason the U.S. hasn’t yet penalized him. Kirill routinely urges his flock of millions to support Putin’s war effort, waving away any culpability over the invasion, while describing Russia’s opponents in Ukraine as “evil forces.” “We as a people have accepted the persecution,” Kirill said in a service over the weekend. “The feeling of love for the fatherland is growing and we see how our young guys are now defending Russia on the battlefield.” In the days after the world learned about the massacre of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, Kirill attended a military church and commended Russians as “peaceful, peace-loving and modest people,” who will be ready to “protect our home” under any circumstance. U.S. officials won’t say why they haven’t sanctioned Kirill, even as they insist they haven’t forgotten about him. “All options on [the] table,” a U.S. official said in an email. “We’re targeting higher value targets first.” Some analysts and former U.S. officials, however, suspect Kirill’s case might be extra complicated because he’s a religious figure. Generally speaking, the United States avoids sanctioning religious leaders, in part out of concern that doing so could undermine America’s promotion of free speech and religious freedom. Biden administration officials also may be calculating that going after him could unnecessarily anger millions of faithful Russian Orthodox worshippers. This is not a compelling argument for many Ukrainians watching their country being pummeled by the Kremlin. “As a chief cheerleader of the Russian regime, it is baffling that he has so far escaped sanctioning,” said Hanna Hopko, a former Ukrainian member of parliament.

House appropriators release bill to bolster EPA, Interior -House appropriators have proposed sizable increases for the Interior Department and EPA in a $44.8 billion spending bill as Democrats look to bolster President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda. The Interior-Environment bill for fiscal 2023 would be a $6.8 billion, 18 percent increase over current funding levels. The legislation, released late afternoon yesterday, is slated for a subcommittee markup this afternoon. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), chair of the Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement the bill supported Biden’s budget request and would “further the United States’ commitment to clean energy, environmental justice, health infrastructure on tribal lands, and the arts.” “Through investments in clean energy technology, climate mitigation programs, and by restoring environmental protection, the Interior bill will take a whole-of-government approach to securing a safe and habitable world for future generations,” Pingree said. The subcommittee will likely advance the legislation without amendment. Republicans, who have balked at federal spending increases, are expected to offer changes during next week’s full committee markup. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the full House Appropriations Committee, said the spending bill would help protect the environment and strengthen the economy.“We are in the middle of a climate crisis,” DeLauro said. “All around the world, climate change is fueling conflicts over scarce resources, forcing families from their homes, and increasing human suffering. With this bill, House Democrats are confronting this crisis while creating good-paying American jobs

5 takeaways from the energy, environment spending bills - House appropriators yesterday advanced legislation to increase energy and environment spending.The House Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee approved legislation to provide $44.8 billion in fiscal 2023, a $6.8 billion increase over current dollars (E&E Daily, June 21).The Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee backed a $56.3 billion measure that means a $3.4 billion increase over current spending (E&E Daily, June 21). Both bills were passed by voice vote with no amendments. They are headed for full committee markups next week, where GOP opposition will be more pronounced. Here are five takeaways so far:

  • 1. Interior-EPA gets double-digit hike/ Interior-EPA programs are slated to receive one of the largest percentage increases, about 18 percent, of any of the 12 annual spending bills in fiscal 2023. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday divided up $1.6 trillion in overall fiscal 2023 discretionary among the funding measures. All told, the dollars represent about a 9 percent increase over current fiscal 2022 discretionary spending of about $1.47 trillion. While Interior-EPA would receive one of the largest hikes, it remains one of the smaller annual spending bills, and the increase is about $6.8 billion.By contrast, the Defense Department — the largest of all funding bills — would get only a 4.6 percent increase but one worth $33.2 billion in new spending.
  • 2. Dems on board with Biden 0The proposed House fiscal 2023 Interior-EPA spending bill is a bit less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s budget request, but that’s not a sign of any rift between Capitol Hill and the White House.“There were no Biden requests that I wouldn’t have met and exceeded if everything was available to me and I didn’t have to balance out what we could fund,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), chair of the Interior-EPA Subcommittee.Pingree said both the White House and Democrats favor the same increases, though lawmakers had to limit their ambitions to stay within spending allocations.
  • 3. Clean energy a focus. House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and ranking member Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) during their spending bill markup yesterday. | Francis Chung/E&E NewsWith soaring gasoline prices, House Democrats are using the spending bills to pour dollars into clean energy efforts. In the Energy-Water bill, Department of Energy spending would rise $3.3 billion, with much of the increase going toward clean and renewable energy efforts.
  • 4. Endangered wildlife prioritized. Wildlife advocates praised appropriators for taking steps toward easing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s backlog for endangered species listings. FWS would get $1.9 billion, a $230 million increase over current spending. That includes $25.4 million for listing animals and plants, a $4.7 million increase.
  • 5. Earmarks to grow. More community spending projects, commonly referred to as earmarks, are expected in this year’s appropriations bills compared to last year, when the once derided practice made its return to Capitol Hill.“People made bigger requests, so we weren’t able to fulfill all the dollar requests that they asked for. But in our committee, we were able to get through most of them,” said Pingree, noting the panel did so by scaling back the size of earmarks. Pingree said EPA state, tribal and assistance grants are again the bill’s top earmark targets, reflecting the bipartisan popularity of steering projects to local communities. House appropriators will release the Interior-EPA earmarks next week. Last year, 608 earmarks worth about $1 billion were included in the spending legislation (E&E Daily, May 17).

Clean energy, water projects get boost in spending bill - House Democrats’ $56.3 billion fiscal 2023 Energy-Water spending bill released last night seeks to bolster a host of Biden administration clean energy and water infrastructure deployment goals that are running into funding limitations this year. In total, the bill’s topline number would represent an increase of $3.4 billion above the fiscal year 2022 level, including $48.2 billion for the Department of Energy, $8.9 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and $1.9 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation. New to the discussion is a $100 million so-called Defense Production Act Domestic Clean Energy Accelerator, a new program at DOE meant to follow through on the promises made by the White House earlier this month to fund domestic manufacturing of renewable energy technologies. President Joe Biden’s executive order requires congressional action via additional appropriations (E&E Daily, June 10). The fiscal 2023 Defense spending bill also includes Defense Production Act money (E&E Daily, June 15). “By propelling energy independence and rebuilding critical water infrastructure, we will lower costs, strengthen communities, and support good-paying jobs for hardworking Americans across the country,” Approrpiations Energy-Water Subcommittee Chair Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said in a statement. Democrats have weathered sustained criticism over rising energy prices. High gasoline prices and rising utility-sector costs have hit voters hard, due in part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and post-pandemic economic recovery. The bill attempts to respond to those concerns. Much of the new spending would go to DOE and its clean energy programs, which would see a $3.3 billion increase compared to fiscal 2022-enacted numbers and equal to the Biden administration’s request.

Biden eyes deal as Manchin resists clean energy incentive - National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said this weekend the administration was hopeful a budget reconciliation deal that tackles inflation and utility costs could be done before September. Deese told CBS News “Face the Nation” Sunday that the potential package would be the “most impactful” thing the administration and its Democratic allies could do to lower energy prices. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have been meeting to craft a possible accord with provisions to address climate change. “Senator Schumer is working with his caucus to try to get a final package in place. And we’re hopeful that we’ll see progress on that in the coming weeks,” said Deese. The deal’s contours will likely include mandates to reduce the deficit and record inflation. High energy prices are also on the agenda this week as Democrats scramble for a response to relentless Republican criticism. Manchin — who derailed talks on budget reconciliation last year after the House passed the $1.7 trillion “Build Back Better Act” — has held multiple meetings with Schumer (D-N.Y.) on a slimmed-down, reworked package to carry key Democratic priorities. Many Democrats are refusing to comment on the talks, worried of scuttling progress. But people familiar with the negotiations have told POLITICO and E&E News about Manchin’s hardening views against direct pay options for renewable energy tax incentives. Democrats have long accepted that Manchin will have final say on any budget reconciliation deal. But many House Democrats, frustrated by the inaction and the looming August recess, rallied last week to nudge the Senate to hurry up. The House Democrats, who held a press conference and sent a letter to President Joe Biden, did not provide details about what they’re willing to accept (E&E Daily, June 17)

Joe Manchin Opposing Energy Payments Seen Blunting Value of Credits -

  • Direct pay one of last remaining hurdles to giant budget bill
  • Electric vehicle tax credit also said to be outstanding issue

Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to giving clean-energy developers direct payments may significantly reduce the tax credits they could get from Democrats’ reconciliation package, according to analysts. The West Virginia Democrat is opposed to making the credits refundable, the so-called direct-pay option that would let developers avoid pursuing complicated tax-equity financing, according to two people familiar with his views.

Democrats may drop another clean energy proposal to appease Manchin - Democrats are likely to drop or scale back a key proposal in their party-line bill that would make it easier for clean energy developers to use federal tax credits, as they race to clinch a deal with holdout Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) in the coming weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter.Manchin has indicated that he will not support a budget reconciliation bill that includes direct pay, in which payments are sent directly to companies that produce clean energy for consumers, according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations. Politico first reported Manchin's opposition to the proposal.The Democrat from West Virginia has expressed concern that direct pay would be a handout to the private sector and could reward companies that are losing money, the two people said. He has also voiced concern that the policy could be inflationary amid the fastest inflation in four decades, one of the people said.While the debate over direct pay is wonky, it has major implications for whether the United States deploys renewable energy projects at the speed and scale necessary to tackle climate change and meet President Biden's clean energy goals. The issue comes as Democrats face a narrowing window to pass the package, with just three legislative days left before lawmakers leave town for the Fourth of July holiday.Here's how direct pay works, why Manchin's concerns are somewhat ironic, and why it all matters:Clean energy developers often don't have enough tax liability to use clean energy credits themselves. As a workaround, many developers go to the tax equity markets, where they trade the tax credits for a smaller amount of cash upfront.But Democrats say this system is problematic because some of the value of the credit goes to financial markets, rather than clean energy development. They argue that direct pay is a simple solution.“Current energy tax credits are often difficult to access, with big banks serving as middlemen for byzantine agreements,” Senate Finance ChairRon Wyden (D-Ore.), whose panel has jurisdiction over the credits, said in a statement to The Climate 202.“Our goal here is to make it easier for startups and nonprofits in particular to deploy the credits to fund projects,” Wyden added. “Cutting out the middlemen will help get projects off the ground more quickly.” When asked Tuesday about direct pay, Wyden declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations with Manchin.

Cori Bush Steers Funding to Fight Climate Crisis to Biden - PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S efforts to tackle the climate crisis through executive action got an assist this week, courtesy of Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. One hundred million dollars in new funding, announced Tuesday alongside other measures in the upcoming Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies annual appropriations bill, would give the president resources to accelerate the production of solar panels, transformers, and other green technologies.In the face of a stalled legislative agenda, Biden has turned to the Defense Production Act, invoking it twice this year to boost the production of green energy technology — once in April and again earlier this month. The DPA enables the president to make large adjustments to U.S. manufacturing policy — an authority that House progressives have been calling for Biden to use more aggressively. Senators of both parties, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have also called on Biden to use the DPA to support green technology manufacturing — making passage into law, once the appropriations bill passes the House and is amended in the Senate, more likely.The new funding would strengthen the effectiveness of Biden’s action and bolster precedent for using executive authority to fight the climate crisis. The text of the provision gives Biden wide latitude in deciding how exactly to use the funds in support of those technologies, as is standard for policy created through the DPA.The measure’s inclusion was the result of a last-minute, behind-the-scenes effort by Bush, whose office has regularly led efforts for bold climate legislation. In a statement provided to The Intercept, Bush praised the inclusion of the funding. “The DPA is one of the most important tools we have to take on high gas prices and the climate crisis at the same time,” she said. “To protect all of our communities, particularly those with the greatest need, we must take robust measures to transition to renewable energy and lower prices as quickly as possible. This funding helps us achieve that.”Progressives in Congress have called on Biden to use his broad executive authority to make headway on a suite of Democratic priorities. In March, the Congressional Progressive Caucus pushed Biden to invoke the DPA as part of an aggressive administrative response to the climate crisis. Bush also introduced similar legislation with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., to bolster the Defense Production Act earlier this year.But while House leadership and the White House have been broadly supportive of the provision, Biden’s latest invocation of the DPA left members of the House Appropriations Committee with little time to account for the new policy in ongoing negotiations. After individual Appropriations subcommittees receive their top-line figures, which in this case roughly coincided with Biden’s announcement at the beginning of June, it is difficult to secure funding for new priorities. By coordinating discussions among the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Bush — a first-term representative — exerted a rare amount of influence over a process that is usually guided by senior members of the caucus.In a press release marking the subcommittee’s release of the draft bill, Kaptur touted the inclusion of the DPA funding, indicating that Bush’s efforts have significant buy-in from key players in the appropriations process. “From unleashing energy innovation and utilizing the Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing, to responsibly managing water resources and tackling the crisis of climate change – this Energy and Water bill delivers for America’s needs in the 21st century,” Kaptur said.If the new funding survives ongoing negotiations, it may embolden progressives to demand more executive action from the administration. Legislation that endorses Biden’s use of the DPA to support green energy technology would provide the administration with a layer of insulation from legal challenges over the issue going forward. If Democrats lose one or both chambers of Congress in November, that precedent could be key to ensuring that the administration has tools to continue fighting the climate crisis.

Yellen Says ‘Stay Tuned’ for Word on Russian Oil Price-Cap Plan -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said talks are continuing on how the US and its allies might cap the price of Russian oil exports, possibly through a plan that offers exceptions to the European ban on insuring Russian oil shipments. “We are continuing to have productive conversations, today and with our partners and allies around the world with how to further restrict energy revenues to Russia while preventing spillover effects to the global economy,” Yellen said during a press conference in Toronto alongside Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. “We are talking about price caps or a price exception that would enhance and strengthen recent and proposed energy restrictions by Europe, the United States, the UK and others,” she said. The US and Canada have banned imports of Russian oil while the European Union has agreed to prohibit seaborne imports of Russian crude in six months. Atop that, the EU has worked toward coordinating with some Group of Seven members, including the UK, on a ban on the insurance services needed to ship Russian oil anywhere in the world. About 95% of the world’s tanker liability coverage is arranged through a London-based insurance organization called the International Group of P&I Clubs that has to heed European law. Asked to explain further her “price exception” comment, Yellen said it would be “essentially a price cap” and act as an exception to the European insurance ban. When asked if it would be ready for G-7 leaders who meet June 26-28 in Germany, she said, “Stay tuned,” adding, “we’re really actively working on this with our partners.” Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, global oil prices have risen dramatically, exacerbating inflation already whipped high during the pandemic by supply-chain disruptions and, especially in the US, the fiscal response to the pandemic. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline in the US recently topped $5. On a related topic, Yellen rejected the idea that restarting the Keystone XL pipeline project would help increase supplies of oil and lower prices because it would take years to accomplish, though she added the decision is not in her hand. President Joe Biden, who campaigned on an ambitious climate platform, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would would run between the US and Canada -- hours after taking office. The project was under construction when Biden revoked its presidential permit. It would have transported more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day.

US Treas Sec Yellen says a gasoline-tax holiday should be under consideration - US Treasury Secretary Yellen is speaking, mainly on oil and gas:

  • We are making supply chains more resilient to protect us.
  • They Keystone XL pipeline is up to Biden to decide, and it would take years to have an impact
  • I do not see resuming the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a short term measure that can address high oil prices
  • The US is having talks on oil-price caps
  • We are continuing to have productive conversations on restricting energy revenues to Russia without spillovers to the global economy
  • An exception, or ban on insurance for certain Russian oil shipments would effectively provide a price cap on oil
  • Gas tax reductions from US states have reasonably high pass-through to prices, but less at federal level
  • A gas-tax holiday should be under consideration
  • Evidence is mixed on the level of pass-through from gasoline tax holiday to lower prices
  • Canada can supply critical metals and minerals needed by US industries
  • The discussions with Canada on friend-shoring of supply chains at a relatively early stage
  • Evidence is mixed on the level of pass-through from gasoline tax holiday to lower prices

I know it's a holiday there in the US but Yellen should probably not be smoking whatever it is she is smoking if speaking with the media.

Biden's top economic advisor says restarting the Keystone XL pipeline now won't lower oil prices - President Joe Biden's top economic advisor suggested Friday the White House is not rethinking its decision to cancel the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline in response to elevated crude and gasoline prices. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNBC the Biden administration is instead concentrating on policies and strategies that can deliver lower fuel prices as soon as possible. He pointed to Biden's decision Thursday to begin releasing 1 million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months. "Any action on Keystone wouldn't actually increase supply, and it would transmit oil years in the future," Deese said in a "Squawk on the Street" interview. "What we're focused on right now is what we can do right now, and ... there are wells that are shut in and that can be brought back online over the course of the next couple months. What we need right now is to address the immediate supply disruption," he added. The Russia-Ukraine war delivered a supply shock to global oil markets, which had already been tight as demand recovered from Covid-pandemic related declines. As crude prices hit record highs recently so has prices at the gasoline pumps. Russia, a major energy exporter, has been hit with a wave of sanctions after it invaded neighboring Ukraine. The U.S. banned Russian oil imports, in an attempt to punish Moscow, and the U.K. also is phasing them out. Oil prices have retreated from their early March peaks, when they traded at their highest levels since 2008, However, they are still are up considerably for the year, adding to inflationary pressures in the economy. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. oil benchmark, traded around $100 per barrel Friday, up 35% so far in 2022. Brent crude, the international benchmark, hovered around $104 per barrel.

Biden says he's considering gas tax holiday as admin targets July 4 announcement -President Joe Biden said Monday that he is seriously considering a temporary halt in the federal gas tax as the White House looks to take steps to lower the cost at the pump ahead of the July 4 holiday. White House officials say the July 4 weekend, when tens of millions of Americans are expected to hit the road, is a target for announcing new measures to help lower record-high gas prices. Biden said Monday that he could make a decision on pausing the federal gas tax by the end of this week. "I hope I have a decision based on data," he told reporters traveling with him in Rehoboth, Del. A gas tax holiday would require congressional action and one White House official acknowledged it would be challenging. "Republicans don't want gas prices to come down," the official said. "They want Biden to suffer." The official pointed to a comment made by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., to the Wall Street Journal last November saying rising gas prices and inflation are "a gold mine for us." Other possible steps the administration is considering include a gas rebate, though one White House official dismissed the idea as "a stretch" and said it is "not in serious contention." While a gas tax holiday appears to be getting more serious attention, officials said among the unresolved questions is how long it would last. The effort to announce new measures comes ahead of a meeting Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm plans to meet with oil refining executives, which a source familiar with the plans said is scheduled for Thursday, June 23. The meeting comes amid growing tensions between the White House and the U.S. oil industry. Granholm noted on CNN on Sunday that if the administration moved forward on a federal gas tax pause, some federal funds could stop going toward roadway projects as part of the infrastructure law Biden signed last year. "If we remove the gas tax, that takes away the funding that was just passed by Congress to be able to do that," she said. "So you know, that's one of the challenges, but I'm not saying that that's off the table."

Biden expects decision on federal gas tax holiday by end of week -President Biden on Monday told reporters he hoped to make a final decision about whether to support a federal gas tax holiday by the end of the week as high fuel prices continue to pose a problem. “I hope I have a decision … by the end of the week,” Biden said from Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he spent the weekend. Biden did not rule out sending gas rebate cards to Americans, though administration officials have in recent days sounded cool to the idea. Suspending the federal gas tax would require an act of Congress, but a public push by Biden in favor of the policy could help spur action on Capitol Hill. An estimate from the Penn Wharton Budget Model released earlier this year found that suspending the federal gas tax from March to December of this year would reduce average per-capita gasoline spending by between $16 and $47 for that period.

Democrats cool to Biden's gas tax holiday plan - Congressional Democrats offered mixed responses yesterday to a White House-backed proposal to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax, with some citing fears that it would do little to help consumers. Lawmakers will likely face the prospect head on in the coming days. Senior administration officials familiar with the plan told E&E News yesterday that President Joe Biden plans to announce as soon as today his decision to back a pause through the end of September on the 18.4 cent per gallon tax. The goal is to cool rising gasoline prices. Suspending the gas tax would need congressional approval. It has been an idea floated by moderate Democrats in recent months as prices have soared. But getting Congress to agree on the matter could be a tough sell. Most Republicans, and even some Democrats, consider the idea a gimmick that would do little to ease recent price shocks. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, repeated his displeasure with such a move, urging Democrats in a statement “to see this for what it is: a short-sighted proposal that relies on the cooperation of oil companies to pass on minuscule savings to consumers — the same oil companies that made record profits last year and a staggering $35 billion in the first quarter of 2022.” Fears have mounted that a pause could also undercut the highway trust fund, which derives most of its revenue to improve roads and bridges from the tax. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in a tweet last night that “suspending the primary way that we pay for infrastructure projects on our roads is a shortsighted and inefficient way to provide relief.” He added, “We should explore other options for lowering energy costs.” A senior administration official said the White House will also call on states to suspend their own gas taxes. Indeed, gasoline tax holidays have been implemented in multiple states in the face of rising prices, including in Maryland, Georgia, Connecticut, New York and Florida. Other states are pondering implementing their own approach. In the case of Maryland, the pause was constructed in such a way that ensured the relief would go toward consumers, and not just gas stations, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday. “I think it provided temporary relief but it didn’t buy permanent relief,” Cardin said. “And it affected the financing of infrastructure in Maryland, so it was mixed results.” Biden yesterday downplayed the impact a pause could have on federal infrastructure dollars. He said the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed by Congress last year has given enough federal dollars to provide some cushion for federal improvement funds. “Look, it will have some impact, but it’s not going to be impact on major road construction and major repairs,” Biden told reporters. “Is it going to, in fact, make it difficult to maintain our roads? The answer is: We have plenty of capacity to do that.” While Democrats are cool to the tax holiday idea, Republicans yesterday said they see little incentive for helping the White House out of a jam that they blame the Biden administration for creating.

Pelosi declines to endorse gas tax holiday -Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Democratic leaders will gauge the party’s support for President Biden’s proposed gas tax holiday but stopped short of endorsing the idea, suggesting a rare break between the Speaker and her White House ally on an issue that’s threatening Democrats’ prospects at the polls in November. “We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the President’s proposal in the House and the Senate, building on the strong bills to lower prices at the pump already passed by House Democrats including the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act and the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act,“ Pelosi said in a statement. The statement represents a tepid response from a Democratic leader who’s typically effusive in praising the president’s agenda, economic and otherwise. And it reflects the concerns of a number of Democrats on Capitol Hill that suspending the federal gas tax simply won’t show up as significant savings at the pump. “The challenge on the gas tax is: Is the savings really going to flow to the consumer? Or is it going to be pocketed by the oil companies?” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Those are legitimate questions.” Pelosi’s legislative references were to a pair of bills designed to reduce prices gas prices, one by curbing price gouging and the other by promoting homegrown biofuels. Both have passed through the House in recent weeks, though they have little chance of moving through the Senate.

Biden announces a likely doomed gas tax holiday - President Joe Biden on Wednesday called for suspending the federal gasoline tax, in his latest bid to curb rising fuel prices, though it stands almost no chance of passage in Congress.Biden asked lawmakers to pass a three-month pause on the federal 18-cent-per-gallon levy, casting the proposal as a temporary measure that would provide relief to Americans without harming the road-building projects the tax traditionally funds.The president also urged individual states to suspend their own gas taxes during that period, or seek ways to offer similar discounts from high prices at the pump. It’s a reflection of the intensifying political pressure on a White House combating near-record levels of inflation.“A federal gas tax suspension alone won’t fix the problem we face,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday night. “But it will provide families a little breathing room.” Biden’s gas tax holiday, however, has already been met with skepticism from senior Democrats in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have questioned whether the policy will lead to savings at the pump, rather than excess profits for gas companies. Democrats chose not to include it in their own bill aimed at lowering gas prices last month.“I’ve not been a proponent of the gas tax,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a brief interview on Tuesday night. “I just don’t know that it gives much relief.”White House officials began telegraphing their intentions over the weekend: Multiple Democrats received phone calls from aides in the legislative affairs office, informing them Biden was strongly considering the idea.On Tuesday, Biden offered a preemptive defense of the proposal, arguing that while it would have some financial effect on the highway trust fund, “it’s not going to have an impact on major road construction and major repairs.”The White House estimates that a three-month suspension of the tax would cost the trust fund $10 billion, which officials said could be offset through other unspecified revenues.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine opposes President Biden's gas tax holiday proposal - — In an effort to help curb the high gasoline prices across America, President Joe Biden has called on Congress to suspend gas and diesel taxes for three months. Biden is also encouraging states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief.Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is apparently not on board with that idea.In a statement released to 3News, DeWine press secretary Dan Tierney says the governor believes the Biden Administration's energy policies are to blame for the continually high gas prices. "Governor DeWine has noted that the most significant things our country can do to reduce gas prices is to increase fuel refining capacity and reverse Biden administration policies that have had the adverse effect of reducing supply and increasing gasoline prices," the statement read. The statement follows a tweet that DeWine put out in May criticizing Biden for high gas prices. "Gas prices are at an all-time high," DeWine wrote. "While @JonHusted and I have worked to keep pipelines open, President Biden and his Administration have restricted pipelines, driving up gas prices and hurting Ohioans."

Congress likely to reject gas tax push - Congress is likely to quash the White House effort to back a suspension of the federal gasoline tax. The White House has flirted for weeks with the idea of temporarily halting the 18-cent tax as one way to bring relief to drivers amid record gas prices — and President Biden is expected to officially announce support for it on Wednesday. But with skepticism spanning the ideological spectrum — from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to much of the GOP — the idea is unlikely to make it across the finish line. Biden’s position on the gasoline tax issue had been unclear for weeks, but the president will call on Congress to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel taxes. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre affirmed on Tuesday, prior to the announcement, that if Biden supported the measure, he’d be looking at an act from Congress. “The way we see it is there would be congressional action,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during a press briefing. “The president is looking at an array of options to figure out how he is going to help give relief to the American public, especially as they are looking at gas prices at the pump,” she said. “This is a No. 1 priority for the president.” Doubts about pausing the federal gasoline tax are coming from both allies and foes of the White House. Democrats have expressed concerns that some of the savings may get passed to oil companies rather than consumers and have also raised worries about a reduction in federal highway spending that is funded by the tax. “We have a situation where there’s money coming out of the Highway Trust Fund, it’s going to the oil companies, they may not give it to the consumer, and it has to be paid for. … That’s the con,” Pelosi, who is among those who have expressed reservations, said during a March press conference. Pelosi’s office declined to comment further for this story. Other Democrats, such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (Ore.), have made similar points.

Biden’s proposed federal tax cut on gas could cost dearly in the future - America’s hard-pressed drivers may be about to receive a holiday. On Wednesday Joe Biden called on Congress to suspend the federal tax on gas and diesel until September as the country struggles with soar away costs at the pump. But experts warned the tax holiday is unlikely to have a major impact on prices and will probably further harm the US’s already battered roads and bridges. If the tax cut even gets passed. Blaming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the surge in gas prices Biden proposed cutting the 18-cents-a-gallon federal taxes on fuel until September and called on states to cut their gas taxes too. “Together, these actions could help drop the price at the pump by up to $1 a gallon or more. It doesn’t reduce all the pain, but it will be a big help,” said Biden. The tax cut’s first obstacle may be its last. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, called the plan an “ineffective stunt” and other critics in his own party may join Republicans in blocking any cut. But with prices still soaring and midterm elections looming the administration is increasingly looking for ways to spare the public from prices at the pump, currently averaging at just under $5 a gallon. The non-partisan Tax Foundation called the plan a “uniquely ill-suited policyfor addressing rising prices”. Pointing out that the money from the tax is theprimary funding source for highway construction and its suspension could cost $10bn in funding. “Anything that could help the price at the pump is good, but it’ll come at a significant cost to the federal government that supposedly uses that money for the highway fund to maintain highways,” said Mark Finley, fellow in energy and global oil at the center for energy studies at Rice University. US energy economists also warn that dropping taxes on gasoline – a similar program has been suggested in the UK and other countries – does not address the fundamental issues of high demand.In a February report, the committee for a responsible federal budget found a federal gas tax holiday could “further increase demand for gasoline and other goods and services at a time when the economy has little capacity to absorb it”.“Gas prices are high because supply and demand are tight in the US and around the world both for oil and refined products. The prices are a signal that producers should produce more and consumers should consume less. You don’t fix the problem and you may exacerbate it, if you try to hide those signals,” said Finley.Moreover, prices may surge when the tax is lifted, according to a study released from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, Maryland introduced a month-long gas tax holiday. The study found that prices rose when it expired and the tax may have cost the state $100m.

Suspend transit fares instead of the gas tax, climate advocates tell Biden -President Biden should be pushing for a transit fare holiday, rather than a gas tax holiday, if he's serious about tackling climate change and cutting emissions from America's car-centric transportation system, according to climate advocates and some House Democrats.Biden appealed to Congress on Wednesday to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel tax for three months, as the national average price of gas hovers at nearly $5 a gallon. But his proposal faces skepticism from lawmakers in both parties — and even some White House economistsand Treasury Department officials — who worry that it would not meaningfully bring down prices at the pump.And some Democrats say Biden, who took office promising ambitious action to fight climate change, should reduce costs for consumers in a way that doesn't increase planet-warming emissions from fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.“There's a whole series of things we could do to reduce our dependence on single-occupancy vehicles, which is killing people,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told The Climate 202 on Wednesday.“There's a whole suite of opportunities in terms of dealing with bike share as mass transit, giving relief in terms of transit fares, and helping people in terms of biking and walking,” said Blumenauer, who often wears a bicycle pin on his lapel.Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst withFrontier Group, a nonpartisan research and public policy organization, echoed that assessment.“If we're looking to address climate change and to give people flexibility to avoid high gas prices in their daily lives, then we should be giving them as many choices as we can,” Dutzik told The Climate 202. “And providing transit fare relief would help people who have access to transit make better use of it.”The transportation sector recently surpassed the power sector as the country's largest source of planet-warming pollution, accounting for 27 percent of all carbon emissions in 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cars and trucks produce the bulk of those emissions.To reach Biden's goal of slashing economywide emissions in half by 2030, climate advocates say the administration should not only encourage electric vehicle adoption, but also incentivize carpooling, transit ridership, biking and walking. “In a lot of parts of the country, you sort of have to drive — you don't have other options,” said Matt Casale, director of environment campaigns for U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “So there has to be a longer-term strategy to give people better options to make it easier not to drive.”

Biden blames Russia for gas prices as he presses Congress, states and oil companies - - The White House on Wednesday again blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine for recent hikes in fuel prices, as President Joe Biden pushed for Congress to suspend the federal gas tax.Both Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged on Wednesday that a gas tax holiday wouldn’t be enough on its own to counteract the forces raising gas prices, but framed it as an important step in a continuing process to help American consumers as oil supplies are constrained.“We could have turned a blind eye to Putin’s murderous ways,” Biden said in a short speech at the White House, referring to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. “The price of gas wouldn’t have spiked the way it has. I believe that would have been wrong.”The president contrasted the bipartisan support for Ukraine with criticism of his administration on rising gas prices. His administration has facedmounting disapproval for near-record levels of inflation.“Are you saying that we would rather have lower gas prices in America and Putin’s iron fist in Europe?” Biden said. “I don’t believe that.”Biden asked oil companies to increase refining capacity and pass “every penny” of their savings from the proposed gas tax holiday on to consumers. Earlier Wednesday he called for a three-month suspension of the 18-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax, but it seems unlikely to pass in Congress.The conversation between the administration and both Democrats and Republicans is ongoing, Granholm said.

 Oil CEOs will visit White House for emergency meeting - Responding to President Joe Biden’s call for an explanation of soaring petroleum prices and surging industry profits, oil and gas executives will visit the White House tomorrow for an emergency meeting with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Granholm and White House officials will meet with executives from BP PLC, Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66 Co., the companies confirmed to E&E News. Other oil majors, including Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp., didn’t confirm their attendance. “We look forward to engaging with the Administration,” a Phillips 66 spokesperson said in a statement yesterday. “We are a company of problem-solvers, and only good things can come from working collaboratively to address near- and long-term issues facing our country and energy consumers.” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden won’t attend the meeting, but is keenly interested in its outcome. She said seven CEOs will attend, but she did not name them. “They’re going to sit down and have a conversation, the second step is coming up with a solution and ideas,” she said. Facing political heat for gasoline prices averaging around $5 a gallon nationwide, Biden has sought to partly shift blame to oil and gas companies, which he said are sitting on 9,000 unused drilling leases on public lands and also cutting refining. Biden told reporters Monday that he wants the oil and gas companies to justify profits of $35 billion in the first quarter, a time when gas prices have skyrocketed to historic levels due to supply constraints, increased demand and Russia’s war on Ukraine. “They don’t want to get caught in a position where eventually they’re going to move to alternative energy, renewable energy, and they don’t want to get stuck,” Biden said. “Well, guess what? There’s a logical transition to be made here. And I want an explanation from them as to why they aren’t refining more oil.” Biden is facing headwinds from two opposing directions. On the one hand, high gasoline prices are costing American drivers hundreds of dollars more each year and helping fuel inflation. On the other, the administration’s climate policy is flagging amid congressional gridlock. Later this week, Biden will embark on a trip to Europe and the Middle East where he will ask Group of Seven countries to do more on climate, and then sit down with Saudi leaders to ensure more oil keeps flowing. The purpose of tomorrow’ emergency White House meeting is to discuss steps that energy companies can take to increase refining capacity and cut gas prices, according to DOE. Administration officials want the companies to bring “actionable, near-term solutions,” the department said.

Oil CEOs Get Olive Branch From Granholm in Gas-Price Huddle -- The US energy chief struck a conciliatory tone in a high-stakes meeting with top oil executives to discuss soaring gasoline prices on Thursday, though the huddle yielded little progress on a plan to address the supply crunch. For more than an hour, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met in Washington with leaders of some of the nation’s top oil companies, discussing possible waivers of air pollution limits on fuel and other changes that could help ease pump prices. The meeting was described by multiple people familiar with the discussion who asked for anonymity because it was closed to the public. Granholm stressed that the administration wants to collaborate with the industry to bolster refining capacity and boost gasoline production, the people said. Her opening comments attempted to preempt some oil industry arguments by emphasizing that the administration recognizes refiners need more regulatory certainty and supportive market signals from Washington to drive investment in the sector, according to the people. Although Granholm downplayed the possibility of a ban on the export of gasoline and other refined petroleum products, she didn’t explicitly rule out trade limits, the people said. Administration officials and executives also extensively discussed the potential for waiving gasoline from anti-smog rules that require low-volatility fuel in the summer, a shift that could reduce costs by allowing fuel blenders to mix in less-pricey butane. Such waivers would have to come from the Environmental Protection Agency, which did not have representatives in the meeting, the people said. The group also strategized ways to prepare for possible hurricane disruptions to fuel refining and supply. “The secretary set a collaborative tone early on by acknowledging the global nature of oil markets and prices, and that some companies, including Shell, have diminished refining capacity because we’re busy converting century-old assets to produce biofuels,” Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell USA Inc., said in a statement. “There was wide acknowledgment that Americans are feeling a lot of price pain and no ideas were spared in an effort to find solutions to that.” Watkins urged the administration to accelerate permitting to boost Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production in the short term, while clearing a path for offshore wind development along the East Coast. President Joe Biden ordered the meeting last week, demanding in letters to the heads of seven oil companies that they explain any reduction in their refining capacity since 2020, when the pandemic spurred plant closures globally. The president also insisted they deliver “concrete ideas that would address the immediate inventory, price and refining capacity issues in the coming months.” The meeting came amid escalating tensions between the oil industry and the Biden administration, which have risen along with the price of oil and unleaded gasoline, now hovering around $5 per gallon in the US. Biden has cast companies as profiteering from the crisis while oil refiners and producers blame the government’s anti-fossil fuel agenda for chilling investment.

U.S. meets with refiners on high pump prices; no plan yet -sources U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently expressed interest in possibly lifting smog-fighting gasoline rules to help fight high gas prices at the nation’s pumps.The secretary also backed off a plan to ban fuel exports during a wide-ranging meeting with refiners. Reuters says tensions are high between President Biden and oil refiners.The two sides departed from the meeting far apart on possible solutions. Industry sources familiar with the meeting say both sides will continue talking. Biden has recently been critical of oil industry CEOs for pulling in huge profits from a supply crunch made worse by Russia invading Ukraine.The White House is unhappy with the refining industry’s move to idle a bout one million barrels per day of production capacity since 2020.Administration officials say the companies need to use those profits to restart plants and help fill the supply gap. Refiners say investing in reopening plants carries significant financial risks.

'Constructive' talk but no deal as Granholm meets oil execs - A meeting on Thursday of oil company executives and Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm concerning high consumer gas prices and refining capacity was “constructive,” even as it failed to produce a policy to address prices at the pump, industry leaders said. The White House called for the meeting with executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Phillips 66, as it faces political pressure over gas prices that average nationally at $4.94 per gallon, according to AAA, nearly $1.88 higher than the average this time last year. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden called for companies to increase refining capacity as part of a wider push to reduce the price consumers pay at the pump. He also called on Congress to pass legislation waiving the gas tax for 90 days and asked states to do the same. Following the meeting at the Energy Department, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers released a joint statement that said there had been a “constructive discussion.” [Drill, baby, drill? Not so fast, say crash-wary energy investors] “While these challenges and their causes are complex — from Russia’s war in Ukraine to market imbalances leftover from COVID — productive outcomes today should send a positive signal to the market that the U.S. is committed to long-term investment in a strong U.S. refining industry and aligning policies to reflect that commitment,” the groups’ statement said. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the meeting was a “first step” and that the Energy Department will continue conversations with the companies. “The meeting was a productive dialogue focused on creating an opportunity with industry to work with government to help deliver needed relief to American consumers,” Jean-Pierre said. “The secretary made clear that the administration believes it imperative that companies increase supply of gas, and she reiterated that the president is prepared to act quickly and decisively, using the tools available to him as appropriate.” Chevron CEO Mike Wirth similarly said the meeting was “a constructive conversation about addressing both near-term issues and the longer-term stability of energy markets.” The comment came after Wirth sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday that said bringing down prices would require a change in approach and that the White House was at times vilifying the oil industry. In response, Biden said Wirth was “mildly sensitive. I didn't know they’d get their feelings hurt that quickly."

Oil CEOs call for 'tone shift' from White House on finger-pointing over gas prices - The oil industry pushed for an easing of tensions and a dialing back of finger-pointing from the White House during a Thursday meeting with the Energy Department as high gas prices continue to anger politicians and consumers."Our guys raised concerns about the ongoing tone from the administration. We asked that their tone shift," American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers told CNN after the in-person meeting at Energy Department headquarters between oil CEOs and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.Sommers, who was not in the meeting but was briefed by oil CEOs who were there, said the industry made a series of policy recommendations to the Biden administration to address high gasoline prices. The oil industry also urged President Joe Biden to get personally involved and meet with oil CEOs to address high prices."We'd welcome an opportunity to sit down with the president himself," said Sommers, who, along with Big Oil CEOs, met with former President Donald Trump in early 2020 when oil prices were crashing. "That's something that almost every president has done. This one has not."No concrete actions or commitments were announced following Thursday's meeting.In a statement, the Energy Department described the meeting as "productive" and expressed hope that it will be part of an "ongoing dialogue for more effective collaboration."Secretary Granholm called on the industry to "bring supply online" to lower prices and reiterated that Biden is prepared to "act quickly and decisively," the Energy Department said in a readout following the meeting, which included executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Valero, Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum.Sommers told CNN the Biden administration seemed open to some of the industry's proposals, including waiving the Jones Act to speed up the delivery of gasoline and diesel from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast.The Jones Act is a federal law aimed at protecting US shipbuilders by limiting shipping by foreign vessels. It has been waived in the past during supply crunches.In a statement Thursday evening, Ku'uhaku Park — president of the American Maritime Partnership — said, "The Jones Act is not a cost driver for increased gas prices, representing an average of less than one cent per gallon of the overall cost of gasoline."Sommers said Thursday's meeting was "a really constructive dialogue."

Senate Democrats renew call to limit crude oil exports - A group of Senate Democrats renewed their call yesterday for President Joe Biden to limit the export of crude oil in the face of record-high gasoline prices.The letter, led by Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.), came as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met behind closed doors yesterday with top oil and gas producers in hopes of finding common ground on policies that can help increase the supply of energy and bring down rising prices.Limitation of crude oil exports would represent an escalation of federal intervention into oil and gas markets to shore up supplies. White House officials have indicated that either a partial or full ban was under consideration to lower gas prices, but no action has yet been taken by Biden.Democratic supporters, however, see an opportunity to renew their calls for limiting exports following Biden’s announcement earlier this week to back a federal gas tax holiday.

Biden’s incredible shrinking infrastructure plan - The inflation plaguing Joe Biden’s presidency is also shrinking what’s so far been his crowning legislative achievement — the infrastructure bill that Congress enacted just seven months ago.Democrats have hailed the infrastructure law, with its $550 billion in new road, rail and broadband funding, as a transformative shift for the country. But inflation — which reached a 40-year high of 8.6 percent last month — has already slashed billions from its value, forcing states to cancel or delay projects as costs balloon.These skyrocketing building costs are undermining Democrats’ ability to campaign on their hard-won infrastructure package — the result of months of grueling negotiations — in the crucial months before the midterm elections. And Republicans are seizing on the moment to blame Democrats for stalled projects, high prices and red tape.In North Carolina, for instance, despite the gusher of cash coming out of the federal government, state officials will add new projects to their long-term infrastructure plans only if they replace existing ones.“If [inflation] doesn’t slow down, we’re just going to end up eating into the capacity of getting more infrastructure done,” said Robert Scaer, CEO of the global engineering firm Gannett Fleming. “We’re going to spend a lot more money for fewer projects. … The buying power of [the infrastructure law] is absolutely being diluted.”Materials’ prices were already on the rise even before inflation hit levels unseen in decades in May — for instance, the price of steel doubled in the year before Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021. It came down briefly after that but is back near its highest point ever.Since the bill’s passage, the price of diesel fuel, which is needed to ferry stone from quarries, which will eventually be turned into concrete and asphalt, has gone up by about $2 a gallon, an increase of more than 50 percent. And workers — if you can find them and keep them — are commanding higher pay.Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who until recently led Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told POLITICO that people in his state are feeling the pinch.“I’ve heard in Wyoming that they thought they were going to be able to do a lot more than they’re going to be able to do now under Joe Biden’s inflation, which is a real problem for them,” said Barrasso. “Roads, bridges, airports, water projects.”Democrats counter that despite inflation’s impact, the investment is still historic and people are excited for the cash infusion.

10,000 Flights Delayed Over Holiday Weekend As Aviation Chaos Concerns White House - Travel chaos impacted thousands of Americans trying to catch a flight during the Father's Day and Juneteenth holiday weekend.Flight tracking website FlightAware shows more than 10,000 flights were delayed or canceled nationwide between Friday and Sunday due to pilot shortages and bad weather, which comes days after top airline executives spoke with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about how to resolve flight disruptions. "That is happening to a lot of people, and that is exactly why we are paying close attention here to what can be done and how to make sure that the airlines are delivering," Buttigieg told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday. Buttigieg said he could penalize airlines that fail to meet consumer-protection standards.According to data from the Transport Security Administration, passenger throughput at U.S. security checkpoints at airports topped nearly 2.4 million on Friday, the highest checkpoint volume since the Sunday after Thanksgiving and 100,000 more travelers than the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. Constant flight disruptions are caused by staffing shortages, bad weather, and reduced flights and come at a time when airlines can barely keep up with demand.The origins of the shortage began in the early days of the virus pandemic when pilot hiring, training, and licensing came to a standstill. Then airlines forced thousands of pilots into early retirement to reduce labor costs as travel demand cratered. Recently, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told investors that the shortage could last for years. "The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren't enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years," Kirby said.Kit Darby, a pilot pay consultant and a retired United captain, warned that "there is no quick fix" for the pilot shortage.

Transportation Secretary Warns US May Act Against Airlines Over Cancellations -Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that the federal government may take action against airlines on consumers’ behalf amid numerous flight cancellations in recent weeks, including more than 2,000 that were canceled on Saturday and Sunday morning. “That is happening to a lot of people, and that is exactly why we are paying close attention here to what can be done and how to make sure that the airlines are delivering,” Buttigieg said on Saturday, saying that he met with airline industry leaders late last week. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, stated that his office would first determine how airlines handle increased travel associated with the Fourth of July holiday before the federal government takes any action. He also did not elaborate on what his agency may do. “Now we’re going to see how those steps measure up,” Buttigieg said. Some 2,700 flights were canceled on Memorial Day weekend, according to data from FlightAware. There were also cancellations on Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19, with FlightAware saying that about 700 U.S. flights were scrapped as of Sunday morning. Some 1,300 flights were canceled Saturday, data shows. Major airline companies have already signaled that they have cut numerous flights over the summer up until Labor Day weekend over worker shortages. Southwest Airlines has canceled over 20,000 flights this season, and Delta Air Lines has cut over 700 flights since late last month, saying that it expects to cancel 100 flights per day between July 1 and Aug. 7 across North and South America. A letter posted by Delta pilots on June 16 said they have been flying a “record amount of overtime” hours amid cancellations.“At the current rate, by this fall, our pilots will have flown more overtime in 2022 than in the entirety of 2018 and 2019 combined, our busiest years to date,” the pilots said in their letter.“We empathize and share in your frustration over the delays, cancellations, and disrupted travel plans you’ve experienced. We agree; it is unacceptable.”

Pete Buttigieg among thousands who saw their flights canceled this weekend --At least 14,000 domestic flights were canceled or delayed in the United States this holiday weekend, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in part because of staffing issues for airlines in the air and on the ground.More than 900 flights were canceled on Sunday alone. Delta was among the airlines with the most cancellations, with at least 200 flights grounded."A variety of factors continue to impact our operations, including challenges with air traffic control, weather and unscheduled absences in some work groups. Canceling a flight is always our last resort, and we sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience to their travel plans," a Delta airline spokesperson said in a statement.Since the start of June, U.S. airports have seen an average of 2.2 million passengers every day.Amid the cancellations, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with airline executives on Friday.Buttigieg is advising airlines to meet their flight schedules and hire more customer-service workers. He said that if they do not meet these requirements by the Fourth of July weekend, the department could enforce fines on the airlines.The day after he met with airline leaders, his own flight was canceled. Buttigieg was forced to drive from Washington D.C. to New York.CBS News senior travel adviser Peter Greenberg said that airlines need to hire more in all departments to avoid more cancellations."You can hire as many customer service agents. You want to say, 'I'm sorry' but if you don't fix the root problems, the apologies will continue," he told CBS News' Elise Preston. "You gotta be able to find pilots. There's a shortage. You have to be able to find people who work under the wing — ground handlers, baggage loaders."

Bipartisan Gun Bill Clears Initial Vote in Senate - The New York Times — The Senate on Tuesday cleared the first hurdle to passing a bipartisan measure aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, agreeing to take up a compromise bill whose enactment would break a yearslong stalemate over federal legislation to address gun violence.While the bill falls short of the sweeping gun control measures Democrats have long demanded, its approval would amount to the most significant action in decades to overhaul the nation’s gun laws. The 64-to-34 vote came just hours after Republicans and Democrats released the text of the legislation, and after days of feverish negotiations to hammer out its details.Proponents hope to pass it by Saturday, and Democratic leaders put it on a fast track on the normally sluggish Senate floor.The 80-page bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would enhance background checks, giving authorities up to 10 business days to review the juvenile and mental health records of gun purchasers younger than 21, and direct millions toward helping states implement so-called red-flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous, as well as other intervention programs.The measure would also, for the first time, ensure that serious dating partners are included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from purchasing firearms, a longtime priority that has eluded gun safety advocates for years.Senators agreed to provide millions of dollars for expanding mental health resources in communities and schools in addition to funds devoted to boosting school safety. In addition, the legislation would toughen penalties for those evading licensing requirements or making illegal “straw” purchases, buying and then selling weapons to people barred from purchasing handguns.The vote margin — and the swift backing of top leaders in both parties — indicated that the measure has more than enough support to scale the 60-vote threshold needed to break a Republican filibuster that has thwarted such legislation in the past and make it to final passage in the coming days.

Senate poised to pass first major gun safety legislation in decades following bipartisan agreement - The Senate on Tuesday made meaningful progress toward passing the first major federal gun safety legislation in a generation.Procedurally, the legislation still has a number of hurdles to clear in the Senate -- it faces two more key votes to break a filibuster and then for final passage -- but it has the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Tuesday's vote attracted more than the minimum 10 Republican votes that will be necessary to overcome a filibuster. It could pass the Senate by week's end, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, and would then go onto the House.If passed, it would amount to the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994 -- though it fails to ban any weapons and falls far short of what Democrats and polls show most Americans want to see."As the author of the Brady background checks bill, which passed in 1994, I'm pleased that for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress is back on the path to take meaningful action to address gun violence," Schumer said Tuesday night.The bill includes millions of dollars for mental health, school safety, crisis intervention programs and incentives for states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.It also makes significant changes to the process when someone ages 18 to 21 goes to buy a firearm and closes the so-called boyfriend loophole, a major victory for Democrats, who had fought for a decade for that.Release of the bill's text came after days of lawmakers haggling over several sticking points, raising questions over whether the effort would fall apart. Lawmakers now have to race the clock before the Senate departs for the July Fourth recess in an attempt to get the bill passed out of the chamber. The bill -- titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act -- was released by Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Along with McConnell, Tillis and Cornyn, the GOP senators who voted to advance the legislation on Tuesday, per the Senate Press Gallery, were: Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Mitt Romney of Utah. McConnell, Ernst and Capito, who are in GOP leadership, as well as Murkowski and Young, were not part of the 10 Republicans who initially signed on to support the gun safety framework.

CBO releases score of bipartisan gun safety bill showing legislation fully paid for - The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Wednesday released a cost estimate showing the bipartisan gun safety legislation unveiled the previous day would be fully paid for, the latest boost to the prospects of its passage. The CBO projected the bill would reduce the deficit over 10 years by $154 million, with a congressional aide noting that “the legislation is paid for by delaying the implementation for one year of a Trump-era rule relating to eliminating the anti-kickback statute safe harbor protection for prescription drug rebates.” The CBO score is likely a relief for lawmakers and another hurdle overcome. The bill aims to address gaps among those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse who are still allowed to purchase firearms, offer funding for red flag laws to be administered in states, and bolster requirements for background check for those between the ages of 18 and 20, among other provisions. Fourteen Republican senators voted with all 50 Democrats to advance the legislation, though top House Republican leaders have signaled they will not support it.

Here are the 14 GOP senators who voted to advance gun safety bill -- The Senate on Tuesday broke through nearly 30 years of stalemate on gun control legislation by voting 64 to 34 to advance an 80-page gun safety bill to respond to the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, that left 31 people dead, including 19 school children. The Senate voted to proceed to the bill just more than an hour after negotiators unveiled its text, giving lawmakers little time to digest its details. The bill had strong momentum after a group of 10 Republican senators led by Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who has an A-plus rating from the NRA, earlier this month signed onto a bipartisan framework of principles with 10 Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave the effort another boost last week when he announced that he supported the bipartisan framework and would also support legislation based on its key points. Every Senate Democrat was expected to support the bill, even though it didn’t include more far-reaching reforms that many of them support, such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. The vote shakes up the politics of the gun violence debate in Congress as many of the Republicans who voted to proceed to the bill have A or A-plus NRA ratings. Here are the 14 Republicans who voted yes:

Rand Paul vows to introduce amendments to gun safety bill - Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday condemned parts of the recently announced bipartisan gun safety deal, describing some provisions as “constitutional deficiencies” and vowing to introduce amendments as it comes to the Senate floor. “Unfortunately, this legislation was assembled as many are — in secret, absent well placed leaks to journalists,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “There doesn’t appear to be a willingness or time provided to read, understand, debate or amend this bill.” “I will try anyway,” he continued. “To this end, I will introduce amendments to correct the constitutional deficiencies of this bill and hope my colleagues and the Senate leadership will do the same.” Senate negotiators on Tuesday released the text of a long-awaited deal on gun safety that would take firearms away from dangerous people and provide billions of dollars in new mental health funding, among other measures. The Senate quickly voted 64-34 on Tuesday evening to advance the legislation, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 13 other GOP senators supporting the measure. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he expects the bill to pass the Senate by the end of the week. Schumer’s timeline aims to get ahead of the Senate’s upcoming two-week recess. But a quick passage of the legislation requires an agreement from all 100 senators, so Paul could delay the final vote if he doesn’t give way. Paul said he supports some of the bill’s provisions, like a section that includes juvenile records in background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21. “Looking at the recent criminal past of anyone is a good idea before assessing gun ownership,” Paul said. “However, that idea was paired with many questionable or bad ones in this legislation.”

Biden signs bipartisan gun control bill into law - President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law the most significant gun control bill in three decades, one day after the House approved bipartisan gun legislation that was approved by the Senate late Thursday and sent to Mr. Biden for his signature.The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed the lower chamber by a vote of 234-193. The bill enhances background checks for gun buyers 21 years of age, provides billions for mental health services and closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole" to prevent convicted domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm for five years.  In addition, the plan provides $750 million in grants to incentivize states to start crisis intervention programs, clarifies the definition of a federally licensed firearms dealer and creates penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking. On Saturday, before signing the bill into law, Mr. Biden said he was present when previous gun legislation was passed three decades ago and stressed the importance of the legislation. "This bill doesn't do everything I want, but includes actions I've longed called for that saves lives," Mr. Biden said.   The passing of the legislation by both chambers brings to an end 30 years of Congress inaction regarding changes to federal firearms laws, despite a rise in gun violence and mass shootings across the nation. Recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, left a total of 31 people dead, prompting a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and John Cornyn of Texas to find consensus on tighter gun laws. The Senate passed the bill 65-33 late Thursday night, with 15 Republicans voting for the measure. All of the Democratic senators voted for the bill.

House has easy win with outdoor recreation package - Summer is here and Americans are headed outside — boating, camping, ATVing, hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, RVing, paddling, and more on our public lands. Throughout June, the outdoor recreation industry is celebrating Great Outdoors Month® by reminding everyone just how important outdoor recreation is at the national, state, and local levels. It packs a big economic punch — generating $689 billionand creating over 4.3 million jobs — while bringing health benefits to communities and individuals who get outside, even for a walk in a local park. The endless benefits outdoor recreation heaps on our nation come with their own challenges. More Americans than ever are getting outside, which is excellent for personal and societal health, but more people on our public lands and waters means we must do a better job at maintaining our outdoor infrastructure, while also protecting our fish and wildlife from the impacts of overcrowding. At the same time, many Americans do not have adequate access to recreation opportunities, preventing them from enjoying its benefits. Congress, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments must work together to ensure all Americans have access to public lands and waters regardless of their zip code. Fortunately, these challenges have bipartisan solutions that won’t cost taxpayers a dime. The outdoor recreation industry worked with members of Congress, outdoor businesses, and local and national leaders to introduce an outdoor recreation package that will improve everyone’s outdoor experience and set the industry up for a sustainable future. Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have introduced the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2022, a first-of-its-kind comprehensive recreation package. The bill passed out of the committee in May and combines several bipartisan and bicameral bills the outdoor recreation industry has long supported — including the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act, the Outdoor Recreation Act, Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, and other pragmatic pieces of outdoor recreation legislation. These bills streamline the permitting processes for outdoor excursions, support rural communities, create partnerships to update infrastructure and keep recreation areas open, extend outdoor recreation seasons, improve visitation data on public lands, make updates to obsolete reservation and permitting systems, and provide more tools for public land managers to plan for sustainable and responsible recreation for the future for everyone.

Little consensus to be found on comprehensive flood insurance fix — As lawmakers consider reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program ahead of its expiration in September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency urged senators to adopt broader reforms to the program. What they got instead was a tepid response. David Maurstad, an acting associate administrator at FEMA, testified before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday to lay out more than a dozen ways that lawmakers could reform the financially beleaguered NFIP, which provides $1.3 trillion in flood insurance coverage for homeowners and businesses across the U.S. “Today, as our changing climate poses a serious threat to our nation, and as the number and severity of disasters continues to grow, the NFIP requires structural change,” Maurstad said Thursday in prepared remarks. But lawmakers from both political parties appeared to have serious reservations with various elements of FEMA’s legislative reform proposal, which, if enacted, would permit the federal agency to offer means-based insurance payment plans, prohibit insurance coverage to the most frequently flooded properties, and cancel more than $20 billion in debt owed by FEMA to the Treasury Department. “Before I get to my questions, I want to note that I find it unusual that FEMA sent to Congress, unsolicited, 17 authorization bills that, in my view, will do significant harm both to the program and homeowners alike,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. “FEMA’s proposal will lead to more people being uninsured and unprotected against more frequent storms, [and] higher costs for families and higher barriers to owning a home and a small business.” Only two Republicans asked questions during Thursday’s Senate hearing. Ranking member Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is set to retire from Congress in 2023, appeared to support some elements of FEMA’s reform proposal, including a measure that would prevent national flood insurance from being offered to what Maurstad described as “extreme repetitive loss properties” — properties that the administrator said were responsible for “disproportionate share of overall losses and have a high risk of future flooding.”

Will EPA use special power to prod Trump holdovers on climate? ---EPA has a rarely used power to prod other agencies to act if it determines that their actions don’t adequately protect the environment. It’s usually not needed, according to experts, because executive branch agencies tend to be on the same page about environmental protections. But environmental groups and government watchdog organizations are now urging EPA to use that power to challenge recent moves made by independent agencies still stocked with Trump appointees. On Friday, a coalition of groups sent a letterto EPA Administrator Michael Regan, asking him to use his authority to refer “environmentally destructive federal projects” to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the White House shop tasked with refereeing environmental disputes among agencies. The Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group, organized the letter. Specifically, the groups — including the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and the Sunrise Movement — want Regan to challenge recent actions by the U.S. Postal Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority on the grounds that they’ll be “environmentally disastrous.” The groups are asking Regan to use his authority to stymie the Postal Service’s plans to replace its aging fleet with mostly gas-powered vehicles. They also want EPA to thwart a TVA plan to replace retiring coal plants with new gas plants. The last time such a referral was made to CEQ was in 2016, when the Interior Department challenged a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement surrounding a floodway project. Prior to that, only one such referral was made during the George W. Bush administration and only two were made in the 1990s, according to CEQ. The referrals were more commonly used in the 1970s and 1980s. Both USPS and TVA are independent agencies whose leaders aren’t presidential appointees, but who serve at the pleasure of their agencies’ boards. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former donor to President Donald Trump, remains at the helm of USPS, while several Trump appointees remain on the USPS board of governors.

Haaland lays out next steps on Native American boarding schools investigation, legislation - Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Wednesday outlined the next steps her department has planned to address the legacy of abuses at government-run schools for Indigenous children and legislation to examine the matter. Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary in U.S. history, testified Wednesday afternoon before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the first volume of Interior’s investigative report into the schools. At these institutions, Indigenous children had their hair cut and were forbidden from speaking their native languages, among other efforts to extinguish their heritage and assimilate them into the broader American culture. The first Interior report, released in May, found that over a 50-year period, more than 500 children died across 19 schools. The hearing also served as a chance to examine S. 2907, a bill to establish a Truth and Healing Commission to address the school system’s legacy. The legislation, which Haaland had sponsored during her time representing New Mexico in the House, would require the commission to develop recommendations for protecting unmarked graves and how to identify the original tribal areas from which the children were taken. It would also create legislative guardrails to keep present-day governmental institutions such as social service agencies from forcibly assimilating Native children. “Some of the most influential decisions by the department on the lives of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children involve those related to federal Indian boarding schools,” Haaland said. “That is part of America’s story that we must tell. While we cannot change that history, I believe that our nation will benefit from a full understanding of the truth of what took place and a focus on healing the wounds of the past.”

GOP senator considering blocking school meal funding deal over transgender policy fight - A Republican senator is thinking about blowing up a bipartisan deal to extend school meals funding because of a Biden administration policy banning discrimination against LGBTQ students who participate in lunch programs that receive the money. Democratic leaders are rushing to pass the legislation and get it to President Joe Biden’s desk before current funding runs out June 30, triggering a hunger cliff for millions of children. Senate Republican leaders, who blocked previous attempts at a year-long extension of the funds, haven’t made any threats to tank the bill this time around, according to three people involved in the talks. But any one senator can object and block the expedited effort, requiring a recorded floor vote and eating up precious time. After the $3 billion deal to extend the pandemic-era program was unveiled Tuesday, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said in an interview he is “contemplating” objecting to the measure because of new guidance from the Agriculture Department banning LGBTQ discrimination in any program that receives federal nutrition money, which includes most school lunch programs. Marshall was among a handful of Senate Republicans who sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office last week objecting to the USDA nutrition guidance, which has also prompted a backlash from conservative media and key national Republicans. Likely 2024 presidential contender and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis argued the Biden administration was “trying to deny school lunch programs for states that don’t do transgender ideology in the school. Republicans are particularly concerned with language in the USDA guidance that says programs that receive federal nutrition money need to state their policies for combating anti-LGBTQ discrimination.Marshall said in the interview he had not decided about whether to go through with the objection. But he claimed the administration was trying “to use the school lunch issue to gain leverage over [schools’ broader LGBTQ policies].”“I’m just afraid that schools in Kansas won’t have school lunches because of this administration’s radical view on transgender issues,” Marshall said. “And I’m afraid that they’re going to raid the school lunch program over that issue.”

 Kamala Harris announces launch of White House ‘task force’ to stop online ‘gendered disinformation,’ abuse – Fox - Vice President Kamala Harris announced the launch of a "Task Force to Address Online Harassment and Abuse" Thursday at the White House. Harris praised the task force in her remarks as a means for societal progress, saying, "No one should have to endure abuse just because they are attempting to participate in society."A memo on the task force released by the White House condemned "gendered disinformation" and proclaimed the administration will be "developing programs and policies to address online harassment, abuse, and disinformation campaigns targeting women and LGBTQI+ individuals who are public and political figures, government and civic leaders, activists, and journalists in the United States and globally." The memo suggested that online "harassment" has devastating costs for democracy itself by "undermining [people’s] ability to exercise their human rights and participate in democracy, governance, and civic life." It went on to claim, "Online abuse and harassment, which aim to preclude women from political decision-making about their own lives and communities, undermine the functioning of democracy."The Director of the White House Gender Policy Council and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs will lead the "interagency effort to address online harassment and abuse, specifically focused on technology-facilitated gender-based violence, and to develop concrete recommendations to improve prevention, response, and protection efforts through programs and policies in the United States and globally."Although Harris mentioned concern about white supremacy online and privacy protection for abortions in her remarks, neither she nor the memo mentioned far-left Antifa groups doxxing politicians or other dangerous leftist activity online.

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade abortion landmark (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday took the dramatic step of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide, handing a momentous victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who want to limit or ban the procedure. The court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative majority, upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The vote was 5-4 to overturn Roe, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing separately to say he would have upheld the Mississippi law but not taken the additional step of erasing the precedent altogether. The justices held that the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortions performed before a fetus would be viable outside the womb – between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy – was wrongly decided because the U.S. Constitution makes no specific mention of abortion rights. A draft version of the ruling written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was likely to overturn Roe was leaked in May, igniting a political firestorm. Friday’s ruling authored by Alito largely tracked his leaked draft. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote in the ruling. Roe v. Wade recognized that the right to personal privacy under the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy. The Supreme Court in a 1992 ruling called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey reaffirmed abortion rights and prohibited laws imposing an “undue burden” on abortion access. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division,” Alito added. Overturning Roe v. Wade has long been a goal of Christian conservatives and many Republican officeholders. By erasing abortion as a constitutional right, the ruling restores the ability of states to pass laws prohibiting it. Twenty-six states are seen as either certain or likely now to ban abortion. Mississippi is among 13 states already with so-called trigger laws designed to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Abortion decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaves behind John Roberts – In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court's monumental decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, speculation began to swirl around a man who for years literally and figuratively sat at the center of the nation's highest court: Chief Justice John Roberts.No longer the court's median justice, and without any real power over his eight colleagues, the 67-year-old jurist had nevertheless demonstrated a prowess of building slim majorities around narrow rulings in the past – the kind of incremental outcomes that left neither liberals nor conservatives particularly happy when the court wrapped up each term. Maybe, experts suggested, Roberts would find a way to save Roe. But those kinds of predictions were dashed this week with a ruling that whisked away the constitutional right to abortion. Applauded by the right and decried on the left, the ruling raised fundamental questions about whether Roberts' go-slow approach is dead and whether the Supreme Court, under his leadership, is being drawn into the kind of partisan fray he has spent 17 years trying to avoid."He's had this kind of tidal wave against him," said Glenn Cohen, a professor and deputy dean at Harvard Law School. "People who know him well describe him more than anything else as an institutionalist. And I think this is exactly what he does not like to see happen in terms of the status of the court and its role in the political system."It was only two years ago that Roberts, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005, cast a deciding vote in the court's last major abortion firestorm, a 5-4 decision that struck down a Louisiana law limiting the procedure. Eight years before that, Roberts was begrudgingly credited on the left – and widely panned on the right – for saving President Barack Obama's national health care law by joining with the court's liberals. The biggest factor that changed since those years is the court's composition: President Donald Trump's nomination of AssociateJustices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett gave conservatives a 6-3 edge for the first time in decades. Roberts, suddenly, was no longer a swing vote – and his conservative colleagues no longer needed him to move the court and the law to the right. On Friday, the chief justice didn't join the majority to overturn Roe. Instead, he articulated what some saw as the centrist's position: He wanted to uphold the Mississippi ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy at issue in the case but not overrule one of the Supreme Court's best recognized precedents. No other justice joined his opinion.

Abortion protests continue nationwide after Roe v. Wade overturned: Live updates - As the nation continues to feel the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision that overturns Roe v. Wade, Washington and cities coast to coast are bracing Saturday for a second day of huge street demonstrations after the ruling was met with an outpouring of joy and rage on Friday night. Demonstrations that began Friday were largely peaceful, although police fired tear gas in Phoenix and violence broke out places such as Los Angeles, Providence and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After signing a bipartisan gun bill into law on Saturday, Biden again took aim at the Supreme Court, saying the justices had “made some terrible decisions.” The comments come after the court overturned the fundamental right to abortion nationwide established nearly 50 years ago, a ruling that leaves states free to drastically reduce access to or even outlaw abortion. Biden has said the decision puts reproductive health at risk and singled out Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, in which the justice opened the door to the court revisiting decisions on contraception and same-sex marriage.The Vermont State House was vandalized Friday night after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, state officials said.The phrase “If abortions aren’t safe, you’re not either” was spray-painted at the front of the building, according to a photo Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray tweeted Saturday.Google employees can apply for “relocation without justification,” a company executive said in a staff-wide email Friday after the Supreme Court’s decision that struck down Roe v. Wade. The email from Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi said the employees processing applications to relocate would be “aware of the situation.” Google has not made any changes to the relocation policy since the ruling Friday, spokesperson Nicolas Lopez said.

Abortion laws by state: Where abortions are illegal after Roe v. Wade overturned - Abortion policy is in the hands of the states following the Supreme Court’s Friday decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.But it could take months for all the legal maneuvering to be completed and for the nation to have a more definitive picture over where abortion is legal, said Greer Donley, a professor specializing in reproductive health care at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.Until then, Donley expects it will be difficult to explain to people the legal landscape on abortion, and she is concerned that the legal limbo will lead to “immediate total chaos” abortion patients and providers.“It’s going to be a real nightmare,” Donley said. “Literally, all I do all day is think about abortion law. It’s my only job. And there’s questions that I can’t answer.” Only three states — South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky — have laws that immediately ban most abortions. Most states with so-called trigger laws require the attorney general, governor or legislature to certify that the court’s opinion does, indeed, overturn Roe, include a delay of up to 30 days before they take effect, or both. In other states, court action will likely be necessary to determine whether states’ pre-Roe abortion bans can take effect or enjoined laws restricting access to the procedure can be lifted, a process legal experts anticipate could take weeks to months. That means abortion will remain legal, at least in the short term, in places such as Ohio. The 13 states with trigger laws also have different exceptions to their near-total bans. While they all allow abortions to save the life of the pregnant person, only five include exceptions for rape or incest. There’s another group of states where pre-Roe abortion bans could spring back into effect. For instance, abortion-rights advocates in Wisconsin believe the state’s pre-Roe ban will likely force abortion providers to shut their doors because of legal uncertainties around the statute of limitations, even though Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is running for reelection this year, has said he will not enforce the state law and has urged local prosecutors to do the same. Abortion-rights opponents in the state are anticipating legal challenges, too.“No one is probably going to be happy with what happens immediately,” said Gracie Skogman, legislative and PAC director for Wisconsin Right to Life.Advocates on both sides also anticipate immediate legal action in states where pre-Roe laws or other laws restricting access to abortion prior to viability have been blocked by federal courts. Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina and Iowa have laws prohibiting abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, around six weeks, but those laws were blocked by judges operating underRoe.“All of our laws should protect innocent lives,” said Denise Harle, senior counsel and director of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life. “If Roeis overturned, any injunctions against a state’s pre-Roe law that were based on Roe would no longer hold. Once those injunctions are dissolved, the law can be enforced.”

Pentagon ‘evaluating’ policies after Supreme Court abortion decision - The Pentagon is evaluating its policies following the Supreme Court’s Friday decision striking down Roe v. Wade, which since 1973 had guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. The ruling is set to affect thousands of military personnel and their families, who may be stationed or work in states where abortions will soon be outlawed or heavily restricted. The Defense Department is “examining this decision closely and evaluating our policies to ensure we continue to provide seamless access to reproductive health care as permitted by federal law,” Austin said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to me or to this Department than the health and well-being of our Service members, the civilian workforce and [Defense Department] families. I am committed to taking care of our people and ensuring the readiness and resilience of our Force,” he said. The Pentagon had faced pressure ahead of the ruling over whether it would protect access to abortion for pregnant service members who would have to seek the procedure in a different state than where they are stationed. Such a process isn’t always easy for troops, as they usually must get approval from superiors to travel from their installations.

Climate regulations could be next in court crosshairs - Climate regulation could be the next Democratic priority in the Supreme Court’s crosshairs after a contentious ruling Friday that gutted abortion rights. The court is expected soon to rule on a case that has major implications on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can issue climate regulations for power plants, and what powers it has to do so. Experts say that if the court rules in favor of those seeking to curb the EPA’s powers, it could stunt the agency’s ability to prevent climate change from worsening. “The more tools the court takes away from the EPA, under the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions, the harder it’s going to be for the United States to do an effective job of contributing to the world’s efforts to limit climate change,” said Robert Glicksman, an environmental law professor at George Washington University. The court in February heard arguments focusing on the scope of the EPA’s powers to regulate climate change. The case was brought by plaintiffs including West Virginia who seek to prevent the EPA from having broad powers to reshape the country’s electric power system. The plaintiffs are seeking to preemptively block the Biden administration from setting standards that would induce a shift away from coal plants and towards those powered by cleaner energy sources. West Virginia has argued the EPA is limited to only setting restrictions on individual power plants. While it may sound technical, experts say the distinction could have major implications for how much planet-warming carbon dioxide ends up in the air.

Justice Thomas: SCOTUS ‘should reconsider’ contraception, same-sex marriage rulings - Justice Clarence Thomas argued in a concurring opinion released on Friday that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” its past rulings codifying rights to contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.The sweeping suggestion from the current court’s longest-serving justice came in the concurring opinion he authored in response to the court’s ruling revoking the constitutional right to abortion, also released on Friday.In his concurring opinion, Thomas — an appointee of President George H.W. Bush — wrote that the justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, andObergefell” — referring to three cases having to do with Americans’ fundamental privacy, due process and equal protection rights. Since May, when POLITICO published an initial draft majority opinion of the court’s decision on Friday to strike down Roe v. Wade, Democratic politicians have repeatedly warned that such a ruling would lead to the reversal of other landmark privacy-related cases.“If the rationale of the decision as released were to be sustained, a whole range of rights are in question. A whole range of rights,” President Joe Bidensaid of the draft opinion at the time. “And the idea [that] we’re letting the states make those decisions, localities make those decisions, would be a fundamental shift in what we’ve done.”The court’s liberal wing — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — echoed those concerns in a dissenting opinion released on Friday, writing that “no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work.”The constitutional right to abortion “does not stand alone,” the three justices wrote. “To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation.”

Jeffries tests positive for Covid - Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said on Wednesday that he had tested positive for Covid-19.Jeffries said in a statement that he was not symptomatic but was isolating and working from home. The positive PCR test result came during routine testing in Washington, according to the statement.“Most importantly, I am grateful to be vaccinated and boosted,” Jeffries said, encouraging others to continue to seek vaccinations. Several high-profile officials have tested positive for Covid in recent weeks, including Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. National security adviser Jake Sullivan, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also recently tested positive.

Gov. Ron DeSantis clashes with Biden White House over decision that Florida won’t order vaccines for children under 5 --Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed on Thursday that the state would not be ordering COVID-19 vaccines for young children after a Food and Drug Administration panel unanimously endorsed the Pfizer and Moderna shots for babies and kids under 5. "There is not going to be any state programs that are going to be trying to get COVID jabs to infants, toddlers, and newborns," the Republican governor said in response to a question asked at a Miami press conference on Everglades conservation. "That's not something that we think is appropriate, and so that's not where we are going to be utilizing our resources."The Sunshine State's decision means parents in Florida will find it harder to access vaccines for their children compared to people in other states, said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. But neither Florida health officials nor the White House would specify whether the delay would be a matter of days, weeks, or even months. Some pharmacies and community health centers in Florida are expected to receive the vaccines directly, without going through the state. Though pharmacies are set to give shots to children, it's expected to be only to those as young as 3."By being the only state not preordering, pediatricians, for example, in Florida will not have immediate, ready access to vaccines," Jean-Pierre said during Thursday's White House briefing. "Some pharmacies and community health centers in the state get access through federal distribution channels, but those options are limited for parents."Every other state but Florida has preordered the vaccine for children under 5, the Miami Herald first reported. The FDA hasn't yet authorized the shots for emergency use for children under 5, but the go-ahead is expected this weekend after a review from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel. Vaccines are expected to go out as soon as Monday to states that preregistered. Since March, Florida's Department of Health recommended againstadministering the COVID-19 vaccine to healthy children ages 5-17, clashing with federal guidance. The state instead has said that children with underlying conditions "are the best candidates" for the vaccine. 

Biden officials to keep private the names of hospitals where patients contracted Covid - The Biden administration during the Omicron wave considered publicly releasing data detailing how prevalent Covid-19 spread was inside individual hospitals, but ultimately chose to keep that information private, according to two people familiar with the discussions.The decision to withhold the names, based partly on concerns about duplicative data and partly on fears of embarrassing hospitals, denies patients the opportunity to steer clear of health systems with poor track records and allows facilities to avoid public scrutiny, patient advocates say.Covid cases and hospitalizations have fallen from their winter peak and the administration pushes personal responsibility to combat infection, but many disability-rights advocates are encouraging the government to make the information public, arguing it is necessary to make safe choices, especially for people with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems.“Not knowing what the likelihood of getting transmission in the hospital really impacts an individual’s ability to quote unquote ‘make a personal decision’ on their risk levels,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, a disability rights advocate who has a lung condition that makes her more susceptible to Covid.Over the four weeks ending June 19, U.S. hospitals reported an average of 1,457 patients per week had caught Covid during their stay, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services. That follows a record month in January when more than 3,000 patients each week were infected while in the hospital.Though the higher numbers have subsided, the risk remains real for a subset of the population with compromised immune systems who must weigh getting check-ups and treatments for potentially serious issues “versus maybe getting Covid and ending up on the ventilator,” Ives-Rublee said.In a March meeting with the CDC, Ives-Rublee and other patient advocates requested more transparency on hospitals’ transmission, but the conversations went nowhere, she said.“We are frustrated with the lack of progress that we’ve seen in terms of addressing concerns for folks who are extremely at risk for Covid,” Ives-Rublee said.Other advocates told POLITICO they intend to keep pressing the administration ahead of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts could be another fall surge in Covid cases.“A majority of voters want HHS to level with us – tell us how much coronavirus is spreading in the particular hospital we go to,” said Matthew Cortland, an immunocompromised disability rights activist who ran a recent poll on the issue for Data for Progress, a left-leaning think tank. “But that transparency is inconvenient for the powerful hospital lobby.”The American Hospital Association wants facilities’ infection numbers to stay private. “Reporting aggregate data is the most appropriate approach given the very low occurrence of hospital onset COVID-19,” Nancy Foster, an executive with the AHA, said in a statement.Throughout the pandemic, many hospitals chose not to implement measures that could have dramatically decreased transmission, according to workers, health executives and patients around the country. Many facilities no longer require masks for visitors or staff, despite CDC recommendations. Even where masks are required, workers and visitors usually don surgical masks, among the least protective ones available, instead of N95s. Hospitals follow CDC guidelines, which allow Covid-positive staff to return while infectious. Industry executives insist their protocols are adequate and that some Covid transmission is inevitable; the AHA says hospitals’ measures are generally safe.

Biden officials to expand monkeypox testing amid fears of undercounting - The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is expanding monkeypox testing to commercial laboratories amid fears that the country is undercounting monkeypox cases because of insufficient testing. The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it began shipping moneypox tests this week to five private testing companies: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. The testing through these companies will begin in early July, HHS said. “These commercial laboratories will dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers,” the department said. Some public health experts have warned that the U.S. risks repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, when there was not enough testing to detect how widely the virus was really spreading. “Now the United States, once again, appears to be responding to a new health threat with an underpowered testing response,” Jennifer Nuzzo of Brown University and Jay Varma of Cornell University wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week. There is already a network of public health labs across the country able to do monkeypox testing, but experts say that it will be easier for doctors to order tests from commercial laboratories where they have established relationships and can jump through fewer hoops, thereby encouraging more testing.

Biden monkeypox response mirrors early coronavirus missteps -Public health experts, including within the Biden administration, are increasingly concerned that the federal government’s handling of the largest-ever U.S. monkeypox outbreak is mirroring its cumbersome response to the coronavirus pandemic 2½ years ago, with potentially dire consequences.As a result, they said, community transmission is occurring largely undetected, and the critical window in which to control the outbreak is closing quickly.“It’s been unbelievably challenging,” said Lauren Sauer, director of the Special Pathogens Research Network within a government-funded consortium of medical centers focused on pathogens training and education. “It felt like January 2020 all over again.More than 150 monkeypox cases have been identified in the United States since May 19, federal officials said this week, and more than 3,300 cases have been detected in 42 countries around the world.The rapidly rising global case counts have prompted the World Health Organization to convene an emergency committee on Thursday to assess whether the monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern — the agency’s highest-level warning, which currently applies only to the coronavirus and polio.But as other nations have ramped up their efforts to track and prevent the spread of infection, experts say the United States has moved too slowly to expand access to monkeypox testing and vaccinate people at highest risk. The government’s failure to clearly and urgently communicate the symptoms and risks associated with monkeypox, a disease spread by close contact that can lead to fever, pain and a visible rash, has left gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately contracting the virus, especially vulnerable, public health experts say. The plodding U.S. response so far raises doubts about the country’s preparedness for the next pandemic, some administration officials say.

Deborah Birx Says Trump White House Asked Her to Weaken Covid Guidance - — Dr. Deborah L. Birx, President Donald J. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, told a congressional committee investigating the federal pandemic response that Trump White House officials asked her to change or delete parts of the weekly guidance she sent state and local health officials, in what she described as a consistent effort to stifle information as virus cases surged in the second half of 2020.Dr. Birx, who publicly testified to the panel Thursday morning, also told the committee that Trump White House officials withheld the reports from states during a winter outbreak and refused to publicly release the documents, which featured data on the virus’s spread and recommendations for how to contain it.Her account of White House interference came in a multidayinterview the committee conducted in October 2021, which was released on Thursday with a set of emails Dr. Birx sent to colleagues in 2020 warning of the influence of a new White House pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, who she said downplayed the threat of the virus. The emails provide fresh insight into how Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, grappled with what Dr. Birx called the misinformation spread by Dr. Atlas.The push to downplay the threat was so pervasive, Dr. Birx told committee investigators, that she developed techniques to avoid attention from White House officials who might have objected to her public health recommendations. In reports she prepared for local health officials, she said, she would sometimes put ideas at the ends of sentences so colleagues skimming the text would not notice them.In her testimony on Thursday, she offered similarly withering assessments of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, suggesting that officials in 2020 had mistakenly viewed the coronavirus as akin to the flu, even after seeing high Covid-19 death rates in Asia and Europe. That perspective, she said, had caused a “false sense of security in America” as well as a “sense among the American people that this was not going to be a serious pandemic.”Not using “concise, consistent communication,” she added, “resulted in inaction early on, I think, across our agencies.”And those at fault, she said, were not “just the president.”“Many of our leaders were using words like, ‘We could contain,’” she continued. “And you cannot contain a virus that cannot be seen. And it wasn’t being seen because we weren’t testing.”

Trump told Jan. 6 filmmaker he was scared after getting COVID - Former President Trump acknowledged he was scared when he discovered he had COVID-19 given how many friends of his had died during the pandemic, he told a British documentarian filming him in the months leading up to Jan. 6. The remarks are a shift from his public comments after he was infected with the coronavirus in October 2020. After Trump left Walter Reed Hospital, where he spent 3 days being treated for COVID-19, he told people “don’t be afraid of it.” Filmmaker Alex Holder was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating Jan. 6 and asked to turn over his interviews with Trump, his adult children and Vice President Pence. His footage touches on a variety of topics, from the attack to the fallout of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. “At that point he was no longer the president, but when he was, he was in charge of the entire the COVID response, and hundreds of thousands of people had died. What he said to me was that the reason why he was sort of scared of COVID was essentially because he knew people who had died of COVID, basically he was referring to his friends, he was referring to people he knew personally that had got COVID and that some of them had died,” Holder said. “And that’s why it was quite shocking to him when the doctor said to him he actually had COVID, so his way of understanding the danger of COVID came from his own personal connections to people rather than a national or global scale.”

 Dems weigh new plan to defuse Obamacare subsidy bomb - Democrats are eyeing a last-ditch plan to avert a spike in health care costs that could further damage their midterm prospects. But, per usual, it all hinges on winning over Joe Manchin. A proposal being weighed by congressional Democrats and party advisers in recent weeks aims to temporarily extend the enhanced Obamacare subsidies that were part of the financial aid package President Joe Biden signed into law last March, according to three people familiar with the discussions. Those subsidies are set to expire later this year. The plan under consideration would keep them in place for at least another few years, postponing the insurance premium hikes projected to hit roughly 13 million Americans. It would stop well short of making them a permanent part of the Affordable Care Act, sharply curtailing the overall cost. Democratic leaders had long hoped to renew the subsidies as part of their sweeping climate, tax reform and prescription drugs package. But Manchin has demanded a smaller bill that funnels half its savings toward deficit reduction. That’s made a cheaper, short-term extension perhaps the only viable option for salvaging the Obamacare aid — as long as negotiators can get Manchin to drop his separate desire for every program in the reconciliation bill to be made permanent. “Everyone recognizes that it needs to be done,” one of the people familiar with the discussions said of the subsidy extension. “But to get it done under our current understanding of the framework, he’d have to make an exception.” The search for a path forward on the issue comes amid rising Democratic anxiety over the potential political fallout if the enhanced subsidies expire. The subsidies passed as part of last year’s American Rescue Plan that slashed the cost of health insurance for millions of people, with many lower-income enrollees paying close to nothing for their coverage. As more people became eligible for assistance, Obamacare enrollment surged to new highs. Absent an extension, insurers will likely begin sending advance notice of rate hikes to voters in October. That, in turn, could worsen an already difficult situation for vulnerable Democrats and White House advisers grappling with public anger over inflation that threatens to cost the party its Senate and House majorities.

Biden officials still trying to get better baby formula supply data as shortages continue -The Biden administration is still seeking a full picture of ongoing problems with infant formula supply — more than four months after a key plant shutdown sparked shortages and a national crisis.The FDA awarded a $70,000 contract to the data firm NielsenIQ on June 14 for four months of retail tracking data, according to two people familiar with the discussions and a posted notice of the agreement. The move comes after White House officials privately admitted to POLITICO that incomplete data on retail stocks slowed their response after the shutdown and recall of formula from a key Abbott Nutrition manufacturing plant in mid-February. As a result, the administration didn’t anticipate the severity of the shortages, which spiraled into a political liability for President Joe Biden in May.Despite launching an emergency government response over the last month — including flying in formula from abroad and easing regulatory restrictions — the supply situation is getting worse. Data the White House tracks shows current in-stock rates dipping below those in early May. And the shortages are likely to drag on for months more after the Abbott plant at the center of the crisis was knocked offline again by storms and flooding last week. “Sounds like they haven’t a clue as to what’s going on,” said Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that oversees the FDA. “Go to Costco, go to Wal-Mart. Look at the shelves,” Burr added, referencing continued shortages at some of the country’s largest retailers.

Social Security Report – 2022 - The 2022 Social Security Report came out on June 2. There were no surprises. Things are still predicted to turn out pretty much as they have been predicted to turn out since the 1990’s or earlier. The Report projects the Trust Fund will run out of money in 2035. After that, benefits will need to be reduced about 20% or the tax will need to be increased about 4%. Workers who are not their own boss will see a tax increase of about 2%. The Report projects Social Security “fails the test of short term financial adequacy.” This means the Trust Fund falls below 100% of prudent reserves within ten years. This is not necessarily a real problem, but it warns of a coming real problem: When the Trust Fund actually runs out of money in 2035 or so, this creates the “long range actuarial deficit” which is the difference between scheduled, or promised, benefits and the amount of money coming into Social Security from payroll taxes. We could have avoided all this trouble by starting to raise the payroll tax one tenth of a percent per year when short term financial inadequacy was first reported two years ago. Missing that chance will cost us more money, but so far not so much more that it will make a real difference to anyone if we act now. The Report projects a deficit over 75 years of about 20.4 Trillion Dollars. This is not as bad as it looks. It turns out to be exactly the same amount of money as that projected 4% tax increase needed in 2035. The 4% increase then would erase the 20.4 Trillion Dollar actuarial deficit entirely. If we raise the tax immediately, a raise of only 3.2% would be needed to see us through 2096. Keep in mind that the worker would see only half of the tax. That is, a tax increase of 1.6% for the worker today would be sufficient for the next 75 years. This is not a lot of money, and no one would notice a change in their lifestyle. But there are even better ways to erase the deficit. Here are four:

Texas Republican Party passes resolution declaring Biden government illegitimate -In the midst of the January 6 House Select Committee hearings detailing the attempt of Donald Trump to overthrow the government, based on the lie that the 2020 election was “fraudulent,” Texas Republicans ended a three-day convention over the weekend by adopting a resolution declaring that “President Joseph Robinnette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States.” The resolution passed “without any real debate,” the Texas Tribune reported. In reality, Biden defeated Trump 306-222 in the Electoral College vote and by some 7 million in the popular vote. The first three hearings established that Trump was repeatedly told by top officials in his Justice Department and some members of his inner circle that there was no truth to his claims of massive voter fraud. This, however, did not stop the largest state Republican Party in the country from affirming Trump’s lie and in the process condoning the violent attack on the Capitol. The adoption of the resolution refutes the attempt of the January 6 Select Committee and the Biden administration to suggest that Trump’s attempted coup had only marginal support, limited to a few “crazy” Republicans, while the majority of the party continues to maintain an allegiance to democratic forms of rule. Trump’s coup had the support of a majority of the party at the time, and his ongoing preparations to install himself as president-dictator continue to have the institutional support of the Republican Party. The plot was also backed by substantial sections of the police, military and intelligence apparatus, along with elements in the media and on the Supreme Court. In the over 17 months since the attack on the Capitol, Trump has been given carte blanche by President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party and Attorney General Merrick Garland to plot his next coup. This is because the Democratic Party fears that an exposure of the true extent of the plot would not only reveal its complicity in allowing it to happen but could also provoke a mass response from below against the entire capitalist system. Neither Trump nor any of his high-level accomplices has been held to account, allowing the ex-president to cultivate his far-right movement and play the role of Republican kingmaker. In fascistic rallies held throughout the country, Trump has bestowed his “complete and total endorsement” to Republican politicians in the upcoming midterm elections based on their loyalty to the “stolen election” lie and to him personally. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that 108 of the 170 Republican candidates chosen for statewide or federal elections so far this year have supported Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was “stolen,” while another 41 have affirmed their commitment to “election security.”

Opinion | Trump’s Pardon Abuses Expose the Myth of Unlimited Presidential Power - One of the recurring themes of the Jan. 6 Committee hearings has been requests for presidential pardons by people who advanced Donald Trump’s election fraud lies and attempt to override Joe Biden’s unequivocal win.At the first hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the committee, announced in her opening statement that Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) “contacted the White House in the weeks after Jan. 6 to seek a presidential pardon,” and that “multiple other Republican congressmen also sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.” (Perry has denied the allegation; the committee has several more hearings at which to disclose the evidence supporting Cheney’s claim.)Then, last Thursday, committee member Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) revealed that Trump lawyer John Eastman — who outlined an ostensibly unconstitutional plan to have former Vice President Mike Pence reject electoral college certifications — sent Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani an email just days after Jan. 6: “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.”The implications were obvious: Because a pardon can operate as the constitutional equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card, Eastman, Perry and other Republicans in Congress wanted protection from possible criminal liability for crimes they may have committed in furtherance of Trump’s lawless efforts to undermine the 2020 election results and subvert the peaceful transfer of power.It’s not just that these people may have incriminated themselves by their requests. It’s the notion that the president’s power itself is so broad that they might have received one legally if Trump so chose. People are rightly asking: Can a president really grant a pardon to someone who may have criminally obstructed an official proceeding at his behest? Isn’t it obstruction if the president gives out pardons in return for a political favor? And what if he wrote preemptive, so-called “pocket” pardons for his family members, as theNew York Times reported was discussed in December of 2020?Like other constitutional conundrums stoked by Trump, there is no legal precedent establishing the legitimacy or illegality of either quid-pro-quo or pocket pardons. Yet there is a line of legal thinking, advanced by Trump and his allies, that holds the president’s power to pardon as so absolute that it can never be improperly granted and therefore no request for a pardon can be considered illegal either. During the Mueller investigation in 2017, Trump tweeted his belief that “the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.” This is not a universal belief and shouldn’t be.

Fox anchor: Jan. 6 witnesses outlining ‘huge, stunning, clear’ lack of voter fraud evidence - Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum on Tuesday said that witnesses testifying before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol are laying out a “huge, stunning and clear moment” showing a lack of evidence to support former President Trump’s claims of an unfair election in 2020. MacCallum said Democrats on the committee are likely to use division among Republicans about whether to believe Trump’s claims about the election as a political tool in the coming midterm and presidential contests. “It will be extremely useful in coming campaigns, especially the presidential, when you look back at what we have in terms of the Mike Pence part of all of this,” MacCallum said. “So it is a political discussion. It is very compelling and the lack of evidence is the huge stunning clear moment here where these people are saying look I supported you, please give me something to work with, and it simply doesn’t materialize.” MacCallum’s comments came during Fox’s live continuous coverage of the committee’s fourth public hearing on Tuesday.

GOP member of Jan. 6 committee warns that more violence is coming - One of two Republican members of the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, starkly warned Sunday that his own party’s lies could feed additional violence. “There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.” Kinzinger, who defied party leadership by serving on the Democratic-led committee, described an alarming message he received at home in the mail several days ago threatening to execute him, his wife and their 5-month-old baby. “I’d never seen or had anything like that. It was sent from the local area,” he said. On Sunday evening, Kinzinger tweeted a copy of the letter addressed to his wife that read in part, “that pimp you married not only broke his oath, he sold his soul.”   In his tweet, Kinzinger suggested that the Republican National Committee is encouraging such threats. “The Darkness is spreading courtesy of cowardly leaders fearful of truth,” he said. Public officials have been inundated with threats in recent months, many spurred by former president Donald Trump’s continued obsession with the baseless claim that his 2020 loss was the result of a vast conspiracy of fraud. The Washington Post last year tracked how election administrators in at least 17 states received threats of violence in the months after the Jan. 6 attack, often sparked directly by comments from Trump. The violence on Jan. 6 was a logical conclusion given the falsehoods spread by Trump his allies, Kinzinger said. “If you truly believe the deep state owned the election and the democracy was stolen and the election was stolen, that’s the most logical outcome,” said Kinzinger, who voted to impeach Trump shortly after the Jan. 6 attack and is not running for reelection.

Fourth January 6 hearing documents fake electors plot and fascist threats against election officials, workers -On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on January 6 held the fourth in a series of televised hearings detailing the plot led by Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 presidential election and seize dictatorial power. Tuesday’s hearing focused on the attempt to pressure Republican-led legislatures in six pivotal states that voted for Biden to submit fake slates of pro-Trump electors, creating the conditions for the courts, and perhaps Trump himself, still the lame-duck president, to intervene to block congressional certification. Trump and the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted against certification after the insurrectionary mob had been cleared out of the Capitol, as well as their backers in the military, the police and the intelligence agencies, counted, with good reason, on the Democrats to capitulate and agree to a filthy compromise that would leave Trump in power. As in the previous hearings, the main witnesses were conservative Republicans who backed Trump’s campaign for reelection, but balked at joining his flagrant effort to overturn the election and the US Constitution. Once again, the Democratic-led panel presented them as heroic examples of “good Republicans” who saved American democracy—part of the Democrats’ effort to rehabilitate the Republican Party and cover up the role of the Supreme Court and the institutions of the capitalist state in general in the mounting assault on democratic rights. Tuesday’s hearing underscored even more than those that preceded it the systematic and at times violent reprisals unleashed by Trump on officials and even local election workers who stood in the way of his dictatorial aims. Trump’s gangster methods, and the fact that he remains at large, along with his top co-conspirators like Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Mark Meadows, Peter Navarro and Sidney Powell, demonstrates that the threat of fascism and dictatorship continues and American democracy remains at death’s door. The first panel of in-person witnesses consisted of Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, and his chief operating officer, Gabriel Sterling. Bowers testified that Trump and Giuliani called him to demand that he convene a special session of the state legislature to select a fake slate of pro-Trump electors in opposition to the certified slate of Biden electors. Arizona voted for Biden by a margin of 10,457 votes. Eventually, Bowers testified, a fake slate of electors was adopted by a group of Arizona state lawmakers behind his back.Significantly, the committee did not ask Bowers about the role of Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in the pressure campaign to overthrow the election result in Arizona and nationally. “Ginni” Thomas emailed Bowers and state Representative Shawnna Bolick on November 9, 2020, just after the media called the race for Biden, and urged that they intervene,… Ginni Thomas renewed her pressure on Arizona legislators the following month, on the eve of the certification deadline for the states, December 14, contacting a total of 26 lawmakers.

Unseen Trump tapes subpoenaed by House panel investigating Jan. 6 - The House select committee investigating Jan. 6 sent a subpoena last week to Alex Holder, a documentary filmmaker who was granted extensive access to then-President Donald Trump and his inner circle.Holder shot interviews with the then-president both before and after Jan. 6. The existence of this footage is previously unreported.A source familiar with the project told POLITICO on Monday night that Holder began filming on the campaign trail in September 2020 for a project on Trump’s reelection campaign. Over the course of several months, Holder had substantial access to Trump, Trump’s adult children and Mike Pence, both in the White House and on the campaign trail.According to the subpoena, which was obtained exclusively by POLITICO, the committee has subpoenaed “any raw footage you or your colleagues took in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021”; raw footage of interviews he conducted with Trump, Pence, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner; and raw footage “pertaining to discussions of election fraud or election integrity surrounding the November 2020 presidential election.”Holder is expected to fully cooperate with the committee in an interview scheduled for Thursday. The move comes as the committee is set to meet on Tuesday afternoon for a hearing that centers on the pressure campaign Trump and his allies mounted to get state officials to overturn the 2020 election, including attempts to advance slates of “alternate electors” to flip the results.

Jan. 6 committee delays hearing schedule until July - The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol is pressing pause on its hearings for next week and picking them up again in July. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the committee, told reporters Wednesday that the committee would hold off on the two final hearings it had planned for this month. “We’ve taken in some additional information that’s going to require additional work. So rather than present hearings that have not been the quality of the hearings in the past we made a decision to just move into sometime in July,” Thompson said. Thursday’s hearing will continue as planned. “There’s been a deluge of new evidence since we got started. And we just need to catch our breath, go through the new evidence, and then incorporate it into the hearings we have planned,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) similarly mentioned a “mountain of new information.” “I don’t think we’ve established a date yet, but we have a mountain of new information that’s come in that we have to go through,” Lofgren told The Hill. The committee has recently received more information from the National Archives, and Raskin said it has also received information from other various sources — a comment that comes after the committee flashed its web address in the hopes of enticing new witnesses. The new evidence includes recently turned over video footage from a British documentarian of the attack as well as interviews with former President Trump, his adult children and former Vice President Mike Pence — a figure the committee has been unable to convince to speak to investigators. “We have gotten some additional information from a documentarian that we’ll have to review and some additional NARA production that’s going to require a little more time than we anticipated,” Thompson said, using the formal abbreviation for the National Archives.

Trump Re-Election Donors Are Now Giving to Ron DeSantis - Big backers of Donald Trump’s failed re-election bid are now digging deep into their pockets for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024. Politico reports that 10 donors who contributed a total of $24 million to Trump's reelection efforts have recently funneled $3.4 million to a DeSantis political action committee. Theoretically that money is for DeSantis’ re-election as governor, but could be used for a presidential campaign war chest. According to the report, the contributors include those who never donated to a state-level race in Florida or who have significantly upped their financial support for DeSantis. “I know a lot of donors who are kind of in wait-and-see mode,” Shiree Verdone, who was Trump’s campaign co-chair in Arizona, told Politico. “They really, really like DeSantis, who is very popular, but you don’t want to upset Trump.”

DeSantis edges past Trump in New Hampshire poll - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) edges past former President Trump in a poll of likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters over their first choice for president in the upcoming 2024 election. The new University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll released on Wednesday found DeSantis receiving 39 percent support from likely Republican primary voters in the state compared to 37 percent for Trump. The difference between the two is insignificant and within the poll’s margin of error, meaning they are effectively tied at the top. But it’s a significant rise for DeSantis in the poll. In previous polling conducted by the university, DeSantis had been trailing behind Trump, receiving 19 percent support in July 2021 and 18 percent in October 2021. Trump, in contrast, had won 47 percent and 43 percent support, respectively, in those previous polls. “Trump slipping in pre-primary polls is part of a typical pattern,” Director of the UNH Survey Center Andrew Smith said in a statement. “A party’s losing candidate in the prior election is typically the best-known person in their party. As the primary gets closer, new candidates emerge and attract more media attention, and therefore more voter attention, than the losing candidate from the previous election,” he added. Former Vice President Mike Pence received 9 percent support in the new poll, while former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley received 6 percent. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) all received 1 percent each.

Missouri Republican candidate for US Senate and former Navy SEAL releases gun-toting ad urging violence against “RINOs” - On Monday, aspiring US senator and disgraced former governor of Missouri Eric Greitens, a Republican, released a 38-second campaign ad in which he and a heavily armed squad of paramilitaries break into a home as part of a “RINO [Republican In Name Only] hunting” expedition.  The ad begins with a grinning 48-year-old Greitens carrying a shotgun and touting his military background as a US Navy Seal. “Today we are going RINO hunting,” Greitens says as he chambers a round into the shotgun he is holding. After Greitens loads his weapon, the camera cuts to him and a squad of heavily armed men dressed in military fatigues, similar to a police SWAT team, in front of a residential house. Greitens comments, “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice.” As he finishes his sentence, one of the men uses a battering ram to smash open the door, followed by another masked paramilitary, who throws a smoke grenade into the home. Greitens and company enter the home through the smoke with rifles pointed up, ready to fire. Greitens tells his viewers: “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit, there is no bagging limit, there is no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.” The “RINO hunting permit” is a sticker available for purchase on Greitens’ campaign website and requires a minimum donation of $25.This is the second advertisement issued by the Greitens campaign in the last two months in which he glorifies homicidal violence against his political opponents while wielding a firearm.In a campaign ad released this past April, Greitens and Donald Trump Jr. are filmed shooting metal human cutouts with automatic rifles. As Trump Jr. and Greitens walk toward the camera, Trump Jr. says they are “striking fear into the hearts of liberals everywhere, folks.”“Liberals beware,” Greitens adds over the sound of gunfire.While ex-president Donald Trump has yet to make an endorsement in the Missouri primary, which will take place on August 2, Greitens is currently the front-runner to replace retiring Senator Roy Blunt. Greitens is closely linked to the Trumps. His campaign chair is Don Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani hosted a rally for him last year, and Greitens has already made at least one pilgrimage to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort this year.

Big Banker Brother: Deutsche Bank Eavesdropping On Employees With Surveillance App - After a series of scandals - including 1MDB, fired managers who expensed strip club receipts or texted colleagues pictures of S&M sessions, and of course - the $150 million fine they paid "for significant compliance failures" in regards to Jeffrey Epstein - Deutsche Bank has now gone full Big Brother on its employees as government pressure to do so intensifies. According to the Financial Times, Germany's largest lender has started requiring certain bankers to download and install mobile surveillance app Movius, which allows compliance staff to monitor calls, text messages and WhatsApp conversations, according to people familiar with the matter.Movius has partnerships with various telecoms, such as Spring, Telstra, Telefónica and Blackberry, and was used by several financial institutions during the pandemic in order to monitor employees working from home, particularly those in heavily regulated roles such as trading.DB has been installing the software on employees' work phones over the last several weeks, after several high-profile embarrassments involving DWS executives and WhatsApp.A former executive of Deutsche’s asset management arm, DWS, has flagged the alleged extensive use of WhatsApp by outgoing chief executive Asoka Wöhrmann and other DWS executives in a whistleblower complaint to Germany’s financial watchdog BaFin, the Financial Times has reported. The FT also reported this year that Deutsche chief executive Christian Sewing exchanged friendly WhatsApp messages with a German businessman who the bank had ditched as a client after a number of potentially suspicious payments. -FTThough this isn't the first time Deutsche Bank has made headlines for surveilling employees, the German lender joins the likes of JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Julius Baer, Jeffries and Cantor Fitzgerald in the use of Movius in recent years - and comes as banks are expanding their use of monitoring software amid government crackdowns on banks' record-keeping practices and general compliance. Both the US Government and the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, as well as BaFin in Germany, have demanded that banks explain how they monitor their staffs' personal communications.According to the Times, Deutsche was approached by BaFin earlier this year and asked to explain how staff use messaging apps. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that the bank was testing out a new IT solution to improve how they monitor communications.

Distressed Crypto Lender Gets Debt Repayment Reprieve As It Battles For Survival -After coming perilously close to getting margin called into oblivion on Saturday, when liquidations sparked daisy-chained liquidations leading to collateral call cascades across the entire crypto sector, bitcoin and its digital token peers have staged a solid comeback in the past two days, with bitcoin bouncing back over $20K and ether rising as much as $1100, up almost 30% in 48 hours. There was more good news on Monday, when Bloomberg reported that the Sequoia Capital China-backed Babel Finance - the distressed crypto lender which we previously reported had frozen withdrawals on Friday amid the relentless cascade in selling - said it won a reprieve on debt repayments.In a statement the company posted on its website, the Hong Kong-based Babel said it had “reached preliminary agreements on the repayment period of some debts, which has eased the company’s short-term liquidity pressure." Co-founder Flex Yang told Bloomberg the company “will disclose to the public” once they’ve made progress."Given the current context of severe market volatility, Babel Finance’s management will continue to communicate closely with customers, counterparties, and other partners, and provide updates in a timely and transparent manner,” the company said in the statement. Separately, Bloomberg reported that Babel is in talks with large institutions about potential solutions that include setting up a new entity to take over some of the debt. It wasn't clear who that entity may be.As discussed on Saturday, Babel’s difficulties - along with those of Celsius, a massive crypto shadowbank which similarly halted withdrawals a few days earlier - highlight the turmoil sweeping the crypto industry. Babel cited “unusual liquidity pressures” for its decision to halt withdrawals. It wasn't clear when the company might open its platform for withdrawals or name the lenders it’s in discussions with, although it is likely that the price of biitcoin and ether will have to be notably above current prices.The halt on withdrawals marked a sudden reversal of fortunes for Babel, which less than a month ago announced an $80 million funding round that put its valuation at $2 billion. The company had an outstanding loan balance of more than $3 billion at the end of last year.

Bitcoin bounces back after falling to new 2022 lows over the weekend - Bitcoin jumped on Monday, after the cryptocurrency fell below its 2017 high over the weekend, but investors remained on edge thanks to a slew of negative crypto headlines and macro factors keeping pressure on sentiment. The world's largest cryptocurrency by market cap climbed above the $20,000 mark for much of the day Monday. However, it last edged lower by less than 1% to $20,005.46, according to Coin Metrics. Over the weekend, bitcoin fell as low as $17,601.58. Meanwhile, ether inched higher by less than 1% to $1,102.86. While investors will welcome the rebound, bitcoin still sits 70% below its all-time high, hit in November. It's down 57% year-to-date. Many have suggested a market bottom could be close, but with so much economic uncertainty remaining, bitcoin still has more downside potential, according to Yuya Hasegawa, a crypto market analyst at Japanese bitcoin exchange Bitbank. "Bitcoin's weekend dip was, to put it simply, not deep enough," he said. "The macro environment has not really changed from last week's FOMC meeting: there still has not been a clear sign of inflation coming down and the Fed may still drive the economy into recession by raising rates too aggressively or simply by failing to tame inflation." 'Dead cat bounce' With bitcoin unable to hold convincingly above $20,000, industry watchers said the rally might be short-lived. Vijay Ayyar, vice president of corporate development and international at crypto exchange Luno, told CNBC that unless the price of bitcoin closes above $23,000 on a daily time frame basis, "the odds are this is a dead cat bounce." "We're oversold, so a bounce was expected," he added.

‘I Am’ Buying—Elon Musk Reveals Surprise Crypto Bet Amid $2 Trillion Bitcoin, Ethereum, BNB, XRP, Solana, Cardano And Dogecoin Price Crash - Bitcoin, ethereum and other major cryptocurrenices have crashed this year, with around $2 trillion erased from the combined market capitalization in a matter of months. The bitcoin price has this weekend fallen below $20,000 per bitcoin, a milestone bitcoin first passed in late 2017 before falling into a multi-year bear market that some fear could be about to happen again. Ethereum and other top ten cryptocurrencies BNBBNB , XRPXRP , solana, cardano and dogecoin have also crashed back. Now, Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who was this week hit by a $258 billion lawsuit over his support of dogecoin, has said he is still buying the joke bitcoin rival and will continue to support it. Want to stay ahead of the market and understand the latest crypto news? Sign up now for the free CryptoCodex—A daily newsletter for traders, investors and the crypto-curious "I will keep supporting dogecoin," Musk, who last year revealed he personally owns dogecoin, bitcoin and ethereum, posted to Twitter, repling to one commentor that told him to "keep buying" it, "I am." Last month, Musk's rocket company SpaceX followed his electric car company Tesla in adopting dogecoin payments, allowing customers to buy merchandise using dogecoin. "You've always been earnest about supporting the coin for what I consider the right reasons—you find it amusing, appreciate the satire and irony, and you think it has potential as a currency—and your companies accept it for merch, giving it more utility," dogecoin co-creator Billy Markus, who Musk has credited as being one of the reasons that "people love dogeoin," replied to Musk's statement of support. As last year's huge bitcoin, ethereum and crypto bull run pushed prices to blistering highs, Musk—who was voted "dogecoin CEO" in a joke Twitter poll in 2019 and adopted the moniker "The Dogefather"—repeatedly called on dogecoin developers to upgrade the cryptocurrency in order to "beat bitcoin hands down." The dogecoin price rocketed into the crypto top ten last year after fading into relative obscurity, helped by Musk and other high-profile investors such as Mark Cuban. The dogecoin price peaked at over 70 cents ahead of Musk's appearance on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live and has since collapsed to just 5 cents, down more than 90%.

Bitcoin whale Michael Saylor urges governments to step in and regulate crypto’s ‘parade of horribles’ -The world’s largest public holder of Bitcoin called on regulators to finally tackle a laundry list of risky, immature crypto industry practices, or “parade of horribles”, that are unfairly weighing on the price of its asset.Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor argues the over 19,000 cryptocurrencies and digital tokens in circulation must be viewed as “unregistered securities” that cannot be likened to a hard commodity like Bitcoin—which has no issuer, no management, no employees, no product cycle and only a finite supply.Speaking in a webcast with NorthmanTrader founder Sven Henrich, Saylor said Bitcoin was being caught in the crossfire of a collapsing crypto market since it often served as collateral on margin loans for less proven tokens.“What you have is a $400 billion cloud of opaque, unregistered securities trading without full and fair disclosure, and they are all cross-collateralized with Bitcoin,” he arguedHe added mainstream financial institutions often won’t touch an asset like Bitcoin “because of the slime that gets onto the asset class from all the unregistered securities." https://twitter.com/Nouriel/status/1538195958835646470?s=20u0026t=cnwpQkCr-hyscOHMc9YXYQ Nouriel Roubini, a respected economist and one of the few to predict the 2008 global financial crisis, branded crypto on Saturday a ponzi scheme collapsing upon its own weight. It’s attitudes like these that make Saylor, otherwise critical of government intervention in the free market during the pandemic, believe regulators should and will eventually step in to protect investors from the bad apples.

After Crypto Money Piled into Campaign Coffers of Senators Lummis and Gillibrand, They Introduced a Sweetheart Legislative Bill for Crypto - By Pam and Russ Martens --On June 7, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee which oversees commodities, and Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming who sits on the Senate Banking Committee which oversees Wall Street and trading, introduced a bill as an early Christmas present to the crypto industry. It carries the Alice in Wonderland title of the Responsible Financial Innovation Act.In reality, it is an irresponsible piece of legislation whose sponsorship by these two women only makes sense when you understand that their campaign coffers are being stuffed with money from the crypto industry. According to data from the Federal Election Commission, one of the largest donations to the Lummis campaign last year was $5800 from Jesse Powell, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange, Kraken (a/k/a Payward). Powell was profiled in a New York Times article last week for creating a sick culture at his company where he discusses “who can refer to another person as the N word,” and has “told workers that questions about women’s intelligence and risk appetite compared with men’s were ‘not as settled as one might have initially thought.’ ”Kraken was fined a measly $1.25 million last September by the crypto-captured Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for committing two rather large crimes. According to the CFTC, Kraken engaged in “illegally offering margined retail commodity transactions in digital assets, including Bitcoin” and failed “to register as a futures commission merchant (FCM).”Powell wasn’t the only crypto titan stuffing $5800 into the Lummis campaign. FEC records show that the two co-founders and Managing Partners of Multicoin Capital, Pyahm (Kyle) Samani and Tuschar Jain, each contributed $5800 on July 29, 2021. Multicoin runs both a hedge fund and a venture capital fund that are involved in crypto.Another of the top six donors to the Lummis campaign last year was Michelle Bond of an outfit listed simply as “ADAM.” Bond donated $5800 to the Lummis campaign on July 27, 2021, just two days before the Multicoin Capital donations came in from the co-founders.Upon closer scrutiny, it turns out that ADAM stands for Association for Digital Asset Markets, a crypto trade group. Multicoin Capital has a representative on ADAM’s Board of Directors, as do numerous other crypto exchanges and crypto interests. Michelle Bond is its CEO.Bond’s bio says she previously worked “as international counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.” Dodd-Frank was another piece of sell-out legislation to trading interests. Bond’s bio also notes that she “launched her legal career at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)….” FINRA is Wall Street’s captured self-regulator that runs Wall Street’s private justice system that locks customers and employees out of the nation’s courts.Also among the top six donors to the Lummis campaign last year was a $5800 contribution from Kristin McKenzie Smith, who lists her job on the FEC form as a lobbyist for law firm Thompson Coburn. That law firm brags on its website as follows:“In March 2018, the state of Wyoming signaled its fervent support for the growth and development of blockchain and cryptocurrency by enacting into law a flurry of legislation intended to make the state a haven for certain types of ICOs and blockchain-related businesses. Of the five bills recently signed into law by Governor Mead, three relax the state’s regulatory framework for cryptocurrency and two amend the state’s corporations code so as to better facilitate the development of blockchain and cryptocurrency businesses.”To read a summary of these freakish laws, see here.

 Crypto currency meltdown points to deeper financial crisis -It has been described as the week when the financial world shifted—the business channel CNBC described it as a “new reality”—when it became apparent global central banks were intent on lifting interest rates, come what may. The major action was the decision by the US Federal Reserve to raise its base rate by 0.75 percentage points, the biggest single increase since 1994, with more to come. The Bank of England lifted its rate for the fifth time and predicted the UK inflation rate would rise to 11 percent. Smaller central banks, such as the Reserve Bank of Australia, have indicated further rate rises are in the pipeline. One of the most significant decisions was that of the Swiss National Bank which lifted its base rate by 0.5 percentage points. Previously it had been one of the firmest advocates of maintaining rates at historic lows. The official reason for the rate rises is the need to combat inflation, but the central banks are well aware that their actions will not reduce price hikes. Their concerted action has another target. As inflation reaches its highest levels in four decades, it is aimed at clamping down on the wage demands of the working class around the world by inducing a recession, if that proves necessary. The interest rate hikes have resulted in a sharp fall on stock markets around the world led by Wall Street. The broad-based S&P 500 is down by around 22 percent from its previous high, and the fall in the Dow is approaching 20 percent. The tech-heavy and interest-rate sensitive NASDAQ index has fallen by more than 30 percent, with significant stocks dropping by more than 50 percent from their highs. One of the indications of the growing instability is the precipitous fall of crypto currencies, and the decisions by traders to suspend operations because of turbulent market conditions. The crypto currency lender Celsius Network, which sent a shock wave through the crypto market last week when it suspended withdrawals, has said it will “take time” to normalise its operations. In a blog post message yesterday, it said it would continue to work “with regulators and officials regarding this pause and our company’s determination to find a resolution.” But it provided no details. The chaos began last month when the so-called stablecoin TerraUSD, used to facilitate crypto currency trading by providing a link to the US dollar, failed to maintain dollar parity. The shutting down of withdrawals has extended beyond Celsius. On Friday the crypto lender Babel Finance, based in Hong Kong, said it was pausing withdrawals because of “unusual liquidity pressure” and the Singapore-based crypto hedge fund Three Arrows has failed to meet margin calls from lenders. Yesterday the Hong Kong-based crypto exchange Hoo halted transactions which were threatening to exhaust its funds. It said it was trying to reconfigure its medium- and long-term assets in an “orderly and reasonable manner.” Previously, the swings and gyrations in the crypto market were regarded as somewhat isolated from the equity market and the broader financial system. That was generally the case in the period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a comment piece published in the Australian Financial Review, columnist Karen Maley drew attention to an analysis from an International Monetary Fund staffer published in January which pointed to the growing correlation between the crypto and stock markets. Writing in response to the fall of bitcoin to below $20,000 over the weekend—down from near $70,000 in November, amid predictions that it would go to $100,000—she said more conservative investors “might be quietly congratulating themselves on their sagacity in not succumbing to the crypto craziness. But their smugness may be premature. That’s because the sharp drop in the bitcoin price will inevitably rattle global equity markets.”

 Bitcoin market meltdown prompts fresh warning in China that value of world's leading cryptocurrency could fall to zero -- The global cryptocurrency industry's latest meltdown has prompted fresh warning in China that the value of bitcoin could drop much further and be worth nothing, as Beijing renewed efforts to dissuade Chinese investors from all crypto-related activities. An article published on Wednesday by the Economic Daily, a newspaper directly under the Central Committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said investors should beware the risk of bitcoin prices "heading to zero" amid the recent decline of the world's first and leading cryptocurrency. "Bitcoin is nothing more than a string of digital codes, and its returns mainly come from buying low and selling high," the newspaper said. "In the future, once investors' confidence collapses or when sovereign countries declare bitcoin illegal, it will return to its original value, which is utterly worthless." The Economic Daily's latest write-up comes a month after it used as an example the collapse of stablecoins terraUSD and luna to justify China's ban on cryptocurrency trading. The lack of regulation in Western countries, such as the United States, helped create a highly-leveraged market that is "full of manipulation and pseudo-technology concepts", the newspaper said. It described that as an "important external factor", which has contributed to bitcoin's volatility.

More and More Crypto Crashing and Burning as DeFi (Decentralized Finance) Misbehaves by Yves Smith --Let’s underscore some key issues: there’s no reason for regulators to have sat pat when crypto was starting out and at not much more than hobbyist stage. Banks and monetary authorities would not benefit from having currencies outside their purview, charitably assuming that crypto ever grew up. From the beginning, its mains uses have been and remain tax avoidance, money laundering/facilitation of crime, and speculation. Oh, and one can add exploitation of users. None of these are societally valuable. It may not have been possible to completely tamp out crypto, but it could have been subjected to enough prohibitions and/or regulations to render it a fringe activity. Instead, the continuing rout is pulling down even more players. I have to confess that I have not heard of these firms despite their alleged significance. Today, the Financial Times has a new article on how three “decentralized finance” or DeFi platforms, Maker DAO, Bancor and Solend, have all had to break their own rules to save their businesses, customers and previous commitments be damned. Crypto maven David Gerard, in It’s Time for Regulators to Put Crypto Down in Foreign Policy, focuses on how the withdrawal halt imposed by “crypto investment” firm Celsius on June 12 triggered a further downdraft in the crypto market. The Guardian also has a fine, if a bit daunting for the newbie article on Celsius, What the crypto big freeze means for your money. TL;DR: Assume it’s gone poof. The Wall Street Journal has also published a new trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all article, The Fire Burning Beneath Crypto’s Meltdown. Before going into the particulars, let’s again look at why the crypto project was destined to go awry. First, it was always a technology in search of a market, which is generally not a sound idea, since customer needs are too often butchered to fit the Procrustean bed of the technology, or alternatively, as happened here, all too conventional and risky work-arounds were implemented. For instance, one of the big original selling points of Bitcoin was that it would be a “hard” currency, not at all like fiat currencies, because it had a limit on how many coins could be issued. Instead, Bitcoin was lent (rehypothecated1) and loaned against, creating leverage that appears to considerably exceed the original value of the Bitcoins. And the crazy proliferation of new coins was another way to massively expand “currency” supply.2 The result was the reverse of a prized inelastic and comparatively stable (in some sort of mythical real economy sense) marker. From the Journal: The appeal of gold today is that it acts as a haven in bad times, and typically acts as a partial hedge against inflation. Bitcoin holders have discovered that not only is it not a hedge against inflation, it isn’t a haven either. Its price tends to move in line with risky assets, not safe ones. The gold price is up 4% in the past 12 months as inflation has soared, against a fall of 12% in the S&P 500 and a 43% loss for bitcoin. Digital, sure. Gold, not so much. Similarly, crypto DeFi touts have found out that to have a proper financial system, you need custodial services, legal disclosures, record-keeping, payment services, tax reporting, investment products…the list goes on. And yes, current payments processors can overcharge due to their monopoly/oligopoly status, but that’s the sort of thing that can be addressed by regulation. Offering up alternatives that don’t deliver on their promise diverts energy from getting transaction and other charges down.3 And crypto isn’t very good for its supposed core use, payments. Bitcoin has huge and rising energy costs and has much slower processing speeds than the Visa/Mastercard network. Those problems are inherent to crypto. As the Journal explained: [Bitcoin] failed to take off as a medium of exchange, as it is clunky and costly to use. Other cryptocurrencies are somewhat more practical for transactions, but all suffer from a core problem: The more they are used, the more expensive transactions become as a way to regulate capacity on the network. Like Uber, Bitcoin has surge pricing built in.

Crypto Victims’ Cries for Help Are Piling Up at a Federal Complaint Center --By Pam Martens -The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the federal agency that was created under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 in response to Wall Street’s harrowing abuses to average Americans in the leadup to the financial crash of 2008. One of its key benefits is that it has a complaint database where consumers can post their complaints to the agency, and the general public and reporters can read those complaints on a public website. The general public benefits by seeing what types of complaints are being made against a financial institution they might be considering doing business with and reporters can look for dangerous patterns that are emerging. We delved into a specific area of complaints at the CFPB yesterday. We put the word “Bitcoin” into the search box and pulled up 1,031 matches. Next we searched under the word “crypto” and pulled up 885 matches. Considering that perhaps (generously) one in 1,000 people in America have heard about this complaint center and perhaps one in 2,000 would take the time to file a complaint, that’s an enormous number of complaints. It didn’t take us long to zero in on the company that was getting the bulk of the complaints. It was the cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, that became publicly traded on Nasdaq to much fanfare on April 14 of last year. So we entered the word “Coinbase” into the search box and got an astounding 3,732 matches. To wrap your head around just how astounding that number of complaints is for such a young company, we put the words “Goldman Sachs” into the search box and pulled up only 1,193 matches – and that’s over the span of more than a decade that the CFPB complaint center has been alive and the “great vampire squid” has been “wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” to quote Matt Taibbi’s take on Goldman Sachs. Coinbase’s website carries the slogan “The future of money is here.” Based on the gut-wrenching details in the complaints filed with the CFPB – if this is the future of money in America, the country is doomed and every citizen will soon be stuffing their cash under the mattress or burying it in the backyard. The complaints paint the narrative of a company that is not ready for prime time – or even the B roll that lands on the cutting room floor. Not to mention the fact that the business of Coinbase is trading and storing crypto – a product which has been called a Ponzi scheme by economist Nouriel Roubini and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; “rat-poison squared” by legendary investor Warren Buffet; and a sham by a growing number of scientists and software engineers. Before we get to the text of the complaints and the horror stories of getting fleeced, consider who did get rich on this not-ready-for-prime-time company. On its first day of trading as a direct listing on April 14, 2021, the stock closed at a share price of $328.28 (after spiking to more than $400 during the day), giving it a market capitalization of $85.8 billion. In a traditional IPO, early investors and company executives are not allowed to sell their shares for several months under a lockup period. There’s no such restriction in a direct listing. According to an SEC filing, Coinbase’s Chairman and CEO, Brian Armstrong, sold 750,000 shares on April 14, 2021 at an average share price of $389.10, raising approximately $291.8 million for himself. Since then, Coinbase has been on a steady descent, closing yesterday at $57.49, a decline of 82 percent from its first trading day’s closing price.\

Hackers stole $100 million in latest crypto theft -Harmony, a California-based crypto firm, announced on Thursday night that hackers have stolen $100 million worth of cryptocurrency from one of its blockchain bridges.The company said on Twitter that it has partnered up with law enforcement and forensic specialists to try to identify the hackers and retrieve the stolen funds.“Harmony is working around the clock as we continue our investigation alongside the FBI and multiple cyber security firms,” the company tweeted. In a blog post, the company said its team has attempted to reach out to the hacker with an embedded message sent to the culprit’s crypto wallet address.The theft is the latest crypto hack to occur in the last two months. In April, the FBI accused North Korean government-backed hackers of stealing about $620 million in cryptocurrency from the virtual game Axie Infinity.The federal agency identified the hackers behind the theft as the Lazarus Group, which has been associated with the North Korean government. Since 2015, the Secret Service has reportedly seized more than $100 million in cryptocurrency in an effort to crack down on fraudulent digital currency transactions. David Smith, an official from the Secret Service, said in an April interview with CNBC that his agency has been tracking down the flow of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the blockchain to prevent and combat fraudulent activities. Although agencies like the FBI and the Secret Service have taken steps to combat crypto theft and ransomware, a Senate report released in May found that the federal government lacks sufficient data on the use of cryptocurrency in ransom payments.

Has Crypto Endangered Federally-Insured Big Banks? Ask State Street By Pam and Russ Martens: There have been a number of articles lately attempting to reassure Americans that the crypto carnage will not cause financial instability or an economic collapse in the U.S. like that of 2008. The fact is, absolutely no one can say with any degree of certainty what will be the outcome of this unprecedented era of reckless investing. That’s because anything that causes the megabanks on Wall Street to pull back from lending to one another or to major counterparties – out of fear that the institution has dangerous crypto exposure – could cause the same contagion effect that occurred in 2008 from opaque derivatives and toxic subprime debt exposures. We decided to have a look at the websites and quarterly SEC filings (10-Qs) made by the megabanks on Wall Street, the ones that since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 are allowed to own both sprawling trading casinos as well as giant federally-insured commercial banks. The megabanks we looked at are also known as G-SIBs (Global Systemically Important Banks) – meaning their insolvency, or even a rumor of their entanglements with crypto could produce systemic effects.It didn’t take long to get a knot in our stomach. One of the largest custodian banks on Wall Street is State Street, which is custodian and/or administrator to $41.7 trillion(yes, trillion) in assets as of March 31, 2022 according to its 10-Q. It also owns a federally-insured bank by the same name that holds $176 billion in deposits as of March 31 according to the FDIC. Here is the stomach-churning part: it has been promoting its leap with both feet into crypto. One of its divisions is called State Street Digital Solutions, which is harrowingly described as follows on State Street’s website: “Mirroring our long-established global custody offering, we are building a leading digital asset network by harmonizing our operating model and providing our clients with a seamless experience to hold traditional and digital assets. We are working on a service that allows clients to store digital assets, starting with bitcoin and ether, in a segregated safekeeping account, offering services first in Germany, the US and Canada, and later expanding across other jurisdictions and assets. “State Street is a founding member of Fnality, a payment solution providing a digital cash asset backed 1:1 by Central Bank deposits. Fnality has already applied to open one of the Bank of England’s new Omnibus accounts, that enables account holders to settle transactions in central bank money through a wide range of innovative payment services. “In addition to investing in specialist firm Securrency to further enhance our tokenization efforts, State Street Digital has created a range of tokenization solutions for use in areas from the lifecycle of trades to collateralization. Our industry firsts include: proof of concepts for tokenizing fund shares in partnership with asset managers; automating the over-the-counter lifecycle of foreign exchange non-deliverable forwards (NDFs); and digitized trade processing on our front-to-back platform, State Street AlphaSM, which provides easy access to aggregated data, analytics and real-time insights in one place. “Digitization will affect trading on many levels, from facilitating complete automation to the emergence of peer-to-peer and decentralized finance (DeFi) models, as well as funding model considerations. We are building cryptocurrency trading infrastructure that is scalable, resilient and secure, and allows for capital-efficient trading. State Street is uniquely placed to meet the needs of the institutional market given our extensive e-trading experience. We have been actively enhancing our FX trading software platform, Currenex®, as a solution to power institutional crypto markets. Currenex is already providing the infrastructure for Pure Digital, a UK-based over-the-counter crypto trading platform for institutional investors.”State Street notes this in a footnote: “The development, release and timing of any product, features or functionality described remain at the sole discretion of State Street and are subject to the firm’s internal governance and due diligence approval process.”

Fed: Banks Pass Annual Stress Test -- From the Federal Reserve: Federal Reserve Board releases results of annual bank stress test, which show that banks continue to have strong capital levels, allowing them to continue lending to households and businesses during a severe recession: The Federal Reserve Board on Thursday released the results of its annual bank stress test, which showed that banks continue to have strong capital levels, allowing them to continue lending to households and businesses during a severe recession. All banks tested remained above their minimum capital requirements, despite total projected losses of $612 billion. Under stress, the aggregate common equity capital ratio—which provides a cushion against losses—is projected to decline by 2.7 percentage points to a minimum of 9.7 percent, which is still more than double the minimum requirement. Test results here.

Banks hit cruise control for the 2022 stress tests - — Large banks remain well capitalized to handle an economic shock, according to findings from the Federal Reserve’s latest stress test. The Fed said in a statement that the 2022 stress test results “showed that banks continue to have strong capital levels, allowing them to continue lending to households and businesses during a severe recession.” Collectively, the 33 banks included in the assessment had a stress minimum capital ratio of 9.7%, more than double the minimum required by the central bank. Overall, tier one capital ratios declined by 2.7%, a slightly steeper fall than the 2.5% measured in last year’s stress test. This year’s scenario was far more severe than the 2021 version, owing to the economic improvement seen last year. The Fed’s stress tests are designed countercyclically, meaning they are more demanding in prosperous times and less so during times of distress. The 2022 scenario called for a 5.8 percentage point increase in unemployment and an aggregate loss of more than $600 billion across all the banks examined. Under the scenario, which also included a nearly 40% decline in commercial real estate prices and a 55% drop in stock values, the banks were projected to lose more than $460 billion on their loan portfolios and $100 billion on trading and counterparty activity. Only 23 institutions were subject to stress testing last year because of a 2019 rule change requiring banks with between $100 billion and $250 billion of assets to be evaluated every other year. Among banks that were tested in both years, aggregate losses under the 2022 scenario were only $50 billion greater than the year prior. Fed officials attributed the resilience exhibited this year to banks having more capital reserves than normal on their balance sheets. The banks entered the scenario with an aggregate tier one capital ratio of 12.4%. All 33 banks emerged with aggregate capital ratios well above the 4.5% minimum. Even the most adversely impacted institution, Huntington Bancshares Incorporated, registered a 6.8% ratio. For the second year in a row, Deutsche Bank US was the best capitalized institution coming out of the stress scenario, with a ratio of 22.8%. Charles Schwab Corp. and Credit Suisse Holdings USA were not far behind at 20.2% and 20.1%, respectively.

Big banks led by JPMorgan set to return $80 billion to investors - U.S. banking giants are poised to return $80 billion to shareholders after this year’s Federal Reserve stress tests, less than last year’s elevated level that followed a pandemic-driven buyback pause. JPMorgan Chase is set to lead the group with $18.9 billion in combined dividends and share buybacks, even as the biggest U.S. lender spends more this year to build out offerings and fend off competition. Bank of America and Wells Fargo are expected to return $15.5 billion and $15.3 billion, respectively, according to data compiled by Bloomberg based on estimates provided by analysts at Barclays. “Because the banks didn’t buy back stock during COVID, the last year was very elevated, so you reduced that excess capital,” Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays, said in an interview. “We’re certainly in a period of increased economic uncertainty, and at the same time we’re actually seeing pretty good loan-growth opportunities.” The annual exams force banks to consider a hypothetical crisis and estimate the losses they might face based on their books of business. The banks use those numbers to assess how much capital they can afford to dole out to investors. The results of this year’s tests will be released Thursday, while banks will unveil their capital plans in the coming weeks. Last year, dividend payouts by the nation’s six largest lenders rose by almost half after the country’s largest banks amassed mountains of excess cash during the pandemic. Morgan Stanley alone doubled its quarterly payout while also announcing as much as $12 billion in stock buybacks. That makes for a tough comparison this year. Banks are also dealing with fears that historic levels of inflation and central banks’ efforts to tame it will limit economic growth. That’s been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sparked geopolitical uncertainty across the globe. “Going forward this year, like many of our peers, we do expect to have a moderated share-buyback program due to the uncertainties of the macro environment,” Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser told investors in April.

Powell says regional banks decide who gets master accounts - — Senators pressed Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday morning to bring more transparency into the central bank’s process for granting access to its payments system. During a two-and-a-half-hour Banking Committee hearing on inflation and monetary policy, Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., raised issues with the Fed’s accountability in how it provides master account access. The critiques came less than a week after Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, denied a request from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for additional information about the reserve bank’s decision to grant and then later revoke the master account of Reserve Trust, a Colorado-based fintech. “Regarding congressional oversight of the Fed, I remain concerned that the Fed and its regional banks continue a pattern of stonewalling reasonable requests for information,” Tillis said. “The latest example concerns the fairness, transparency and consistency of Fed decisions to granting highly valuable Fed master accounts.” Lummis asked Powell if he would commit to creating a public database of institutions that have received Fed master accounts and another list of organizations that have applied for them. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. already maintain similar resources on websites. “I’ll be glad to look into that,” Powell said, adding that the matter is largely beyond the control of the Fed Board of Governors. “You know our system well and it really is that the board, we set rules, but the reserve banks really make the decisions about granting accounts subject to those rules.”

Fed bans former Golden Pacific investor from banking industry - Karl K. Klessig, an investor who two years ago sought to acquire the former Golden Pacific Bancorp in Sacramento, California, was banned from the banking industry for providing a fraudulent loan document and forged signature in his application, the Federal Reserve Board said Friday. “Klessig’s deceptive conduct in connection with his effort to acquire control of the bank exposed the institution to probable financial loss or could have prejudiced the interests of the bank’s depositors,” the Fed said in a press release. Klessig agreed to the order without denying or admitting wrongdoing, the Fed said. Klessig did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Golden Pacific, which was bought last year by Social Finance and is now a unit of the $9.2 billion-asset SoFi Bank in San Francisco. Anyone seeking approval to acquire control of a bank regulated by the Fed must accurately disclose the source of funding for the acquisition, the central bank said in a news release. Klessig “falsely represented that he had obtained a loan to finance his purchase of a controlling interest in Golden Pacific Bancorp,” the Fed said. He withdrew his application after the discovery of fraud, the Fed said. Klessig is chairman of Synrgo Inc., a mortgage title company in Orange County, Calif., that is currently in receivership, according to the company’s website. Klessig is also listed on LinkedIn as the founder and CEO of TransactSafe, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, company that processes financial transactions.

FDIC plans to raise assessments in face of deposit glut - The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. plans to hike deposit insurance assessment rates next year — a move that would increase costs for banks as they continue to see high deposit growth more than a year after the last round of pandemic stimulus. At a board meeting Tuesday, the FDIC voted to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that would raise deposit insurance assessment rates by 2 basis points for all insured depository institutions. Assessments vary based on a bank’s size, condition and other factors. The proposal would have only a “modest” impact on the industry’s profits, about an average estimated annual reduction of less than 2%, FDIC acting Chairman Martin Gruenberg said at the meeting. “A year has passed since the latest quarter of extraordinary growth in insured deposits prompted by the most recent round of pandemic-related fiscal stimulus,” Gruenberg said. “The banking industry has continued to report strong insured deposit growth.”

Banks weigh in on the overturning of Roe v. Wade - After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on Friday, ending women’s right to abortions nationwide, some banks jumped into a highly charged social policy debate that the industry long sought to avoid. Both JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America made it known that they are generally following the lead of Citigroup, which recently expanded its health benefits to cover out-of-state abortions. Meanwhile, the CEOs of a number of smaller banks in blue states expressed opposition to the court’s 6-3 ruling, which overturned a 49-year-old precedent. “I stand in disbelief,” said Laurie Stewart, president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle. “I’m shocked by this, even though it was predictable given the makeup of the court.” The decision is a major setback for women’s rights after decades of progress, said Stewart, who has led the $920 million-asset bank since 1989. The court’s ruling will also result in a “workplace equity issue” that hurts both corporations and employees, said Maura Keaney, first vice president of Amalgamated Bank in New York City. “Women’s participation in the workforce is contingent on access to comprehensive reproductive health care, and that includes abortion,” Keaney said. The decision will limit career opportunities and diminish efforts to diversify the U.S. workforce, Keaney said. “This is not an issue that starts and ends in someone’s home.”

Overdraft reform bill set aside by House panel, sources say — A bill to introduce new limits on banks’ overdraft practices was quietly pulled before being voted on during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with the decision.The bill, titled the Overdraft Protection Act and sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would include a monthly cap on the number of times such fees could be charged to customers and require that customers opt in to banks’ overdraft programs, rather than opt out. But Wednesday's markup hearing — at which 10 bills were voted on or discussed — ended in the late afternoon without any discussion of the Overdraft Protection Act. And although the markup session will continue Thursday afternoon with a handful of postponed committee votes from Wednesday, two sources said the overdraft reform bill had been removed from consideration. Several Democratic bills to support down-payment assistance for mortgage borrowers and other housing programs met with protests from Republicans, who said the legislation would further fuel inflation. The GOP maneuvers failed, but they highlighted the parties’ differing priorities ahead of the midterm elections.The committee has four more Democrats than Republicans. But Maloney’s bill did not have enough Democratic votes to clear the committee, said one of the sources, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly. "Protecting consumers has never been easy," Maloney said in a statement to American Banker. "It wasn’t easy when we passed my Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights and it won’t be easy now, but I am determined to see this through and get [the overdraft bill] over the finish line in the near future."Maloney pointed to research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that found80% of overdraft fees are paid by just 9% of consumers, adding: "Congress needs to stand with the consumers who are unfairly targeted by these fees.”A spokesperson for committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., did not respond to comment on Wednesday afternoon. Democrats have taken an increasingly sharp interest in banks’ overdraft practices in recent months, and many banks have pared back or eliminated their overdraft programs. But retail bank advocates and some Republicans have pushed back against a crackdown on overdraft fees, saying that many American rely on overdrafts as a form of short-term credit that’s cheaper than payday lending.

BankThink: Delaying CFPB’s data sharing rule will only create more problems down the road - In 2010, Congress bestowed upon the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the authority to create an open banking regime in the United States. Section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act empowers the CFPB to provide to U.S. consumers and small businesses a uniform, legally binding right to digitally share their own financial data with third-party financial services providers of their choice. A Section 1033 rulemaking would both improve financial access at home and bring the U.S. financial system in line with many other G-20 countries abroad. There is no doubt that the CFPB and the Biden administration intend to usher in an era of open banking in the United States. Through various statements and orders, the Biden administration and the CFPB have made it clear that increased centralization and weakened competition within the financial services industry has led to worsening consumer value and fewer choices, which is particularly harmful in today’s economic environment of persistent inflationary pressure. And they’re not alone: There has been bipartisan interest in moving forward on a Section 1033 rulemaking over the last six years, beginning when former CFPB Director Richard Cordray first issued a request for information on the subject in 2016, and continuing through former CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger’s issuance of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in October 2020. Despite this consistent support, U.S. consumers and small businesses still lack a formal financial data right 12 years after Congress initially granted the CFPB the authority to create one. Now, more than one year after the close of the bureau’s ANPR on Section 1033, reports suggest the rule may be further delayed due to concerns over data privacy. While the CFPB’s focus on consumer data privacy is well placed, in reality it is the absence of a Section 1033 rulemaking that threatens to create a patchwork of decentralized, asymmetrical data privacy standards in the customer-permissioned data sharing marketplace. Today, consumer data privacy in the U.S. open banking ecosystem is driven principally through bilateral data access agreements negotiated between and executed by financial institutions and data-aggregation firms. These proprietary agreements are not homogeneous, and, as a result, consumers’ ability to access and use their own financial data, and the protections afforded to them when they do so, may differ depending on which financial institution they use. By contrast, countries that have implemented legally binding data rights under authorities akin to Section 1033 have instituted accreditation or licensing requirements that impose standards on companies that offer financial services, products or tools, including data privacy requirements.

The CFPB is turning to Dodd-Frank’s unfinished business -The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rulemaking agenda will be dominated in the year ahead by unfinished rules that Congress mandated more than a decade ago by the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB laid out the timeline for five rules in its spring agenda that the bureau expects to complete by May 31, 2023. Two of the rules are considered the most consequential including consumer access to financial records and a small-business data collection rule. CFPB Director Rohit Chopra has lamented that he inherited rules that previous directors had failed to complete or even put off for years. The CFPB was sued in 2019 by a consumer group for failing to move forward with the small-business lending rule. “We are heavily focused on implementing long-standing Congressional directives, many of which have gone ignored,” Chopra wrote in a blog post last week. The Office of Budget and Management posted the CFPB’s spring rulemaking agenda on Tuesday. The CFPB did not post the agenda on its web site and did not provide anydiscussion of the upcoming rules, as past directors had done. The agenda typically gets submitted to OMB far in advance. Topping the agenda is the release in November of a small business outline for the data access rule. The rule comes on the heels of President Biden’s executive order last year encouraging rules to make consumer data portable. The rule will set standards that allow consumers to give third-party companies access to their bank transaction data. The bureau still has to convene a panel in coordination with the Small Business Administration to examine the impact of a proposed rule. The panel’s outline is likely to be close to what the CFPB ultimately proposes, sources said.

Index regulation is tricky but necessary --Earlier this week the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it was exploring whether index providers should be regulated as “investment advisers” — just like any money manager. It was a bombshell that many have seen coming.Here’s what SEC chair Gary Gensler said in the press release announcing a request for comment on the regulatory status of index companies, model portfolio providers and pricing services:In recent decades, the use of information providers has grown, changing the asset management industry. The role of these information providers today raises important questions under the securities laws as to when they are providing investment advice rather than merely information. In order to help the Commission determine when — and under what facts and circumstances — these providers are giving investment advice, the Commission seeks information and public comment to help guide our approach.Index providers are the main target. Companies that produce financial indices like the S&P 500, the Russell 2000 or the MSCI World index have in the US avoided regulation by operating under the “Publishers’ Exemption”, which originally was intended to shield newspapers and newsletter writers.After all, many index providers did start within publishing businesses or exchanges, as a fairly small information service to customers. The courts have therefore felt comfortable that index providers were not providing investment advice when they created benchmarks.The benchmarks were supposed to merely reflect the market, rather than constitute a recommendation of what securities to buy, and were offered to a broad audience rather than directly to a client.The regulatory philosophy in the US has therefore been to regulate the index product but not the index provider.This approach has worked well for many years, but is this the case any more?There are several factors which have led to the SEC reviewing whether index providers should be regulated. But the biggest is the tremendous growth of passive index-based investment products.The Investment Company Institute now estimates that 16 per cent of the entire US stock market is held by index funds, outstripping the 14 per cent owned by traditional actively-managed funds.Some recent academic research claims that this is beginning to warp the efficient functioning of markets.

What shale pros, foes are saying about the SEC's climate disclosure rule - When CNX Resources Corp. sent a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of the closing of its public comments period against a major change in how companies would have to disclose climate risks, it was one of thousands that were received. But it was one of the few natural gas producers, particularly in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, to do so. There have been more than 20,000 comments so far on the SEC's climate-change disclosure proposal, officially titled "The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors." Every publicly traded company, regardless of type of work, would be impacted by the regulations that set out to further clarify a company's impact on climate change. But not surprisingly, energy companies come under particular scrutiny and their supporters and detractors are well represented. CNX CEO Nicholas DeIuliis, in the Southpointe-based driller's letter to the SEC, said that the company wanted to embrace the proposed regulations as a way to show how CNX and other energy companies were backing up their words with actions when it came to climate. "Unfortunately, the proposal falls short of establishing the kind of level-playing field necessary to give the public what it deserves," DeIuliis wrote. "Instead, it injects confusion and undermines investors' access to truly comparative data. It is important that investors receive adequate information to understand the full scope of a company's end-to-end lifecycle emissions profile."The National Association of Manufacturers said that the proposed regulations were too confusing and wide-ranging to be of use."The proposed rule instead institutes a wide-ranging mandate for public companies to generate and report pages upon pages of information, much of which is not material to their operations or financial performance," NAM wrote. "In many instances the required information is not even available."That was also discussed by Targa Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas pipeline company, that said there would be substantial costs to complying with the regulation and it was concerned about wording about "expertise in climate-related risks" mentioned in the proposed regulations."The lack of a clear definition presents challenges for registrants as they work to determine how to comply with this rule," Targa said.Elected officials in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among those who have spoken out. GOP senators, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, D-West Virginia, wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler that climate disclosure wasn't in the purview of the SEC."There are serious questions about whether the SEC has the technical expertise to assess climate models and underlying assumptions used in companies' metrics and disclosures," Toomey and the others wrote. "Without such technical expertise, the SEC will likely review submissions arbitrarily, leading uneven or unfair application."U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and one of the industry's strongest supporters, questioned in his own letter the SEC's motivations."The most concerning piece of the proposed rule is what appears to be the targeting of our nation's fossil fuel companies," Manchin wrote. "Not only will these companies face heightened reporting requirements on account of their operations, but they will also be subjected to additional scrutiny for Scope 3 emissions disclosures of other companies that utilize their services and products."

 CFPB launches opening salvo in battle against credit card late fees -The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took its first step toward protecting credit card users from paying excessive late fees.CFPB Director Rohit Chopra on Wednesday issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to assess whether late fees charged by credit card issuers are “reasonable and proportional,” as required by the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, known as the CARD Act.Chopra has been signaling for months that the CFPB wants to slash the $12 billion in annual late fees charged by credit card companies. The bureau is expected to change a provision of CARD Act regulations that allows issuers to peg late fees to inflation. “Credit card late fees are big revenue generators for card issuers. We want to know how the card issuers determine these fees and whether existing rules are undermining the reforms enacted by Congress over a decade ago,” Chopra said in a press release. “Current rules might give companies the incentive to impose big hikes based on inflation.”The cost of processing late payments should have gone down over the years due to advances in technology, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra told reporters.The CARD Act, enacted in 2010, banned excessive credit card penalties. But it also gave card issuers relief from liability if they set late fees at a particular level subject to an annual inflation adjustment. Though the CFPB typically cannot change or set bank fees, the bureau has the authority to set so-called safe harbor limits for late fees under the CARD Act. Credit card issuers have been allowed to raise late fees due to inflation because the safe harbor does not require a cost analysis to determine if the fees are reasonable.

Life Insurance Payouts Jumped 163% During First Year Of Vaccine Rollout -Five months after breaking the story of the CEO of One America insurance company saying deaths among working people ages 18-64 were up 40% in the third quarter of 2021, I can report that a much larger life insurance company, Lincoln National, reported a 163% increase in death benefits paid out under its group life insurance policies in 2021

Buy and Bust: When Private Equity Comes for Rural Hospitals. — When the new corporate owners of two rural hospitals suddenly announced they would stop admitting patients one Friday in March, Kayla Schudel, a nurse, stood resolute in the nearly empty lobby of Audrain Community Hospital: “You’ll be seen; the ER is open.”The hospital — with 40 beds and five clinics — typically saw 24 to 50 emergency room cases a day, treating patients from the surrounding 1,000-plus acre farms and tiny no-stoplight towns, she said. She wouldn’t abandon them.A week later Noble Health had the final word: It locked the doors.Noble, a three-year-old startup that acquired Audrain and nearby Callaway Community Hospital, offered explanations on social media, including “a technology issue” and a need to “restructure their operations” to keep the hospitals financially viable.The company should have had plentiful resources to keep them afloat: Noble was launched in late 2019 by Nueterra Capital, a venture capital and private equity firm that has raised millions of dollars to back dozens of health care companies, according to Nueterra’s portfolio and federal filings.What’s more, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid funds, Noble had received nearly $20 million in federal covid relief money in the 18 months before it closed the hospitals — funds whose use is still not fully accounted for.Private equity investors, with their focus on buying cheap and reaping quick returns, are moving voraciously into the U.S. health care system; investments increased twentyfold from 2000 to 2018, and have only accelerated since. Financially distressed rural hospitals like Audrain are targets, putting vulnerable communities at the mercy of firms whose North Star is profit, rather than patient health. A recent report found that 441, more than 20%, were at risk of closing or losing services. The saga that followed Noble into these towns may well serve as a warning flare from the rolling wheat and corn fields between Kansas City and St. Louis.

GAO: Fair-lending examinations at OCC lacking - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s examination process on fair-lending practices is outdated, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. In a review of five examinations of potential redlining, the GAO found that examiner guidance didn’t account for new statistical methods to analyze redlining, and that examiners were sometimes inconsistent. Examiners in three of those cases didn’t find banks’ responses sufficient in the face of the examiners’ statistical analysis. However, two of the examiners considered banks’ responses and did additional work, concluding that the banks didn’t engage in redlining. “The guidance lacks specificity in some procedures in light of new statistical analyses,” the report found. “Since examiners' conclusions are the basis for supervisory action, updated and clearer guidance could help ensure the consistency of redlining examinations and enforcement of fair-lending laws.” The report also noted that the OCC recently changed its policy regarding fair-lending investigations. In 2021, under the Biden administration, the agency began considering an enforcement action in every matter that’s referred to the Department of Justice. Previously, the OCC generally wouldn’t consider taking that step until the Justice Department turned the issue over to the agency. “In 2021, the Acting Comptroller asked OCC staff to review OCC’s fair-lending examination processes and to make recommendations regarding changes to be considered, including to the DOJ referral process, according to OCC staff,” the report said. “They said that this review prompted OCC to begin considering whether an enforcement action is warranted in every fair-lending matter referred to DOJ going forward, including when DOJ settles with an OCC-supervised bank or brings a separate civil action.”

 Republicans seek delays to housing bills, citing inflation -Lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee clashed over the role of government investment in down-payment assistance and other housing programs on Wednesday with Republicans signaling a deep resistance to new spending programs until inflation recedes. The committee was voting on several bills, nearly all of which were sponsored by Democrats. Republicans, rather than simply vote against bills they opposed, attempted to add new language that would have delayed the implementation of new programs until various inflation measures began to improve.With midterm elections less than five months away, the struggle could be a preview of how congressional priorities will flip if Republicans take control of the House in 2023. Two bills focused on improving the fire safety of federally assisted housing advanced through the committee with little fuss. But Republicans fought to delay other bills that would authorize the Department of Housing and Urban Development to expand existing programs or develop new ones aimed at making the U.S. housing market fairer, including a $100 billion fund to subsidize down payments by first-generation homebuyers.“It's unclear what my Democratic colleagues are really trying to accomplish,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. “How does establishing a $100 billion down-payment assistance program keep housing costs down, or not exacerbate inflation?”Another bill, submitted by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, would increase funding for the HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program and introduce grants to study housing discrimination. McHenry attempted to introduce an amendment that would delay the law’s implementation until inflation is “back below the [Federal Reserve’s] 2% target.” But Green and other Democrats on the committee argued that some forms of government spending could alleviate inflation pressures for Americans in the near term, particularly around housing affordability. Green argued that more resources dedicated to ensuring fair access to housing would translate to better economic outcomes for low-income communities around the country.

BankThink: Blow up the CRA and start from scratch - The Community Reinvestment Act was enacted in 1977 “to address inequities in access to credit for low- and moderate-income individuals and communities.” The law should be repealed and replaced. Like hanging a crystal chandelier in a lean-to shack, any efforts to revise the law are a waste of time. This especially includes efforts proposed by the Federal Reserve Board “to strengthen the achievement of the core purpose of the statute, and to adapt to changes in the banking industry, including the expanded role of mobile and online banking.” The increase in financial institution-induced harm, including environmental damage, demands a different, more honest and authentic approach in reviewing CRA’s inability to facilitate access to banking services and credit. This is especially true for African American, Black and, separately, low- and moderate-income individuals and communities. The Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have long cited phantom CRA progress. The law has failed to reduce anti-Black racial discrimination in financial services, to lower poverty or to lessen environmental destruction. Black-white differences in wealth, income and life expectancy have not significantly improved over the past 50 years. Indeed, one confirmation of this is the fact that domestic food insecurity has been growing in African American and in low-income communities. Failure to meet the goals outlined by CRA is indicative of a systemic problem that the law is ill-equipped to address. The assumptions underpinning CRA, including continual nondiscriminatory access to banking services and economic expansion as a solution for racism and poverty, have been proved invalid. It is expedient for the Fed, the FDIC, the OCC and those employed by the CRA-dependent organizations they fund to promote a cheerful message that enhanced technology, “community benefit agreements” and financial literacy training will solve problems stemming from both poverty and environmental degradation. Data from the agencies' own CRA reports show this is untrue. The country and its citizens would be better off with a more coherent, clear-headed and honest assessment of the deteriorating situation. Decades of damage and loss have led us to this point. As perhaps one of the most experienced, impactful CRA analysts I call on the board, the FDIC and the OCC to bring their approach into line with reality. It is my position that the agencies should drop the ineffective and unhelpful regulatory fig leaf of the Community Reinvestment Act. Blow it up and start from scratch. It simply has not worked.

 MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 0.85% in May" --Note: This is as of May 31st. From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Decreases to 0.85% in May: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) monthly Loan Monitoring Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 9 basis points from 0.94% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior month to 0.85% as of May 31, 2022. According to MBA’s estimate,425,000 homeowners are in forbearance plans. The share of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans in forbearance decreased 5 basis points to 0.38%. Ginnie Mae loans in forbearance decreased 4 basis points to 1.25%, and the forbearance share for portfolio loans and private-label securities (PLS) declined 29 basis points to 1.86%. “Servicers are whittling away at the remaining loans in forbearance, even as the pace of monthly forbearance exits slowed in May to a new survey low. Most borrowers exiting forbearance are moving into either a loan modification, payment deferral, or a combination of the two workout options,” said Marina Walsh, CMB, MBA’s Vice President of Industry Analysis. Added Walsh, “It is a positive sign to see the overall servicing portfolio performance reach 95.85 percent current in May – 21 basis points higher than April’s figures. However, it is worth watching if the rapid increase in interest rates for all loans, combined with inflation that is outpacing wage growth, complicates post-forbearance workout options and puts additional pressure on borrowers in existing post-forbearance workouts.” This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time. The share of forbearance plans is decreasing, and, at the end of May, there were about 425,000 homeowners in forbearance plans.

Black Knight: "Past-Due Mortgages Fall to Third Consecutive Record Low in May" - From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Past-Due Mortgages Fall to Third Consecutive Record Low in May; Serious Delinquencies, Foreclosure Starts See Continued Improvement
•The national delinquency rate fell five basis points from April to 2.75% in May, continuing the downward trend in overall delinquencies of the prior two months and marking yet another new low
• Following typical seasonal patterns, early-stage delinquencies – borrowers who have missed a single mortgage payment – edged marginally higher (+0.2%) month over month
• While serious delinquencies saw strong improvement, falling 7% from April, the population of such loans (those 90 or more days past due but not yet in foreclosure) remains 45% above pre-pandemic levels
• Despite elevated serious delinquency levels, foreclosure starts dropped 12% from April and continue to hold well below pre-pandemic levels while active foreclosures edged slightly higher
• Prepayment activity fell by 11.1% from the prior month and is now down 59.1% year over year on sharply higher interest rates
According to Black Knight's First Look report, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 1.9% in May compared to April and decreased 42% year-over-year.
Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 2.75% in May, down from 2.80% in April. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process increased in May to 0.50%, from 0.46% in April. This is increasing from very low levels due to the foreclosure moratoriums.
The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 1,050,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is up 26,000 properties year-over-year.

Stock Market Swoon Pulls Rug Out from under Luxury Home Sales | Wolf Street - Manhattan luxury real estate vs. stock market downward spiral in June: In the week through June 19, only 12 sales contracts were signed for condos, co-ops, and townhouses with asking prices of $4 million and above, the worst week since the week of December 28, 2020 (with 10 contracts), according to today’s weekly report by Olshan Realty.The number of contracts was about one-third of the average number of contracts signed in the prior 52 weeks, and down 70% from the same week in June last year (41 sales).“This anemic performance coincided with the S&P 500 Index dropping 5.8%, its worst week since March 2020. The S&P has fallen 11 of the last 12 weeks,” Olshan’s report said. There have been other reports on this phenomenon – though not quite as real-time-ish and as brutal: What is pulling the rug out from under luxury real estate isn’t necessarily the spike in mortgage rates – though that can play a role too by massively boosting the carrying costs of luxury real estate – but the plunge in stock prices that is throwing all kinds of previously taken-for-granted equations and feelings of wealth into uncertainty.An analysis by Redfin, released earlier in June, found that sales of luxury homes – priced in the top 5% of the local market – during the three-month period through April across the US plunged by about 18% year over year — a much smaller drop than what is now occurring in Manhattan. But the Redfin report was for data only through April, and stocks have dropped quite a big further since then.“There are only two instances in the past decade when there were steeper declines: the three months ending June 30, 2020 (-23.6%) and the three months ending May 31, 2020 (-21.6%),” the Redfin report said.The Redfin report blamed the “cooling” of the luxury housing market on “soaring interest rates, a tepid stock market, inflation, and economic certainty.”The expression, “tepid stock market,” to describe the situation the stock market has been in since January should earn Redfin the understatement-of-the-year award.And yet, luxury sales in these three months through April cited in the Redfin report hadn’t yet been impacted by the recent sell-off in stocks, including the brutal drop last week.“The year-over-year cooldown is also a reflection of the market for high-end homes coming back to earth following a nearly 80% surge in sales a year ago,” Redfin said.Sales of non-luxury homes had dropped only 5.4% over the same three-month period through April, the Redfin report found.

Price cuts hit the pandemic’s hottest housing markets: Redfin - The real estate hot spots during the pandemic are among the metropolitan areas with the largest share of home listing price reductions in May, Redfin found. Nearly half of homes for sale in Provo, Utah, 47.8%, had a price drop in May, the highest share among the 108 locales Redfin analyzed. Next was Tacoma, Washington at 47.7%, followed by Denver (46.9%), Salt Lake City (45.8%), Sacramento, California, (44.3%), Boise, Idaho (44.2%), Ogden, Utah (42.6%), Portland, Oregon (42%), Indianapolis (41.9%) and Philadelphia (41.2%).Seattle and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania also reported a more than 40% share of reduced prices.The large share of price drops in several of these cities is not surprising, given their appearance on a list of the most overvalued areas in the nation, compiled by Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. Boise landed at No. 1, Ogden at No. 3, Provo at No. 7 and Salt Lake City at No. 10."There are two kinds of sellers in today's market: Those who already know the market has cooled, and those who are learning about the cooling market as they go through the selling process," said Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. "The former wants to sell quickly before the market slows further and they’re willing to price slightly below comparable homes in their neighborhood right away, and the latter may have to drop their price if their home doesn't attract buyers within a few weeks."However, as sellers start to accept the new housing market realities, listing prices will adjust as well, so fewer reductions will be needed, Fairweather said.More than 25% of home sellers dropped their asking price in half of the markets tracked in May, with over 10% in all 108 metros doing the same. That drove the national share of price drops to a record high for the four weeks ended June 12, when 22.4% of sellers undertook a reduction, Redfin previously reported.Price drops are needed as the nation's economic tide has changed direction due to inflation, a separate Redfin report stated.

Housing unaffordability closes in on bubble peaks; expect substantial price decline and increased foreclosures in the likely oncoming recession --I last looked at the issue of housing affordability at the beginning of April. As we all know, mortgage rates have continued to skyrocket in the past several months. At present they are just under 6.10%: This has changed the calculus on housing affordability considerably. So let’s take a look. In April house prices in real terms were already almost identical to their 2006 highs. Depending on what house price index you use, nominally prices are up somewhere on the order of 60% since then. For example, here is a graph of new home prices and the FHFA index for the 2000s: And here is the past several years: Meanwhile the median price for an existing home peaked in July 2006 at $230,200. As we saw yesterday, as of last month they were $402,000. Average hourly wages for non-supervisory workers are also up a little over 60% since 2006: Since in real, wage-adjusted terms, house prices are about the same now as they were at the peak of the housing bubble, let’s compare an identical mortgage then and now as well, for simplicity’s sake using $250,000, at the prevailing mortgage rates. Here’s the monthly payment for each: [...] The bottom line is that the average monthly mortgage payment has increased by about 13.6% in the past two months, and now is about 96% in real, wage-adjusted terms, of what it was at the peak of the bubble. Even before yesterday’s report, the NAR’s “Housing Affordability Index” had dropped to 105 in April. How low is that? Well, for comparison here’s what the Affordability Index was during the 2000s: At the worst of the housing bubble, it sat right at 100. In short, housing is equal to its worst affordability levels in the past 35 years. Frankly, I have been very surprised at this, since mortgage lenders are being much more careful now than they were at the peak of the bubble, when anything that fogged the mirror could get a loan. This changes the calculus of the housing market - and the economy - going forward significantly. While I don’t see the banking system fallout that we had in 2008, when all the birds came home to roost on those ridiculous loans, creating a cascade of financial system defaults, I *do* now see it as being almost inevitable that there will be another significant decline in house prices that will last a number of years. This will trap a large number of younger homeowners in houses that are financially “underwater,” as they make payments on a house they can’t sell for the price at which they bought. And an increase in unemployment during a recession next year that looks increasingly inevitable will mean a substantial increase in foreclosures for some of these buyers as well. Not so good.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications increased 4.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 17, 2022.... The Refinance Index decreased 3 percent from the previous week and was 77 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 8 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent lower than the same week one year ago.“Mortgage rates continued to surge last week, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate jumping 33 basis points to 5.98 percent – the highest since November 2008 and the largest single-week increase since 2009. All other loan types also increased by at least 20 basis points, influenced by the Federal Reserve’s 75-basis-point rate hike and commentary that more are coming to slow inflation,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Mortgage rates are now almost double what they were a year ago, leading to a 77 percent drop in refinance volume over the past 12 months.”Added Kan, “Purchase applications increased for the second straight week – driven mainly by conventional applications – and the ARM share of applications jumped back to over 10 percent. However, purchase activity was still 10 percent lower than a year ago, as inventory shortages and higher mortgage rates are dampening demand. The average loan size, at just over $420,000, is well below its $460,000 peak earlier this year and is potentially a sign that home price-growth is moderating.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 5.98 percent from 5.65 percent, with points increasing to 0.77 from 0.71 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Housing Inventory June 20th Update: Inventory up 18.5% Year-over-year -- Altos reports inventory is up 18.5% year-over-year. Inventory usually declines in the winter, and then increases in the spring. Inventory bottomed seasonally at the beginning of March 2022 and is now up 74% since then.This inventory graph is courtesy of Altos Research. As of June 17th, inventory was at 419 thousand (7-day average), compared to 396 thousand the prior week.Inventory was up 5.6% from the previous week. Inventory is increasing much faster than normal for this time of year (both in percentage terms and in total inventory added).Note: Next week, inventory will likely exceed the peak in 2021. Inventory is still historically low. Compared to the same week in 2021, inventory is up 18.5% from 353 thousand, however compared to the same week in 2020 inventory is down 39.3% from 690 thousand. Compared to 3 years ago, inventory is down 56.5% from 963 thousand.Here is a graph of the inventory change vs 2021, 2020 (milestone 3 above) and 2019 (milestone 4).The blue line is the year-over-year data, the red line is compared to two years ago, and dashed purple is compared to 2019.Two years ago (in 2020) inventory was declining all year, so the two-year comparison will get easier all year. My current guess is inventory will be up in Q4 compared to the same week in 2020.Mike Simonsen discusses this data regularly on Youtube.

 Realtor.com Reports Weekly Inventory Up 21% Year-over-year -- Realtor.com has monthly and weekly data on the existing home market. Here is their weekly report released yesterday from Chief Economist Danielle Hale: Weekly Housing Trends View — Data Week Ending June 18, 2022. Note: They have data on list prices, new listings and more, but this focus is on inventory. New listings–a measure of sellers putting homes up for sale–were up 6% above one year ago. Home sellers in many markets across the country continue to benefit from rising home prices and fast-selling homes. That’s prompted a growing number of homeowners to sell homes this year compared to last, giving home shoppers much needed options. We’ve seen more homes come up for sale this year compared to last year in 11 of the last 12 weeks. Active inventory continued to grow, rising 21% above one year ago. Inventory was roughly even with last year’s levels at the beginning of May and the gains have mounted each week. Still, our May Housing Trends Report showed that the active listings count remained nearly 50 percent below its level at the beginning of the pandemic. In other words, we’re starting to add more options, but the market needs even more before home shoppers have a selection that’s roughly equivalent to the pre-pandemic housing market.Here is a graph of the year-over-year change in inventory according to realtor.com. Note the rapid increase in the YoY change, from down 30% at the beginning of the year, to up 21% YoY now. It will be important to watch if that trend continues. Also note the possible pickup in new listings. This is something I highlighted in Final Look at Local Housing Markets in May

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.41 million SAAR in May - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Fell 3.4% in May; Median Sales Price Surpasses $400,000 for the First Time Existing-home sales retreated for the fourth consecutive month in May, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Month-over-month sales declined in three out of four major U.S. regions, while year-over-year sales slipped in all four regions.Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 3.4% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.41 million in May. Year-over-year, sales receded 8.6% (5.92 million in May 2021)....Total housing inventory registered at the end of May was 1,160,000 units, an increase of 12.6% from April and a 4.1% decline from the previous year (1.21 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 2.2 months in April and 2.5 months in May 2021.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993.Sales in May (5.41 million SAAR) were down 3.4% from the previous month and were 8.6% below the May 2021 sales rate. Sales in April were revised down.The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. According to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.16 million in May from 1.03 million in April. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Inventory was down 4.1% year-over-year (blue) in May compared to May 2021.Months of supply (red) increased to 2.6 months in May from 2.2 months in April.This was close to the consensus forecast.

Housing Bubble Woes: Supply Jumps, Sales Drop, Median Price Skewed Higher by Shift in Mix as Bottom Falls Out below $500k, amid Holy-Moly Mortgage Rates - By Wolf Richter . - Sales that closed in May of previously-owned single-family houses, condos, co-ops, and townhouses fell by 3.4% from April, based on the seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales, and by 8.6% from a year ago, the National Association of Realtors reported today. Sales of single-family houses alone dropped by 7.7% year-over-year. Sales of condos and co-ops dropped by 15.3% year-over-year. May was the tenth consecutive month of year-over-year declines. The old saw that there’s no inventory for sale is no longer an excuse because supply jumped 12.6% in May – so sharply falling sales on sharply rising supply (data via YCharts): “Further sales declines should be expected in the upcoming months given housing affordability challenges from the sharp rise in mortgage rates this year,” the NAR report said. The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales in May fell to 5.41 million homes, the lowest since the lockdown sales rates (data via YCharts): The number of homes listed for sale in May jumped by 12.6% from April, or by 113,000 homes, after having jumped by 100,000 homes in April, to 1.16 million, the highest since November. Supply of homes listed for sale jumped to 2.6 months, from 2.2 months in April, and from 2.5 months in May last year, the first year-over-year increase since the lockdown. This is quite a change from the low in January of 1.6 months (data via YCharts).Percent change of the seasonally adjusted annual rate of total home sales in May from April, and year-over-year (yoy):

  • Northeast: +1.5% from April, -9.3% yoy.
  • Midwest: -5.3% from April, -7.5% yoy.
  • South: -2.8% from April, -8.4% yoy.
  • West: -5.3% from April, -10.0% yoy.

In California, closed sales plunged, pending sales collapsed. According to the California Association of Realtors (CAR), sales that closed in May of houses plunged 15.2% in May year-over-year; and sales of condos plunged 12.3%. These are closed sales.Pending sales – a predictor of closed sales the following month – collapsed by 30.6% in May, “likely due to eroding affordability, rising mortgage rates and home prices, and the increased risk of a recession,” the CAR report noted.

More Analysis on May Existing Home Sales – McBride - Today, in the CalculatedRisk Real Estate Newsletter: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.41 million SAAR in May Excerpt: Sales in May (5.41 million SAAR) were down 3.4% from the previous month and were 8.6% below the May 2021 sales rate. Sales in April were revised down. The second graph shows existing home sales by month for 2021 and 2022 Sales declined 8.6% year-over-year compared to April 2021. This was the ninth consecutive month with sales down year-over-year.... Existing home sales are reported when the transaction closes. So, sales in May are mostly for contracts signed in March and April when mortgage rates were significantly lower than today (and many buyers locked in the mortgage rate as soon as possible). 30-year mortgage rates in March were around 4.2% according toFreddie Mac. And rates increased to around 5% in April. Now rates are slightly over 6%. My sense is contracts for sales really declined in June, and that will show up as closed sales in July and August. There is much more in the article.

Rental Market Tracker: Typical U.S. Asking Rent Surpassed $2,000 for First Time in May The median monthly asking rent in the U.S. surpassed $2,000 for the first time in May, rising 15% year over year to a record high of $2,002. That’s on par with April’s annual increase of 15%, but a slowdown from March’s 17% gain.“More people are opting to live alone, and rising mortgage-interest rates are forcing would-be homebuyers to keep renting,” said Redfin deputy chief economist Taylor Marr. “These are among the demand-side pressures keeping rents sky-high. While renting has become more expensive, it is now more attractive than buying for many Americans this year as mortgage payments have surpassed rents on many homes. Although we expect rent-price growth to continue to slow in the coming months, it will likely remain high, causing ongoing affordability issues for renters.”Asking rents surged 48% year over year in Austin, TX—the largest increase on record in any metro area since at least the beginning of Redfin’s rental data in 2019. Nashville, TN, Seattle, and Cincinnati also saw asking rents increase over 30% from a year earlier. Rent growth in Portland, OR (24%) fell below 30% for the first time since the start of the year, causing it to drop out of the top 10. Top 10 Metro Areas With Fastest-Rising Rents Year Over Year

  1. Austin, TX (48%)
  2. Nashville, TN (32%)
  3. Seattle, WA (32%)
  4. Cincinnati, OH (32%)
  5. Miami, FL (29%)
  6. Fort Lauderdale, FL (29%)
  7. West Palm Beach, FL (29%)
  8. New York, NY (24%)
  9. Nassau County, NY (24%)
  10. New Brunswick, NJ (24%)

Just three of the 50 most populous metro areas saw rents fall in May from a year earlier. Rents declined 10% in Milwaukee and 3% in Kansas City, MO and Minneapolis. The same three metro areas saw rents decline in April as well.

Ohio cities won't be allowed to impose rent control under law signed by Gov. Mike DeWine -Ohio cities will be blocked from imposing rent control measures on landlords under a bill signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday.House Bill 430 started out as a natural gas line regulation measure but was amended to include a mechanism to preempt local rent control efforts. It was backed by landlords and bankers.Rent control is government-enforced restrictions on how much landlords can charge. In April, a group began circulating petitions to put an initiative on the ballot in Columbus that calls for rent control and licensing landlords. An official at the Ohio Municipal League said that is the only rent control effort underway in the state.Ohio already prohibits cities and townships from adopting laws that regulate rental agreements. The Ohio Constitution, adopted in 1912, grants municipalities "home rule" powers as long as local ordinances don’t conflict with the state’s general laws but lawmakers have passed measures to preempt local government action on plastic bag fees to traffic cameras.Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, said rent control leads to a reduction in housing supply and makes it harder for low-income tenants to find affordable places to live."Every other place this has been done in this country has resulted in disastrous consequences," he told his fellow senators."Rent control is not a solution to poverty or inequality – it instead restricts the supply of housing and transfers wealth to current renters at the expense of future and market-rate renters," said Vena Jones-Cox, director of the Community of Real Estate Entrepreneurs, in written testimony on the bill. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a free-market think tank backed by business interests, has had a model bill for preempting rent control since 2013.

New Home Sales Increase to 696,000 Annual Rate in May The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 696 thousand. The previous three months were revised up, combined. Sales of new single‐family houses in May 2022 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 696,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 10.7 percent above the revised April rate of 629,000, but is 5.9 percent below the May 2021 estimate of 740,000.The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.New home sales are now at pre-pandemic levels.The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply.The months of supply decreased in May to 7.7 months from 8.3 months in April.The all-time record high was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. The all-time record low was 3.5 months, most recently in October 2020. This is well above the top of the normal range (about 4 to 6 months of supply is normal)."The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of May was 444,000. This represents a supply of 7.7 months at the current sales rate."The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In May 2022 (red column), 63 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 65 thousand homes were sold in May.The all-time high for May was 120 thousand in 2005, and the all-time low for May was 26 thousand in 2010.This was above expectations, and sales in the three previous months were revised up, combined.

May New Home Sales Increase, Over 5 Months of Inventory Under Construction -Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: May New Home Sales Increase, Over 5 Months of Inventory Under Construction Brief excerpt: The next graph shows the months of supply by stage of construction. “Months of supply” is inventory at each stage, divided by the sales rate.There are just over 0.68 months of completed supply (red line). This is about half the normal level.The inventory of new homes under construction is at 5.0 months (blue line) - well above the normal level. This elevated level of homes under construction is due to supply chain constraints. This is close to the record set in 1980.And a record 115 thousand homes have not been started - about 2.0 months of supply (grey line) - almost double the normal level. Homebuilders are probably waiting to start some homes until they have a firmer grasp on prices and demand.

New Home Sales and Cancellations Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: New Home Sales and Cancellations - Brief excerpt: Here is a table of selected public builders and the currently reported cancellation rate (I’m still gathering data). There is some seasonality to cancellation rates. The only builder that reported a sharp increase recently was KB Home comparing the three months ended May 31, 2022, with the three months ended May 31, 2021. “The cancellation rate as a percentage of gross orders was 17%, compared to 9%.”However, as KB Home noted on their conference call yesterday, a large portion of the increase in cancellations were on “unstarted homes”....Currently cancellation rates are below normal for the home builders. As an example, Toll Brothers recently announced a cancellation rate of 3.8%, down from 4.3% the previous quarter, and well below their historical rate of 7%. During the housing bust, Toll Brothers cancellation rates peaked close to 40%.There is much more in the newsletter.

Housing Completions will Increase Sharply in 2022 -- Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: Housing Completions will Increase Sharply in 2022 A brief excerpt: Even as housing starts slow, there will be a sharp increase in new supply in 2022 including both single family homes and apartments. This graph shows total housing completions and placements since 1968 with an estimate for 2022. Note that the net additional to the housing stock is less because of demolitions and destruction of older housing units.My current estimate is total completions (single family, multi-family, manufactured homes) will increase about 17% in 2022 to almost 1.7 million. If correct, this would be the most completions since 2006....There is much more in the article.

Commercial Real Estate’s Early Autumn: We Now See Price Cuts, Blown Deals, Widening Bid-Ask Spreads - The Wall Street Journal reported last week that April’s commercial property sales were down 16 percent compared to April 2021. In detailing the market’s loss of velocity, the newspaper stated that the hotel, senior housing, office buildings and industrial sectors were particularly hard hit, while retail and apartment building sales remained robust. The cause? Rising interest rates, inflation and economic uncertainty. The piece concluded with this hopeful quote: “It’s now turning into a buyer’s market.”Maybe. But if a buyer’s market were universally acknowledged, the sales volume wouldn’t have nosedived off the thirtieth floor. Sellers and buyers would have been on the same page. Let’s say that a hot seller’s market is the height of summer, and a bone-picking buyer’s market the depth of winter. What we have today is that seasonal no-man’s land, when summer’s lingering heat chases away the gathering chill for a day or two, only to be beaten back by the strengthening north wind.In less poetic terms, we have a widening “bid-ask spread,” that is, sellers sticking with their summer prices and cagey buyers either spooked or looking for big wintry discounts. This disconnect is the root of the precipitous sales decline.With the caveat that divining national trends from personal anecdotes is risky business indeed, let’s bring the Journal’s big numbers down to the small. We listed a forty-unit apartment building in the East Bay in May, a couple months too late. The bid date came with just one zombie offer, about 25 percent off the asking price. We declined.Another offer straggled in a couple days later. The buyer—a born negotiator—chiseled harder than Michelangelo, wore us down and we finally accepted a deal about 7.5 percent off list. Then a week into her 10 day “free look”, this buyer dumped us with a text. No explanation, no complaints about the property, no further chiseling—nada. Bewildered, we could only conclude the buyer had become fearful and decided to keep her money in her mattress.Another blown deal: We listed a shopping center in the valley late last fall. It languished over the Christmas holidays. Then it wall flowered throughout January and February. Then our broker broke the news that wasn’t news: interest rates had risen, anyone buying class B retail was yield-driven and we had to lower our price to maintain the property’s yield.We dropped our price by 11 percent (a decent chunk of money) and an offer finally appeared. Once more, rounds of Mt. Rushmore chiseling ensued, and we went into escrow. To get this center off our books, we even agreed to carry a first mortgage for three years, thinking we would eliminate the reluctant lender issue. Despite our willingness to bank the deal, the buyer walked away two weeks into his initial review without a word of complaint about the property or a desire for a further price cut.Thus, our personal experience tells us the Journal is on the money about the velocity drop-off, but note that our two properties—retail and residential—were among the subspecies that are supposedly still thriving nationwide.

AIA: "Architecture Billings Index slows but remains strong" in May --Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment. From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index slows but remains strong = Architecture firms reported increasing demand for design services in May, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). The ABI score for May was 53.5. While this score is down from April’s score of 56.5, it still indicates very strong business conditions overall (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings from the prior month). Also in May, both the new project inquiries and design contracts indexes expanded, posting scores of 63.9 and 56.9 respectively.“The strength in design activity over the past three months has produced a broader base of gains. The Northeast region and Institutional sector have struggled with slow billings activity, but now have posted consecutive months of positive scores.” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “With the improvement in inquiries and new design projects, demand for design services will likely remain high for the next several months, despite strong economic headwinds.”...
• Regional averages: West (59.3); Midwest (56.8); South (52.3); Northeast (51.4)
• Sector index breakdown: commercial/industrial (57.7); mixed practice (56.2); multi-family residential (54.5); institutional (51.7)

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 53.5 in May, down from 56.5 in April. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services.Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.This index has been positive for sixteen consecutive months. This index usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months, so this index suggests a pickup in CRE investment in 2022 and into 2023.

Columbia Gas of Ohio wants to raise distribution rates, which could increase residential bills by about $150 a year --Columbia Gas of Ohio, which serves nearly 1.5 million customers statewide, wants the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to authorize rate increases that could increase the distribution portion of the gas by 27.1%. the bill of a typical residential customer.Overall, the average residential customer in Ohio paid $93.53 a month in gas, according to documents Columbia Gas provided to PUCO last summer. Gas prices change every month and today’s average costs could be different.With increased distribution, bills could reach $105.70 per month, an increase of 13%, Columbia Gas said in a filing.Critics, including the Ohio Consumers Council Office – an organization that represents residential customers before PUCO – say the increase is too high, especially in this time of rapid inflation.PUCO staff members are recommending that the commission approve an increase to lower levels, from 3.98% to 6.34%, which would give Columbia Gas $35.2 million to $57.6 million in new revenue. Because the staff recommendation was so much lower, PUCO employees were unable to “plug in” the revenue amount and determine how much it would cost residential ratepayers.“It’s fair to say that PUCO staff are only recommending about a 15 to 25 percent increase in what the utility is asking for,” PUCO public affairs director Matt Schilling said.The PUCO could settle the tariff case in the fall.According to a PUCO explanation of the rate case, the gas company argues that it needs to generate an additional $221.4 million annually for the following:

  • • Pursue an infrastructure replacement program for an additional five years;
  • • Pursue a capital expenditure program rider for an additional five years;
  • • Create a federally mandated cost-recovery investment addendum to comply with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s “Mega Rule,” which aims to prevent pipeline leaks and explosions, as well as other future mandatory government expenditures.

 Here’s Where the Inventory Shortages Are, and Where Retailers Are Overstocked, by Retailer Category -by Wolf Richter - There are now stories out there about retailers suddenly being “overstocked,” and the shortages having turned into gluts, and suddenly folks are already seeing that the supply chains got fixed miraculously or whatever. But overall inventories at retailers remain very low, and at the biggest category of retailers – auto dealers – inventories are desperately low, and they’re low at other retailer categories, but general merchandise retailers, such as Walmart and Target, are suddenly awash in some types of merchandise.What happened at these general merchandise retailers, and some others, is that eternally long lead-times and snags and chaos have delayed goods, and when they finally got there, the consumers had moved on to other things. And these retailers ran out of the stuff the consumers had moved onto, and were overstocked with the stuff consumers were no longer interested in.Having the wrong inventory on hand is a classic retailer problem. To minimize that risk, retailers have shortened their supply chains and they delay major product decisions until the last moment. And then the pandemic hit, and that solution became a huge problem, and retailers had to adjust on the fly. And some retailer categories got caught wrong-footed and are overstocked, while many other retailer categories have very tight inventories or shortages, including the largest category of retailer — auto dealers — which are still out of inventory. The overall inventory-sales ratio – or months’ supply – at retailers has improved only slightly to 1.18 months’ supply:Inflation in goods – which is what retailers sell – has been far higher than overall CPI. For example, used vehicles wholesale prices, which become the cost in inventory for dealers, spiked by 35% to 45% year-over-year between October last year and February this year. These cost increases have ballooned the inventories in dollars, though used vehicle inventories in terms of vehicles remain tight and actually declined over the past three months.To exclude the impact of the surging costs of goods, and to get a feel for what actual inventory levels are in relationship to sales, we look at the “inventory-sales ratio,” which is a classic industry metric that shows how many months it takes to sell the inventory on hand at the end of the month at the current rate of sales.Last week, the Census Bureau released the retail inventory data through April. The end of April is also when the fiscal Q1 of most retailers ends including Walmart and Target.We’re going to look at it by category of retailer, because they’re big differences.At auto dealers, the largest category of retailer, which in normal times account for over 35% of total retail inventories, inventories remain desperately low, at 1.28 months’ supply, down from roughly 2.2 to 2.4 months’ supply before the pandemic. And they have hardly made any progress at all:Auto dealers are now struggling with another issue: Pickup trucks and large SUVs were all the rage in 2020 and 2021 and earlier in 2022, and no one had any in stock due to the semiconductor shortages. Automakers prioritized production of these vehicles because they’re far more expensive and profitable than smaller vehicles, and if they can build only a limited number of vehicles due to the semiconductor shortages, they’d build the most expensive and most profitable ones to maximize their revenues and profits – which they did.

June Vehicle Sales Forecast: Increase to 13.3 million SAAR -- From WardsAuto: June U.S. Light-Vehicle Sales to Improve on May; Stay Softer than January-April (pay content). Brief excerpt: "If the June forecast holds firm, volume will rise in Q2 from Q1, but the quarter will end at a 13.5-million-unit annualized rate, a drop from January-March’s 14.1 million ..." This graph shows actual sales from the BEA (Blue), and Wards forecast for June (Red). The Wards forecast of 13.4 million SAAR, would be up about 5% from last month, and down 14% from a year ago (sales were starting to weaken in June 2021, due to supply chain issues). Vehicle sales is usually a transmission mechanism for Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy (far behind housing). However, this time, vehicle sales have been suppressed by supply chain issues, and will probably not be significantly impacted by higher interest rates.

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven Increased Slightly year-over-year in April - This will be something to watch with higher gasoline prices. The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported: Travel on all roads and streets changed by +1.5% (+3.9 billion vehicle miles) for April 2022 as compared with April 2021. Travel for the month is estimated to be 263.1 billion vehicle miles.The seasonally adjusted vehicle miles traveled for April 2022 is 270.7 billion miles, a 2.50% ( 6.6 billion vehicle miles) change over April 2021. It also represents a -0.9% change (-2.4 billion vehicle miles) compared with March 2022.Cumulative Travel for 2022 changed by +4.5% (+44.0 billion vehicle miles). The cumulative estimate for the year is 1,016.7 billion vehicle miles of travel.This graph shows the monthly total vehicle miles driven, seasonally adjusted.Miles driven declined sharply in March 2020, and really collapsed in April 2020. After recovering, miles driven might be starting to soften due to high gasoline prices.

U.S. Gasoline Demand Increasing, Not Waning -U.S. gasoline demand increased by 5.5 percent on Sunday compared to the previous Sunday and was 11.4 percent higher than the average U.S. demand of the past four Sundays, according to data from fuel-savings app GasBuddy.In the week between June 12 and June 18, U.S. gasoline demand jumped by 6.3 percent from the prior week and was 7.4 percent above the rolling four-week average.“It was the highest week of 2022,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said on Sunday. Over the past week, U.S. national average gasoline prices fell for the first time in nine weeks, GasBuddy said on Monday. Per GasBuddy data, weekly gasoline prices fell by 4.2 cents from a week ago to $4.97 per gallon on Monday. Still, the national average is up 37.3 cents from a month ago and $1.92 per gallon higher than a year ago. “Finally some relief! For the first time in nine weeks, gasoline prices have fallen, following a broad sell-off in oil markets last week, pushing the national average back under the $5 level with most states seeing relief at the pump,” De Haan commented on Monday. “I’m hopeful the trend may continue this week, especially as concerns appear to be mounting that we may be on the cusp of an economic slowdown, putting downward pressure on oil..”

California has billions to spend on gas-price relief — and no deal on help - — California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators can agree on one thing: They should channel billions of dollars from the state’s overflowing budget to Californians pinched by high gas prices. But for months they have been at odds over how to get that money into people’s pocketbooks — and who should get it. Newsom is insisting the relief be tied to car ownership and sent to all vehicle-owning Californians, regardless of their income, which — critics are quick to point out — could include some of the state’s 189 billionaires. Legislative leaders, who want to send the cash to lower-income residents, including those who don’t own cars, are not budging either. The governor promised in an early March speech that he was taking “immediate action” to offer relief. In mid-June, as gas tops $6 a gallon — the highest in the nation — Californians are still waiting. “I’m confused and frustrated that here we are months later and nothing’s happened, and we haven’t gotten a single dollar into a single pocket,” said Assemblymember Cottie Petrie Norris (D-Laguna Beach), who represents a slice of the perpetual battleground of Orange County and was part of a group of moderate Democrats who pitched an alternative proposal this spring. “I think Californians are super pissed off by what they see as inaction and what they perceive as indifference.” The Sacramento dispute cuts to the vast socioeconomic divides — and paradoxes — of a high-cost state known for its powerhouse economy and progressive politics. The unfettered economic success of California’s wealthiest residents has triggered a record state budget surplus, even as sharply rising prices heap hardship on millions who were already barely hanging on. California’s ability to bridge that gap could shape midterm elections in a period of growing economic anxiety. It could also affect Newsom’s political prospects as the Democratic governor, all but assured of re-election, looks to boost other Democrats on the ballot while working to boost his profile as a national Democratic leader.

American Airlines to drop service to fourth city in September -American Airlines will drop service to Dubuque, Iowa, beginning on Sept. 7, ending flights for the regional airport’s sole commercial airline. The move adds a fourth city to the list of recent pullbacks by American Airlines as the company grapples with a pilot shortage. The airline previously said it will also drop service to Toledo, Ohio; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Islip, N.Y., following the Labor Day weekend. American informed the Iowa airport on Tuesday that it would drop service, an airline spokesperson and the Dubuque airport director said. “The airport is not closed,” Dubuque Regional Airport Director Todd Dalsing said in a statement. “We have robust general aviation with multiple corporate and private aircraft, including the University of The pullback is the latest fallout after American and other airlines shed millions of jobs at the height of the coronavirus pandemic to cut costs. But now travel demand is surging, with daily passenger output regularly surpassing 2 million people at the nation’s airports at rates that approach pre-pandemic trends. Airlines have struggled to keep up with that rising demand, facing issues like pilot shortages and higher fuel costs, driving prices higher.

Canceled flights; parked jets: Airlines struggle to meet demand in chaotic summer travel season - Airlines and passengers are suffering through a chaotic post-pandemic phase that has seen the industry struggle to deal with surging demand, leaving many passengers unhappy about everything from the prices of their tickets to aggravation over whether they’ll reach their destination. Demand for flights has surged this summer to levels not seen since before the pandemic. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) data shows 2.45 million people passed through the nation’s airports on Friday, the highest single-day total since Feb. 11, 2020. Yet this demand is being met with a shortage of supplies. Airlines have shed millions of seats from their summer schedules, which will push prices higher. They’ve delayed and canceled thousands of flights, and hundreds of jets remain parked despite the high demand. Some smaller airports have lost commercial flights entirely. Passenger output on the Friday preceding Father’s Day and Juneteenth nearly broke pandemic records, but the same day airlines delayed more than 8,900 U.S. flights and canceled nearly 1,500 others, according to FlightAware. Explanations for the struggle run the gamut from a pilot shortage, high fuel costs and even extreme weather. The craziness has attracted the attention of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who met with airline executives last week. Buttigieg’s department said on Thursday that complaints about airline service were up more than 300 percent in April compared to the same time in 2019. “Demand is as strong as we’ve ever seen it, people want to get out there and travel,” American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said at the company’s annual meeting earlier this month. “The key is just simply sizing the airline for the resources we have available.” Airlines received billions in stimulus dollars from the federal government to preserve their payrolls during the pandemic, but companies still resorted to retirement buyouts and hiring freezes as demand sank, exacerbating what many in the industry viewed as an existing pilot shortage. As flying demand now returns, many airlines say they struggle to attract pilots, leaving hundreds of planes idling with no one to fly them. The Regional Airline Association estimates airlines would hire 8,000 more pilots if they were available.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims at 229,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending June 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 229,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 229,000 to 231,000. The 4-week moving average was 223,500, an increase of 4,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 218,500 to 219,000. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Florida Councilman Who Mocked Dr. ‘Falsey’ Fauci Is Hospitalized With Severe COVID - Fred Lowry, a councilman for Florida’s Volusia County and a loud COVID-19 denier, is in the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19, according to the County Chair Jeff Brower. “He is in the hospital wrestling with COVID-19. It’s been about three weeks now,” Brower said on Tuesday as Lowry, 66, missed a county council meeting for the second time. Lowry, a Republican halfway through his second term on the Volusia County Council, spread COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories, going so far as to say the pandemic was a hoax. “We were lied to,” he said in a sermon at Denton’s Lakes Baptist Church. Lowry often criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom he nicknamed “Dr. Falsey,” and insisted the top health official was a liar and pervert. Other conspiracies Lowry promoted had to do with media coverage of hydroxychloroquine and the Wuhan lab-leak theory.

 At least 1 in 12 Chicago Public Schools students caught COVID-19 during past school year - With the school year now concluded, official Chicago Public Schools (CPS) numbers indicate at least 1 in 12 students caught COVID-19 during the 2021-2022 school year. These figures, staggering as they are, no doubt severely understate the real rate of infection among CPS students, teachers and other school workers, to say nothing of their contribution to disease spread, hospitalizations and deaths in the wider community. This outcome is an indictment of the ruling class’s mass infection policy and the role of the unions, above all the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), and its pseudo-left CORE(“Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators”) leadership in enforcing the unsafe reopening of schools during the pandemic. According to the official CPS tracker, 22,568 students reported infections between August 29, 2021 and June 15, 2022, out of 272,000 students enrolled at regular district schools. This figure does not include infections among the 58,000 students enrolled at charter, contract or alternative learning schools. Nor does it include infection numbers for CPS workers or other adults, of which there were 9,477 officially reported. Cases of COVID-19 among educators and students at CPS exploded toward the end of the school year following the abandonment of any pretense at mitigating spread, such as mandatory masking, in schools or the broader society. The last full week of the school year saw 901 students infected along with 469 adults. This is almost twice the number of students who were officially infected in the entire period from March 20, 2020, to August 28, 2021. The week which ended May 14 recorded 730 cases among adults and 1,946 among students, with the latter number higher than any other week during the entire pandemic, including during the January Omicron surge. Although officially numbers for the following weeks dropped slightly, it is a near certainty the number of cases among students and CPS workers is much higher than what was officially recorded. As a result of the constant stream of lies proclaiming the pandemic over and the decreased emphasis on testing and tracking, many cases, especially asymptomatic ones, are being ignored even though community spread continues to be high. Beyond CPS, Chicago is now seeing 222 new official cases per day and a near doubling of the positivity rate to 10.8 percent since last week.

Uvalde Hires Private Law Firm to Argue It Doesn’t Have to Release School Shooting Public Records - Some of the records relating to the Robb Elementary School shooting could be “highly embarrassing,” involve “emotional/mental distress,” and are “not of legitimate concern to the public,” the lawyers argued.The City of Uvalde and its police department are working with a private law firm to prevent the release of nearly any record related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers died, according to a letter obtained by Motherboard in response to a series of public information requests we made. The public records Uvalde is trying to suppress include body camera footage, photos, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, and more. “The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” the city’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino, who works for the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The city wrote the letter asking Paxton for a determination about what information it is required to release to the public, which is standard practice in Texas. Paxton's office will eventually rule which of the city's arguments have merit and will determine which, if any, public records it is required to release. The letter makes clear, however, that the city and its police department want to be exempted from releasing a wide variety of records in part because it is being sued, in part because some of the records could include “highly embarrassing information,” in part because some of the information is “not of legitimate concern to the public,” in part because the information could reveal “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,” in part because some of the information may cause or may "regard … emotional/mental distress," and in part because its response to the shooting is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Uvalde County District Attorney. The letter explains that Uvalde has at least one in-house attorney (whose communications it is trying to prevent from public release), and yet, it is using outside private counsel to deal with a matter of extreme importance and public interest. Uvalde’s city government and its police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

The next generation of school shooters grew up doing active-shooter drills — and know how to get around them, experts say --The next generation of school shooters are so young they grew up doing active-shooter drills — and therefore know how to get around them, experts told Insider.These drills, which are currently implemented in around 95% of America's public schools, are meant to prepare staff and students in the event of an armed intruder or active shooter on campus.They range from training students and staff to barricade classroom doors and hide in the corner, to high-intensity simulations with actors pretending to be gunmen and shooting at teachers with plastic pellets.But experts told Insider that the drills are ineffective because most school shooters are either former or current students who are already aware of the schools' safety protocols."They already know how the drills work, and they know exactly what students are going to do in this situation," Peren Tiemann, an activist for Students Demand Action, told Insider. "We don't need repetitive traumatic training in order to tell us to lock our classroom doors and stay inside."Arnulfo Reyes, a teacher who survived the February 24 Uvalde school shooting told "Good Morning America" that active-shooter training set the children up "like ducks." "It all happened too fast," said Reyes, who witnessed the deaths of 11 of his students. "Training, no training, all kinds of training — nothing gets you ready for this."According to a 2020 report by the US Government Accountability Office, more than half of school shootings in the country were committed by current or former students of those schools. At least 70% of school shootings since 1999 had been perpetrated by people under 18, The Washington Post reported after the Uvalde attack.The 18-year-old gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was a local high-school student. And the gunmen in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were both former students of those respective schools.Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in school-threat assessments, told Insider that the drills allow the shooters to get "information from the inside." She also called on schools to identify warning signs in current students and intervene to avoid further violence.

Court strikes down Maine law barring state funds for religious education - The Supreme Court has broadened the rights of parents and students to use government subsidies to attend religious schools, striking down a Maine program that barred the use of local government funds to pay tuition at primary and high schools providing religious instruction.Ruling 6-3 Tuesday, the high court said prohibiting parents from using such subsidies for schools engaging in religious teaching violated the religious freedom rights of students and their parents.Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in the case, which split the court cleanly along ideological lines. Roberts said the state’s interest in avoiding concerns about establishment of religion did not justify the policy that effectively blocked parents directing funding to religious schools.“A neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause,” Roberts wrote. “A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”Under the Maine “tuitioning” program the court struck down on Tuesday, local governments lacking the population to run schools at a certain grade level typically pay for students to be educated at public or private schools of their choice. But, to avoid government funds being used for religious purposes, since 1981 the program has refused to pay for schools providing religious education.In a 2020 decision on an educational aid program out of Montana, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states could not exclude families or schools from student aid programs simply because the schools were backed by religious institutions.However, that decision left open the question of whether states could block the use of their funds for explicitly religious or “sectarian” classes.But in the case decided Tuesday, Roberts explicitly rejected Maine’ arguments that it was only targeting religious teaching and not whether a school was run by a religious group.“Any attempt to give effect to such a distinction by scrutinizing whether and how a religious school pursues its educational mission would also raise serious concerns about state entanglement with religion and denominational favoritism,” the chief justice wrote.

Federal judge to rule on attempt to block Florida law targeting 'woke’ lessons - — A federal judge in the coming days will decide whether to block Florida from enforcing a high-profile new law backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that limits how race can be brought up in the classroom and workplace.Lawyers representing a group of parents and educators challenging the so-called “Stop WOKE Act” faced off in court Tuesday against the state in an attempt to put the policies on hold as the case plays out in the legal system. The timing is critical since education agencies are crafting rules to soon enact the measure.While the group argued that the legislation is suppressing free speech, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker expressed “grave concerns” about the lawsuit, whose sole student defendant is an incoming kindergartner.“How in the world would I find there’s anything imminent?” Walker said at one point during Tuesday’s 5-hour hearing.The lawsuit, filed minutes after DeSantis signed FL HB 7 (22R), or the Individual Freedom Act, in April, is attempting to overturn the controversial bill that targets any traces critical race theory inside Florida’s school system and “woke” corporate trainings at companies. But with trial set for next April, the group of opponents, including the president of a consulting firm that offers implicit bias training, is attempting to put the legislation on hold through a preliminary injunction.Critical race theory, an analytical framework developed by legal scholars, examines how race and racism have become ingrained in American law and institutions since slavery and Jim Crow. Critical race theory has been used by conservatives to criticize how race is being taught in the K-12 education system. Most public school officials across the country don’t teach the theory — even in districts where lawmakers are seeking to ban it.Although the anti-woke legislation does not call out critical race theory by name, it builds on a state Board of Education rule passed to thwart local teachers from going “rogue” in the classroom by leading lessons that include pieces of the subject. According to the rule, critical race theory and The 1619 Project on race from The New York Times are examples of theories that “distort historical events.”

WSJ: Teachers Are Quitting, and Companies Are Hot to Hire Them - Burned out teachers are leaving the classroom for jobs in the private sector, where talent-hungry companies are hiring them—and often boosting their pay—to work in sales, software, healthcare and training, among other fields.The rate of people quitting jobs in private educational services rose more than in any other industry in 2021, according to federal data. Many of those are teachers exhausted from toggling between online and classroom instruction, shifting Covid-19 protocols and dealing with challenging students, parents and administrators.Teachers started leaving classrooms in 2020 when the pandemic upended education and child care, and the number of resignations from the private-education sector hit nearly 550,000 between January and November, federal data show. More than 800,000 resignations were handed in during the same period by people in state and local education.Quits in the educational services sector rose 148% in that time frame, while quits in states and local education rose 40%, according to federal data. By comparison, quits in retail trade rose 27% in the same time frame. According to LinkedIn, the share of teachers on the site who left for a new career increased by 62% last yearThe exodus is worsening a nationwide teacher shortage and proving a boon to hiring managers in industries such as IT services and consulting, hospitals and software development. Teachers’ ability to absorb and transmit information quickly, manage stress and multitask are high-demand skills, recruiters and careers coaches say. Classroom instructors are landing sales roles and jobs as instructional coaches, software engineers and behavioral health technicians, according to LinkedIn.The potential for career and pay growth—some roles are paying tens of thousands of dollars above typical teacher salaries—is alluring amid a long stretch of Zoom learning and pandemic-stressed classrooms, former teachers say. Some teachers say they started looking for new roles toward the end of last school year to minimize disruption to their classes. Others tried to hang on to avoid leaving midyear but said the strain became too great. The most resignations in 2021 were handed in during September, October and November, according to federal data. Teacher pay varies widely by geography and seniority. In the 2019-2020 school year, teachers in public elementary and secondary schools in California, Massachusetts and New York earned more than $80,000 a year, on average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Teachers in Florida, Mississippi and South Dakota earned less than $50,000. Many, but not all, teachers receive pensions. “Every time I met somebody, they’d say, ‘We love teachers! I don’t know how you do it,’” says Amelia Watson, who is 24 years old and taught sixth grade in Pearl, Miss. She quit in early January to work for a staffing agency as a recruitment coordinator after posting on LinkedIn that she was open to work. “That feels good, but it’s simply not enough to get you through each day.”Shelby Ashworth, 31, says she typically arrived at least an hour before school started and greeted her masked kindergartners with air hugs. She knew it was time to consider a new career when she had trouble getting out of the car each morning after she arrived at her school in Smyrna, Tenn. Ms. Ashworth, who sells watercolors and lettering prints through an Etsy store, started considering a career change in March 2021. She thought a graphic-design job might offer her the flexibility and growth opportunities she wanted and briefly considered earning another college degree before deciding to teach herself the Adobe suite of design programs and build a portfolio. When a graphic-design job opened at a nearby book distribution company, Ms. Ashworth realized she knew the hiring manager and reached out, landing it last summer. Now, she designs ads and digital guides and works on the company’s website. She gets to work from home three days a week. She has more time with her 4-year-old daughter and got a small raise in the new job, though she says she would have taken a pay cut to do it. “My happiness was worth more,” she says.

Dartmouth Eliminates Undergraduate Student Loans Following Massive Fundraising Drive - Dartmouth announced on Monday that it is eliminating “all federal and institutional loans” from its financial aid packages, which had previously been included for students whose families earn more than $125,000 per year. That will reduce the average debt load for each affected student by $22,000 during their four-year enrollment, the college said. Dartmouth has raked in over $120 million in scholarship grants and pledges since September, capped off by a recent $25 million commitment from an anonymous donor. As of last June, the college's endowment stood at a whopping $8.5 billion, up more than 46 percent from the prior year.

Teacher with $300M of Student Loan Debt Says $10,000 is a Drop in the Bucket - Finally, I am seeing various publications (Business Insider, etc.) writing about accrued interest on student loans. Interest on the principal and also the interest. This particular article also touches upon Deferred Student Loans and the resulting paying the interest first before touching principal. This is much of what I have pointed out previously and largely ignored. Student loans can be a La Brea tar pit for young people. One of the requests I have been promoting is to forgive the interest and then apply the forgiveness. The $10,000 in forgiveness is a drop in the bucket if it goes against interest initially. If it weren’t for compounding interest, Cheryl, who requested her last name be withheld for privacy concerns, thinks President Joe Biden’s plans to forgive $10,000 in student debt for federal borrowers might have made a difference for her.But with $303,000 in federal student debt and an additional $20,000 in private student loans, the president’s plan just isn’t enough.“It is not even a drop in the bucket,” Cheryl, 53, told Insider. “If you wanted to make a real difference, you could do away with half the interest we’ve accrued, but for now I’ll never be able to cover the payments.”This is exactly what I have been saying and have talked with Alan at Student Loan Justice. I made this point at Angry Bear. “Why $10,000 of Student Loan Relief will not Help.” I can see Republicans having a field day if Biden even moves in this direction. Few who have paid off their loans pre 2000 have faced these types of loan issues.“As a teacher in Massachusetts, Cheryl was taking out student loans for her bachelor’s degree in English. Later she received her master’s degree in education accruing more loans. While she said she has no problem paying back the debt she borrowed, the problem is the accruing interest while she was in school while her loans were in forbearance. At her current modest income level, it is nearly impossible for her to reduce the principal. A principal balance swelling to more than $300,000 due to interest.‘The national director of the NAACP Youth & College Division, Wisdom Cole told Insider; “$20,000 is not enough and neither is $30,000. We have to cancel a minimum of $50,000 or more. Isn’t the goal to get the most amount of relief to the most borrowers?'”So, what has Cheryl been doing during the last two years of no student loan payments?“During the payment pause, Cheryl was still making around $400 monthly payments on her private student loans, and not having to make the $200 federal monthly payments under her income-driven repayment plan provided a slight financial reprieve that helped her afford other basic necessities.”“I have $200 to get gas, and groceries and everything else, and there’s not much left after that,” Cheryl said. “It keeps you in this nasty little loop that you can’t get out of because I can’t afford to pay it down and the interest keeps coming.”

Is A Faint Line On COVID-19 Test Actually Positive? Yes, experts say. -- A few weeks ago, after more than two years of evading COVID-19, I tested positive on a home rapid test. The line was barely there — so faint that it didn't even show up in photos. Was I tricking myself? Unfortunately, no. The much more obviously positive test I took the next day confirmed that I had COVID-19. The whole experience also got me thinking about what the line actually means and whether a darker or lighter positive line on a COVID-19 test can tell you anything about your individual infection. What does the line on a COVID-19 actually measure? At its most literal level, the positive line on an at-home rapid test "is showing the presence of targeted viral proteins," Omai Garner, Ph.D., associate clinical professor and director of clinical microbiology at UCLA Health, told TODAY. "It's looking for a particular part of the virus that attaches to components of the test that are attached to a color," Dr. Emily Volk, President of the College of American Pathologists, told TODAY. From there, the proteins "get caught on that line and show a color band," Dr. Amy Mathers, associate professor of medicine and pathology and associate director of clinical microbiology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, told TODAY. If that positive line shows up, it's very likely that you have coronavirus proteins in your nose — and that you have COVID-19. Does a faint line count as a positive result? Yes, the experts said. "It's not a super-sensitive test, meaning you've got to have a good amount of virus there just to get the home antigen test to work at all," Garner said. Keeping that in mind, "any line early in the infectious process implies that somebody is very contagious." But that doesn't mean it's always easy to read. "Sometimes it's not quite a line; it can be like a fuzz," Mathers said. "But if you see a line there, it's there."

 New coronavirus subvariants escape antibodies from vaccination and prior Omicron infection, studies suggest - Omicron subvariants - BA.4 and BA.5 appear to escape antibody responses among both people who had previous Covid-19 infection and those who have been fully vaccinated and boosted, according to new data from researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, of Harvard Medical School.However, Covid-19 vaccination is still expected to provide substantial protection against severe disease, and vaccine makers are working on updated shots that might elicit a stronger immune response against the variants.The levels of neutralizing antibodies that a previous infection or vaccinations elicit are several times lower against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants compared with the original coronavirus, according to the new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday."We observed 3-fold reductions of neutralizing antibody titers induced by vaccination and infection against BA4 and BA5 compared with BA1 and BA2, which are already substantially lower than the original COVID-19 variants," Dr. Dan Barouch, an author of the paper and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, wrote in an email to CNN."Our data suggest that these new Omicron subvariants will likely be able to lead to surges of infections in populations with high levels of vaccine immunity as well as natural BA1 and BA2 immunity," Barouch wrote. "However, it is likely that vaccine immunity will still provide substantial protection against severe disease with BA4 and BA5."The newly published findings echo separate research by scientists at Columbia University.They recently found that the BA.4 and BA.5 viruses were more likely to escape antibodies from the blood of fully vaccinated and boosted adults compared with other Omicron subvariants, raising the risk of vaccine-breakthrough Covid-19 infections.The authors of that separate study say their results point to a higher risk for reinfection, even in people who have some prior immunity against the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 94.7% of the US population ages 16 and older have antibodies against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 through vaccination, infection, or both.BA.4 and BA.5 caused an estimated 35% of new Covid-19 infections in the United States last week, up from 29% the week before, according to data shared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.BA.4 and BA.5 are the fastest spreading variants reported to date, and they are expected to dominate Covid-19 transmission in the United States, United Kingdom and the rest of Europe within the next few weeks, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

BA.5 Omicron Subvariant Spreading Quickly, Could Become Dominant Strain of COVID in U.S.: CDC --According to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an omicron subvariant that has been the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. for more than a month is beginning to lose steam, and yet another variant of omicron is quickly gaining momentum.Those estimates indicate that the BA.2.12.1 lineage of omicron continues to be the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, and is responsible for an estimated 56% of cases.That number continues to decline however as another strain, the BA.5 subvariant, continues to gain momentum, making up an estimated 23.5% of cases in the last week.Those increases paint a troubling picture, as recent studies have suggested that previous coronavirus infections and COVID-19 vaccinations are less effective at preventing infection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants.According to the New England Journal of Medicine, studies have shown that "the levels of neutralizing antibodies" that previous infection or vaccinations create in the body are less effective against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, but still provide “substantial protection” against severe illness.The research could indicate that BA.4 and BA.5 could cause increased infections among all populations, including those who have been vaccinated and boosted, but also indicates that those vaccinations will still help to guard against severe illness. According to officials in Europe, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants will likely become the dominant strains of the virus in coming weeks, and those sublineages are already the dominant strains in South Africa, researchers told CNN.

Fast and Furious Omicron New Variants Defy Explanation, and Don’t Bode Well for Future Either by Yves Smith - As readers may have worked out, scientist GM, whose observations via e-mail and in comments we have often hoisted into posts, is on the pessimistic end of the spectrum of Covid prognosticators and yet (or maybe due to that) has been early and very accurate. For instance, he was one of the first to notice the data from Israel in July 2021 showing a marked falloff in Pfizer vaccine protection 5-6 months after the jab. GM was also immediately on top of Omicron, that its many mutations on the spike would mean close to total evasion of prior protection (whether via vaccination or prior infection) and therefore potentially rapid spread. Thus it isn’t at all good when developments surprise GM on the downside. As we’ll soon discuss, the speed of emergence of Omicron variants has surprised him in a bad way. Mind you, many of them are different enough that they should have gotten their own Greek letter, but that degree of truth in advertising would conflict with the party line that Covid is over. But GM was also a bit disconcerted by the results from large-scale study using VA data, now out as a preprint, on Covid reinfections (we have additional links on it in Links). It does confirm what GM had warned about from the very outset, that getting Covid has a health cost, and those costs add up and maybe even multiply the more times you contract Covid. However, as he remarked:I actually have doubts about the precise numbers — they are much much worse than I expected at this stage, and some things in the way this was done look kind of sloppy and should be hopefully sorted out in review.But one important aspect of it is that this looks at different metrics from previous studies — previously reinfections were scored on hospitalization and on death being written as COVID on the death certificate. And those showed some protection on first reinfection (but already worsening on the second)Here they look at the various sequaelae and at all-cause mortality for a larger period of time post infection.And if true this is what reveals the real damage even at the first reinfection.Also, reminder that the bulk of these reinfections are Omicron, i.e. the least dangerous version so far. Presumably it would have been much worse without all those S2 mutations.When Pi [the next major variant] hits one can expect a total disaster — billions of people are right now accumulating preexisting conditions that are setting the stage for the grim reaper to take them when the next big antigenic shift happens. P.S. Again from South Africa, this is what it might look like: So I recently discovered maybe the scariest SARS-CoV-2 sequence since Omicron. Like Omicron, it possesses many infamous mutations known to confer immune escape & transmissibility. Unlike Omicron, it does not appear to have any severity-attenuating mutations, e.g. N969K. 1/12 Perhaps most concerning is the P681R mutation, also found in Delta and shown by @Gupta_Lab & @SystemsVirology, & others to be largely responsible for Delta’s ability to fuse cells together—called syncytia formation—a key marker for disease severity. 5/12 Note that this is still a first-gen variant — it is classified B.1.1.488.This one was sampled in April but only posted three days ago, so if it was going to be what becomes Pi, it would have perhaps taken over by now (though of course Delta was first detected many months before it exploded so one never knows).But the fact that these kinds of variants are popping up again and again means that Pi is coming. Probably sooner than later…

The CDC approves vaccines for children under five: An advance, but with many limitations - Over the weekend, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted unanimously to approve the COVID vaccines for the youngest in the population. Based on these endorsements, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that children between six months and five years of age should be vaccinated with either Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. There are 19.3 million in this age group for whom the COVID vaccines remained out of reach since the vaccines were first ushered in in December 2020. While the number of young children who have died from COVID has so far remained low, some 442 under the age of five according to the CDC, this figure is far greater than the death toll from influenza in the same age bracket. As the pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Yvonne Maldonado of Stanford University noted, “Children shouldn’t be dying of anything.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children represented nearly 19 percent of all cumulative COVID cases in the US. However, seroprevalence data based on blood samples, published by the CDC, indicated that approximately 75 percent of all children 18 and under have been infected, far above the 60 percent figure for the whole population. This means that children represent the most infected group, a point that should be contrasted with the incessant claims by capitalist politicians and the media bears that children were somehow immune to the ravages of the virus. Since the pandemic, AAP reported that over 1.3 million children have been hospitalized for COVID, a number known to be a vast undercount. Nearly a quarter million of these were during the three months of the first Omicron wave that began in early December 2021 and ended in February 2022. Per the CDC’s provisional count of COVID deaths, 1,257 children have died during the pandemic, 20 percent of them during the Omicron wave. These figures might seem low compared to the horrifying death toll among the elderly and immunocompromised, but they are far greater than the toll in terms of hospitalizations and death from the flu among the same age group. There were 42,386 pediatric hospitalizations during the 2017-2018 flu season, the worst in the last decade, as compared to the quarter million hospitalized in the first three months of this year due to COVID.

Study CDC Cited In Arguing For COVID-19 Vaccines For Babies Being Updated - A non-peer-reviewed study that U.S. government scientists cited in asserting COVID-19 is a leading cause of death for children is being updated after inaccuracies were detected.The preprint paper, published in May, says that COVID-19 has been the fifth-leading cause of death during the pandemic for children aged 1 to 5. The authors, primarily British scientists, also concluded that COVID-19 has been a top cause of death for all children.“Our findings underscore the importance of continued vaccination campaigns for [children ≥5 years] in the US and for effective Covid-19 vaccines for under 5 year olds,” they wrote.But the paper has flaws, Seth Flaxman, a professor in Oxford University’s Department of Computer Science, and one of the authors, acknowledged on Twitter on June 19.“We have received some feedback and criticism along several dimensions. We are planning to update the preprint to take into account some of this feedback,” he said.The study was cited in three separate presentations across two meetings during the week of June 1 2 as government officials and expert advisers weighed whether to authorize and recommend vaccines for young children.

Growing Revolt Among Medical Practitioners Against Vaccinating Toddlers for Covid by Yves Smith - IM Doc has been particularly unhappy about the push to deploy the Covid mRNA vaccines in children under five years of age. Based on his many years working on an Institutional Review Board, he believe the bar for safety testing for children, particularly very young ones, is high, and it has not been met for these vaccines.It turns out he is far from alone. It appears many medical practitioners are seeing vaccinating kids this young as a bridge too far and some are flat out refusing to administer them.From IM Doc via e-mail: I had a moment today where I realized that it may very well be the nursing and the pharmacy professions that begin the long slow pushback against the overprescription of Covid vaccines. Two things in two different parts of the country happened.Today in our county, which recall is over 80% vaccinated and hence has been very receptive of Covid vaccines for adults, I was called to an urgent meeting because it may be that hospital staff would need to be pulled to the Health Dept. Why? – Because the inoculation of the less than 5 is beginning – and all 3 of the Health Department nurses resigned in protest. They are simply not going to give these kids these inoculations. When a nurse on my staff was approached with filling in the deficit – her response (in my presence and that of the supervisor) – “Not only no – but FUCK no.”It turns out the county Health Department found no nurses willing to do this. So our entire vaccine program for everyone not just kids was on hold. After more panicked efforts, they found one nurse to give the shots. That nurse too refuses to give it to the babies. She will be there only to do the shots for 18 and up. She will not even give to teens. I am sure they will eventually find people to do it, but it is profoundly admirable of these nurses. I will be doing all I can to help them get other employment. I had asked if the county Health Department would try to get the three nurses who had resigned to return, now that they had relented and were letting a nurse administer the Covid shots only to adults. His response:I am pretty sure they would welcome the three back with open arms. But they will not go back because they are just not going to give to kids. I have talked to one of them this evening. As is so common in medicine and nursing now, moral injury is at play. They have put up with so much, this was just a bridge too far. They hired this other nurse in an emergency situation to make sure the place was open. They will find others in the next few days, I am sure. Although finding nurses for anything is very difficult right now. It is just the loss of seasoned employees is not good. And it will cause some chaos if they have to be pull nurses from other jobs.Additionally, my sister has now informed me that at her health dept in a distant state, one of their nurses have refused to give to under 5. They are not fired or resigned but it has really caused an enormous delay in appointments. Physicians are hearing that the pharmacists in the entire Publix chain of grocery stores in the SE USA were in such an uproar about it, that Publix will not be offering these vaccines to under 5 kids. The Tampa Bay Times confirmed that Publix won’t give the Covid jab to kids below 5. Good on them.The “pharmacists refusing” isn’t yet reported the press, but I did track it down with my cousin, a Publix pharmacist in VA. He confirmed the story. Lots of pharmacy pushback because a) many do not want to give it to babies b) many do not feel adequately trained to give to babies. My cousin feels fine giving to toddlers but he too feels about as conflicted as I do that the data does not support it. “I would not give any other drug with no evidence special treatment……why should this vaccine be any different”….Similarly, in the infectious disease conference yesterday AM (a regular and large Zoom meeting of doctors affiliated with a major teaching hospital), this topic came up. The retired infectious disease doc that has been one of my heroes stood up and had a single slide:

 CDC panel recommends Moderna two-dose Covid vaccine for kids ages 6 to 17 - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to clear Moderna's two-dose Covid-19 vaccine for kindergartners through high schoolers for public distribution this week after the agency's panel of independent vaccine experts unanimously voted Thursday to recommend the shots. The committee endorsed Moderna's vaccine for kids ages 6 to 17 after examining its safety and effectiveness during a public meeting. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to sign off on the recommendation later Thursday, the final step before pharmacies and doctor's offices can start administering the shots. The CDC endorsed Moderna's vaccines for infants through preschoolers, ages 6 months to 5 years old, on Saturday. Vaccinations started this week for that age group. Moderna's shots for older kids won't have an immediate impact on the U.S. vaccination campaign, other than providing parents with another option to choose from. Previously, only Pfizer's vaccine was authorized for kindergartners through high schoolers, though uptake has been lackluster. Two-thirds of kids ages 5 to 11 and 30% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 haven't been vaccinated against Covid yet. More than 600 kids in those age groups have died from Covid during the pandemic and more than 45,000 have been hospitalized, according to the CDC. Nearly 11 million kids ages 5 to 17 have caught Covid during the pandemic. Kids ages 6 to 11 receive smaller 50 microgram Moderna shots, while adolescents ages 12 to 17 would receive the same dosage as adults at 100 micrograms. Moderna originally asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 17 more than a year ago, but the regulator held off after other countries raised concern the company's shots might be associated with a higher risk of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, than Pfizer's vaccine. There are no head-to-head comparisons in the U.S. of heart inflammation in kids who get Pfizer's or Moderna's shots because Moderna's vaccine was authorized only for adults until this month. However, comparisons between Pfizer and Moderna shots in young adults appears to show that the rate of myocarditis is slightly higher in Moderna recipients, though data is not consistent across the various U.S. surveillance systems. "Some evidence suggests that myocarditis and pericarditis risks may be higher after Moderna than after Pfizer. However, the findings are not consistent in all US monitoring systems," Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, an official at the CDC vaccine safety unit, told the committee. The available U.S. data on myocarditis among kids ages 6 to 17 is based on side effects reported from Pfizer's vaccine because Moderna's shots hadn't been authorized for this age group yet. Pfizer and Moderna's shots use similar messenger RNA technology. The CDC has identified 635 cases of myocarditis among children ages 5 to 17 after vaccination out of 54 million Pfizer doses administered. The risk of myocarditis after Pfizer vaccination is highest after the second shot among boys ages 12 to 17. Myocarditis is slightly elevated among boys ages 5 to 11 after the second dose of Pfizer's vaccine, though it is much lower than adolescents. Boys ages 16 to 17 reported 75 myocarditis cases per 1 million second Pfizer doses administered while boys ages 12 to 15 reported about 46 myocarditis cases, according to CDC data. Boys ages 5 to 11 reported 2.6 myocarditis cases per million second Pfizer doses administered. People who have developed myocarditis after vaccination are generally hospitalized for a few days as a precaution before being sent home. Most patients made a full recovery 90 days after their diagnosis, according to a CDC survey of health-care providers.

Serious Adverse Effects Following mRNA Vaccines - In 2020, prior to COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Brighton Collaboration created a priority list, endorsed by the World Health Organization, of potential adverse events relevant to COVID-19 vaccines. We leveraged the Brighton Collaboration list to evaluate serious adverse events of special interest observed in phase III randomized trials of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.Methods: Secondary analysis of serious adverse events reported in the placebo-controlled, phase III randomized clinical trials of Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (NCT04368728 and NCT04470427), focusing analysis on potential adverse events of special interest identified by the Brighton Collaboration.Results: Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were associated with an increased risk of serious adverse events of special interest, with an absolute risk increase of 10.1 and 15.1 per 10,000 vaccinated over placebo baselines of 17.6 and 42.2 (95% CI -0.4 to 20.6 and -3.6 to 33.8), respectively. Combined, the mRNA vaccines were associated with an absolute risk increase of serious adverse events of special interest of 12.5 per 10,000 (95% CI 2.1 to 22.9). The excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest surpassed the risk reduction for COVID-19 hospitalization relative to the placebo group in both Pfizer and Moderna trials (2.3 and 6.4 per 10,000 participants, respectively).Discussion: The excess risk of serious adverse events found in our study points to the need for formal harm-benefit analyses, particularly those that are stratified according to risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes such as hospitalization or death.

Census: 1 in 5 people who had COVID-19 report having long COVID -- New data collected by the U.S. government found that nearly 1 out of 5 adults who previously had COVID-19 now report having symptoms of long COVID. The information was sourced through the “Household Pulse Survey” ” conducted by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The NCHS began asking about the presence of long COVID at the start of June. Out of the more than 62,000 adults surveyed, 40 percent said they had had a previous COVID-19 infection. From this group, 19 percent said they were currently experiencing symptoms of long COVID. Overall, 14 percent of adults with prior infections said they had had post-COVID symptoms at some point. Of the general population, 1 out of 13, or 7.5 percent, of U.S. adults reported having symptoms of long COVID that lasted three or more months after their initial infection. Women were found to have a higher rate of long COVID than men, with 9.4 percent reporting the condition compared to 5.5 percent of men. The rate at which long COVID occurred also varied across states, with Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee ranking among the states with the highest rates. Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia were found to have some of the lowest rates of long COVID. Early research into the rate at which long COVID occurs has been varied, with some estimates indicating that a majority of people infected with COVID experience the perplexing condition while others found that only a small minority had the corresponding symptoms. The wide variety of symptoms as well as the unclear definition of long COVID have complicated efforts to study the condition’s prevalence. Symptoms can include fatigue, bodily pain or changes in mental condition.

 Long-Covid can affect children of all ages, including infants, study shows – CNN - Even the littlest children can experience long Covid, according to a large study, one of the first of its kind to include infants and toddlers.The study published Wednesday in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health included 44,000 children in Denmark ranging in ages zero through 14 years old. Of the children, 11,000 had tested positive for Covid-19 between January 2020 and July 2021.While symptoms associated with long Covid are general ailments children can experience even without Covid -- headaches, mood swings, stomach problems and tiredness -- the children in the study who had previously tested positive for Covid were more likely to experience at least one symptom for two months or more than the children who never tested positive for Covid.The study also revealed that a third of children who had tested positive for Covid experienced at least one long-term symptom that was not present before testing positive.The most common symptoms varied by age. For children up through age 3, it was mood swings, rashes and stomach aches. Children 4 to 11 years old also experienced memory and concentration problems. For the 12- to 14-year-olds, it was memory and concentration issues, mood swings and fatigue.Children 3 and under seemed to have the most problems compared with those children not diagnosed with Covid-19 -- 40% experienced symptoms two months after testing positive compared with the 27% in the group that did not have Covid."Our findings align with previous studies of long Covid and adolescents showing that although the chances of children experiencing long Covid is low especially compared to group to the control group, it must be recognized and treated seriously," said study co-author Selina Kikkenborg Berg, a professor of cardiology at Rigs Hospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.It is still unclear how many kids have long Covid and for how long, because there is not enough research on it in this age group, some experts say.A 2021 study suggested more than half of children between age 6 and 16 had at least one symptom that lasted more than four months.In adults, some research puts the number around 30% of cases.There are no specific tests for long Covid. It's not clear which children will have it, as it can happen even when a child has a mild case of Covid-19.In addition to showing scientists the characteristics of long Covid in children, the study also showed that even the children who did not get Covid felt the impact of the pandemic. That group reported a few more psychological and social problems than children who had Covid.

Coronavirus dashboard for June 19: documenting the transition from pandemic to endemic - The COVID-19 pandemic is ever so gradually transforming into a endemic illness, the major risks of which still mainly fall on seniors. Here is the long-term view of cases (dotted line) and deaths (solid line) in the US: While cases are similar to the peaks of 2020, but far below those of 2021, deaths are lower than at any point except for June and July last summer. Similarly, hospitalizations remain lower than at any point except several months during summer 2020 and 2021: Focusing on the last 3 months, cases have been generally unchanged in the range of 100-110,000 for the past month, and deaths have varied between 250-330 for the past 1.5 months (the several gaps higher in deaths are due to periodic data dumps by North Carolina that can be ignored): Essentially, both cases and deaths have plateaued at current levels, despite the changing landscaper for variants, as Ba.2.12.1 replaced Ba.2, and now Ba.4&5 are increasing. Here is the latest from Biobot, which tracks wastewater, an early warning system: “Real” cases are down sharply in the Northeast, where Ba.2.12.1 was most prevalent, and slightly down in the Midwest and West, but rising again slightly in the Midwest. We should know within a week or two whether the emergence of Ba.4&5 as the dominant strain is going to create any renewed wave or not. So far, very preliminarily, the answer is “not.”

184K New Covid Cases, 860 Deaths In U.S. --With 184,070 new cases reported on Wednesday, the total number of people that have been infected with the coronavirus in the United States has risen to 86,636,811, as per the latest data by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.860 Covid deaths reported on the same day took the total U.S. Covid casualties to 1,014,835.Georgia reported the most number of cases - 17,802 - and deaths - 80.Deaths have decreased by 13 percent in the last two weeks, New York Times' latest tally shows.More than 30,000 people are currently in American hospitals with the coronavirus, an increase of 3 percent over the last two weeks. More than 3,300 of these patients are admitted in intensive care units, marking a 9 percent rise in a fortnight.84,153,379 people have so far recovered from the disease, the Worldometer tally shows.2,053 additional deaths were reported globally on Wednesday, taking the total number of people who have lost their lives due to the pandemic so far to 6,324,459

 Child hospitalisations rise as new UK COVID wave begins - Behind the Johnson government’s pretence that the pandemic is over and we should “live with the virus”, the number of COVID cases is surging in Britain. Infections shot up last week by 43 percent, with 425,800 new cases. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), one in 50 people in England had the virus. The rise may be driven by new variants BA.4 and BA.5. Alongside another variant, BA.2.12.1, these variants replicate more effectively in the lungs than BA.2, indicating they could be more lethal. Total daily hospital admissions for all age groups in England rose gradually from 443 on June 4, to 842 on June 15. In the week from June 5-June 11, hospital admissions among children (0-17) rose 50 percent from 147 the previous week to 220, after falling steadily since April. For the youngest children (0-5), for whom a vaccine has not been approved in the UK, the rise was 60 percent, from 94 to 150. On June 17, 39 children aged 0-17 were admitted to hospital, of whom 33 were aged 0-5 and 6 aged 5-17. There were 978 new child (0-19) COVID cases, 8.1 percent of the total 12,065 new cases in England. On June 16, 36 children were admitted overnight, including 22 in the 0-5 age bracket and 14 aged 6-17. Total child cases in 0-19 age range rose by 914, or 7.5 percent of total new cases in England of 12,080. The figures for the day before were 40 children (0-17) hospitalized overnight, including 31 aged 0-5 and 9 aged 6-17. Total new child cases were 1,053, that is 7.8 percent of the 13,401 total new infections. Total child (0-17) hospital admissions due to COVID were 25,971 on June 16. By June 21, total hospital admissions of child COVID cases rose to 26,207, a rise of 56 overnight. This included 44 aged 0-5, and 12 aged 6-17. On that date there were 1,565 new child COVID cases. These figures are extrapolated from coronavirus.data.gov.uk by Twitter user Tigress. Total UK child COVID deaths stand at 188 and cases among children well over 3 million. In the US, National Centre for Health Statistics, based on data from March 1, 2020-April 30, 2022, reported COVID as the leading cause of death among children aged 0-19.

 Study suggests more than half of all Australians may have caught COVID-19 in 2022 -A recent study by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) and the Kirby Institute at University of New South Wales has found that twice as many Australians as previously reported may have been infected with COVID-19 during the country’s first Omicron wave. The researchers tested 5,185 samples taken from blood donors for antibodies produced by infection, but not by vaccination. Based on the results, the scientists concluded that around 3.4 million adults (17 percent of the population) had been infected by the end of February. According to the survey, this was “at least twice as high as indicated by cases reported to authorities by the end of February.” A comparison of the infection rates in different states illustrates the disastrous impact of the “let it rip” policies now adopted by all governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike, across the country. The samples, collected just before Western Australia’s Labor government dropped its “hard border,” indicated that just 0.5 percent of blood donors in that state had contracted the virus. In Queensland, where the state Labor government threw open the border on December 23, despite surging cases in neighbouring New South Wales (NSW), 26 percent of the samples tested contained COVID-19 antibodies. Since the period in which these samples were collected, regular surveillance testing in schools and workplaces has been almost entirely eliminated, asymptomatic close contacts are no longer required to test or isolate in most states, and free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing programs have been slashed, forcing people to rely on less accurate, self-reported rapid antigen tests. This means the drastic under reporting of infections revealed by the study is only likely to have worsened. The clear implication is that at least 14 million Australians, or well over half the population, may have contracted the virus since the beginning of the year, based on a doubling of the official figure of more than 7 million. Further indicating that the impact of COVID-19 has been far worse than the official statistics show, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Provisional Mortality Statistics for January and February 2022 reveal 5,052 excess deaths, compared to the historical average, almost 3,000 more than have been reported as directly caused by the virus.

Omicron wave: How big a covid-19 surge could the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 cause? -New Scientist (paywalled) Yet another covid-19 wave is beginning in Australia, the US and parts of Europe, among other places. Driven by two omicron subvariants, called BA.4 and BA.5, experts are unsure how bad it will be.There is some evidence that BA.5 in particular may cause more severe disease than its predecessors BA.2 and BA.1, but there is also high covid-19 immunity in most populations.“All I can safely say is that Australia, the US and UK appear to be on track for … Read more:

German health minister hints at stricter winter COVID rules Germany's health minister on Friday recommended that Germans should still wear masks in indoor public places, although this would be on a voluntary basis for the time being.However, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country should prepare again for stricter coronavirus rules as the winter months approach.Lauterbach said the country would need to adopt new rules for the winter period, likening it to adopting "winter tires" instead of summer ones. This reference is to a law that requires motorists to drive with special winter tires over the period from October to Easter. The move came in response to a report by on the wesbite of Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper. It said the government was considering a rule that would make indoor mask-wearing in public places mandatory over the same period.And while he conceded that current data on infections did not justify making mask use a legal requirement at present, Lauterbach — himself a trained epidemiologist — said it was sensible to continue to wear masks indoors in the meantime."This must be a norm," he said.

WHO's Tedros Privately Admits Lab Leak 'Most Likely Explanation' For COVID-19 - The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who spent the early months of the pandemic publicly kowtowing to China, has privately admitted that he thinks Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese laboratory in a "catastrophic accident," according to the Daily Mail, citing a senior Government source.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), had recently confided to a senior European politician that the most likely explanation was a catastrophic accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, where infections first spread during late 2019.The Mail on Sunday first revealed concerns within Western intelligence services about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists were manipulating coronaviruses sampled from bats in caves nearly 1,000 miles away – the same caves where Covid-19 is suspected to have originated – in April 2020. The worldwide death toll from the Covid pandemic is now estimated to have hit more than 18 million. -Daily MailThe WHO came under heavy fire early into the pandemic for praising China's "transparent" response to the pandemic, repeating misinformation from Beijing about human-to-human transmission, and bowing to pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping not to declare the Covid-19 outbreak an emergency. Yet, while initially promoting the natural origin theory, Tedros and the WHO have become far more 'open' to the lab leak theory - despite officially being on the fence, unlike Tedros. "We do not yet have the answers as to where it came from or how it entered the human population," Tedros told EU member states this month, adding "Understanding the origins of the virus is very important scientifically to prevent future epidemics and pandemics." But morally, we also owe it to all those who have suffered and died and their families. The longer it takes, the harder it becomes. We need to speed up and act with a sense of urgency."

 Another Mystery Disease Is Spreading Amid North Korea’s COVID Outbreak -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is sending his own home-prepared medicines to parts of the country recently afflicted by the outbreak of an unnamed intestinal sickness, according to state media. The severity of the disease, and the number of people affected, is as yet unclear. Kim reportedly dispatched the large supply of medicine to the southern city of Haeju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from what state newspaper Rodong Sinmun labelled as an “acute enteric epidemic.” It is the first time a national North Korean state media outlet has reported on such an epidemic, and it comes just five weeks after the country’s first-ever public announcement of a COVID outbreak in mid-May. The vagueness of the report, which did not provide further details on the specific disease or size of the outbreak, also echoes the messaging around the COVID outbreak, when authorities revealed that an “obscure febrile disease” had rapidly infected more than 350,000 people. That number has since soared to more than 4.58 million. In this case, some experts believe the “acute enteric epidemic” might be cholera or typhoid—both illnesses that could potentially be devastating for a civilian population as malnourished, famished, and nutritionally vulnerable as North Korea’s. South Hwanghae province, where Haeju is located, is also the nation's main agricultural region, meaning the outbreak could further exacerbate the country's chronic food shortages. An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry told Reuters that Seoul is monitoring the outbreak, while the country's spy agency told lawmakers that waterborne diseases such as typhoid were already widespread in North Korea, even prior to the government’s COVID announcement.Others believe it’s premature to make assumptions about what the intestinal sickness could be. “It's too early to make any prediction about what the illness is because our only source of information is the North Korean government and state media,” Colin Zwirko, senior analytical correspondent at NK News, told VICE World News. “We know that it's intestinal in nature, but we don't know if it's bacterial or viral. We don't know if it's food borne, waterborne, or even if it spreads from person to person.” Zwirko noted that there are some clues to be found between the lines of the state media announcements, though—such as Kim’s orders to implement quarantine measures in affected areas.

Israel confirms first communal spread of monkeypox -The Health Ministry on Monday announced three new monkeypox cases, including the first confirmed instance of community spread in Israel.According to a ministry statement, the three cases were all among men from central Israel who are aged between 30 and 60.The ministry did not give any further details about the case of the man infected in Israel nor specify in which countries the other two men were believed to have contracted monkeypox.With the new diagnoses, there have been a total of nine cases of the rare disease confirmed in Israel. The first case was confirmed on May 20.“The Health Ministry notes that anyone who develops a fever or blistering after returning from overseas or was in close contact with someone suspected of being sick with monkeypox should speak to a doctor,” the Health Ministry statement said.The announcement of the new cases came as the World Health Organization is due on June 23 to hold an emergency meeting to determine whether to classify the global monkeypox outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern.The designation is the highest alarm the UN agency can sound.Until the past few months, monkeypox had generally been confined to Western and Central Africa. It is now present in several continents.

WHO focuses less on endemicity as global monkeypox cases top 2,500 -As global monkeypox cases top 2,500, the World Health Organization (WHO) posted a monkeypox update and removed the distinction between endemic and non-endemic nations to reflect a "unified response." Today Our World in Data reported 2,580 confirmed global cases through Jun 19. The WHO report notes 2,103 confirmed cases worldwide, including 1 death, and 1 probable case through Jun 15. Cases have been reported in 42 countries in five global regions, but 84% have been in the WHO European Region."We are removing the distinction between endemic and non-endemic countries, reporting on countries together where possible, to reflect the unified response that is needed," the WHO said in the report.In an update late last week from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO's European office, officials noted the high percentage of monkeypox cases that involve men who have sex with men (MSM).The report provided details on 892 lab-confirmed European cases reported via The European Surveillance System (TESSy). Of 430 patients with available information, 423 (98.4%) identified as MSM. About 45% of patients were from 31 to 40 years old, and 99.4% of them were male. The earliest date of symptom onset was Apr 8. No deaths occurred.The ECDC/WHO Europe report said 1,704 cases have been identified in Europe through Jun 15.In its report, the WHO says, "The outbreak of monkeypox continues to primarily affect men who have sex with men who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners…. The unexpected appearance of monkeypox in several regions in the initial absence of epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggests that there may have been undetected transmission for some time."The WHO also notes, "Vaccination against smallpox was shown in the past to be cross-protective against monkeypox. Today, any continuing immunity from prior smallpox vaccination would in most cases only be present in persons over the age of 42 to 50 years or older, depending on the country, since smallpox vaccination programmes ended worldwide in 1980 after the eradication of smallpox.

Biden officials to expand monkeypox testing amid fears of undercounting - The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is expanding monkeypox testing to commercial laboratories amid fears that the country is undercounting monkeypox cases because of insufficient testing. The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it began shipping moneypox tests this week to five private testing companies: Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare. The testing through these companies will begin in early July, HHS said. “These commercial laboratories will dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers,” the department said. Some public health experts have warned that the U.S. risks repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, when there was not enough testing to detect how widely the virus was really spreading. “Now the United States, once again, appears to be responding to a new health threat with an underpowered testing response,” Jennifer Nuzzo of Brown University and Jay Varma of Cornell University wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week. There is already a network of public health labs across the country able to do monkeypox testing, but experts say that it will be easier for doctors to order tests from commercial laboratories where they have established relationships and can jump through fewer hoops, thereby encouraging more testing.

First case of monkeypox in New Jersey confirmed in Jersey City - Hudson Reporter - The first case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Jersey City.The city shared the news via social media on June 20, linking to the state fact sheet on the virus at: nj.gov/health/cd/topics/monkeypox.shtml.“The NJ Health Dept has confirmed the first case of monkey pox in Jersey City,” the city said in the statement. “Please visit the NJ Health Dept site, which is set up to provide all necessary info.”The city confirmed it was working with both the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and the Centers for Disease Control on the matter.“Our health officials are working closely with the CDC,” the city said. “In an effort to keep you informed and updated, we will post any further information here as needed.”In a statement, the NJDOH did not mention Jersey City, but confirmed the first case of monkeypox in the state was identified after test results on June 18.“The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) today announced the first probable case of monkeypox in the state,” the NJDOH said in a statement. “A PCR test conducted by the Department’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratories confirmed the presence of orthopoxvirus in a North Jersey individual on June 18. A confirmatory test for the monkeypox virus – one of the viruses associated with the orthopoxvirus genus – will be done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Department of Health believes that the risk to New Jerseyans remains low.”At the direction of NJDOH, the individual is isolating at home. The local health department is conducting contact tracing to identify any individuals who may have been exposed to the individual. No additional details related to the case will be released due to patient confidentiality, according to the NJDOH.Most New Jersey residents are not at risk of infection with monkeypox, the NJDOH stated. New Jersey joins a slew of other states that have recently reported cases of the virus.“Monkeypox is rare but can spread through close prolonged contact with an infected person or animal,” the NJDOH said. “This might include coming into contact with skin lesions, or body fluids, sharing clothes or other materials that have been used by someone who is infectious, or inhaling respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact. To date, confirmed monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases have been reported in 20 states and the District of Columbia, according to the CDC.”In humans, monkeypox symptoms are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox, and begin with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion 7 to 14 days after infection, according to the CDC. As a precaution, any New Jersey residents who experience flu-like illness with swelling of lymph nodes and rash occurring on the face and body should contact their healthcare provider, according to the NJDOH.

Why the monkeypox outbreak is mostly affecting men who have sex with men | Science - Ever since monkeypox started sickening thousands of people worldwide this spring, two big questions have loomed: Why is a virus that has never managed to spread beyond a few cases outside Africa suddenly causing such a big, global outbreak? And why are the overwhelming majority of those affected men who have sex with men (MSM)?A long history of work on sexually transmitted infections and early studies of the current outbreak suggest the answers may be linked: The virus may have made its way into highly interconnected sexual networks within the MSM community, where it can spread in ways that it cannot in the general population.An epidemiological modeling study published as a preprint last week by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) supports that idea. It suggests the outbreak will keep growing rapidly if the spread isn’t curtailed. It also h­as implications for how to protect those most at risk and limit spread, while suggesting the risk for the wider population remains low.But there are still many uncertainties, and communication is fraught because of the risk of stigmatizing MSM—and because communicating frankly about sexual behavior is hard. “I think we have to talk more about sex,” says Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist and former HIV activist Gregg Gonsalves. “Everybody has been very clear about stigma, and saying it over and over again. The point is that you still have to address the risk of infection in our community.”Since early May, more than 2000 monkeypox cases have been reported in more than 30 countries where the virus is not normally seen. (Outbreaks are more common in at least a dozen countries in West and Central Africa where the virus has animal reservoirs. More than 60 cases and one death have been confirmed there this year.)

WHO considers declaring monkeypox a global health emergency - As the World Health Organization convenes its emergency committee Thursday to consider if the spiraling outbreak of monkeypox warrants being declared a global emergency, some experts say the WHO’s decision to act only after the disease spilled into the West could entrench the inequities that arose between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.Declaring monkeypox to be a global emergency would mean the U.N. health agency considers the outbreak to be an “extraordinary event” and that the disease is at risk of spreading across even more borders. It would also give monkeypox the same distinction as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.Many scientists doubt any such declaration would help curb the epidemic, since the developed countries recording the most recent cases are already moving quickly to shut it down.Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the recent monkeypox epidemic identified in more than 40 countries, mostly in Europe, as “unusual and concerning.” Monkeypox has sickened people for decades in central and west Africa, where one version of the disease kills up to 10% of people. In the epidemic beyond Africa so far, no deaths have been reported. “If WHO was really worried about monkeypox spread, they could have convened their emergency committee years ago when it reemerged in Nigeria in 2017 and no one knew why we suddenly had hundreds of cases,” said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups. “It is a bit curious that WHO only called their experts when the disease showed up in white countries,” he said.Until last month, monkeypox had not caused sizable outbreaks beyond Africa. Scientists haven’t found any major genetic changes in the virus and a leading advisor to the WHO said last month the surge of cases in Europe was likely tied tosexual activity among gay and bisexual men at two raves in Spain and Belgium.To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 3,300 cases of monkeypox in 42 countries where the virus hasn’t been typically seen. More than 80% of cases are in Europe. Meanwhile, Africa has already seen more than 1,400 cases this year, including 62 deaths.

Supreme Court won’t derail landmark Roundup cancer verdict - The Supreme Court today said that it would not get involved in a long-running legal battle over cancer risk from exposure to a key ingredient in the popular Roundup weedkiller. In a short order this morning, the justices rejected Monsanto Co.’s plea to overturn a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed California resident Edwin Hardeman and others to pursue their claims that the company failed to warn users about the links between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Greenwire, Dec. 9, 2019). Hardeman was awarded $25 million in a jury trial that is designed to serve as a test case for thousands of other similar challenges. “This has been a long, hard-fought journey to bring justice for Mr. Hardeman and now thousands of other cancer victims can continue to hold Monsanto accountable for its decades of corporate malfeasance,” said Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff, attorneys representing Hardeman, in a joint statement.The 9th Circuit rejected Monsanto’s argument that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act should block litigants’ claims against Roundup and upheld the award for Hardeman, who used the weedkiller for years on his property in the San Francisco Bay Area.Bayer AG, which now owns Monsanto, said today that it “respectfully disagrees” with the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant the company’s petition, Monsanto v. Hardeman.“While this decision brings an end to the Hardeman case, there are likely to be future cases, including Roundup cases, that present the U.S. Supreme Court with preemption questions like Hardeman and could also create a Circuit split,” Bayer said in a statement.The company noted that there is already one such petition pending — Monsanto v. Pilliod — which the Supreme Court could grant or dispose of as soon as next week.Bayer said it has set aside about $6.5 billion “to reasonably account for claims settlement, defense costs, judgments, and administrative expenses” associated with Roundup litigation and is preparing a resolution program for U.S. claims.

Pollution from California's 2020 wildfires likely offset decades of air quality gains It was a nightmare fire season that California won't soon forget. As more than 9,000 wildfires raged across the landscape, a canopy of smoke shrouded much of the state and drifted as far away as Boston. All told, more than 4.3 million acres would be incinerated and more than 30 people killed. Economic losses would total more than $19 billion. But the damage caused by California's 2020 wildfire season is still coming into focus in some respects, particularly when it comes to the air pollution it generated. In an analysis published this week in the annual Air Quality Life Index, researchers found that wildfire smoke likely offset decades of state and federal antipollution efforts, at least temporarily. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic took cars off the road and temporarily halted some industries, particulate pollution—widely considered one of the greatest threats to life expectancy—spiked to some of the highest levels in decades in parts of California in 2020, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, which produces the report estimating how air pollution may reduce life expectancy. Nationally, 29 of the top 30 counties with the highest level of particulate pollution that year were in California, researchers found. The report is the latest to highlight the dangerous health effects of wildfire smoke at a time when drought and climate change are fueling extreme wildfire behavior. Now, as the state enters what is expected to be another serious wildfire season, researchers say the toll these natural disasters can take on human health is striking. "Places that are experiencing frequent or more frequent wildfires are going to experience higher air pollution levels, not just for a couple of days or weeks, but it could impact the annual level of exposure," "It can bump up that average to unsafe and unhealthy levels that really do have an impact on people's health." More than half of all counties in California experienced their worst air pollution since satellite measurements began collecting data in 1998. If the particulate concentrations Mariposa County experienced in 2020 were sustained, the average resident's life would be shortened by 1.7 years, according to the report. That's compared to if residents were permanently breathing air in line with widely accepted international health guidelines. Between 1970 and 2020, five decades since the Clean Air Act was passed, the United States has witnessed tremendous progress in curtailing air pollution, including a 66.9% reduction in fine particulate—the pollutant that increases chances of lung disease, heart attack and stroke, according to the report. These reductions have prolonged the lives of most Americans, including those in Los Angeles County, where levels of particle pollution have been halved, extending the average Angeleno's lifespan by 1.3 years, according to a University of Chicago analysis. In recent years however, wildfire smoke has accounted for up to half of all fine-particle pollution in the Western U.S. Fine particulate matter has been viewed as one of the preeminent threats to public health. When inhaled, these microscopic particles—30 times smaller than a human hair—can venture deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, increasing the chance of lung disease and potentially triggering a heart attack or stroke. Recent research suggests the fine particulate generated by wildfires to be much more dangerous than other sources of combustion, like vehicle exhaust or gas-fired power plants. "When you have a wildfire, they burn everything," "They burn cars, they burn buildings, they burn plastic. So it's not only the level of (particulate pollution) that gets really high, but the type of (this pollution) that you're breathing." The pollution emanating from the 2020 wildfires likely resulted in 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths for seniors over 65 years old, according to estimates from Stanford University.

Era of pandemics shows need for global wildlife action - Even as COVID-19 cases persist unabated, a frightening string of monkeypox outbreaks has spread globally in recent months. Both pathogens are likely of zoonotic origin. One is new and the other is not, yet both viruses should give policymakers reason to act to end this “era of pandemics.”As both COVID-19 and the current monkeypox outbreak illustrate, our ability to control viruses once they spill over to people is greatly limited. But the monkeypox outbreak is highlighting how even viruses we’ve known of for decades can surprise people.As of June, more than 1,470 confirmed monkeypox cases have been documented in 31 countries outside of Africa, including the United States, Australia and nations in Europe. The World Health Organization recorded more than 1,300 cases and several dozen deaths in four African countries between December 2021 and May 2022. In the United States, monkeypox — most readily identified by the skin lesions it causes — has been detected in 15 states.Nigeria recently took a bold step and banned bushmeat consumption to reduce the in-country outbreak. Several current monkeypox cases outside of Africa have been traced back to travelers returning from Nigeria. We applaud the government of Nigeria for this swift action to halt further transmission of the monkeypox outbreak to save lives both within and outside of Nigeria.But global collaboration is also crucial. We need international action to ensure that any human exploitation of wildlife poses no risk of pathogen spillover to humans, wildlife or other animals.A proposal with this very language is on the table as biodiversity negotiators from around the world prepare to gather in Nairobi, Kenya, this month. They will be discussing a framework to guide biodiversity protection this decade.

Emperor penguin decline a 'done deal' without global action -The fate of the emperor penguin is in doubt, as global warming threatens its icy habitat — and world leaders struggle to enact protections that could buy the iconic Antarctica bird some much-needed time.A recent meeting of the Antarctic Treaty System laid bare the uphill battle to protect the species. Dozens of nations, and a substantial body of scientific evidence, supported a proposal to give the emperor penguin special protection status under the Antarctic Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection. But it took only one country — China — to block action.The new status wouldn’t have been enough to save the species. Experts say that will require curbing global emissions, and preventing further warming. But it would have shielded the penguins from additional threats, like pollution and other human disturbances, by placing certain limits on research work, tourist operations and other human activities that come in close contact with penguin colonies.“If a camel’s got a straw on its back, you don’t want to break the camel’s back by adding an additional straw,” said Phil Trathan, former head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey and a professor at the University of Southampton.While the formal effort ultimately failed, many nations are still likely to implement similar protections on their own. Astatement from this year’s host country, Germany, noted that “most Parties indicated that they would nonetheless implement the draft action plan” of their own accord. But scientists warn that without global climate action, the regal black-and-white bird will face serious declines within a few decades. One recent study found that if world leaders fail to strengthen existing climate policies, emperor penguin colonies are likely to go extinct — or at least shrink to unsustainable numbers — by the end of this century.

Mass death - Korora penguins washing up on New Zealand beaches - Hundreds of Korora penguins, also known as little penguins or little blue penguins have washed up on the beaches in northern New Zealand since early May 2022. Mass deaths of the korora penguins – a flightless bird native to New Zealand – used to take place about once per decade but now they have happened 3 times in six years.While unofficial reports mention at least 500 washed-up animals within a month, the ‘exact number is difficult to determine and reports are still coming in,’ according to New Zealand Department of Conservation principal science adviser Graeme Taylor.1The penguins were tested for diseases and biotoxins, but appeared to have died from starvation.Experts in New Zealand said they expected a mortality event this summer due to the La Nina climate pattern, which is expected to continue through the end of the year.“With mass die-offs happening more frequently, the penguins have less opportunity to replenish their population through breeding in better years,” Taylor said.

Canada is banning single-use plastics, including grocery bags and straws - Canada is banning the manufacture and import of single-use plastics by the end of the year, the government announced on Monday, in a major effort to combat plastic waste and address climate change. The ban will cover items like checkout bags, cutlery, straws, and food-service ware made from or containing plastics that are hard to recycle, with a few exceptions for medical reasons. It will come into effect in December 2022, and the sale of those items will be prohibited as of December 2023 to provide businesses in Canada enough time to transition and to deplete existing stocks, the government said. Single-use plastics make up most of the plastic waste found on Canadian shorelines. Up to 15 billion plastic checkout bags are used each year and approximately 16 million straws are used every day, according to government data. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who vowed in 2019 to phase out plastics, said the ban will eliminate more than 1.3 million tons of plastic waste over the next decade — the equivalent of 1 million garbage bags of trash. "We promised to ban harmful single-use plastics, and we're keeping that promise," Trudeau wrote in a tweet on Monday. Canada will also prohibit the export of those plastics by the end of 2025 to address international plastic pollution.

Tribes will co-manage Bears Ears with feds in historic deal - Five Native American tribes have signed an agreement with the Biden administration for sharing management of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.The agencies signed the cooperative agreement with the five tribes of the Bears Ears Commission at a Saturday ceremony in White Mesa, Utah. They also unveiled a new traffic sign just south of the monument displaying the insignias of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, and the Pueblo of Zuni.The five tribes played a major role in convincing former President Barack Obama in 2016 to establish the 1.36-million-acre national monument on federal land that Native Americans view as sacred.“Today, instead of being removed from a landscape to make way for a public park, we are being invited back to our ancestral homelands to help repair them and plan for a resilient future,” said Carleton Bowekaty, co-chair of the Bears Ears Commission and the lieutenant governor of the Pueblo of Zuni, in a statement.Bowekaty added: “We are being asked to apply our traditional knowledge to both the natural and human-caused ecological challenges, drought, erosion, visitation, etc. What can be a better avenue of restorative justice than giving Tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of lands their ancestors were removed from?”BLM and the Forest Service, which have jointly managed the monument since it was established six years ago, will develop a new management plan for the monument lands cooperatively with the tribal members, the agencies said.

China's Northeastern Black Soil Grain Field Is Alarmingly Depleted - The fertile black soil in northeastern China, which the Chinese grain community relies on, is in an alarming state of degradation due to over-use. Chinese researchers recently admitted that the area has lost a huge chunk of its productivity. It is the most important grain commodity base in China, affecting the country’s food security. This grain field is over 107 million acres, which is one-fifth of China’s arable land; the rice production accounts for at least a quarter of China’s total grain crop. That is, this land affects the food reserves that matter to hundreds of millions of people in China. On June 15, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said that the rich black soil in the northeastern region has lost 20 percent of productivity, the Chinese media reported.Significant loss of soil and the organic nutrients in the soil from excessive use of the land are the main causes of the decreased productivity, said the report that came after an inspection by a regime high official.Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Party’s Standing Committee, led the inspection of the environmental protection in the northeastern province, Heilongjiang, from June 10 to 13. Li emphasized the importance of sustaining the black soil belt, according to the report by state mouthpiece, CCTV, on June 14.In fact, China has been continuously losing its rich and fertile black soil for decades. Heavy mechanization and fertilizer use since the early 20th century under the regime increased productivity but also caused tremendous damage to the rich soil.In 2021, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) released its first “White Paper on Black Soil Region in Northeast China, 2020.”The white paper revealed that in the past 60 years, the organic content of the black soil tillage layer has dropped by 33 percent, and in some areas by 50 percent.

Water conservation grants go to western states - The Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced nearly $26 million in funds for water and energy efficiency grants in Western states. The grants, paid for under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will go toward conserving local water supplies amid the severe drought in the West. Most of the West is mired in drought conditions, particularly the Southwest, where a megadrought dating back more than two decades is the most severe such event in at least 1,200 years. The Interior Department has approved grants for 14 projects in eight Western states to help boost water use efficiency through such actions as upgrading water meters, installing gates to control water flow and more.According to a statement, the department aims to save more than 12 billion gallons of water per year with these grants, which it says would be enough water to fill about 880,000 swimming pools.The projects aim to reduce residential use and increase the efficiency of irrigation systems.Two projects will also involve building solar power facilities to provide clean energy to water-related infrastructure. The infrastructure bill allocated $8.3 billion for water infrastructure projects via the department's Bureau of Reclamation, and the new announcement comprises part of a total of $160 million in WaterSMART grants provided this year.Recipients of the new grants include the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which will receive $2 million for a turf replacement program, and the city of Rialto, California, for a $2 million advanced metering implementation project. Other grants will go to community projects in Utah, Texas and Colorado.: As of June 16, 78% of the West was classified as being in drought conditions, with 44% of this region in the two most severe categories. With the exception of parts of the Southwest, which is seeing beneficial rains associated with the monsoon season, little drought relief is forecast this summer across the West. Federal officials have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the need to conserve water.

A major California reservoir has hit its peak for the year at just over half full - Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in a state system that provides water to 27 million Californians, has already reached its peak level for the year, barely surpassing half of its capacity, according to the Department of Water Resources. Officials had warned the lake—key to the roughly 700-mile State Water Project, which pumps and ferries water across the state for agricultural, business and residential use—was at "critically low" levels on May 8. Those levels, data from the Department of Water Resources now shows, were the reservoir's highest for the year. On May 8, Lake Oroville crested at 1.94 million acre-feet. As of Monday, it had dropped to 1.81 million acre-feet, the data shows. The reservoir can hold 3.54 million acre-feet of water, almost double its current level. State water officials said the lake was at 51% of capacity and 66% of its historical average for this point in the year. Though well below historical levels, the reservoir has improved over last year, when drought forced the hydroelectric power plant that relies on Lake Oroville's water supply to shut down. This year's peak water level was about 400,000 acre-feet above 2021's highest point, Department of Water Resources data shows. Until 2021, water levels for the lake north of Sacramento had peaked at 2.5 million acre-feet or more each year since 2015 —about 600,000 acre-feet above this year's high. The Department of Water Resources forecasts Lake Oroville's water level to continue falling through the end of the year, but the agency said it does not expect the hydroelectric power plant will need to shut down. Despite California's below-average precipitation this year, the department said Lake Oroville benefited from last October's "record-setting atmospheric river," or belts of Pacific rain, increasing its water supply. Snowfall in December also helped boost the reservoir, the department said, but the driest January, February and March of this century left Oroville with "below average storage for the season." "DWR is taking actions to conserve as much water as possible within Oroville reservoir," the agency said, both to help ensure salmon migration isn't interrupted and to prepare for the possibility of a more severe drought next year.

As Colorado River reservoirs drop, Western states urged to 'act now' - With the Colorado River's depleted reservoirs continuing to drop to new lows, the federal government has taken the unprecedented step of telling the seven Western states that rely on the river to find ways of drastically cutting the amount of water they take in the next two months. The Interior Department is seeking the emergency cuts to reduce the risks of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country's two largest reservoirs, declining to dangerously low levels next year. "We have urgent needs to act now," Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for water and science, said during a speech on Thursday. "We need to be taking action in all states, in all sectors, and in all available ways." Trujillo's virtual remarks to a conference at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder underscored the dire state of the river under the stresses of climate change, and the urgency of scaling up the region's response to stop the reservoirs from falling further. She provided details about the federal government's approach to the crisis two days after Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton announced that major cuts of between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet will be needed next year to keep reservoirs from dropping to "critical levels." For comparison, California, Arizona and Nevada used a total of about 7 million acre-feet of Colorado River water last year. State officials and managers of water agencies have yet to determine how they could accomplish such large reductions in water use. Finding ways of achieving the cutbacks will be the focus of negotiations in the coming weeks between representatives of the seven states and the Biden administration. "The Colorado River Basin faces greater risks than any other time in our modern history," Trujillo said. After more than 22 years of drought compounded by warmer temperatures with climate change, Lake Mead and Lake Powell have declined to their lowest levels since they were filled. The two reservoirs now sit nearly three-fourths empty, at just 28% of full capacity. The latest projections from the federal government show that absent large shifts in water use, the reservoirs are expected to continue dropping over the next two years. Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, is forecast to decline more than 30 feet by March, putting the water level about 16 feet from the point at which Glen Canyon Dam would no longer generate electricity. The surface of Lake Mead, the country's largest reservoir, now stands at 1,045 feet above sea level. It's forecast to drop more than 26 feet by July 2023. If Lake Mead were to keep dropping, the level would eventually approach a danger zone at 895 feet, below which water would no longer pass through Hoover Dam to supply California, Arizona and Mexico—a level known as "dead pool."

The Real Deadpool: America’s Drought By Chris Martenson - We were foolish enough to believe we could water the entire southwestern U.S. with the Colorado River. Nothing could go wrong. Now it has, and tens of millions of people are staring down the barrel of real trouble. As much as 75% of the water from Lake Mead (fed by the Colorado River) goes to agriculture…so now we have a potential food production problem. Major cities like Las Vegas depend on that water for its citizens…now we have a potential personal survival problem for local residents. More than 40 million people in seven states need to decide how they go on living if the rains do not return. Is anyone worried? Is there an emergency management team in place? Doesn’t seem that way if you review the local news there. Are they prepared? No. Maybe 3% of the population has anything in place for survival. What do they do? Where do they go? Is Kansas ready for an influx of evacuees from California? Can the East Coast handle another few million people? Watch this important video Listen to the Audio Audio Player Read the Full Transcript!

Po River at record-low levels, densely populated large fertile region of Italy suffering worst drought in 70 years, Italy - (videos) Unusually low levels of River Po – Italy’s largest river – are transforming the country’s large fertile region, affecting crop production and threatening the densely populated region with a serious drinking water shortage.While Northern Italy hasn’t seen normal rainfall for more than 110 days, the problems start in the mountains where the seasonal snowfall has been at its lowest for 20 years – 50% less than the seasonal average.Rivers and streams in the Po district are at critical levels due to scarce winter precipitation, both snow and rain, causing severe to extremely severe drought conditions not seen in the region in 70 years, according to the Po River Basin Authority.1All measuring stations at the Po River, with the exception of Piacenza, are in severe drought conditions, with flow rates well below the averages for the period. The precipitation that fell in May was mainly due to localized thunderstorms, even violent, but not sufficient to fill the deficit since the beginning of the year.Temperatures in the month of May were above average for the period, with maximum values close to or locally above historical records for the month, with significant thermal anomalies beyond the first appearance of the first heat waves, which generated a sharp increase in the phenomenon of evapotranspiration. At a monitoring station in Boretto, Alessio Picarelli, head of the Interregional Body of the Po River (AIPO), received results that the Po was measuring 2.9 m (9.5 feet) below the zero gauge height, which is drastically below the seasonal average. This is causing the seawater to be sucked back upstream, bringing saltwater into the earth and poisoning crops.2According to the farmers’ association Coldiretti, the drought in the Po River Valley threatens more than 30% of national agricultural production, including tomato sauce, fruit, vegetables, and wheat, and half of the livestock of the country.“In the face of a water crisis, the severity of which is about to surpass what has ever been recorded since the beginning of the last century, we ask that a state of emergency be declared as soon as possible in the territories concerned, taking into account the serious prejudice of national interests,” the president of Coldiretti, Ettore Prandini, said in the letter sent to Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Large temperature contrast during record-breaking June heatwave fuels severe thunderstorms, Europe - Large swaths of Europe experienced an early-season heatwave over the weekend, with temperatures more than 40 to 43 °C (104 – 110 °F) and numerous daily, monthly and all-time records broken. As those records were falling, a sharp temperature contrast first observed in the UK and NW Germany, fueled severe thunderstorms which are forecast to impact an area from France to Serbia on June 20 and 21. “Heat has been building in south-west Europe and north-west Africa for a while,” said meteorologist Scott Duncan. “The cut-off low pressure spinning near Portugal acts like an engine to lift heat north. The strong jet racing across the Atlantic is also important for intensifying high pressure on the continent.” Spain was the first to suffer from what was described as the hottest heat wave so early in the year. The temperature at Andujar reached 44.2 °C (111.5 °F) on June 17 while an airport in San Sebastian recorded 43.5 °C (110.3 °F) on June 18. On the same day, the Igueldo sation in the city registered 39.7 °C (103.4 °F), marking its all-time hottest day. The worst affected over the weekend was France, especially its southwestern parts, with 203 monthly and 18 all-time records broken or tied. The countrywide average temperature rose to 27.4 °C (81.3 °F), forcing the cancelation of numerous public events. Biarritz, located near the border with Spain, recorded 42.9 °C (109.2 °F) on June 19, breaking the previous all-time record by more than 2 °C (3.6 °F). Its previous June record was 39.2 °C (102.5 °F), set in 2003. (1) Historic day in France:Dozens of stations had their hottest June day on records including 2 stations with their hottest day ever: Revel-St-Ferreol 40.2C (prev. 40.0C 29 June 1950) Pissos 41.7C (prev. 41.5C 28 Aug 1991) See list of records courtesy of Meteociel. pic.twitter.com/1Alon5ZS2N . Husinec in the Czech Republic recorded 39 °C (102.2 °F) on the same day, marking the country’s hottest June day in history.The town of Slubice, in western Poland, recorded 38.3 °C (100.9 °F), tying the national June record set at Radzyn in 2019.Switzerland also tied its highest June temperature on record when 36.9 °C (98.4 °F) was recorded in Beznau. Temperatures were also unusually high for the time of the year in Austria, where 36.5 °C (97.7 °F) was recorded in Feldkirch – its highest June temperature on record.

Southern China hit by heaviest rains since 1961, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate - (videos) Hundreds of thousands of people were affected and more than 200 000 forced to evacuate their homes after the heaviest rains since 1961 hit parts of southern China.According to China’s National Meteorological Center, the average rainfall in Guangdong, Fujian and Guangxi provinces between early May and the middle of June reached 621 mm (24 inches) which is the highest since 1961.1The rains caused major floods in the low-lying Pearl River basin, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate and threatening manufacturing, shipping and logistics operations.In Guangdong, more than 200 000 people have been evacuated and the current damage is estimated at $254 million USD.The city of Shaoguan, Guangdong issued a Red Flood alert on the morning of June 21, after multiple rural counties and the major city of Foshan upgraded their flood warnings in recent days. The city of Foshan was hit by a destructive tornado on June 19, the second damaging tornado to hit the province within just 3 days.2Authorities in Shaoguan asked residents of communities along river banks and in low-lying neighborhoods to move to higher ground, after floodwaters hit a 50-year high, state television reported.3From May 21 to June 17, the cumulative average rainfall in the city reached 522.9 mm (20.6 inches), a new record.At noon (LT) on June 21, the city of Qingquan, near Shaoguan, also raised its flood alert to the highest level as the waters rose. The peak discharge of the swollen Beijiang River near Guangdong’s capital Guangzhou is expected to reach 20 000 m3 per second, a flow of a size that probably occurs “once every 100 years,” the local water conservancy bureau told Chinese media. According to local media, the floods in neighboring Guangxi are the heaviest since 2005. Jiangxi Province raised the alert level to Red on June 20 after local hydrological stations registered water in local rivers at warning levels.4 The heavy rain that lashed the province has brought the first floods this year in the Changjiang River and Xiuhe River, according to the provincial hydrological monitoring center. The center estimated that the water level would continue to rise in the coming four days in Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, due to the heavy rain and that a flood may form as the water may rise around 0.4 m (1.3 feet) above the warning level. 485 000 people in Jiangxi’s 9 districts were affected. In contrast to the south, China’s northern regions are experiencing temperatures above 40 °C (104 °F) and drought.

Changes in the jet stream are steering autumn rain away from southeast Australia -- You wouldn't know it from the torrential rains that have inundated large parts of New South Wales and Queensland this year, but average late-autumn rainfall over southeast Australia has declined significantly since the 1990s.Less rain in these areas is an expected consequence of global warming. In both the northern and southern hemispheres, the paths of the weather systems that bring rain in the middle latitudes have been moving away from the equator and towards the poles.We studied in detail the drop in rainfall during April and May in southeast Australia, and found it is just one consequence of far-reaching changes in the behavior of high-altitude winds over Australia.These high-altitude winds are called jet streams: narrow bands of rapidly flowing air that typically occur at altitudes around the cruising height of commercial passenger aircraft. In April and May, the westerly jet stream over southeast Australia normally splits into a northern branch (called the subtropical jet) and a southern branch (called the polar-front jet).Since the mid 1990s, the location of this split has moved and the speeds of the winds involved have also changed. We found these changes, which are related to global warming, are responsible for a decrease in the number of low-pressure systems bringing rain to southeast Australia.The maps you might see on weather apps or TV forecasts usually show what's going on at ground level: high- and low-pressure systems, cold fronts, and so on. However, these ground-level systems are largely driven by the jet streams and related atmospheric processes.As well as the changes in the jet stream, there are two other important changes reducing rainfall in the early cool season.First, the air over parts of inland southeast Australia has become significantly drier since the 1990s.And second, areas of strongly rotating air have moved further east and south, over the Tasman Sea.Both humidity and air rotation are important contributors to the development of low-pressure areas that bring rain. As a result of these changes, there has been a significant decrease in late autumn rainfall in southeast Australia.

Systematic warming pool discovered in the Pacific due to human activities -In a study just released in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, Dr. Armineh Barkhordarian confirms that this systematic warming pool is not the result of natural climatic variations—but of human influences instead. "This warming pool will continue to increase the water temperature in the future, increasing both the frequency and intensity of local marine heatwaves. The sharp increase in average water temperature is pushing ecosystems to their limits," explains Barkhordarian, an expert on atmospheric science and member of Universität Hamburg's Cluster of Excellence "Climate, Climatic Change, and Society" (CLICCS). Barkhordarian and her team show how the long-term warming pool has promoted local marine heatwaves in the past. One of these phenomena gained notoriety as the deadly "Pacific Ocean Blob," which had devastating consequences between 2014 and 2015: marine productivity faltered, toxic algal blooms formed, and seabirds and marine mammals died in droves. In addition, the event led to severe droughts on the west coast of the U.S.. The most recent marine heatwave continued for three years, from 2019 to 2021, producing water temperatures up to six degrees Celsius above average. Barkhordarian's team have now proven that increased anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions were directly responsible for the extreme event. The probability of such a heatwave arising without human influences is less than one percent; there is a 99-percent probability that increased greenhouse-gas emissions were also required. In addition, the study shows that the water temperature over the warming pool in the northeast Pacific increased by an average of 0.05 degrees Celsius per year over the past 25 years. Overall, the region cooled less in winter and the summer was 37 days longer on average. As a result, over the past 20 years there have been 31 marine heatwaves in this region alone, compared to just nine between 1982 and 1999. "More frequent and extreme marine heatwaves are a serious burden for affected ecosystems. This not only poses a tremendous threat to biodiversity; it can also push these marine ecosystems past a tipping point, after which they can no longer recover," says Barkhordarian. "The discovery of the long-term warming pool will now provide us with crucial information on the likelihood of such extreme events in the future."

Spain devastated by wildfires amid record-breaking heat wave - Wildfires in Spain have destroyed thousands of acres of land and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes amid a punishing heat wave across Europe.Some of the fires continue to burn, with firefighters working to extinguish flames that have ravaged more than 74,000 acres. On Friday, the World Meteorological Organization warned that all of Spain faced “extreme fire risk” because of the heat and drought.The early heat wave broke some records in Spain, with Valencia Airport setting a record June high on Friday, logging a temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) and surpassing records set in 2017. In Madrid, temperatures rose to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 Celsius) in what the State Meteorological Agency said was the earliest major heat wave in more than four decades. “What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future,” Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization,told the Independent over the weekend as she warned that early heat waves were being propelled by climate change. Sierra de la Culebra, a mountain range in Castile and León, in northwest Spain, was one of the areas most devastated, with one workers’ association calling the forest fire “a real monster” as it formed a towering orange wall along what was once a lush green landscape. Some respite came on Sunday as temperatures dropped. On Monday, emergency aircraft dropped water onto rural land in the west of the country to stop flames from reigniting, while forest fires continued to burn in areas including Navarre and Catalonia, the Reuters news agency reported.Hundreds of firefighters have been working across several regions including Zamora, in the northwest, and Valencia, in the southeast, to extinguish flames.Officials in Catalonia, in the northeast, said over the weekend that emergency services were struggling to contain more than 30 fires, the Guardian reported.The heat wave also struck France, and a warning was issued in Britain by the Health Security Agency as the country recorded its hottest day of the year. Temperatures in London passed 89 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) because of what experts said was a blast of hot air from North Africa.

Wildfire expands on St. Catherine's Island as severe drought conditions persist -- Wildfires continue to burn on St. Catherine's Island that started over a week ago due to lightning strikes. At least one of the fires on the island expanded Monday afternoon. Dry weather paired up with low humidity and breezy conditions pushed the flames to the coast on the north end of the island.An aerial view of the fires courtesy of Clay Sikes shows the largest fire on the north end of the island, with smaller fires continuing to burn on various parts of the island. Severe drought conditions remain in place for a large part of southeast Georgia, including coastal Liberty County. Rainfall totals for 2022 are running above 8 to 11 inches below average in the severe drought area.No relief from the dry weather is expected until at least late Thursday or Friday, and even then rain chances are very low. The best chance of rain coming up is on Saturday as widely scattered showers or thunderstorms are possible. Along with more dry weather, high heat returns this week with temperatures inland reaching the upper 90s by Wednesday and Thursday. Temperatures will reach the low 90s at the coast.

Smoke chokes Bryce Canyon National Park as Utah wildfire scorches 3,000 acres -The Left Fork Fire continues to rage in Dixie National Forest, having scorched over 3,000 acres as of Tuesday morning with only about 5% containment.Smoke from the fire is billowing into Bryce Canyon National Park. The blaze is burning approximately 6.5 miles from Rainbow Point, a viewpoint on the southern end of the park, near where officials on Tuesday closed three of the park’s backcountry campsites. The park does not expect additional closures at this time.Tuesday evening, officials recommended an evacuation of the Bryce Woodland Estates “due to increased wind and fire behavior,” the Kane County Sheriff’s Office said. The community is located southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park, off Highway 89. As of about 5:30 p.m., Kane County deputies and the fire warden were notifying residents and helping them get to safety.The Left Fork Fire is an outgrowth of a prescribed burn that got out of control on May 9. After it burned 100 acres, officials believed the fire was contained. Due to strong winds and heat this weekend, the fire reignited on Saturday.Winds picked up on Tuesday afternoon, grounding air support near the southwestern corner of the blaze, where crews were starting to see more activity, Sierra Hellstrom, a spokesperson with a Panguitch-based Type 3 Incident Management Team, told the Tribune.Air support still is active for other parts of the fire thanks to reduced winds Monday and Tuesday. There, crews have spread retardant and water over spot fires in the area that are burning hot.There have been no injuries or damage to structures reported.Officials do not have a time estimate on when the fire might be contained.“It really depends on the weather the next few days,” Hellstrom said. “If it continues to stay cool and less windy, the higher likelihood of us being able to get it contained a little more quickly. But right now, with the weather being as unpredictable as it is, it can get a lot more difficult to have a time frame.”

Wildfire in New Jersey Could Become the State’s Largest in Years - A fast-moving wildfire in a remote section of a state forest in New Jersey was threatening to become the state’s largest fire in 15 years, and may have been started by an illegal campfire, officials said on Tuesday.The blaze, called the Mullica River fire, had burned about 13,500 acres in Wharton State Forest and was 85 percent contained as of midday Tuesday, officials said. The forest, in South Jersey, is about 30 miles northwest of Atlantic City.No injuries were reported, but 18 structures, including several farms and campgrounds, were threatened by the fire, officials said.The officials said they had ruled out a natural cause for the fire, such as lightning. An “illegal, unattended campfire” was found near the origin of the Mullica River fire, “so that is the cause that we are investigating now,” Chief Gregory McLaughlin of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service said at a news conference on Tuesday.He added that the area where the “makeshift fire” first started was not a designated camp site and was in a remote area of the forest.“We’re calling it a campfire, but I don’t necessarily know that people were camped out or camping there for any period of time,” he said, adding that investigators suspected that “people were passing through.”The fire was projected to consume just over 15,000 acres, officials said.“Most wildfire is human-caused,” Shawn M. LaTourette, the New Jersey environmental protection commissioner, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Please, please practice fire safety. Report them when you see them.”About 75 firefighters were on the scene Tuesday using an assortment of equipment, including a helicopter that dropped water over the blaze..While weather conditions were dry and sunny on Monday, and slightly above-average temperatures and increasing humidity were in the forecast for the area on Tuesday. Meteorologists said precipitation was more likely on Wednesday. The fire was first detected on Sunday morning, but initial efforts to suppress it were ineffective because it was difficult for fire crews to reach the remote location of the blaze, Chief McLaughlin said during a news conference on Monday.

Multiple fires in California, one person killed after thunderstorms produce 66,000 lightning strikes, U.S. - Intense thunderstorms rolled through California, U.S. on June 22, 2022, producing more than 50 000 lightning strikes within 24 hours – the most in a single day since 2017. While the lightning strikes started multiple wildfires, one of them struck a woman and her two dogs killing them on the spot. During the UTC day on June 22, a total of 54 329 lightning strikes were detected, according to meteorologist Chris Vagasky. This is the most lightning strikes detected in a single day since September 8, 2017, and the 6th highest daily total since 2015. “Incredibly, the 54 329 lightning events detected by NLDN between 00:00 UTC on June 22 and 00:00 UTC on June 23 are 7.5% of the total lightning detected in California in 2020 and 2021 combined,” Vagasky said. Between 00:00 UTC on June 22 and 13:00 UTC on June 23, NLDN detected 66 897 total lightning events. 45 129 were in-cloud and 21 768 were cloud-to-ground, Vagasky noted, adding that this is a bigger event than the one from the August 2020 event. “The 21 768 CG strokes hit 12 701 different points on the ground. 4 255 of these strike points were identified by NLDN as having medium to high probability of continuing current OR high potential for non-metal damage. These are potential fire start strikes,” Vagasky said. The August 2020 California lightning wildfires (also referred to as the August lightning siege or August wildfire siege) were a series of 650 wildfires that ignited across Northern California in mid-August 2020, due to a siege of dry lightning from rare, massive summer thunderstorms, which were caused by an unusual combination of very hot, dry air at the surface, dry fuels, and advection of moisture from the remains of Tropical Storm Fausto northward into the Bay Area.1 Early morning on August 16 (2020), when the first thunderstorms hit, around 2 500 lightning strikes hit the Bay Area, with 200 strikes in 30 minutes at one point, which the National Weather Service office in Bay Area labeled as “insane”. Within the next 72 – 96 hours, over 12 000 lightning strikes were recorded over Northern California. These lightning strikes sparked up to 585 wildfires, many of which grew to be very large at a rapid pace due to parched brush, especially in Northern California.Storms that rolled through California on June 22 started multiple fires, but most of them were being suppressed while still very small. The cause of the Thunder Fire east of Interstate 5 near the Grapevine north of Frazier Park is under investigation, but the suspected cause is lightning, said Captain Andrew Freeborn of the Kern County Fire Department.2 As of Thursday morning (LT), the Department reported it had burned approximately 930 ha (2 300 acres) and was being staffed by 250 personnel. Small fires in the Angeles National Forest were being worked overnight by firefighters assisted by night-flying helicopters.

Supercell spawns multiple tornadoes in Kansas, U.S. - (videos) A stunning supercell tracked between Dorrance and Glendale, Kansas, U.S. on June 23, 2022, producing multiple tornadoes. NWS Storm Prediction Center received 5 tornado reports (2x Russel County, 2x Lincoln County, and 1x Saline County). All of them were reportedly brief tornadoes.

Historic floods in Montana severely damaged or destroyed 115 homes, U.S. - (video) A total of 115 homes were severely damaged or destroyed in Montana’s Park, Carbon, and Stillwater counties by historic floods that hit the region on June 12 and 13, 2022. The devastating floods were produced by melting snow in combination with heavy rainfall. Snowpack across most of the Montana river basins began melting much later and faster than normal this year. While most basin snowpack typically peaks sometime in mid to late April, in 2022 snowpack peaked in late April and in some cases in mid-May.1 Moderate to major flooding continues to occur in multiple basins statewide and the incident period remains ongoing, Montana Governor told FEMA in a Request for Individual Assistance on June 23. Flood forecasting efforts were hampered by this extreme event when several USGS stream gage stations were damaged or destroyed. Some of these sites have yet to be repaired since the entire bridges on which they were mounted were washed downstream. The results of damage surveys indicate that 53 primary residences were majorly damaged or destroyed in Park County, 39 in Stillwater, and 23 in Carbon. Due to the significant amount of debris caused by these storms, cleanup and recovery efforts remain ongoing.

'This is not a survivable market.' Insurance crisis hits Fla. - Three years ago, FedNat Insurance Co. decided it was smart business strategy to expand deeper into the South to diversify its coverage area. But in 2020 and 2021, major storms hit Louisiana and Texas, and the Florida-based property insurer lost tens of millions of dollars. Now the impact of those storms is being felt in Florida. On June 29, FedNat will cancel 68,200 homeowners’ policies in the state. FedNat’s pullback is the latest in a stunning series of insurance cancellations, nonrenewals and company liquidations that have left Florida residents struggling to find coverage at the start of a hurricane season that is projected to be unusually strong. Premiums are soaring, and experts say an insurance crisis threatens the state economy. “This is not a survivable market. Homeowners cannot find coverage,” Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, said in a recent webinar. The webinar, hosted by credit rating agency AM Best, was about a Florida insurance market “in crisis.” The retrenchment has forced hundreds of thousands of Florida residents to get coverage through the state insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The influx raises fears that a major hurricane would drain program reserves and require millions of residents to pay an insurance surcharge. Citizens’ policy count hit 883,000 in May. That’s more than double the 420,000 policies the program had three years ago, but well short of its record of 1.5 million policies in November 2011. The growth has accelerated in the past year and is expected to continue, undermining Citizens’ long effort to “depopulate” by moving policyholders to private-sector insurance. “This is one of those stories that, unfortunately, the news is not getting better,” Citizens’ financial exposure has nearly tripled to $294 billion from $107 billion in May 2019, as private insurers target pricey homes for cancellation or nonrenewal. Nearly half of Citizens’ exposure — $141 billion — is in the three hurricane-prone southeast counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, even though those counties account for just 28 percent of Florida’s population. “Citizens is growing at a clip that is not sustainable,” Kyle Ulrich, president of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, said at the recent AM Best webinar. He noted that five Florida property insurers have been declared insolvent since April.

Shallow M5.9 earthquake hits Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, killing at least 950 people - A strong earthquake registered by the USGS as M5.9 hit the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region at 20:54 UTC on June 21, 2022 (01:24 LT, June 22). The agency is reporting a depth of 50 km (31 miles). EMSC is reporting M5.9 at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles). As of early morning, June 22, the confirmed death toll was 280. By 10:20 UTC, the death toll skyrocketed to 950 and was still expected to rise. This is now the deadlines earthquake to hit Afghanistan since 2002. Numerous homes have been destroyed. The epicenter was located about 44.6 km (27.7 miles) SW of Khōst (population 96 123) and 61.2 km (38 miles) SSE of Gardez (population 103 601). There are about 3.4 million people living within 100 km (62 miles). 7 000 people are estimated to have felt very strong shaking, 119 000 strong, 884 000 moderate and 17 629 000 light. The USGS issued a Yellow alert for shaking-related fatalities. Some casualties are possible and the impact should be relatively localized. Past events with this alert level have required a local or regional level response. A Green alert was issued for economic losses. There is a low likelihood of damage. Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are extremely vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist. The predominant vulnerable building types are informal (metal, timber, GI etc.) and adobe block construction. Recent earthquakes in this area have caused secondary hazards such as landslides that might have contributed to losses. What we know thus far is that numerous homes in Afghanistan were completely destroyed in Paktika Province. Search and rescue operations are in progress. Helicopters are being used to reach remote areas. Officials in Afghanistan said at least 950 people have been killed and more than 600 were injured, adding that the toll is expected to rise as information comes in from remote mountain villages. According to Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi, most of the deaths were in Paktika Province, in the districts of Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok. 25 people fatalities were reported in Khost Province and another 90 were injured. There are no reports of casualties coming from Pakistan but tremors were felt widely across the country

Summer snowfall, freezing weather claims 12 lives in eastern Afghanistan - 12 children have lost their lives after summer snowfall and freezing weather hit the Chawkay district of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province over the past couple of days. Many parts of Afghanistan have recently seen heavy monsoon rainfall and floods in which at least 400 people died.1 The floods hit the provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Laghman, Panjshir, Parwan, Kabul, Kapisa, Maidan Wardak, Bamiyan, Ghazni, Logar, Samangan, Sar-e-Pul, Takhar, Paktia, Khost and Daikundi, as well as the Salang areas. This heavy rainfall made traditional houses made of mud and other natural material vulnerable to damage so many of them collapsed when a shallow M5.9 earthquake hit the country on June 21. As a result, at least 1 000 people were killed and another 1 500 injured.2 While international media covered the quake quite extensively, nothing was heard about the lives of 12 children lost after summer snowfall and freezing weather hit the Yugal area of Chawkay district, Kunar Province. According to the state-run Bakhtar news agency, locals on condition of anonymity said the calamity took place a couple of days ago when the families of nomads were taking their animals to the mountains for grazing. All victims belonged to nomad families.3 Heavy snowfall has also affected central Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province over the past couple of days.4 Several people in various regions of the province have reported substantially colder temperatures and snow at unusual levels at the start of the summer season. Bamyan is a chilly, mountainous province, but this is reportedly the first heavy snowfall to hit the region since 2002.

Rare meteotsunami hits SE Ireland - The Watchers (video) A rare meteotsunami hit the coast of southeast Ireland on June 18, 2022. The phenomenon started during the early morning hours and lasted well into the afternoon. It was reportedly felt as far away as France, England and Wales. While meteotsunamis are known to hit this part of Ireland, they are not as strong as this one and they usually occur in winter. Locals in Cork County, Ireland said they witnessed the tide drop approximately 1.5 m (5 feet) in around 5 minutes. The tide would come in and out twice in less than 30 minutes.1 “People were very concerned, when you see something like that you’d wonder what’s going on,” one of them said. “There were some people trying to get in from a yacht and they were grounded as well. They were a bit further out and said they could see a large wave coming in like a tidal bore.”“It was unbelievable. The tide must have been flowing out at six knots [11 km/h; 7 mph] two hours after low water, and then six minutes later it was coming back in just as fast. There were boats lying aground in the mooring field. It was like tidal bore conditions and changing direction in minutes with mud being carried out to sea.” The same phenomenon was observed across the sea in Pembrokeshire, Wales, U.K. “We saw water coming in at seven knots, going back out again and causing boats to lean quite dramatically. It was causing an area of swirling water, a back eddy around the little headland,” one of the witnesses from Pembrokeshire said.2 “If there were people in the water swimming or in kayaks, it would have been quite a serious event to them, because an Olympic swimmer swims at five or six miles an hour and this water was moving considerably faster than that, I would say. They wouldn’t have been able to keep up with it.” Dr. Gerard McCarthy, an oceanographer with the Irish Climate Research and Analysis Unit in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University, said he believed the most likely cause of the phenomenon was a meteotsunami (seiche) – regular oscillation of tidal currents cause by atmospheric pressure.3 “My best guest is that this regular seiching coincided with a dramatic and sudden change in atmospheric pressure somewhere out over the Atlantic off the coast of West Cork.”

ISS swerves to avoid debris from Russian space missile test - The International Space station had to conduct an avoidance maneuver on Thursday to avoid being hit by space debris from a Russian anti-satellite weapons test.In November 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite weapons test which destroyed the Soviet-era Cosmos 1408 satellite and launched more than 1,500 pieces of debris through space. Pieces of that debris passed near the ISS this week, prompting the avoidance maneuver. "The crew was never in any danger and the maneuver had no impact on station operations," read a statement released by NASA about the avoidance maneuver. "Without the maneuver, it was predicted that the fragment could have passed within around a half-mile from the station."The ISS conducts such avoidance maneuvers to swerve around space debris on a fairly regular basis, including incidents inNovember and December of last year. While collisions with debris the size of a baseball could kill astronauts on board, collisions with smaller debris have also caused damage to the station.

 White House releases regulatory agenda - The White House this afternoon released its latest regulatory agenda, laying out the executive branch’s plans for the coming months and beyond.The Unified Agenda offers details of pending rules and deadlines for completion. Today’s release includes the administration’s regulatory goals ahead of the midterm elections and as President Joe Biden’s climate proposals languish on Capitol Hill.“The Biden Administration is leveraging every available tool to advance the president’s ambitious agenda for the country and deliver results for the American people,” said Sam Berger, a senior counselor at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, noting the low unemployment rate and shrinking federal deficit. In a fact sheet, Berger touted EPA’s work to further phase down the production of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas with major warming properties. Congress directed EPA to do this in a law enacted in 2020.Berger also noted steps taken at the Department of Energy, including appliance standards for refrigerators, furnaces and clothes washers.Biden’s early federal regulatory plans have not been as ambitious as progressive advocates had hoped.In his first day in office, Biden promised to “modernize” the regulatory system in attempt to, among other things, ensure rules improve disadvantaged communities. But no concrete changes have materialized.Biden has also opted against nominating anyone to be the OIRA administrator, a Senate-confirmed post.Historically, regulations have become a point of contention during an election year, with Republicans on Capitol Hill complaining of government overreach.In 2012, then-President Barack Obama opted not to release a Unified Agenda, fearing negative political ramifications during his reelection campaign.But so far this year, that level of vitriol has not emerged in a political sphere dominated largely by culture wars. Progressive advocates have been urging Biden to use his regulatory powers to showcase a bold message, particularly on climate and the environment. Click here to read the latest regulatory agenda.

Will EPA use special power to prod Trump holdovers on climate? ---EPA has a rarely used power to prod other agencies to act if it determines that their actions don’t adequately protect the environment. It’s usually not needed, according to experts, because executive branch agencies tend to be on the same page about environmental protections. But environmental groups and government watchdog organizations are now urging EPA to use that power to challenge recent moves made by independent agencies still stocked with Trump appointees. On Friday, a coalition of groups sent a letterto EPA Administrator Michael Regan, asking him to use his authority to refer “environmentally destructive federal projects” to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the White House shop tasked with refereeing environmental disputes among agencies. The Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group, organized the letter. Specifically, the groups — including the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and the Sunrise Movement — want Regan to challenge recent actions by the U.S. Postal Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority on the grounds that they’ll be “environmentally disastrous.” The groups are asking Regan to use his authority to stymie the Postal Service’s plans to replace its aging fleet with mostly gas-powered vehicles. They also want EPA to thwart a TVA plan to replace retiring coal plants with new gas plants. The last time such a referral was made to CEQ was in 2016, when the Interior Department challenged a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement surrounding a floodway project. Prior to that, only one such referral was made during the George W. Bush administration and only two were made in the 1990s, according to CEQ. The referrals were more commonly used in the 1970s and 1980s. Both USPS and TVA are independent agencies whose leaders aren’t presidential appointees, but who serve at the pleasure of their agencies’ boards. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former donor to President Donald Trump, remains at the helm of USPS, while several Trump appointees remain on the USPS board of governors.

House passes biofuels, conservation bill in partisan split - House lawmakers approved legislation today to boost biofuels, expand farmland conservation and encourage more U.S. production of fertilizer, but Republicans dismissed the Democratic majority’s claims that the package could help farmers and consumers grappling with inflation.The bill, H.R. 7606, called the “Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act,” would lift seasonal restrictions on the sale of fuel that’s 15 percent ethanol, pay for more equipment to distribute and store higher-ethanol fuel, and provide additional help to farmers for managing manure on livestock operations. Approved on a largely partisan vote of 221-204, it combines a handful of bills, some of which had passed the Agriculture Committee in bipartisan fashion.The package would provide incentives to expand production of fertilizer in the United States, which sponsors said could avert the types of price spikes farmers are now seeing. And it would create a task force on food supply chains, with the aim of tackling future scarcity and inflation.House Agriculture Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) highlighted his effort to wrap Republican-led bills into the overall package, citing “extremely important bipartisan participation.”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) touted the legislation during her weekly press conference.But Republican lawmakers rejected that assessment, noting that Democrats had included a meatpacking-related bill that divided the committee along partisan lines.Agriculture ranking member Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania said the package wouldn’t ease inflation in fuel and other goods, even though GOP lawmakers have co-sponsored some of the provisions on E15, conservation and grants to encourage expanded livestock and poultry processing.“This bill does nothing in the immediate to lower food and fuel prices,” Thompson said.

Grassley bullish on House Democrats' ethanol, cattle bill - Sen. Chuck Grassley said he believes the Senate would agree to make higher-ethanol fuel available year-round, even if the proposal is attached to a more divisive measure to increase oversight of the cattle industry."I think we get 60 votes. That's all I can tell you," Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters on a conference call, referring to the need for a filibuster-proof majority.Grassley made the assessment days after the House narrowly passed a package of bills, including a lifting of summertime restrictions on the sale of E15 fuel, which is 15 percent ethanol.The House measure, H.R. 7606, also included a bill to create a special investigator to monitor potential anticompetitive behavior in the meatpacking industry, as well as measures promoting conservation, precision agriculture, and expanded meat and poultry processing capacity. "Thank God that they got that through, by a slight margin," Grassley said on a weekly call with agriculture reporters.

US allocates $74.6 million to 30 states for critical minerals research, mapping - The US is to invest $74.6 million across 30 states in order to fund new research and mapping in critical minerals, and strengthen key domestic supply chains, the US Department of the Interior said June 21. The funding will also go into geoscience data collection, data preservation, and scientific interpretation of areas with potential for critical minerals, under the US Geological Survey, or USGS, Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI, the Interior said. Rare earth metals are used in military and defence technology, steel alloys, in permanent magnets found in electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green technology and strategic applications. China has a near-monopoly in rare earth element processing, currently accounting for 85% of global processed rare earth supplies, making the supply chain most reliant on the country with it supplying around 80% of US REE. Backing from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will account for $64 million in this effort, the Interior said, adding that it forms part of the broader $510.7 million investment in USGS from the Law to support scientific innovation. "In order to make data driven decisions based on the best available science, we need to equip our premier science agencies with the resources they need," Deb Haaland said. In December, Dan McGroarty, advisory board member of USA Rare Earth, a company pioneering development of an integrated heavy rare earths project in Texas and Colorado, said in an interview for S&P Global that the US will "never" meet its electric vehicle sales targets -- including a pledge by California to phase out internal combustion engine vehicle sales by 2035 -- without a domestic and regional supply chain in rare earth mining and processing, including magnet production. "We have previously noted the US will need at least ten times the rare earth metals it currently has to meet its 2030 goals," McGroarty said at the time. "Growing technological demand on the rare earths -- in wind power, EV drive trains as well as existing demands for REEs in consumer electronics and other industrial sectors -- puts pressure on supply in the US and worldwide."

The Mining Industry Is Replicating the Oil Sector Crisis - Earlier this month, Tesla made headlines yet again, but this time the news wasn’t good: the company was raising the price of most of its cars, with CEO Elon Musk citing raw material inflation as one of the reasons for the hike.Tesla is not the only one. The prices of copper, cobalt, lithium, aluminum—pretty much everything that comes out of the ground—are soaring. Normally, this would motivate miners to spend more on getting these metals out of the ground. This time, however, they are taking the same cautious approach as U.S. shale drillers, and that doesn’t bode well for the energy transition.The world’s top ten miners are going to spend some $40 billion on mining projects this year and next, the Wall Street Journal reported this month, citingdata from Bank of America. That’s down from double that back in 2012 and spells trouble for the energy transition as it pushes the prices of the raw materials essential for the transition much higher than is comfortable for anyone involved in building solar farms and wind parks.Iron ore, the essential ingredient of steel, for instance, is up from a bit over $82 per ton last November to over $125 per ton. The price is far below the peaks of over $227 reached last year but still a significant increase over the last six months.Copper has been on a steady rise since 2020, doubling in price in that period, even though, like iron ore, it is hypersensitive to news from China, and the recent worry sparked by Covid lockdowns weighed on copper prices. This worry, however, cannot trump fundamentals, and copper’s fundamentals are tight.The copper market’s tightness will change soon enough, according to RBC Capital Markets, as several new mines come online this year. Still, the long-term price outlook for the basic metal remains bullish.Meanwhile, lithium is up by 432 percentover the past year, which is partly why Tesla announced those price hikes this month. And miners are still not investing more, although, per the WSJ report, they are producing more lithium and cobalt.It seems that miners are, like their peers in oil and gas, for once focusing almost exclusively on returning cash to shareholders. This is what is slowing down growth in oil supply in the United States, and this is what appears to be slowing down growth in the supply of basic metals and minerals necessary for renewable energy installations and electric vehicles.Then there is, again, like in oil and gas, the issue of overall inflation, which is pushing up the costs related to new developments. The chief executive of Freeport McMoran acknowledged this recently on an earnings call, saying, “Things are just piling up that are adding to the supply constraints,” as quoted by the WSJ.This is exactly the same sentiment that oil and gas producers have as a result of equipment shortages, workforce shortages, and other shortages that are driving up the costs associated with new products. The mining investment problem, however, may have more significant repercussions than the shale oil investment problem. Because while shale wells may take a few months from start to finish, a mine takes years, often a decade or more, to go from final investment decision to start of production.

Energy Transition Goals At Risk As EU May Label Lithium As Toxic - A potential European Commission (EC) act to classify lithium as a Category 1A reproductive toxin in this year’s fourth quarter could undermine the European Union (EU)’s attempt to create and support a domestic battery materials supply chain. The EU currently relies heavily on imports of lithium to supply its nascent electric vehicle (EV) production sector and the classification may increase its reliance on other regions, at a time when the union is focused on energy security and reducing emissions. Europe has announced plans to expand lithium battery-grade Li Carbonate production from nothing today to 8.3% of global production by 2025, according to Rystad Energy research. Europe has similar ambitions for lithium hydroxide, which is crucial for long-range EV batteries. Even without the potential decision by the EC, it will still fall well short of closing the estimated 218% deficit gap in lithium hydroxide processing that Europe is facing by the end of 2030, according to Rystad Energy research. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)’s Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) at the end of 2021 published its opinion that it agreed with French proposals to classify three lithium salts as Category 1A reproductive toxicants. It determined that lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride should be classified under the Classification, Labelling & Packaging (CLP) Regulation as substances that may damage fertility and unborn children. It also agreed that the substances may harm breastfed children.Initial proposals were presented to the EC on March 23 and 24 and are now under review and consultation, with the EC set to publish its first draft of the act between October and December. EU member states can still object to these proposals through the summer.While the classification would not stop lithium usage, it is highly likely that it would have an impact on at least four stages in the EU lithium battery supply chain: lithium mining; processing; cathode production; and recycling. Several administrative issues, risk management and restrictions could hit each of these fledgling industries in Europe, which would drive up costs. “Should the European Commission take this decision, it may undermine the EU’s energy security and net zero goals, in addition to increasing costs for the domestic EV market. The EU is a global regulatory powerhouse, so any decision to classify lithium as Category 1A toxicant in the world’s largest single market will be keenly studied by regulators elsewhere. Industry hates regulatory uncertainty, so the longer it takes for a ruling, the more it will delay existing and significant investment decisions. This is more than a technicality; the impact could be far-ranging and wide,” says James Ley, Senior Vice President, Analysis

Lithium-ion battery claims can proceed - — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously refused to order a Lucas County judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought against a South Korean maker of lithium-ion batteries by consumers injured when batteries exploded in their pants pockets. The court said that LG Chem, Ltd. failed to demonstrate that Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Goulding lacked jurisdiction over the case, particularly since the company admits that it sold LG 18650 lithium-ion batteries to an Ohio customer. The company, however, contends that the batteries were specifically intended for use in power tools and similar devices in which the batteries are contained in protective packs. They were never intended for individual sale by vaping stores for use in electronic-cigarette devices, it argued. Judge Goulding, without holding a hearing, denied the company's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the judge had no personal jurisdiction over a company based in Seoul that was not doing business in Ohio. If its product had arrived in Ohio, it did so through a third party, it contended. The lawsuit was brought by Jeremy M. Darrow and Dale J. Mocek, both of Toledo, who claimed they'd been separately injured just days apart when batteries purchased locally from Vape Super Center, doing business as Tobacco Haven, and Vapors Electronic Smoke Shop, respectively, exploded in their pockets in March, 2016.

Canadian enviros seek to replicate U.S. climate lawsuits - Canadian environmentalists are launching a new effort to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, hoping to imitate similar lawsuits in the United States and abroad. The Sue Big Oil campaign began last week with a website that asks British Columbians to sign a declaration calling on local governments to set aside $1 per person for a community fund to do more about climate change, including taking the industry to court to seek damages. The novel effort comes a year after a record-breaking heat wave sent temperatures in parts of Canada’s westernmost province soaring above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “Our communities saw last year just how much climate change costs us,” said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with Vancouver-based West Coast Environmental Law. “But none of those costs appear on the balance sheets of the huge fossil fuel companies most responsible for causing climate change.” He said the group is proposing that the local governments file a class-action lawsuit. “This is treating climate change as serious enough to deserve litigation,” Gage said at an event launching the campaign. Though nearly two dozen U.S. cities, counties and states have gone to court seeking to hold oil and gas corporations accountable for localized climate effects, no such litigation has been tried in Canada. The city of Victoria, British Columbia, in 2019 supported a lawsuit but later backed off from the idea. Instead, a group that represents British Columbia cities and towns endorsed a resolution at its annual convention that same year that called the lawsuits “not an appropriate direction.” It called instead for working with energy companies to address climate change. “Municipal councils, to their credit, have signaled to these groups that they are willing to be more collaborative and they recognize that energy is complicated,” said Stewart Muir, executive director of Resource Works Society, an industry-friendly advocacy group in Vancouver. In a 2019 policy brief, Muir called the lawsuits an “inappropriate use of the legal system,” arguing that engaging in yearslong litigation with no guarantee of success would cost local governments and could result in job losses for the industry.

Winnebago Tribe calls for study of carbon pipelines' impact on environment - The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska said an environmental impact study should be completed before any permits are granted to a pair of carbon dioxide pipelines in several Great Plains states. In a May 27 letter to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners, the tribe said it had concerns the projects — the Midwest Carbon Express by Summit Carbon Solutions and the Heartland Greenway by Navigator Ventures — may negatively impact reservation lands. “Any pipeline project is a risk,” Jennifer Bear Eagle, an attorney from Winnebago representing the tribe, wrote in the letter. “As a permit-issuing body, neither you nor the general public can make an informed decision without (knowing) the potential environmental impacts.” Until that is done, the Winnebago Tribe — which approved calling for an environmental study in a March 24 resolution — “opposes any permit that could negatively impact its lands or water or that of its neighbors.” Similar letters were sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Omaha, the Woodbury County Board of Commissioners in Iowa, as well as the Iowa Utilities Board, to be included as part of the consideration of Summit Carbon Solutions’ permit application. Announced last year, the projects by Summit and Navigator would build thousands of miles of new pipelines across the region, transporting carbon dioxide captured from ethanol plants to sequestration sites deep underground in North Dakota and Illinois. By sequestering carbon dioxide, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Ventures could take advantage of the 45Q tax credit, which will provide $50 for every ton of carbon stored for up to 12 years. Ethanol plants have been eager to sign up for the project, too, because it will reduce their “carbon-intensity” scores, maintaining access in consumer markets with strict standards for fuel producers. Plus, they said it will help Nebraska corn farmers, who supply ethanol plants with roughly 280 million bushels of corn each year. 'Wild West territory': New fight over pipelines emerging in Nebraska North Dakota's top oil driller invests in CO2 pipeline Critics of the pipelines have said the technology of burying carbon dioxide deep underground hasn’t been proven and will not do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and have characterized the projects as a cash grab. According to project maps, neither project would enter the Winnebago Reservation in Thurston County, instead tracking across Dakota County. A representative of Summit said the pipeline avoids more than 60 reservations across its footprint. But in a news release Tuesday, Winnebago Tribal Secretary Lorelei DeCora said members of the tribe had concerns about being downstream from the planned route. “The pipeline construction path is placed on the ancestral lands of the Nebraska tribes,” DeCora said. “What happens when they disturb our ancestors’ burial sites? There is just too much unknown for these pipelines. That’s why it’s important for this study be conducted.

Page County board gets update on Summit carbon pipeline - -- There's still a good amount of ground for carbon dioxide pipeline representatives to cover to secure 100% voluntary land easements for Summit Carbon Solution's five-state pipeline. Meeting in regular session Tuesday morning, the Page County Board of Supervisors received an update from Rob Latimer of Turnkey Solutions on Summit's proposed Midwest Carbon Express pipeline. The project would capture carbon emissions from over 30 participating ethanol plants to an underground storage facility near Bismarck, North Dakota. Latimer informed the board that of the 685 miles of pipeline in Iowa, just over 30% of the land has been acquired through voluntary easements, with a smaller number for the seven miles of anticipated pipe in Page County. "Approximately, 32% of all easements have been acquired," said Latimer. "In Page County with approximately seven miles total pipeline, approximately 22% of all easements have been acquired." While Latimer says the hope is to acquire as much as possible through easements, Summit's permit application to the Iowa Utilities Board submitted in January did include requesting the ability to use eminent domain -- or the right to seize land for public use. Page County was among several counties around the state sending a letter to the IUB stating their objection to eminent domain. Latimer says the investment in Page County is over $6 million as the pipeline -- which is expected to assist the ethanol industry in selling to low carbon markets -- works towards Green Plains Shenandoah in Fremont County. "Based on the physical pipeline being installed in the ground and auxiliary facilities -- that's approximately seven miles in total with a six inch pipeline -- that total investment is around $6.4 million." said Latimer. "The estimated new property tax after that project goes into service is around $245,000 a year based on current tax statutes and regulations."

Congress Quietly Backed An Ambitious Climate Project: Sending CO2 To The Ocean Floor - As the world races to head off worst-case climate change scenarios, there has been increasing focus on developing and advancing technologies to suck planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.Among the logistical hurdles with the technology, called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is where to store the massive amounts of carbon gas underground once it’s been sequestered. One proven solution: the bottom of the ocean.Congress recently helped to push that possibility forward. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law late last year is expected to jumpstart U.S. carbon capture and storage. Along with earmarking more than $12 billion to advance CCS technologies, the law tasked federal regulators with creating a framework for companies to lease offshore areas and pump CO₂ into the ocean floor, thereby preventing it from reaching the atmosphere and further heating the planet.There are many underground geological formations where carbon can be buried. The ocean floor is an appealing place for a number of reasons, including its availability and its distance from population centers and drinking water supplies. And the Gulf of Mexico is attractive given its vast network of existing oil and gas infrastructure, which could be utilized to pipe CO₂ offshore and forever store it in depleted oil and gas reserves and in deep saline aquifers.The offshore provisions were quietly tucked into the bill during Senate negotiations and “caught many by surprise,” said Romany Webb, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.“It reflects both the urgency many people see around advancing CCS and also the fact that CCS is really, I think, one of the more bipartisan climate solutions,” she said. “It’s definitely an area to watch and something that I think there’s going to be a lot of focus on going forward.”The law amended the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to give the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) the authority to issue leases that “provide for, support, or are directly related to the injection of a carbon dioxide stream into sub-seabed geologic formations for the purpose of long-term carbon storage.” It also lifted a regulatory barrier by clarifying that carbon dioxide destined for deep sea storage does not qualify as an industrial material that would otherwise require a permit under the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act.OCSLA has for decades governed fossil fuel and other development in U.S. waters. In 2005, it was amended to allow for offshore renewable energy activities, and BOEM previously concluded that it gives the agency the authority to permit CO₂ storage for enhanced oil recovery on existing oil and gas leases. Enhanced oil recovery a method of injecting CO₂ in order to extract hard-to-access oil and gas reserves.Though the infrastructure law tasked BOEM and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement with crafting new rules for carbon sequestration within one year, it did not allocate additional funding or resources for that effort. The agencies have said they are “well situated to oversee offshore CCS given their significant geological, environmental, and offshore energy regulatory experience,” but recently signaled there could be delays in finalizing regulations.

“It’s our new cash crop”: A land rush for renewable energy is transforming the Eastern Plains - Colorado’s Eastern Plains — from Yuma County cornfields to Prowers County feedlots and the wheat and sorghum fields in Kiowa County — are set to undergo their biggest transformation in more than a century as clean electricity is added to the crops they produce. There is already a flurry of activity as wind and solar developers — more than a dozen have turned up in Yuma and Kiowa counties — are locking up acreage for prospective projects in leases with ranchers and farmers. “We’ve had windmills around here for a long time. These are just bigger,” said Jan Kochis, 73, whose family runs a farm and cattle operation in Elbert County, and already has wind turbines on her land, generating royalties. Wind turbines are the backdrop for corrals near Matheson in Elbert County. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America) “It’s our new cash crop. We don’t have to worry about the rain or hail, as long as the wind blows,” Kochis said. Not everyone is sanguine about what is coming. “Once these big companies come in, we are going to lose control,” said William Harman, 54, who runs a family cattle business and farm in Washington County. “Once you sign a lease you lose control.” The spur for all this activity is Xcel Energy’s recently approved $1.7 billion Power Pathway transmission project — which will belt eastern Colorado with 560 miles of high-tension transmission lines — an electric highway to Front Range cities and suburbs for new wind and solar installations. Colorado’s climate goals leads to creation of the Power Pathway Power Pathway is, in turn, the product of Colorado’s push, embedded in state law, to reduce its emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gasses. The goal for the state is a 50% reduction over 2005 levels by 2030 and a steeper 80% reduction for the utility industry. The pair of 350-kilovolt transmission lines — looping from Fort Saint Vrain in the north down to rural Kiowa County and then over to Pueblo and up to Aurora — is the backbone of Xcel Energy’s plan to develop clean electricity generation and meet state mandates. “Over the next 10 years the electric grid in Colorado is going to be transitioning from thermal fossil fuel plants to largely wind and solar,” Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner John Gavan said at a recent session on climate change. “We are going to be slathering the Eastern Plains with wind and solar.”

Saudi Firm Investing $1.5Bn In Egyptian Onshore Wind Project - Saudi developer, investor, and operator of power generation, desalinated water, and green hydrogen plants ACWA Power has signed a project agreement to develop a 1.1GW wind project in Egypt with an investment value of $1.5 billion. The signing ceremony of the agreement took place at the headquarters of the Egyptian General Authority for Investment and Free Zones in Cairo, Egypt. The ACWA Power-led consortium, comprising Hassan Allam Holding, will work together during the development phase to complete the site studies and secure the financing of this facility. Located in the Gulf of Suez and Gabal el Zeit area, this wind project is the largest single contracted wind farm in the Middle East region and one of the largest onshore wind farms in the world. The project will be designed to use state-of-art wind turbines with blade heights of up to 720 feet, which helps in achieving the best use of the designated land plots in the most efficient way. When complete, the project will mitigate the impact of 2.4 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and provide electricity to 1,080,000 households. “This milestone wind project falls within the framework of the Egyptian government’s strategy to diversify its energy sources and leverage the country’s rich natural resources, especially in renewable energy. The Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy is taking concrete actions to ensure the resilience of our energy strategy, because of the escalating changes that the world is witnessing, which aim to increase the contribution of renewable energy to up to 42 percent by 2035,” Mohamed Shaker El-Markabi, Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy, said. He added that the 1.1GW wind project confirms Egypt’s commitment to spearheading the use of renewable energy sources to reduce the impact of carbon emissions produced by conventional energy sources, as Egypt gears up to host the United Nations Climate Conference – COP 27 – in November 2022. This project was also a leading example of the Egyptian government’s efforts to increase the participation of the private sector in implementing green energy projects in Egypt as well as attracting investments from international, Arab, and local companies into the country, El-Markabi stated.

Local officials are cautiously optimistic about a proposed hydrogen plant in Pike County | WOSU News -- A proposed hydrogen plant in Piketon, Ohio is gaining steam. A Texas-based energy company plans to build on the site of a former uranium enrichment facility. While local leaders support the project, they hope it is not an empty promise and it’s safe for workers and neighbors.Nestled in Southern Ohio's Pike County, the village of Piketon is home to about 2,200 people. . It was once home to the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, spanning 1,200 acres.It provided almost 3,800 jobs at its peak, producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons in the 50s and later, nuclear energy plants. Tom Montgomery is a Pike County Commissioner.“We shouldered the nuclear capacity of this nation for a long time," he said. “There was some honor in doing it. It’s been a big deal out there for a long, long time.”But in 2001, with enriched uranium no longer needed, the plant closed.The U.S Department of Energy [DOE] owns the facility and about 3,600 acres of land in the area. In a statement from spokesperson Yvette Cantrell, she said that clean up of those acres is being done with oversight from the Ohio EPA and will meet all regulatory requirements necessary to prepare the site for a future industrial reuse.Some clean up efforts began in 1989, a spokesperson said for the DOE. Itdetailed a time for decontamination and that started in 2011. This month itcompleted demolition of one of three uranium process buildings.There are over 400 facilities at the plants site.As those efforts progress, the DOE signs useable land over to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative [SODI], a non-profit dedicated to reinvestment on the property. So far its transferred 80 acres and is working to transfer another 200 acres.At the end of May, Texas-based energy company Newpoint Gas committed to purchasing 248 acres from SODI to build a hydrogen energy plant.

Summer Solstice 2022: US Power Grids Face Blazing Start to Season - Power grids covering a vast swath of the US will will face scorching weather on the first day of summer as consumers crank up air conditioners, threatening to strain power supplies from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas expects demand on the state’s grid to climb to almost 76.8 gigawatts Tuesday afternoon, which would set a new all-time record for the third time this month. The three adjacent grids, serving the Midwest and central US, are also warning of extreme heat. On the first day of summer, heat advisories stretch across the central US from Kansas through Michigan’s upper peninsula. Temperatures in Chicago and St. Louis may approach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service. Dallas is expected to be 100 degrees or higher for at least the next five days. About 151 million people live on the four grids that stretch from New Jersey to eastern parts of Montana and New Mexico. The central US grid operated by Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc. is facing “challenging operating conditions” this week and has notified local utilities that they may need to resort to emergency procedures to bring reserve capacity online, according to a statement. PJM Interconnection LLC, which operates the biggest US grid stretching from Illinois to New Jersey, has issued a hot weather alert. The Southwest Power Pool, which reaches from Montana to Arkansas, issued an advisory about the potential need to secure extra resources due to extreme heat that’s expected to last at least three days. In Texas, the grid operator has warned that June 23 to 26 will be the tightest days on the grid.

Solar developers pledge $6B for made-in-America panels - - Several large U.S. solar developers have announced a new coalition that will buy up to $6 billion in made-in-America panels, in a move that could more than double the country’s panel-manufacturing capacity. The new US Solar Buyer Consortium said yesterday it had opened a request for proposals from U.S. manufacturers who could supply up to 7 gigawatts of solar panels per year, starting in 2024. That amount is well beyond the 4.8 GW of panels produced last year in the United States, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates. And it is likely greater than what President Joe Biden has sought to bring online using the federal government’s buying power. The move is the latest indication that U.S. solar installers are placing renewed emphasis on sourcing their equipment domestically, even as the industry’s alarm about access to Asian supplies has relaxed somewhat. The consortium’s members — AES Corp., Clearway Energy Group, Cypress Creek Renewables and D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments — said in a joint statement that they hoped to promote on-shoring of panel production, which is largely done in Asia. The request for proposals, they said, was intended to “create lasting resiliency and alleviate constraints faced by the industry today.” Craig Cornelius, chief executive of Clearway Energy Group, called the announcement “just one step toward bolstering America’s solar supply chain.” He also urged Congress to “seize the opportunity” and create new incentives for U.S. solar manufacturing — something that has repeatedly stalled as part of a larger climate package sought by the Biden administration. “With legislation pending before Congress, policymakers can scale our domestic manufacturing workforce and restore our country’s legacy as a manufacturing leader,” Cornelius said. In the United States, about 24 GW of solar capacity was installed last year, according to industry estimates. Trade groups are trying to convince Congress to pass incentives that could grow U.S. panel-making capacity to 30 GW per year by 2025, according to manufacturers’ estimates. Last week, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said executives from roughly two dozen of its member companies had shown up at the Hill in an attempt to generate support for a law (E&E Daily, June 16).

Is US solar ready to prove its panels aren’t made with forced labor? - Starting today, the U.S. solar industry will have to prove that the solar panels and components it imports are not produced using forced labor in China. A key industry group says companies have been preparing to meet this bar, but it’s unclear how smoothly the new process will go. More than 100 megawatts’ worth of solar panels ensconced in metal shipping containers sat at U.S. ports at various points last year, blocked from entering the country, including shipments from solar manufacturers Jinko, Trina and Longi, the world’s largest panel maker. The shipments were stopped because of suspected ties to Hoshine Silicon Industry, a silicon supplier based in China’s Xinjiang province. Human-rights organizations have said that more than 1 million Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minority groups have been forced into labor or detained at ​“reeducation” camps in Xinjiang, part of a campaign the U.S. has declared genocide. Last year, the U.S. government identified indicators of forced labor at Hoshine’s operations and restricted imports connected to the company. Now, U.S. restrictions are tightening even further. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last year, goes into effect today, extending that import ban to anything produced in or using materials from the Xinjiang region. The new law assumes that any imports that can be traced back to Xinjiang involve forced labor, and the onus will fall on importing companies to prove otherwise. The U.S. government has said it will closely scrutinize imports of polysilicon, which is produced from silicon and is an essential material for making solar panels, as well as imports of cotton and tomatoes.

Are wind, solar lulls a challenge for a zero-carbon grid? - Last August, wind farms across the Midwest stopped producing electricity almost entirely for 12 straight hours. The turbines — capable of generating almost 30,000 megawatts — produced only 1 percent of the electricity needed to keep the lights on across the sprawling territory of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. A day later, it happened again, for 10 straight hours. The cause wasn’t extreme weather — the usual culprit of power grid failure in an era where climate change has amplified hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and ice storms like last year’s Winter Storm Uri. It was just a lack of enough wind to keep the turbines spinning. Even for wind energy, where availability fluctuates by hour, those two days in August were an anomaly. But such weather events — ones that would otherwise go unnoticed on today’s bulk power grid — represent a new challenge in a future where the grid is reliant on wind and solar rather than gas and coal. Politically, that’s red meat for fossil fuel interests who want to convince the public and policymakers that a reliance on renewable energy is a recipe for disaster. But for system planners and engineers, it’s a solvable — if complex — problem, one that does not yet have an exact answer. Even so, grid operator MISO continues to mull solutions as states, utilities and large energy users seek to meet energy demand while slashing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. “We’re ramping up the wind, and we’re definitely ramping up the solar. But those megawatt-hours are going to have to come from somewhere,” “As the penetration of variable renewable generation increases, a new type of ‘extreme’ will become increasingly important to system planners: widespread low wind and solar resource,” researchers wrote in the study, which looked at how a grid with a high penetration of renewables would fare during various weather events from 2007 to 2013.

Ludington Pumped Storage Facility Ready to Alleviate High Energy Demands - Energy is a concern for everyone this summer, and the hot temperatures are just increasing demand. Michigan’s largest energy company isn’t worried, they have a backup battery ready to use, right in northern Michigan. An increase in energy demand is only going to continue through the summer and people have been worried about potential brownouts across the state. Consumers Energy says they are confident that’s not going to happen and the reason they’re confident is right on the Lake Michigan shoreline.Download “I think it’s one of the greatest assets we have for a generation strategy,” said Eric Gustad of Consumers Energy. The Ludington Pumped Storage Facility sits right on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of Ludington, slowly generating power and waiting to be called on to ramp up production. “The plant is used as a great battery storage plant,” said Gustad. It’s like any other hydroelectric dam but instead of relying on the flow of a river to determine output, the water, or energy, is stored in a massive reservoir. At any moment, when the power grid is taxed, the flow can be ramped up and more power generated. “As those loads creep up during the day, we can get those generation units up and running in less than 10 minutes,” said Gustad. Then, late at night, when energy use and cost is low, they pump water back into the pond and wait to be called again. It’s one of the largest of its kind in the world and the only one in Michigan. It will likely be the only one ever, given the perfect location right on Lake Michigan.

Ameren aims to charge customers for closure of Rush Island coal plant | Local Business -— The costs to close the region's second-largest power plant, after decades of Clean Air Act violations, are rising. Electric utility Ameren has proposed the construction of $244 million in electric lines and other upgrades before shuttering the Rush Island Energy Center in Jefferson County. On top of that, it could cost $15 million to $20 million a month, according to one estimate, to keep the plant available until those projects are completed. And Ameren now says it plans to charge customers for much of it. Who will pay is one of the thorny issues emerging in the proposal to retire Rush Island early, a decade after the U.S. filed suit against the company, alleging ongoing and illegal air pollution. A report issued a week ago by grid operators led Ameren to propose delaying the plant’s retirement up to three years while the transmission upgrades are made to shore up grid reliability concerns. Urgent decisions now loom about the "last resort" of keeping the plant running, if alternatives can't be quickly identified. And consumer watchdogs are left bracing for Ameren to charge customers for what the advocates see as the company's mistakes. “If this is a consequence of their own unlawful or unreasonable action, should ratepayers pay for that?” said John Coffman, a lawyer focused on utility issues for the Consumers Council of Missouri. “I foresee that there’s going to be some fights ahead.” Both Ameren and the nonprofit Sierra Club, another plaintiff in the suit, declined to comment on questions relevant to the case, given their involvement in the proceedings.

Grid and supply issues to delay end of coal use at OPPD's North Omaha plant - In a setback for air quality, OPPD would continue to burn coal at its North Omaha power plant for possibly another three years, until 2026, under a proposal before the board. The proposed delay in ceasing coal use is related to various problems besetting the nation’s electrical system — backlogs involving the grid, supply chain issues and controversies over siting renewable energy facilities. The Omaha Public Power District board is taking public comment on the proposed delay and expects to vote on it in August. Residents who live in the shadow of the plant have long advocated for eliminating coal as a fuel source. That’s because coal plants, in spite of efforts to reduce emissions, are a major source of pollution, contributing to respiratory and heart problems, neurological disorders and premature death. Additionally, they contribute to global warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as a byproduct of burning coal. David Corbin, chairman of the Missouri Valley Sierra Club’s energy committee, is among those who have worked years to get the plant closed. He described OPPD’s proposal as “shocking and disappointing.”

Bankruptcy filing complicates outlook for Western coal giant - In the fall of 2020, one of the West’s largest coal plants was due for repairs. So the operator of Colstrip Generating Station fired off a letter to its five co-owners with a $56 million plan to fix it. The proposal quickly went sideways. Four utilities with a stake in Colstrip balked, saying they could not support spending money on repairs that would keep the plant open beyond 2025. Instead, they demanded the plant’s operator, Talen Energy, reduce the plant’s budget and “successfully execute a strategy that provides a framework for our individual exits from the Colstrip project within the next 60 months.” The exchange, outlined in federal bankruptcy filings, captures the fight over the future of Colstrip. The coal-burning behemoth has long sent power generated on the Montana prairie to Pacific metropolises such as Seattle and Portland. Four utilities from Oregon and Washington collectively own 70 percent of the 1,480-megawatt coal plant. But in recent years Colstrip has come to symbolize the fight over the future of the Western electric grid. The Pacific utilities — Avista Corp., PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric and Puget Sound Energy — are seeking to close the plant to comply with state climate laws. Their efforts have been opposed by minority owners NorthWestern Corp. and Talen, which argue the plant’s closure would decimate Montana’s economy and jeopardize the future of the West’s electric grid. Now, however, the fight over Colstrip’s future is on hold. Talen’s power division filed for bankruptcy protection last month, resulting in an automatic stay of a federal court case that was set to decide the rules for negotiating the plant’s future. Talen has resisted efforts by its five fellow owners to lift the stay and allow that case to continue. Analysts said the bankruptcy has injected a new layer of complication into grid planning at a time when the West is grappling with how to address climate change without jeopardizing electricity supplies. “The longer we wait, the harder it becomes,” said Diego Rivas, a senior policy associate at the NW Energy Coalition. “Some utilities have already planned for transition out of ownership either because they are required to or it’s uneconomic or both. Some of the owners are behind on that planning.” NorthWestern, he noted, is still planning on the plant operating until 2042.

Austria Returns to Coal-Powered Generators in Hedge Against Russian Gas Cuts - Austria is returning to the coal age, reviving use of the dirtiest fossil fuel to generate power as Russia curbs flows of natural gas to Europe. State-controlled Verbund AG, Austria’s biggest utility and most valuable company, was ordered late Sunday to prepare its mothballed Mellach coal-fired station for operation. The plant, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Vienna, was shut two years ago as Austria became only the second European country to eliminate coal entirely from its electricity grid.

Dutch join Germany, Austria, in reverting to coal –The Dutch joined Germany and Austria in reverting to coal power on Monday following an energy crisis provoked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Netherlands said it would lift all restrictions on power stations fired by the fossil fuel, which were previously limited to just over a third of output. Berlin and Vienna made similar announcements on Sunday as Moscow, facing biting sanctions over Ukraine, cuts gas supplies to energy-starved Europe. "The cabinet has decided to immediately withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations from 2002 to 2024," Dutch climate and energy minister Rob Jetten told journalists in The Hague. The Dutch minister said his country had "prepared this decision with our European colleagues over the past few days". Germany however said it still aimed to close its coal power plants by 2030, in light of the greater emissions of climate-changing CO2 from the fossil fuel. "The 2030 coal exit date is not in doubt at all," economy ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe said at a regular news conference. The target was "more important than ever", he added.

Europe's restart of coal-fired generators to worsen climate change - The Netherlands on Monday lifted a cap on electricity generation from coal-fired plants following an increasingly serious energy crisis in Europe. And, Germany, to save natural gas, also moved to restart the dirty coal-fired generators. An increase in the use of coal is an inevitable result of many European countries' efforts to reduce their reliance on Russia's natural gas and oil exports, but can those nations advance this process without adding pressure on the environment? The answer is probably not. The Netherlands said it would lift all restrictions on power stations fired by coal and other fossil fuels, which were previously limited to just over a third of the country's total power output, AFP reported. Not long ago, some other European nations, including Germany and Austria, also announced emergency measures to withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations to ensure energy security. Officials in Brussels have warned EU member states not to backtrack on their long-term drive to reduce fossil fuels, but this can hardly be achieved. Without Russia's natural gas, going back to dirty coal is almost the only option left for those EU countries which have been struggling to meet this summer's peak consumption for electricity. Fossil fuel is the primary cause of climate change, making our living globe warmer. When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If the ongoing energy crisis continues to rattle Europe, the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are expected to increase substantially in the coming years. US President Joe Biden in March announced a ban on Russian oil and liquefied natural gas. Recently, US politicians have spared no effort in persuading EU countries to take action against Russia in a bid to "inflict further pain" on Moscow by hindering Russia's exports of energy products. Data show that around 45 percent of the EU's natural gas and 30 percent of oil came from Russia in 2021. In contrast, US' imports of Russia's natural gas are negligible. The US plays an important role behind the current energy crisis in Europe, but it seems the EU countries will mainly be the ones suffering from the pain. The US-led Western developed countries often use unilateral sanctions for its own interests. The world is facing the prospect of a dramatic shortfall in food and energy with unilateral sanctions imposed by the US and West. Currently, it seems climate change has become a secondary concern. The US is unlikely to claim responsibility for a rise of the greenhouse gas emissions, and instead, Washington may criticize European countries and put pressure on them to cut emissions, which will likely drag down their economic development.

Coal investments set to rise 10% this year as nations fret over energy security -Global energy investment is on course to jump by more than 8% in 2022 and hit $2.4 trillion, with a notable uptick for coal supply chains, but far more money will be required if climate-related goals are to be met, according to the International Energy Agency. Published Wednesday, the latest version of the IEA's World Energy Investment report said clean energy investment is set to exceed $1.4 trillion this year and account for "almost three-quarters of the growth in overall energy investment." While the agency welcomed this, it pointed to the huge amount of work that lies ahead. "The annual average growth rate in clean energy investment in the five years after the signature of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was just over 2%," it said. Since 2020, that rate had grown to 12%. The IEA described that as "well short of what is required to hit international climate goals, but nonetheless an important step in the right direction." The IEA's executive director, Fatih Birol, highlighted the challenges and opportunities the planet faces, given the current situation. "We cannot afford to ignore either today's global energy crisis or the climate crisis, but the good news is that we do not need to choose between them — we can tackle both at the same time," he said. Birol added that a "massive surge in investment to accelerate clean energy transitions" is "the only lasting solution." "This kind of investment is rising, but we need a much faster increase to ease the pressure on consumers from high fossil fuel prices, make our energy systems more secure, and get the world on track to reach our climate goals." Unevenly distributed spending While the investment was welcomed, a statement accompanying the IEA's report noted that the increase in clean energy spending is unevenly distributed, with advanced economies and China accounting for the majority. On top of this, it said some markets are seeing high prices and concerns related to energy security are prompting "higher investment in fossil fuel supplies, most notably on coal." According to the IEA's report, 2021 saw roughly $105 billion invested what it called the "coal supply chain." That represented a rise of 10% compared with 2020. It's forecasting that the industry will likely follow a similar path this year. "Global coal supply investment is expected to grow by another 10% in 2022 as tight supply continues to attract new projects," it said. "At over USD 80 billion, China and India are anticipated to make up the bulk of global coal investment in 2022." The U.S. Energy Information Administration lists a range of emissions from the combustion of coal. These include carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and nitrogen oxides. Greenpeace, for its part, has described coal as "the dirtiest, most polluting way of producing energy."

NEI chief remains hopeful that America will have a nuclear rebirth - -Though many people believe nuclear power’s days are numbered, the industry’s top lobbyist is thinking the opposite. Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, said during her annual State of the Nuclear Energy Industry address on Tuesday that she envisions an America in which 300 small modular reactors will be built across the landscape by 2050. None have yet. The industry is in the process of transitioning from huge commercial reactors of the past to smaller and more manageable SMRs of the future, she said. But at the same time, Ms. Korsnick said she believes many of the remaining 92 commercial nuclear reactors will remain viable for years, despite high-publicized economic pressures and other issues that have resulted in premature closures of several of them. The stiffest competition is in states such as Ohio and Michigan, which have deregulated electricity markets. But nationwide, nuclear has had trouble competing with low natural gas prices brought on by the modern era of horizontal fracturing of shale, or “fracking,” as well as the growing demand for more wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. During her speech, Ms. Korsnick lauded states that have made efforts to keep existing plants viable, without mentioning controversies such as Ohio’s $1 billion bailout of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, now owned and operated by Energy Harbor. That bailout was the focus of what federal prosecutors have called a $61 million bribery scandal, the largest in Ohio’s political history and one in which former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was among those indicted. Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. agreed last July to pay a $230 million penalty for its role in the scheme. Earlier this month, a coalition of 94 groups and 328 individuals implored Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to “cease and desist” attempts at bailing out the closed Palisades nuclear plant along Lake Michigan in western Michigan’s Van Buren County’s Covert Township. Ms. Korsnick’s optimism for the nuclear industry is largely centered on two things: climate change and national security. More nuclear-generated electricity will dramatically reduce climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions and avoid a “worst-case ecological disaster,” she said. “If we rely on wind and solar to do the heavy lifting, the system costs are going to be truly prohibitive,” Ms. Korsnick said. “We’ve gotten past talking about if we’re going to build the fleet of tomorrow. We’re talking about when and where.”

The last nuclear plant in California – and the unexpected quest to save it -- California’s last nuclear plant was nearing the end of its life.Tucked against picturesque bluffs along California’s central coast, the aging facility known as Diablo Canyon began operating in 1985. It was designed for a different era, with analog knobs and systems that no longer comply with the state’s environmental standards. The plant has faced controversies over its impact on underwater ecosystems, the production of toxic waste and its proximity to earthquake fault lines – and its planned closure by 2025 seemed an all-but-certain step in California’s ambitious journey toward a greener future.But with just three years to go, the fate of Diablo Canyon now looks less assured.California is facing steep energy challenges that are only expected to worsen as the climate crisis intensifies. The plant still provides roughly 9% of the state’s energy – the largest single source of electricity and enough to supply more than 3 million residents. The state is still far from finding a reliable and climate-friendly replacement, and concerns are rising that it will fall back on fossil fuels to fill the gap.Now, decades-old discussions about whether the plant should continue to play a role in California’s renewable energy transition are being rehashed. A diverse league of advocates – including energy officials, scientists, California’s governor Gavin Newsom, and even the musician Grimes – are pushing for renewed life for Diablo Canyon. Critics, meanwhile, say keeping the plant open would only be a step backward. Diablo Canyon has come to signify broader questions about the state’s energy future, and whether it’s ready to leave nuclear power behind. It’s an issue also lingering in the thoughts of officials across the US. Half of the country’s clean energy comes from nuclear power plants – but in many areas, it is being phased out.

Extending Diablo Canyon plant could reduce Calif. emissions by 10% through 2030 | S&P Global Market Intelligence - Despite ongoing decarbonization efforts and an electric reliability crisis, California seems to be proceeding with the planned closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. Our analysis indicates that keeping the plant online longer would not only provide needed reliable electricity but also lower carbon dioxide emissions.In a special scenario case of the S&P Global Market Intelligence Power Forecast in which Diablo Canyon remains online, the clean generation provided by the nuclear plant reduces the need for gas-fired generation and lowers emissions by 10% through 2030. The 2,240 MW of capacity would also decrease the need for 14.4 GW of new wind, solar and battery storage capacity, saving $20.9 billion in overnight capital costs, reducing California's reliance on neighboring imports and decreasing wholesale electricity prices by 5%-8%.In 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission announced the retirement of the two units of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., or PG&E, when its existing Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. Since the announcement, California has implemented an aggressive clean energy standard, with a goal of reaching zero carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 2045. The commission recently adopted a faster plan calling for 86% carbon-free electricity by 2032.An ongoing reliability crisis in the state is complicating clean-energy initiatives, highlighted by extensive blackouts and systemwide shut-offs in Summer 2020. The energy shortfall prompted the creation of a new reliability reserve and delayed the retirement of fossil-fuel generating plants until more flexible, non-weather-dependent resources become available. Furthermore, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in October 2020 to protect 30% of California's lands and oceans from development, hindering land usage for new energy development, especially solar. Despite providing 8% of California's current electricity production and 15% of its carbon-free electricity, Diablo Canyon remains on the chopping block.After a February announcement of $6 billion in support from the U.S. Energy Department for nuclear reactors facing retirement, Newsom is considering delaying the closure of Diablo Canyon. It will ultimately be up to PG&E to decide if it will apply before the extended deadline of July 5 for the first round of funding from the DOE program. It is also unclear whether Diablo Canyon meets the qualifications for receiving the government aid."The Governor is in support [of] keeping all options on the table to ensure we have a reliable grid, especially as we head into a summer where California ISO expects California could have more demand than supply during the kind of extreme events that California has experienced over the past two summers," Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said in an April 29 email. "This includes considering an extension to Diablo Canyon, which continues to be an important resource as we transition to clean energy."

Supreme Court rejects Hanford nuclear workers' comp law - The Supreme Court yesterday unanimously rejected a Washington state law expanding benefits for contract workers at the decommissioned Hanford nuclear waste site.Writing the opinion in United States v. Washington, Justice Stephen Breyer found that the 2018 law, H.B. 1723, discriminated against the U.S. government in violation of constitutional immunity protections because it applied only to federal workers at one facility in the state.The Supreme Court ruling reverses a 2020 decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had upheld Washington’s law. In the opinion yesterday, Breyer warned of the broader implications of allowing Washington to impose “unduly high costs” on the federal government to benefit citizens of the state.“[I]f discrimination is permissible here,” Breyer wrote, “what prevents Washington from bestowing a windfall upon its residents through an especially generous workers’ compensation scheme financed exclusively by the Federal Government?”Washington voters would not object to such a plan, he continued.“The nondiscrimination principle provides a political check on the State’s ability to impose such laws by ensuring that the State’s own citizens shoulder at least some of the costs,” Breyer wrote.The Department of Energy had opposed Washington’s H.B. 1723, which presumed that current and former federal contract workers at the Hanford Site who developed certain illnesses were eligible for compensation benefits.The massive site had produced two-thirds of the nation’s weapons-grade plutonium during World War II and the Cold War before it was decommissioned in 1989. Cleanup of the site’s radioactive and chemically hazardous waste — including beryllium and dimethyl mercury — is expected to continue for the next six decades, according to DOE (Energywire, March 22).Radiation exposures have been linked to cancer, and inhalation of fine beryllium particles can lead to sensitivity and disease.Washington’s 2018 law was intended to increase access to benefits for contractors who were exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals on the job but who under the prior system may not have been able to provide sufficient documentation to prove workplace harm.

DeWine wants answers on AEP power outages in central Ohio, Columbus -- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday added to the chorus of those seeking answers from AEP on last week's widespread power outages.The governor issued a statement supporting a review of the outages by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. AEP Ohio intentionally shut off power to some Greater Columbus neighborhoods. The outages left more than 230,000 Ohioans without electricity on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while temperatures climbed into the 90s. Among those without power were about 170,000 Columbus-area customers who were cut off of power by AEP because of fears that power lines were becoming overheated. DeWine said PUCO should examine several aspects of the outages including:

  • • "What steps are Ohio’s utilities taking to ensure that the significant disruption Ohioans experienced last week does not occur again?"
  • • "Why certain central Ohio neighborhoods lost power and others did not?"
  • • "Did utilities do enough to communicate to their customers ahead of planned power shut offs to protect the grid?"

Did AEP target poor neighborhoods?: Did AEP outages disproportionately impact poor city neighborhoods? Here's what data shows. Utility officials said last week they cut off power as a last-choice necessity after signs that power lines were becoming overloaded and in danger of failing, following storm damage to transmission lines on the north and southwest parts of the Columbus area. AEP reiterated the point in a Tuesday statement. "We understand the hardship extended outages can create, and the frustration of our customers," the statement read."These outages were caused by the storm and high winds that hit our service territory, combined with the high temperatures and resulting demand for power. We will fully cooperate with the PUCO to discuss these and any other questions the might arise. Also, as we do after every major storm, we will conduct our own internal review and evaluation."DeWine's comments echo widespread questions last week about the outages, many from those wondering why certain neighborhoods were impacted and why AEP did not give any heads up.

ComEd bribery case might not go to trial until 2023 — thanks to R. Kelly - A major public corruption trial set for late summer has been postponed because of a delay in another major trial set to begin soon at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse — the child pornography trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly.U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber presides over both cases, which were scheduled for back-to-back trials this year. Kelly’s trial had been set for Aug. 1. Meanwhile, the ComEd bribery case involving four members of indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s inner-circle had been set for trial Sept. 12.The ComEd case involves Madigan’s co-defendant, Michael McClain. It had been set to take place amid this fall’s general election campaign and could ultimately serve as a preview of Madigan’s trial.But Leinenweber announced Tuesday that the building’s ceremonial courtroom — its largest — won’t be available for Kelly’s trial until Aug. 15. That two-week delay was enough to knock the ComEd case off the calendar. During a hearing in that case, prosecutors began suggesting a trial in the spring, noting a conflict with another trial in January.That could be the trial of former Madigan chief of staff Timothy Mapes, who is set to go to trial for perjury that month.McClain attorney Patrick Cotter, however, said he thought a delay until spring seemed “a little excessive.” The judge agreed to set a status hearing for July 14 to try to set a new trial date.Also charged along with McClain in the ComEd case are former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-top ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and former City Club President Jay Doherty. The four are accused of arranging for Madigan’s associates and allies to get jobs, contracts and money in order to influence Madigan as key legislation worked its way through Springfield. They were originally charged in November 2020.Though the same scheme is charged in the separate indictment handed up this year against Madigan and McClain, McClain is only charged with the scheme in the November 2020 case.Meanwhile, Kelly faces child pornography and obstruction of justice charges in an indictment alleging he illegally thwarted an earlier 2008 trial in Cook County. Prosecutors say he worked with two employees — Derrel McDavid and Milton “June” Brown — to beat the case, and that he worked with McDavid and others to intimidate the alleged victim.

FirstEnergy fired its CEO amid bribery scandal but let him keep millions, documents show - As its starring role in a political bribery scandal became clearer and two alleged conspirators pleaded guilty, FirstEnergy Corp. fired its CEO Charles “Chuck” Jones, who was later outed as an architect of the operation. New documents show, however, that FirstEnergy’s board of directors declined to invoke a provision in Jones’ contract that would have allowed the company to claw back some of the tens of millions it had paid him during a pay-to-play operation the company has admitted to. “The Board elected not to use the contracted claw back provisions which could have recouped compensation paid during the years investigated,” according to a finding from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, which published an audit of the company last week. Between 2017 and 2020 — roughly the time frame of the alleged conspiracy — Jones earned more than $51 million, according to the company’s proxy statements. Dave Anderson, a researcher for the Energy and Policy Institute, which advocates for clean energy, first unearthed and shared the audit. The finding is the latest showing of a lack of consequences for the head of a corporation that has admitted to intersecting bribery operations, fueled by millions in payments to then Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder as well as Ohio’s former top utility regulator, Sam Randazzo. As a corporation, FirstEnergy entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which could allow the company to avoid a criminal charge of wire fraud in exchange for cooperating with related criminal probes. FirstEnergy paid a $230 million penalty as well. Despite the company’s admission, none of its executives have been charged with any crimes. Though the company paid the financial penalty, it could recoup some of its losses if a federal judge approves a settlement to a derivative lawsuit against the board brought by shareholders. That lawsuit calls for FirstEnergy’s insurers to pay the company $180 million. Federal officials arrested Householder and four political allies in July 2020 and charged them with racketeering. They alleged that FirstEnergy paid $60 million to a nonprofit secretly controlled by Householder. He used that money for personal and political gain, as well as to engineer the enactment of House Bill 6, worth an estimated $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy.

Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District anything but a conservancy - Randi Pokladnik - The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District includes parts or the entirety of 27 Ohio counties. All of these counties have seen some impact from oil and gas development. However, the counties of Carroll, Harrison, Belmont, Noble, and Guernsey have been significantly impacted. Citizens living near oil and gas activities have expressed concerns about drilling operations which include: the chemicals/additives used to drill/frack, the radionuclides brought up to the surface in produced water, increased radon gas levels in homes, drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, contamination from spills, leaks, blowouts, and deliberate releases, and subsurface migration of contaminants among aquifers.Yet, a recent announcement stated that the MWCD signed a lease agreement with Encino Energy to frack 7,300 acres of property at Tappan Lake in Harrison County. The MWCD has a long history with oil and gas extraction, leasing thousands of acres for Utica shale drilling and selling water from MWCD lakes to be used by drillers for fracking. It was once stated that the MWCD is the“number 1 beneficiary of drilling in Ohio.”It is impossible to protect land, air and water from the pollution of fracking since this industry is basically exempt from all major federal environmental laws and regulations such as: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act. Workers and nearby residents can be exposed to air contaminants like nitrogen oxides, benzene, ozone, toluene, methane, and fine particulate matter during the fracking process. Run-off of toxic compounds from the well pads can enter Tappan Lake, the drinking water source for Cadiz, Ohio. Should the lake become impaired, where will Cadiz get its water supply? The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy said that an average of seven million gallons of water and over 70,000 gallons of chemicals are used for each well fracked. Over 80% of these compounds have never been reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Many of those reviewed are known carcinogens and hormone blockers. Accidents happen. The XTO Energy well blowout in Belmont County in February 2018 spewed out 120 tons of methane an hour for twenty days. Methane is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. You cannot be a good steward of the land and ignore all the externalities visited on the landscape from fracking. I live on Tappan Lake and have seen the effects of fracking in the county. Pipelines crisscross the forested hills, fracking trucks congest the rural roadways, water is being withdrawn from local creeks, and even the night skies are obliterated by fracking flares. How can the MWCD justify financing improvements by allowing the fossil fuel industry to destroy the very landscape they (MWCD) are supposedly conserving? The definition of conservancy is: a body concerned with the preservation of nature, specific species or natural resources. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is anything but a conservancy.

As Oil and Gas Prices Climb, So Do Royalties - – While skyrocketing energy prices have forced households to trim their budgets, they’ve also meant higher royalty checks to Columbiana County landowners with acreage tied to producing oil and natural gas wells. Energy companies have also stepped up leasing activity in the county over the last year and a half, a sign that interest in this section of the Utica Shale/Point Pleasant formation remains very much alive. For these landowners, higher prices represent a reversal of fortune compared with two years ago, when the oil and gas market bottomed out during the pandemic. Even last summer, landowners griped that royalty payments remained well below the levels that big companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. promised when they swept into the region more than a decade ago. Today, these landowners say payments have noticeably improved and are more in line with rising energy costs. “The royalties have bounced up. They’ve more than doubled,” says Cynthia Koonce, a sheep farmer in Guilford Lake. Koonce has 225 acres tied into the Huffman South well nearby, while another 1½ acres are tied to the Huffman North well. Chesapeake drilled both wells but they are today owned by Houston-based Encino Energy’s exploration subsidiary, EAP Ohio. In 2018, Encino acquired the remaining stake of the Chesapeake position in eastern Ohio, which included 900 wells and nearly one million leasehold acres. At one point in 2019, Koonce says, royalty payments had collapsed from an average of $2,000 to $3,000 per month to less than $400. Since last September, however, payments have risen. “Now they’re more than what they were before,” she says. She attributes the heftier royalties to higher commodity prices for oil and gas, not increased volume from the wells. “It’s primarily gas coming out of the well,” Koonce says. “It pays the mortgage, which is good from my point of view.” Other landowners have experienced the same results. Jeffrey Dick, a geology professor at Youngstown State University who has acreage under lease with Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co., says his royalty checks have more than doubled since last year. “They started to increase about eight months ago,” he says. He says it’s harder today to measure drilling activity or production in terms of rig counts or permits compared to 10 years ago. Then, energy companies descended on eastern Ohio in a frenzied effort to lock up leasehold acreage and kickstart drilling programs by putting as many rigs into commission as possible. Technology, however, has allowed companies such as Encino and Hilcorp to operate more efficiently with fewer rigs in the field. Energy companies have combined horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to tap into tight shale formations such as the Utica/Point Pleasant. Rigs are able to drill about 6,000 feet deep and then turn the drill bit horizontally across a thin layer of carbon-rich shale.

Several businesses evacuated after car crashes into natural gas line in Troy - — A ruptured gas line caused by a crash forced multiple business evacuations in Troy Wednesday afternoon, according to firefighters. Fire crews were called to the area of County Road 25A and Union Street around 11 a.m. on reports of a car that hit a natural gas distribution line, Troy Fire Platoon Commander Dale Thompson told News Center 7. An extended closure was expected on County Road 25A, Thompson said. However, the roadway had reopened by 2 p.m. Multiple CenterPoint Energy crews remained on scene making repairs, according to our crew on the scene. “We had a substantial leak and it was something we could not control ourselves,” Thompson said. “The gas company (CenterPoint Energy) was called in during that process.” At least seven structures were evacuated prior to their arrival and they shut down all gas utilities, Thompson said. Fire crews also had to deal with 90 degree temperatures outside. “It was something we were thinking about,” he added. “We called in another engine and had other stations be with us to back us up.”

Oil, Gas Production to Increase Across Shale Regions - – Oil and gas producers in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays are expected to boost output in July, according to the latest report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Oil production in the Appalachia region – that is, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia – is projected to increase from 124,000 barrels per day to 127,000 barrels, or 3,000 more barrels per day, the agency said. Natural gas production is also expected to rise, the agency reported. Gas output in the Appalachian basin is projected to increase from 35.155 billion cubic feet daily to 35.386 billion per day, a boost of 231 million cubic feet per day. Six of the seven shale plays throughout the United States reported that they would boost oil production next month amid historically high oil prices. Collectively, these energy producers anticipate increasing oil output by 143,000 barrels per day. The Permian basin in Texas is projected to see the biggest change, increasing daily production by 84,000 barrels in July. Production from the Haynesville shale, which straddles eastern Texas and western Louisiana, is expected to remain flat at 36,000 barrels per day, according to EIA. Natural gas production, led by the Appalachia region, is expected to increase by a combined 781 million cubic feet per day in July across the seven shale plays, EIA reported. Just the Andarko shale in Oklahoma is expected to decrease natural gas production in July, from 6.275 billion cubic feet per day to 6.265 billion cubic feet, a decline of 10 million cubic feet per day.

Shale well impact fees rise as natural gas prices surge - Surging natural gas prices could raise Pennsylvania's impact fee revenue from shale gas wells to new highs this year and shrink its effective tax rate to new lows, according to a report from the state's Independent Fiscal Office. The new revenue estimates — between $245 million and $259 million for the 2022 reporting year — come as the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission confirmed a strong rebound in the impact fee collection for the 2021 reporting year after a pandemic-driven trough. Companies operating Marcellus and Utica shale wells paid $234 million for 2021 — about $88 million more than for 2020, when the impact fee hit a record low. The annual collection was primarily driven up by the higher average annual price of natural gas last year, the PUC said. Impact fees are paid in April and distributed in July. Natural gas prices have continued to climb and are expected to push impact fees higher, even as new drilling has increased only modestly so far this year. Impact fees are charged per well, but they fluctuate based on a well's age and the average annual price of natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Through June, the price was $6.06 per million British thermal units, a 119% increase from the same period in 2021, the fiscal office said. Analysts expect the price to remain above $6 for the year, which is the maximum rate on the state's fee schedule. At that rate, companies would have to pay $64,900 for each new horizontal well and as low as $10,900 for older wells depending on their age, the fiscal office said. Companies would not have to pay higher fees for wells that are four years old or older. For 2021, more than 85% of the nearly 11,000 wells subject to the fee were four years old or older, according to the fiscal office. Most gas-producing states implement severance taxes whose rates are based directly on natural gas price and production, but those are secondary factors in calculating Pennsylvania's impact fees. The fiscal office found that the annual average effective tax rate for the 2021 impact fee dropped 2 percentage points to 1.3% — the lowest in the program's history — because the market value of Pennsylvania's shale gas increased 295% while impact fee collections rose just 60%. Pennsylvania produced nearly 7.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas last year, which was worth $17.7 billion at the wellhead, the fiscal office said.

EQT shows progress toward net-zero goals - Pittsburgh Business Times = EQT Corp. continues to move toward its goal of having net zero greenhouse gas emissions from its natural gas production by 2025 and reducing its methane emissions intensity by 35% compared with a baseline four years ago, the company said in its annual sustainability report released Wednesday. "We've made tremendous progress toward our long-term emissions targets," said Toby Z. Rice, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based EQT. Sustainability and lessening the environmental impacts of natural gas production have been, along with operational efficiency and excellence, a hallmark of Rice's tenure at the top of EQT. The company is the largest natural gas producer in the United States and an exclusively Marcellus/Utica-shale driller. Wednesday's sustainability report details EQT's progress, which Rice said in an interview with the Business Times is a critical component of the company's and the industry's success in making strides on ESG. EQT has reduced its production-related greenhouse gas emissions by 36% in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent since 2018, the last full year before Rice took over as president and CEO. Its emissions intensity, another industry metric, has dropped 44% for greenhouse gases and 35% for methane, another potent greenhouse gas that EQT and others are trying to eliminate. It has also reached certification from Equitable Origin and MiQ, two independent organizations, on 200 of its well pads that represent 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas production a day. That, said Rice, makes EQT the largest producer of natural gas in North America. It is also replacing all of its pneumatic devices by the end of 2022, a change that will reduce a big chunk of emissions, while also developing other processes to cut even more. Those initiatives at EQT include further electrifying its operations in the field, operating more efficiently and getting more done with less equipment. EQT is developing technology that will provide direct measurement of the carbon capturing at the source in the ground, something Rice said will be important to show accurate, data-driven performance. Rice said that he believes EQT and the industry should and will embrace even further transparency initiatives and more collaboration with outside independent organizations.

 Reducing GHG emissions, increasing production for plunger lift applications in the Marcellus shale - CNX Resources is a premier natural gas development, production, midstream, and technology company, with operations throughout the Appalachian basin, primarily in the Marcellus and Utica shales in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The company is continuously reducing GHG emissions year-over-year, while also investing capital in emissions reductions technologies that will further help to reduce its Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2e emissions. The company has reduced GHG emissions by 90% since 2011. CNX sought to optimize production and reduce the number of liquid loading events across its horizontal Marcellus shale wells with plunger lift systems deployed. As a result, the CNX operations team vented wells regularly to remediate liquid loading, leading to challenges across emissions profile, productivity and efficiency. To overcome these challenges, CNX worked with Ambyint and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deploy a solution capable of optimizing well productivity with improved analytics and autonomous management. This resulted in improved production volumes and workforce efficiency, with no additional hardware required. The Marcellus shale formation is one of two prolific dry natural gas plays within the Appalachian basin, which spans parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Per the EIA, production in the region has been growing since 2008. Monthly production recently set new record highs—reaching 32.5 Bcfgd in December 2020, and it averaged 31.9 Bcfgd during the first half of 2021, the highest average for a six-month period since production began in 2008. The Marcellus and Utica shale plays accounted for 34% of all U.S. dry natural gas production in the first half of 2021. Many gas-producing wells in the Marcellus experience liquid loading at some point during production, which negatively impacts overall well economics. Liquid loading is the inability of a producing gas well to remove its co-produced liquids from the wellbore. The liquid flowing as droplets or film accumulates at the well bottom, thereby imposing backpressure at the sandface and triggering increasingly higher pressure loss in the wellbore. The problem initiated by liquid loading is manifested in terms of loss of well deliverability, causing the wellhead pressure to decline significantly, which, in turn, leads to the cessation of gas production. Accordingly, the liquid-loading issue reduces the ultimate recovery of a gas well.1. Plunger lift is an artificial lift method used principally in gas wells to unload relatively small volumes of liquid. An automated system, mounted on the wellhead, controls the well of an intermittent flow regime. When the well is shut-in, a plunger is dropped down the production string. When the control system opens the well for production, the plunger and a column of fluid are carried up the tubing string. The surface equipment receiving the mechanism detects the plunger when it arrives at surface and, through the control system, prepares for the next cycle.

What shale pros, foes are saying about the SEC's climate disclosure rule - When CNX Resources Corp. sent a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of the closing of its public comments period against a major change in how companies would have to disclose climate risks, it was one of thousands that were received. But it was one of the few natural gas producers, particularly in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, to do so. There have been more than 20,000 comments so far on the SEC's climate-change disclosure proposal, officially titled "The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors." Every publicly traded company, regardless of type of work, would be impacted by the regulations that set out to further clarify a company's impact on climate change. But not surprisingly, energy companies come under particular scrutiny and their supporters and detractors are well represented. CNX CEO Nicholas DeIuliis, in the Southpointe-based driller's letter to the SEC, said that the company wanted to embrace the proposed regulations as a way to show how CNX and other energy companies were backing up their words with actions when it came to climate. "Unfortunately, the proposal falls short of establishing the kind of level-playing field necessary to give the public what it deserves," DeIuliis wrote. "Instead, it injects confusion and undermines investors' access to truly comparative data. It is important that investors receive adequate information to understand the full scope of a company's end-to-end lifecycle emissions profile."The National Association of Manufacturers said that the proposed regulations were too confusing and wide-ranging to be of use."The proposed rule instead institutes a wide-ranging mandate for public companies to generate and report pages upon pages of information, much of which is not material to their operations or financial performance," NAM wrote. "In many instances the required information is not even available."That was also discussed by Targa Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas pipeline company, that said there would be substantial costs to complying with the regulation and it was concerned about wording about "expertise in climate-related risks" mentioned in the proposed regulations."The lack of a clear definition presents challenges for registrants as they work to determine how to comply with this rule," Targa said.Elected officials in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among those who have spoken out. GOP senators, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, D-West Virginia, wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler that climate disclosure wasn't in the purview of the SEC."There are serious questions about whether the SEC has the technical expertise to assess climate models and underlying assumptions used in companies' metrics and disclosures," Toomey and the others wrote. "Without such technical expertise, the SEC will likely review submissions arbitrarily, leading uneven or unfair application."U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and one of the industry's strongest supporters, questioned in his own letter the SEC's motivations."The most concerning piece of the proposed rule is what appears to be the targeting of our nation's fossil fuel companies," Manchin wrote. "Not only will these companies face heightened reporting requirements on account of their operations, but they will also be subjected to additional scrutiny for Scope 3 emissions disclosures of other companies that utilize their services and products."

Expected break from record heat, natural gas futures fall further on improving supply – After a sharp drop early Tuesday, natural gas futures took most of the ground and ended the day less than 15 cents above Friday’s close. Weather models brushed off early morning losses, while technicals fueled a rebound, eventually leaving July’s Nymex futures contract down 13.6 cents at $6.808/MMBtu. August futures fell 12.3 cents to $6.783. Spot gas prices also extended their losses after coming back from the Juneteenth holiday. NGI spot gas National average fell 29.5 cents to $6.475.With news last week that an explosion at a Freeport liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility is set to dent gas demand for several months, the weather on Sunday went to the fore in trading, increasing losses at the start of Tuesday’s session. occurred as traders weighed in on a significant loss of cooling degree days in the weekend weather model, particularly in late June and early July. Although NatGasweather noted that the pattern for the coming two weeks is not bearish, it is “not as bullish” as predicted by previous models.The forecaster said extreme heat will continue for the rest of this week, with highs of 90 to low 100 stretching from Texas to the Great Lakes to the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Temperatures are also forecast to drop over the west-central United States.However, by Sunday, cooler trends are expected among broader weather systems in the Midwest and East, keeping day temperatures in the 60s to 80s. According to NetGasweather, this could help move the warm upper ridge across the west-central United States. As such, national demand is expected to be “regional strong”.Overnight data supported the return of a more intimidating pattern on July 2-7 as the warm ridge spread back to the east. However, this is far from the time where change should be expected, according to the prophet “Going forward, we expect a protracted battle between tight US supplies and normal-to-warm weather patterns for most of this summer versus slowdown LNG exports due to the Freeport LNG outage,” NetGasweather said. “The Bulls have bought every dip for over a year, and they have done so again” on Tuesday.The latest data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission shows that as of June 14, natural gas net long positions fell by almost half a week/week. According to EBW, it was the second biggest one-day drop. The firm said bullish conditions were on the chopping block after the storage target rose above 3.5 Tcf in late October following news of an extended 90-day outage to Freeport. As for prices, some of the sharpest declines were seen on the East Coast. in Appalachia, east gas south The next day the gas fell 67.5 cents from Friday to average $5.735. Transco Zone 6 Non-NY fell 54.5 cents to $5.755. Meanwhile, New England prices maintained a handle of $6.00. On the opposite coast, the reduction in prices was less. Malin Spot gas was down 24.5 cents at $6.105, and El Paso s Mainline / n. baja was down 23.5 cents to $6.555.Meanwhile, maintenance of the pipeline with several systems was underway this week. Among the more notable incidents was a hydrotest being carried out on the Northwest Pipeline (NWPL) via the section between Willard and Goldendale compressors. Work is scheduled for Tuesday through July 4, cutting up to 134 MMcf/d of northward flow.

U.S. natgas edges up on Texas heat, small output decline (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures edged up about 1% on Wednesday on record power demand in Texas and a slow slide in daily gas output. That price increase came despite forecasts for less demand over the next two weeks than previously projected and a drop in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports with the Texas Freeport plant shut down. The Freeport shutdown on June 8 reduced the amount of U.S. gas available to the rest of the world, especially in Europe where most U.S. LNG has gone as countries there wean themselves off Russian energy after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February. Analysts said leaving more gas in the United States, however, should give American utilities a chance to rebuild extremely low stockpiles quickly. Freeport, the second-biggest U.S. LNG export plant, consumes about 2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, so a 90-day shutdown would make about 180 billion cubic feet (bcf) more gas available to the U.S. market. Front-month gas futures for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) rose 5.0 cents, or 0.7%, to settle at $6.858 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Tuesday, the contract closed at its lowest since April 25. With the U.S. Federal Reserve expected to keep raising interest rates, open interest in NYMEX futures NG-TOT fell on Tuesday to its lowest since August 2016 as investors continued to cut back on risky assets. Despite recent declines, U.S. gas futures are still up about 84% so far this year as much higher prices in Europe and Asia keep demand for U.S. LNG exports strong, especially since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine stoked fears Moscow might cut gas supplies to Europe. Gas was trading around $39 per mmBtu in Europe and $37 in Asia. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states slid to 94.9 bcfd so far in June from 95.2 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record of 96.1 bcfd in December 2021. With hotter weather coming, Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would rise from 92.8 bcfd this week to 95.5 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were lower than Refinitiv's outlook on Tuesday. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants fell from an average of 12.5 bcfd in May to 11.4 bcfd so far in June due to the Freeport outage, according to Refinitiv. That compares with a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March. The seven big U.S. export plants can turn about 13.6 bcfd of gas into LNG. On a daily basis, LNG feedgas was on track to drop to 10.3 bcfd on Wednesday, the lowest since November 2021, due to small reductions at all of the operating Gulf Coast facilities.

Natural gas futures plummet after EIA reports 74 Bcf build into storage | S&P Global Commodity Insights - US natural gas working stocks rose by a larger-than-expected 74 Bcf during the week ended June 17, reducing the deficit to a seasonal low of 13.2%, which helped spur a selloff for US natural gas futures. Storage inventories rose to 2.169 Tcf for the week ended June 17, the US Energy Information Administration reported on June 23. The build was more than an S&P Global Commodity Insights' survey of analysts calling for a 70 Bcf net injection. The weekly injection was substantially higher than the 49 Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2021 but less than the five-year average build of 82 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 305 Bcf, or 12.3%, less than the year-ago level of 2.474 Tcf and 331 Bcf, or 13.2%, below the five-year average of 2.500 Tcf. While the deficit to the five-year average increased in absolute terms, it fell to its lowest point, percentage wise, so far this injection season. By mid-session on June 23, the NYMEX Henry Hub July contract had dropped more than 60 cents, trading around $6.20/MMBtu by 1 pm ET. The contract was trading 15 cents lower around $6.70/MMBtu in the minutes before the weekly storage report published at 10:30am ET, with the downward momentum accelerating after the report came out. If the bearish sentiment holds to daily settlement, it will be the prompt-month's lowest settlement since April 6. NYMEX July had been in a holding pattern over the most recent three trading sessions, settling in a tight range of around $6.80-$6.95/MMBtu. Opposing forces of supply and demand had introduced some uncertainty around this week's storage number, with the S&P Global survey of analysts showing a wider-than-normal range of responses. The lowest response recorded was 48 Bcf and the highest response 96 Bcf. Market watchers noted stronger-than-normal power burn could absorb some of the looseness in the market created by an extended unplanned outage at Freeport LNG, but the extent to which elevated power burn would be enough to stave off further losses in gas futures had been unclear. June has seen record-breaking heat sweep across the eastern half of the country, lifting gas-fired power demand well above seasonal norms. Data from Platts Analytics shows that power burn demand has averaged 37.7 Bcf/d so far this month, up 2.1 Bcf/d from the same time last year. On the supply side, robust US gas production has been a bullish thumb on the scales for supply-demand balances, with month-to-date production coming in 2.4 Bcf/d higher than year-ago levels. A forecast by S&P Global's supply and demand model calls for a smaller draw of 56 Bcf for the week ending June 24, which would widen the deficit in absolute terms. The week in progress has seen a continuation of the very hot temperatures, especially in Texas, with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reporting a series of record-breaking daily power loads. Gas-fired generators have provided 35%-45% of daily load in the ERCOT service area over the last week, data from the system operator shows.

U.S. natgas futures hold near 11-week low as LNG exports decline (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures held near an 11-week low on Friday as forecasts for hotter weather, higher demand and less output than last month offset a drop in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports due to the extended shutdown of the Freeport LNG export plant in Texas. In Texas, power demand hit record levels again this week during a lingering heat wave. Analysts said the Freeport shutdown should allow U.S. utilities to quickly rebuild low gas stockpiles for next winter. Front-month gas futures for July delivery fell 1.9 cents, or 0.3%, to settle at $6.220 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), their lowest close since April 6 for a second day in a row. That kept the contract in technically oversold territory, with a relative strength index (RSI) below 30 for a fifth day in a row for the first time since January 2020. For the week, the front-month was down about 10% after dropping 22% last week. Those big declines in the July front-month pushed the premium of futures for August over July to a record high. Despite recent declines, U.S. gas futures are still up about 66% so far this year as much higher prices in Europe and Asia keep demand for U.S. LNG exports strong, especially since Russia's invasion of Ukraine stoked fears Moscow might cut gas supplies to Europe. Gas was trading around $40 per mmBtu in Europe and $37 in Asia. For the week, gas prices at the Title Transfer Facility (TTF) in the Netherlands, the European gas benchmark, were up about 5% after Russia reduced pipeline exports to Europe earlier in the week. Russia kept pipeline exports at around 3.7 bcfd for a fourth day in a row on Thursday on the three mainlines into Germany - North Stream 1 (Russia-Germany), Yamal (Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany), and the Russia-Ukraine-Slovakia-Czech Republic-Germany route. That compares with a recent high of 6.5 bcfd about two weeks ago, and an average of 11.6 bcfd in June 2021. Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states has slid to 95.0 bcfd so far in June from 95.2 bcfd in May. That compares with a monthly record of 96.1 bcfd in December 2021. With hotter weather coming, Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand including exports would rise from 92.9 bcfd this week to 95.2 bcfd next week and 97.2 bcfd in two weeks. The forecast for next week was lower than Refinitiv's outlook on Thursday. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants has fallen from an average of 12.5 bcfd in May to 11.3 bcfd so far in June due to the Freeport outage, according to Refinitiv. That compares with a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March.

Every Hour, This Gas Storage Station Sends Half a Ton of Methane Into the Atmosphere - —The Petal Gas Storage Station lies halfway between the winding banks of the Leaf River and the International Checker Hall of Fame. It’s a warren of pipes, wellheads and metal buildings where noisy compressors pump gas underground and then suck it back up to the surface again. In the process, the Petal plant releases half a ton of a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere every hour—more than any other gas storage facility in the country. Petal is one of hundreds of underground natural gas storage facilities across the United States, where operators pump gas into underground salt formations, aquifers or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, storing the gas until it is needed. Underneath the Petal plant lies a vast dome of salt nearly two miles in diameter that formed millions of years ago, during the Mesozoic Era, when other layers of rock pushed down on the surrounding salt formation until it was squeezed upwards into a bulging dome. A gas company began hollowing out the Petal Dome, creating the nation’s first salt cavity specifically designed for natural gas storage in 1951. Today, eight artificial caverns carved into the Petal Dome store up to 30 billion cubic feet of natural gas, fuel that provides a critical backstop for the region’s fluctuating energy needs. The Petal storage plant is relatively small as gas storage facilities go: It ranks as the 41st largest underground gas storage facility in the country. However, its emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas, are far and away the highest of all such facilities in the nation. In 2020, Petal emitted 4,947 metric tons of methane, according to reports submitted by the facility’s owner, Gulf South Pipeline, and its parent company, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The emissions were three-and-a-half times higher than the methane released that year from any other U.S. gas storage facility. The Petal facility has held onto the dubious distinction of being the largest such methane emitter for each of the last five years, according to data the companies have submitted to the EPA. In 2020, three of the seven highest emitting gas storage facilities in the country were owned by Boardwalk and its subsidiaries. Gulf South and Boardwalk have begun to curb emissions at the Petal facility, cutting them in 2020 by nearly 50 percent of what they were in 2019, a year when Petal’s emissions were more than five times larger than any other underground gas storage facility in the country. Boardwalk executives said they slashed emissions again, this time by 54 percent, in 2021.

Texas repeatedly raises pollution limits for Cheniere LNG plant (Reuters) - Cheniere, the largest U.S. exporter of liquefied natural gas, boasts that it’s helping to “improve local air quality in communities globally” because the cleaner burning fuel it ships displaces coal in power plants. But in the Corpus Christi, Texas region, where the fuel is prepared for shipment, the company is making air quality worse -with the consent of state regulators. Cheniere’s massive LNG plant, on the outskirts of the Gulf Coast city, has exceeded its permitted limits for emissions of pollutants such as soot, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) hundreds of times since it started up in 2018, according to a Reuters review of regulatory documents. Instead of levying penalties for such violations, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has responded by granting Cheniere big increases in the plant’s pollution limits, the documents show. The facility is now allowed to chuff out some 353 tons per year of VOCs, double the limit set out in its original permit eight years ago. The state raised limits on four other pollutants by more than more than 40%. The issue has infuriated nearby residents who cite the frequency of large flares, used to burn off excess gas to relieve pressure, and evidence that local air quality has deteriorated significantly since the facility’s start-up. They have petitioned the state to crack down on the plant’s pollution rather than allowing it to emit more. Texas regulators have acknowledged the plant's impact on the local air quality: In its annual enforcement report for fiscal year 2019, the agency blamed the Corpus Christi region’s 83% increase in emissions from the prior year in part on the startup of the Cheniere facility. Cheniere said in a statement to Reuters that it had initially underestimated emissions from the plant because it was required to apply for the original permit before its engineering work was completed. The company said its design and equipment adhere to federal standards requiring the "best available control technology" to limit pollution. When actual emissions exceeded those estimates, Cheniere sought amendments from regulators to "reconcile" the higher pollution with its early assumptions, the company said. The plant could not run consistently and efficiently under the lower pollution limits, which would require frequent shutdowns, plant general manager Ari Aziz said in an interview. The emissions from Cheniere’s Corpus Christi LNG facility highlights a broader danger of surging air pollution as the United States and other nations seek to expand U.S. gas exports. LNG facilities are substantial polluters, and regulation will be key to ensuring their emissions don’t pose big health problems for residents near the plants.

Why we must nationalize Big Oil - During the financial crisis in 2008, the federal government protected the economy by bailing out companies it considered “too big to fail.” Normally, the government protects the economy from companies that are too big to exist. Companies that prevent competition by dominating an industry are called monopolies. The Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission use federal anti-trust laws to break them up.But what should the government do about companies that use deception to dominate a marketto the detriment of the economy and the long-term welfare of the American people? What should it do when an industry repeatedly violates the public trust?In other words, what shall we do about the oil industry? By covering up its knowledge that its products are destabilizing the climate, funding a denial campaign and pressuring Congressnot to address global warming, big oil should have lost its social license to operate long ago.Instead, it has used its influence and cash to sustain billions of dollars in annual taxpayer subsidies (nearly $6 trillion for fossil fuels in 2020) and cut-rate permits to extract oil and gas from public lands. For years, these practices suppressed the ability of clean substitutes like solar and wind energy to compete. More recently, the industry has opposed carbon pricing, which would correct market signals by better reflecting the actual social and environmental costs of carbon fuels.The American people also underwrite the industry by sacrificing their health to air pollution, suffering through economic recessions triggered by spikes in oil prices and losing the services of degraded or destroyed ecosystems. Those “subsidies” cost more than $635 billion annually, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).What should the federal government do? First, it should acknowledge that the quickest and most effective way to stabilize the climate is not to waste more time trying to decarbonize carbon fuels; instead, it should facilitate a shift to genuinely clean and renewable energy.Second, it should fix America’s energy market by eliminating policies that distort price signals. With prices that accurately reflect full lifecycle benefits and costs, renewable resources would advance more quickly because they are free, inexhaustible, ubiquitous and naturally clean.Third and most important, the government should nationalize Big Oil. That would allow the government to manage the industry’s drawdown, a process the private sector is ignoring. A coalition of climate-action groups showed the world’s 60 largest banks financed nearly $4 trillion in fossil energy projects over the last five years, investments that could be stranded and lead to more requested taxpayer bailouts when the carbon bubble pops.“If ever there was an industry that merited nationalization, the fossil fuel industry is it,” columnist and podcaster Thom Harman writes. A significant number of analysts agree.

'Cancer Alley' groups want to know how new industry impacts health. This bill could require it. - The reboot of a 2020 environmental bill aims to bolster protections for Black, Indigenous and low-income communities often disproportionately harmed by pollution — an issue documented across Louisiana.Crafted by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, the “Environmental Justice for All Act” attempts to tackle a wide range of issues: codifying President Joe Biden’s executive orders on environmental justice, creating grants to help research and heal the health of overburdened areas and expanding the federal process for communicating the environmental impact of major projects.But one of its key provisions would address one of Louisiana advocates’ greatest complaints: assessing the cumulative health impact industrial projects pose on residents.“The cumulative effect is the right to know not just what one little Formosa plant is going to do, but what the accumulation of the 25 along that stretch are doing,” Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said Saturday while touring chemical plants in St. John and St. James parishes.Participants on a "Toxic Tour" promoting Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva's proposed "Environmental Justice for All Act" stop at Denka Performance Elastomer, a chemical plant in Reserve, La. on June 18, 2022.While the problem isn’t unique to Louisiana, advocates point to the 85-mile stretch of Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as the poster child for environmental injustice. Nicknamed “Cancer Alley,” the region, which includes the parishes Grijalva visited, holds more than 150 petrochemical plants, and research has found that low-income and Black residents there bear a higher cumulative risk of cancer than whiter, more affluent areas.As recently as 2020, when COVID-19 spread rampantly, a studyreinforced that finding by examining census tract data that showed a higher burden of air pollution was associated with larger percentages of Black residents and increased unemployment. Higher death rates from the virus were associated with exposure to respiratory and immunological hazards — and a larger proportion of Black residents.Though companies are required to keep pollution below a legal threshold, that limit isn’t necessarily protective of human health, said Kimberly Terrell, a staff scientist for the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, especially if other sources nearby emit a similar level of a chemical with similar risks.“There is nothing to protect people from combined exposures,” she said.

Nation's largest dredging company fined $1 million for causing oil spill in Louisiana -- Houston-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, the nation's largest dredging company, has been ordered by a federal judge to pay a $1 million fine after pleading guilty a year ago to criminal charges of causing the spill of 160 barrels of oil in Bay Long in 2016 while rebuilding Louisiana's Chenier Ronquille barrier island east of Grand Isle.The charges stem from an incident where the driver of a marsh buggy equipped with a small dredge cut an oil pipeline while clearing a canal used by Great Lakes workers to access the Plaquemines Parish island they were rebuilding under a $36 million contract with NOAA. But neither Great Lakes nor the worker were authorized by NOAA to be working in that canal, according to federal officials. Great Lakes pleaded guilty in June 2021 to misdemeanor charges of violating two federal laws, the Clean Water Act and the Pipeline Safety Act, and failing to make use of Louisiana's "One Call" program to alert pipeline operators when work was planned near their pipelines. The sentence was handed down last week.“The defendant in this case recklessly violated regulations designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide their actions,” said Kimberly Bahney of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana, in a news release announcing the sentencing. “This sentencing demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”James Tassin of Houma, a marsh buggy driver with Shallow Water Equipment LLC, pleaded guilty in March 2021 to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act for his role in the spill, after agreeing to cooperate with federal officials in their investigation of Great Lakes. He is scheduled for sentencing on that charge on Aug. 16. According to a U.S. Justice Department news release, court documents in Tassin's case showed a Great Lakes supervisor instructed Tassin to use the marsh buggy to dig near pipelines, even though the digging was not part of plans approved by NOAA for the restoration project, and without Great Lakes getting approval from companies operating pipelines in the area that the dredging would be safe.

U.S. oil refining capacity drops in 2021 for 2d straight year -EIA (Reuters) - Capacity for U.S. oil refiners fell in 2021 for the second year in a row, the most recent government data showed on Tuesday, as plant shutdowns kept whittling away on their ability to produce gasoline and diesel. Pump prices are near $5 a gallon nationwide as soaring demand for motor fuels collides with the loss of about 1 million barrels of processing capacity in the last three years due largely to closings to plants that were unprofitable when fuel demand cratered at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Energy Information Administration figures showed a capacity decline of 125,790 barrels per day (bpd) last year on top of the 800,000 bpd drop in 2020. Sky-high gasoline prices may soon crimp fuel demand as if drivers cut travel, a Dallas Federal Reserve Bank economist said. The nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $4.968 on Tuesday, up 62% from a year ago. While current pump prices are not historically high in inflation-adjusted terms, they may be "closer to consumers’ pain threshold than inflation-adjusted prices might suggest," wrote Garrett Golding, senior business economist with the Dallas Fed. "And if prices climb higher, expect consumers to respond by cutting back on fuel consumption and overall spending sooner than later." U.S. refining capacity has fallen by 5.4%, or 1.03 million bpd to 17.9 million bpd since it peaked in 2019 at 18.98 million bpd. Capacity in 2021 dropped 4.5% to 18.13 million bpd. Profit margins at U.S. refiners are up sharply despite higher oil and gas costs as demand soars for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Analysts say the demand could continue to rise with low U.S. unemployment and pent-up demand for travel. The biggest factor in the latest decline of refining capacity was closure of the 255,600-bpd Alliance, Louisiana, refinery, following extensive damage from last year's Hurricane Ida. That was only partially offset by capacity expansions at other refineries, the EIA said. With capacity down, fuel demand is up thanks to the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, shifts in market flows due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have placed new strains on U.S. refiners. The nation's plants are running at about 94% of operable capacity, the highest since September 2019. The high level of capacity utilization and relatively low levels of storage have experts worried about possible fuel shortages given this year's forecasts for a well-above average hurricane season. About half of the nation's refining capacity is on U.S. Gulf Coast, where storms often make landfall.

Oops! U.S. oil and gas exports fuel domestic price rise - The U.S. oil and natural gas industry long fought for and in the last decade finally won release from federal restrictions that limited exports. The ostensible reason was that because of the so-called "shale revolution" in the country's oil and gas fields, the United States would have plenty of oil and gas to spare for export.This made it almost certain that as U.S. prices rose to match world prices, U.S. consumers would feel the pain. And, since energy prices affect everyone who votes, they are always politically consequential.So, it is unsurprising that with U.S. regular gasoline prices over $5 per gallon President Joe Biden lashed out at U.S. oil companies—which are having one of their best years ever—saying they need to increase production of refined oil products. The companies have responded that their refineries are running at close to maximum capacity and so there is not much they can do in the short run.What is left unsaid is that it has long been the policy of the United States to allow the export of refined (as opposed to crude) petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel and heating oil. The country has refinery capacity significantly in excess of domestic needs and so exports a considerable volume of refined products including about 1 million barrels per day (mbpd) of gasoline and 1.4 mbpd of diesel and heating oil (for the week ending June 10). If the U.S. were to curtail such exports in order to reduce prices at home, the country would be violating long-term commitments to free trade and free markets, and would be reducing supply and thus raising prices for customers abroad.The boom in U.S. natural gas exports has also strained U.S. domestic natural gas suppliessending prices from less than $2 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) two years ago to about $7 per mcf today. (That's down from $9 recently.) That has meant sharply rising costs for residential and industrial heating and for natural gas based plastics and other chemicals including nitrogen fertilizer derived from natural gas.The boom in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports now sends about 11 percent of U.S. natural gas production abroad (based on shipments from January through March 2022). The volume of LNG exports rose by a factor of 50 from 2011 through 2021. (See these numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration here and here.) The world's free trade advocates have long insisted that all commodities should circulate freely across the globe going to the highest bidder. These advocates also believed that government policies should not favor or subsidize one industry over another. The idea was crystallized in 1992 by Michael Boskin, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President George Bush, when Boskin was asked whether the United States should have a policy that encouraged domestic semiconductor production. He is reported to have said, "Potato chips, computer chips—what's the difference?" It turns out that it really does matter whether a country produces potato chips or computer chips. In the wake of the Russia/Ukraine conflict which has resulted in the sudden breakdown and wrenching realignment of the global trading system countries around the world are grappling with shortages of food, fuel and crucial industrial goods including semiconductors.

Weekly Petroleum Inventory Data Supplied By API And SeekingAlpha -- June 23, 2022 - Link here: Shares of energy companies fell sharply on Thursday, again sitting at the bottom of the S&P 500 leaderboard, as signs of slowing consumption sent oil prices sliding to six-week lows. U.S. crude oil futures (CL1:COM) closed -1.8% to $104.27/bbl, the lowest since May 10, after the American Petroleum Institute estimated U.S. crude inventories surprisingly increased by 5.6M barrels for the week ending June 17, underscoring concerns about demand destruction.The Energy Information Administration delayed the release of its weekly report on oil inventories due to problems with its systems; analysts were forecasting a 1.2M-barrel drop in crude inventories and an 800K-barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles.U.S. natural gas futures (NG1:COM) settled -9% to $6.239/MMBtu, the lowest closing price since April 6, as stockpiles showed a bigger than expected build of 74B cf during the week ended June 17.Germany's government moved closer to rationing natural gas after Russia cut deliveries in an escalation of the economic war triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.

ExxonMobil CEO says oil and gas markets may be tight for 3 to 5 more years -Oil and gas markets may be tight for another three to five years as the industry tries to catch up with underinvestment in new production due to the pandemic, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said June 21. Two years of a "significant reduction" in investment in exploration while the industry put more focus on "rebuilding the balance sheet" due to COVID-19 is likely to leave the oil market "fairly tight" for the next three to five years as the industry tries to catch up, depending on what happens to demand, Woods told the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha. Oil and gas prices have surged in the wake of Russia's February invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted many European buyers of Russian hydrocarbons to seek alternatives, including gas from Qatar. Qatar's energy minister Saad al-Kaabi, who told the conference that QatarEnergy would be announcing ExxonMobil as a partner in its North Field East LNG expansion later June 21, echoed Woods' comments, saying that underinvestment is the "underpinning reason" why prices have climbed. Meanwhile Kuwait Petroleum Corp's deputy chairman and CEO Shaikh Nawaf Saud Al-Sabah said that Kuwait is "committed to making the investment necessary to ensure we can meet the increasing demand in hydrocarbons going into the future." After 80 years of producing oil and gas onshore, Kuwait has taken the first step to offshore exploration and last week got its first offshore oil drill, which will spud "soon," he told the conference. Kuwait is limited to current oil production of 2.768 million b/d under its OPEC+ allocation, but "we can go higher than that," he added.

Clean up efforts continue following on oil spill on Flint River- Officials say that cleanup efforts continue following an oil spill in the Flint River. The leak was first reported Wednesday. State investigators confirmed Friday that the source of the Flint River oil spill came from the Lockhart Chemical Company. So far, recovery is going well, according to Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson. Swanson said if crews continue working as they are, response teams could scale back operations as soon as Sunday. A county wide no contact order with the river remains in place. Residents should not fish, boat or swim in the Flint River from Stepping Stone Falls to the Genesee County Line. Genesee County Board Chairman Domonique Clemons said he is grateful for the joint effort. “It is our hope that if we continue progress as planned, by mid-next week we will be able to lift the order. We will be able to return to a state of normal, as far as our river is concerned,” Clemons said.

St. Mary's River clean up complete; investigation into oil spill incident underway | Sault Star - Algoma Steel has completed its cleanup of the oil spill on the St. Mary’s River, the Ministry of Environment reports. Gary Wheeler, spokesperson for the ministry, confirmed the operation required by the steelmaker has been wrapped. Algoma Steel must also submit a report to the ministry that outlines the cause of the spill, its impacts, and preventative measures to prevent a re-occurrence.A due date for the report has not been provided.In the meantime, ministry officials have initiated an investigation to determine if prosecution is warranted. “At this point, commenting on the investigation would be inappropriate,” Wheeler said in response to questions from The Sault Star. Algoma Steel’s manager of communication and branding, Brenda Stenta, did not respond Monday to an email request for information. The June 9 oil spill reported from Algoma Steel in the morning hours shut down shipping on the St. Mary’s River and resulted in a quick warning from Algoma Public Health to well users close the shoreline that there may be a risk of contamination. Recreational St. Mary’s River water users, including swimmers, kayakers and anglers, should also avoid using the river for those purposes until further information is provided. APH warns people not to drink, swim, bathe or shower with the water. Instead, use alternative water sources such as bottled water or from the municipal drinking water system. Algoma Steel reports its technical advisors estimate that between 1,000 and 1,250 litres of oil (264 imperial gallons) were discharged into the river while the U.S. Coast Guard has called it a 5,300-gallon oil spill. The spill also forced Echo Bay to turn off its intake pipe for the water treatment plant, declaring a state of emergency. The community has been trucking in clean drinking water. Monitoring of the area around the Echo Bay water treatment plant and its intake on Lake George continued throughout the weekend and additional samples were collected for testing on Monday, Wheeler said. Those sample results will be reviewed with Algoma Public Health to determine next steps. “In the interim, the community will continue to haul water from Bruce Mines and Sault Ste. Marie,” he said.

Enbridge expert: No jump in gas prices with Line 5 replacement — New court documents in the fight over Line 5 show that an energy industry consultant hired by Enbridge estimates shutting down the pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac would have a minimal impact on fuel prices.The documents stem from a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin filed by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians.According to the report filed by Neil Earnest, prices for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel would rise by an estimated 0.5 cents per gallon. The impact in Ontario would be far greater, closer to 5 cents per gallon.Sean McBrearty, the legislative and policy director for Clean Water Action, says this proves we don’t need a pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.“Enbridge’s main argument, for years, ever since we started talking about (Line 5), is that Michigan really needs Line 5,” McBrearty told News 8. “We need it for gas. We need it for propane. Then, once we started getting experts in the energy industry to look into these claims with publicly available information, the experts were able to disprove that notion.”A spokesperson for Enbridge refutes those claims, accusing environmental activists of “cherry picking” select parts of Earnest’s analysis and presenting “an inaccurate view of the impacts associated with shutting down Line 5.”While the final impact on fuel costs is correct, Enbridge claims that figureassumes replacement infrastructure has been built and is fully operational. Before the new line is up and running, costs would presumably be higher. The company also claims refineries would be forced to shut down and many jobs would be lost, specifically in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. McBrearty refutes that claim.“If you have the same supply of oil and the same demand of oil, which the fact that there’s no price difference tells you there would be no supply difference,” he said. “There are other ways of getting that oil to refineries.”McBrearty notes that fact is beside the point, saying the burden should be on Enbridge to find another way to transport its product without threatening the Great Lakes.“There have been studies for years that show we don’t need Line 5. … This shows that Enbridge knows that, too. They need Line 5 to keep their profits flowing, but Michigan doesn’t need Line 5, the region doesn’t need Line 5, and not even Canada needs Line 5,” McBrearty said. Enbridge also pointed to a study published in March by the Consumers Energy Alliance that estimates Michigan families and businesses would pay approximately $2 billion more per year on gas and diesel if Line 5 shuts down. The Consumers Energy Alliance is comprised of several fuel, trucking, mining and energy companies and unions. Beth Wallace, the Great Lakes partnerships manager for the National Wildlife Foundation, said the study was “not grounded in fact.” “The Consumers Energy Alliance calling this a ‘study’ is a major stretch of the imagination – this is an oil disinformation PR effort,” Wallace told the Detroit News. “The report is full of unrealistic assumptions that are so far from reality, it will be alarming if any decision-makers take it seriously.”

 Honor The Earth wants Walz Administration to drop charges against Line 3 protests - — Mark Ruffalo, Jackson Browne, Jane Fonda and more join Honor the Earth and other Indigenous leaders condemning the charges against more than 800 activists who were arrested one year ago for protesting the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. “A lot of people support water protectors and a lot of people believe that water should be protected over the rights of a Canadian corporation. A lot of people are deeply concerned with the fact that Minnesota took over $8 million from a Canadian multinational to arrest, charge and harass people like us,” Honor The Earth Executive Director Winona LaDuke said. Honor the Earth has sent a letter featuring celebrities and several Indigenous tribes calling for Minnesota leadership to drop charges or have Attorney General Keith Ellison lead Line 3 cases as a special prosecutor. The long list of charges includes obstruction, trespassing and conspiring, aiding and abetting. “There were some people however that were charged with felonies including a theft of time. They were charged with stealing time from Enbridge. Stealing time. I found that was a very interesting suggestion. I feel that Enbridge stole years of my time. Years of my life so maybe I can charge them with that,” LaDuke said. Enbridge Inc. says in a statement activists took part in “Illegal and unsafe acts that endangered themselves, first responders and workers and caused millions of dollars in damages. We support the justice system holding those activists who flouted the law accountable.” “The price of oil is too high in terms of blood and arrests and certainly the environment. I can never accept Enbridge’s fantasy world where they believe they have done us a good favor,” LaDuke said. LaDuke says North Dakota and Minnesota governments are too focused on short-term profits and election favors instead of thinking about how their negligence affects future generations.

New research reveals U.S. gas pipeline leaks have not improved (Reuters) - Over 2,600 hazardous gas pipeline leaks in the United States caused more than $4 billion in damages and emergency services, killed 122 people, and released 26.6 billion cubic feet of fuel as methane or carbon dioxide, according to a report released on Thursday. The report, by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, comes as the Biden administration prepares in the coming months to unveil new safety-related rules to curb methane emissions from pipeline systems that transport gas from production to local distribution. In addition, the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed last year, will enable the Department of Transportation to spend $1 billion to replace leaky gas distribution pipelines. On average, a major new gas leak incident is reported to the federal government every 40 hours, while more minor leaks can go undetected and unrepaired for years. The report, which shows that the incidence of major pipeline leaks or explosions has not decreased over the last decade, makes the case that the U.S. should move away from the widespread use of natural gas in homes and businesses toward electrification. "House explosions and leaking pipelines aren’t isolated incidents – they’re the result of an energy system that pipes dangerous, explosive gas across the country and through our neighborhoods," said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Environment Campaigns director. The incidents included in the report were caused by an array of factors, from operator errors to equipment failures to natural causes. The report recommends that policymakers step up incentives to fast-track the transition from a gas-dependent economy to one that is all-electric, encouraging homes and buildings to use electric heat pumps, stoves and other appliances. During the transition, the report says gas infrastructure investments should focus on fixing leaks. Methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years it lasts in the atmosphere.

New Mexico people of color most impacted by oil and gas, study says -People of color, those living in poverty, elderly people and childrencould be affected by air pollution associated with oil and gas at a higher rate than other groups in New Mexico, recent research showed.Researchers, with the Environmental Defense Fund, studied the demographics of “frontline” communities where people live alongside oil and gas facilities – many less than a mile away.These installations emit air and water pollution which seeps into such local communities, the study read, causing myriad health conditions like cancers and respiratory illness.Nationwide, the study showed 18 million people live within a mile of active oil and gas wells, and a large portion of that population were non-white, elderly, children or impoverished.Researchers looked at population data from the San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico and the Permian Basin in the southwest corner of the state – both active oil and gas fields the report showed had large populations of “marginalized” communities such as people of color.The study used air monitoring to find where wells and other fossil fuel facilities were and compare that information with available population data.Four distinct “clusters” of marginalized communities were discovered around fossil fuel areas, per the study, in southeast New Mexico and West Texas, northwest New Mexico, California and Appalachia in the American southeast.The San Juan Basin sits along Native American communities within the Navajo Nation – the largest Indigenous reservation in the U.S. spanning about 27,000 acres in the Four Corners area in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.This area is largely populated by people who are Indigenous, the study read, and the high-density of natural gas wells and processing facilities puts them at a high risk of health impacts.The Permian Basin region had a high density of Hispanics and those of low education and income levels, per the report, as the area is near the U.S-Mexico Border.About 3.3 million Hispanic Americans, nationwide, live within a mile of active oil and gas wells, per the study, the most of any other group, and about 5.7 percent of the total U.S. population of that group.Research showed about 457,000 Native Americans lived within that same radius. That’s about 8 percent of the nation’s entire Indigenous population.

Report: Leaks in Gas Pipeline Network Cause Damage, Death, Pollution - A new study shows that almost daily leaks along America's 310,000-mile network of natural gas pipelines are causing death, injury and large-scale property damage.The report from the Arizona PIRG Education Fund finds over the past decade, pipeline incidents serious enough to require reporting occurred every 40 hours. Diane Brown - executive director with Arizona PIRG - said the report found between 2010 and 2021, 2,600 explosions killed 122 people, seriously injured 600 and cost Americans more than $4 billion. "Leaks can occur anywhere," said Brown, "from the transport of gas from the well, through the gathering and transmission pipelines and the distribution lines that carry gas to homes and businesses." The report - published this week in conjunction with the nonprofit Frontier Group - also found that pipeline leaks in Arizona and elsewhere released 26 billion cubic feet of methane, a greenhouse-gas pollutant linked to climate change.Brown added that the serious pipeline incidents addressed in the report likely represent only some of the leaks experienced in producing, transporting and burning gas."Federally reported gas leaks represent just a fraction of the total," said Brown. "Not all serious gas explosions that have caused death or injury are included in the data if they did not occur in the pipeline system."The report calls for the U.S. to stop relying so heavily on methane for home heating and cooking, as well as electricity generation. Brown said Arizona regulators have already started down that road."The Arizona Corporation Commission is starting to look at some of the risk posed by gas," said Brown. "The commission has brought Southwest Gas before them to discuss recent incidents that have caused Arizonans harm." In addition to calling for tougher regulations, Arizona PIRG is advocating for better pipeline infrastructure, with improved gas-leak detection systems.

After winter drilling permit slump, BLM approvals back up - The Biden administration’s oil and natural gas drilling approvals on public lands rose this spring from a winter low point that alarmed the oil industry. On average, the Bureau of Land Management has approved nearly 300 oil or gas permits per month since January, giving operators permission to punch new wells on federal lands in states like Wyoming and Colorado. Applications for permits to drill, or APDs, have attracted attention under the Biden White House as an indicator of whether the administration’s climate focus will influence day-to-day oil and gas development on federal lands. Initially, even as administration officials talked about climate change — and paused leasing on federal lands and waters to review the federal oil program — the drilling approvals in President Joe Biden’s first year outpaced those from the Trump administration’s first year (Energywire, July 13, 2021).But a close look at the data showed the monthly approvals mostly plunged in late 2021 and into this year (Energywire, March 14).This trend was noticed just as climbing oil prices prompted Republicans to demand a Biden administration response — a chorus that grew louder after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Biden’s subsequent call on U.S. oil and gas producers to drill more — and his ban on Russian oil imports — has further focused attention on the administration’s handling of the federal oil program.Constituting 22 percent of the national supply, it is one oil and gas policy area an administration can hold sway over. More broadly, experts have emphasized that the White House has limited tools to influence companies’ drilling habits or global commodity prices that are driven by international oil markets (Energywire, March 10). Recent BLM drilling approvals don’t reveal a steady trend, instead fluctuating month by month, from a surprising bottom of 95 in January to a high of 448 in March. Approvals fell again last month to 150, according to publicly reported data reviewed by E&E. The pace of monthly permitting on federal land this year has yet to hit the high of 656 the Biden administration reached shortly after taking office. But the Biden administration has reduced the backlog of pending permit applications it inherited from roughly 5,300 to 4,200 as of May. Brian Hires, a spokesman for the BLM, said the agency continues to process APDs “in a timely manner.” “The review process for an application for a permit to drill is comprehensive to ensure oil and gas development will be done in an environmentally sound and responsible manner,” he said in an email. Biden himself has highlighted what he describes as the abundant opportunities for companies to drill on federal land. The current number of approved drilling permits that the industry is not yet developing sits at roughly 9,000, a figure the administration and congressional Democrats have pointed to as evidence that the White House is not standing in the way of public oil development.

Bridger’s Bakken pipeline has its permits  - A 105,000 barrel per day pipeline proposed by Bridger Pipeline, a subsidiary of True Companies, has a thumbs up from the North Dakota Public Service Commission. In approving Bridgers Bakken pipeline project, Commissioners said the pipeline’s route is important for Bakken crude, particularly given the high demand for petroleum products right now throughout the country. They also noted that the company has taken steps to address its past spill record, installing a two-part monitoring system and implementing new training protocols for employees to try to prevent any future problems. Bridger and sister company Belle Fourche are both facing litigation related to oil spills in Montana and North Dakota respectively. Bridger pipeline was for the 2015 oil spill that released an estimated 758 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River. The spill was caused by a weld that split open, allowing oil to leak into the river 7 miles above Glendale. Ice and snow at the time complicated efforts to contain and clean the spill, allowing some oil to travel downstream. The company settled a civil suit last year with Montana, in which they agreed to pay $2 million to recover natural resource damages caused by the spill near Glendive. Belle Fourche, meanwhile, owned and operated a pipeline that ruptured during a landslide in 2016, leaking 4,200 barrels of oil into a hillside, some of which found its way into the Ash Creek, a tributary to the Little Missouri. The spill was contained before it got into the Little Missouri, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

The push to ban new gas stations is coming to Los Angeles -A couple of years ago, banning the construction of new gas stations anywhere in the United States would have seemed like a far-fetched idea. But it could soon become a political reality, not in a public transit dreamland, but in the sprawling, car-centric city of Los Angeles.Last March, the town of Petaluma, California, became the first town in the country to prohibit new gas stations, following through on its declaration of a “climate emergency” in 2019. Other small towns in Sonoma County, like Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, have followed Petaluma’s lead. The effort has since expanded beyond California, with policies to prevent new gas stations being developed in the Comox Valley district in British Columbia as well as in Bethlehem, New York.If Los Angeles institutes a ban, it would be the first major city to do so. At a press call arranged by the nonprofit Stand.Earth on Wednesday, Andy Shrader, who advises city councilmember Paul Koretz on environmental issues, said that Koretz plans to introduce a policy to end the permitting of new gas stations. “We’re keen on getting it done before the end of this year,” Shrader said.“Our great and influential city, which grew up around the automobile, is the perfect place to figure out how to move off the gas-powered car,” Koretz said in a statement.While the idea might sound controversial on the surface, the bans that have been approved so far only stop the construction of proposed gas stations, meaning that there will still be plenty of places left for Americans to fill up their cars. The United States has one gas station for every 2,500 people — more than twice the number of gas stations per person than the European Union. Gas prices have soared to an average of $6.37 in California, the highest price in the country. But the local bans aren’t expected to have an effect on the cost of gasoline. “Prohibiting construction of new gas stations is not going to do anything to impact gas prices right now,” said Anne Pernick, who works to help communities to shift away from fossil fuels with the nonprofit Stand.Earth, at the press call. “But the cost of new gas stations in terms of the health, equity, and safety of the community, as well as future stranded assets, is a bill that definitely ends up being paid by public dollars.” Proponents of the policy say that the destructive wildfires, killer heat waves, and heavy flooding that have hit the U.S. recently, fueled by climate change, are a sign that it’s time to stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. They also point out that gas stations can cause lasting health effects, releasing benzene — a known carcinogen — and contaminating the air, water, and soil. Shuttered gas stations make up half of the country’s 450,000 contaminated brownfield sites, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That number is sure to grow as electric vehicles take over the road in the coming years, cutting the demand for gasoline.

A community poisoned by oil - When I visited Christina Gonzalez and her family in April, she sat slumped in her family’s worn black faux-leather couch, trying to recall which explosion had shaken her neighborhood the most. The seven decades they’ve lived in Wilmington, California, are marked by the dates of the high-octane industrial fires that have erupted at each of the five refineries that surround their home. There were so many disasters, she and her husband, Paul, both 73, told me. Was it the one in ’84? Or maybe the one in ’92 or ’96? Each fire painted the sky in different shades of black and orange. Paul believes the biggest one might have been later — closer to ’01, maybe, or even 2007 or 2009... “When that refinery blew, there were black dots everywhere,” . “All over the cars, the house, our fruit trees and patio furniture. “It was raining oil,” she said. . She had worked in the attendance office at Wilmington’s Banning High School. “I’d see it in their notes,” she said. “Gone to the doctor, asthma, breathing issues, coughing — all the time. It was kind of heartbreaking to see these kids have to suffer as teenagers, and you could see it in their faces, how they didn’t feel well.” Poor health, she says, is a painful but routine fact of life in her South Los Angeles community, an 8.5-square-mile tract surrounded by the largest concentration of oil refineries in California, as well as the third-largest oil field in the U.S., and the largest port in North America. A recent Grist investigation found that since 2020, Wilmington has experienced a dramatic rise in deaths related to Alzheimer’s, liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and diabetes — all conditions known to be exacerbated by high levels of pollution. Illness has spread through the Gonzalez home, too. Christina has been diagnosed with lung disease, lupus and fibromyalgia, while her daughter, Jennifer Gomez, 42, has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells. Jennifer’s husband has had two heart attacks, and her teenage son has “been hospitalized more times than a 90-year-old” for multiple severe respiratory infections.Eight members of the family reside in the house today. Paul’s mother, the first to move in, battled breast and skin cancer during her life. Paul himself beat testicular cancer — twice. With his daughter’s diagnosis, that’s three generations of cancer in the same household. Since the early 1960s, the family has lived on Island Avenue, just one block from the Port of Los Angeles and about one mile from the Phillips 66 Los Angeles refinery. Jennifer jokes that a sane family would have moved, but the family knows it’s not that simple.Since 2000, more than 16 million pounds of toxic chemicals, primarilyhydrogen cyanide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, have been spewed into Wilmington’s air from industrial sites in the city, according to the EPA. That amounts to more than 2,000 pounds of chemicals every single day. Two-thirds of the chemicals were emitted by the Phillips 66 refinery. In response to an inquiry from HCN and Grist, a representative from Phillips 66 sent an email statement, writing that its Los Angeles refineries are striving to improve operations in a “safe, reliable and environmentally responsible” way and noting that company has employed $450 million in “emissions-reduction technology” since the early 2000s. The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory data does not include another major source of pollution in Wilmington: The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the largest in the nation as well as the single largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California; collectively, they are responsible for more pollution than daily emissions from 6 million cars.

Alaska oil and gas commission cancels monthly public meetings --The state commission that oversees oil field activities in Alaska is ending its long-running practice of holding monthly public meetings, drawing concerns about transparency.The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved the policy during a five-minute meeting on June 1, when it canceled the remaining monthly meetings this year.The meetings were a chance for for commissioners to discuss regulatory, legislative and investigative matters. They included time for public comment and a report from the agency on recent activity. Commissioners said the monthly meetings had little to no public attendance and were frequently canceled because the commission had no items on the agenda for discussion.

Utica Resources files lawsuit seeking billions of dollars if Quebec implements Bill 21 - Utica Resources Inc. filed a lawsuit this week seeking to invalidate the Quebec government’s ban on hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, or obtain billions of dollars in compensation for what it claims is an expropriation, giving new life to critics’ claims that the legislation will hamper economic development and prove counterproductive to the intended goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).In April, the Quebec legislature passed Bill 21 (not to be confused with the legislation aimed at strengthening the French language, which bears the same legislative designation). The law, which has received Royal Assent and will come into force as soon as regulations are promulgated, makes Quebec the first North American jurisdiction to ban hydrocarbon exploration and production.The legislation both bans future exploration and revokes existing licenses. Licence holders must permanently close their wells and restore their sites, but the government will only reimburse 75 per cent of the expenses incurred. Currently, 182 permits are extant, and 62 wells are subject to rehabilitation.Quebec has offered $100 million as compensation. But the offer does not account for potential revenue losses and falls far short of the $500 million the companies say they have spent exploring for oil and gas over the past 15 years. Nor does it take into account the value of the holdings themselves, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions. “If this law is upheld, it is a direct threat to individual property rights, a massive expropriation and a wrong signal to investors around the world,” said Mario Lévesque, chief executive of Utica Resources, which controls 20 per cent of all oil and gas claims in Quebec. “I did not believe that Canada would be a place where this could happen.”

Quebec faces C$18bn suit over oil, gas ban - Utica Resources said June 22 it had filed a lawsuit in Quebec’s Superior Court seeking nullification of Bill 21, the provincial law banning oil and gas production in the province, or failing that, compensation in the amount of C$18bn (US$14bn).Citing Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Utica is arguing that Bill 21 constitutes an attack on Utica’s right to “the peaceful enjoyment and free disposition of its property.” Further, Utica says the expropriation under Bill 21 violates that section of the Civil Code of Quebec which says that “no owner may be compelled to transfer his ownership except by expropriation according to law for public utility and in return for a just and prior indemnity.”“We will defend our rights so that this disguised expropriation, the public utility of which does not exist, is compensated at the fair value of our properties,” Utica CEO Mario Levesque said. “A leading independent expert has concluded that Utica’s properties would generate $67bn in future profits (net value of recoverable resources in place), the equivalent of $18bn in net present value using the discount rate of the court.”Levesque said previous Quebec administrations had invited the exploration and production of the province’s oil and gas resources, which include significant reserves of shale gas in the Utica formation, the northern edge in Canada of the Marcellus shale, the largest shale gas resource in the US.“We acted in good faith, found local and foreign investors and respected all of Quebec’s regulatory requirements,” he said. “Then from one day to the next, the government changed its mind for political reasons and effectively expropriated our properties without proper prior compensation.”Bill 21, Levesque added, “is completely irresponsible and without logic” and goes against the wishes of a “significant majority” of Quebec residents. “It is bad for Quebec, our European allies who desperately need our gas and even for the environment.” Utica’s action is the second legal challenge against Bill 21, which Quebec premier Francois Legault introduced in February and which the National Assembly passed in April. In May, Questerre Energy, which holds a Utica shale gas resource in Quebec’s St Lawrence Lowlands estimated at 6 trillion ft3, filed a statement of claim against the legislation, which has not yet been enacted, pending finalisation of associated regulations.

Utica Resources files lawsuit seeking billions of dollars if Quebec implements Bill 21 - Utica Resources Inc. filed a lawsuit this week seeking to invalidate the Quebec government’s ban on hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, or obtain billions of dollars in compensation for what it claims is an expropriation, giving new life to critics’ claims that the legislation will hamper economic development and prove counterproductive to the intended goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).In April, the Quebec legislature passed Bill 21 (not to be confused with the legislation aimed at strengthening the French language, which bears the same legislative designation). The law, which has received Royal Assent and will come into force as soon as regulations are promulgated, makes Quebec the first North American jurisdiction to ban hydrocarbon exploration and production.The legislation both bans future exploration and revokes existing licenses. Licence holders must permanently close their wells and restore their sites, but the government will only reimburse 75 per cent of the expenses incurred. Currently, 182 permits are extant, and 62 wells are subject to rehabilitation.Quebec has offered $100 million as compensation. But the offer does not account for potential revenue losses and falls far short of the $500 million the companies say they have spent exploring for oil and gas over the past 15 years. Nor does it take into account the value of the holdings themselves, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions. “If this law is upheld, it is a direct threat to individual property rights, a massive expropriation and a wrong signal to investors around the world,” said Mario Lévesque, chief executive of Utica Resources, which controls 20 per cent of all oil and gas claims in Quebec. “I did not believe that Canada would be a place where this could happen.”Nova Scotia Power fined $175K over 2018 Tufts Cove oil spill - Just over four months after a pipe leaked about 24,000 litres of oil at the Nova Scotia Power Plant in Tuft’s Cove, the utility says cleanup is complete. Alicia Draus has the latest – Dec 7, 2018 Nova Scotia’s power utility has been fined $175,000 over an oil spill at Tufts Cove four years ago. More than 24,000 litres of oil from a Nova Scotia Power generating station leaked into the Halifax Harbour in the summer of 2018.The company said the leak, which was discovered on Aug. 2 of that year, was due to a small section of a pipe that was corroded.Cleanup took more than four months.In a news release Tuesday, Environment and Climate Change Canada said Nova Scotia Power pleaded guilty to one charge under the Fisheries Act last week in provincial court.

Cut pipeline causes oil spill in Fyzabad - People from at least 12 homes in Fyzabad have been offered temporary housing as a result of Wednesday's oil leak in water courses off Gowers Well Road. The spill happened on the compound of Primera Oil and Gas Ltd, a subsidiary of Touchstone Exploration Inc. The company estimates that a maximum of 240 barrels of oil may have been spilled when vandals cut an oil transfer line. Workers from the company continued overnight cleanup work on Thursday to minimise the damage. A statement from Touchstone on Thursday afternoon said the source of the leak had been isolated and contained. It also said no injuries were reported. The company deemed the cut line an act of vandalism, and said it had notified all relevant authorities, including the police. Residents of the area said they began smelling the fumes on Wednesday evening, then spotted oil in the drains and other water courses and land. By that night, company representatives had told them about the spill and offered them food. The company also provided housing at a building at Delhi Road. Dial Samaroo said, "I did not take up the offer. I stayed home. He estimated about 40 people were affected. Samaroo said he saw oil in his drain while a cow was grazing in bush across the road. He said he alerted the owner, who removed the animal. He added, "Someone sabotaged the company. It is not the company's fault." Other residents said the leak was the latest incident in the area. Less than two weeks ago, someone set a gauge hut on fire. Nearby, someone spray-painted "Ask Kern where my money for my pipeline" on one of the company's tanks. No one has been held in connection with either incident. Another affected resident, Anand Mahabir, said he lost a goat and two kids, as the animals were grazing, and the grass became contaminated. The family also lost several ducks and common fowls. He said his two children were complaining about the fumes, but he did not get a chance on Thursday to take up the company's offer of a free medical checkup. The family spent the night at the building at Delhi Road. "We did not know what was going on. Last night was bad. "Right now, its is breezy, so it is not as bad. We are seeing people cleaning up. They worked throughout the night," a relative said. A neighbour, Marlene Ali, 69, said the same thing. "No one from the company talked to us. No one came and dropped off food for us. Workers are cleaning up. The smell is bad," she said.

Oil Majors Warn UK’s Windfall Tax Will Hurt North Sea Investment --Representatives of some of the biggest oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea on Thursday warned the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak that the new windfall tax on energy profits would undermine the government’s efforts to attract investment, industry body Offshore Energies UK said.Oil companies operating in the North Sea, including Shell, BP, and Equinor, warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer during a meeting today that a windfall tax could slow investments in new oil and gas production in the basin, Reuters energy reporter Ron Bousso reports.Moreover, David Cairns, representing Equinor in the meeting, told Sunak that the Norway-based major company has to decide on a major new oilfield development in 2023, but it “no longer knows if the UK is where we want to put our money,” Bousso reports, citing people who attended the meeting. Sunak met with 20 business leaders from the UK’s oil and gas industry in Aberdeen, the home of the UK North Sea oil and gas sector, and was told during a “candid and constructive” meeting that the industry was “deeply concerned” by the new tax rate, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) said.Following months of rumors and indecision, the UK government announced at the end of May a 25% Energy Profits Levy, commonly referred to as a “windfall tax”, as part of a package to ease the cost-of-living crisis stemming from huge rises in household energy bills.The move has long been opposed by the industry, which argued that a windfall tax would add uncertainty to the UK tax regime and hit new investments in the UK North Sea at a time when the UK grapples with reducing reliance on foreign imports of oil and gas.“The new rate has deeply concerned the industry, not only because it is so high but also because of the speed with which it was imposed. This sudden change in tax policy, Sunak was told, risks undermining the UK’s hard-won reputation for fiscal stability – a key factor for companies considering new investments,” Offshore Energies UK said in a statement today. The UK government has yet to finalize the details of the windfall tax proposal, which is open for public consultation until June 28.

 Diesel Price Shock Imminent As Reserves Drop, Refining Lags - Global diesel and gasoline markets are witnessing blowout crack spreads in the $50-60 per barrel (bbl) range, reflecting a clear lag in the refining system to respond effectively and decide between supplying diesel or gasoline, Rystad says. The precarious situation is driven by inventory stocks across the globe being at their lowest levels historically and, therefore, unable to provide the necessary shock absorbers. According to Rystad, the loss of Russian refining owing to operational outages and product containment challenges has caused a diesel/gasoline hole greater than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in Europe that is not easy to plug. “Diesel is the lifeblood of the global economy, essential to vital sectors such as agriculture, construction, and transportation – its price impacts almost all supply chains and goods. Governments face tough decisions. They can assist consumers by dropping taxes on diesel, but this will likely only increase demand, which may support the overall economy but will worsen the existing tight supply situation. “If supply does not improve, governments will be forced to enact emergency plans to limit sales to consumers to ensure essential sectors are kept going,” says Per Magnus Nysveen, Head of Analysis at Rystad Energy On the demand side, the recovery is resilient as residual Covid-related restrictions are being removed. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended removing all Covid testing requirements for incoming flights is one such clear indicator. On the supply side, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted product flows and crude flows to the European market at a time when the rest of the world has limited ways in which to respond. The loss of crude supply has hindered the shrinking European refining sector’s ability to run at high utilization rates and has accelerated a downward trend in Europe which has lost 2 million bpd of crude refining since its peak capacity of 17.5 million bpd in 2005. The US has been following a similar trend, losing between 1 million and 1.5 million bpd of refining capacity in the last 3-4 years. The move to phase out Hydrofluoric Acid Alkylation technology and lower availability of imported vacuum gas oil/residues has dented the US refining sector’s ability to increase gasoline production.

Germany Rations Gas Amid Russian Cuts, Mandates Return To Coal For Electricity Production --German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Sunday that the country will limit the use of natural gas for electricity production amid concerns about possible shortages caused by a cut in supplies from Russia. As a member of the environmentalist Green Party, Habeck pushed through legislation in April to raise Germany’s energy target to 80% renewables. He is also an opponent of nuclear energy. Habeck said that Germany will try to compensate for the move by increasing the burning of coal, a more polluting fossil fuel.“That’s bitter, but it’s simply necessary in this situation to lower gas usage,”The decision comes just days after Russian gas company Gazprom announced that it was sharply reducing supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline for technical reasons, but which Habeck said appeared to be politically motivated.“It’s obvious that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s strategy is to unsettle us by driving up the price and dividing us,” Habeck said. “We won’t let that happen.”Habeck's Press Release on Reducing Natural Gas Consumption.“The situation on the gas market has deteriorated in recent days. The missing quantities can still be replaced, and the gas storage tanks are still being filled, albeit at high prices. Security of supply is currently guaranteed. But the situation is serious. We are therefore further strengthening precautions and taking additional measures to reduce gas consumption. This means that gas consumption must continue to fall, so more gas must be stored in storage, otherwise things will get really tight in winter. We will now take the next steps. For months we have been in the process of sharpening tools, creating new ones and removing existing obstacles. We are accelerating the expansion of renewable energies in an unprecedented way, we are pushing through the storage of gas and driving the expansion of LNG terminals and energy efficiency measures. The urgency of these tasks determines our ongoing work. Now we're going to pull out and use another set of tools. We will reduce gas consumption in the electricity sector and in industry and force storage tanks to be filled. Depending on the situation, we will take further measures."“With the law, we are setting up a gas replacement reserve on demand. And I can already say: We will call off the gas replacement reserve as soon as the law comes into force. That means, to be honest, more coal-fired power plants for a transitional period. That's bitter, but in this situation it's almost necessary to reduce gas consumption. We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in summer and autumn. The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority," said Habeck.Germany has not yet had a port where liquid gas can be landed. However, this is necessary in order to strengthen the gas supply from non-Russian sources and thus become independent of Russian imports. The federal government is therefore pushing ahead with the construction of so-called floating LNG terminals. First, it has secured four special ships, so-called FSRU , on which liquid gas is converted back into gas. Secondly, with on LNG Acceleration Act, it has created the legal prerequisites to accelerate the construction of the necessary connections on land so that two of the four FSRU ships can go into operation in winter and thus LNG can be fed into the German gas supply network. Everyone involved is working hard on this.

‘The situation is serious’: Germany plans to fire up coal plants as Russia throttles gas supplies - Germany has said the deteriorating gas market situation means Europe's largest economy must limit the use of natural gas for electricity production and burn more coal for a "transitional period." Economy Minister Robert Habeck on Sunday warned that the situation is going to be "really tight in winter" without precautionary measures to prevent a supply shortage. As a result, Germany will seek to compensate for a cut in Russian gas supplies by increasing the burning of coal — the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel in terms of emissions and therefore the most important target for replacement in the transition toward renewable alternatives. "That's bitter, but it's almost necessary in this situation to reduce gas consumption. We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in summer and autumn," the Green Party's Habeck said in a statement, according to a translation. "The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority," he added. That comes shortly after an ominous warning from Russia's state-backed energy giant Gazprom exacerbated fears of a full supply disruption to the European Union. Gazprom said last week that it had further limited supplies via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the "tense situation and high prices are a direct consequence of Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine." Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images Gazprom cited a technical problem for the supply cut, saying the issue stemmed from the delayed return of equipment serviced by Germany's Siemens Energy in Canada. Habeck has rejected that claim, saying the move was politically motivated and designed to unsettle the region and ramp up gas prices. It's not yet known when or if Nord Stream 1 gas flows will return to normal levels.In fiery comments likely to have sent alarm bells ringing throughout European capitals, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Thursday that Russia will play by its own rules after the firm halved supplies to Germany. "Our product, our rules. We don't play by rules we didn't create," Miller said during a panel session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, according to The Moscow Times. Italy, Austria and Slovakia have also reported supply reductions from Russia.

Netherlands activates energy crisis plan, removes cap on coal plants - The Netherlands on Monday said it would activate the "early warning" phase of an energy crisis plan and lifted a cap on production by coal-fired power plants as it seeks to reduce reliance on Russian gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine. The Ukraine conflict has pushed several European countries to seek alternatives to Russian oil and gas. The Netherlands, which imported as much as 15 per cent of its gas from Russia, is already buying LNG and cutting back gas consumption, but still may face a shortage this winter. "With these measures, less money will flow to Putin's war chest," Dutch Energy Minister Rob Jetten said at a news conference in The Hague to announce the moves. Germany's economy ministry has taken similar action to lift caps on coal energy production. The Netherlands' removal of the cap on coal-fired energy production is expected to save 2 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas use per year. The country had capped production at 35 per cent of capacity at its coal-fired plants to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Jetten said the Netherlands would still meet 2030 climate goals. The Dutch government also announced plans to produce 2.8 billion bcm of gas from the Groningen gas field in the year ending October 2023. That is down from 4.5 bcm in the current production year, but previously the government had indicated close to zero production from Groningen in 2023. The Netherlands has been winding down production at the field for years due to earthquakes it triggers, but has left open the possibility that production could be increased if households were facing a physical shortage. The "early warning" phase of the country's three-phase crisis plan, alerts users, regulators and governments to a concrete threat of a gas shortage. The plan also includes "alarm" and "emergency" phases, though it remains unclear how industrial users' gas would be rationed in case of physical shortages. As of Monday, Dutch gas storage facilities were about 48 per cent full. The government announced a subsidy in May to encourage private companies to fill a key storage at Bergermeer. Its reserves have been filling up by several percentage points per week -- not quite quickly enough to meet a target of having them 80 per cent filled before winter.

Ukraine war: Europe turns to coal as Russia squeezes gas supplies -Reduced flows of Russian gas and the specter of a full supply disruption have prompted some European governments to reconsider coal, one of the dirtiest and most polluting ways of producing energy.It has stoked fears that the energy crisis could see Europe delay its transition away from fossil fuels, although policymakers insist the burning of coal is a necessary stopgap to help prevent a winter supply shortage.Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel in terms of emissions and therefore the most important target for replacement in the pivot to alternative energy sources.However, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have all indicated that coal-fired plants could be used to compensate for a cut in Russian gas supplies.Russia's state-backed energy giant Gazprom has cut capacity via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs to Germany under the Baltic Sea, citing the delayed return of equipment serviced by Germany's Siemens Energy in Canada.It's not clear when — or if — Nord Stream 1 gas flows will return to normal levels.German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has described the government's decision to limit the use of natural gas and burn more coal as a "bitter" one but said the country must do everything it can to store as much gas as possible ahead of winter."The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority," Habeck said in a statement, according to a translation.The Netherlands on Monday said it would activate an "early warning" phase of an energy crisis plan and remove a production cap at coal-fired plants to preserve gas, according to Reuters.Italy and Austria have also reported plans to consider burning more coal to offset a sharp drop in Russian gas supplies.

Russia is squeezing Europe’s gas supplies, sparking a bitter and reluctant return to coal - Reduced flows of Russian gas and the specter of a full supply disruption have prompted some European governments to reconsider coal, one of the dirtiest and most polluting ways of producing energy. It has stoked fears that the energy crisis could see Europe delay its transition away from fossil fuels, although policymakers insist the burning of coal is a necessary stopgap to help prevent a winter supply shortage. Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel in terms of emissions and therefore the most important target for replacement in the pivot to alternative energy sources. However, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have all indicated that coal-fired plants could be used to compensate for a cut in Russian gas supplies. Russia's state-backed energy giant Gazprom has cut capacity via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs to Germany under the Baltic Sea, citing the delayed return of equipment serviced by Germany's Siemens Energy in Canada. It's not clear when — or if — Nord Stream 1 gas flows will return to normal levels. The critical thing now is that they ensure that any new measures are temporary, and that we are on the pathway to fully exit coal in Europe by 2030 at the latest. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has described the government's decision to limit the use of natural gas and burn more coal as a "bitter" one but said the country must do everything it can to store as much gas as possible ahead of winter. "The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority," Habeck said in a statement, according to a translation. The Netherlands on Monday said it would activate an "early warning" phase of an energy crisis plan and remove a production cap at coal-fired plants to preserve gas, according to Reuters. Italy and Austria have also reported plans to consider burning more coal to offset a sharp drop in Russian gas supplies. "The worst-case scenario is energy rationing. That would be that non-essential industries are asked at the first stage to reduce consumption in return for compensation. That's a plan the government in Germany published over the weekend," Gloystein said. "The next step would be to ration industries and households and ask them to consume much less and that is something in Europe that most people have never experienced," he continued. "That in winter means people will get cold and, in some areas, if it is a cold winter, some people will die and that's politically really toxic and of course, it is a nasty situation to be in." European governments are currently scrambling to fill underground storage with natural gas supplies to provide households with enough fuel to keep the lights on and homes warm during winter.

Double Whammy Hits European Gas Markets Last week, a double whammy hit European gas markets, according to Rystad Energy analyst Zongqiang Luo. “First, it was confirmed that the Freeport LNG facility will be offline for 90 days before gradually ramping up LNG production by the end of the year,” Luo said in a market note sent to Rigzone on Tuesday, adding that the facility has been exporting most of its volumes to LNG thirsty Europe over the last months. “Secondly, and more seriously, what hit the European gas market even harder last week was that Nord Stream 1 reported that it will reduce exports from Russia to Europe from 167 million cubic meters (mcm) per day to 67 mcm per day,” Luo added. The news caused the TTF gas prices to surge from EUR 83 ($87.7) per MWh on Monday 13 to EUR 117 ($123.7) on June 17, Luo highlighted. “Germany has responded by introducing additional measures announced by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) on 19 June, which includes planned reductions in electricity use, introducing a gas auction model to reduce gas usage in the industrial sector in the hope that these moves will strengthen gas storage in Germany,” Luo said. “Germany also plans to partially shift to coal fired plants for power generation to meet electricity need, later similar decisions were proposed by Netherland and Australia that more coal should be burned to secure the energy demand in an emergency or if gas supplies from Russia are further restricted,” Luo added. “For Spain and Portugal, a one year period gas price cap had been put in force since 14 June with a total subsidy of EUR 8.4 billion [$8.8 billion] (EUR 6.3 billion [$6.6 billion] for Spain and EUR 2.1 billion [$2.2 billion] for Portugal) to lower the input costs of power plants and benefit end-users,” Luo continued. Looking at the U.S., Luo noted that Henry Hub gas prices slumped below $7 per MMBtu on the last trading day before the three-day holiday break, settling at $6.944 per MMBtu “following a huge drop on 14 June”. “With the higher than normal temperature, gas for power generation has reached the level of 5.29 TWh for the U.S. Lower 48 on 15 June and this indicates strong cooling demand in the power sector for the coming days,” Luo said. “EIA reported a storage level of 2095 billion cubic feet (bcf) on 16 June and a weekly net change of 92 bcf addition in underground storage. But the current storage is still 14 percent lower than the year ago level and 13 percent lower than the five-year average,” Luo added. “Therefore, there is little reason to believe that the U.S. gas price would step into a downward trend and the U.S. gas market is expected to remain tight with a blistering summer around the corner and relatively low storage levels,” Luo continued.

IEA: Europe Should Prepare For Complete Russian Gas Shutdown -- Europe should prepare for a complete suspension of Russian natural gas deliveries, the head of the International Energy Agency told the Financial Times in an interview.“Europe should be ready in case Russian gas is completely cut off,” Fatin Birol told the FT. “The nearer we are coming to winter, the more we understand Russia’s intentions,” he added. “I believe the cuts are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage, and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.”As a means of countering the worst effects of such a scenario, Birol advised European governments to keep nuclear power stations running and take other contingency measures, too. These other contingency measures seem to focus on demand.“I believe there will be more and deeper demand measures [taken by governments in Europe] as winter approaches,” Birol told the FT, adding gas rationing was a distinct possibility in case of further cuts to Russian gas supplies.In the past three months, Russia has cut off supply to several European countries that refused to pay for gas in rubles. It has also substantially reduced the flow along the Nord Stream, effectively cutting off supply to France and reducing flows to Germany by some 60 percent.Gazprom and its equipment maintenance service provider Siemens Energy have blamed the reduction on a turbine delivery delay resulting from new Canadian sanctions against Moscow. Germany has blamed Gazprom.The European Union’s largest economy is facing a certain recession in case Russian gas flows stop completely, an industry body warned this week. BDI cut its growth projection for Germany to 1.5 percent from 3.5 percent for this year and said that if Russia cuts off the gas, the economy will inevitably slip into a recession. Meanwhile, to make up for lost gas supply, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands are restarting coal power plants. The IEA’s Birol defended the move in his FT interview, saying the restart was temporary and whatever the increase in emissions, it would be offset by future renewable energy capacity.

Egypt, US Chevron agree on East Mediterranean gas exploration, transfer – Middle East Monitor - The state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and the United States Chevron Corporation have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate in activities of transporting, importing and liquefying the exports of East Mediterranean gas, the country's petroleum ministry announced yesterday.The ministry added in a statement that Chevron was planning to "drill the first exploration well in its concession area in the Mediterranean Sea next September." On its part, Chevron recently signed three agreements last year with its partner, Egyptian Tharwa Petroleum, to explore for natural gas in three regions in the Mediterranean, including North Sidi Barani, Narges offshore, and North El Dabaa.

EU signs energy deal with Egypt and Israel to wean itself off Russian gas – As Europe scrambles to wean itself off Russian oil and gas and tries to confront Russia for its use of energy to blackmail European countries, the EU signed in Cairo last Wednesday a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Egypt and Israel, aimed at using the energy potential of Eastern Mediterranean to cover the shortfall in energy supplies to Europe. It should be noted that in the wake of the war in Ukraine, Gazprom- the Russian energy giant-has halted gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria and has drastically reduced supplies to Germany, Italy and France. The preliminary deal reached in Cairo, which was described as “a historic agreement” was signed by Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum, Tarek El Molla, Israel’s Energy Minister, Karine Elharrar, and the EU’s Energy Commissioner, Kadri Simson. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU Commission, who was present at the signing ceremony, said the MoU was “a big step forward in the energy supply to Europe that would put an end to EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuel”, while Elharrar pointed out that Egypt and Israel make a commitment to share their natural gas with Europe to help with the energy crisis. For his part, Egypt’s Petroleum Minister Tarek el-Molla described the deal as “an important milestone for cooperation between Egypt, Israel, and the EU. “The move is a benchmark that opens the road for concluding more deals in the future,” El-Molla said. In a statement, the European Union explained that the agreement envisages that natural gas from Israel, Egypt and other sources in the Eastern Mediterranean region will be shipped to Europe via Egypt’s liquefied natural gas export infrastructure. This would be done in line with “long-term decarbonization objectives” and would be based on market-related prices. Furthermore, the EU declared that it would also help Egypt and Israel increase gas production and exploration in their respective territorial waters. It also pledged relief worth USD 104 million to Egypt, which is facing acute grain shortages due to the Ukraine war. The Memorandum signed envisages that gas from Israel will be brought via a pipeline to two LNG terminals on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, where significant quantities will be liquefied and transported on tankers to Europe, increasing in this way Egyptian LNG exports. As Eni, the Italian Energy Company has developed a giant gas discovery off Egypt, it is expected that the volume of natural gas that will be exported to Europe will increase significantly. Israeli gas will be brought to Egypt’s two liquefaction plants – which are currently not operating at full capacity- and will increase the gas volumes to be exported or will free up for export gas currently used in Egypt for domestic consumption. More significantly it could prove a major step in realizing the long-discussed potential of the Eastern Mediterranean as an important energy supplier for European industries. However, a significant increase in gas exports from Israel via Egypt would require major long-term infrastructure investments, particularly as other countries like Cyprus or Lebanon which are believed to have commercial quantities of natural gas may join the project.

Lebanon signs deal with Egypt to import natural gas via Syria - - Lebanon has signed a deal to import natural gas from Egypt via Syria to boost power supply in the crisis-stricken country, AFP reported on Tuesday. Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayad, Egyptian and Syrian officials signed the deal in Beirut earlier today. "The importance of this deal... stems from the fact that it will secure an additional four hours of electricity per day following its implementation," Fayad told a press conference following the signing event. In September 2021, Egypt agreed to supply Lebanon with natural gas for its power plants through Jordan and Syria in a revival of the Arab Gas Pipeline to help Lebanon in its longtime crippling electricity problem amid the country's worst-ever financial crisis. The Egyptian gas is expected to activate gas-operated power plants that have been non-functional for 11 years. In statements to Lebanese Al-Joumhouria newspaper on Monday, Fayad said the agreement stipulates that 650 million cubic metres (22.95 billion cubic feet) of gas will be exported to Lebanon through the pipeline annually to the Deir Ammar power station in the north. This is expected to lead to the production of 450 megawatts of electricity, Fayad added. The deal is a part of wider efforts – which include a separate electricity deal with Jordan – to boost supply by eight to 10 hours a day in the coming months, up from just two currently. Two years into Lebanon's economic meltdown, the cash-strapped state is struggling to purchase fuel for its power stations. With mains electricity effectively non-existent, many rely on private generators, but prices have increased after the government lifted fuel subsidies as global fuel prices soared. Lebanon's crumbling electricity sector has cost the country more than $40 billion since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war. Successive governments have failed to cut down on losses, repair crumbling infrastructure or even collect electricity bills regularly across the country.

Iraq Joins Liquefied Gas Market - Iraq has entered the market for liquefied petroleum gas, with its first shipment ever taking place this week.In a statement, the Iraqi Oil Ministry said that first shipment was an achievement and quoted the managing director of Basra Gas Company, Malcolm Mayes, as saying it was a "historic moment".A report by an Iraqi media earlier this week inaccurately stated that Iraq had started exporting LNG.Liquefied petroleum gas is used for cooking in developing nations as well as for powering internal combustion engine vehicles."Today, we can load and export compressed and semi-cooled liquefied gas," said Mayes this week, as quoted by Shafaq. He added that "this step allows us to triple our exports globally via tankers. We will also gain access to many global markets that use the semi-cooled liquefied gas exclusively."Iraq has been busy trying to make the most of its hydrocarbon reserves, including associated gas, a by-product of oil extraction, both for the domestic market and for international markets.The country is now eager to develop its natural gas reserves in addition to oil, in a bid to reduce its dependence on Iranian imports. Recently, as part of these efforts, the Iraqi government sealed a deal with a subsidiary of China's CNPC for the construction of a gas processing plant in Naserya.Reducing gas flaring—the burning of associated gas at oilfields—is also among Iraq's energy industry priorities. Capturing the gas, liquefying it, and exporting it appears to be a viable avenue of development."Our strategic plan for the future is to maximise semi-refrigeration exports and eventually participate in the global LPG-trading market when we start exporting fully refrigerated LPG," BGC's Mayes also said this week, as quoted by The National.

Gas production at South Pars Phase 11 to start in Oct. - - Speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, the Iranian oil minister briefed them on the latest situation of gas production in South Pars and the work on the development of the Phase 11 of the giant gas field in the Persian Gulf which is shared with Qatar. "Although the last and most uncertain phase of South Pars was phase 11, and the French Total company, despite having studied it, stopped work on it and gave up the project due to sanctions, during the President Raeisi's government and at the start of the new Oil Ministry, the issue of extracting from the phase 11 was put on agenda and We have made the beginning of the implementation of phase 11 our priority, and with the measures and initiatives taken by our colleagues in the ministry, I promise you that we will start the production at phase 11 in October," Owji said. "It is expected that 670 million cubic feet of gas per day will be extracted from South Pars Phase 11 and for this purpose we have used the capacity and capablities of domestic companies," he added.

Oil giants to build world's largest floating wind farm in Norway - A consortium of oil giants headed by Equinor and including TotalEnergies, Petoro, Shell and ConocoPhillips are set to commence a feasibility study into what could be the world's largest floating offshore wind farm, 65km off the coast of Bergen, Norway. The Trollvind farm could produce as much as 4.3TWh, with an installed capacity of 1GW, and could supply much of the power needed to run the Troll and Oseberg offshore fields, which it forms a part of, through an onshore connection. Read more: Poland celebrates its "golden decade" of solar power The Bergen area already provides for several of Equinor and its partners' wind farms, but it requires more power on its energy grid, which is the reason for this new study. The current plan is that the partners will buy as much energy for the site as it can produce at a cheap price to make the project possible, in the hopes that, once set up, the project can aid in the rapid electrification of oil and gas - hoping to lower the sector's emissions while energy firms look for alternate forms of generation. Equinor CEO Anders Opedal hopes that by ensuring oil and gas operates at lower emissions it can help Norway's energy sector remain competitive as the world looks to shift away from fossil fuels. He also belies it could make generation more consistent as electrification adds many optimisations. "Trollvind is a concept where renewable energy works to facilitate several objectives; helping cut emissions through electrification, delivering power to an area where shortages have already created challenges for new industrial development, and Norway maintains its position as a leader in the industrialisation of floating offshore wind", he said.

Russia Demands Lithuania Lift "Openly Hostile" Blockade; Panic Buying Ensues --The Russian Foreign Ministry has responded to Lithuania's partial blockade of Kaliningrad, writing in a statement that they consider the "provocative measures" to be "openly hostile" and warning that the Kremlin may take action to "protect its national interests." Kaliningrad is sandwiched between the EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Supplies from Russia are delivered via rail and gas pipelines through Lithuania - which announced last week that it was banning the rail transit of goods subject to EU sanctions, which include coal, advanced technology, metals and construction materials. "If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests," the statement reads. They have demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the ban on a number of goods to the Kaliningrad region. Earlier Monday, the Kremlin called Lithuania's announcement "unprecedented" and "in violation of everything there is." "The situation is more than serious and it requires a very deep analysis before formulating any measures and decisions," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a statement to the press. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said they were simply complying with sanctions imposed by the EU, and that they were taken after "consultation with the European Commission and under its guidelines." "Sanctioned goods (will) no longer be allowed to transit Lithuanian territory," he added.

NATO’s Baltic blockade opens new front in war against Russia - On Monday, the Baltic state of Lithuania, a member of NATO, imposed an effective blockade on Russia, preventing the transportation of many goods, including steel and coal, to its external enclave of Kaliningrad, which is separated from the rest of Russia by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Traditionally, the imposition of a blockade has been seen as an act of war. With this reckless provocation, the United States and its NATO allies are seeking to goad Russia into a military attack on NATO territory, which would lead to the invocation of Article V of the NATO Charter and a full-scale war with Russia. Faced with a series of military reversals on the ground in Ukraine, the US, NATO and the European powers are seeking to open a new, northern front in the war. Lithuanian officials implied that the decision to implement the blockade against Russia was taken in close consultation with other NATO members and Washington. “It is not Lithuania doing anything, it is European sanctions that started working,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said. Responding to the blockade, Russia’s foreign ministry bluntly warned, “If cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation via Lithuania is not fully restored in the near future, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.” A sharp warning must be made. The United States and European powers, each facing a raging economic, social, and political crisis and fearing a growing social movement of the working class, are recklessly escalating a war that threatens the use of nuclear weapons. The imposition of a blockade against Russia by a NATO member comes just days after a series of highly provocative statements by European military and civilian leaders. In an internal message to military service members, Sir Patrick Sanders, the incoming chief of the British general staff, declared, “There is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle.” In a chilling allusion to the First and Second World Wars, he concluded, “We are the generation that must prepare the Army to fight in Europe once again.” Speaking to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We must not cease to support Ukraine... we need to prepare for the fact that it could take years.” Writing Saturday in the Times of London, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on NATO to “finish this war on the terms that President Zelensky has laid out,” that is, to reconquer the Donbas and Crimea, which Russia sees as part of its territory. In yet another blood-curdling threat, Ingo Gerhartz, head of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), declared that Germany must be prepared to use nuclear weapons, saying, “We need both the means and the political will to implement nuclear deterrence.” Already, hundreds of Ukrainian troops are dying every single day. What would it mean for the UK and other European countries to fight “alongside” Ukrainian forces in a war against Russia and for this conflict to last “years”? European officials are describing a war spanning the entirety of the European continent, with deaths in the hundreds of thousands or millions. All of Europe is to be transformed into a massive killing field. /p>

Lithuania’s Step Too Far — Blockade of Kaliningrad Draws No Support from US, UK, EU, NATO, as Russia Prepares “Practical Steps”, “No Diplomacy” - The action the Lithuanian government implemented over the weekend to stop Russian trains carrying sanctioned cargos into Kaliningrad is regarded in Moscow as a long anticipated move, prompted among Lithuanian officials by the British government. The initial Lithuanian embargo action has been followed by a second one this week extending the blockade to trucks and road transport. Neither action has been publicly announced by the Lithuanian government.The first news came from Anton Alikhanov, the governor of the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad, following a notice sent to him by Lithuanian officials. That notice has not been published.Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda (lead image) has said nothing.Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte announced through the British Broadcasting Corporation that the blockade was not a blockade because only some cargoes were halted, and because “Lithuania is complying with the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia for its aggression and war against Ukraine ” . She also told the British state radio “it was important not to overreact”.She tweeted: “Any talk of a blockade of Kaliningrad is a lie. Lithuania is complying with the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia for its aggression and war against Ukraine. The sanctions were agreed by all the EU member states on March 15…. Passenger transit is also taking place, under a special agreement by the EU, RU, & LT. Steel and ferrous metal products account for only around 1% of the total rail freight to Kaliningrad via LT.”In the three days which have followed the Lithuanian action, the US and British Governments, the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have not supported the Lithuanian blockade.The Russian Security Council met on Wednesday morning, but issued no statement on Lithuania. The Secretary of the Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who was in Kaliningrad on Tuesday, had announced there that the “consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”Yesterday, at the same time as President Vladimir Putin was chairing the Security Council meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced it is delaying “concrete measures” in reaction: “The measures will not be diplomatic, but practical, they are now being worked out in an interdepartmental format, We are not talking about this not because we are hiding something, but because the process of their coordination and elaboration is underway. I would like to emphasize once again (the third time for today’s briefing): we have told the European Union and Lithuania about the need to change the steps they have taken. Perhaps something from that side will be changed, and, accordingly, our reaction will be different.”Here is a compilation of the official documents.

Moscow and NATO could be about to clash over Russia's European exclave Kaliningrad -A new front in tensions between Russia and NATO has opened up after one of the Western military alliance's members, Lithuania, banned the transit of some goods coming from Russia to its exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Russia has vowed to retaliate over what it described as the "hostile actions" of Lithuania, warning of "serious" consequences, while NATO members have reiterated their support for the country. Here's a brief guide to what's going on, and why it matters as the Russia-Ukraine conflict rumbles on in the background. Lithuania said last week that it would ban the transit of some EU-sanctioned goods coming from Russia across its territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The government said the blockade would apply to all EU-sanctioned goods coming from the mainland via rail, effectively blocking the transit of metals, coal, construction materials and high-technology products to the Russian sea port. Lithuania said that its decision was taken after consultation with the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, and that it's enforcing sanctions on Russia that were imposed following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Russia responded to Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, by calling the move an "unprecedented" and "hostile" act, with its Foreign Ministry issuing a statement Tuesday in which it said "if in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests." Kaliningrad is a small Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea and sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It is home to over 900,000 people and covers an area of around 160 square miles. Once part of the German empire, it was seized by Soviet troops from Nazi Germany in 1945 and has remained in Russian hands ever since, becoming an important seaport for Russia allowing it straightforward access to the Baltic Sea. Indeed, the Kaliningrad Oblast (or province) acts as the headquarters of Russia's Baltic Fleet. The fleet holds regular military drills in the Baltic Sea, having completed 10 days of exercises on June 19 that involved 60 warships and 10,000 military personnel. A disused border crossing point to Russia is seen on April 15, 2022 in Nida, Lithuania. Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, on the shore of the Baltic Sea, is sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland and is the Baltic coasts most strategic transport and trade port. Paulius Peleckis | Getty Images News | Getty Images Lithuania's ban on the transit of some EU-sanctioned goods, announced last Friday and implemented on Saturday, prompted panic buying in Kaliningrad. The region's governor, Anton Alikhanov, insisted Russia would increase the number of cargo ships transiting goods from St. Petersburg to the exclave over the remainder of the year.

Russia reportedly suspends shipment of Kazakh oil - Russia suspended the shipment of oil from Kazakhstan exported to Europe through the port of Novorossiysk, Kommersant reported citing sources. More than 50 objects that may be a World War II-era explosive devices were found in the port waters, according to sources. After their discovery, the port water area was closed and as a result, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which supplies oil from Kazakhstan for export, was suspended. Works on de-mining the water area are scheduled for June 20. They may last until the end of the month, Novorossiysk port administration said. Kazakhstan annually supplies 67 million tons of oil through Russia to Europe. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium had already stopped the operation around 3 months ago, when the pipeline was reportedly damaged during the storm. According to experts, the world market lost about 1 million barrels of oil per day during the three weeks of repair work. Kazakhstan's Energy Minister Bolat Akchulakov said that the temporary suspension of oil shipments will not affect oil exports of the country.

Sri Lanka contacts Russian firm for crude oil: Minister - Sri Lanka has reached out to several companies suggested by Russia's embassy in Colombo to buy crude oil, Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Sunday, in an attempt by the debt-ridden island nation to get oil on credit to keep its only oil refinery running. Wijesekera told the media that the Russian ambassador in Colombo "asked me to send the replies of the company, and he will also intervene in the process". The minister said he had replies from the Russian companies suggested by the ambassador, Sri Lanka's Economy Next news portal reported. "Also we have sent the message to the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Russia, Janitha Liyanage, the minister said, adding that the process was taking time. Sri Lanka has already bought one shipment of Siberian crude from Dubai-based Coral Energy in the international market, officials have said. However, the Russian state companies are reportedly giving crude at lower prices to countries that can afford to pay. Sri Lanka's sole refinery is now running with the last Siberian crude shipment. Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948. Due to monetary instability triggered by central bank money printing, Sri Lanka has forex shortages, making it difficult to find dollars at fixed prices for large import bills.

India's Russian imports up 3.5 times on oil buys despite Western pressure - On the back of rising crude oil purchases, India’s bill for imports from sanctions-hit Russia jumped 3.5 times in a year in April to $2.3 billion, showed data from the commerce ministry. In April, India’s crude oil imports from Russia were valued at $1.3 billion, 57 per cent of India’s total inbound shipments from Russia. Other major imported items during the month included coal, soybean and sunflower oil, fertilisers, and non-industrial diamonds. That month, Russia was also the fourth-largest crude petroleum supplier to India, after Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As far as overall imports are concerned, Russia was the sixth largest import partner in April. During the same month last year, Russia was the 7th biggest source of crude oil for India and on an overall basis, it ranked 21st among India’s import partners. Russia was also India’s 9th largest trading partner in April (including both exports and imports), with the size of trade at $2.42 billion. This even as the value of outbound shipments to Russia nosedived to $96 million in April, down by 59 per cent year-on-year. Top items exported to Russia during the month included electrical machinery and equipment, iron and steel, pharmaceutical products, marine products, and automobile components. Crude oil imports to India from Russia are on the rise since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The invasion was followed by economic sanctions on Russia by the US and its allies, in an attempt to isolate the country from global trade and this led to spike in commodity prices. Despite pressure from Western nations, India did not pick a side and it chose to maintain a neutral stance considering its historical relationship with Russia. India was also criticised for continuing trade with Russia despite the imposition of economic sanctions. India on various global fora has been defending its stand holding that petroleum products do not fall under the ambit of sanctions by Western countries and New Delhi has always looked to diversify its energy sources. “If you're looking at energy purchases from Russia, I'd suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe. We do buy some energy, which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at figures, our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in April during a press conference for the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.

Russia oil demand surge in Asia offsets Europe cuts - A surge in demand from Asia for discounted Russian oil is making up for the sharply lower number of barrels being sold to Europe, dulling the effects of the West's efforts to punish Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and keeping revenue flowing to the Kremlin. Most of the additional oil has gone to two countries: China and India. China's imports of Russian oil rose 28% in May from the previous month, hitting a record high and helping Russia overtake Saudi Arabia as China's largest supplier. And most of the increase went to India, which has gone from taking in almost no Russian oil to bringing in more than 760,000 barrels a day, according to shipping data analysed by Kpler, a market research firm. Although South Korea and Japan have cut back on Russian oil, those volumes are a fraction of what is being bought by China and India. "Asia has savedRussian crude production," said Viktor Katona, an analyst at Kpler. "Russia, instead of falling further, is almost close to its prepandemic levels." Russian oil is being sold at a steep discount because of the risks associated with sanctions imposed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Even so, soaring energy prices have led to an uptick in oil revenue for Russia, which took in $1.7 billion more last month than it did in April, according to the International Energy Agency. Although it remains to be seen how much Asia will continue buying the oil as Europe weans itself off Russian energy, the shift has allowed Moscow to maintain its production levels and defy analysts' expectations that its output would plunge. Russian crude sales dropped by 554,000 barrels a day to Europe from March to May, while Asia refiners increased their take by 503,000 barrels a day - nearly a replacement of one for one. Of those, 165,000 barrels are going to China from eastern Russian ports. Russian sales to India reached a record 841,000 barrels a day in May, eight times the annual average from last year.

Russian Oil Disappears as Tankers Go Dark -Russian oil cargoes are increasingly disappearing from view in the Atlantic Ocean as sanctions against the nation’s exports ratchet up. In the past 10 days, at least three tankers have vanished from vessel-tracking systems as they approached the Azores, a tiny group of islands about 950 miles west of mainland Portugal. They probably transfered their consignments onto other vessels. Such transfers didn’t happen there before Russia invaded Ukraine, let alone out of view of satellite monitoring. It’s not clear why the ships have gone dark -- it could be that some buyers want to conclude their purchases as privately as possible. The European Union instituted a ban on Russian oil buying that fully enters into force only in December. Some Russian cargoes are also starting to disappear from view while en route to Asia. Ship-to-ship transfers are commonplace in the oil market and Russian cargoes have for years been switched off the coast of Denmark and more recently in the Mediterranean and even off the Azores. What’s less regular is for them to disappear from view. That’s a tactic that has often been used for sanctioned flows from the likes of Iran and Venezuela. Vessels will move next to each other and -- normally -- the smaller tanker will discharge its load into a bigger one. That larger ship will then transport the cargo on a long-distance trade route, often to Asia.M

Asia clean tanker rates sail to record high on brisk demand for refined products - Clean tanker rates across Asia-Pacific reached multiyear highs June 16, and a record for some routes, as strong demand to lift naphtha cargoes from the Persian Gulf and deliver distillates to Africa and Australia drove up the daily earnings of owners, despite rising bunker prices. Ships are ballasting to Asia from almost every corner of the world to push up their earnings. It is definitely positive for the owners to position their fleet in the East, one of the brokers said. Owners of both Long Range I and II, or LR1s and LR2s, are raking in the moolah, earning around $55,000 daily at current freight on the benchmark Persian Gulf-Japan route, according to brokers’ estimates. Earnings are even better for Medium Range, or MR, tankers around $60,000/day on the key Singapore-Australia route, prompting ships to ballast from even Latin America. Clean tankers are enjoying hefty earnings at a time when the dirty tankers are bleeding, with VLCCs bearing daily losses of more than $20,000 on key Persian Gulf-East Asia routes. Fundamentals are totally different for VLCCs, where heavy supply with hardly any scrappings in recent years, is more than sufficient to meet the current demand, said a broker in Singapore. A flurry of LR1 fixtures, including at least 10 since late-last week to move naphtha on the Middle East-North Asia routes, is pushing up rates for the last five successive trading days, gaining a whopping 145 Worldscale points during the period, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights data. Owners are holding back their ships in anticipation of even further increase, said a chartering executive in North Asia. “Charterers are not looking, but instead begging for LR1s,” said a broker in Copenhagen. MR rates on the key South Korea-Australia and Persian Gulf-East Africa routes are in uncharted territory, at all-time highs, breaking the previous records set in April 2020, according to S&P Global data.

Russia is now China's biggest oil supplier, overtaking Saudi Arabia as Western demand for its crude has dropped - Russia has vaulted ahead of OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia to become China's biggest supplier of oil, according to data released on Monday by the Chinese General Administration of Customs. Russia supplied 2.02 million barrels per day to China in May, up from 1.31 million in April, the data showed. This is a jump of almost 30% from the previous month, and of 55% from May 2021. Saudi Arabia has traditionally been China's biggest supplier. It exported 1.88 million barrels per day in May, marking a drop of 12.5% from the 2.15 million in April, forfeiting market share in the world's biggest importer of commodities to Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. "The expectation that Russian crude would cease to be traded on international markets has not transpired, and instead the steep discount on Russian crude has seen vessels redirected to alternative markets," Wei Cheong Ho, vice president of downstream at consultancy Rystad Energy, said. "While the cost of financing these vessels and trades has increased significantly due to be freezing out of the Western financial system, the discount on Urals is too attractive for some refiners to ignore," he said. In May, China imported 1.13 million barrels a day from Iraq, 982,000 barrels a day from the UAE, and 956,000 from Oman, the data shows. Imports from both the UAE and Oman were up by around a third from April, according to the data. China, like India, has been snapping up Russian oil at discounted prices following the invasion of Ukraine. Western nations have reduced their imports of Russian gas and oil to try cut off funding to for Moscow's military machine and ultimately put pressure on Putin to end to the war. Russia has responded by halting natural gas supplies to some European countries over their refusal to meet a demand to pay in rubles. The European Union relies on Russia for around 40% of its natural gas needs, but it cuts both ways. The EU is Russia's biggest natural gas customer, accounting for over 70% of its gas exports.

Huge Fire Breaks Out at Sinopec's Shanghai Complex, Leaving 1 Dead - A huge fire broke out Saturday at the headquarters of a petrochemical facility in southeast Shanghai and at least one person died. The fire started around at 4 a.m. at an ethylene glycol processing unit owned by Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical, a state-owned oil company whose headquarters are in an industrial park in the suburban Jinshan district. Firefighters were able to put the blaze under control, the company said in a statement posted to its Chinese social media account. Sinopec said a “third-party driver” had died in the disaster and that one of its employees was injured. “The specific cause is under further investigation,” the company said. Videos on social media of the scene showed raging fires and huge plumes of dark smoke rising from what appeared to be part of Sinopec facility, which is separated from the district’s residential area. Some residents living near the facility fled their buildings after hearing loud bangs from the explosion and described a pungent smell from a few miles away, according to a local media report. The company said that the blaze had been “effectively controlled” but that it was carrying out “protective burning.” Sinopec said it was monitoring the area for volatile organic compounds and had yet to detect any harmful impact on local water supplies.

Coast Guard monitoring marine pollution, if any, from sunken vessel - The Coast Guard is using six vessels and two aircraft in its effort to check marine pollution in case of an oil spill from the sunken foreign vessel, mv Princess Miral. In a press release here, Karnataka Coast Guard Commander and Deputy Inspector-General S.B. Venkatesh said that six vessels and two Dornier aircraft are being used for monitoring, mapping and combating oil spill in the area. In addition, two vessels from local resource agencies are being used, he said. The damaged and sunken merchant vessel, Mr. Venkatesh said, is said to be carrying more than 220 tonnes of fuel onboard. The Coast Guard is coordinating with the State administration, Pollution Control Board, New Mangalore Port Authority, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. to prevent any threat of large scale oil spill from the sunken vessel. “So far, only a minor sheen of oil, assessed to be from engine bilges and dirty water tanks, has been observed,” he said. To achieve sustained operations, he said, a specialised pollution control vessel, ICGS Samudra Pavak, has sailed from Porbandar. It will arrive in Mangaluru in the morning on Saturday. “The entire area is being continuously monitored for any marine pollution eventuality,” he said.

After oil spill incident, Jadestone shuts in Australian field pending tank repairs - AIM-listed and Singapore-headquartered oil and gas player Jadestone Energy has been forced to halt production from its field in the Timor Sea offshore Australia in preparation for repairs following an oil leak.Jadestone Energy revealed on Monday that during the transfer of crude oil between two crude oil tanks onboard the FPSO Montara Venture at its Montara field off Australia, oil was observed on the surface of the sea adjacent to the FPSO on Friday, 17 June 2022. Due to this incident during the routine production and crude oil cargo operations, the transfer operations ceased immediately and production from the Montara fields was shut in as a precautionary measure.The company informed that the release of oil to sea was quickly halted by pumping water into the tank, indicating a leak somewhere at the tank base. Afterwards, a subsequent inspection using an ROV confirmed a small 30mm diameter hole in the bottom of the tank. Having now controlled the release of oil, Jadestone says that its next step will be to apply a temporary repair in order to remove the remaining oil from the tank. Following this, the firm advised that the tank will be accessed and cleaned in order to complete an inspection and permanent repair..Jadestone confirmed that this is the same work plan which has already been applied to all the other main crude oil storage tanks, as part of the five-yearly inspection and repair programme.According to Jadestone, the volume of released oil is estimated at three to five cubic metres, which was monitored and had fully dispersed by the morning of 19 June 2022. The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) was notified of the incident immediately and will initiate an onsite inspection of the Montara facilities on 21 June 2022.The firm’s preliminary estimate is that it will take approximately four weeks to complete the tank inspection and effect repairs sufficient to re-commence production at Montara, with appropriate isolation of the crude oil tank. Following consultation with key stakeholders, Jadestone intends to conduct a full remediation programme, similar to that which has been completed on all the other main crude oil tanks.

Nigeria: Supreme Court upholds freeze on Shell’s asset sale - Al Jazeera (video) Nigeria’s Supreme Court is set to rule on a lower court’s decision halting oil major Shell from selling its assets in Nigeria until a dispute over a 2019 oil spill is resolved between the company and a community in the oil-rich Niger Delta.In March, a high court had barred Shell from any asset sale in Nigeria until a decision is reached on the dispute. Eighty-eight communities in Rivers State were awarded $1.95bn compensation for an oil spill they blamed on Shell and which damaged their farms and waterways.Shell, which denied causing the spill, appealed the compensation verdict and the ruling blocking the sale of its assets. The company then went on to advertise for bids for the assets after filing an appeal.But the Supreme Court, in a ruling dated June 16, said the parties should “maintain the status quo” until a hearing of all applications from Shell and the communities later this year.“What the status quo means here is that there should be no bids, no sales until the hearing of the applications which has been fixed for November 3, 2022,” Mohammed Ndarani, the lawyer representing the Delta communities, told Reuters on Monday. The delta, the source of crude in Africa’s largest producer, is a poverty-stricken region, where life expectancy is 10 years lower than the national average. Residents have become accustomed to decades of spills, gas flares and other issues like coastal erosion.Shell wants to sell its stake in Nigeria’s onshore fields, where it has been active since the 1930s, as part of a global drive to reduce its carbon emissions.The company, the most significant international oil major operating in Nigeria, has faced a string of court cases in the past over oil spills.In April, Shell said the volume of crude oil spills caused by sabotage in the delta more than doubled to 3,300 tonnes last year, a level last seen in 2016.

Nigeria, Angola won't meet OPEC output quotas for at least another year: IEA | S&P Global Commodity Insights - Top African oil producers Nigeria and Angola are unlikely to meet current OPEC output quotas for at least another year as persistent underinvestment and maintenance issues have crippled energy facilities, according to the International Energy Agency. Nigeria, the region's largest producer, has seen production plunge to its lowest level in more than 30 years to 1.23 million b/d in May, according to estimates by S&P Global Commodity Insights, due to a host of security, operational and technical problems since early 2021. Nigeria's crude and condensate production is almost half its 2.2 million b/d output capacity, with key oil fields and terminals struggling, exacerbated by a resurgence in attacks on oil infrastructure. Angola, meanwhile, Africa's third biggest producer, has also seen output plummet from close to 1.8 million b/d five years ago to 1.16 million b/d in May, according to the Platts OPEC survey. Angolan crude output had been on a steep downward trajectory because of technical and operational problems at some fields, aggravated by a lack of upstream investment and incentives. The last time Angola's crude production was at these levels was in 2006 when output from its offshore fields was still ramping up. The IEA noted in its special report on Africa on June 20 that "persistent underinvestment and maintenance have left many facilities in key African OPEC producers struggling to restart and ramp up production." The report added that Nigeria and Angola are not expected to be able to meet their current OPEC quotas "for at least another year, having produced almost 300,000 b/d less than their combined quotas throughout 2021." Nigeria has an OPEC quota of 1.753 million b/d and Angola has a quota of 1.465 million b/d, with Platts estimates suggesting current overcompliance with output cuts at 788% and 584% respectively -- the two largest among the OPEC producers. Platts Analytics expects Nigerian crude supply to recover towards 1.5 million b/d in the fourth quarter of 2022, but that would still suggest a very limp recovery. Further out, Nigerian crude production is not expected to reach much more than 1.51 million b/d in 2023 and could dip lower by the end of next year, according to Platts Analytics. Meanwhile, Angola's crude production is forecast to continue declining in the coming years, dipping below 1 million b/d by 2024. "The sharp fall in oil demand and prices at the start of the pandemic led to a near 20% drop in oil production in Africa," the IEA noted as it documented a tale of woe in its report, which point to "flagging" investment in African oil and natural gas production since the price downturn in 2014.

Namibia Bets On Recent Major Oil Discoveries To Double Its Economy Following several offshore oil discoveries in recent months, Namibia hopes that the major oil finds could help it double its economy in the next two decades, the head of the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (NAMCOR) told Bloomberg on Tuesday.Since the beginning of the year, oil majors Shell and TotalEnergies have announced discoveries offshore the African country.“More than 30 years of exploration and we finally we hit the jackpot,” Jennifer Comalie, NAMCOR’s chairperson, told Bloomberg in an interview.“At peak, these two discoveries could bring $5.6 billion to a very small economy,” Comalie said.The economy of Namibia, neighbor to the south of OPEC producer Angola, is currently valued at around $11 billion.Namibia could begin production around 2030 or a little bit earlier if appraisals for the recent discoveries support initial estimates and, of course, majors commit to developing those discoveries while they look to become net-zero energy companies by 2050.In April, Shell said it was “very encouraged” by the early results from the deep-water Graff-1 exploration well completed earlier this year.“Over the coming months, we’ll need to conduct further evaluation of the well results, and additional exploration activity, in order to determine the size and recoverable potential of the hydrocarbons that were identified,” said Dennis Zekveld, Shell’s Country Chair in Namibia.Shell also made a second discovery in the Orange basin in April.In the same basin offshore southern Namibia, TotalEnergies has made a significant discovery of light oil with associated gas on the Venus prospect, the French supermajor said in February this year. TotalEnergies also needs to proceed with appraisal drilling operations in the area in order to assess the commercial prospects for the discovery.

Time is running out for Africa to profit from its gas, IEA says - Africa must act quickly to profit from its vast reserves of natural gas that the world will only want until it can shift towards lower carbon technology, the International Energy Agency said on Monday. In its Africa Energy outlook for 2022 published on Monday, the IEA said Africa could be in a position by the end of the decade to export some 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) to Europe, which is currently hungry for gas because it is trying to reduce its reliance on Russia. The group of 31 mostly industrialised countries said in a ground-breaking outlook in 2021 that achieving a U.N. goal of net zero emissions by mid-century meant that from this year no investment in new fossil fuel was necessary. Executive Director Fatih Birol told Reuters in an interview Africa’s development of gas did not contradict that. The continent, he added, has borne the brunt of climate change even though it has emitted just a tiny fraction of the emissions caused by the developed world and it has limited time to earn hydrocarbon revenues. “If we make a list of the top 500 things we need to do to be in line with our climate targets, what Africa does with its gas does not make that list,” Birol said. “New long lead time gas projects risk failing to recover their upfront costs if the world is successful in bringing down gas demand in line with reaching net zero emissions by mid‐century,” the Paris-based agency said in Monday’s report. If all of Africa’s gas discoveries turned into production, Birol said that could provide an additional 90 bcm per year by 2030, around two-thirds for domestic needs, and the rest for export. To reduce new developments and emissions, the IEA said flaring less methane could provide a third of new output. Oil and gas-producing regions, such as Africa, have bristled at the idea that avoiding climate change may mean keeping resources in the ground. They say demand is robust and developed states have enjoyed a centuries-long headstart from hydrocarbons. While a fifth of the world’s population lives in Africa, the continent has accounted for less than 3% of the world’s energy‐related carbon dioxide emissions so far and has the lowest emissions per capita of any region on earth, the IEA said.

Saudi Arabia’s oil exports hit 25-month high in April: JODI Saudi Arabia’s crude oil exports grew 147,000 barrels per day in April to 7.38 million, according to the latest monthly data released by the Joint Organisations Data Initiative. This is the highest monthly level of volume since March 2020 when the Kingdom’s exports were 7.39 million bpd. Exports of crude rose by 2 percent in April from 7.24 million bpd in March 2022. Year-on-year, the Kingdom’s shipments of crude abroad surged by 1.97 million bpd — an increase of 36.5 percent. As for the production of crude, in April it grew by 141,000 bpd to 10.44 million bpd. Production rose by 1.4 percent from 10.3 million bpd in March. China’s crude oil imports from Russia soared 55 percent from a year earlier to a record level in May, displacing Saudi Arabia as the top supplier, as refiners cashed in on discounted supplies amid sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, reported Reuters. Imports of Russian oil, including supplies pumped via the East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline and seaborne shipments from Russia’s European and Far Eastern ports, totaled nearly 8.42 million tons, according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs. That is equivalent to roughly 1.98 million barrels per day (bpd) and up a quarter from 1.59 million bpd in April. China is the world’s biggest crude oil importer. Chinese firms, including state refining giant Sinopec and state-run Zhenhua Oil, have ramped up purchases of Russian oil, enticed by steep discounts after Western oil majors and trading houses pulled back due to sanctions. Saudi Arabia trailed as the second-largest supplier, with May volumes up 9 percent on year at 7.82 million tons, or 1.84 million bpd. This was down from April’s 2.17 million bpd. Russia took back the top ranking after a gap of 19 months. Customs data released on Monday also showed China imported 260,000 tons of Iranian crude oil last month, its third shipment of Iran oil since last December, confirming an earlier Reuters report. Despite US sanctions on Iran, China has kept taking Iranian oil, usually passed off as supplies from other countries. The import levels are roughly equivalent to 7 percent of China’s total crude oil imports. China’s overall crude oil imports rose nearly 12 percent in May from a low base a year earlier to 10.8 million bpd, versus the 2021 average of 10.3 million bpd. Customs reported zero imports from Venezuela. State oil firms have shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling foul of secondary US sanctions. Imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the last two years for oil originating from Iran and Venezuela, amounted to 2.2 million tons, steady versus April but more than double the year-earlier level. Imports from Brazil fell 19 percent from a year earlier to 2.2 million tons, as supplies from the Latin American exporter faced cheaper competition from Iranian and Russian barrels.

Iran’s Oil Exports Surge In June --Iran’s crude oil exports are estimated to have jumped to an average of 961,000 barrels per day (bpd) between June 1 and June 19, according to data from seaborne oil trade analytics company Petro-Logistics cited by commodity analyst Giovanni Staunovo.To compare, the average crude oil exports out of Iran stood at 461,000 bpd for the entire month of May, per Petro-Logistics data. Despite the diplomatic impasse over the nuclear deal, Iran has been preparing to rejoin the global oil market. The country has boosted production, as well as exports to its main market, China. If a new deal is reached between Iran and the world powers, the flow of Iranian oil abroad could increase by between 500,000 bpd and 1 million bpd, according to analysts. China has been the main outlet for Iranian crude oil exports since the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s oil industry in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the so-called Iranian nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).Most recently, Iran on Monday blamed the U.S. for the stalled talks on the revival of the nuclear deal.China has never stopped importing Iranian crude since 2018, and even the Chinese General Administration of Customs officially reported earlier this week that China did indeed import Iranian crude in May.Last week, China received 2 million barrels of Iranian crude, most likely with the purpose of sending the oil to state reserves, tanker-tracking firms told Reuters on Wednesday.According to Reuters, the crude cargo, delivered by a tanker owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), would be the fourth cargo to go to state reserves that China has imported since the end of last year. The shipment is also likely to be reported in the Chinese crude import data for June when figures are released in July.

Oil wobbles as global economic worries offset tightening supply --Oil prices edged down on Monday, reversing earlier gains, as concerns about slowing global economic growth and fuel demand offset worries about tightening supplies. Brent crude futures slipped 8 cents, or 0.1%, to $113.04 a barrel by 0242 GMT, after rising as much as 1% earlier. Front-month prices tumbled 7.3% last week, its first weekly fall in five. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $109.49 a barrel, down 7 cents, after rising more than $1 earlier. Front-month prices dropped 9.2% last week, the first decline in eight weeks. "Clearly macro factors are driving oil at the moment, rather than fundamentals, which are still supportive," Warren Patterson, ING's head of commodities research said. Oil from Russia, the world's second-largest exporter, remains out of reach to most countries because of Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine. The impact has been partly mitigated by the release of strategic petroleum reserves, led by the United States, and a ramp-up of production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, together known as OPEC+, although that is thinning the world's buffer against further supply disruption. "If Washington sticks to its current pace, the U.S. strategic reserve will hit a 40-year low of 358 million barrels by October," ANZ analysts said in a note. Still, U.S. oil and gas production is climbing. The oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose by seven to 740 in the week to June 17, its highest since March 2020, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its report on Friday. In Libya, oil production remained volatile following blockades by groups in the country's east. The Libyan Oil Minister Mohamed Oun told Reuters on Monday that the country's total production is at about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd). Libya's output had fallen to 100,000 to 150,000 bpd, a spokesman for the oil ministry said last week. Oil products exports from China, once a major exporter, continued to decline, keeping global supplies tight. The country's gasoline exports in May fell 45.5% from a year earlier and diesel exports plunged 92.7% despite stalling domestic demand, as companies ran short of export quotas, Chinese customs data showed on Saturday.

Crude oil futures extend gains as recession fears ease; outlook remains bullish - Crude oil futures were higher in mid-morning trade in Asia June 21, extending overnight gains as recessionary fears that plagued markets in recent weeks receded and investors returned focus to bullish near-term fundamentals. At 10:33 am Singapore time (0233 GMT), the ICE August Brent futures contract was up $1.48/b (1.3%) from the previous close at $115.61/b, while the NYMEX July light sweet crude contract rose $2.45/b (2.24%) from the June 17 close at $112.01/b. US markets were closed June 20 for the Juneteenth holiday. Recession fears that earlier sent crude prices tumbling by more than $8/b appeared to have receded, with investors now returning to buy the dip, analysts said. While financial markets remained vulnerable to further declines as central banks worldwide move to raise borrowing costs, oil fundamentals in the near-term were supportive. "After getting hammered into the US long weekend due to recession and fuel demand destruction concerns, oil prices are rallying again," SPI Asset Management's managing partner Stephen Innes said in a June 21 note. "Those global economic worries are seemingly offset by prospects for higher US and China demand in the near term amid tight prompt supplies." Tightness in refined product supplies remained a concern. Cash differentials for Northwest European and Mediterranean gasoil cargoes hit record highs late last week. Meanwhile, stocks of diesel and gasoil in the Northwest European Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp hub fell 3.15% on the week to 1.41 million mt in the seven days to June 16, according to Insights Global data on June 17. Stocks were now 41% lower than a year earlier. European markets were in the midst of a severe gas shortage after Russia cut deliveries to the region, with some of the bullishness expected to spill over into oil. The Netherlands government June 20 triggered the country's gas crisis plan, which contains measures the country can take if there is a threat of a shortage of gas. The Danish government implemented a similar plan June 20. Germany, meanwhile, is advancing plans to reduce gas demand this summer in power generation and industry to boost storage for winter, the energy ministry said June 19.

Oil prices climb $2 on strong demand, tight supply --Oil prices edged up on Tuesday on high summer fuel demand while supplies remained tight because of sanctions on Russian oil after its invasion of Ukraine. Brent crude futures settled 52 cents, or 0.5%, higher at $114.65 a barrel. The U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude contract for July expired on Tuesday, closing at $110.65, with a gain of $1.09, or 1%. The more active August contract was up $1.53 at $109.52. Both benchmarks posted a weekly loss last week. For WTI it was the first weekly loss in eight weeks, for Brent the first in five. The 50-day simple moving average of U.S. front month futures touched its highest since 2008, and Brent's touched its highest since 2013. Prices drew support when Exxon Mobil Corp Chief Executive Darren Woods predicted three to five years of fairly tight oil markets. Vitol's head Russell Hardy flagged under-investment and a decline in production capacity for crude oil and a tight refining situation. "We expect oil demand to improve further, benefiting from the reopening of China, summer travel in the northern hemisphere and the weather getting warmer in the Middle East. With supply growth lagging demand growth over the coming months, we continue to expect higher oil prices," The market has been supported by supply anxiety after sanctions on oil shipments from Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, and worries Russian output could fall due to sanctions on equipment needed for production. European Union leaders aim to maintain pressure on Russia at their summit this week by committing to further work on sanctions, a draft document showed.

Oil Up as Strong Market Negates Downturn Concerns -Oil climbed as financial markets recovered from last week’s rout, with traders confident that tight supplies will sustain higher prices even if the global economy contracts. West Texas Intermediate August delivery rose to settle above $109 a barrel after plummeting before the US holiday weekend. Top trader Vitol Group said Chinese demand is recovering in a market that’s struggling to increase supplies, meaning prices are unlikely to drop. Under mounting political pressure to ease the strain on consumers, US President Joe Biden said he’s aiming to decide this week whether to suspend the federal gasoline tax. Markets have been volatile amid moves by the Federal Reserve and other central banks to cool inflation, raising the specter of an economic slowdown. The idea the US could see a recession within months has traders on edge, said Dennis Kissler, senior vice president of trading at BOK Financial. “But it seems for now the latest sell off on crude may have been overplayed as near-term demand remains strong,” Kissler said. The oil market has been vulnerable to any signs of disruption since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost four months ago upended global commodity markets. Crude fell by several dollars on Friday on growing concern that the Fed’s pivot toward tighter monetary policy will lead to stunt economic growth. Despite the dramatic dips, crude is still headed for a quarterly gain. The more actively traded contract, WTI August delivery, added $1.53 to settle at $109.52 a barrel in New York. The July contract that expired Tuesday settled at $110.65. Brent for August settlement rose 52 cents to $114.65 a barrel. The US Treasury Secretary said talks are continuing on how to cap the price of Russian oil, possibly through a plan that offers exceptions to a European Union insurance ban. Asked whether such measures would be ready for the Group of Seven leaders meeting June 26-28, she said, “stay tuned.” Potentially exacerbating disruptions on the supply side of crude markets, Petroecuador said Monday it may have to halt oil exports due to strikes, while Libya’s oil minister reported highly volatile production numbers.

Oil prices plunge $6 per barrel, Brent crude reaches $108.98/bbl - Oil prices skidded more than $6 a barrel on Wednesday amid a push by US President Joe Biden to bring down soaring fuel costs, including pressure on the country's major energy firms to help ease the pain for drivers during peak summer consumption. By 0718 GMT U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were off lows but still down $5.98, or 5.46%, at $103.54 a barrel. Similarly, Brent crude futures dropped $5.67, or 4.95%, to $108.98 a barrel. As the United States, the world's largest oil consumer, struggles to tackle soaring gasoline prices and inflation, President Joe Biden is expected to call on Wednesday for temporarily suspending the 18.4-cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline, a source briefed on the plan told Reuters. "I think the non-stop Biden headlines, with the administration seemingly in inflation panic mode, have played a part in the latest sell-off as investors hate any uncertainty, even if irrational in the context of the known supply concerns," said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, in a note. Seven oil companies are set to meet Biden on Thursday, under pressure from the White House to drive down fuel prices as they make record profits. Chevron Chief Executive Michael Wirth, however, said on Tuesday criticising the oil industry was not the way to bring down fuel prices. "These actions are not beneficial to meeting the challenges we face," Wirth said in a letter addressed to Biden, which sparked a response from Biden saying the industry was being too sensitive. Despite worries about inflation, demand is still on the road to recovery to pre-COVID levels and supply is expected to lag demand growth, keeping the market tight, as flagged by trading giant Vitol and Exxon Mobil Corp this week. "From here, a more likely outcome is a widening of the Brent premium over WTI," Jeffrey Halley, analyst at energy consultancy OANDA said in a note, adding that Brent is the internationally traded benchmark and in the real world, supplies remain tight. US oil refining capacity fell in 2021 for the second year in a row, latest government data showed on Tuesday, as plant shutdowns kept whittling away at their ability to produce gasoline and diesel. The official data showed a capacity decline of 125,790 barrels per day (bpd) last year on top of the 800,000 bpd drop in 2020.

Oil Slides as Inflation Worry Clouds Macroeconomic Outlook - With equity futures in retreat and the U.S. Dollar Index strengthening, oil futures fell sharply early Wednesday, with the crude contracts down 4% as investors return their focus on concerns over inflation and expectations for continued tighter monetary policy in the United States ahead of Congressional testimony Wednesday morning from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who last week oversaw the largest interest rate hike since 1994. Recession concerns are in the spotlight Wednesday, with equity futures and oil prices dropping sharply as investors await Powell's testimony, when the Fed chief is expected to undergo scrutiny over the central bank's plans to stabilize prices and the potential fallout from those efforts. On June 15, the Federal Open Market Committee raised interest rates by 75 basis points, the biggest rate hike in 28 years. The Fed's Thomas Barkin said Tuesday he expects even more aggressive moves by the central bank to come as it seeks to reduce inflation that climbed to a fresh 40-year high 8.6% in May. "Inflation is high, broad-based and persistent," said Barkin during a conversation sponsored by the National Association for Business Economics. Debate over the potential that the Fed's aggressive rate hikes will push the U.S. economy into recession intensified after the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's GDPNow tracker last week showed no growth for the second quarter following a 1.5% contraction over the first three months of the year, and modeling by the New York Federal Reserve Bank pointed to an 80% probability for a "hard landing." The indicators coincide with a steady increase in weekly jobless claims, stalled consumer spending and a weakening housing market. Near 7:30 a.m. EDT, the U.S. dollar advanced 0.08% to 104.285 in index trading, adding pressure to August West Texas Intermediate futures, which fell below $105 barrel (bbl), down more than $4. ICE August Brent futures declined $4.44 to $110.27 bbl. NYMEX July RBOB futures retreated 7.49 cents to $3.7196 gallon and NYMEX July ULSD futures fell to $4.3040 gallon, down more than 5 cents. Oil futures registered higher settlements on Tuesday after AAA projected the strongest demand for road travel for the upcoming July 4th holiday on record at 42 million people despite retail gasoline prices averaging on either side of $5 gallon. "Earlier this year, we started seeing the demand for travel increase and it's not tapering off. People are ready for a break and despite things costing more, they are finding ways to still take that much-needed vacation," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. Garrett Golding, senior business economist in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, sees the potential for even higher fuel prices. "Though daily national average prices recently eclipsed $5 a gallon, there may be room for prices to rise much higher based on prior episodes, when consumers experienced, and to some extent withstood, such prices," he said in a paper released Tuesday. Golding noted the price advances for oil products outpaced those for crude oil following refinery closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of capacity now out of service. The scramble in supply chains earlier this year triggered by Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has further tightened the global oil-supply demand balance, with gasoline prices up 34% since December and diesel prices spiking 53% in 2022.

Oil falls around 3% as investors eye U.S. Fed rate hikes - Oil prices tumbled around 3% on Wednesday as investors worried that rate hikes by the Federal Reserve could push the U.S. economy into recession, dampening demand for fuel. Brent crude futures fell $2.91, or 2.5%, to settle at $111.74 a barrel. The global benchmark hit a session low of $107.03, its lowest since May 19. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell $3.33, or 3%, to settle at $106.19 a barrel. The session low was $101.53, its lowest since May 11. Investors assessed on Wednesday how interest rate hikes designed to cool soaring inflation might stall an economic recovery. Oil prices pared losses, however, during the session after Fed Chair Jerome Powell pledged an "overarching focus" on bringing down inflation and reiterated that ongoing increases in the central bank's policy rate would be appropriate, with the pace depending on the economic outlook. Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass a three-month suspension of the federal gasoline tax to help combat record pump prices and provide temporary relief for American families this summer. While lower pump prices could actually boost demand for fuel and support crude prices, PVM analyst Stephen Brennock said traders could be worried the Biden administration might take further measures to cool high energy prices. Lawmakers of both major parties have expressed resistance to suspending the federal gasoline tax. The White House asked the chief executives of seven oil companies to a meeting on Thursday to discuss ways to increase production capacity and reduce gasoline prices of around $5 a gallon. Biden has publicly criticized Big Oil for banking big profits but he has rarely spoken directly to the heads of energy companies or their representatives, White House records and interviews with industry sources show. Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said criticizing the oil industry was not the way to bring down fuel prices and the government should change its approach. Biden replied he was unaware oil executives could "get their feelings hurt that easily." U.S. oil refining capacity fell in 2021 for the second year in a row, government data showed, as plant shutdowns kept whittling away on their ability to produce gasoline and diesel. U.S. crude and gasoline inventories likely fell last week, a Reuters poll showed. Weekly oil data is delayed by Monday's public holiday, with industry data due on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) and government data scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. The $2.4 trillion set to be invested globally in energy this year includes record spending on renewables but falls short of plugging a supply gap and tackling climate change, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil Slips as EZ PMIs Sink; US Crude, Gasoline Stocks Build - Oil futures nearest delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange and Brent crude traded on the Intercontinental Exchange slipped in early trade Thursday after the American Petroleum Institute reported U.S. crude and gasoline inventories unexpectedly increased during the week ended June 17, easing some concern over tight domestic supplies, while an overnight rally in the U.S. Dollar Index spurred by weaker-than-expected manufacturing data in the Eurozone further pressured West Texas Intermediate. API data released late Wednesday afternoon showed commercial crude oil stocks increased by a sizable 5.607 million barrels (bbl) last week, missing calls for a 1.2 million bbl draw. If realized by official government data, this would be the third consecutive weekly build in domestic crude oil inventories. Stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, hub -- the NYMEX delivery point for the West Texas Intermediate futures contract -- declined 390,000 bbl. Gasoline inventory, meanwhile, posted a build of 1.216 million bbl compared with calls for a draw of 800,000 bbl. Distillate inventories fell 1.656 million bbl, missing an expected 300,000 bbl week-on-week increase. On the macroeconomic front, Eurozone's manufacturing activity fell by a larger-than-expected margin in early June, falling to a 22-month low 52 compared with 54 reading in the previous month. Manufacturing output contracted for the first time in two years and service sector growth cooled considerably, easing most notably for consumer-facing services, according to private data released overnight. Remarkedly, June's slowdown was the most abrupt recorded by the survey since the height of the global financial crisis in November 2008. Companies also scaled back their business expectations for output over the coming year to the lowest since October 2020. In the United States, investors will continue to monitor comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell who will testify before U.S. lawmakers for a second day Thursday. Powell reassured markets on Wednesday that the U.S. central bank is committed to crushing the hottest inflation in 40 years, promising to raise interest rates until there is "compelling evidence" that prices are falling. Powell noted the risk of recession as it tightens monetary policy while indicating the central bank is not trying to "provoke a recession." His testimony comes just one week after the Fed voted to raise interest rates by 75 basis points, the largest single rate hike since 1994, underscoring just how serious policymakers are about tackling the inflation crisis after a string of alarming economic reports. The move puts the key benchmark federal funds rate between 1.5% and 1.75%, the highest since the pandemic began two years ago. Near 7 a.m. EDT, U.S. equity futures edged modestly higher with the Dow Jones Industrial Average indicating a 122-point opening bell bump while those linked to the S&P 500, which is down 21.1% for the year, its worst first half performance since 1962, are priced for a 10-point gain. Futures linked to the tech-focused Nasdaq are looking at a 75-point opening bell advance. The U.S. dollar climbed 0.26% against a basket of foreign currencies to trade near 104.250, while weighing on front-month WTI futures that traded $0.46 lower to $105.74 bbl. The international crude benchmark Brent contract for August delivery slipped $0.28 to $111.43 bbl. NYMEX RBOB July contract retreated 1.74 cents to $3.8167 gallon and NYMEX July ULSD futures fell to $4.3802 gallon, down more than 2 cents.

Oil prices slump as investors fear Fed rate hikes will hurt demand -- Oil prices dropped by nearly $2 a barrel on Thursday after another round of remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell fanned worries U.S. interest rate hikes would slow economic growth. Brent crude futures settled at $110.05 a barrel, falling $1.69, or 1.5%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $104.27 a barrel, down $1.92, or 1.8%. Powell said the Fed`s focus on curbing inflation was "unconditional" and the labor market was unsustainably strong, comments that stoked fears of more rate hikes. Investors have been paring positions in risky assets as they assess whether inflation-fighting central banks could push the world economy into recession with higher interest rates. "If the U.S., and the rest of the world goes into a recession, you can significantly impact demand," Also, high gasoline prices could be starting to slow demand, U.S. retail prices are currently averaging $4.94 a gallon, down about 10 cents from the peak, according to AAA. Major U.S. oil refiners and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emerged from an emergency meeting over the issue with no concrete solutions to lower prices, according to a source familiar with the discussions, but the two sides agreed to work together. The most recent estimates by the American Petroleum Institute, according to market sources, showed U.S. crude and gasoline inventories rising last week, which also weighed on prices, Yawger said. Official weekly estimates for U.S. oil inventories were scheduled to be released on Thursday but technical problems will delay those figures until next week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said, without giving a specific timeline. OPEC and allied producing countries including Russia will likely stick to a plan for accelerated output increases in August in hopes of easing crude prices and inflation as U.S. President Joe Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia, sources said. The group known as OPEC+ agreed at its last meeting on June 2 to boost output by 648,000 barrels a day in July, or 7% of global demand, and by the same amount in August, up from the initial plan to add 432,000 bpd a month over three months until September.

Crude Oil Higher; OPEC Meeting Dominates Next Week --- Oil prices traded higher Friday, helped by continued tight supply, but the market is still heading for a second weekly fall on fears that tight monetary policy will push the global economy into recession.By 08:45 AM ET (1245 GMT), U.S. crude futures traded 2.3% higher at $106.66 a barrel, but still on course for a weekly loss of around 3%, while the Brent contract rose 2.1% to $112.34 a barrel, set to lose 1% this week.U.S. Gasoline RBOB Futures were up 1% at $3.8041 a gallon. The crude market has been helped by comments from the Libyan oil minister, who said late Thursday that the National Oil Corporation chairman was withholding production data from him. He had said earlier in the week that Libya's oil production has risen in the past week to around 700,000 to 800,000 barrels a day, but these figures must now be in doubt as an increase in political tension and protests at energy fields and ports has severely curtailed production in this country, home of Africa’s largest oil reserves.That said, the crude market is on course for its second consecutive losing week amid concerns that interest rate hikes by a number of central banks, and the Federal Reserve in particular, will severely limit global economic activity.Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Thursday the central bank's focus on curbing inflationwas "unconditional", suggesting more interest rate hikes ahead, which he added raised the “possibility” of recession.“The move lower in oil appears to be almost exclusively driven by macro influences, while oil fundamentals still remain supportive,” said analysts at ING, in a note. “We just have to look at the time spreads, which have not followed the flat price lower over the week…This suggests that there is tightness in the market right now and we would expect this to only grow as we lose more Russian supply.”Next week sees the latest meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies to discuss the group’s production levels.The cartel, known as OPEC+, is widely expected to stick to its plan to boost output by 648,000 barrels a day in July and by the same amount in August, despite the plans of U.S. President Joe Biden to visit Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the group, to plead the case for lower crude prices.Also likely to emerge next week will be the delayed inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, after the official body was unable to publish this week’s figures on Thursday due to technical problems. “This delay comes at a crucial time for the market when there are plenty of concerns over the tightness in refined product markets,” ING added.

Oil Loss Deepens as U.S. Recession Fears Grow; Weekly Data Delayed - Fed Chair Jerome Powell reiterates the central bank has no intent to crash the U.S. economy. But the rate hikes it’s threatening investors with aren’t giving any comfort to the oil market, which deepened its losses on Friday to settle below $105 a barrel on recession fears. Adding to the cautious mood of investors was the surprise delay in the weekly U.S. oil inventory report, which Bloomberg said was held up by “power issues” and unlikely to see publication until next week. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for U.S. crude, settled Thursday’s trade down $1.92, or 1.8%, at $104.27 per barrel. London-traded Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, settled down $1.69, or 1.5%, at $110.05. “Crude prices may remain heavy until Wall Street is done fully pricing in an economic slowdown that will bring this economy on the verge of a recession,” said Ed Moya, analyst at online trading platform OANDA. Powell reiterated on the second day of his biannual testimony to the U.S. Senate that the Fed had no intention of deliberately slowing the economy to bring down inflation raging at over 8% a year — more than four times its target. Yet, the central bank would be reluctant to shift from raising rates to cutting them until it saw clear evidence that inflation was coming down in a convincing fashion, Powell said. “We can’t fail on this. We really have to get inflation down,” Powell said. “We’re going to want to see evidence that it really is coming down before we declare ‘mission accomplished.'” The Fed announced last week its stiffest US rate hike in 28 years to fight inflation, adding a three-quarter point that brought key lending rates to as high as 1.75% from May’s peak of 1%. That hike came after US inflation, as indicated by the Consumer Price Index, grew at an annualized rate of 8.6% in May — more than four times the Fed’s target. The Fed’s preferred rate of inflation is a mere 2% a year and it has vowed to raise rates as high and long as necessary to bring price growth back to its annual target. Economists, however, fear that the central bank will push the US economy into a recession with its rate hikes. The economy experienced a negative growth of 1.4% for the first quarter. If it does not return to positive growth by the second quarter, it will technically be in a recession, given that it takes just two straight quarters of negative growth to make a recession. As for the weekly oil inventory data, as of Wednesday analysts tracked by Investing.com expected the EIA to report a crude stockpile drop of 569,000 barrels, versus the 1.96-million barrel rise reported during the week to June 10. On the gasoline inventory front, the consensus is for a draw of 452,000 barrels over the 710,000-barrel decline in the previous week. With distillate stockpiles, the expectation is for a climb of 328,000 barrels versus the prior week’s gain of 725,000.

Oil Futures Rebound as Traders Refocus on Libyan Supplies-- Oil futures nearest delivery rallied more than 3% Friday, with both crude benchmarks finishing the volatile week little changed as traders assessed recessionary risks in the United States against a tightening global oil market with less supply available in Libya and Russia amid sanctions and political turmoil.Libya was back in the spotlight this week after violent protests once again disrupted more than 1 million barrels in daily oil production from the North African producer. Libya's oil minister said on Thursday that production has since recovered to 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) from just under 100,000 bpd seen earlier this month. That was welcomed news for the oil-consuming nations that are scrambling to look for additional supplies as crude from Russia, the world's third-biggest producer, comes under Western sanctions. Analysts believe that additional supplies from Libya could partially offset the loss of Russian oil on the global market but caution that production remains volatile amid political turmoil.In financial markets, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell raised the probability of a recession in the U.S. tied to surging inflation and tightening monetary policy. During testimony before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, Powell cautioned that lowering rapidly broadening inflation without tipping the U.S. economy into a painful downturn would be "very challenging," and that a recession is "certainly a possibility." U.S. consumer prices, a gauge of inflation, climbed to 8.6% in May, with prices for essential items such as food and fuel accelerating rapidly from the previous month. Consumer sentiment in the U.S. slumped to a record low 50 in late June, according to the University of Michigan's closely watched survey, with consumers abruptly lifting their short- and long-term inflation expectations. Nearly 46% of respondents attributed their negative views about the economy to persistent price pressures. Just 13% expect their incomes to rise more than inflation, the lowest share in almost a decade. Separately, U.S. Energy Information Administration was forced to delay its Weekly Petroleum Status Report until next week due to "systems issues," leaving traders to rely on the American Petroleum Institute for a weekly update on U.S. inventory levels. API data showed commercial crude oil inventories increased by a surprise 5.6 million barrels (bbl) during the week-ended June 17 -- the third consecutive weekly build. Building inventory likely signals slowing fuel demand as high gasoline prices prompt consumers to drive less while a slowing economy tilting closer to recession saps demand for diesel fuel. API reported gasoline inventories in the U.S. increased 1.216 million bbl last week compared with calls for a draw of 800,000 bbl, while distillate inventories fell 1.656 million bbl, missing an expected 300,000 bbl week-on-week increase. At settlement, NYMEX August WTI futures climbed $3.35 to $107.62 bbl and ICE Brent crude for August delivery advanced $3.07 to $113.12 bbl. NYMEX RBOB July contract rallied 11.92 cents to $3.8848 gallon and NYMEX July ULSD futures gained 2.5 cents to $4.3629 gallon.

Oil settles up but posts weekly decline on recession fears - Oil prices settled up by more than $3 a barrel on Friday, supported by tight supply, but they notched their second weekly decline on concern that rising interest rates could push the world economy into recession. Brent crude settled up $3.07, or 2.8%, at $113.12 a barrel by 12:10 p.m. EDT (1610 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled up $3.35, or 3.2%, at $107.62. The U.S. Federal Reserve "was talking very hawkish which was undermining the oil rally, but sentiment is changing a little especially on strong economic data," On Thursday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank's focus on curbing inflation was "unconditional", adding to fears about more interest rate hikes. A survey on Friday showed U.S. consumer sentiment hit a record low in June even as the outlook for inflation improved slightly. Russia's invasion of Ukraine exacerbated tight supplies this year just as demand has been recovering from the COVID pandemic, and oil came close to an all-time high of $147 reached in 2008. Crude has gained support from the almost total shutdown of output in OPEC member Libya due to unrest. On Thursday, the Libyan oil minister said the National Oil Corporation chairman was withholding production data from him, raising doubts over figures issued last week. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, meet on June 30 and are expected to stick to a plan to only slightly accelerate hikes in oil production in July and August. U.S. energy firms this week added oil and natural gas rigs for a second week in a row in a record 23-month streak of increases, as high crude prices and prodding by the government prompted drillers to return to the wellpad, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its closely followed report on Friday. The latest weekly U.S. oil inventory figures, which will give a snapshot of supply tightness in the top consumer, have been delayed to next week due to technical issues.

Nuke Deal Breakthrough? Iran Drops Demand That IRGC Be Removed From Terror List --In a significant concession aimed at reviving stalled negotiations with the United States, Iran has dropped its demand that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from Washington's list of designated terror groups, Middle East Eye reports.Previously, Iran made the IRGC's removal from the list a precondition for restoring the multinational deal that limits Iran's nuclear energy program in exchange for sanctions relief. In May, it was reported that Biden decided not to budge on the IRGC designation. The Iran nuclear deal—officially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—was signed during the Obama administration after lengthy and intense negotiations involving not only the United States and Iran, but also China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. It imposed a host of additional restrictions on a nuclear energy program that was already operating under tight International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. Though Iran was complying with the deal, Donald Trump—caving to neocon foreign policy advisors and Israel-first mega-donor Sheldon Adelson—unilaterally withdrew the United States from the deal in May 2018. Progressing further along a neocon to-do list that also included moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019. In a Hebrew-language tweet, then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump for "acceding to another one of my important requests." Lacking any specifics, Trump's designation centered on vague claims that Iran engaged in "malign" behavior in the Middle East and around the world. The IRGC is a major Iranian military organization that's independent from the country's regular army. Established in 1979 to safeguard the nascent Islamic republic, it has grown to become the country's dominant military entity—a force of some 125,000 complete with its own army, navy, air force and intelligence service. It also wields political and economic power. It was the first time a state military institution had been labeled as a terrorist organization. The move was opposed by officials in the CIA and Department of Defense, along with former Obama national security advisor and current secretary of state Antony Blinken. Given other sanctions already in place on Iran and the IRGC, the designation's actual financial impact was muted.In tit-for-tat fashion, Iran responded by designating the Pentagon's Central Command (CENTCOM) a terrorist organization and the U.S. government as a "supporter of terrorism." CENTCOM is responsible for military operations across a geographic swath stretching from Egypt through the Middle East to Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

Iran Says Legal Work Underway for Release of Seized Ships --Iran said Greece is preparing legal documents required for the release of two Greek ships seized by the Islamic Republic in retaliation for an Iranian oil cargo that Athens detained to enforce US sanctions. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, told reporters that he hopes the Greek government will “in practice” in return release the Iranian tanker and cargo it seized. His comments come after a court in Greece overturned a decision that allowed the cargo to be confiscated. The seizures have stoked tensions in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, where tit-for-tat attacks on ships and energy installations have been frequent since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The latest dispute comes as negotiations to revive the landmark accord remain stalled amid a standoff about the removal of a Trump-era US terrorism designation on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Greek authorities seized the Iranian tanker and confiscated its cargo last month. At the time, Iranian officials said the seizure was made in coordination with the US. Days later, the IRGC diverted two Greek oil tankers into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.

USA Navy and Iran Corps Clash in Strait of Hormuz -U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs announced Tuesday that three vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) interacted in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner” as U.S. Navy ships transited the Strait of Hormuz on June 20. Patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) and expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF 2) were conducting a routine transit in international waters when three Iranian fast inshore attack craft approached, the U.S. Navy noted. One of the IRGCN vessels approached Sirocco head-on at a “dangerously high” speed and only altered course after the U.S. patrol coastal ship issued audible warning signals to avoid collision, according to the U.S. Navy, which added that the Iranian vessel came within 50 yards of the U.S. Navy ship during the interaction and that Sirocco responded by deploying a warning flare. “The full interaction among all vessels lasted one hour and ended when the IRGCN craft departed the area. U.S. Navy ships continued their transit without further incident,” the U.S. Navy stated. “The IRGCN’s actions did not meet international standards of professional or safe maritime behavior, increasing the risk of miscalculation and collision,” the U.S. Navy added. “U.S. naval forces remain vigilant and will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows while promoting regional maritime security,” the U.S. Navy continued. Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy revealed that naval forces from the United Arab Emirates and United States had begun a 10-day maritime exercise on June 13 in the Arabian Gulf. The exercise is an annual bilateral training event between U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and forces from the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. Navy outlined, adding that the exercise focuses on maritime security operations, mine countermeasures and harbor defense. According to an update in April this year by Statista, which describes itself as a leading provider of market and consumer data, around 18 million barrels of oil passed through the Strait of Hormuz every day in 2020.

Russia Attacks US-Backed Fighters In Syria At American Outpost -- US military officials have told The Wall Street Journal that Russia forces have carried out multiple military operations against the US-led coalition in Syria this month. This included a Wednesday attack on the al-Tanf garrison along the Iraq border in southeast Syria, though so far it appears the operations have targeted American proxies, namely local Arab and Kurdish factions that US trainers have been supporting.Given that Russia informed the Americans of the attacks ahead of time via a military-to-military communications line, the Pentagon believes Russia "wasn’t actively targeting American troops but was harassing the US mission in Syria." With al-Tanf, US officials described that "a combat outpost at the garrison" was hit in the Russian strike, but no US troops were there at the time, in an attack that appeared to target ”US-backed Maghawir al-Thawra fighters" - which Russia says was responsible for an earlier roadside bomb attack against its troops. There were no reports of casualties, as coalition forces quickly evacuated due to the prior Russian warning.It's clear that this is perhaps the closest Russian and US forces have ever come to direct conflict, something the Pentagon has expressed a desire to avoid, but said Russia's recent actions are a serious "provocation" and mark an escalation. "We seek to avoid miscalculation or a set of actions that could lead to unnecessary conflict: that remains our goal," Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, the head of US Central Command said. "However, Russia’s recent behavior has been provocative and escalatory."CNN added in a follow-up to the WSJ report:The initial US assessment is the Russian forces were likely ordered to notify the US ahead of time and conduct the airstrikes knowing they would not hit US troops and that the Americans would warn their allies, the officials said.But the Russians still likely achieved their goal of "sending a message" to the US that they can strike without being worried about retaliation, one official said.There have been a number of 'close calls' between US and Russian troops operating in Syria over the years. Russian forces are there at the invitation of the Syrian government, while President Assad has called the Americans hostile foreign occupiers and demanded they withdraw. Sometimes the rival convoys block each other in standoffs on key Syrian roadways near areas of the US occupation, which is heaviest in the northeast. However, some observers are seeing in this month's strikes near US positions a deliberate signal that things are intensifying related to Ukraine, and the Kremlin is engaged in muscle-flexing in the face of the some 900 US troops still in Syria.

Ukraine strikes drilling platforms off Crimea - Ukrainian military forces targeted offshore oil and gas drilling platforms in the Black Sea on Monday, the country’s officials and Russia-installed head of Crimea have said.Oleksiy Honcharenko, People’s Deputy of Ukraine, first broke the news on Telegram, which was later confirmed on the same platform by Sergei Askyonov, who was appointed as head of the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.The drilling rigs known as the Boyko’s Towers were struck by missiles and “slightly hampered gas production in the Ukrainian Black Sea by the Russians,” wrote Honcharenko.The 2010-built jackup Petro Godovanets and the 2012-built Ukraine are under the control of Crimea-based oil and gas exploration company Chernomorneftegaz, which operates in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Chernomorneftegaz was seized by Russia-backed officials in Crimea from Ukraine’s state gas firm Naftogaz after the Russian annexation and has been under US and EU sanctions ever since.According to Askyonov, there were more than 100 people on three, and not two, drilling rigs claimed to have been attacked in the Black Sea. Five people were injured, 21 were evacuated, and search operations were being carried out for the rest.Gas production has been temporarily halted from the platforms, but there are no disaster-like consequences, Russian media said citing Olga Kovitidi, a senator representing Crimea in Russia’s upper house of parliament.This is the first reported strike against offshore energy infrastructure in Crimea since Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian military destroyed the Russian tug off Snake Island in the Black Sea for allegedly transporting ammunition, weapons, and personnel to the island.

VIDEO: US Harpoon missiles destroy a heavily-armed Russian vessel in Black Sea -Ukrainian military officials have said they struck the Russian Navy's Vasiliy Bekh tugboat in the Black Sea using two Harpoon missiles supplied by the US. The action marks the first time Ukraine has announced it has destroyed a Russian vessel with Western-supplied armaments.On Friday, the attack was announced on Ukraine's Armed Forces Strategic Communications Directorate's Telegram channel. It published a video purporting to show the anti-ship missile blowing up the vessel. Insider could not independently verify the footage. The head of the Odesa Regional Military Administration, Maxim Marchenko, said, "This morning, our naval forces struck the Black Sea Fleet support vessel Vasily Bekh, with the TOR anti-aircraft missile system on board. Later it became known that he sank."

China's Geopolitical Pivot Could Have Huge Ramifications For Oil - China stated two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine that “there is ‘no limit’ to how far Russian and Chinese friendship may go” and signed a swathe of huge oil and gas deals shortly thereafter that provided an additional layer of insulation to both countries from any U.S. sanctions in the future. Only a day after the invasion began on 24 February, however, Chinese President Xi Jinping held urgent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and advocated peaceful negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. This was widely seen as a sign that Beijing had not believed that Russia would launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine before it did so and that Xi thought that overtly lining China up on the side of Russia against the U.S. and its NATO allies at that point on that issue might be too much too soon. Developments over the past week or so, though, indicate that Beijing’s caution in challenging U.S. supremacy around the globe might be dissipating. The practical ramifications for the global oil sector from such a shift would clearly be enormous, given that China remains the big global backstop bid for oil and that Russia remains one of the world’s top three oil producers. Last Wednesday (15 June – and Xi’s birthday), Russian news sources in the first instance released statements from the Kremlin that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi, had enjoyed a “warm and friendly” telephone call during which Xi had pledged China’s ongoing support for Russia. The Russian news sources cited the Kremlin as adding that President Xi had “noted the legitimacy” of actions taken by Russia to protect itself “in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces”. The Russian sources went on to state that the Kremlin highlighted that Putin and Xi both agreed that China-Russia relations were at an “unprecedentedly high level” and that they planned to deepen ties in energy, finance and industry. China has not contradicted any element of the Kremlin’s statements on the content of the lengthy call and nor has it sought to tone down any of the specific language used in the statements. Moreover, Beijing has still not condemned – or overtly criticised in any way – Russia’s invasion of the independent sovereign state of Ukraine. On the contrary, at the beginning of April, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, laid the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine squarely at the feet of the U.S. “As the culprit and leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has led NATO to engage in five rounds of eastward expansion in the last two decades after 1999,” he said during a virtual summit call with leaders of the European Union. With Russian troops still on the ground across sizeable portions of Ukraine, and keeping European theatre troops of the U.S. and its NATO allies focused on ‘breakout threats’ from that war, Xi - on the same day as his call to Putin – for the first time ever signed a document that provides a legal basis for China’s military to carry out missions other than those directly necessitated by a war against China. According to local news reports, the new directive signed by Xi will: “Standardise, and provide the legal basis for, Chinese troops to carry out missions like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. As other Chinese news sources highlighted, the order signed by Xi, which came into effect from the moment he signed it on the 15th of June: “[Comprises 59 articles and six chapters] that serve as a legal base for military operations other than war [and] aim to protect people’s lives and property, safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interest, and safeguard world peace and regional stability”.

Top UN food official issues call to 'end the damn war' in Ukraine or risk famines and 'hell on earth' -- The UN has warned that there could be "hell on earth" due to the global economic impacts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Guardian reports that David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), has said that the war has been "devastating" in conjunction with various other factors.He said, "Even before the Ukraine crisis, we were facing an unprecedented global food crisis because of Covid and fuel price increases. Then, we thought it couldn't get any worse, but this war has been devastating."Beasley said there would be "famine, destabilization of nations and mass migration" if the crisis were not addressed.Ukraine is a significant exporter of grains such as wheat and corn, accounting for 12% and 17% of global supply, respectively. However, the conflict in the country has closed the Black Sea ports and stopped exports.Speaking in Addis Abada, Ethiopia, Beasley said that the riots and destabilization in countries such as Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Burkina Faso are a "sign of things to come." The "best thing we can do," he said, is "end that damn war in Russia and Ukraine and get the port open," the Guardian reports. Matthew Hollingworth, the Emergency Coordinator for the World Food Programme in Ukraine, has said that the war could lead to a "hunger crisis of catastrophic proportions."Hollingworth said that 400 million people around the world were fed by Ukrainian grain in 2021, but now, "acute hunger is expected to rise by 47 million people if the conflict in Ukraine continues unabated.""Countries already on the brink rely on Ukraine for their food, and right now, food is blocked in the ports," he said.

‘Marching towards starvation’: UN warns of hell on earth if Ukraine war goes on --Dozens of countries risk protests, riots and political violence this year as food prices surge around the world, the head of the food-aid branch of the United Nations has warned.Speaking in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday, David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said the world faced “frightening” shortages that could destabilise countries that depend on wheat exports from Ukraine and Russia.“Even before the Ukraine crisis, we were facing an unprecedented global food crisis because of Covid and fuel price increases,” said Beasley. “Then, we thought it couldn’t get any worse, but this war has been devastating.”Ukraine grows enough food every year to feed 400 million people. It produces 42% of the world’s sunflower oil, 16% of its maize and 9% of its wheat. Somaliarelies on Ukraine and Russia for all of its wheat imports, while Egypt gets 80% of its grain from the two countries.The WFP sources 40% of the wheat for its emergency food-relief programmes from Ukraine and, after its operating costs rose by $70m (£58m) a month, it has been forced to halve rations in several countries.Citing increases in the price of shipping, fertiliser and fuel as key factors – due to Covid-19, the climate crisis and the Ukraine war – Beasley said the number of people suffering from “chronic hunger” had risen from 650 million to 810 million in the past five years.Beasley added that the number of people experiencing “shock hunger” had increased from 80 million to 325 million over the same period. They are classified as living in crisis levels of food insecurity, a term he described as “marching towards starvation and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from”.

Ukraine Parliament Passes New Laws Seeking To Purge Russian Culture -Ukraine’s Parliament passed two bills that will restrict Russian music and books. If President Volodymyr Zelensky signs the legislation, it will be a significant step forward in Kiev's attempt to purge the Russian culture.The first bill will place heavy restrictions on any author who held Russian citizenship after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The law will ban the printing of books by Russian citizens, forbid importing the commercial import of any book printed in Russia, Belarus, or "occupied Ukrainian territory," and requires special permission to import any book in Russian.In the future, books in Ukraine can only be published in Ukrainian and official European Union languages. Russian is not one of the EU’s official 24 languages. Books in other languages can only be printed in the original language or translated into one of the 25 allowable languages.The law provides an exemption for Russian authors who renounce their Russian passports and obtain Ukrainian citizenship. The bills make up the latest steps in the process of "derussification."The second law bars the playing of any Russian music on media or on public transportation. The legislation also increases quotas for Ukrainian language music and speech on television and radio.Indications are Zelensky will sign the bills into law. Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko – a member of Zelensky’s Servent of the People party – welcomed the bills.

No, Russia won’t replace Swift with the blockchain -- FT Alphaville -Because don’t be daft, honestly. --Have you heard that Russia’s developing a blockchain platform for international payments to replace the current Swift system?There’s a good chance you have, but if you haven’t you soon will, because the story has been stuck in a holding pattern above the news agenda for weeks. It loomed back into view this morning via coinbro churnalism and tweets such as this one, from Watcher.Guru to its 1.1mn followers:JUST IN: Russian government organization has created a blockchain platform for international payments to replace the current Swift system.— Watcher.Guru (@WatcherGuru) June 20, 2022It all stems from an appearance by Rostec, Russia’s state-owned military technology developer, at a digitisation conference in Nizhny Novgorod that ran on the first three days of June.Rostec’s software battalion, Novosibirsk Institute of Software Systems (NIPS), used the event to announce “the CELLS industrial blockchain platform”. Here’s the press release fed through Google translate:One of the central elements of the [CELLS] platform has become a digital system for making payments in national currencies, which can provide a real alternative to SWIFT in international settlements. The multifunctional system provides international payments, multicurrency transactions, user identification and storage of digital currency. Blockchain technology in combination with certified cryptographic information protection tools provide a high level of IT solution reliability.“The digital payment system on the blockchain platform can be used as a full-fledged replacement for SWIFT, providing high speed, security and irrevocable transactions. The system will make it possible to switch to settlements in national currencies, eliminate the risk of sanctions and ensure the independence of the national financial policy for clearing participants ,” said Oleg Yevtushenko, Executive Director of Rostec Group.NIPS has some form with bold predictions. In 2019 it presented to the same conference a “roadmap for the development of blockchain technology in Russia” that involved chaining the entire machinery of state at a cost of up to 85bn rubles ($1.5bn). Council budgets, transport infrastructure, the industrial complex and municipal elections would all be put on distributed ledgers to somehow deliver an estimated economic benefit of up to 1.64tn rubles within five years.Deploying a platform such as Ethereum in the Kremlin “is not a sign of dependence on foreign solutions”, since access to the source code cannot be limited for political reasons,Kommersant quoted NIPS as saying in May 2019. Between that date and now, for perhaps obvious reasons, the focus has switched to a proprietary system.Not much information is in the public domain about the CELLS blockchain other than what’s on a product website. From that we learn it uses uses proof of authority mining, which does away with the whole competitive mining thing and relies on a small fleet of validators.The downside is a degree of centralisation that’s the opposite of blockchain’s theoretical USP, in return for a system that’s slightly worse than the one it replaces. The Swift cross-border money transfer network routes 42mn financial messages a day to connect more than 11,000 institutions and 4bn account holders in at least 200 countries. NIPS’s proposed replacement is arguably over-specified, reportedly handling up to 100,000 transactions per second, though capacity is really not the problem here. None of the hurdles is technical. It’s all about the Benjamins, as Claire Jones explains: About half of all global payments are made in dollars. Along with about 90 per cent of trade finance. When instructions are sent via networks such as Swift, many of those dollar payments need to be made between institutions that do not have accounts with one another. What that means is that a correspondent bank — probably with operations in the US, policed by the American authorities — will act as an intermediary.... Even for transactions that are legal, parties are unwilling to take the risk of alienating the US authorities by processing payments for businesses based in countries that have fallen foul of Washington.Which is the bottom line. And what are the chances that any non-Russian counterparty would adopt a mystery meat ledger that’s centrally controlled by a company that parades its tanks through Red Square every May 9? Ноль.

World's Largest Cruise Ship Set For Scrapyard Without A Single Sail -The hard-hit cruise industry has yet to recover as many cruise ship stocks tumble to their lowest levels since the early days of the virus pandemic. One sign the industry remains in deep turmoil is the potential scrapping of an unfinished cruise ship set to be the largest in the world. German cruise-industry magazine An Bord reports the 9,000-passenger Global Dream II is about 80% finished. Its shipbuilder MV Werften filed for bankruptcy in January 2022, and bankruptcy administrators can't find a buyer. Christoph Morgen, an insolvency administrator at Brinkmann & Partner, said attempts are being made to sell parts of the vessel, including engines and propulsion systems. The cruise ship is located at a shipyard on Germany's Baltic coast. Multiple parties expressed interest in purchasing the cruise ship. The vessel is buoyant and can be towed to another location. It was initially designed for service in Asia. Since no serious buyers have come to the table, the 1,122-foot ship could be liquidated for scrap."If no buyer with a serious offer can be found in the coming weeks, the insolvency administrator will have to opt for a sale in a bidding process. Then shipbrokers with contact to shipbreaking yards can also submit their bids. The ship's scrap value has risen due to the rise in scrap prices," An Bord said. Shipbuilding began in early 2018 and was expected to be completed in the first half of 2021. The virus pandemic sent demand for cruise ships into collapse and has been a troubled industry ever since. Morgen said the cruise ship would need to be moved from the German shipyard by the end of the year because the commercial zone was sold to Thyssenkrupp's naval unit, which will begin building submarines, corvettes, and frigates in 2024.

Swimming's World Governing Body Slaps Total Ban On Transgender Athletes Swimming’s world governing body has slapped a total ban on transgender athletes that have gone through any form of male puberty from taking part in women’s competitions.Fina’s new policy, which was passed by a margin of 71 per cent after its 152 members voted on the issue, will force transgender swimmers to compete in a separate category that only includes those who claim their gender identity is different from their biological sex.For transgender athletes who were born men to compete in women’s events, they must have completed their transition by the age of 12.Fina president Husain Al-Musallam said the vote was about “protecting competitive fairness” and the rights of athletes.“Fina will always welcome every athlete,” Al-Musallam said. “The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level.”Former British swimmer Sharron Davies praised the decision, asserting that she was “proud” of Fina for “doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females.”

COVID-19 driven staff shortages fuel crisis in Australian schools -COVID is continuing to cause havoc in Australian schools, belying state and federal government claims that the pandemic is over. Schools across the country are reporting chronic daily teacher shortages due to illness. This is seeing classes being combined or cancelled, executive staff covering classes, and year groups being returned to remote learning for all or part of the school week. Mitigation measures such as mask mandates, contact tracing and isolation periods for close contacts have been junked across the country. Masks are no longer mandated at schools for either staff or students, and close contacts of confirmed cases no longer need to isolate. Under education department directives, schools have also resumed camps, assemblies and other forms of mass congregations. Around the country, hundreds, and in some cases, more than a thousand young people and staff are regularly packed into poorly ventilated halls. Parents are reporting on social media that numerous school camps have ended up as super spreader events. Infection rates and deaths were relatively low in Australia before late 2021 and early 2022. Under pressure from teachers, school workers and parents, state governments responded to earlier surges in the pandemic by having schools function via remote learning as an important mitigation measure. The emergence of the Omicron variant was falsely presented as a “mild” variety of COVID, and over the December-January summer school holiday state and federal governments, Labor and Liberal alike, worked with the teacher unions to enforce the reopening of schools regardless of infection rates. On January 13, then Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained the pro-business calculations behind the reopening drive: “If schools don’t open, then that can add an additional five percent to the absenteeism in the workforce,” he declared. “So it is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and to remain safely open if we are not to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we’re currently facing. So schools open means shops open… That’s what schools open means, and it’s very important they go back.”

New Zealand government maintains “let it rip” policy despite worsening crisis in hospitals -The disastrous situation in New Zealand’s hospitals continues to worsen, with ongoing deaths from COVID-19, growing hospitalisations for influenza and other winter illnesses, and a severe staffing shortage. Yesterday, another 17 people died with COVID, including a child under 10 years of age. A total of 362 people were in hospital with the virus. Altogether, the Ministry of Health has recorded 1,432 COVID-related deaths. All but 59 of these occurred in 2022, during the highly infectious Omicron wave, and as a direct result of the Labour Party-led government’s criminal decision last October to end its zero COVID policy. The government put the demands of big business for a return to work ahead of protecting the health and lives of the population. No lockdowns have been implemented this year, the border has fully reopened, vaccine mandates have been scrapped, and schools and nonessential businesses are open. According to the Worldometer website, New Zealand recorded 14 deaths per million people in the last seven days. This is the sixth-highest rate in the world, surpassed only by Taiwan, Portugal and three Caribbean island countries. On June 20, Radio NZ’s Corin Dann asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern whether she was considering reintroducing measures such as mandatory masks in schools, “given the pressures on ED [hospital emergency departments], the ongoing deaths, the ongoing hospitalisations.” In response, Ardern defended the present settings, which amount to a policy of mass infection. She noted that the government had eased public health restrictions when the COVID hospitalisation rate was even higher than it is now. She added that, in some hospitals, flu is now “a greater cause of respiratory hospitalisation than COVID-19.”

Airlines’ mass infection policies wreak havoc in global airline industry - With the peak summer travel season beginning, the global airline industry is being stretched to the point of complete breakdown. Understaffed flight crews and airport employees are exhausted; airlines face a shortage of manpower, planes and equipment; and stranded passengers and lost luggage are piling up at airports. More than 4,500 US-related flights were canceled over the Father’s Day and Juneteenth holiday weekend, and analysts expect the July 4 weekend, one of the busiest air travel dates, to be worse. The chaos could persist for months, they say, if not years. Understandably, pilots and flight crews are reluctant to return to jobs where they are crammed into airports and aircraft with hundreds of passengers and no measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in place. Passengers are not even required to mask, and workers are routinely forced to work inhumanly long hours, with deadly consequences if they make errors due to fatigue. On Tuesday, over 1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots marched in Dallas, Texas to protest fatigue, stress, staff shortages and bad scheduling. Delta pilots say they have flown more overtime in 2022 than in the entirety of 2018 and 2019 combined, their busiest years to date. Pilot fatigue is a deadly danger in air travel. Knowing they hold the safety of their passengers in their hands, the number of pilots calling off work due to fatigue has reached record numbers. French pilots said efforts by the low-cost UK carrier EasyJet to deliver a full schedule of summer flights “with less flight crew, cabin crew, or flight planning officers” had “left hundreds of employees in distress.” The crisis is due to the criminal and profit-driven response by the airlines and world governments to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of airline workers have been sickened and debilitated by COVID-19, and an unknown number of have died. Before vaccine mandates for airline workers started in the summer of 2021, one United Airlines employee was dying every week. During a meeting in Doha, Qatar on Monday, airline executives denounced workers for refusing to risk their lives. “People got into a bad habit of working from home” during the pandemic, Akbar Al Baker, the head of host airline Qatar Airways, told reporters. “They feel they don’t need to go to an industry that really needs hands-on people,” he said, adding that shortages in airport staff could “hurt growth,” according to Reuters. With large numbers of pilots in the US set to retire in the coming years, industry lobbyists are now pushing to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. Incredibly, they are calling for the rollback of the federal requirement that new pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time before they qualify as air transport pilots and fly as first officers. When the pandemic first hit, US airline executives lobbied for and received some $63 billion in federal stimulus money, ostensibly to prevent layoffs when air travel collapsed. Instead, they promptly forced out 80,000 workers through “voluntary buyouts” and early retirements. After receiving their own government bailouts, Lufthansa, KLM and other European and international carriers did the same. According to research by consultancy Oxford Economics, cited by the Financial Times last week, compared with pre-COVID levels, there were 2.3 million fewer jobs in the aviation industry by September 2021.

A Political Earthquake Just Took Place in Latin America -Colombia’s presidential elections this past weekend were historical on a number of levels, not least because they portend a shift in relations with its long-term hegemon, the US.Gustavo Petro made history by becoming the country’s first left-wing president since Colombia won independence in 1819. One of the few people who came close to achieving the feat, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala, was assassinated during his second presidential campaign, way back in 1948. His murder, during the conference that gave birth to the Organization of American States (OAS), sparked the beginning of La Violencia, a Colombian civil war that lasted until the mid-fifties and killed an estimated 300,000 Colombians. Petro’s running mate, the veteran environmentalist Francia Marquez, also made history by becoming the country’s first ever ever Afro-Colombian vice president. The electoral coalition led by Petro and Marquez, the so-called “Historic Pact for Colombia,” obtained almost three million more votes than in the first round and 700,000 more than Petro’s opponent, the right-wing, business-friendly populist Rodolfo Hernández. The elections were historic for another reason: they appear to have dealt a final death blow to “Uribismo” — the political force that has dominated Colombia for the past 20 years. Since 2002 all governments in Colombia have been led, either directly or indirectly, by Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a scandal-tarnished right-wing politician who was credited with bringing some semblance of order and stability to Colombia after decades of fratricidal warfare. This he did by mobilizing the army and ruthless paramilitary organizations against leftist guerrilla groups as well as innocent civilians, all made possible by a $2.8 billion US “aid” package called “Plan Colombia.”. If, as publications both in Colombia and overseas are now suggesting, Uribismo is indeed on its last legs, it is probably not the best of news for Washington. An article published in late May by the North American Congress on Latin America explains why: Uribismo has been propped up by a system of dominant alliances that cater to the United States and sustained by the perpetuation of internal armed conflict that legitimizes a brutal repressive order. It is, of course, also sustained by the export of cocaine. Colombia became the United States’ main Latin American ally, its “beachhead” in the region. This came amid the Colombian government’s fight against guerrilla groups that controlled vast areas of the country, the rise of Chavismo in Venezuela, and the radicalization of various currents of the Left in Latin America. Uribe’s government welcomed U.S. military bases, advisers, troops, and tutelage into its strategic position to safeguard what Washington has long considered its backyard: Latin America, and specifically the juncture between South and Central America and between the Caribbean and the Pacific. This strategic site is now in serious jeopardy for Washington—not because of guerrilla victory as was the case in decades past, but because of the results of a peaceful, democratic, electoral process. The US currently has seven formal military bases in Colombia, according to the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (also known as CELAG). Other reports I have come across suggest it has eight. However, a report (in Spanish) published by School of Americas Watch in April 2021 claims there are also dozens of so-called “quasi-bases” — which differ from formal bases in no other way than that they lack a formal lease agreement for use of facilities — scattered around the country, particularly in areas rich in mineral resources and/or close to Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

Advanced Country Headline Inflation Rates – May 2022 -- by Menzie Chinn ---High inflation not just in the US: Figure 1: Year-on-year CPI inflation for US (black), Euro area (HICP) (tan), UK (green), Canada (red), Australia (pink), in %. NBER defined peak-to-trough recession dates for US shaded gray. Source: BLS via FRED, European Commission via FRED, Canada via Statistics Canada, Australia via FRED/OECD MEI, NBER and author’s calculations.

Turnaround for the Left, Big Gains for the Far Right in French Legislative Elections --Yesterday’s parliamentary elections in France (the results of which can be found here) offered a stark reminder of how quickly the political situation can change these days. Just over a month after incumbent Emmanuel Macron bested far right candidate Marine Le Pen in a run-off for the Presidency, Macron’s parliamentary supporters found themselves in a surprisingly close race with France’s new left coalition, the The New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (or NUPES by its French initials). In an election marked by low turnout, the President’s party emerged with the largest share of deputies – 234, down roughly 100 from 2017 – in the 577 seat National Assembly, but will now have to rely on the mainstream right Republicans (LR) to govern, or face the prospect of five years of gridlock. This result marks a major defeat for Macron. For the left, which ended up with 141 deputies, the impressive showing marks a surprising turnaround. Formed under the impetus of the left’s presidential standard-bearer, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the NUPES brought together a broad array of forces, ranging from Mélenchon’s own France Insoumise (FI), to the Greens, the Communists, and the rump of the nearly-moribund Socialist Party. It will now serve as the primary opposition to the Macronists in the next legislature. The left’s success is a reversal of the pattern in French politics during the past decade, when it was largely the far right that set the terms of debate. Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) emerged from Sunday’s election with the third most seats in the National Assembly, increasing their representation from 8 deputies to 89. Still, after two successive elections in which Le Pen made it to the run-off of the presidential vote against Macron, the NUPES’s ability to provide a serious alternative to Macron’s brand of economic liberalism and state repression is an impressive achievement. During the campaign, the image of an ascendant left provoked a flurry of denunciations from the press. Polls showing the NUPES running neck-and-neck with Macron’s electoral front, Ensemble! (Together!), provoked paroxysms of fury from the media and more conservative voices. Fears of a triumphant left winning a majority in parliament have led Macron and his allies to reverse the traditional “Republican Front” against the far right. The Macronists basic message is that between the “extremes” of the NUPES and the RN there is nothing to choose (although in the aftermath of the election, Éric Dupond-Moretti, Macron’s Justice Minister, floated the prospect of an alliance with the RN). The NUPES rise has been fueled by widespread concerns over the skyrocketing cost of living. Inflation, which passed 5% in May, the highest level since the early 1980’s, was a key concern for voters during the election campaign. The left offered several proposals for dealing with the issue: first, a set of emergency price controls on essential items. Second, a double-digit hike in France’s national minimum wage (the SMIC) to 1500 Euros a month. Third, a boost in pension benefits, public sector pay rates, and minimum welfare benefits to protect living standards. The NUPES’s electoral program (a French version of which can be found here) also included measures like a Green New Deal-style infrastructure plan for the environment, a million new public sector jobs, a 32-hour full time workweek, a cap on executive salaries, and substantial new taxes on the wealthy. All of these proposals were met with anger and derision from the French press. Mélenchon used his post-election address to emphasize the left’s differences with Macron and strike a defiantly radical tone. For Macron’s part, he and his party have spent the weeks since his reelection pretending the campaign was already over. Macronist candidates repeatedly avoided public debates with their opponents in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote.