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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

week ending Feb 20

  The illusion of wage growth could haunt the Fed - It’s been said that it’s the task of academic economists to play the role of the Lear-like fool, telling truth to power and challenging convention. So when two of the most prominent jesters at the court of King Jay begin to warn about inflation, it’s worth paying attention.  The two fools in question, Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard, have warned in recent weeks that the proposed US fiscal stimulus is so large that it could unleash a severe bout of price pressures. Their workings are based around the concept of the output gap — which measures the amount of slack in the economy. The $1.9tn package, Summers says, is so large that it risks overshooting the gap and producing the sort of inflation we haven’t seen in a generation. Others — including Kenneth Rogoff and Paul Krugman — think otherwise (for more on the debate as it stands, we’d recommend reading this by the FT’s economics editor Chris Giles). Still it’s worth mentioning Summers’ and Blanchard’s view as neither are hawks. Blanchard has in the past called for central banks to adopt inflation targets of 4 per cent (they normally target 2 per cent). Summers, meanwhile, popularised the idea that ultra-low interest rates were a necessary byproduct of the secular stagnation that economies such as the US were now seeing.  So will the Fed react if inflation does rear its head? The initial signs are that it won’t. There are a lot of people worried about inflation right now. But Powell isn’t one of them. Last week, the most powerful central banker in the world made clear that the US economy is nowhere near strong enough to meet the Fed’s criteria for tightening its monetary policy.  Indeed when Powell spoke, he appeared far more concerned about the state of the labour market — particularly for lower-paid workers — than the possibility of spiralling prices across the economy. But we still think he might come under pressure to change his tune. The reason? Well, the pain in the labour market might produce a temporary rise in inflation because that pain will be felt most by those with insecure employment and lower wages. Here’s how BNP Paribas Asset Management’s Richard Barwell puts it: The majority of the workforce, many of whom are well paid, was largely insulated from the pandemic. In contrast, there were huge job losses for those who work in hard-hit sectors like hospitality where wages are often low. The average level of pay went up because most of the job losses were concentrated amongst the low paid and it will go back down as and when they are re-hired. Changes in overtime hours in these sectors if demand does come roaring back could further muddy the waters. Bottom line: it will be hard to tell what is happening to underlying pay pressure.

 The Dollar Depreciates – And That’s a Good Thing -- Menzie Chinn - Interesting to note that the dollar has declined in tandem with economic policy uncertainty, as measured by the Baker, Bloom & Davis index (and predicted by historical correlations).  Not all else is held constant. Expected inflation has risen since the election — about 0.8 ppts on the 5 year breakeven — and the real ten year interest rate has fallen: about 15 bps. That means the decline in the dollar’s value is over-explained. Real rates have fallen somewhat, despite rising expectations of a large fiscal package. Rising expected inflation is consistent with the dollar’s movement, although the increase has been almost 2 ppts since March of 2020. From my perspective, dollar depreciation is a good thing, regardless of source. A depreciated dollar will encourage expenditure switching to the extent that exchange rate pass through is high (which is higher if from monetary shocks). I think a decrease in economic policy uncertainty is a win regardless — and that seems to have been delivered by the Biden election combined with unified control of the legislative branch. By the way, the increase in expected five year inflation is a positive insofar as it helps achieve the real rate necessary to equilibrate aggregate demand to aggregate supply (i.e., set the real ex ante rate at the natural rate).

1.25% 10Y Yields: Now What? - 10-year yields broke through 1.25% during the overnight session on what can best be described as pressing a crowded trade. We’re certainly onboard with a challenge of 1.25% and 1.273% (March 19th peak) beyond there, if for no other reason than late-Friday’s selloff has created more questions than answers – suggesting the underlying momentum evident during the overnight session must run its course before any retracement is in the offing.Moreover, the lack of an immediate bearish trigger also implies the recent bout of weakness has taken on a different character than had the march toward higher yields been accompanied by a fundamental data event or an influx of Treasury supply. In fact, the relatively smooth takedown of the February refunding left investors with the impression the supply concession in place prior to the auctions themselves would be sufficient. It’s the reemergence of the bearish trend in the absence of an identifiable catalyst that makes the selloff particularly notable.Given the fact rates are edging higher on a combination of bearish underpinnings as opposed to a distinct driver, the technical landscape is useful in gauging the extent to which any repricing may extend. Beyond 1.273%,  there is little support for 10s until an opening gap from 1.431%-1.471% that was established in late-February. 1.50% also holds obvious significance, however a 25 bp selloff driven by a series of already known bearish factors is difficult to envision,leaving us to anticipate dip-buying will emerge long before the overhead opening gap with an eye on anything >1.30% as sufficient incentive for any demand not sated by last week’s auction of $41 bn 10s at 1.155%.

 Rising Expected Inflation … to about 2% -- Menzie Chinn -The Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) February release and the January five year breakeven inflation rate suggest accelerating inflation – up to about 2.1%-2.2%  Figure 1: Year on year expected inflation from University of Michigan survey median response (blue), from Survey of Professional Forecasters median response (red +), and implied five year average inflation from spread between five year constant maturity Treasurys and TIPS (green). NBER defined recession dates and peak in gray. Source: U.Michigan via FRED, SPF via Cleveland Fed, and Treasury via FRED, NBER, and author’s calculations. The five year breakeven has risen further, to 2.37% as of yesterday (2/16). The latest observation for the Michigan survey of households (as opposed to economists) is for December, and comes in at 2.5%. Interestingly, households have consistently higher expectations of year-ahead CPI inflation, relative to forecasters. See Coibion and Gorodnichenko (2015) for further discussion of the differences, and which one better fits the expectations augmented Phillips Curve. Where will year-on-year inflation be in a year from now? Forecast errors for the Michigan and SPF (both based on medians) are shown below.  Figure 2: Forecast error for year on year expected inflation from University of Michigan survey median response (blue), from Survey of Professional Forecasters median response (red +).NBER defined recession dates and peak in gray. Source: U.Michigan via FRED, SPF via Cleveland Fed, NBER, and author’s calculations. Over the sample period displayed in Figure 2, The average forecast error is -0.96 ppts for the Michigan survey (i.e., households overpredict inflation), while that for the SPF is -0.06 ppts. (The five year breakeven underpredicts on average 5 year inflation by 0.11 ppts for 2003-2015, although there is a lot of upward skew, so median error is overprediction.)

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Movin' on up - From Merrrill Lynch:  Retail sales boosted our 1Q21 GDP tracking estimate by 1.5pp to 5.5% qoq saar. [Feb 19 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs:  We boosted our Q1 GDP tracking estimate by 1pp to +6.0% (qoq ar). [Feb 17 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 8.3% for 2021:Q1. [Feb 19 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow  The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2021 is 9.5 percent on February 18 [Feb 18 estimate]

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy - These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment.  The TSA is providing daily travel numbers. This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019-2020 (Blue) and 2020-2021 (Red). The dashed line is the percent of last year for the seven day average. This data is as of February 14th. The seven day average is down 58.5% from last year (41.5% of last year). (Dashed line) The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities. This data is updated through February 13, 2021. Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown. Dining picked up during the holidays. Note that dining is generally lower in the northern states - Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. Note that California dining picked up now after the orders to close was lifted. This data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the years 2016 through 2019. Blue is 2020 and Red is 2021. The data is from BoxOfficeMojo through February 11th. Movie ticket sales were at $6 million last week (compared to usually around $200 million per week at this time of year). This graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. The red line is for 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels - before 2020). This data is through February 6th. Hotel occupancy is currently down 30.5% year-over-year. Seasonally we'd expect that business travel would start to pick up in the new year, but there will probably not be much pickup early in 2021. 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. At one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY. Red is for 2021. As of February 5th, gasoline supplied was off about 9.1% (about 90.9% of the same week in 2019). This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index.This data is through February 13th for the United States and several selected cities. According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 50% of the January 2020 level. It is at 40% in Chicago, and 51% in Houston - and mostly moving sideways, and moving up a little recently. Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR). This graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is daily data since early 2020. This data is through Friday, February 12th. Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

Checkmate - MASS POLITICAL DISCOURSE operates on pure virality these days, and almost every issue that gains traction with the public is reduced to a nub, then ground through the outrage machine until it is barely recognizable. Economic stimulus? This is an argument about how big a government check should be. The unthinkable failure of American government in 2020––the fact that Congress passed an inadequate, short-term spending bill in March and then failed to pass another spending bill for nine months while hundreds of thousands of people died and society’s lower orders crumbled––was boiled down to a single question. Should the checks be $600 or $2,000? Relative to the magnitude of this discussion, almost nothing else was up for debate.  Surely, the reductive nature of the checks argument has something to do with how terrible online forums are for having discussions about policy. But it was also the fault of Democratic party politicians, who for most of 2020 were virtually silent about how the federal government might help people. So, into this vacuum of intellect, imagination, and leadership rushed the most straightforward idea. The CARES Act funding for an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits, among other things, had expired in July; yet, surprisingly, Democrats issued little in the way of public statements on this travesty. Hadn’t the CARES Act’s fiscal spending capped poverty? Few in the Democratic establishment seemed to notice this fabulous, commercial-ready selling point. Even fewer smeared their Republican counterparts in the press for refusing to agree to another bill. There was so little messaging that people across the political spectrum began to wonder if Nancy Pelosi was willing to tolerate mass immiseration in order to make Trump look bad. And then we had the unforced errors. After Democratic senators like Chuck Schumer (hardly the Platonic ideal of a progressive politician) and Elizabeth Warren suggested $50,000 in student debt relief, Biden, seemingly unprompted and fresh off his victory, walked the proposal back to $10,000. It might have been the worst PR effort by a political party ever.  But even a well-run PR campaign to embarrass Republicans––for refusing to extend federal fiscal help to small businesses, states and city governments, and unemployed workers across the country––would not have been enough. Had Congress managed to pass a second stimulus bill in the fall, the system for delivering that relief would still be seriously broken. The process for claiming unemployment benefits is so bad that, during a viral pandemic, thousands of people were forced to wait in line to claim their benefits (what’s that internet age I’ve been hearing so much about?). Government servers crashed across the country; states like Hawaii were found to be using a computer system from the 1980s; other states were using Eisenhower-era COBOL computers. Many people didn’t get their benefits for months, or registered and were incorrectly denied their claim.

In addition to Covid relief measures, President Biden has long-term plans to bring back jobs - President Joe Biden is facing a daunting task. There are just over 10 million Americans currently unemployed, with 4 million of those facing long-term unemployment. In addition, 4.3 million have left the labor force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They aren't counted in the unemployment rate, which only includes those who are actively looking for work in the past month or have been furloughed. "It's quite remarkable that he is facing an historic economic downturn in the same way that President Obama did," said Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick. "Who could have imagined that would have been the case over a year ago?" Biden is hoping his $1.9 trillion stimulus package will help. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently predicted the U.S. could return to full employment in 2022 if the measure is passed. However, former Treasury Secretary and Obama National Economic Council Larry Summers has warned that the size of the legislation could lead to unexpected inflation. Here's what the president has proposed, not only to address the near-term crisis but long-term issues as well. Co Biden's stimulus plan, currently being debated in Congress, calls for $1,400 in direct payments to most Americans and an increase in the child tax credit for one year. Biden also wants to increase the per-week unemployment benefit to $400 and extend it through September. A draft proposal issued by House Democrats ends the benefits on Aug. 29. The fate of a $15 minimum wage, in the president's proposal, is unclear. The Senate left it out of their version. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it will be in the House package, which will then be sent to the Senate. Pelosi said she expects the House plan to be signed into law by the end of the month.During the campaign, Biden made a number of promises to bring back jobs. Hamrick believes the president won't waste time in addressing structural problems within the economy. Indeed, the president met with lawmakers in the Oval Office on Thursday to talk about an infrastructure package. Warning that China is aggressively outpacing the U.S. on infrastructure, Biden said, "We just have to step up."

Focus on Capitol Hill turns to passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid relief bill -   Congressional Democrats renewed their focus Tuesday on passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, as they face a mid-March deadline for when enhanced unemployment benefits will expire if Congress doesn’t act in time. With former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial out of the way in the Senate, Democrats are preparing to push the legislation through a few final procedural hoops before an expected floor vote next week in the House. From there, the legislation would go to the Senate. Biden is participating in a CNN town hall event in Wisconsin on Tuesday night to discuss the coronavirus, the economy and other issues. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said he will use the opportunity to promote his relief plan, which includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, city and state governments, coronavirus testing, and vaccine manufacture and distribution.The proposal would increase emergency federal unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 a week and extend them into the fall. The benefits are set to expire March 14.“The president is going to continue working on getting the American Rescue Plan passed, that is his top priority,” Psaki said.Despite divisions within the House Democratic caucus, Democrats have largely unified behind the legislation. Nine House committees passed their individual portions of the bill last week, fighting back GOP attempts to alter it with dozens of amendments targeting everything from abortion to the minimum wage to the Keystone XL pipeline.Democrats defeated all the GOP amendments save for one, a relatively minor measure in the Agriculture Committee aimed at compensating farmers affected by derecho storms last year. Republicans repeatedly said they were frustrated that their views weren’t being considered as Democrats pushed the legislation forward without GOP support. Democrats defended their approach, saying they need to act quickly to inject more money into the health-care system and stabilize the economy with millions still out of work.

 Aid to Airlines Inserted Into $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill -  Draft legislation from congressional committees were made public for the Democrats’ big COVID-19 relief package. The House Financial Services Committee revealing plans to provide $14 billion in aid to airlines for payroll costs, along with $1 billion for airline contractors. The additional “Payroll Support Program” money for the airline industry counts as the “first surprise” as Democratic-run committees begin the work of writing the relief bill, said Height Capital Markets analyst Hunter Hammond. “We are a bit surprised at the inclusion of airline aid, given that it was not a part of the Biden American Rescue Plan, but this should be a reminder to investors (and ourselves) of what we wrote last month – that the plan Congress approves will be similar to, but not a carbon copy of, the Biden plan,” Hammond said. Draft legislation from another House committee also contained other transportation-related aid, including $8 billion for airports, $30 billion for transit agencies, $1.5 billion to Amtrak and $3 billion for aviation manufacturers’ payroll costs.

Biden talks infrastructure with top labor leaders - with $2 trillion in spending on the line - President Joe Biden met with top labor leaders on Wednesday to discuss the potential for COVID-19 relief, job creation, and further infrastructure improvements through new funding. Biden emphasized the importance of passing both his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, along with additional infrastructure funding, to boost the economy and create millions of new jobs in a meeting in the Oval Office with 10 labor officials. It's unclear whether Biden mentioned the $2 trillion price tag on infrastructure that he campaigned on in that meeting, which included Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, and Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Union. "We have an incredible opportunity to make some enormous progress in creating jobs," Biden told reporters before the meeting. According to his campaign website, Biden plans to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure that would create "good, union jobs that expand the middle class," but with his stimulus plan being the primary focus since he took office, discussions on infrastructure funding are only now beginning among labor leaders and lawmakers. During the meeting, the president discussed the need to increase US competitiveness, saying that the country ranks "something like 38th in the world in terms of our infrastructure," and he reiterated his campaign goals of moving the US up the ranks by investing in clean-energy infrastructure, like electric vehicles and high-speed railways, something Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said he would prioritize. "For working people, this was the most productive Oval Office meeting in years. The president and vice president share our belief that rebuilding our infrastructure is critical to our communities," Trumka said in a statement. "President Biden ran on a promise to build back better. As we made clear today, America can only build back better if unions are doing the building." 

PolitiFact | Joe Biden exaggerates support among economists for his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan - President Joe Biden has made beating the coronavirus and repairing the economic damage it unleashed his defining priorities. The central pillar of his strategy is a $1.9 trillion recovery plan.At a CNN town hall in Milwaukee, host Anderson Cooper asked Biden if he was committed to passing a $1.9 trillion bill, or if the number was up for negotiation.Biden responded as though there was no need for discussion. He said support for his package came from "economists left, right and center.""The overwhelming consensus is: In order to grow the economy a year or two, three, and four down the line, we can’t spend too much," Biden said Feb. 16. "Now is the time we should be spending. Now is the time to go big."Economists across the political spectrum have indeed embraced delivering substantial relief, but when it comes to the total price tag, there’s more debate than he describes.Including among Democrats. In early February, former Obama administration Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers voiced concerns. In a Washington Post op-ed, Summers warned that while the bill had to be big, there was a risk of overshoot. Spending too much on COVID-19, Summers said, would squeeze out money for other big plans, from infrastructure to renewable energy to preschool."After resolving the coronavirus crisis, how will political and economic space be found for the public investments that should be the nation’s highest priority?" Summers wrote.Summers was not alone.The former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, said $1.9 trillion was "too much." Blanchard agreed with the plan’s main goals — spending on vaccines and health care, protecting the people who lost jobs and boosting demand. But Blanchard didn’t reach Biden’s total."When you make the sum of all these needs, which are real and have to be satisfied, you don't get to $1.9 trillion. You get to a smaller number," Blanchard said Feb. 8.Blanchard’s ballpark number was $1 trillion.Desmond Lachman, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a market-oriented think tank, agreed that there is consensus across the ideological spectrum in favor of additional economic stimulus. The supporters include Lachman’s onetime colleague at the institute Kevin Hassett, who joined the Trump administration as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.Hassett told CNN that he broadly supports Biden’s $1.9 trillion package.But Lachman said there’s uneven support for that level of spending

James Galbraith: CBO Not Competent to Assess Economics of Minimum Wage -Congressional Budget Office Report on the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 underpins a February 11Washington Posteditorial headlined, “Democrats Must Listen to the Data.” The Postlaments that a $15 minimum wage would (according to CBO) eliminate about 1.4 million jobs when fully in effect, with half of the job losers leaving the workforce. Because of the projected fall in employment, the CBO also calculates that a $15 minimum wage would increase federal budget deficits by $54 billion dollars over ten years while adding $16 billion to federal interest costs. Much of the CBO report details the effects of an increase in the minimum wage on Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and on tax revenues, which would increase due to higher payroll taxes on higher rates of pay. Some of this analysis is apparently novel and represents a significant advance on earlier CBO work in this area. However, the net estimated budget effects are small, since the total increases in spending are roughly offset by increases in tax revenue or reductions in tax expenditure. Of the cumulative estimated increase in the (on-budget) deficit, almost $53 billion are due to spending increases in just three areas: unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and CHIP. These expenses CBO attributes to its projection of job loss. The job loss projection is therefore the nub of CBO’s deficit projection, and it is important to understand how CBO arrived at its number. The method is not explained in the CBO’s analysis, and a paper cited does not offer much explanation either. CBO merely states that it “has formed distributions of values for both wage growth and [employment] responsiveness” and “to generate an average estimate, CBO simulated a distribution of possible changes in employment by drawing randomly from these distributions.” The distributions themselves are said to be based on economic research, presumably academic research by labor economists.The first problem is that the academic “literature” on which the distribution of estimates of an increase in the minimum wage is based is deeply uncertain and highly controversial. A predominance of studies are based on the simple idea that demand curves for labor slope downward, the proposition that with a higher average wage, fewer people necessarily will be employed. This is a textbook verity, often repeated, and beloved by business lobbies. But it is eminently doubtful in the real world. The real world is shot through with high unemployment in low-wage regions and fuller employment in high-wage regions, and it is also a fact, looking around the world, that more egalitarian regions have lower unemployment, generally, than less egalitarian regions.[1]A second problem is that few if any studies can fairly assess the effect of a large increase in theminimum wage, which is a different animal from the average wage because no such large-scale increase has occurred in the record. Instead, academic studies generally confine themselves to projecting estimates from small changes that have been observed, out into an environment in which they provide little to no useful guidance. That is what CBO has also done here. In any event, the minimum wage is a peculiar thing. It is very low and applies to a very small and marginalized fraction of the working population. Who are they? In the main, they are teenagers working a first job, women and minorities in low-income communities and regions, day laborers, and migrant workers. What happens to these workers when the minimum rises is far from clear since one must also take account of the effect on workers who make a bit more than the present minimum, whose pay will also be increased, many of whom are in the same families as minimum wage workers.

Biden says polling shows Americans want 'everything' that's in his COVID relief plan - During a meeting with labor leaders in the Oval Office on Wednesday, President Biden said that according to polling, Americans want everything his American Rescue Plan calls for. Video Transcript - BIDEN: I learned based on the polling data, they want everything that's in the plan, it's not a joke. Everything that's in the plan. I, the fact is, that I'd like to, I asked a rhetorical question, those who opposed the plan, what don't they like? What particular program don't they like? Don't they want to help people with nutrition? Don't they want to help people be able to pay their mortgages? Don't they want to help people get their unemployment insurance? Don't they want to make sure that people are able to stay in their homes without being thrown out of their homes in the middle of this God awful pandemic? What don't they like? And the truth of the matter is, polling data from last night and all the polls you've all done, they come from you guys. Not you personally, but your networks and your organizations, show that somewhere between 64% and 69% of the American people think we have to do this. And it's not about the money, it's about in order to do everything from open schools as we should to make sure that we're generating income for people who are in real trouble, it's about how much it costs. The federal government has to chip in, make sure we get this done. And as I said, almost every major economist in the country and the International Monetary Fund as well, says it's going to grow the economy. And that's what we're talking about here. We're going to talk about how we grow the economy.

 White House economist Jared Bernstein says $1.9 trillion package would deal "blow" to COVID -  As negotiations continue between the Biden administration and Congress on a COVID-19 relief package that could top $1.9 trillion, White House economist Jared Bernstein argues that President Biden's American Rescue Plan "is calibrated to be of a magnitude to finally deal this COVID-19 virus the blow that hasn't occurred yet." Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, said the administration hopes to see Congress pass the bill by mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and other short-term relief elements from December's COVID-relief bill will expire. "We have a deadline that we have to be mindful of, whether it's unemployment insurance, mortgage forbearance, eviction forbearance," Bernstein told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett in this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast. "Those kinds of things have to be extended quickly to make sure that the American people and businesses don't suffer one of those air pockets, another lapse in the relief." The White House is also focusing on economic inequalities that continue to be exacerbated by the pandemic, Bernstein said, explaining that America is experiencing a "K" shaped recovery that disproportionately affects Americans of color. "The upper leg of the K are people who just continue to do well and prosper. And at the bottom leg of the K are people who continue to struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic," Bernstein said. "We are an economy where the stock (market) is booming and where lines at food banks wrap around blocks for miles." Bernstein who was previously chief economic adviser to Mr. Biden when he was vice president, rejected the idea of a small COVID relief package like the one proposed by Senate Republicans, reiterating the White House mantra that "the risks of doing too much are much smaller than the risk of doing too little."

 Yellen Defends Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Package – WSJ —Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen defended the size of the administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, saying in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that she hopes the measure will be enacted in coming weeks. “We are digging out of a deep hole,” Ms. Yellen said of the economic slump induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We think it’s very important to have a big package that addresses the pain this has caused,” she said. The jobless rate in January was 6.3%, almost double the rate before the pandemic struck early last year. Ms. Yellen said the true jobless rate was closer to 10% because millions of people who have dropped out of the labor force aren’t officially counted as unemployed. The Congressional Budget Office projected last week that it would take until 2024 for the labor market to return to its pre-pandemic level without additional federal aid. Ms. Yellen said President Biden would like to see the relief measure pass with bipartisan support. Republicans and some economists have questioned whether the proposal, which would include $1,400 stimulus checks for many Americans, provide extended unemployment insurance and deliver aid for state and local governments, would give more support than the economy needs. Asked whether the surge of federal spending could prompt a sustained rise in the inflation rate, Ms. Yellen said that is a risk, but she added that inflation has been very low for many years and that the Federal Reserve has the tools to confront that risk by raising interest rates. “The greater risk is of scarring of people, having this pandemic taking a permanent lifelong toll on their lives and livelihoods,” she said. She said the administration expects the long-run benefits of the bill will outweigh the costs. Ms. Yellen also said she isn’t worried about being able to finance more deficit spending, saying investor appetite for Treasury debt is robust. Many economists expect the economy to gather momentum this year, especially in the second half, as more people are vaccinated, the pandemic is brought under control and Americans begin traveling more, eating out at restaurants and resuming other activities hampered by the virus. Ms. Yellen said the White House will propose likely later this year a second economic recovery package that would include spending on longer-term investments, such as infrastructure, renewable energy, education, job training and research and development. That proposal would also include tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans that would be phased in over time, she said.

House aims to vote on Covid relief bill by the end of next week, Pelosi says - The House aims to pass its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan before the end of February as Democrats race to beat a deadline to extend key unemployment programs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. The California Democrat told reporters she hopes for a vote "sometime at the end of next week." House leaders will stay in touch with the Senate about what Congress can include in the aid package under budget reconciliation, which enables Democrats to approve the plan without Republican votes, Pelosi added. The party aims to speed up Covid-19 vaccinations and buoy jobless Americans as the U.S. approaches a year of fighting the health crisis. Some Republicans have backed a smaller bill based around vaccine distribution money, but Democrats wielding control of Congress and the White House say they risk a tepid response that leads to more financial pain. Millions of Americans could lose jobless benefits if lawmakers fail to act in the coming weeks. A $300 per week federal unemployment supplement and provisions expanding eligibility for insurance will expire on March 14. The Democratic plan would increase the enhanced payment to $400 per week through Aug. 29. It would extend the pandemic-era jobless programs, which offer benefits to self-employed and gig workers and increase the number of weeks Americans can receive payments, through the same date. The legislation would also send $1,400 direct payments to most Americans and up to $3,600 per child to households over a year. It would put $20 billion into a national vaccination program, $350 billion into state, local and tribal aid and $170 billion into K-12 schools and colleges for reopening and student aid costs. Republicans have criticized the bill's overall cost and raised concerns about the amount of money going into stimulus checks and schools. The House bill includes a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The Senate parliamentarian will decide whether the proposal complies with rules governing budget bills. Opposition to the minimum wage hike from within the Democratic Party could sink the provision. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are skeptical of raising the pay floor to $15 an hour. A single Democratic vote against the pandemic relief bill would stop it from getting through a Senate split 50-50 by party.

Biden to critics of $1.9 trillion relief plan: ‘What would they have me cut?' - President Biden mounted a strong defense Friday of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, addressing GOP critics who say it’s too big and asking, “What would they have me cut?”“Should we not invest 20 billion dollars to vaccinate the nation?” Biden asked during a visit to a Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Mich. “Should we not invest 50 billion dollars to help small businesses stay open when tens of thousands have had to close permanently?”“How many people do you know will go to bed tonight staring at the ceiling saying, ‘God, what is going to happen if I don’t get my job, if I don’t have my unemployment check?’” Biden added.“I could go on, but you get the point.”Biden spoke as the House prepares to take up the legislation next week, with Senate action to follow. He said he was open to hearing ideas on how to change the proposal or reduce its price tag — although the White House has refused so far to move off the $1.9 trillion figure.“I’m grateful that the Senate and the House are moving quickly and I’m prepared to hear their ideas on how to make the package better and make it cheaper. I’m open to that,” Biden said. “But we have to make clear who is helped and who is hurt. And my hope is that the Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents.”Biden cited polling showing majorities of the public support his plan, although support among Republicans is under 50 percent in some polls. Despite modest efforts on Biden’s part to court Senate Republicans, GOP lawmakers appear uniformly opposed to the legislation. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) sent out a “whip notice” Friday urging a “no” vote on the plan and labeling it the “Pelosi’s Payoff to Progressives Act” — a reference to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Earlier Friday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged that Congress would approve the legislation and send it to the president to sign ahead of the March 14 deadline of when enhanced unemployment insurance benefits expire.

Biden 'open' to lowering the $1.9 trillion coronavirus package price tag  President Biden Friday defended the size of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package even as he signaled to critics he'd be willing to make some trims to win their support. The House is prepared to vote next week on Biden's massive package as GOP leadership is actively urging their members to reject the legislation they've dubbed a bloated progressive wish list. "I'm grateful that the Senate and the House are moving quickly," Biden said Friday in Michigan after touring a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant. "I'm prepared to hear their ideas on how to make the package better and make it cheaper. I'm open to that." Biden, however, suggested it's Republicans that should get on board with his plan because the American people want them to "act big and quickly." "My hope is that Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents," Biden said. "According to the polls, there is overwhelming bipartisan support." Biden said underneath the $1.9 trillion price tag is genuine relief for Americans who need help. He ticked off specifics of the legislation, including helping the unemployed, small businesses, school reopening, vaccination availability and Americans who are hungry and at risk of losing the homes. "We need Congress to pass my American rescue plan that deals with the immediate crisis, the urgency," Biden said. "Now critics say my plan is too big. That it costs $1.9 trillion. That's too much. Let me ask them: What would they have me cut?" Democrats control narrow majorities in both the House and Senate. They are preparing to pass the coronavirus legislation under a process called budget reconciliation that would not require any GOP votes if their caucus stays united.

The minimum wage hike Biden ran on is unlikely to be in the Senate's $1.9 trillion stimulus package --Democrats are gearing up to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, but all signs are pointing to a much-anticipated minimum wage hike not being included in the bill.Increasing the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 an hour to $15 is a major priority for Democrats, who now control the Senate for the first time since 2015, and is something Biden has also stressed in his campaign and in his presidency.But in a recent call with governors of both parties, Biden told them not to get their hopes up about the wage increase being included in the stimulus package because of procedural rules, Politico reported.The Senate will likely pass the stimulus package through a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass budget-related legislation with just a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the usual 60-vote majority required in the Senate to get past the filibuster.The Senate is currently divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Specifically, Biden expressed doubt that a minimum wage increase being included in the reconciliation package would pass muster under the Byrd rule, saying, "doesn't look like we can do it," according to Politico.Named for legendary former West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, the rule stipulatesthat matters "extraneous" to the budget process cannot be passed through reconciliation.It's ultimately up to the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth McDonough, to determine what can be included under the parameters of the Byrd rule. But Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years from 1973 to 2009, doesn't seem optimistic that the process would survive a so-called Byrd bath, a review of the provision's permissibility through reconciliation.

Stimulus update: House Democrats unveil full $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill with minimum wage increase - -- House Democrats took another step Friday in their effort to advance a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, releasing the full bill text, which includes an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, $1,400 direct checks for Americans making $75,000 or less a year, an extension of $400 federal unemployment benefits and more money for small businesses struggling amid the pandemic.The legislation, which had already been passed in pieces out of individual committees, was packaged together by the House Budget Committee.The panel will take up the bill Monday and it is expected to come to the House floor for a vote later next week. Democrats have a narrow margin to pass the bill, and Republican leaders have already begun whipping their members against it, arguing it spends too much money.The House's bill closely resembles President Joe Biden's rescue plan and includes more money for schools, vaccine distribution and funding for state and local governments.  The bill is not expected to attract much, if any, Republican support. On Friday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise urged Republicans in an email to vote "no" on what his office called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Payoff to Progressives Act." “It's clear Democrats have no interest in approaching COVID relief in a timely and targeted fashion and are instead using the reconciliation process to jam through their liberal wish list agenda," Scalise's office wrote.Hours later, Pelosi's office pushed back on that characterization from Republicans.  "With millions of Americans unemployed and demanding relief to reopen schools and get people back to work, House Republican leadership is demanding its members vote against a bipartisan plan to help struggling Americans," her office said in an email. "Americans need help. House Republicans don't care." Once the House passes the legislation, it will next go to the Senate where Democrats hold the narrowest possible majority. The expectation is that some pieces of the bill will have to change in order to accommodate the rules for the budget process known as reconciliation, which allows Democrats in the Senate to pass the bill with just a simple majority. The Senate has a partisan split of 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to step in and act as the tie-breaking vote.

Will more stimulus follow Democrats' $1.9 trillion relief bill? -- While Democrats work on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill to get to President Biden by next month, there are rumblings that another multitrillion-dollar package could follow. The Washington Post reported this week that discussions have already begun regarding a $3 trillion bill, which would include Biden’s previously detailed plans for infrastructure, manufacturing revitalization, and green energy. When asked whether a $3 trillion package would follow the $1.9 trillion relief bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that there are ongoing discussions about possible future agenda items – though no firm decisions have been made. Three people familiar with the matter told The Post that the $3 trillion figure was being kicked around for the second bill, which would be on top of a potential $1.9 trillion and $4 trillion spent under the former administration. Spending figures, however, are said to be very preliminary. Some government officials, however, are less concerned with mounting debt levels and more worried about getting the U.S. economy and American families back on their feet.

China Threatens To Hobble US Defense Industry By Limiting Export Of Rare-Earth Metals --China has been quietly exploring the economic damage it could inflict to US and European companies - including defense contractors - if they were to impose export 'restrictions' on 17 rare-earth materials, according to a report in the Financial Times.Notably, the US government relies on these rare earths for the manufacture of F-35 jets and other sophisticated weaponry, which use them for critical components such as electrical power systems and magnets."The government wants to know if the US may have trouble making F-35 fighter jets if China imposes an export ban," said one Chinese government adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity.One rare earth metal for example, samarium cobalt, is used in precision guided missiles and fighter jets, and advanced communications systems.FT added that "[t]he Ministry of Industry and Information Technology last month proposed draft controls on the production and export of 17 rare earth minerals in China, which controls about 80% of global supply."Before being voted out of office, President Trump and his administration sought to take steps that might help the US limit China's resource dominance in this area, including signing an executive order declaring a "national emergency" in the US mining and minerals industry (much of which remains focused on digging coal out of the ground). China has been widely acknowledged as dominant in the rare-earth minerals market for decades. But with Trump out, and a much more China-friendly administration back in power in Washington, it looks like Beijing is already considering playing hardball to get what it wants.

Turkey Summons US Ambassador As Erdogan Blasts Biden's Support For "Kurdish Terrorists" Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is once again blasting what he's deemed US support of "terrorists" after a major incident in which Kurdish militants reportedly executed 13 kidnapped Turks in northern Iraq. Ankara on Monday summoned the US ambassador to express outrage at the lukewarm American statement on the killings which appeared to question the credibility of the Turkish claims. "The United States said it stood by fellow NATO member Turkey and that it condemned the killings if it was confirmed that responsibility lay with the PKK," according to a Reuters summation of the State Department statement. Erdogan and top officials were outraged, with the president in a speech before AK Party supporters calling the US official stance "a joke"and "ridiculous". "Now there is a statement made by the United States. It's a joke. Were you not supposed to stand against the PKK, the YPG? You clearly support them and stand behind them," Erdogan said, enraged by what's being perceived as US skepticism over Turkey's version of events.  The summary execution allegation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was leveled on Sunday, and included claims the PKK had killed Turkish military and police which had been previously captured. Turkish officials described some of its forces were captured on Feb.10 during an operation against Kurdish militants in which 48 PKK members were killed.   Below is the US statement that Erdogan accused of being intentionally weak: "We stand with our NATO Ally Turkey and extend our condolences to the families of those lost in the recent fighting. The United States deplores the death of Turkish citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.Price said that if reports that the PKK was responsible were confirmed, they "condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."Erdogan was visibly angry in a Monday speech he gave to supporters at an event in a coastal Black Sea town: Tensions between the US and Turkey have already been on edge for years given the US backing for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria. Addressing this, Erdogan continued: "If we are together with you in NATO, if we are to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely towards us. Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists."

Jen Psaki can't say if Israel and Saudi Arabia are 'important allies' -- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave a vague, rambling answer Friday when asked at a briefing to reporters whether the Biden administration considers Saudi Arabia and Israel to be “important allies.”“Can you please just give us a broad sense of what the administration is trying to achieve in the Middle East?” a reporter asked — in follow-up to an earlier question asking why President Biden has yet to call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.“For example,” the reporter asked, “does the administration still consider the Saudis and the Israelis important allies?Rather than saying simply, “Yes,” Psaki gave this answer, according to a White House transcript of the late-afternoon briefing.“Well, you know, again, I think we — there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes — one that we, I think, confirmed an interagency meeting just last week — to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. “We’re — we’ve only been here three and a half weeks, and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give, kind of, a complete laydown of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues,” she added.Earlier in the press briefing, in insisting that Biden’s failure to call Netanyahu is “not an intentional diss,” Psaki said, “Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel, and the president has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s a mutual commitment to for some time.“It is just a reflection of the fact that we have been here three and a half weeks, he’s not called every single global leader yet, and he is eager to do that in the weeks ahead.”A reporter followed up: “But he has called every other major ally in Europe and Asia,” to which Psaki answered, ‘He’s called many of them.”“That is true,” she continued, adding, vaguely, “Some would argue they haven’t received calls yet, and they are still eager to receive them.”“But I can assure you he will be speaking with the prime minister soon, and he’s looking forward to doing that.”She declined to indicate when the call would happen, even to say if it would be a matter of days or weeks.

Biden Downgrades Saudi Crown Prince to ‘Recalibrate’ Ties - President Joe Biden intends to “recalibrate” the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and will emphasize outreach to King Salman, in a move that signals a downgrade in ties with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler.It is the latest sign Biden’s team is taking a different track from former President Donald Trump toward the world’s largest oil exporter. Trump established close ties with Prince Mohammed and made Saudi Arabia the centerpiece of his strategy toward the Middle East after taking his first trip abroad as president there.That’s all being scaled back. In Biden’s first few days, the U.S. put a hold on some key weapons sales to the kingdom and announced new efforts to bring an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Biden has also called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record.“We’re going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “Part of that is going back to engagement counterpart-to-counterpart. The president’s counterpart is King Salman.”Instead of engaging primarily with Biden, the crown prince’s most appropriate counterpart is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, according to a person familiar. While Prince Mohammed’s official role is deputy prime minister and defense minister, he has a vast range of responsibilities as heir to the throne his father, 85, has held since 2015. He runs the country’s day-to-day affairs, and it’s common for foreign leaders to liaise with him directly, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and France’s Emmanuel Macron.The changes suggest U.S.-Saudi relations will return to “more structured, routine channels,” according to Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Mideast official at the State Department. “This is a slapdown of MBS, who the administration views as reckless and ruthless.”

In Major Nuke Deal Breakthrough, Biden Tells Iran 'We're Ready For EU-Sponsored Talks' -A first potential major breakthrough which so far has proved elusive after Biden has stalled on prior promises to 'immediately' restore US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, the United States appears to have just changed its tune. An admin official has said 'maximum pressure' could come to an end if Iran agrees to engage through a broader EU-hosted meeting base in the P5+1 framework. "The United States would be ready to hold talks with Iran if the European Union extended an invitation, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday, sketching out a possible diplomatic path to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal," Reutersreports late in the day Thursday. Further the official said the administration's "goal is to get both sides back into compliance with the nuclear deal" and has extended the invitation to Iran: "Let's talk about how to get there."Previously the administration appeared to balk when initially just such an offer was made two weeks ago by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for the European Union to coordinate a piecemeal approach for dropping sanctions and Iran's return to conformity. But now Reuters has cited a top admin official to say "We are ready to show up if such a meeting were to take place" - in what's clearly an invitation for Iran to signal the same. Iran has indicated it will begin blocking IAEA inspectors from its nuclear facilities starting Sunday, February 21st, hence this new scramble out of the Biden administration to find a way forward before this next escalation measure that many fear would be hard to roll back takes effect. Both the US and Europe are warning against such a step.The US has lately been in direct talks with allies Britain, France, and Germany - the key European signatories to the JCPOA - and it appears they've finally struck up a common strategy in getting the frozen communications between Tehran and Washington going again.

Biden team a takes major step in offering to start talks with Iran as Tehran’s sanctions deadline approaches - Iran and the U.S. are in a standoff. President Joe Biden's administration wants to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, but is demanding to see changes from Tehran before it will lift the heavy sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump team. Meanwhile, Iran says it wants Washington to step up its game and make the first move, refusing to budge until those sanctions are lifted. But the Biden administration on Thursday took a major step, joining with European partners in offering to begin talks with the Iranians for the first time in four years. "The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting ... to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. The Biden team also rescinded the former Trump administration's efforts to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told European ministers in a call Thursday that it would work with them to restore the 2015 accord, which he described as "a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy," according to a New York Times report. It remains unclear whether Iran will agree to the talks. Iran previously set a deadline of Sunday, Feb. 21, vowing that if oil and banking sanctions are not lifted by then, it will expel the U.N.'s nuclear inspectors from the country, ending outside access to its facilities. The political brinkmanship raises questions over Biden's plans to salvage a deal which has effectively been on life support since former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of it in 2018. The Iranian nuclear deal, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was spearheaded by the Obama administration and involved several other world powers. It lifted international sanctions on Iran, offering the country of 83 million economic relief, in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program, which included mandated inspections by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Any removal of IAEA inspectors "would make an agreement much more difficult to achieve; without mechanisms for monitoring Iran's nuclear program, mistrust from the U.S. and the remaining parties to the JCPOA would deepen," Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in a research note this week.#160;

Biden plans to focus on coronavirus in first G-7 meeting - President Biden will join leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) nations this Friday for a virtual summit focused on the global response to COVID-19 and efforts to build back world economies, a White House statement said Sunday. At the virtual gathering, hosted by the United Kingdom, Biden will "focus on a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic," suggesting that the Biden administration will pursue an approach to the pandemic that involves U.S. allies in a greater role than did the Trump administration, which pulled the U.S. out of the World Health Organization-led COVAX effort to distribute vaccines in less developed nations. The Biden administration pledged in January to rejoin that effort, while also vowing to vaccinate 100 million Americans within the first 100 days of the president taking office. Other discussions with leaders at the summit will focus on economic recovery from the pandemic, which left millions out of work in the U.S. alone, as well as the G-7's economic stance toward China, which the president has vowed to hold accountable for acts of economic espionage and other trade disputes. "President Biden will also discuss the global economic recovery, including the importance of all industrialized countries maintaining economic support for the recovery and collective measures to build back better," the statement from the White House read. "President Biden will also discuss need to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China," it continued. Friday's meeting will be the first G-7 meeting of Biden's presidency and the first time the group of allies has met since April of last year.

 Biden, Democrats To Unveil 'Major Overhaul' Immigration Bill That Includes Pathway To Citizenship  -- The Biden administration and Congressional Democrats are set to unveil what the Associated Press described as a "major immigration overhaul that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living in the US without legal status." The legislation will be released in detail Thursday morning, and is expected to contain 'broad priorities for immigration reform' that Biden promised during his first day in office - including increasing the number of visas issued, new technology at the southern border, and funds to process asylum applications. The bill would immediately provide green cards to farm workers, those with temporary protected status and young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. For others living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2021, the plan establishes a five-year path to temporary legal status, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfill other basic requirements. Then, after three years, they can pursue citizenship. The plan would raise the current per-country caps for family and employment-based immigrant visas. It would eliminate the penalty barring those immigrants who live in the U.S. without authorization and who then leave the country from returning for three to 10 years. It also would provide resources for more judges, support staff and technology to address the backlog in processing asylum seekers. The bill would expand transnational anti-drug task forces in Central America and enhances technology at the border. And it would try to reduce the burden at the border by setting up refugee processing in Central America, to try to prevent some of the immigrant caravans that have overwhelmed border security in recent years. -Associated Press   Also included in the plan is $4 billion allocated over four years aimed at boosting economic development and tackling corruption in Latin American countries - which sounds like a giant, undefined slush fund. The full text of the bill will be unveiled by lead sponsors Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) - the latter of whom was part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators who negotiated a 2013 immigration reform bill that ultimately failed.

Biden begins to unravel Trump's 'remain in Mexico' program by allowing in some asylum seekers (Reuters) - The United States will begin rolling back one of former President Donald Trump’s most restrictive immigration policies on Friday, allowing in the first of thousands of asylum seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard. President Joe Biden pledged during his campaign that he would immediately rescind the Trump policy, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) under which more than 65,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers were denied entry and sent back across the border pending court hearings. Most returned home but some stayed in Mexico in sometimes squalid or dangerous conditions, vulnerable to kidnapping and other violence. Now they will be allowed into the United States to wait for their applications to be heard in immigration courts. The effort will start slowly, with only limited numbers of people being admitted on Friday at the port of entry in San Ysidro, California. It will expand to two additional ports of entry in Texas, including one near a migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, in the coming week, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokeswoman. Perla Vargas, a Nicaraguan asylum seeker in the Matamoros camp, was among the first to set up a tent near the banks of the Rio Grande River in the summer of 2019, after she was returned to Mexico with her daughter and her two grandchildren to wait for their U.S. court cases to be resolved. On Thursday, Vargas handed over the keys to a makeshift school that she helped found, in advance of what she hoped was her imminent departure. “The children ask me, ‘Is the school going to miss me?’” Vargas said.

Puerto Rico governor: Congress 'morally obligated' to act on statehood vote - Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in an interview that aired Sunday that Congress is “morally obligated” to act after a slight majority of the U.S. territory voted in favor of statehood. Pierluisi, who was sworn in last month, told “Axios on HBO” that he expects the House to propose legislation for Puerto Rican statehood by mid-March, after Democrats gained control of the Senate and the White House. The governor cited discussions with lawmakers, including Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Del. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), for his prediction, adding that statehood would provide new access to programs, such as Medicaid and the earned income tax credit. “What I anticipate is that there will be considerable support for a statehood bill in this Congress,” Pierluisi said in the interview. "The U.S. could be expanding by admitting Puerto Rico into the union,” he added. “It would be telling the world that it is embracing diversity because this would be a truly, completely Hispanic state." Puerto Ricans currently cannot vote for president in the general election and do not have full voting members of Congress. Pierluisi argued that more representation would help the island address its needs. "Statehood is not a panacea," Pierluisi said. "Of course we have to do better. But there's no question that having two senators and four representatives in Congress batting for us when needed would make a difference."

US deports 95-year-old Nazi concentration camp guard - A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard was deported from Tennessee to Germany, authorities said Saturday. Freidrich Karl Berger, who is a German citizen, was ordered to be removed from the U.S. in February of last year due to his participation in “Nazi-sponsored persecution” while guarding prisoners at a concentration camp in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system in 1945, according to a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Berger was a guard at a Neuengamme sub-camp near Meppen, Germany, where prisoners were held during the winter of 1945. During a two-day trial last February, Berger admitted to guarding prisoners in order to prevent them from escaping. After the trial, an immigration judge in Memphis found that prisoners at the camp were held in “atrocious” conditions during the winter of 1945, and were forced to work “to the point of exhaustion and death.” Berger helped guard prisoners when Nazis abandoned the camp at the end of March 1945 because allied British and Canadian troops advanced, ICE said. The nearly two-week trip resulted in 70 deaths. The decision also noted that he still receives a pension from Germany based on his employment for the country, “including his wartime service.”2:00 PM

‘Fire DeJoy Before He Burns Down USPS’: Postmaster General Pushes Plan for Slower Mail, Higher Prices - Undeterred by the backlash and widespread delays that followed his disruptive operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service last year, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is reportedly planning to roll out another slate of policies that would significantly hike postage rates and further slow the delivery of certain kinds of mail.While the plan has yet to be finalized, new details of the proposal—first reportedby theWashington Post—intensified pressure on President Joe Biden to take decisive action before DeJoy inflicts any more damage on the most popular government institution in the country.“Fire DeJoy before he burns down the USPS,” Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at Fordham University, tweeted Saturday. “Biden has the power to fill the board that decides his fate. That board should be full of people who believe in public postal services. And that board must be ready to fire him quickly.”According to the Post, DeJoy—with the support of the USPS Board of Governors, which is composed entirely of Trump appointees—is “preparing to put all first-class mail onto a single delivery track… a move that would mean slower and more costly delivery for both consumers and commercial mailers.”The postmaster general has also “discussed plans to eliminate a tier of first-class mail—letters, bills, and other envelope-sized correspondence sent to a local address—designated for delivery in two days,” the Post reported. “Instead, all first-class mail would be lumped into the same three- to five-day window, the current benchmark for nonlocal mail.”“The plan also prevents first-class mail from being shipped by airplane,” the Postnoted, “forcing all of it into trucks and a relay of distribution depots.” In addition to the new operational changes—which would be piled on top of the DeJoy policies that dramatically hampered USPS performance last year amid the coronavirus pandemic and national elections—the postmaster general intends to “push for significantly higher postage rates” in the name of raising revenue, according to the Post.

Black Lives Matter Inland Empire Announces Break With BLM Global Network: Calls Out Lack of Transparency, Democratic Party Control -- Black Lives Matter Inland Empire, in an open letter, last week announced its departure from the cash-heavy Black Lives Global Network. (excerpt: To our community, Recently, a group of BLM chapters known as the BLM 10 has come forward to voice their concerns and opposition to the Global Network. Those concerns, along with the egregious conduct the Global network demonstrated on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, have brought us to the conclusion that continuing to remain silent would be an act of betrayal. While the issues and problems that have been raised have been well known within our circle for years, it prompted many questions & concerns for us locally. For years, the leadership of the Los Angeles chapter has aligned with the Global network and One United Bank to impose on various chapters, particularly ours. We believe that while doing this they received substantial donations and funding, despite them continually soliciting the community for donations. Together, the Los Angeles Chapter along with the Global Network have consistently tried to strong-arm other groups and  have worked to undermine a grassroots movement by capitalizing on unpaid labor, suppressing any internal attempt at democracy, commodifying Black death, and profiting from the same pain and suffering inflicted on Black communities that we’re fighting to end. In spite of  being ostracised, receiving no financial support, and the maltreatment from both the Global Network and Los Angeles Chapter we’ve maintained our composure while working to the benefit of our community and victims of state sanctioned violence. Clearly, we do not have the same beliefs or sense of ethics. We no longer feel, as we initially did, that our politics align. As a result, we are announcing that we are no longer associated or connected to the BLM Global Network. As an attempt to distance ourselves, we have decided to rename part of our organization The Black Power Collective while we restructure. The use of the BLM name, which we believed was intended to unify our struggle, has been commodified and debased. It is now being used to sell products, acquire book deals, T.V. deals, and speaking engagements. We have no interest in these pursuits, and we are opposed to the movement to substitute Black capitalism for white capitalism. It has become clear that the Global network and certain figures have platformed our struggles with the sole purpose of exploiting our labor.

 UN report says Erik Prince violated arms embargo against Libya: report -- Erik Prince, former head of security contractor Blackwater, sent weapons to a Libyan militia leader in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. A confidential U.N. report sent to the Security Council and obtained by The New York Times shows that Prince sent foreign mercenaries with weapons such as attack aircraft and gunboats to eastern Libya in 2019 to support Khalifa Haftar, the commander who was fighting to supplant the internationally-recognized Libyan government. The mercenaries involved in the plot also reportedly planned to assassinate specific Libyan commanders. The report adds to the infamy of Blackwater, which garnered international criticism in 2007 when its contractors killed 17 civilians in Iraq. Prince, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, mostly sends his resources to Africa, including many of its resource-rich but impoverished nations. He was also one of former President Trump’s staunchest supporters. Prince did not cooperate with the U.N. probe, but the accusation that he violated the arms embargo around Haftar leaves him open to possible sanctions. The report details Prince’s involvement in the ongoing struggle in Libya. The war pits Haftar, a former CIA-asset-turned-insurgent-strongman, against the internationally-backed government in Tripoli. The government was propped up after the Arab Spring uprising that killed Muammar Qaddafi thrust the nation into anarchy. Prince made his offer to help Haftar shortly after the start of the rebel leader’s fierce campaign to take Tripoli. Trump also voiced support for Haftar days after the meeting between Prince and the commander. While the mercenary operation to Libya swiftly fell apart over a dispute between Haftar and the troops, certain resources, including a cyberwarfare team and several attack aircraft, remained once the mercenaries left.

Democratic Senators introduce new bill to remove Section 230 internet speech protections - On February 5, three Democratic Party US Senators introduced legislation called the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act, which would modify laws that provide internet companies with legal protections for content posted on their platforms by users. In a press release accompanying the draft legislation, US Senators Mark Warner of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota state that their proposal aims to “allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.” Senator Warner says in the press statement that the Section 230 provisions are outdated and ineffective and have enabled internet companies to “do nothing to address foreseeable, obvious and repeated misuse of their products and services to cause harm.” Warner claims that the 1996 law has “provided a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card” and allowed “scam artists, harassers and violent extremists to cause damage and injury” on the giant social media monopolies’ platforms. Furthermore, Warner states the proposed bill “doesn’t interfere with free speech,” but holds the online firms “accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.” The language of Section 230 as contained in the 1996 Communications Decency Act is brief. It states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information speech provided by another information content provider.” This statement has functioned for twenty-five years as a legal shield for internet companies, including the social media platforms, to both moderate content that violates the law and their own community standards without also being liable for everything that users post on their systems. An explanation of the law says that as long as it cannot be proven that an internet service provider is knowingly helping a user commit a crime, any illegal content posted on a platform is the responsibility of the user alone.

Thomas Frank: YouTube Censorship and Now What’s Happening in Kansas – -Yves here. This fine talk between Thomas Frank and Paul Jay covers a lot of important ground about burgeoning censorship, with Jay just having one of his segments yanked from YouTube for the apparent sin of featuring some Donald Trump’s January 6 speech. Nevertheless, Jay cited a remark by Frank in Le Monde Diplomatique, and it unintentionally highlights an issue that has bothered both Lambert and me: “The mob attack on the Capitol frightened us all.” Huh? First, Lambert has been offended by the fact that Congresscritters feel that the country should be up in arms because they were scared for a few hours, as if it’s a natural privilege of our lords and masters to have the rest of us ever and always maintain their emotional equilibrium. This in a country where a 80 million citizens are now food insecure. Right now, 14 million people in Texas don’t have potable water. Over 30% of the renters in the New York metro area are behind on their payments and are likely to be evicted when the moratoriums end, which they eventually will….what happens then? We are living in a failed state, yet we’re supposed to identify with the feelers of our soi disant leaders. Second, who is this “us all” who are scared? What pray tell did ordinary citizens have to worry about with respect to January 6? Far and away the riskiest thing most people do is get in their car. Unless you are a politician in some very contested position, or a cop in a spot with strong blue/red fault lines, or a National Guardsman, there’s no reason for January 6 to have evoked fear. Despair and disgust, maybe, but fear?

New York Times employees feel they can't speak freely: survey - About half of New York Times employees said in a recent internal survey that they don’t believe they can speak freely at the paper.In response to the statement, “There is a free exchange of views in this company; people are not afraid to say what they really think,” only 51% of Times employees responded in the affirmative.In company comments that accompanied the December poll’s findings, which were viewed by The Post, the 51 percent was noted as being 10% lower than the “benchmark.” One insider said the benchmark likely refers to the average among similar companies surveyed on that statement.“Although the majority of us feel well-informed, many indicated that differing viewpoints aren’t sought or valued in our work,” read the Times’ internal assessment of the data. “Relatedly, we saw some negative responses on whether there’s a free exchange of views in the company, and scored below the benchmark on this question.” A total of 74% of Times staffers said leaders and colleagues accept and embrace differences in ethnicity/race — a 10% decline from the results of the same inquiry in 2019.  “We saw steep declines in answers about leaders and colleagues accepting and embracing differences in race, gender, identity and religion. Responses from Black and Latino colleagues declined at an even greater rate,” the paper fretted. The survey results were revealed to The Post as the former paper of record is embroiled in a seemingly endless parade of scandals. Most recently, a decision to oust veteran science reporter Donald McNeil over his non-derogatory use of a racial slur during a Times-sponsored trip with students has divided the newsroom. A column from their in-house conservative columnist Bret Stephens criticizing the McNeil dismissal was personally spiked by publisher A.G. Sulzberger.

Parler announces official relaunch, says it is back online - Parler on Monday announced that it is officially relaunching its platform and it will no longer have to rely on Big Tech to operate. The announcement says the platform has been rebuilt on independent technology, giving it the freedom to run as they see fit after the company was de-platformed by major app stores and web services in January following the riot at the Capitol. “When Parler was taken offline in January by those who desire to silence tens of millions of Americans, our team came together, determined to keep our promise to our highly engaged community that we would return stronger than ever,” Mark Meckler, interim CEO at Parler, said in the announcement. Parler was suspended from Amazon’s web hosting services and from Apple’s App Store after the riot, when it was found to be full of discussions by users about invading the Capitol. Amazon and Apple did give Parler the chance to change its content moderation policy, as it had few rules of what could be published on the platform. Instead of changing, Parler has moved to a place where it says it can restart without restrictions. “Parler is being run by an experienced team and is here to stay. We will thrive as the premier social media platform dedicated to free speech, privacy and civil dialogue,” Meckler said. Current users of the platform will be allowed on the site this week, while those who want to join will have to wait until next week, according to the announcement. Parler is still looking for a permanent CEO after the board fired former CEO John Matze in a move that Matze said he did not “participate in.” Although Parler said its platform is open to all points of view, it has become known as a site for right-wing users who believe other big social media platforms have been censoring conservative content.

 Parler Returns - Free speech social media app Parler returned Monday with new computer servers, according to Interim CEO Mark Meckler (a leading voice in the Tea Party movement). "When Parler was taken offline in January by those who desire to silence tens of millions of Americans, our team came together, determined to keep our promise to our highly engaged community that we would return stronger than ever," Meckler said in a statement, per The Hill. "Parler is being run by an experienced team and is here to stay. We will thrive as the premier social media platform dedicated to free speech, privacy and civil dialogue,” Meckler continued. The company did not reveal which web service will host Parler, saying instead that it is now "built on robust, sustainable, independent technology." “We are off of the big tech platform, so that we can consider ourselves safe and secure for the future,” Meckler said. He added that the app will utilize artificial intelligence and human editors to crack down on illegal speech, but will remain true to its censorship-free mission. The site is expected to preserve all previous user data, according to sources close to Parler who spoke Meckler was recently named Interim CEO after the company ousted John Matze earlier this month. “Cancel culture came for us, and hit us with all they had,” Parler shareholder Dan Bongino told Just the News Monday. “Yet we couldn’t be kept down. We’re back, and we’re ready to resume the struggle for freedom of expression, data sovereignty, and civil discourse. We thank our users for their loyalty during this incredibly challenging time.” Parler first went offline in early January when Google Play, Apple, and Amazon dropped the application from its hosting platforms in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. However, it’s unclear if the Apple App Store will host the platform with the new changes. Apple didn’t immediately respond to this reporter’s request for comment.

White Christian nationalism and the next wave of political violence - There was a brief period when Republicans appeared to reject Trumpism. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) condemned the insurrectionists as “terrorists, not patriots,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the seditionists were “fed lies” by President Trump. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — one of only 10 Republican congresspeople to vote for impeachment — said Trump fomented the attack. This short period of condemnation is now very clearly over.A recent poll found that two-thirds of Republicans do not think Joe Biden was legitimately elected president and nearly 40 percent believe that political violence is acceptable. And with all but six GOP senators saying that a non-sitting president cannot be impeached, the GOP is telling America — and the world — that violent Trumpism is who they are. To understand how this happened we must look back to how it all began, namely as a long-term Republican strategy to harness the most violent expressions of Christian nationalism for the sake of political gain. Images such as a flag that said “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president” seem new, but this mix of white, right-wing identity politics and nationalist Christianity has been stirring for many years. It’s hard to say exactly when this version of white supremacist Christianity — embedded within and supported by the Republican Party — began, but one important turning point was President Nixon’s commitment to the GOP’s Southern strategy to attract Dixiecrats disaffected by the Democratic Party’s commitment to the civil rights movement. The marriage of GOP conservatism and fundamentalist Christianity did not begin with mutual opposition to abortion. Rather, the relationship began decades earlier as a way to encourage resentment of African American political gains that was festering within racist factions of white American evangelicalism. This merging of racial and religious interests created political alliances that were more than just a marriage of convenience: white entitlement and grievance, packaged with a moral veneer of racialized religious belief, used the language of spiritual warfare to justify the pursuit of political power by any means. A core element of this strategy was to construct a hermetically sealed media universe that reinforced the messages of white Christian moral outrage. Trump elevated the status of these and the newcomer TV station One American News (OAN) Network to a level of prestige and truth-making in service of his counter narrative. Trump succeeded not in building a wall on the Mexican border but in tearing down the wall between the politics of white resentment in the Republican Party and the armed violence of militia groups. The linking of white Christian values with radical violent efforts is not a new one, “Anti-government conspiracy theories and apocalyptic ‘end times’ Biblical prophecies are known to motivate militia members and groups to stockpile food, ammunition and weapons." However, under Trump the armed radical fringe of white Christianity enjoyed a much cozier relationship with the federal government, their former enemy, after the standard-bearer of the Republican Party fully embraced their cause.#160;

Political Violence May Be Necessary, 4 In 10 Republicans Say : NPR -The mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol may have been a fringe group of extremists, but politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the U.S. public, according to a new survey by the American Enterprise Institute.The survey found that nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that "if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions."That result was "a really dramatic finding," says Daniel Cox, director of the AEI Survey Center on American Life. "I think any time you have a significant number of the public saying use of force can be justified in our political system, that's pretty scary."The survey found stark divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the 2020 presidential election, with two out of three Republicans saying President Biden was not legitimately elected, while 98% of Democrats and 73% of independents acknowledged Biden's victory. The level of distrust among Republicans evident in the survey was such that about 8 in 10 said the current political system is "stacked against conservatives and people with traditional values." A majority agreed with the statement: "The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it." The survey found that to be a minority sentiment — two out of three Americans overall rejected the use of violence in pursuit of political ends – and Cox emphasized that the finding reflected "attitudes and beliefs" rather than a disposition to do something.The AEI survey found that partisan divisions were also evident along religious lines. About 3 in 5 white evangelicals told the pollsters that Biden was not legitimately elected, that it was not accurate to say former President Donald Trump encouraged the attack on the Capitol, and that a Biden presidency has them feeling disappointed, angry or frightened.On all those questions, Cox says, white evangelicals are "politically quite distinct." Majorities of white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Catholics, followers of non-Christian religions and the religiously unaffiliated all viewed Biden's victory as legitimate.The AEI survey found that white evangelicals were especially prone to subscribe to the QAnon movement's conspiracy theories. Twenty-seven percent said it was "mostly" or "completely" accurate to say Trump "has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites." That share was higher than for any other faith group and more than double the support for QAnon beliefs evident among Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics and non-Christians. "As with a lot of questions in the survey, white evangelicals stand out in terms of their belief in conspiracy theories and the idea that violence can be necessary," Cox says. "They're far more likely to embrace all these different conspiracies."

Trump lawyer van der Veen says his house was attacked, he's faced death threats - Michael van der Veen, one of former President Trump’s defense attorneys during the Senate impeachment trial, said on Saturday that his home has been attacked and that he’s recently faced death threats. Following Trump's impeachment trial, during which the Senate voted to acquit the former president, van der Veen detailed the damage done to his home during the proceedings. “My home was attacked. I'd rather not go into it because it would encourage other people to do it more, but you know, I've had nearly 100 death threats,” van der Veen said, according to a pool report. Van der Veen added that he wasn't a "controversial guy" and that he was not a political person. “My home was attacked last night — windows broken, spray paint, really bad words spray painted everywhere. And the thing is, you guys don't know me, but you know I'm not a controversial guy. I'm not politically minded so to speak,” he said. “I'm a trial lawyer and I represent people's interests in court. That's what I do. I love doing it. And I'm disappointed that that is the result of just me doing my job.” According to the Associated Press, the West Whiteland Township Police Department said graffiti was found at van der Veen’s home at around 8 p.m. on Friday. Detective Scott Pezick said on Saturday that no arrests have been made yet in relation to the incident. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that vandals spray-painted “TRAITOR” on the driveway of his home, and a group of demonstrators gathered outside of his law office and called him a “fascist.” “When van der Veen lies, what do you do? Convict. Convict,” the group said, according o the newspaper. Jenna Ellis, who previously worked on the Trump campaign’s legal team, said on Twitter that it’s “unconscionable” that attorneys would be targeted for defending Trump. “Van der Veen visibly upset in an interview with @GriffJenkins, revealing his home and family under attack because of his professional defense of Trump,” Ellis tweeted. "Trump lawyers, including myself, continue to experience threats, attacks, and hate just because of our work. Unconscionable.”

Trump Declares War On Mitch McConnell, Calls Him "A Dour, Sullen, And Unsmiling Political Hack" -Donald Trump has some choice words for Senate Mitch McConnell (R-KY), after the Senate Minority Leader voted to acquit the former president, only to go on a tirade on the Senate floor (followed by a Wall Street Journal interview) in which he blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 incursion into the US Capitol by Trump supporters. "They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth—because he was angry he’d lost an election," said McConnell. "Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty."  McConnell also blames Trump for the GOP losing control of the Senate in January after two GOP candidates lost their races after failing to support Trump's multiple challenges to the 2020 US election. "We all know why that occurred," McConnell told the Journal on Monday.Trump is having none of it, writing in a scathing Tuesday letter that "Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again."

62 percent say third political party is needed in US - Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. needs a third major political party because the GOP and Democratic Party "do such a poor job representing the American people," according to a new Gallup poll.  In the survey released Monday, 62 percent of Americans said the third party was needed, while 33 percent said the two existing major parties do an "adequate" job representing the majority of Americans' political views. It's the largest percentage of people to say the U.S. needs a third party since Gallup began polling on the question in 2003. The poll also marks the second-lowest percentage of people who said the existing parties are adequate after 26 percent of respondents said so in an October 2013 poll. Both parties have favorable ratings below 50 percent. The Democratic Party is viewed favorably by 48 percent of Americans, while the GOP is viewed favorably by 37 percent. Four in 10 Republicans say they want their party to become more conservative after the end of former President Trump's term, while 34 percent hope it will stay the same and just 24 percent want it to become more moderate. Democrats are more split, with 34 percent wanting their party to shift left, 34 percent wanting it to remain the same and 31 percent wanting it to shift right.

 Trump: "Biden Is Either Lying Or Mentally Gone" --Breaking a one month silence Wednesday, President Trump appeared on a number of cable news channels, hinting at a 2024 run, a potential launch of his own social media platform, and slamming Joe Biden for lying about the coronavirus vaccine rollout.Appearing on Newsmax, Trump addressed Biden’s blatant lie Tuesday night about there being no available vaccine.At the beginning of the town hall, President Biden claimed he didn't have a vaccine when he came into office.The first shots occurred on December 14 and one million doses were being administered per day when he took office on January — Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 17, 2021 “I saw that he said there was no vaccine before he came into office and yet he got a shot before he came into office,” Trump said.“So either he’s not telling the truth or he’s mentally gone. One or the other,” he added.“He’s getting killed on this,” Trump continued, adding “Even the haters said, ‘Well wait a minute, this vaccine was announced long before.'”  “Could he be joking? Because, frankly, that was a very dumb statement,” Trump considered.

 Manhattan DA subpoenaes tax agency in criminal investigation of Trump: Reuters - The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently subpoenaed a New York City property tax agency as it ramps up a criminal investigation into former President Trump's company for potential tax fraud, according to Reuters. New York City Tax Commission confirmed to the news outlet on Friday that it was subpoenaed, an indication that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. may be looking to assess Trump's property tax filings and loan documents. Investigators looking into Trump's business will now be able to look through the tax agency documents in addition to previously subpoenaed records from Trump's creditors to determine if the former president inflated his property value in an effort to get more favorable loans while recording lower values to reduce his taxes for the same properties, Reuters reported. With the subpoena, the news outlet noted, the New York City Tax Commission may be more inclined to provide the courts with the Trump Organization's detailed income and expense statements filed with the intention to lower taxes on commercial properties, including Trump Tower and Trump Plaza. Vance’s office declined to respond to the outlet's request for comment. Reuters reported that court filings have stated that Vance's office is investigating “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct” at the Trump Organization. Vance’s investigation is reportedly the only known criminal probe of Trump’s real-estate dealings. New York State Attorney General Letitia James has led a civil investigation into whether or not Trump's business reported false property values in order to get tax breaks, the outlet reported.

Citadel’s Ken Griffin Called to Testify at GameStop Hearing this Thursday; In Past Two Years, Republicans Got More than $60 Million of His Winnings --The tentacles of Ken Griffin’s Citadel octopus were involved in multiple ways in the GameStop saga that will get a hearing this Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee. Griffin has been called to testify along with others.GameStop is the brick-and-mortar video game retailer whose stock soared from $18.84 on December 31 of last year to an intraday high of $483 on January 28 – a breathtaking run of 2,465 percent in four weeks – before plunging back to earth. It closed on Friday at $52.40.The hearing has been called to understand the relationship between all of the parties that played a pivotal role in the wild trading activity, which made fortunes for some big players while leaving others licking their wounds from what has the appearance of a pump and dump scheme.Griffin’s Citadel Securities was paying for order flow from nine online brokerage firmsand able to get an early peek at their trades. Another unit of Citadel, Citadel Advisors LLC, had a net short position in GameStop and held options that could potentially benefit from the stock whipsawing up and down. Citadel’s hedge fund also invested $2 billion in Melvin Capital to keep the hedge fund from going belly up over its losses from its short position in GameStop. Last year, Forbes put Griffin’s net worth at $15 billion. Griffin has spread that money around to those who helped boost that net worth by keeping the Carried Interest tax loophole in place for hedge fund managers such as himself. Carried Interest is a legalized tax dodge that allows hedge fund billionaires to pay a tax rate lower than many plumbers and teachers.During the 2019-2020 election cycle, Griffin sent 21 checks of $1 million or more each to PACs and Super PACs working on behalf of, exclusively, Republicans. Griffin wrote out the largest checks to the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC formed to keep a Republican majority in the Senate. As of December of last year, Steven Law, the former Chief of Staff to former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was President of the Senate Leadership Fund.On September 23, 2020, Griffin wrote out a check for $15 million to the Senate Leadership Fund. On N ovember 12, 2020, he wrote out another check to the same Super Pac for $10 million. When you add in his other checks for $1 million here and $5 million there, he sluiced a cool $37 million to the Senate Leadership Fund.

‘Roaring Kitty’ Sued for Securities Fraud Over GameStop Rise -Keith Gill, one of the most influential voices that pushed GameStop on the WallStreetBets Reddit forum, was hit with a lawsuit that accused him of misrepresenting himself as an amateur investor and profiting by artificially inflating the price of the stock.The proposed class action against Gill, who adopted the YouTube nickname “Roaring Kitty,” was filed Tuesday in federal court in Massachusetts. The suit said Gill was actually a licensed securities professional who manipulated the market to profit himself. Gill touted GameStop shares through an extensive social media presence on Youtube, Twitter and Reddit, where he used a more profane alias.“Gill’s deceitful and manipulative conduct not only violated numerous industry regulations and rules, but also various securities laws by undermining the integrity of the market for GameStop shares,” the suit said. “He caused enormous losses not only to those who bought option contracts, but also to those who fell for Gill’s act and bought GameStop stock during the market frenzy at greatly inflated prices.” The suit was filed by the securities class action firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro on behalf of Christian Iovin of Washington state and similarly situated individuals. Iovin sold $200,000 worth of call options on GameStop shares when the stock was below $100. The stock quickly eclipsed $400 a share, forcing him to buy the calls back at elevated prices.Gill became one of the public faces of the GameStop rally that has been a Wall Street obsession this year. The stock’s stratospheric rise appeared to pit scrappy individual investors against sophisticated hedge funds who were heavily shorting the troubled mall retailer. Some funds lost billions of dollars covering their positions as GameStop shares surged more than 1,700% during one stretch in January.The GameStop rally has also attracted the attention of politicians, and Gill is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee, along with executives from Robinhood Markets, Citadel LLC,Melvin Capital Management and Reddit.

SEC Data Show $359 Million of GameStop Shares Failed to Deliver On Jan. 28, the day after GameStop Corp. mania hit its crescendo on the back of a short squeeze for the record books, about $359 million worth of shares were caught in limbo. More than 1 million shares were deemed failed-to-deliver that day due either to buyers lacking cash to complete purchases or sellers not having the shares to settle trades, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission data. The SEC report, which covers trading from Jan. 15 through the end of the month, is just one more indication of the dislocation in the market for the video game retailer’s shares. GameStop stock, for months among the most heavily shorted on the New York Stock Exchange, surged more than 1,700% from Jan. 1 through Jan. 27 as a legion of Reddit users piled on, forcing bearish traders to scramble for shares and brokers to take the highly unusual step of curbing trading. While the SEC’s list highlights the extent of the short squeeze, on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, where the GameStop trade was galvanized, it’s evidence of something else: the unproven theory that hedge funds were engaged in naked short-selling of the shares. Short sales -- when an investor borrows shares, sells them and then tries to buy them back at a lower price to profit from the difference -- are an everyday market occurrence. Naked short selling, the illegal practice of selling shares that aren’t known to exist, is just one possible cause of a failure-to-deliver, with more quotidian reasons being human error and administrative delays. “Fails-to-deliver can occur for a number of reasons on both long and short sales,” reads a disclaimer on the SEC website. “Therefore, fails-to-deliver are not necessarily the result of short selling, and are not evidence of abusive short selling or ‘naked’ short selling.” Failures to deliver can result in fines, losses as well as reputational harm, and in rare circumstances there’s also a risk they could lead to a reduction of market liquidity. One thing is clear: the Grapevine, Texas-based company is an anomaly in the data. Ranked by the dollar value of traded shares that couldn’t be delivered -- a sum that was influenced by the ballooning price of GameStop’s shares -- it was the only company to appear multiple times in the top 10 during the period. And it was only one of two companies, the other being Li Auto Inc., to feature atop a list dominated by exchange-traded funds.

GameStop Hearing Gets a Surprise Witness from Deeply Conflicted Cato Institute --Pam Martens -- In a period of four weeks in January, shares of New York Stock Exchange listed GameStop soared more than 2400 percent from its closing price on December 31, 2020 before plunging back to earth. The episode has focused much needed attention on the corrupt underbelly and rigged structure of trading on Wall Street. When the House Financial Services Committee sent out its press release for tomorrow’s hearing to take testimony from the people involved in the wild trading action of GameStop, it included just five witnesses: Keith Gill, a licensed broker who was employed at a broker-dealer at the same time he was hawking the shares of GameStop on Reddit and YouTube; Ken Griffin, the CEO of Citadel LLC, which has a related firm paying nine online brokers for order flow, thus enabling it to get an early peek at price movements; Gabe Plotkin, CEO of hedge fund Melvin Capital, which had a massive short position in GameStop and would have likely gone belly up were it not for an infusion of $2 billion from its generous competitor Citadel; Vlad Tenev, CEO of Robinhood, a trading app that abruptly put curbs on the ability of its customers to buy shares of GameStop – thus helping hedge funds with short positions. Now, out of the blue, a new witness has popped up for tomorrow’s hearing: Jennifer Schulp, the Director of Financial Regulation Studies for the Cato Institute. It’s a fairly safe bet that Maxine Waters, a Democrat who Chairs the House Financial Services Committee, did not call this witness. If we were to make a wild guess as to who wanted this witness at the hearing, it would be the Republican ranking member of the Committee, Patrick McHenry, whose top donors are big firms on Wall Street that don’t want to see the GameStop fiasco result in tightened regulations. The Cato Institute is deeply conflicted in this matter and its witness, Jennifer Schulp, should say so at the hearing. Cato is a libertarian think tank that for decades kept the fact that it was both a nonprofit as well as being secretly owned by a handful of men – among which were the billionaire, fossil fuel brothers, Charles and David Koch. (David died in 2019.) Charles Koch has a big dog in the fight against regulating trading. He and the heirs of his late brother, David, are the majority owners of Koch Industries, a private fossil fuels conglomerate which owns a stealthy and sprawling trading operation known as Koch Supply & Trading.  In addition to that conflict, sitting on the Board of Directors of the Cato Institute is Jeffrey Yass, the co-founder of Susquehanna International Group, known as SIG, a large trading outfit which had both a huge short and long position in GameStop as of December 31, 2020 – meaning that it may have benefited from the wild price swings in the stock. According to its various filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as of December 31, 2020, units of SIG owned a put option (a bet the price would decline), on more than 4.8 million shares of GameStop. Three other units of SIG, Susquehanna Investment Group, Susquehanna Securities, LLC and Susquehanna Fundamental Investments, LLC owned 6.3 percent of GameStop shares, a total of 4.4 million shares as of December 31, 2020. Yass donated more than $30 million in the 2019-2020 campaign cycle to right-wing Republican PACs, with the bulk of that going to Protect Freedom PAC, a Rand Paul allied Super PAC which has tarred Democrats in Congress as “Socialists,” and Club for Growth Action, a related part of the right-wing Club for Growth. In 2011, John Nichols,reporting for The Nation, wrote that Club for Growth was part of a “national strategy” to destroy labor and unions.

GameStop Hearing: Citadel’s Ken Griffin Doesn’t Let the Brutal Facts Get in the Way of His Testimony - Pam Martens -- The billionaire hedge fund titan of Citadel LLC and its market-making/trade execution arm, Citadel Securities, delivered a load of horse pukky in his written testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. Griffin is slated to appear as one of six witnesses at the hearing scheduled at noon today to examine the trading in shares of GameStop in January.  The contours of today’s hearing are an indictment of what Wall Street watchers have been warning about for the past decade: markets are dangerously rigged in the U.S.According to the written remarks Griffin submitted for the hearing, which are typically read by the witness at the opening of the session, he’s going with the approach that the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, used when he was hauled before Congressional Committees to explain how his federally-insured bank had used depositors’ money to gamble in high-risk derivatives in London in 2012 and lose $6.2 billion. At a June 19, 2012 House hearing on the matter, Dimon told House members that “the starting point should be that the United States has the best, widest, deepest, most transparent capital markets in the world.” If any part of that statement is true, it’s certainly not because of Wall Street but because of career criminal prosecutors. In the past six years, JPMorgan Chase has pleaded guilty to five felony counts, three of which involved rigging the foreign exchange, Treasury and precious metals markets, respectively.Billionaires like to assure Congress that our markets are the best in the world (never mind all those felony counts being handed out for rigged markets) because right-wing Republicans can then pick up that talking point to argue against tighter regulation of markets.Against that backdrop, Griffin states this in his written testimony for today’s hearing:“Chairwoman Waters, Ranking Member McHenry and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the recent market events. The U.S. capital markets are the envy of the world. Our nation’s ability to allocate capital to its best and highest use cr­­­­­eates jobs, drives innovation and fuels our economy.” That’s an alternative reality that exists only in the heads of billionaire hedge fund titans and Wall Street bank CEOs. (See our take a few weeks ago: SEC Chair Jay Clayton Left Markets in the Biggest Mess Since 1929.)Griffin sums up with this:  “Individual investors are better served by America’s markets than ever before, and it is critical that our markets continue to be a force for fairness and integrity worthy of investor confidence and participation.” The words “continue to be” along with “fairness and integrity” are problematic in that sentence, particularly rolling off the lips of Griffin. Citadel Securities is majority-owned by Griffin and was the unit executing trades for Robinhood’s retail customers in an arrangement known as payment-for-order flow. According to Wall Street’s self-regulator, FINRA, which keeps track of fines and alleged wrongdoing by all regulators, Citadel Securities has been fined and/or censured 59 times in the past 12 years. If a retail broker had Citadel Securities’ history of fines and alleged transgressions by regulators, he would have long ago been barred from working in the industry.

MicroStrategy Is Selling $600 Million In Bonds To "Acquire Additional Bitcoins" --With Bitcoin surpassing $50,000 for the first time this morning, Business intelligence and mobile software firm MicroStrategy has announced it intends to sell bonds and use the net proceeds to "acquire additional bitcoins."In the last few weeks, MicroStrategy has been adding more bitcoin to its reserves (here and here most recently), and today unveiled plans to offer $600 million of convertible senior notes due 2027 in a private offering to institutional buyers. The notes will be unsecured, senior obligations of MicroStrategy and will bear interest payable semi-annually in arrears on February 15 and August 15 of each year, beginning on August 15, 2021.The notes will mature on February 15, 2027, unless earlier repurchased, redeemed or converted in accordance with their terms. Subject to certain conditions, on or after February 20, 2024, MicroStrategy may redeem for cash all or a portion of the notes. The notes will be convertible into cash, shares of MicroStrategy’s class A common stock, or a combination of cash and shares of MicroStrategy’s class A common stock, at MicroStrategy’s election. Prior to August 15, 2026, the notes will be convertible only upon the occurrence of certain events and during certain periods, and thereafter, at any time until the second scheduled trading day immediately preceding the maturity date. The interest rate, conversion rate, conversion price and certain other terms of the notes will be determined at the time of pricing of the offering.MicroStrategy intends to use the net proceeds from the sale of the notes to acquire additional bitcoins.As a reminder, MicroStrategy first disclosed it was purchasing bitcoin as a part of its treasury reserve policy in August 2020 when at the time the company purchased 21,454 bitcoin at a price of $250 million.

Bitcoin Keeps Hitting New Highs as Crypto Mania Accelerates - U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations were again disrupted on Wednesday as wintry weather continued to grip the Gulf Coast, forcing traders to shuffle cargoes as American exports continued to decline. Power has been restored at Cameron LNG in Hackberry, LA, after a problem with the transmission grid knocked it offline Monday. But the terminal was still working to ensure it could safely restart operations, a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, two of three liquefaction trains remained offline at Freeport LNG on Quintana Island in Texas in order to cut natural gas and electricity consumption in compliance with the state’s emergency declaration. Cheniere Energy Inc. also was said to be diverting cargoes away from Corpus Christi in South Texas to its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana for similar reasons. Emstream LNG broker Melissa Lindsay told NGI that traders were likely working through operational management issues to accommodate the disruptions, saying it’s likely that a handful of cargoes from the Gulf Coast have for now been canceled. Energy Aspects analyst James Waddell said his firm expects up to 10 cargoes would be lost or delayed because of U.S. outages, or a roughly 1 billion cubic meter bite out of global supply that should be spread between European and Asian markets. The loss, he added, is small compared to the number of cargoes that were drawn away from Europe last month when Asian LNG prices soared amid historic cold in the region and left European inventories depleted. While Waddell told NGI that the latest U.S. outages should help drive some restocking demand on the continent, Lindsay added that Europe is for now comfortable on supply. She said LNG bids for March were trading in the price range of the Title Transfer Facility benchmark minus about 30 to 40 cents.

 Bitcoin over $50,000 as Wall Street surges -- Almost every day there are figures revealing the extent of the speculation on Wall Street fuelled by the trillions of dollars funnelled into financial markets by the Fed. On Tuesday, the cryptocurrency bitcoin passed $50,000 for the first time, after doubling in value over the past two months and rising by 74 percent so far this year. The surge continued yesterday when bitcoin reached close to $52,000. Since the beginning of the year Wall Street has been regularly closing at record highs with the Dow Jones hitting another record yesterday—the third in five days. This is despite increased warnings, some from within financial firms, that the market has become a dangerous bubble. The latest bitcoin surge was sparked by the announcement by Tesla chief Elon Musk earlier this month that the company was investing $1.5 billion in the cryptocurrency and would accept it as payment on some transactions. But Musk is not the only one to join in the frenzy. This month the Bank of New York Mellon announced it will start treating bitcoin like any other financial asset and MasterCard has said it will integrate bitcoin into its payments system this year. Billionaire investors Paul Tudor Jones and Stanley Druckenmiller have also started speculating in bitcoin. These moves come in the face of the widespread view that there is no intrinsic value in bitcoin, which is not a physical asset but which is created electronically, and that there is no prospect of it becoming an integral component of the international monetary system as touted by its promoters. But while its price continues to rise, even amidst the occurrence of violent downswings, there are large profits to be made and this is what is drawing in some of the major financial institution and hedge fund operators. The bitcoin speculation mania is only the most egregious example of what is taking place throughout the financial system. Due to the flow of money from the Fed, accelerated after the freeze in financial markets last March and which is continuing at the rate of $1.4 trillion per year amid a commitment to maintain its base interest rate at virtually zero for the foreseeable future, finance is readily available for below investment-grade junk bonds.

Bitcoin, ether hit fresh highs  (Reuters) - Bitcoin hit a fresh high on Saturday, extending a two-month rally that took its market capitalization above $1 trillion on Friday. The world’s most popular cryptocurrency rose to a record $57,553, taking its weekly gain to around 20%. It has surged nearly 100% this year. Bitcoin’s gains have been fueled by evidence it is gaining acceptance among mainstream investors and companies, such as Tesla Inc, Mastercard Inc and BNY Mellon. Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization and daily volume, on Saturday hit a record $2,040.62, for a weekly gain of about 12%. Ether is the digital currency or token that facilitates transactions on the ethereum blockchain. In the crypto world, the terms ether and ethereum have become interchangeable. Ether futures contracts launched on derivatives exchange CME earlier this month. Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla, said on Saturday the price of bitcoin and ethereum seemed high.

Cryptocurrency Sleuths Point to Robinhood as Dogecoin Whale --There’s a prime suspect as to the identity of the owner of the world’s biggest Dogecoin cryptocurrency wallet and it’s a name that should be familiar: Robinhood Markets. The timing of the creation of the initial digital wallet used for storage in June 2018 tracks with Robinhood’s offering Dogecoin trading to its customers in July of that year. That’s according to blockchain data tracker Elliptic and echoed by online sleuths on Reddit’s Dogecoin forum. “It almost certainly belongs to Robinhood,” said Tom Robinson, chief scientist and co-founder of Elliptic. “The timings of its creation, and the creation of the addresses that it received funds from, match the timings of Robinhood’s support of Dogecoin.” Dogecoin has surged more than 950% since the beginning of the year from less than half a penny to more than five cents per coin as Reddit users have flocked to the cryptocurrency based on the meme of a smiling Shiba Inu. The owner of the wallet, which controls nearly 29% of Dogecoin in circulation, became a subject of attention after Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk tweeted that “too much concentration” is the cryptocurrency’s only real issue before saying he’d pay the biggest holders to “void their accounts.” If major Dogecoin holders sell most of their coins, it will get my full support. Too much concentration is the only real issue imo.”

 Fed policies spark more concerns over market collapse - As money continues to pour into Wall Street, sending the three major markets indexes—the Nasdaq, the Dow and the S&P 500—to new record highs at the end of last week, there are mounting warnings that the lights are flashing red, signalling that the speculative bubble may soon burst, with major consequences. The warnings come from within sections of the financial elite, as well as from financial analysts and media commentators, who are fearful of the consequences of the endless pumping of money by the US Fed and other major central banks into the financial markets. Last week, Carson Block, the founder of Muddy Waters Capital, a New York-based investment firm, wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times in which he noted that the recent GameStop boom and bust was “ a wake-up call to policymakers that world markets and economies are precariously positioned, and pose significant risks to political stability.” He said the primary causes of the market dysfunction were passive investment funds and leveraged financial operations enabled by low interest rates. Passive investments do not operate through active decision-making, but via algorithms that follow market trends—buying when the market is rising and selling when it falls. In his view, this means that they tend to exacerbate swings in the market, either up or down. Block wrote that it was “an increasingly obvious fact” that it was not known whether governments could perpetually bail out the markets. With interest rates hovering around zero, “the traditional levers of monetary policy may not be able to rescue markets and prevent another depression.” He continued: “The real risk to markets is that passive flows go negative (if widespread layoffs lead workers and employers to cut their 401K contributions). If that were to happen, passive fund selling would quickly overwhelm the market. Such a crash could resemble 1929-32 in magnitude, but at 2021 speed.” He concluded it was necessary to “find a way to deleverage our economies and markets,” but did not offer a solution, saying that “governments seem to lack the will and competence to do hard things.” A Bloomberg article published over the weekend pointed to the rise of the so—called “Buffett indicator”—the ratio between the total market capitalization of US stock to the dollar value of the US gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, it first crossed its previous peak, reached during the bubble at the turn of this century, and has now reached more than double the estimated GDP for the current quarter. According to one market analyst cited in the article, the rise in the ratio “highlights the remarkable mania” in US markets, fuelled by the provision of virtually free money by the Fed. “Even if one expected those (Fed) policies to be permanent, which they should not be, it still would not justify paying two times the 25-year average for stocks,” he said. In a Bloomberg comment posted last week, financial analyst Mohamed El-Arian pointed to the disconnect between the economy and financial markets, which in the short term opened “a bigger window for significant additional fiscal stimulus to supplement ultra-loose monetary policy and financial conditions,” but did so “at the risk of amplifying the policy, financial stability and political risks that await us down the road.” He warned that what might be favourable for fiscal policy and markets in the short term increased future risks, starting with financial stability. “The more Wall Street surges ahead in the short term, the harder it is for eventually improving economic conditions to validate the ever more elevated assets prices in an orderly manner.”

Fed governor backs revamp of bank merger review process — The Federal Reserve should revamp its process for reviewing bank mergers to address the competitive threat posed by tech companies, Fed Gov. Michelle Bowman said Tuesday.“The board’s framework for banking antitrust analysis hasn’t changed substantially over the past couple of decades,” Bowman said in remarks given for an American Bankers Association event. “I believe we should consider revisions to that framework that would better reflect the competition that smaller banks face in an industry quickly being transformed by technology and nonbank financial companies.”The central bank is currently assessing the framework, Bowman said, months after the Department of Justice said in September that it would look to overhaul its bank merger review process to account for new trends in the financial sector."We have engaged in conversations and received feedback from community banks about the Board’s competitive analysis framework and its impact on their business strategies and long-term growth plans," she said. "We are in the process of reviewing our approach, and we are specifically considering the unique market dynamics faced by small community banks in rural and underserved areas.”After the Justice Department announced its review, industry participants and M&A experts speculated that possible antitrust-related policy changes could favor smaller banks, and could even slow consolidation.The Justice Department sought feedback on its process to determine whether a proposed merger would give the combined company too much control over a specific market. The Justice Department has also asked stakeholders for input on whether it would be “helpful to have joint guidance from the Antitrust Division and the banking agencies."Bank regulators, including the Fed, review merger applications for management expertise, capital and safety measures, and other elements. They also examine the impact on market competitiveness and can refer concerns to the Justice Department.

Fed's Brainard backs stress test-like exercise to address climate risks - — Federal Reserve Board Gov. Lael Brainard sounded support for measuring the impact of climate change on financial institutions. Subjecting lenders to a "scenario analysis" could help identify the risks they face from both extreme weather events and the transition to a greener economy, Brainard said, as well as project the potential financial effects. “In light of the high uncertainty inherent in estimating climate risks, scenario analysis may be a helpful tool to assess the microprudential and macroprudential implications of climate-related risks under a wide range of assumptions,” Brainard said in a speech Thursday for an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance. With some in the industry worried that the Fed is considering expanding its stress test regime to account for climate change risks, Brainard stressed that “scenario analysis is distinct from our traditional regulatory stress tests at banks.” “Scenario analysis is an exploratory exercise that allows banks and supervisors to assess business model resilience to a range of long-run scenarios,” she said. “It seeks to understand the effects of climate-related risks on a range of financial markets and institutions, as well as the potentially complex dynamics among them." “By contrast," she continued, "traditional stress tests are a regulatory exercise to assess the capital adequacy of banks to specific macroeconomic scenarios and financial market shocks over the short run.” The Fed recently joined the Network for Greening the Financial System, made up of more than 80 central banks and regulators that conduct information sharing on best practices to protect the financial system from climate change. The network released a technical document in June for regulatory authorities considering climate scenario analysis. “The forward-looking nature of climate risks and the inherent uncertainty about future events make it difficult to assess them using standard risk modelling methodologies,” the paper said. “Scenario analysis offers a flexible ‘what-if’ methodological framework that is better suited to exploring the risks that could crystallise in different possible futures.” Brainard said in her speech that the Fed is monitoring climate scenarios being developed by other countries “so we can learn from their experiences.” “It will be important to think carefully about the potential for scenario analysis to support microprudential and macroprudential objectives and to consider how stress testing and scenario analysis may complement one another,” she said.

 Bank trade groups urged to rethink political giving after Capitol riot— Banking trade groups are facing pressure to revamp their political giving amid scrutiny of industry donations to GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying President Biden's victory. Donations to so-called Republican objectors drew attention after a mob of former President Trump's supporters — believing falsehoods about the election outcome — violently stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 to stop Congress from finalizing the Electoral College result. The American Bankers Association's political action committee had given more to the 147 objectors — just over $1.3 million — than any other private-sector PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center's analysis for the 2020 election cycle, which predated the riot, ranked the top 20 PACs in donations to the objectors. The ABA's total, first reported by The New York Times, was just behind that of a PAC established by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. As the ABA and other trade groups reevaluate their political giving strategies, some election reform advocates say organizations need to look beyond traditional industry priorities when making fundraising decisions. “I do think that there needs to be a much more thoughtful assessment about the individuals and groups that they are giving money to, that it's not just about tax cuts and deregulation, but that it’s about their communities and their employees,” said Ann Ravel, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and former Democratic chair of the Federal Election Commission. The ABA along with the Consumer Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association and Independent Community Bankers of America all said they were pausing campaign contributions for the upcoming campaign cycle to review their policies in light of the riots. But a source close to banking trade associations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the announcements by the trade groups were not surprising since most organizations use the months following an election to reevaluate their spending anyway. “There's always about a three-month, four months [of] down time, while they retool for the new cycle and get the names of the new chairmen and subcommittee chairmen,” the source said. “That's the process. So in early January, after the insurrection, it was easy for those associations to say that because they were doing that anyway. They were going to hold up their donations anyway.” Some campaign finance reform advocates and industry representatives have criticized trade associations for pausing all political giving, rather than targeting members who voted against the certification of Biden’s election win. “At least from what I've seen, that approach is not like winning a lot of sympathy, because it's just transparently opportunistic and an effort to just see if this will all pass, and then you can keep going,” said Daniel Weiner, deputy director at the Brennan Center for Justice’s election reform program. “It is not an approach that you would take if you actually care about holding the officials who tried to undermine our democracy accountable.”

 What Did Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat Do to Get a $5 Million Pay Cut? - Rewarding bad behavior with obscene pay is the sine qua non of Wall Street. Thus it’s a remarkable event to see a CEO of a mega Wall Street bank get punished with a 21 percent pay cut. Michael Corbat is slated to retire this month as Citigroup’s CEO and be replaced by Jane Fraser, the first woman CEO of any major Wall Street bank. (The news would be more welcome if the areas that Fraser previously supervised at the bank did not have all those fines and sanctions.)The Board delivered an unusual kick in the pants to Corbat on his way out the door. It cut his compensation for 2020 by $5 million from what he had been awarded for 2019. Corbat’s total compensation went from $24 million in 2019 to $19 million for 2020. The announcement was made in Citigroup’s 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday evening. The Board explained its action as follows:“In determining executive incentive compensation awards, the Compensation Committee reduced Mr. Corbat’s incentive compensation award based on its assessment of his performance in respect of risk and control concerns that underlie Consent Orders that were entered into during 2020 between Citi and the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and to reflect a one-time shared responsibility adjustment which impacted the Executive Management Team for such concerns.”The long and short of it is that Citigroup’s federally-insured bank, Citibank, was fined last year for doing something so egregious that its federal regulators didn’t even dare to define it in print. On October 7, when all eyes were on the vice-presidential debate that evening between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced consent decrees with Citigroup’s Citibank, and slapped it with a $400 million fine.The OCC’s Consent Order was like nothing we have ever seen before in our 35 years of monitoring Wall Street. Harsh penalties were threatened but the actual crimes or transgressions the bank had committed were not specified.Whatever Corbat had done or failed to do must have been  very serious because the OCC reserved the right to order the firing of senior executive officers and “any and/or all members of the Board.” The Federal Reserve Bank of New York knows it can’t afford to allow Citigroup to blow itself up again, thus the harsh talk of replacing the entire Board of the bank. It was just a dozen years ago that the Fed, the Treasury and the FDIC had to prop up Citigroup with the largest bailout in global banking history, to prevent it from creating a non-stoppable run on other major banks that were counterparties to its derivative trades.

Citi Loses Court Battle Over $500MM "Fat Finger" Trade - Some Citigroup execs are about to have some serious explaining to do to their shareholders (though fortunately for the bank, outgoing CEO Michael Corbat is still at the rudder to take the PR hit).  After more than a year of fighting, Bloomberg reports that Citigroup has officially lost the court battle to recover some $500MM that was accidentally transferred to investors in a Revlon debt deal.  Citigroup shares retreated (but remained in the green) on the news, which was first reported by Bloomberg.US District Judge Jesse Furman said 10 asset managers for the lenders -- which include Brigade Capital Management, HPS Investment Partners and Symphony Asset Management - don’t have to return more than $500 million that Citibank said it mistakenly transferred in August while trying to make an interest payment.[...] Despite determining that the money Citi sent was "indisputably transferred by mistake," Judge Furman, a US district judge in Manhattan, wrote that he was bound by precedent to rule in favour of the funds. "Were the court writing on a blank slate," the judge wrote, he might have ruled in favour of Citi, given that the bank "realised its error and notified the lenders within one day." But New York law is explicit, and in the Empire State, a legal recipient may keep funds transferred by mistake if they pay off a debt, the recipient did not know of the mistake, and/or the recipient did not trick the sender into making the payment. Judge Furman said the recipients had good reason to believe the payments were intentional. "To believe that Citibank, one of the most sophisticated financial institutions in the world, had made a mistake that had never happened before, to the tune of nearly $1bn - would have been borderline irrational," he wrote. We initially wrote about the issue last year, as it was becoming clearer that Citi's path to recovering the money might be legally fraught. Now, it looks like the bank will end up being stiffed for half a billion (earlier reports said the number at risk could be as much as $900MM) by a bunch of its clients.  As one twitter user pointed out, Citigroup is apparently eating its just desserts after helping corporate raider Ronald Perelman try to strip assets from Revlon.

A renewed call to break up big banks - Art Wilmarth’s new book, which makes a scholarly case for breaking up the nation’s largest banks, is almost 40 years in the making. Wilmarth was a young banking lawyer in the early 1980s when he first became interested in the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that barred U.S. banks from engaging in securities activities. At the time, financial industry lobbyists were pushing to repeal key provisions, an effort that finally came to fruition with the enactment of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999. “I went back and began to look at the history,” Wilmarth, a professor emeritus at George Washington University’s law school, recalled in a recent interview. “I began to ask, ‘Why are the banks trying to tear this down? This act seems to me to make perfect sense.’ ” Wilmarth’s deeply researched book, “Taming the Megabanks: Why We Need a New Glass-Steagall Act,” is a testament to his dedication to a topic that has only periodically drawn close attention in Washington. The book includes an extensive historical account that spans the financial market excesses that preceded the Great Depression, Glass-Steagall’s passage, the long campaign to undo its restrictions and what has happened in the two decades since the 1933 law was largely repealed. It also features a detailed proposal for a 21st-century version of Glass-Steagall. Wilmarth argues that restoring Glass-Steagall would reduce the threat of contagion during a future financial crisis, and would also reduce the political power of the biggest U.S. banks, which he sees as a worthy goal. “Taming the Megabanks” was published late last year, amid a pandemic in which the U.S. banking sector has shown resilience, and during a presidential campaign in which the restoration of Glass-Steagall was not a prominent issue. Still, the debate over breaking up the big banks seems likely to regain prominence whenever the next financial crisis hits. President Biden has said that his vote to repeal parts of Glass-Steagall was the worst vote he cast in his entire 36-year Senate career. And a plan published last summer by a Democratic unity task force — members included both Biden supporters and backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — called for maintaining and expanding safeguards that separate retail banking from riskier investments.

Community bankers’ optimism on economy fades - The recovery from the pandemic recession may be a year or two away, most community bankers said in a new survey. About 43% of executives don’t expect the economy to completely rebound until 2022, while 23% believe the wait could last into 2023 or later, according to a recent IntraFi Network survey of CEOs, presidents and chief financial officers of nearly 500 banks with up to $10 billion of assets. Among those who expect a turnaround this year, nearly all foresee it happening in the back half. The timeline for an anticipated recovery has lengthened. More than half of executives polled last summer predicted a bounceback at some point this year. Fifty-four percent of respondents then said the impact on their business from the COVID-19 pandemic would last until some point in 2021. The latest survey was conducted in the first two weeks of January as the early rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine was stalled in many states; the delays have led to some caution from banks, according to Paul Weinstein, a senior adviser at IntraFi. "The initial euphoria was tempered by the reality of administering the vaccines,” Weinstein said. "The fact that we hadn’t hit 20 million vaccinations at the end of the year as promised, that sobered reality a little bit that the vaccine process is going to take a little longer." Already some banks have signaled they plan to release reserves held for potential loan losses until later than previously expected. The pace of vaccines has started to improve. At the time the survey was conducted, the U.S. was averaging less than 400,000 vaccinations per a seven-day rolling average, as tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That had increased to roughly 1.4 million shots per day as of Feb. 9. An overwhelming majority of executives, about 92%, said they would not require employees to receive a vaccine before coming back into the office, according to the survey. About 42% of the bankers surveyed believe pandemic relief, especially matters tied to Paycheck Protection Program loans, will dominate the Biden administration's banking legislation agenda, according to the survey. Some PPP-related changes have been proposed, including allowing more businesses to access the program and permitting companies to deduct expenses incurred to secure a loan. About one in five bankers said the new administration would be most active around housing policy reform.

 Synthetic IDs are key to solving fraud’s whack-a-mole game --Credit card and bank account fraud have soared during the pandemic, with fraudsters intercepting consumer data via retail and banking disruptions and worsening synthetic ID fraud. Lenders say synthetic ID fraud risk will be their top area of concern for the next two years, according to a new study by Aite Group, with nearly three-quarters of institutions ranking it as a top challenge. The broad shift to digital payments and remote working trends created new security gaps that fraudsters quickly exploited for synthetic ID fraud, which was already a serious problem before the pandemic, according to Yuval Marco, general manager of fraud and authentication at Nice Actimize, which sells financial crime-fighting solutions. Synthetic ID fraud doesn’t necessarily account for the largest losses in card fraud, but it’s now the fastest-growing category of fraud, according to a variety of sources. Marco believes beating synthetic ID fraud could be the key to stamping fraud out more broadly. “If we can conquer synthetic ID fraud by collaborating as an industry, it will go a long way toward reducing all other types of fraud,” Marco said. With synthetic ID fraud, criminals steal elements of different consumers' information to create new IDs that don't really exist, then open accounts and build a credit history before busting out, and it's shot up during COVID-19, he said. Other categories of fraud are close behind synthetic ID fraud, the survey suggested. Third-party fraud—which includes routine account takeover fraud when a criminal steals access to a customer’s account—and first-party fraud, where customers deliberately or unknowingly disavow purchases they made, are also top concerns for lenders. American Express this week unveiled a Digital Receipts service available for customers to get specific details about unrecognized purchases on their statement, to cut down on rising confusion and chargebacks. But the service is only available so far for purchases through Apple, Google, Microsoft and Square. As a starting point, financial institutions, merchants and government agencies need to overlay data from different channels to verify identities for new accounts earlier in the onboarding process, Marco said. The U.S. lags behind other countries in developing digital ID verification systems, and the pandemic has added new problems. “With bank branches closed, and people working from home, many more organizations are allowing onboarding of new customers without face-to-face validation, making our synthetic ID problem significantly worse,” Marco said. The urgency to make funds available through government stimulus programs also led to some hasty approaches that exposed consumer and business owners’ data, which fraudsters rapidly captured to create synthetic accounts, he said. “The move to frictionless payments and raising contactless payment limits during the pandemic was another factor creating incentives for fraudsters to drive synthetic ID fraud on a mass basis,” Marco said.

  Fed sounds alarm on commercial real estate, business bankruptcy -- The Federal Reserve warned of significant risks of business bankruptcies and steep drops in commercial real estate prices in a report published on Friday. “Business leverage now stands near historical highs,” the central bank said in its semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress. “Insolvency risks at small and medium-sized firms, as well as at some large firms, remain considerable.” In part encouraged by government and Fed programs, businesses have taken on more debt over the past year as they’ve struggled to deal with the economic and financial fallout from COVID-19, including in some cases forced shutdowns. The Fed report, which provides lawmakers with an update on economic and financial developments and monetary policy, was published on the central bank’s website ahead of Chair Jerome Powell’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and the House Financial Services panel a day later. In the report, the Fed voiced hopes of an end to the pandemic later this year, though it cautioned that pitfalls remained. In particular, it said that commercial real estate prices “appear susceptible to sharp declines” from historically high levels. That could particularly prove to be the case if the level of distressed sales picks up or if the pandemic leads to longer-term declines in demand, it said. Commercial real estate might be hit by a double-whammy after the pandemic, some economists say. An increase in people working from home could result in less demand for office space, while stepped-up online purchases could force more shutdowns of brick-and-mortar retailers and additional vacancies at shopping centers.

Fannie and Freddie: REO inventory declined in Q4, Down 57% Year-over-year --Fannie and Freddie earlier reported results last week for Q4 2020. Here is some information on Real Estate Owned (REOs).   Note that COVID is impacting foreclosure activity, from Freddie: "We have also established a foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with Freddie Mac-owned single-family mortgages, which FHFA recently instructed us to extend until at least March 31, 2021." emphasis addedFreddie Mac reported the number of REO declined to 1,766 at the end of Q4 2020 compared to 4,989 at the end of Q4 2019. For Freddie, this is down 98% from the 74,897 peak number of REOs in Q3 2010. Fannie Mae reported the number of REO declined to 7,973 at the end of Q4 2020 compared to 17,501 at the end of Q4 2019. For Fannie, this is down 95% from the 166,787 peak number of REOs in Q3 2010.  Here is a graph of Fannie and Freddie Real Estate Owned (REO).  REO inventory decreased in Q4 2020, and combined inventory is down 57% year-over-year. This is well below a normal level of REOs for Fannie and Freddie.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.29%" -- Note: This is as of February 7th.  From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.29% : The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 6 basis points from 5.35% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 5.29% as of February 7, 2021. According to MBA’s estimate, 2.6 million homeowners are in forbearance plans. ... “The share of loans in forbearance declined to the lowest level since April 5th of last year, due to decreases in both the GSE and Ginnie Mae portfolios,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Similar to the trend in recent months, the first week of February showed a faster pace of exits from forbearance compared to recent weeks, while new forbearance requests were unchanged.” Fratantoni added, “2.6 million homeowners remain in forbearance plans. MBA expects the rollout of the vaccines to boost economic growth through the course of the year, leading to a stronger job market and a greater ability for more struggling homeowners to get back on their feet. We do believe that additional support is needed until they have regained their jobs and incomes.” • Total loans in forbearance decreased by 6 basis points relative to the prior week: from 5.35% to 5.29%.

• By investor type, the share of Ginnie Mae loans in forbearance decreased relative to the prior week: from 7.46% to 7.34%.
• The share of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans in forbearance decreased relative to the prior week: from 3.07% to 3.01%.
• The share of other loans (e.g., portfolio and PLS loans) in forbearance remained unchanged relative to the prior week at 9.14%.

This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, then trended down - and has mostly moved slowly down recently. The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) remained unchanged relative to the prior week at 0.07%"

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Increased Slightly - Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. This data is as of February 16th. From Black Knight: Slow and Steady Improvement in Forbearances Continues, Despite Weekly IncreaseAs expected, the trend of mid-month forbearance increases continued this week. New data from our McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker shows that the number of active forbearance plans increased by 15,000 (0.6%), with portfolio-held and privately securitized mortgages accounting for the largest weekly increase at 12,000 (1.8%). FHA/VA forbearances saw an increase of 5,000 (0.4%), while the GSEs experienced some small improvement – they saw a decrease of 2,000 forbearance plans (-0.2%) this week. Despite the weekly increases, the overall monthly rate of decline held steady at -2% month-over-month. This continues the trend of very slow but consistent improvement in the number of outstanding forbearance cases. As of Feb. 16, 2.69 million (5.1% of) U.S. homeowners remain in forbearance. This is made up of 9.2% of FHA/VA mortgages, 3.2% of GSE mortgages and 5.1% of portfolio/privately securitized mortgages.New plan starts hit a post-pandemic low this week, while just one of every 77 homeowners who entered the week in forbearance left their plans, one of the lowest removal rates seen yet.  Some 204,000 forbearance plans are scheduled to scheduled term expirations at the end of February, suggesting that any decline in forbearance volumes in the coming weeks is likely to be limited.The number of loans in forbearance has declined slightly over the last few months.

 NY Fed Q4 Report: "Total Household Debt Increased in Q4 2020, Newly Originated Mortgages Reach Record High" -- From the NY Fed: Total Household Debt Increased in Q4 2020, Newly Originated Mortgages Reach Record HighThe Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data today issued its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. The report shows that total household debt increased by $206 billion (1.4%) to $14.56 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2020, driven in part by a steep increase in mortgage originations. The total debt balance is now $414 billion higher than the year prior. ... Mortgage balances—the largest component of household debt—surpassed $10 trillion in the fourth quarter, increasing by $182 billion to $10.04 trillion at the end of December. While credit card balances increased by $12 billion over the quarter, they were $108 billion lower than they had been at the end of 2019, the largest year over year decline since the series began in 1999. This overall decline is consistent with continued weakness in consumer spending and revolving balance paydowns by card holders. Auto and student loan balances increased by $14 billion and $9 billion, respectively. In total, non-housing balances (including credit card, auto loan, student loan, and other debts) increased by $37 billion during the fourth quarter but remained below end-2019 levels. Newly originated mortgages reached a record high and auto loan originations reached their second highest quarterly volume since 2000. Mortgage originations, which include refinances, were at $1.2 trillion, surpassing in nominal terms the volumes seen during the historic refinance boom in 2003Q3. Auto loan originations, which includes both loans and leases, were down slightly from the record high seen in the third quarter but were at the second highest level for the series, at $162 billion. Here are two graphs from the report: The first graph shows aggregate consumer debt increased in Q4. Household debt previously peaked in 2008, and bottomed in Q3 2013. From the NY Fed: Aggregate household debt balances increased by $206 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020, a 1.4% rise from 2020Q3, and now stand at $14.56 trillion. Balances are $414 billion higher than at the end of 2019. The second graph shows the percent of debt in delinquency. The overall delinquency rate decreased in Q4. From the NY Fed: Aggregate delinquency rates have continued to decline in the fourth quarter and continuing what was seen in the second and third, reflecting an uptake in forbearances (provided by both the CARES Act and voluntarily offered by lenders), which protect borrowers’ credit records from the reporting of skipped or deferred payments. As of late December, 3.2% of outstanding debt was in some stage of delinquency, a 0.2 percentage point decrease from the third quarter, and 1.6 percentage points lower than the rate observed in the fourth quarter of 2019 and before the Covid pandemic hit the United States. Of the $462 billion of debt that is delinquent, $349 billion is seriously delinquent (at least 90 days late or “severely derogatory”, which includes some debts that have been removed from lenders’ books but upon which they continue to attempt collection). There is much more in the report.

Hundreds of thousands of renters at risk of losing their homes throughout the US Midwest - There is a growing eviction crisis throughout the Midwest and across the United States with hundreds of thousands of people at risk of losing their homes. Despite a federal eviction moratorium, which is good through March 31, landlords are using alternative methods of forcing people out of rental units, such as locking them out of their homes or moving their belongings outside their dwelling. These illegal tactics make clear the toothless character of the moratorium. The inability to pay rent is directly tied to mass unemployment that has scourged the country since March, brought on by the pandemic. The nationwide unemployment rate for January 2021 was initially reported to be 6.7 percent, but Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell confessed on February 10 that the true rate was nearly 10 percent. Large numbers of unemployed workers had been miscounted as employed. The United States lost 227,000 jobs in December and recorded a gain of only 49,000 in January. The federal moratorium, along with state and local measures do not include any provisions for rent forgiveness, meaning that overdue payments continue to pile up putting renters who are able to remain in their homes further and further in the hole as the economic crisis drags on. “Rent forgiveness and cancellation need to be on the agenda. People are accumulating thousands of dollars in back rent right now that they will be unable to pay without major government intervention when the eviction moratorium is finally allowed to expire.” During the week of January 18, 108,808 initial unemployment claims were filed in Illinois. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment increased and non-farm jobs decreased in all Illinois metropolitan areas in 2020. The largest unemployment increases were in the Chicago (8.7 percent), Decatur (8.2 percent) and Springfield (6.3 percent) metro areas. The state unemployment rate in December 2020 was 7.5 percent. The state’s economic recovery is the second worst in the nation, only behind Kansas. The Chicago-based Metropolitan Tenants Organization has gotten over 500 calls since March concerning landlords locking out tenants. Even before the pandemic, Chicago rent prices were increasing at alarming rates, increasing the pressure on workers living in the city. “We already knew [housing] was a crisis pre-COVID because rents were skyrocketing. This is a pot ready to burst. We need to make sure we have the system to make sure people in our community have support,” The Illinois Housing Development Authority could only assist 45,600 out of 79,000 applicants for rental assistance. At the beginning of this month, Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency’s benefits website crashed. Claimants were redirected to a waiting area page when they entered their login information, which did not forward to the benefits page. Over 770 evictions have been filed in Lansing’s 54A District Court. State eviction assistance funding has been depleted, restricting aid agencies’ ability to help people unable to afford rent.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 5.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 12, 2021.... The Refinance Index decreased 5 percent from the previous week and was 51 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 15 percent higher than the same week one year ago.“Expectations of faster economic growth and inflation continue to push Treasury yields and mortgage rates higher. Since hitting a survey low in December, the 30-year fixed rate has slowly risen, and last week climbed to its highest level since November 2020,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The uptick in rates has slightly dampened refinance activity, with MBA’s index falling for the second week in a row, and the overall share dipping below 70 percent for the first time since last October.”Added Kan, “The housing market in early 2021 continues to be constrained by low inventory and higher prices. Conventional and government applications to buy a home declined last week, but purchase activity overall is still strong – up 15 percent from last year. The average purchase loan size hit another survey high at $412,200, partly due to a larger drop in FHA applications, which tend to have smaller-than average loan sizes.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) increased to 2.98 percent from 2.96 percent, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.The refinance index has been volatile recently depending on rates.With near record low rates, the index remains up significantly from last year (but will be down year-over-year in early March - since rates fell sharply at the beginning of the pandemic).

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 6.69 million in January - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Tick Up 0.6% in January: Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 0.6% from December to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.69 million in January. Sales in total climbed year-over-year, up 23.7% from a year ago (5.41 million in January 2020). Total housing inventory at the end of January amounted to 1.04 million units, down 1.9% from December and down 25.7% from one year ago (1.40 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, equal to December's supply and down from the 3.1-month amount recorded in January 2020. NAR first began tracking the single-family home supply in 1982. Note: December was revised down from 6.76 million to 6.65 million SAAR.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in January (6.69 million SAAR) were up 0.6% from last month, and were 23.7% above the January 2020 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. According to the NAR, inventory decreased to 1.04 million in January from 1.06 million in December. 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 25.7% year-over-year in January compared to January 2020. Months of supply was unchanged at 1.9 months in January (tied for all time low). This was above the consensus forecast.

Comments on January Existing Home Sales - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 6.69 million in January –=- A few key points:
1) This was the highest sales rate for January since 2005, and the 2nd highest sales for January on record. Some of the increase over the last seven months was probably related to pent up demand from the shutdowns in March and April.  Other reasons include record low mortgage rates, a move away from multi-family rentals, strong second home buying (to escape the high-density cities), a strong stock market andfavorable demographics.  The delay in the buying season has pushed the seasonally adjusted number to very high levels.   For example, assuming the buying season was shifted three months by the pandemic, this number of sales, Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) in October, would have given a 4.3 million Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR), as opposed to the reported 6.69 million SAAR for January.   So the delay in the buying season is a factor in the headline number being so high. This also means there are going to be some difficult comparisons in the second half of 2021!
2) Inventory is very low, and was down 25.7% year-over-year (YoY) in January.  Also, as housing economist Tom Lawler has noted, the local MLS data shows even a larger decline in active inventory (the NAR appears to include some pending sales in inventory). Lawler noted:  "As I’ve noted before, the inventory measure in most publicly-released local realtor/MLS reports excludes listings with pending contracts, but that is not the case for many of the reports sent to the NAR (referred to as the “NAR Report!”), Since the middle of last Spring inventory measures excluding pending listings have fallen much more sharply than inventory measures including such listings, and this latter inventory measure understates the decline in the effective inventory of homes for sale over the last several months." Months-of-supply is at a record low.  Inventory will be important to watch in 2021, see: Some thoughts on Housing Inventory/  This graph shows existing home sales by month for 2020 and 2021.The year-over-year comparisons will be easy in the first half of 2021 - especially in April, May and June - and then difficult in the second half of the year.    Sales NSA in January (367,000) were 15.8% above sales last year in January (317,000). This was the highest sales for January (NSA) since 2006.

Housing Starts decreased to 1.580 Million Annual Rate in January --From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions -Privately-owned housing starts in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,580,000. This is 6.0 percent below the revised December estimate of 1,680,000 and is 2.3 percent below the January 2020 rate of 1,617,000. Single-family housing starts in January were at a rate of 1,162,000; this is 12.2 percent below the revised December figure of 1,323,000. The January rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 402,000. Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,881,000. This is 10.4 percent above the revised December rate of 1,704,000 and is 22.5 percent above the January 2020 rate of 1,536,000. Single-family authorizations in January were at a rate of 1,269,000; this is 3.8 percent above the revised December figure of 1,223,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 557,000 in January. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) increased in January compared to December. Multi-family starts were down 33% year-over-year in January. Single-family starts (blue) decreased in January, and were up 17% year-over-year. The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in January were well below expectations, and starts in November and December were revised down, combined.

Comments on January Housing Starts - Earlier: Housing Starts decreased to 1.580 Million Annual Rate in January. Total housing starts in January were below expectations, and starts in November and December were revised down, combined. Single family starts decreased in January, but were still up sharply year-over-year - and excluding the last three months - were at the highest level since 2007. However, the volatile multi-family sector is down significantly year-over-year (apartments are under pressure from COVID). The housing starts report showed starts were down 6.0% in January compared to December, and starts were down 2.3% year-over-year compared to January 2020. Single family starts were up 17% year-over-year. Low mortgage rates and limited existing home inventory have given a boost to single family housing starts. The first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2019 (blue) and 2020 (red). Starts were down 2.3% in January compared to January 2020. A key point: Housing starts averaged 1.590 million SAAR in the three months prior to the pandemic. That is about the same as January 2021 (although the mix changed to more single family). 2020 was off to a strong start before the pandemic, and with low interest rates and little competing existing home inventory, starts finished the year strong. The year-over-year comparison will be difficult again in February - and then the comparisons will be easy in March, April and May. Last month I noted "Don't be surprised if starts are down year-over-year sometime over the next two months." This small year-over-year decline in total starts was not a surprise. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - then mostly moved sideways. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts- then starts picked up a little again late last year, but have fallen off with the pandemic. The last graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Single family starts are getting back to more normal levels, but I still expect some further increases in single family starts and completions on a rolling 12 month basis.

New Residential Building Permits: Up Another 10.4% in January  -The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have now published their findings for January new residential building permits. The latest reading of 1.881M was up 10.4% from the December reading and is above the forecast of 1.678M.Here is the opening of this morning's monthly report, including a note regarding revisions: Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,881,000. This is 10.4 percent (±1.2 percent) above the revised December rate of 1,704,000 and is 22.5 percent (±1.8 percent) above the January 2020 rate of 1,536,000. Single-family authorizations in January were at a rate of 1,269,000; this is 3.8 percent (±0.9 percent) above the revised December figure of 1,223,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 557,000 in January. [link to report] Here is the complete historical series, which dates from 1960. Because of the extreme volatility of the monthly data points, a 6-month moving average has been included.Here is the data with a simple population adjustment. The Census Bureau's mid-month population estimates show substantial growth in the US population since 1960. Here is a chart of housing starts as a percent of the population. We've added a linear regression through the monthly data to highlight the trend.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 84 in February -- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 84, up from 83 in January. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From the NAHB: Builder Confidence: High Demand Offsets Higher Costs – For Now Strong buyer demand helped offset supply chain challenges and a surge in lumber prices as builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes inched up one point to 84 in February, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Lumber prices have been steadily rising this year and hit a record high in mid-February, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home and causing some builders to abruptly halt projects at a time when inventories are already at all-time lows. However, demand conditions remain solid due to demographics, low mortgage rates and the suburban shift to lower cost markets, but we expect to see some cooling in growth rates for residential construction in 2021 due to cost factors, supply chain issues and regulatory risks....The HMI index gauging current sales conditions held steady at 90, while the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell three points to 80. The gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers rose four points to 72. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose two points to 78, the Midwest fell one point to 81, the South dropped two points to 84 and the West posted a two-point loss to 93. This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985. This was slightly above the consensus forecast, and a very strong reading. Housing and homebuilding have been one of the best performing sectors during the pandemic.

Lumber Futures Hit Record High $1000 (As Gold Slumps To 7-Month Lows) - As Building Permits explode higher (driven by multi-family units)...The demand for lumber has soared, sending the building material jumping to an all-time high of $1,004.90 Thursday. Prices have climbed more than 30% this year... as gold sinks to a seven-month low...which is odd given that the rally in lumber (among other commodities) has stoked concerns of inflation bleeding into the home-buying market.While the onslaught of demand from new construction combined with a boom in home remodeling and construction fueled by stay-home orders, Bloomberg notes that this handicapped producers’ abilities to restock inventories quickly enough, further supporting prices.Additionally, as we noted during last year's chaotic surge, it's not all demand-driven as one builder noted “the explanation they had for us was that COVID-19 shut down the plants that treat the wood, and that finally caught up.”“The supply chain was screwed up,” said Wilson, the owner of Wilson Construction in Galveston. “Dimension sizes were in limited supplies; even something as simple as a two-by-four-by-twelve Southern yellow pine treated was in extremely short supply.”Ultimately, the added costs that come from buying supplies will be passed on to homebuyers, said Bill Schick, who sells lumber for Raleigh, North Carolina-based Building Materials and Construction Solutions.“The price increase gets passed on to the end consumer,” Schick said. “Future homeowners and people remodeling will end up paying the brunt of the price increase." But don't worry, Powell says The Fed has "the tools" to manage inflation...

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 29.0% Year-over-year -- From CoStar: STR: Valentine's Day, Holiday Weekend Boost US Hotel Occupancy” U.S. hotel occupancy increased more than 4 percentage points from the previous week, according to STR‘s latest data through Feb. 13.
Feb. 7-13, 2021 (percentage change from comparable week in 2020):
• Occupancy: 45.1% (-29.0%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$99.21 (-25.7%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$44.72 (-47.2%)
Boosted by Valentine’s Day and the long weekend with Presidents Day, U.S. weekend occupancy (Friday/Saturday) came in at 58.5%, which was the highest level in the metric since mid-October. Elevated occupancy during the weekend of Presidents Day occurred during previous recessions as well. The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.  The red line is for 2021, black is 2020, blue is the median, and dashed light blue is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels prior to 2020).  Even when occupancy increases to 2009 levels, hotels will still be hurting.  Seasonally we'd expect that business travel would start to pick up in the new year, but there will probably not be much pickup early in 2021. Note: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

Retail Sales increased 5.3% in January -- On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 5.3 percent from December to January (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 7.4 percent from January 2020. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2021, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $568.2 billion,an increase of 5.3 percent from the previous month, and 7.4 percent above January 2020. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 5.4% in January. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 8.6% on a YoY basis. The increase in January was well above expectations, however sales in November and December were revised down, combined.

Retail Sales Up 5.3% in January, Beats Forecast -The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for January was released this morning. Headline sales came in at 5.3% month-over-month to one decimal and was well above the forecast of 1.1%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 5.9% MoM.Here is the introduction from today's report:Statement Regarding COVID-19 Impact: The Census Bureau continues to monitor response and data quality and has determined that estimates in this release meet publication standards. For more information, see COVID-19 FAQs.Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2021, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $568.2 billion, an increase of 5.3 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 7.4 percent (±0.7 percent) above January 2020. Total sales for the November 2020 through January 2021 period were up 4.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The November 2020 to December 2020 percent change was revised from down 0.7 percent (±0.5 percent) to down 1.0 percent (±0.3 percent).Retail trade sales were up 5.1 percent (±0.5 percent) from December 2020, and 10.8 percent (±0.7 percent) above last year. Nonstore retailers were up 28.7 percent (±1.8 percent) from January 2020, while sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores were up 22.5 percent (±4.0 percent) from last year. [view full report] The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

 January Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Up 1.2% MoM --This morning's release of the January Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand was at 1.3% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, down from a 0.3% increase last month. It is at 1.7% year-over-year, up from 0.8% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at 1.2% MoM, up from the previous month and is up 2.0% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.4% headline and 0.2% core.Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand increased 1.3 percent in January, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This advance is the largest since the index began in December 2009. Final demand prices rose 0.3 percent in December and 0.1 percent in November. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the index for final demand moved up 1.7 percent for the 12 months ended January 2021, the largest increase since climbing 2.0 percent for the 12 months ended January 2020.Two-thirds of the January advance in prices for final demand can be traced to a 1.3-percent rise in the index for final demand services. Prices for final demand goods increased 1.4 percent.Prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services moved up 1.2 percent in January, the largest advance since the index began in September 2013. For the 12 months ended in January, prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 2.0 percent, the largest increase since a 2.1-percent advance for the 12 months ended June 2019. More…The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

 LA Area Port Traffic: Strong Imports, Weak Exports in January  Note: Import traffic is so heavy - ships are backed up waiting to unload in LA. "some vessels are spending almost as much time at anchor as it takes to traverse the Pacific Ocean." Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average. On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 0.9% in January compared to the rolling 12 months ending in December. Outbound traffic was down 0.7% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year. Imports were up 11% YoY in December, and exports were down 8% YoY.

Industrial Production Increased 0.9 Percent in January -- From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization::Industrial production increased 0.9 percent in January. Manufacturing output rose 1.0 percent, about the same as its average gain over the previous five months. Mining production advanced 2.3 percent, while the output of utilities declined 1.2 percent. At 107.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production in January was 1.8 percent lower than its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector increased 0.7 percentage point in January to 75.6 percent, a rate that is 4.0 percent below its long-run (1972–2020) average.. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April, but still below the level in February 2020. Capacity utilization at 75.6% is 4.0% below the average from 1972 to 2019. Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production increased in January to 107.2. This is 1.9% below the February 2020 level. The change in industrial production was above consensus expectations.

NY Fed: Manufacturing: Business activity "grew modestly" in New York State in February --From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey Business activity grew modestly in New York State, according to The index for number of employees was little changed at 12.1, indicating ongoing modest gains in employment, and the average workweek index edged up to 9.0, signaling an increase in hours worked. firms responding to the February 2021 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index climbed nine points to 12.1, its highest level in several months. New orders increased, and shipments edged higher. Delivery times lengthened, and inventories grew. Employment levels and the average workweek both increased. Input prices rose at the fastest clip in nearly a decade, and selling prices increased significantly. Looking ahead, firms remained optimistic that conditions would improve over the next six months, and capital spending plans expanded noticeably...The general business conditions index rose nine points to 12.1, its highest level since July of last year. ... The index for number of employees was little changed at 12.1, indicating ongoing modest gains in employment, and the average workweek index edged up to 9.0, signaling an increase in hours worked.This was above expectations, and showed activity "grew modestly" in December.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 861,000 - In the week ending February 13, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 861,000, an increase of 13,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 55,000 from 793,000 to 848,000. The 4-week moving average was 833,250, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 13,750 from 823,000 to 836,750. This does not include the 516,299 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was up from 341,872 the previous week. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 833,250. The previous week was revised up. The second graph shows seasonally adjust continued claims since 1967 (lags initial by one week).  At the worst of the Great Recession, continued claims peaked at 6.635 million, but then steadily declined. Regular state continued claims decreased to 4,494,000 (SA) from 4,558,000 (SA) the previous week and will likely stay at a high level until the crisis abates. Note: There are an additional 7,685,389 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that decreased from 7,943,448 the previous week (there are questions about these numbers). This is a special program for business owners, self-employed, independent contractors or gig workers not receiving other unemployment insurance.  And an additional 4,061,305 receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) down from 4,779,341.  Weekly claims were much higher than the consensus forecast, and the previous week was revised up sharply.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 5,333 workers died on the job in 2019, or one every 99 minutes - The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an agency within the US Department of Labor (DOL), reported last month that 5,333 US workers died due to workplace injuries in 2019, an increase of 2 percent from the previous year. This is the highest number of workplace deaths in the United States since 2007. This grisly figure has been steadily rising since a temporary decline during the 2008-2009 recession, when millions of people left the labor force altogether. In the years since, the jobs wiped out by the financial crisis have been replaced by new jobs overwhelmingly concentrated in low-wage, highly exploitative sectors of the economy. As horrific as they are, the BLS figures are in fact a vast undercount, in part because it does not count deaths due to workplace related diseases. Given the omission of disease-related deaths, as well as the undermining of reporting of workplace COVID-19 infections and deaths by the federal government, it is likely that the figures for 2020, once they are released in next year's report, will represent a far larger undercount of the real number of workplace fatalities than in 2019. Tesla Motors Assembly Line (Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr) According to an AFL-CIO report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” which analyzed data from 2018, on average 14 workers died on the job each day in the US, and an estimated 95,000 workers died from chronic occupational illness. “Due to limitations in the current injury reporting system and widespread underreporting of workplace injuries, this number understates the problem. The true toll is estimated to be two to three times greater—or 7.0 million to 10.5 million injuries and illnesses a year,” the AFL-CIO report stated. According to the report, only 3.5 million injuries were reported in 2019. While the figures from 2019 do not include deaths which occurred during the coronavirus pandemic in the US, they shed light on why COVID-19 has had such a devastating impact in the United States. Even before the pandemic, workers in America were subjected to horrific conditions, with more Americans dying at work each year than died during the entire eight years of the Iraq War. Meanwhile, rising levels of inequality have led to worsening health outcomes, including a decline in the average expectancy. The deadly social consequences of the engorgement by the corporate oligarchy on society’s resources was demonstrated in a recent study by the Lancet medical journal which found that 200,000 Americans would still be alive if mortality rates in the country had kept pace during the pandemic with the average for advanced countries.

 Remote Workers Flee to Luxury Beach Resorts While Awaiting Vaccines - When Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would be entering its strictest lockdown yet in mid-December, some of his most well-to-do residents ran the other way—as far as they could—to places like sunny Belize. Others, who’d seen the writing on the wall well ahead of time, were long gone. Unlike the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, which sent people on road trips and to second homes, the second wave has globally triggered a desire for more permanent, warmer, far-flung escapes. In the U.K. and Europe, the wealthy have flown to such warmer climates as Dubai, the Maldives, and Spain to escape winter lockdown, says Justin Huxter, founder of U.K.-based Cartology Travel. Americans have more options for tropical bunkers: Hawaii has eased its travel restrictions andborders are open in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and many parts of the Caribbean. After all, what good is a second home at Lake Tahoe or Napa, Calif., when nearby ski lifts, wineries, and restaurants are periodically inaccessible, as they were for much of December and January?  “People with lockdown fatigue have realized they can continue life in places with a lot less stress and a lot more room to breathe,” says Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond. He’s seeing East Coast clients flock to luxury hotels and resorts in Florida, South Carolina, and Turks and Caicos Islands while West Coast clients flee to Arizona and Puerto Vallarta and Cabo in Mexico—anywhere with equally good weather and Wi-Fi. The average cost, he says, is $70,000 a month, with most clients booking two- to four-month stays.  Extended-stay discounts, the reopening of certain international borders, and better awareness on the precautions to take when traveling have further enabled a second-wave exodus. While socially isolating in a five-star resort may have been a novelty at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s now a need for a certain class of consumer; in Thailand,it’s a business plan. “By October, people started to realize they’d be facing another winter in San Francisco with no restaurants, no entertainment, no offices—really nowhere to go. They wanted out,” says Leigh Rowan, founder of Bay Area-based Savanti Travel, whose clients are buying one-way tickets and working remotely from beachfront villas or amenity-laden hotels. This time, he says, they’re not coming back until there’s promise of a vaccine appointment.

New Orleans businesses brace for Mardi Gras shutdown --Some bars in New Orleans have replaced the festive Mardi Gras flags that hang from their businesses at this time of year with white ones. Beaux Church, director of Café Lafitte in Exile, Good Friends Bar and Rawhide 2010, said the white flags indicate the businesses have surrendered to the citywide crackdown during New Orleans' most famous celebration. "We had already purchased all of our food and drink supplies ... and we had the rug pulled out from under us at the last minute," Church said. "All of the bar owners would have been much better off with at least two weeks' notice." Citing coronavirus-related concerns,Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Feb. 5 that all bars in the city would be closed for five days — from the Friday before Mardi Gras through Fat Tuesday itself, which falls on Feb. 16 this year. Liquor sales are not allowed in the French Quarter, even from liquor stores, and to-go beverages are banned during the five days. Already, parades and large gatherings are prohibited, and masks and social distancing are required. Officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of Mardi Gras 2020, which attracted over a million people to New Orleans to celebrate Carnival and unknowingly contributed to the outbreak and caused the city’s hospitals to reach capacity. That means the city's tourism-dependent economy — made up of restaurants, bars, small shops and hotels already hit hard by the pandemic — will have little to look forward to this Carnival season.  Cantrell said the restrictions are "necessary" and would prevent the deadly virus from spreading. "This year, knowing what we know now, I'm doing everything I can to keep our people safe and save lives," she said. "I'd rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little."New Orleans is currently losing up to $130 million in visitor spending per week because of Covid-19, according to New Orleans & Company, which promotes tourism in the city.

Florida, California Took Opposite Approaches To COVID... With Virtually Same Result - How is it that California enacted draconian COVID lockdown measures, yet had nearly identical results to Florida - a state which went out of its way to avoid shackling residents with small business-killing prohibitions and mentally unhealthy isolation?  According to an analysis by the Daily Mail, California Governor Gavin Newsom's (D) strict lockdowns resulted in 8,499 cases and 130 deaths per 100,000 residents, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's hands-off approach - such as lifting an ordinance preventing people from operating businesses and restaurants - has resulted in 8,306 cases and 117 deaths per 100,000 residents.Not only that, both states followed roughly the same trajectories for various COVID-19 metrics - with Florida lookingbetter by virtually every measure when adjusted for population, and California looking like Orwellian overlords save for multiple judges which have tossed Newsom's edicts because the state failed to provide a scientific basis for their decisions - and has concealed their 'methodology' that has driven business-killing decisions.  All illustrations via the Daily Mail The hospitalizations cures of California (left) and Florida (right) bear a striking resemblance to each other with peaks seen around early-to-mid January and declines ever since. The dashed line represents the national seven-day average and the solid line represents California's and Florida's seven-day averages - So were lockdowns necessary and did they work? The answer is a complicated one, but researchers say that they were beneficial in the early months due to our lack of knowledge about how COVID-19 spread and how to treat it. Studies have shown that stay-at-home orders and restrictions saved numerous lives, but that they might be less useful now as more of the population gains natural immunity through infection or immunity via vaccination - but that social distancing and masks are still necessary to continue driving down case and death rates. -Daily Mail   Florida notably did not shut down schools, nor impose statewide mask mandates. As the Mail notes, however, the Sunshine State had historically higher COVID-19 rates until recently.

Tennessee lawmakers propose bill that would let biological fathers stop abortions - Tennessee lawmakers have proposed a bill that would let a biological father stop a woman from getting an abortion. The bill introduced by Republican state Sen. Mark Pody says “[a] person may petition a court with jurisdiction over domestic relations matters to request an injunction to prohibit a woman who is pregnant with the person's unborn child from obtaining an abortion.”The Senate bill was passed on second consideration on Thursday and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. An injunction would only be granted to an individual if there is evidence the woman is considering an abortion and if there is evidence the man is the father. However, DNA evidence is not required for the injunction. Once the injunction is issued, the court must hold a hearing with both parties within 14 days. If a woman violates the injunction and gets an abortion, “the court may hold the respondent in civil or criminal contempt and punish the respondent in accordance with the law.”

Los Angeles Police Department officers and employees caught circulating Valentine’s Day image of George Floyd captioned “You take my breath away” - The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has been forced to open an internal investigation after several sworn officers and civilian employees reportedly shared a Valentine’s Day-themed image of George Floyd with a caption that read, “You take my breath away.” Floyd died after three Minneapolis Police Department officers, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng, pinned him to the asphalt for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, while a fourth officer, Tou Thao, stood by, lecturing the horrified spectators. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner attributed Floyd’s death to “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression.” The family’s private autopsy used more straightforward language: “homicide caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain.”

Nation's oldest juvenile offender released after 68 years - Joe Ligon, the nation’s oldest and longest-serving juvenile offender, has been released from prison after serving 68 years of a life sentence, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Ligon pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in Philadelphia in 1953, when he was 15 years old. He was part of an assault and robbery spree that killed two people but has denied killing anyone himself and said he was scapegoated as an out-of-towner. However, he was sentenced to life without parole. A 2012 Supreme Court decision found sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment, but Pennsylvania did not apply the ruling retroactively until a subsequent 2016 decision by the high court ordered states to do so.

Police intervene after dozens swarm grocery store dumpsters to ‘rescue’ food after power outage. (KOIN) — Police had to intervene when dozens of people tried to salvage perishable items tossed in dumpsters following power outages at a grocery store in Northeast Portland, Oregon.Several supermarkets lost power for a time during severe winter weather over the past week. After photos began circulating Tuesday, people gathered at a local Fred Meyer store to pick through hundreds of packages of meat, dairy and other perishable products.Even though the store switched to a generator when it lost power, a store spokesperson said some food had spoiled and was not safe to sell so it was tossed “out of an abundance of caution.” But the situation turned sour when news of the store’s actions circulated on social media.Dozens of people showed up to take the food and refused to leave when store workers told them to go, so employees guarded the dumpsters and police were called.According to police, an employee called “because they felt the situation was escalating and feared there may be a physical confrontation” after the crowd allegedly threatened several store employees. A Fred Meyer spokesperson said theyengaged law enforcement, as the safety of our associates and customers is always our top priority. “  Dr. Juniper Simonis, a chemical munitions expert and activist, tweeted that there were 12 Portland police officers “who were apparently guarding two dumpsters full of food that mutual aid orgs were trying to distribute and hungry folks were trying to eat.”Police say they attempted to explain to individuals that the food was thrown out due to health concerns, but claimed no one in the crowd was willing to talk and “continued to shout insults at them and store employees.” Officers told the crowd to leave the area or risk being arrested for trespassing.

Video shows man screaming 'get a f---ing job' at family in line for church's food drive - Video from Buckeye, Ariz., shows a man in his truck yelling at a family in line for a food drive to "get a f---king job." The video, obtained and reported by local CBS News affiliate Arizona's Family, shows a man in a white truck yelling at the family while they waited in their car on Thursday for food offered by a local church's food drive.  The family, which asked the outlet to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, says the man accused them of not needing the free food and yelled at them in front of their four young children. The parents said they've been struggling like many families during the coronavirus pandemic. "He looked at my son and told him that his parents were pathetic and couldn't afford to feed him. At that point, all my manners went out the window," one of the parents told Arizona's Family.  Arizona's Family said it also identified and spoke to the man in the truck who yelled at the family, and he told the outlet he stands by what he said, adding: "Those people need to go to work. They should be ashamed of themselves." The incident comes as families across the country have turned to food banks over the last year. Many American households have lost jobs and income during the coronavirus pandemic.

 Amazon sues New York to claim immunity from state COVID-19 safety regulations - On Friday, Amazon filed a lawsuit in federal district court against New York state attorney general Letitia James, claiming that the company is not subject to “state oversight” and is not required to comply with New York’s workplace health and safety laws and regulations as they relate to the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit is a display of boundless arrogance befitting a conglomerate controlled by one of the world’s richest megabillionaires, Jeff Bezos. Amazon’s legal theory is that it is not required to comply with New York safety laws or regulations because those are allegedly superseded or “preempted” by more lenient federal regulations. Until recently, the federal regulations at issue were promulgated by the Republican Trump administration, which ferociously opposed any measure that would protect workers’ lives at the expense of corporate profits. This policy has been continued in all essential respects by the new Democratic Biden administration, which is currently engaged in an intensifying campaign to reopen schools, carried over without interruption from the Trump administration. Schools are known to contribute dramatically to the spread of the deadly virus. Amazon seeks a declaratory ruling that it is immune from New York labor laws relating to health and safety regarding the coronavirus and that it is not required to comply with the instructions of New York’s attorney general, which included modest demands that “Amazon disgorge profits, subsidize public bus service, reduce its production speeds and performance requirements,” reinstate employees Amazon had retaliated against, “retain a health and safety consultant to oversee safety and production,” and adopt other safety-related policies.

Republican state legislators move to ban the New York Times ’ 1619 Project from schools - Republican-controlled state legislators in several states have moved to ban the New York Times’1619 Project from public school instruction. The laws would deny funding to schools that teach the curriculum, which frames all of American history as a struggle between races, and argues, among other things, that the American Revolution was a conspiracy waged by the Founding Fathers to defend slavery from the British monarchy. The first such legislation was introduced in July of last year in Arkansas, with the support of the state’s fascistic US senator, Tom Cotton, who said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “The 1619 Project is left-wing propaganda.” The Arkansas bill characterized the 1619 Project as “a racially divisive and revisionist account of history that threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.” A state legislative panel rejected the latest proposal in Arkansas on February 9. On that same day, Republican lawmakers in Iowa filed legislation that would cut state funding for any schools that utilized history curriculums derived from the 1619 Project. The bill claims that the 1619 Project works to “deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded” and went on to state that the focus of public education should be on “promoting an accurate account of this nation’s history through public schools and forming young people into knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.” The bill would punish schools that teach the 1619 Project by cutting their budget “by one one-hundred-eightieth for each day of the previous budget year for which the school district used” 1619 Project material. The bill would also slash state aid payments for schools, community colleges, and regent institutions—including the state’s three public universities—that violate the rule. Similar legislation has been filed in Mississippi, Missouri and South Dakota. The bills have provoked opposition from educators and historians who denounced the attempts by Republican lawmakers to restrict course curriculum and indoctrinate students in right-wing chauvinism. “Do we want historical facts and details that are researched and published by experts taught? Or do we want nationalism taught? That’s a very scary sort of suggestion, that schools would engage in ideological nationalism for political needs.” This latest drive by the Republican legislators exploits the 1619 Project’s racialist falsifications for a broader aim—to blot out all critical aspects from the teaching of American history and to impose censorship in the schools. Republican lawmakers and governors throughout the US have moved towards establishing a right-wing, nationalistic school curriculum. Last November, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves proposed a $3 million “Patriotic Education Fund” for the purpose of educating “the next generation in the incredible accomplishments of the American Way.” Last month, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem proposed a similar initiative to teach students “why the U.S. is the most special nation in the history of the world.”

Fauci claims schools 'need' Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill to reopen. But here's what he said in Nov. - Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, claimed Sunday that Biden's massive $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package should be passed before schools can safely reopen.  Fauci's comments came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance last week that declared, "It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services."The guidance, however, did not mandate vaccines for teachers, despite teacher unions nationwide opposing a return to in-person instruction until teachers receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Fauci claimed schools do not have the necessary resources to abide by the CDC's guidelines — and said that is exactly why lawmakers should pass Biden's bill. "I think that the schools really do need more resources. And that's the reason why the national relief act that we're talking about getting passed, we need that," Fauci explained. "The schools need more resources." "The things we didn't have before, there wasn't anything that was put down solidly on paper on saying, these are the kinds of things that you should consider, these are the kind of things that you should follow," Fauci went on to say. "I think it can be done. I mean, obviously, it's not a perfect situation. But it's really important to get the children back to school in as safe a way as possible, safe for the children, but also safe for the teachers and the other educators." Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Fauci claimed schools do not have the necessary resources to abide by the CDC's guidelines — and said that is exactly why lawmakers should pass Biden's bill. "I think that the schools really do need more resources. And that's the reason why the national relief act that we're talking about getting passed, we need that," Fauci explained. "The schools need more resources." "The things we didn't have before, there wasn't anything that was put down solidly on paper on saying, these are the kinds of things that you should consider, these are the kind of things that you should follow," Fauci went on to say. "I think it can be done. I mean, obviously, it's not a perfect situation. But it's really important to get the children back to school in as safe a way as possible, safe for the children, but also safe for the teachers and the other educators."

CDC school opening guidelines ignore the critical role of ventilation and infection control in classrooms - The importance of clean air in schools has been a chronic issue that has developed into a pressing concern. There are significant health consequences for teachers and staff, students and their respective communities as the Biden administration pushes for the resumption of in-person schooling as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that 54 percent of public school districts require the overhaul or replacement of multiple building systems or features in their schools. It is estimated that around 41 percent of school districts need to update or replace their dilapidated heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which represents about 36,000 schools across the country. According to the National Air Filtration Association website, in the section on air filtration for schools, they write, “Every child and school employee should have the right to an environmentally safe and healthy school that is clean and in good repair.” They underscored that schools are even more densely populated than a typical commercial building, making the “bio-burden” much more significant and leading to some of the worst air conditions in any environment. To effectively remove infective particles, the repair or replacement of ventilation systems is critical, but it is only one part of a constellation of measures that must be met before schools are reopened. This includes reducing regional cases of COVID-19 to exceptionally low levels, a vast acceleration of the production and distribution of vaccines to inoculate the population, the establishment of a rigorous, well equipped and trained contact tracing infrastructure that can do rapid testing of individuals and their contacts and, if necessary, close schools and communities to bring the pandemic under control. Until then, schools should remain closed and students taught remotely. It is highly significant that the recently published CDC guidelines, which claim that schools are safe for in-class instruction, have sidestepped the issue of school ventilation, essentially burying any discussion into hyperlinks and technical jargon aimed at preventing teachers from making the appropriate and essential connections between the mode of transmission of the virus and the need for highly efficient HVAC and filtration systems. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough how important it was to identify aerosolization as a critical mode of transmission for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This key understanding helped to explain what was occurring in recent superspreading events, where a few individuals infected many others, even across large rooms.

CDC School Reopening Guidance Suppresses Aerosols Based on Thin Evidence and Driven by Budgetary Concerns -- Lambert Strether --The CDC, newly headed by Biden appointee Rochelle Walensky, has issued guidance on school re-opening. From the Associated Press: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its long-awaited road map for getting students back to classrooms in the middle of a pandemic that has killed nearly 480,000 people in the U.S. But the agency’s guidance is just that — it cannot force schools to reopen, and CDC officials were careful to say they are not calling for a mandate that all U.S. schools be reopened. This post will follow the science; it’s an open question, however, whether CDC did, as we shall see. There are two key documents:

There are two central issues with Strategy. The first might be labeled its Central Dogma. The second is the action items in Strategy. Here is the CDC’s Central Dogma: The occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in schools reflects transmission in the surrounding community.  That is, schools themselves are not drivers of transmission, but rather, as it were, passive recipients of it. This is certainly disputable, for example in this recent thread on Montréal:  See also this recent thread on the UK:  I will have more to say about reasoning from other countries to this one later in the post. But for now, consider these two tweets as prima facie evidence that the CDC’s Central Dogma is open to question. We will pass on from that topic to the central focus of this post: The CDC’s action items. From Executive Summary of Strategy, here they are: You will notice immediately that aerosol transmission is omitted; the message of Strategy is that aerosol transmission can be ignored because it is not an “essential” element. This message is getting through; from an acute summary of Strategy in WaPo, “The CDC’s plan to reopen schools seems to prioritize expediency over teachers’ health“:

 CDC’s politically motivated guidelines fuel media campaign to reopen US schools - Over the weekend, a corporate media blitz made perfectly clear the purpose of the latest guidelines on school reopenings issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday. The weeks long propaganda campaign falsely claiming that schools are not vectors for the spread of COVID-19 now has the full imprimatur of the CDC and is rapidly escalating in order to reopen schools in all districts currently remote-only. Numerous articles and editorials have been published since Friday in the print media, either praising the guidelines for their loose recommendations or demanding that they go even further. The New York Times carried an article entitled, “C.D.C. Draws Up a Blueprint for Reopening Schools.” The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, carried an article entitled, “CDC offers road map for safely reopening schools.” The Associated Press headlined its article, “CDC: Strong evidence in-person schooling can be done safely.” The Wall Street Journal, the principal mouthpiece of the financial oligarchy, titled its main article, “CDC Presses K-12 Schools to Reopen.” On Sunday morning, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and NBC’s “Meet the Press,” invoking the guidelines to promote the reopening schools everywhere in the coming days and weeks. On “Face the Nation,” Dr. Walensky was asked, “Should areas of this country where there is B.1.1.7 still have in-person classes?” She replied, “There are over 1,000 B.1.1.7 cases that we have documented … in 39 states.” She added, “we have projections that it may be the dominant strain by the end of March. That said, the amount of disease in school is very much related to the amount of disease that’s in the community.” Without providing any evidence, Dr. Walensky stated, “There’s very limited transmission between students, between students and staff.” Where this occurred, she blamed school staff for being negligent and spreading the virus in schools, saying this was due “breaches in mask wearing.” She stressed that “what we’re really advocating for now is … in the high areas of transmission, the red zones you just talked about, getting our K-5 kids back in a hybrid mode,” that is, part remote and part in-class learning. Over the weekend, researchers found that more than 99 percent of all children in the US presently reside in what are classified as “red” zones by the CDC guidelines for having high levels of COVID-19 transmission. But the guidelines explicitly state, “At any level of community transmission, all schools have options to provide in-person instruction”

 Los Angeles officials press to reopen schools, citing bogus “threshold” - The campaign to reopen schools in the United States reached its next phase Monday night, when Los Angeles County officials declared that the city’s school district, the second largest in the country, has been “cleared” to reopen. The announcement was first made via a tweet by Janice Hahn, a member of LA County’s Board of Supervisors, who wrote that the county has “officially reached the State’s threshold for reopening elementary schools” and that schools in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) could open as soon as the following day. Although local officials are pushing for schools to reopen as quickly as possible, a timeline has not yet been set. The ultimate framework through which the Democrats will seek to pry open LA schools will come through negotiations with the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), following the template established by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) last week. The UTLA, whose leadership is hailed as “militant” and “progressive” by the same pseudo-left forces such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who have praised the CTU leadership for years, sold out a strike by LA teachers in 2019. If successful, the reopening of LAUSD will lead to further outbreaks and deaths, particularly with the rapid spread of newer and deadlier strains of the virus. It must be opposed by teachers and workers throughout the city, the state of California and the country, who must demand instead the shutdown of schools and nonessential industry in order to contain the pandemic once and for all.

Teachers in US state of Georgia herded back into unsafe classrooms - Despite the deaths of at least four Georgia public school teachers in recent months and teachers being denied vaccinations, school and state officials are forcing reluctant educators to resume in-person teaching in dangerous school buildings. While teachers are demanding that they be given the option to teach virtually from home, school boards are overwhelmingly denying their request. To add insult to injury, teachers are being denied vaccines, which are being chaotically rolled out as they are not considered to be a priority. Teachers in several metro-Atlanta counties, including Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and Dekalb, are displaying their opposition by demonstrating with signs reading “No More Teacher Deaths,” by calling in sick and by speaking forcefully at monthly school board meetings against in-person schooling. In addition, authorities are threatening retaliation against teachers who refuse to comply or even express concern over physically returning to classrooms. Many teachers in Gwinnett County are now demanding explicit protections against retaliation for requesting the virtual teaching option. This murderous program is being implemented in line with the Biden administration’s policy of compelling schools to reopen in order to force parents back to work. The pandemic has been allowed to get out of control in Georgia as everywhere else in the US. The health care system is so overloaded that teachers know there is no guarantee they will receive timely and proper medical care if they get infected. Over the past couple of months, the state has experienced a consistent pattern of a high number of daily deaths, with the average of 99 deaths and 2,862 new infections per day over the past 14 days. This is only slightly down from around 108 deaths each day, over the preceding two weeks. Infections have fallen by 2,000 per day, but there have been increased cases of the UK variant found in the state. Noting that the number of UK variant cases statewide had jumped from 19 to 45 in a couple of weeks, DeKalb County Health Director Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford Right told WSB-TV in Atlanta, “When you consider the fact that they’re only testing about one percent, that’s a pretty significant jump.”

 Philadelphia postpones public school reopenings to March 1 -The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) announced yesterday it was pushing back its reopening of schools for in-person instruction from February 22 to March 1. The district had originally planned for a phased reopening to begin next Monday, beginning with 9,000 kindergarten through second grade students. District Superintendent William Hite told a press conference, “I believe we all agree on reopening schools. The dispute has been how can we do that safely, and the district needs to address that.” Feigning concern for the mental and educational well-being of children, he continued, “our youngest students are falling further behind,” without providing a shred of evidence to back up this claim. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) union issued a perfunctory statement in response, saying it is the “right decision” and that the PFT will work with the district to reopen schools based on the fraudulent claim that buildings can be made safe by adding a box fan for adequate ventilation. The delay is the third time that school reopenings have been postponed this semester in the city, which has been virtual-only since last March, because of the overwhelming opposition from rank-and-file teachers. They compelled the union to call a job action on February 8, a previous return date, with teachers continuing to hold classes remotely.

 Remote students are more stressed than their in-class peers - As debates rage across the country over whether schools should teach online or in person, students like Sean Vargas-Arcia have experienced the pros and cons of both.“I’m much happier in person,” said Sean, 16, a junior at Yonkers Middle High School in New York. As Covid-19 rates have fluctuated, he has gone back and forth between online classes and attending in person two days per week. It’s stressful worrying about contracting the coronavirus at school, said Sean, who has health issues including epilepsy and a grandmother who lives with his family. But his online classes wear him down.“When I’m at home, fully remote, it’s more like a sluggish feeling,” he said. “I’m usually feeling distressed and tired and I just don’t want anything to do with school anymore.”  There’s no question that the pandemic has been hard on children, whether or not their schools have reopened. A flood of research in recent months has found alarming spikes in depression andanxiety among children and their parents. Multiple studies have found that students — especially those with disabilities and from low-income families — are learning less than they should.But a new study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, is one of the first to shed light on the differences between students whose classes have been exclusively online and those who’ve been able to attend in person at least one day per week.The survey last fall of more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools, including Yonkers, found that students who’d spent time in the classroom reported lower rates of stress and worry than their online peers.While just over half of all students surveyed said they were more stressed about school in 2020 than they had been previously, the issue was more pronounced among remote students. Eighty-four percent of remote students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments, compared to 82 percent of students who were in the classroom on some days and 78 percent of students who were in the classroom full time.

 William Shakespeare ditched by woke teachers over ‘misogyny, racism’ - William Shakespeare, thou hast been getting canceled.An increasing number of woke teachers are refusing to study the Bard — accusing his classic works of promoting “misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir.”A slew of English literature teachers told the School Library Journal (SLJ) how they were ditching the likes of “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” to instead “make room for modern, diverse, and inclusive voices.”“Shakespeare was a tool used to ‘civilize’ Black and brown people in England’s empire,” insisted Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson, a professor of English at Arizona State University.Teachers also need to “challenge the whiteness” of the assumption that Shakespeare’s works are “universal,” insisted Jeffrey Austin, who is head of a Michigan high school’s English literature department. Former Washington state public school teacher Claire Bruncke told SLJ she banished the Bard from her classroom to “stray from centering the narrative of white, cisgender, heterosexual men.”“Eliminating Shakespeare was a step I could easily take to work toward that. And it proved worthwhile for my students,” she insisted. Other teachers said they were sticking with Shakespeare, but reframing his works through a more modern lens.

America is too often failing students on climate change - Americans want their children to learn about climate change in the public schools. More than three in four of us agree that schools should teach about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  So why isn’t it happening?The main influence on what’s taught in the classroom is state science standards, which specify what knowledge and abilities students are expected to acquire in the course of their education. These standards affect the content of textbooks, statewide testing, and teacher preparation.But the treatment of climate change in their science standards varies drastically in quality, according to a recent report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund—even though all states are already experiencing the disruptions of climate change,For the report, available at, a panel of scientists reviewed standards for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, focusing on how well the standards address four key points central to the scientific consensus on climate change: It’s real; it’s us; it’s serious; there’s hope.Unfortunately, the results of the report are disturbing.Although there are bright spots—a majority of states managed to earn a grade of “B+” or better—ten states received a “D” or worse, including some of the most populous states in the country, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The worst of the standards failed to recognize—or even outright denied—that the existence, causes, and effects of climate change are a matter of overwhelming scientific consensus. (Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that humans are the main cause of global warming.) West Virginia’s standards actually require students in high school environmental science classes to debate the reality of climate change in the classroom. Elsewhere, climate change is ignored altogether, or not described forthrightly, or is misleadingly described as hypothetical. Alabama’s standards suggest that human activities “may have caused” a rise in global temperatures

 UC Berkeley Reverses Its Absurd Ban On Outdoor Exercise --Five days after instituting an embarrassing ban on students exercising outdoors, the University of California, Berkeley, reversed itself and reinstated the ability of 2000 students isolated in dorm rooms to leave them for the purpose of exercise. Angela Ruggiero of the San Jose Mercury-News reported Friday, Feb. 12:UC Berkeley has reversed a ban on students exercising outdoors that was imposed earlier this week after a rise in coronavirus cases on campus.About 2,000 students isolated in their dorm rooms will now be allowed to exercise outside again, Cal announced on Friday afternoon. However, students are still under a strict lockdown imposed Feb. 1 that is in effect until Monday. The exercise ban went into effect this week, along with stricter restrictions as the university saw a rise in daily coronavirus cases. “New positive COVID-19 cases have slowed and as a result we are permitting some limited additional activities for students who are in self-sequester,” read an email sent out to students Friday. Only those that are not under isolation or quarantine may leave their door rooms to exercise outside during daylight hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Student athletes also may now leave to practice as directed and monitored by Cal Athletics.The exercise ban had followed on and strengthened an earlier ban on leaving dorm rooms had been imposed Feb 1, and extended on Feb 8. The exercise ban made national and international headlines, and elicited surprise, laughter and even scorn. “‘Even prisoners get to exercise!’ UC Berkeley bans solo outdoor exercise for dorm-bound students,” headlined RT.

Academics called breastfeeding 'ethically problematic' because it endorses 'gender roles.' Their view is gaining traction. -Hospitals in the United Kingdom have begun using the term “chestfeeding” instead of “breastfeeding,” just years after U.S. academics published a study in which they argued that the promotion of breastfeeding as the "natural" way to feed a child has many negative societal effects.In early 2021, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals in the United Kingdom drew international criticism for swapping the word “breastfeeding” for “chestfeeding” in an attempt to be more inclusive of transgender individuals. Likewise, Harvard Medical School referred to women as “birthing people” in an effort to “include those who identify as non-binary or transgender," as Campus Reform previouslyreported.  “We are concerned about breastfeeding promotion that praises breastfeeding as the ‘natural’ way to feed infants,” wrote Jessica Martucci of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Anne Barnhill of Johns Hopkins University in the journal Pediatrics. “Promoting breastfeeding as ‘natural’ may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that ‘natural’ approaches are presumptively healthier."

 COVID-19 is killing indigenous elders and indigenous knowledge -American Indian and Alaska Native elders are history teachers for indigenous communities. They carry with them the knowledge and traditions that get passed down from generation to generation.  They teach us to be proud, humble and respectful and the importance of humor and celebration in spite of the hardships they suffered. They teach us the importance of fighting for what is rightfully ours. They remind us of who we were to help us understand who we are today and prepare us to be good ancestors for the next generations. Their presence reminds us that we are resilient.As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Native communities, we bury another elder and, with them, we bury another story, another song or another prayer. Often, this happens before it can be passed down. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that the incidence and mortality rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives was 3.5 and 1.8 times higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. The most common question I am asked by non-indigenous groups is why is this happening?I could tell them about the inequities in public health funding and infrastructure. I could tell them that the poor access to medical care, education, housing, clean water, healthy foods and traditional medicines are major contributors.But it is also my responsibility to tell them that structurally racist policiesand practices exist.The disproportionate impacts that COVID-19 is having on Native communities is not an accident; it is the product of hundreds of years meant to erase my ancestors then, me now and my sons in the future.  The settlers saw our ancestors as inferior and, as such, Native Americans needed to assimilate to white society or risk disappearing. We were regarded as what they called the “Indian Problem.” Under the Dawes Act, the United Statesremoved us from our traditional lands and took our Native children away from their families and cultures. They forced our ancestors into boarding schools where they could no longer speak their languages or practice their cultures. Their motto was “kill the Indian, and save the man.”But the United States failed in their mission to erase us. A phrase that we use in our community today that reminds us of our resilience, "I am the wildest dreams of my ancestors."

The End of Surprise Billing for Medical Care? - The Incidental Economist - video with Dr Aaron Carroll -- Recently, the US adopted a law (going into effect in 2022) that ended surprise billing for most medical services. So what is surprise billing, and what does the new law look like?

US life expectancy drops to lowest level since 2006 - Close to half a million Americans have died in the COVID-19 pandemic and the global death toll stands at nearly 2.5 million. The immense suffering continues unabated as cases climb, reaching more than 110 million worldwide and new and potentially more virulent mutations of the virus circulate. The US population has had the greatest drop in life expectancy since the 1940s, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while another study has shown that a staggering 20 million years of human life have been lost to the pandemic. These brutal realities are not simply the result of the lethal virus, but the consequence of a deliberate policy of capitalist governments the world over that have allowed the virus to spread and have even welcomed and promoted its deadly wrath. Those killed include both the young and old, and are disproportionately working class and poor. If the health and progress of a society is judged by life expectancy, then the US is indeed in the throes of societal decay. The new study from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that in the first half of 2020, life expectancy at birth for the total US population was 77.8 years, declining by an entire year from 78.8 years in 2019. This is the largest drop in life expectancy since World War II, when it fell by 3 years. The NCHS cautions that, as dramatic as this drop is, its findings are provisional and based on death certificates that may later be revised up to six months after the end of the data year. The study also does not take into account deaths that occurred in the second half of 2020, when the pandemic took a firm hold in the US South and West. US life expectancy at birth in the first half of 2020 for the total population stood at its lowest level since 2006 (77.8 years) and for males (75.1 years). For females, it was at the lowest level since 2007 (80.5 years). Life expectancy for the non-Hispanic black population in the first half of 2020 (72 years) was at its lowest level since 2001. Undoubtedly contributing to the decline in US life expectancy are so-called deaths of despair, from overdoses, substance abuse-related health problems, and suicides. The CDC found that the twelve-month period ending last June saw a 20 percent jump and includes the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in the US in a single year, 81,003. These addiction-related fatalities must be seen as a subset of deaths related to the pandemic, which has isolated those in recovery as substance abuse has largely fallen off the radar. Addiction treatment programs have been cut at a time when they are needed more than ever, due to the isolation and financial insecurity fueled by the pandemic.

The Non-Profit Industrial Complex Stands in the Way of Direct Aid -When asked to address philanthrocapitalism over the last 20 years, one of the first thoughts I had was how late-stage capitalism impacts sex workers. I entered sex work as a stripper in the United States at the age of 19 in 2007, and even then dancers at my club bemoaned how much earnings had dropped since the 1990s. In the 14 years since, even those of us who are relatively privileged have seen tuition and predatory student loan practices soar, employment rates/wages drop, and a continuing erosion of social safety nets. This has meant that many of us in a previous decade potentially could have quietly done sex work in our early 20s and moved on to other careers as we got older, but under current economic conditions we have simply never been able to afford to entirely leave the industry. As an administrator of the Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective & Fund, a mostly volunteer-run resource specifically by and for sex workers, our collective grounds its resistance to predominant modes of philanthrocapitalism by drawing on what grassroots organisers call the non-profit-industrial complex. Non-profits, especially in the anti-trafficking realm, often give lifetime positions of power to people outside of marginalised communities. They are accountable primarily to well-off board members and funders. Funding typically goes to their salaries rather than directly to individuals in the populations they claim to serve. This dynamic is also found within the sex worker movement. Formally educated, white sex workers from middle class backgrounds are disproportionately able to transition to paid advocacy work and secure grant funding, while our peers who face greater risk of arrest and violence in every part of their existence are often additionally barred from transitioning to non-profit and academic employment. For these reasons, we’ve intentionally chosen to structure our cooperative on a sliding scale basis that prioritises resources going directly to struggling individuals and stipends for marginalised sex worker organisers. Since 2018 we’ve redistributed approximately $197,000 in cash gifts and stipends. With COVID-19 we’ve effectively doubled our usual output of funds and the number of sex workers around the nation we’re in contact with.

 Drug overdose crisis worsens in shadow of COVID-19 pandemic - President Biden and Congress are coming under pressure from advocates to address a public health crisis that has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic: rising drug overdose deaths. While most attention and government resources have been focused on COVID-19, the overdose crisis has worsened as people struggle with job losses, isolation and the deaths of family and friends brought on by the pandemic. More than 83,000 people in the U.S. are thought to have died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending June, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record-breaking number. “We’re going to solve COVID in the near term, and hopefully we’re on the path to doing that. But this addiction crisis was grave and gathering before that, and it’s only gotten worse,” said Kevin Roy, chief policy officer for Shatterproof, a nonprofit organization focused on the addiction crisis. “A recognition that we had an existing public health crisis before COVID is really, really critical because we have to address it.” Advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about the persistent lack of access to substance use disorder treatment across the country. Three years after former President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, and two years after Congress passed a multibillion-dollar bill responding to the crisis, a substantial portion of the country still lacks access to medication assisted treatment, considered by experts to be the gold standard for addiction care. Three drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder can suppress cravings, reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and have been found in clinical trials to curb illicit drug use and reduce the risk of overdose deaths. But among the 1.6 million people in 2019 who had an opioid use disorder, only 18 percent received medication assisted treatment, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This is partly because such treatment can be hard to find in many parts of the country, few providers are licensed to provide it and a stigma persists around addiction treatment, both among health professionals and the public. “It’s not really up for debate, medication assisted treatment should be a part of every treatment plan for opiate use disorder, period,” But 40 percent of counties in the U.S. have no providers who can prescribe buprenorphine, one of the FDA-approved drugs.

 ‘Beyond Outrageous’: Big Pharma Using Loophole to Get Taxpayers to Fund Billions in Fines for Fueling Opioid Crisis - “The tax code is so rigged for the rich that even when they kill people they get a tax break.”  Four pharmaceutical corporations that agreed to pay a combined $26 billion to settle lawsuits resulting from a deadly opioid crisis they helped create reportedly plan to recoup a portion of those costs by deducting roughly $4.6 billion of the payouts from their taxes—sparking intense condemnation. Big Pharma is attempting to make the public cover some of the fines related to lawsuits filed by dozens of state and local governments highlighting the culpability of opioid manufacturers and distributors in the deaths of an estimated 70,000 people per year.  As Public Citizen president Robert Weissman put it in a statement released Friday, “The drug companies are settling with taxpayers (local government entities) and then demanding that taxpayers pay part of the cost (via a federal tax subsidy).”The Washington Post, which analyzed regulatory filings, reported Friday that “as details of the blockbuster settlement were still being worked out, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the ‘big three’ drug distributors—McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health—all updated their financial projections to include large tax benefits stemming from the expected deal.”Weissman called it “beyond outrageous for the drug makers and distributors to take a tax deduction for their settlement of city and county claims relating to the drug companies’ alleged role in creating and worsening the opioid addiction epidemic.” “Making this scheme even more infuriating,” he added, “is that the opioid manufacturer and distributor companies are preparing to claim billions in tax subsidies via a Covid-19 relief provision.”According to the Post, “U.S. tax laws generally restrict companies from deducting the cost of legal settlements from their taxes, with one major exception: Damages paid to victims as restitution for the misdeeds can usually be deducted.” The newspaper noted that “Congress has placed stricter limits on such deductions in recent years, and some tax experts say the Internal Revenue Service could challenge the companies’ attempts to deduct opioid settlement costs.” But the ploy might work, as The Week noted, thanks to the CARES Act, which “opened up billions of dollars in tax breaks to companies regardless of pandemic suffering.”

 Identifying ‘ugly ducklings’ to catch skin cancer earlier -Melanoma is by far the deadliest form of skin cancer, killing more than 7,000 people in the United States in 2019 alone. Early detection of the disease dramatically reduces the risk of death and the costs of treatment, but widespread melanoma screening is not currently feasible. There are about 12,000 practicing dermatologists in the US, and they would each need to see 27,416 patients per year to screen the entire population for suspicious pigmented lesions (SPLs) that can indicate cancer.Computer-aided diagnosis (CAD) systems have been developed in recent years to try to solve this problem by analyzing images ofskin lesions and automatically identifying SPLs, but so far have failed to meaningfully impact melanoma diagnosis. These CAD algorithms are trained to evaluate each skin lesion individually for suspicious features, but dermatologists compare multiple lesions from an individual patient to determine whether they are cancerous—a method commonly called the "ugly duckling" criteria. No CAD systems in dermatology, to date, have been designed to replicate this diagnosis process.Now, that oversight has been corrected thanks to a new CAD system for skin lesions based on convolutional deep neural networks (CDNNs) developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The new system successfully distinguished SPLs from non-suspicious lesions in photos of patients' skin with ~90% accuracy, and for the first time established an "ugly duckling" metric capable of matching the consensus of three dermatologists 88% of the time.

 STAT-Harris Poll: 1 in 4 Americans were unable to get a Covid-19 test when they wanted one  -  As the U.S. struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly a quarter of Americans say they wanted to get tested for the coronavirus but were unable to do so, according to the latest survey from STAT and The Harris Poll. Specifically, 24% reported that they could not get tested for various reasons – a testing site was not nearby, the wait for a test was too long, transportation to a test site was unavailable, or it was unclear where to go for a test. Some people cited more than one of these hurdles. The issue cited most often — 10% complained of the wait. At the same time, 31% said they were able to get tested when they sought to do so, according to the online survey, which queried 2,043 people between Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. The rest said they have never wanted to be tested.  The notable percentage of people who ran into difficulties getting tested underscores one of the ongoing challenges that federal and state officials face as the country attempts to contain the coronavirus. “This has been a bedeviling problem in the U.S. from the get-go,” said Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But it’s amazing that it’s still so difficult for some people to get tested. And it’s frustrating.” In fact, the rate at which Covid-19 testing is occurring across the U.S. is spotty, at best. As of last Friday, the number of tests had increased from the previous week in 11 states, but declined in 26 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The testing rate was unchanged for the remaining 14 states.

 Immune system protects children from severe COVID-19 - Children are protected from severe COVID-19 because their innate immune system is quick to attack the virus, a new study has found. The research led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and published in Nature Communications, found that specialised cells in a child's immune system rapidly target the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). MCRI's Dr Melanie Neeland said the reasons why children have mild COVID-19 disease compared to adults, and the immune mechanisms underpinning this protection, were unknown until this study. "Children are less likely to become infected with the virus and up to a third are asymptomatic, which is strikingly different to the higher prevalence and severity observed in children for most other respiratory viruses," she said. "Understanding the underlying age-related differences in the severity of COVID-19 will provide important insights and opportunities for prevention and treatment, both for COVID-19 and possible future pandemics." The study involved an analysis of blood samples from 48 children and 70 adults across 28 Melbourne households infected with, or exposed to, the new coronavirus. Immune responses were monitored during the acute phase of infection and up to two months afterwards. Dr Neeland said the study showed that children with COVID-19 have a more robust innate immune response to the virus compared to adults. "Coronavirus infection in children was characterised by activation of neutrophils, the specialised white blood cell that helps heal damaged tissues and resolves infections, and a reduction in first-responder immune cells such as monocytes, dendritic cells and natural killer cells from the blood," she said. "This suggests these infection-fighting immune cells are migrating to infection sites, quickly clearing the virus before it has a chance to really take hold." "This shows that the innate immune system, our first line of defence against germs, is crucial to prevent severe COVID-19 in children. Importantly, this immune reaction was not replicated among adults in the study."

 Data show lower daily temperatures lead to higher transmission of COVID-19 in cooler, less humid months and decreased transmission in warmer, more humid months. With this understanding, researchers at the University of Louisville's Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and others theorized that atmospheric temperature also would affect transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The researchers compared daily low temperature data and logged cases of COVID-19 in 50 countries in the Northern Hemisphere between Jan. 22 and April 6, 2020. Their research, published this week in PLOS ONE, showed that as temperatures rose, the rate of new cases of COVID-19 decreased. The data analysis showed that between 30 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in daily low temperature was associated with a 1% decrease in the rate of increase in COVID-19 cases, and a 1-degree decrease in temperature was associated with an increase in that rate by 3.7%. By analyzing data from early in the pandemic, the results were obtained without significant influence by lockdowns, masking or other social efforts to contain the virus. "Although COVID-19 is an infectious disease that will have non-temperature dependent transmission, our research indicates that it also may have a seasonal component," said Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., co-author and director of the Brown Envirome Institute. "Of course, the effect of temperature on the rate of transmission is altered by social interventions like distancing, as well as time spent indoors and other factors. A combination of these factors ultimately determines the spread of COVID-19."

Study finds link between spinal antibodies and neurological COVID symptoms - In March of 2020, Shelli Farhadian, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and neurology, began to see parallels in her pre-pandemic research on neurologic effects in patients with HIV infection and the possibility of neurologic effects on patients with SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19. "There was some literature out there that suggested that coronaviruses could have an effect on the brain. So, knowing that that was a potential possibility, even before we had our first case at Yale New Haven Hospital, I worked with other people to set up a protocol where we could consent patients to collect tissue specimens and information to try to see if this was also going happen with SARS-CoV-2," explained Farhadian. The first COVID-19 positive patient was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) on March 14, 2020. Farhadian and her infectious diseases colleagues encountered patients with neurological complaints with the absence of other traditional COVID-19 symptoms, who then later tested positive for the disease. "Large cohort studies in China, France, and New York City, estimated that somewhere around 30% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 have some sort of neurological component to their illness. So in that context and with our background in studying the neurological effects of systemic infections, we started to ask whether there was inflammation or some other consequence of this infection affecting the brain," said Farhadian. "We took the spinal fluid to try to see if we can get a window into what was going on in the brain.," said Farhadian. The study, "Exploratory neuroimmune profiling identifies CNS-specific alterations in COVID-19 patients with neurological involvement," currently in preprint on bioRxiv found that unique immune responses were seen in the spinal fluid compared to what was going on in the rest of the body, including increased levels of antibody producing cells than would typically be expected in the spinal fluid. They also found a high level of autoantibodies in the spinal fluid, which suggests that these brain-targeting antibodies are a potential contributor for the neurological complications. "We found that most of the patients we studied had autoantibodies, or antibodies that target brain tissue, circulating in the spinal fluid. In one case, we found that antibodies that are directed against the virus were also cross-reacting against the brain. We think this might prove to be a link between the virus and the high rates of neurological symptoms that people show during and after COVID-19." Now, Farhadian and Yale neurologists Dr. Serena Spudich and Dr. Lindsay McAlpine are seeing patients in the Yale Post-COVID neurology clinic who are two to six months out from their COVID diagnosis, and are still having neurological problems. "For example, I saw one a patient last week who is normally a vivacious and active woman, but after her COVID illness, is unable to work. She says she cannot think straight, gets lost easily, and can't do simple tasks like grocery shopping.”

Recovered Covid patients have been reinfected with new virus strains, WHO says - Preliminary reports from South Africa show people who have recovered from Covid-19 have been reinfected with a new, more contagious variant of the virus, World Health Organization officials said at a press briefing Friday. The good news, however, is that the vaccines developed to guard against the virus appear to reduce the severity of illness in those who do develop Covid-19, even if it doesn't completely protect them from infection, said the WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. "The [vaccine] trials that have been done so far in South Africa as well as in Brazil with different candidates have shown complete protection against severe disease and hospitalization and death. There hasn't been a single case reported in any of the trials," she said. Vaccination may also decrease the spread of new Covid variants, according to the WHO. "There are reports now that if you have the vaccine and you get infected, the viral load is much lower. So the chances of infecting others may be lower," said Swaminathan. Prior Covid infection produces antibodies and cell mediated immunity that are thought to prevent reinfection, scientists have found. Vaccination also helps individuals build protection against the virus. But researchers continue to study the extent to which prior infection and vaccination protect against the new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus. Increased vaccination efforts alone are likely insufficient in managing the spread of the coronavirus strain originating in the U.K., Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC on Thursday. Gottlieb said a combination of incoming warmer weather and ramped up vaccinations could help contain the variant.

UK study finds new variant may be up to 70% more deadly — U.K. government scientific advisers say the COVID-19 variant now predominant in the country may be up to 70% more deadly than previous variants, underscoring concerns about how mutations may change the characteristics of the disease. The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, published Friday on the government’s website, build on preliminary research released Jan. 21. The group includes experts from universities and public agencies across the U.K. The new report is based on analysis of a dozen studies that found the so-called Kent variant, named after the county where it was first identified, is likely 30% to 70% more deadly than other variants. The studies compared hospitalization and death rates among people infected with the variant and those infected with other variants. The results of the analysis are worrisome, said Dr. David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School and the clinical lead for COVID at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. “The higher transmissibility means that people who were previously at low risk of catching COVID (particularly younger fitter females) are now catching it and ending up in hospital,″ Strain said. “This is highlighted by the latest figures for hospitalization that now suggest almost 50:50 male to female ratio compared to this being predominantly in men during the first wave.″

 Mutation in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein renders virus up to eight times more infectious - A mutation in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2--one of several genetic mutations in the concerning variants that have emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil--makes the virus up to eight times more infectious in human cells than the initial virus that originated in China, according to research published in the journal eLife.  The study, led by researchers at New York University, the New York Genome Center, and Mount Sinai, corroborates findings that the D614G mutation makes SARS-CoV-2 more transmissible. "In the months since we initially conducted this study, the importance of the D614G mutation has grown: the mutation has reached near universal prevalence and is included in all current variants of concern," said Neville Sanjana, assistant professor of biology at NYU, assistant professor of neuroscience and physiology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Core Faculty Member at the New York Genome Center. "Confirming that the mutation leads to more transmissibility may help explain, in part, why the virus has spread so rapidly over the past year." The D614G mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein--commonly referred to as the "G variant"--likely emerged in early 2020 and is now is the most prevalent and dominant form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus across the United States and in many countries around the globe. With multiple mutations circulating, researchers have been working to understand the functional significance of these mutations and whether they meaningfully change how infectious or deadly the virus is. In this study, the researchers introduced a virus with the D614G mutation into human lung, liver, and colon cells. They also introduced the "wild type" version of the coronavirus--the version of the virus without the mutation found early on in the pandemic--into these same cell types for comparison. They found that the D614G variant increased transduction, or transmissibility, of the virus up to eight-fold as compared to the original virus. The researchers also found that the spike protein mutation made the virus more resistant to being cleaved or split by other proteins. This provides a possible mechanism for the variant's increased ability to infect cells, as the hardier variant resulted in a greater proportion of intact spike protein per virus.

WHO grants emergency authorization for AstraZeneca vaccine - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said that it has approved two versions of a vaccine produced by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and would begin distributing them through the WHO's COVAX program. In an emailed statement, the WHO said that the approval of the AstraZeneca version would allow for more countries that have yet to obtain access to the vaccine to do so. “Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Mariângela Simão, the WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products. "But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. To do that, we need two things — a scale-up of manufacturing capacity, and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review," added Simão. The WHO's approval process for the vaccines lasted less than four weeks, according to the organization's news release. "In the case of the two AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, WHO assessed the quality, safety and efficacy data, risk management plans and programmatic suitability, such as cold chain requirements. The process took under four weeks," it said. AstraZeneca's vaccines are the second to be approved for use by COVAX; the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate was previously approved with the WHO-led vaccine distribution effort aiming to deliver 330 million doses to residents of less developed nations in the first half of 2021.

Why the three biggest vaccine makers failed on Covid-19 As pharmaceutical companies raced to develop Covid-19 vaccines, crossing the finishing line in record time, the world’s three biggest vaccine makers were also-rans.GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Sanofi are now left playing catch-up, after upstarts including Moderna and BioNTech demonstrated their mastery of new technologies that will shape the industry for years to come. New Jersey-based Merck recently dropped its vaccine development programmecompletely, while Paris-based Sanofi and the UK’s GSK are having to redo an early-stage trial of the jab they are jointly developing, after a dosing mistake.According to Zain Rizvi, a medicine access researcher at advocacy group Public Citizen, the “immense scarcity” of vaccines around the world is directly connected to these big pharma groups being “missing in action”.  The vaccine market already looks completely different this year — and depending on variants in the virus that causes Covid-19 and the need for boosters, some of the changes could stick. In 2020, GSK, Sanofi, Merck and Pfizer dominated the market with best-selling vaccines for flu, pneumonia, HPV and shingles. Among the top vaccine makers, only Pfizer has a successful Covid-19 vaccine, developed with German company BioNTech. It is the new messenger RNA technology — which instructs the body to make part of the virus to provoke an immune response — used by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna that has ripped up conventional timelines and allowed them to produce trial vaccines for testing within weeks.But their success was far from assured: before the pandemic, no mRNA vaccine had ever been approved and in May, Ken Frazier, Merck’s chief executive, said the idea of producing a new vaccine in 12 to 18 months was “very aggressive”. Less than a year on, mRNA vaccines look likely to change the industry forever. For the interlopers, the crisis was an opportunity. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, said they had more to gain, so pushed hard for regulatory acceptance and financial support from governments. “The ones who rushed into this were not the big vaccine companies. They were companies that were interested in accelerating their technology,” he said. The first approval for mRNA vaccines has come three or four years ahead of Moderna’s previous projections, because of the pandemic.

Family Caregivers, Routinely Left Off Vaccine Lists, Worry What Would Happen ‘If I Get Sick’ –  Robin Davidson entered the lobby of Houston Methodist Hospital, where her 89-year-old father, Joe, was being treated for a flare-up of congestive heart failure. Before her stretched a line of people waiting to get covid-19 vaccines. “It was agonizing to know that I couldn’t get in that line,” said Davidson, 50, who is devoted to her father and usually cares for him full time. “If I get sick, what would happen to him?” Tens of thousands of middle-aged sons and daughters caring for older relatives with serious ailments but too young to qualify for a vaccine themselves are similarly terrified of becoming ill and wondering when they can get protected against the coronavirus. Like aides and other workers in nursing homes, these family caregivers routinely administer medications, monitor blood pressure, cook, clean and help relatives wash, get dressed and use the toilet, among many other responsibilities. But they do so in apartments and houses, not in long-term care institutions — and they’re not paid. “In all but name, they’re essential health care workers, taking care of patients who are very sick, many of whom are completely reliant upon them, some of whom are dying,” said Katherine Ornstein, a caregiving expert and associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai’s medical school in New York City. “Yet, we don’t recognize or support them as such, and that’s a tragedy.” The distinction is critically important because health care workers have been prioritized to get covid vaccines, along with vulnerable older adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But family members caring for equally vulnerable seniors living in the community are grouped with the general population in most states and may not get vaccines for months.

On the effects of COVID vaccination, Israel is the bellwether -- I’m beginning to see some clickbait reports of COVID diagnoses after two doses of the vaccine, together with breathless reporting by some RW’ers and LW’ers that the vaccines are not very effective. I’m here to tell you to beware these headlines and reports. For example, here is a report out of Oregon that 4 people were diagnosed with COVID after their second doses of vaccine. Sounds scary, right? But if you read carefully, you see that while the *diagnosis* was made more than 14 days after the 2nd dose of the vaccine. That doesn’t mean that the *infection* occurred more than 14 days after administration of the 2nd dose, which would be more significant. In other words, it is perfectly likely that the infection started before the 2nd dose took full effect.Further, of the 4 cases reported, two were mild - and two were completely asymptomatic. None of them were hospitalized, let alone died. Fortunately, within the next 30 to 60 days the world is going to get some excellent data on the real effects of vaccination. That’s because Israel is on track to have its entire adult population fully vaccinated by that time. The population of Israel (including children) is roughly 9 million. So far, 6.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine (which requires 2 doses) have been administered. At the current rate, in about 8 weeks close about 14 million doses will have been administered, meaning the entire adult population will be vaccinated. In 10 weeks the vaccines should have taken full effect. Here is where things stand in terms of new infections, deaths, and total vaccines administered in Israel: If all goes well, new deaths should continue to trend down, and be close to zero in about 10 weeks. That would be a spectacular result. If it doesn’t happen, then we will have to see where there might be problems. By the way, don’t assume that the recent decline in new infections has to do with vaccination, because there have been similar declines pretty much everywhere in the northern hemisphere: To return to my main point, in the meantime, Israel has performed a study of 1.5 million people, half of which were vaccinated. Here is the spreadsheet of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths for those vaccinated: After 14 days after the 2nd dose, there were ZERO deaths among those under 60, and 4 deaths among those over 60. Again, it’s not clear if *any* of the *infections* actually took place that far out.

 Pfizer first dose 85% effective after 2-4 weeks: study - The first dose of the Pfizer vaccination is 85 percent effective against coronavirus infection between two and four weeks after inoculation, according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal. The survey was carried out on healthcare workers at the largest hospital in Israel, which on December 19 launched a mass vaccination campaign regarded as the world's fastest. Israeli studies have found the Pfizer vaccine to be 95 percent effective one week after a second jab, while The Lancet report focused on more than 9,000 medical staff at Sheba hospital near Tel Aviv. Some 7,000 of them received the first dose and the rest were not inoculated. From the group, 170 were diagnosed with COVID-19 after tests carried out only on those showing symptoms or who had been in contact with coronavirus carriers. Fifty-two percent of them were found to have not been vaccinated. Comparing the two groups, the Sheba study calculated that the vaccine was 47 percent effective between one and 14 days after inoculation, rising to 85 percent after 15 to 28 days. "What we see is a really high effectiveness already right after two weeks, between two weeks to four weeks after vaccine, already high effectiveness of 85 percent reduction of symptomatic infection," Gili Regev-Yochay, co-author of the study, told a small group of journalists. He said that despite the vaccine being "amazingly effective", scientists are still studying whether fully vaccinated people can transmit the virus to others.

How to Make COVID Vaccines More Effective: Give People Vitamin and Mineral Supplements - - If we’re going to rely on COVID-19 vaccines to bring an end to the pandemic, we need to maximise their effects. But one thing that risks undermining their protectiveness is nutritional deficiency, particularly in the elderly. Older people have weaker immune responses and are known to respond less well than younger adults to many vaccines, including the seasonal influenza vaccine. This is partly down to frailty, which cannot be easily remedied, but can also be due to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals – known as micronutrients. For the immune system to fight off infection or generate good protection against a disease following vaccination, it needs a variety of micronutrients. This is likely to be just as true for COVID-19 as for other diseases. Given that malnutrition is common among elderly people, raising their vitamin and mineral levels before they get vaccinated could be a way of boosting the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. As the European Food Safety Authority notes, the vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C and D and the minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper are all needed for the immune system to function as it should. Each of these micronutrients – as well as vitamin E – has been shown to play multiple roles in supporting immune function and reducing the risk of infection. Research has found a link between having an impaired immune system and having low amounts of many vitamins and minerals. When the immune system isn’t properly fuelled and is impaired, this can then lead to poor vaccine responses. For example, a review of nine studies – together involving 2,367 people – found that individuals deficient in vitamin D were less well protected against two strains of flu after having been vaccinated compared to those who had adequate vitamin D levels. By contrast, randomised controlled trials of micronutrient supplements (such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, zinc and selenium) in older people have been shown to increase the ability of the immune system to respond to challenges. Furthermore, it appears that to work at its best the immune system needs vitamins C, D and E together with zinc and selenium in excess of amounts that can usually be achieved through diet alone. For example, selenium levels above those typically regarded as optimal have been associated with a better cure rate for COVID-19. Trials in older people have also shown that responses to vaccination are better after actions are taken to improve nutrition. For example, one study found that people aged 65 to 85 who ate five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day showed a significantly stronger response to a pneumococcal vaccine than people of the same age who ate only two servings of fruit and vegetables or fewer. In another study, giving daily vitamin E supplements to people over 65 was found to increase the amount of antibodies they produced following vaccination against hepatitis B and tetanus. And in people deficient in selenium, daily supplements were found to improve some aspects of their immune response to a live poliovirus vaccine and also reduce the emergence of mutant viral strains.

Antibody-Dependent Enhancement and the Coronavirus Vaccines - Science Magazine --I’m getting a lot of queries about antibody-dependent enhancement these days, and I can only assume that’s because there’s a lot of talk about this making the rounds of various social media platforms. Many of the people who are contacting me sound a lot more worried than I would have thought, so that prompts me to follow up on the post I did on the subject back in December. . ADE is a problem that has shown up in several sorts of viral infection, although it also has to be said that there are other viruses in which it’s never really been seen at all. It happens when a previous infection or vaccination has generated antibodies that fit some specific criteria. First, these existing antibodies have to be non-neutralizing against the new viral infection: that is, they bind to the second virus, but not in a way that shuts down its activity. It’s important to realize, though, that *all* immune responses to a viral infection generate a mixture of neutralizing and non-neutralizing antibodies. That’s one of the things about the immune system – it revs up production of a wide variety of antibodies, selected from the untold billions of them circulating around in your bloodstream. Some of them bind to one part of the pathogen, and some to another. And they bind in different conformations, sticking to different parts of the surface of the invading virus from different directions.Some of these are inevitably going to be more effective than others at stopping that virus’ activity – and remember as well that there are several ways that can happen, too. An antibody can bind to and cover some key part of a virus protein without which it can’t infect human cells (in the case of the current coronavirus, that could be the receptor-binding domain (RBD) out on the end of the Spike proteins that decorate its surface. Antibodies can also cause aggregation, sticking viral particles in clumps that can’t function as they would otherwise. And they can also signal various kinds of defensive cells to attack an antibody-bound viral particle directly and destroy it.But if none of these work as hoped for, then you have a non-neutralizing antibody. The immune system is actually optimized for selecting and amplifying the neutralizing ones, though. So it’s usually not a problem having the non-neutralizing ones around at the same time, since the other more useful potent ones are out there taking care of business. But what if you don’t have any of those, just the non-neutralizing ones? That’s what happens, for example, with Dengue fever.  The antibodies you generate that can get you past one of the infections really don’t match up well enough with the others to be effectively neutralizing, and if you get one of those later on you can actually get a worse case of Dengue than you would have had otherwise.

Facebook - Updating Its Control over the COVID-19 Vaccine Narrative - Facebook, the self-proclaimed Guardian of the Truth has, once again, flexed its "corporate muscle" on its users when it comes to the vaccine narrative and its version of vaccine veracity.  Here is the most recent update on Facebook's views on censoring claims made by its users regarding COVID-19 vaccines, critical information given that Facebook is the world's foremost authority on vaccinations and pandemics:  "Removing More False Claims About COVID-19 and Vaccines: Today, we are expanding our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic. Since December, we’ve removed false claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts. Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we are expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines. This includes claims such as:

  • 1.) COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured
  • 2.) Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against
  • 3.) It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine
  • 4.) Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism

These new policies will help us continue to take aggressive action against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. We will begin enforcing this policy immediately, with a particular focus on Pages, groups and accounts that violate these rules, and we’ll continue to expand our enforcement over the coming weeks. Groups, Pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram that repeatedly share these debunked claims may be removed altogether. We are also requiring some admins for groups with admins or members who have violated our COVID-19 policies to temporarily approve all posts within their group. Claims about COVID-19 or vaccines that do not violate these policies will still be eligible for review by our third-party fact-checkers, and if they are rated false, they will be labeled and demoted.  Finally, we are continuing to improve Search results on our platforms. When people search for vaccine or COVID-19 related content on Facebook, we promote relevant, authoritative results and provide third-party resources to connect people to expert information about vaccines. On Instagram, in addition to surfacing authoritative results in Search, in the coming weeks we’re making it harder to find accounts in search that discourage people from getting vaccinated." Here is a screen capture showing the full list of Facebook's "COVID-19 vaccine no no's":

South African COVID variant detected in NYC hospital patient -The South African variant of the coronavirus has been detected in a person hospitalized in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. Speaking during an Albany press briefing, Cuomo stressed that the afflicted individual is not a New Yorker, and that there is no indication that the strain is circulating in the Empire State.“The patient was transferred from Connecticut directly to a New York City hospital,” said Cuomo. “It was not a New York resident. It was a person in Connecticut who was transferred to a New York City hospital for a procedure.“We have no evidence of any spread in New York state to date.”Cuomo did not provide any details about the patient or their condition and did not specify what hospital they are in.As the governor noted, experts are monitoring the mutation amid fears that it could be more deadly and more resistant to vaccines.“The South African variant is the variant that they are watching most closely,” he said. “The South African variant, they worry about how lethal it is and how it relates to the vaccine.”Last month, a highly contagious strain of the virus from the UK was detected in New York, and a study released Sunday identified seven new mutations across the US, at least one of which is circulating in the Northeast.

Exclusive: Two variants have merged into heavily mutated coronavirus. -The UK and California variants of coronavirus appear to have combined into a heavily mutated hybrid, sparking concern that we may be entering a new phase of the covid-19 pandemic - Two variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes covid-19 have combined their genomes to form a heavily mutated hybrid version of the virus. The “recombination” event was discovered in a virus sample in California, provoking warnings that we may be poised to enter a new phase of the pandemic.The hybrid virus is the result of recombination of the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant discovered in the UK and the B.1.429 variant that originated in California and which may be responsible for a recent wave of cases in Los Angeles because it carries a mutation making it resistant to some antibodies.The recombinant was discovered by Bette Korber at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who told a meeting organised by the New York Academy of Sciences on 2 February that she had seen “pretty clear” evidence of it in her database of US viral genomes.If confirmed, the recombinant would be the first to be detected in this pandemic. In December and January, two research groups independently reported that they hadn’t seen any evidence of recombination, even though it has long been expected as it is common in coronaviruses.Unlike regular mutation, where changes accumulate one at a time, which is how variants such as B.1.1.7 arose, recombination can bring together multiple mutations in one go. Most of the time, these don’t confer any advantage to the virus, but occasionally they do.Recombination can be of major evolutionary importance, according to François Balloux at University College London. It is considered by many to be how SARS-CoV-2 originated.Recombination could lead to the emergence of new and even more dangerous variants, although it isn’t yet clear how much of a threat this first recombination event might pose.

Two coronavirus variants have merged – here's what you need to know  - Two variants of the coronavirus first identified in the UK and in California appear to have combined into a heavily mutated hybrid. This could signal a new phase of the covid-19 pandemic, as more hybrid variants may emerge.

  • What exactly has been discovered? So far, a single genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus deposited in a database of thousands from the US. The sequence has tell-tale signs of being a hybrid virus created by a recombination event between two different lineages of SARS-CoV-2.
  • What is a recombination event? Coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 have an evolutionary superpower called “recombination” which allows two closely related viruses to mix-and-match their genomes into novel combinations. Unlike regular mutation, which proceeds slowly one change at a time, recombination can produce wholesale changes in a coronavirus genome in one single swoop.
  • Has the hybrid been detected among actual viruses circulating in people? No, although the sequence is from a virus taken from an infected person, so it is a plausible hypothesis that the recombinant virus is in the community. However, it could have already fizzled out after failing to transmit to other people. The US has relatively low rates of viral sequencing, so it is hard to say either way. There is another possibility: the recombination event may have occurred within the sample after it was taken from the infected person, not while it was inside their body. In which case it is an accidental laboratory artefact, not a wild virus.

Business as usual as the US nears a half million deaths from COVID-19 - Globally, the rate of infection from COVID-19 and the death rates associated with the infection are slowing from the devastating winter surge that saw new cases exceed 750,000 per day, with deaths during a single 24-hour period peaking at over 16,000. The impact of the pandemic throughout Europe, North America and South America was a direct byproduct of malign neglect that allowed schools and economies to open after the summer lulls. As the capitalist ruling classes clamor to reopen the economy, the rapidly emerging variants pose an existential threat as criminal government policies expose the population to repeated infections. The death toll in the United States has been nothing short of horrifying. This week the number of dead will hit a half million, a number exceeding all American deaths, civilian and military, from World War II. Such a horrific statistic should be appraised soberly and carefully. The criminal policy allowing unrestricted expansion of the pandemic has had a particularly destructive impact on working class. Particularly remarkable is the acceleration of the death toll beginning with the surges after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. As recorded by NBC News, the first 100,000 US deaths required 99 days (February 29–May 17); the second 100,000 deaths required 115 days, to September 19; the third 100,000 deaths took 86 days, until December 14; the fourth 100,000 deaths took only 36 days until January 19; and the fifth 100,000 deaths will require somewhere between 28 and 31 days, depending on when this week that terrible milestone is reached. More Americans have died of coronavirus since the US presidential election, less than three months ago, than in the eight months that preceded it. By next week, more than 100,000 Americans will have died of coronavirus under the Biden administration.

California coronavirus hospitalizations dropping, death rate holds steady - California hospitals are seeing COVID-19 cases that require hospitalization continue to fall, but the death rate continues to hold steady as it approaches 50,000 for the state.The state reported more than 400 deaths on Sunday as it approaches 50,000, which is the highest total in the nation.Officials, however, say they are confident that the state is coming out of the worst of the pandemic, according to The Associated Press.According to the report, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital beds across California dipped below 9,000 over the weekend, down by more than 33 percent over the last two weeks.And in Los Angeles County, the positive test rate saw its lowest numbers since Feb. 1 at 5.3 percent.More than 46,000 people have died in California since the pandemic began last year, more than in any other U.S. state. The state became the first in the U.S. to surpass 3 million total infections in January.Despite the high rates of COVID-19 transmission the state experienced in December and January, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) faces a recall campaignsupported by some state Republicans in response to his efforts to implement restrictions on public life meant to slow the spread of the virus. Newsom was forced to apologize last year after he attended a birthday celebration at the prestigious French Laundry restaurant, claiming at the time that he expected the gathering to be smaller when it was when he agreed to attend. The state has struggled in its vaccine rollout, according to the AP, with 5.8 million shots administered, but vaccination centers struggling to operate at full capacity due to dose shortages.

 Florida Is a COVID Nightmare—Even for Vaccinated People - As extra-contagious mutations of the coronavirus gather strength like a hurricane churning off the Atlantic coast, Floridians like Krinick see no sign of respite. While they have yet to issue formal guidance on congregating by vaccinated people, state and national health experts have assured the general public that the vaccines are effective—even, if perhaps less so, against the variants surging nationwide. But in a state with a long history of pandemic recklessness and where mask mandates are nonexistent, vaccinated Floridians don’t want to risk getting infected by going out in public.Here, getting a shot offers little more than a modicum of relief. Thanks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing approach of forcing his state to be wide-open for business and pleasure, surges in community spread seem virtually inevitable. Last weekend, despite warnings from state epidemiologists, a host of potential superspreader events took Tampa by storm, punctuated by legions of Buccaneers fans, a majority of them maskless, celebrating the home town’s victory when the Super Bowl wrapped up. “Everytime I see superspreader events like that, yes it does scare me,” said Mark Zeitlin, a 70-year-old from Boynton Beach, Florida, who’s gotten both his shots. “It’s not only Tampa. It’s happening everywhere.” Glenn Charnizon, a 66-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida, who also got both doses, said he and his wife won’t be dining out, traveling, or going to the grocery store for a “long, long time.” “Just because we got vaccinated doesn’t mean we can’t get COVID,” Charinzon said. “We’re not taking any chances until 70 to 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.” Meanwhile, the Biden White House is reportedly considering new restrictions on domestic travel with huge implications in Florida, which accounts for more than a third of all documented U.S. cases of the B-117 variant, also known as the highly contagious U.K. variant. Researchers are also monitoring for any Florida outbreaks of other variants from Brazil and South Africa that have been found elsewhere in the United States, but not—officially—in the Sunshine State. DeSantis’ response has been to chastise reporters for allegedly downplaying the coronavirus dangers of social justice protests and celebrations of Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump, striking a defiant tone regarding any travel restrictions. At a Thursday press conference, DeSantis said, “We will oppose it 100 percent. It would not be based in science. It would purely be a political attack against the people of Florida.” A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not respond to email requests for comment.

 February 18 COVID-19 Test Results and Vaccinations-NOTE: The Covid Tracking Project will end daily updates on March 7th. Heroes that filled a critical void! Quality government data will likely be available soon.From Bloomberg on vaccinations as of Feb 18th. "In the U.S., more Americans have now received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 59.1 million doses have been given, according to a state-by-state tally. In the last week, an average of 1.58 million doses per day were administered."Here is the CDC COVID Data Tracker. This site has data on vaccinations, cases and more.The US is averaged 1.4 million tests per day over the last week. Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% (probably close to 1%), so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace. There were 1,356,782 test results reported over the last 24 hours.There were 66,824 positive tests.  Over 51,000 US deaths have been reported in February. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here. This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)  This graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations. The dashed line is the previous peak for hospitalizations (almost back to the summer peak level).The percent positive over the last 7 days was 5.1%.  The percent positive is calculated by dividing positive results by total tests (including pending). Both cases and hospitalizations have peaked, but are still above the previous peaks. 

 Ocasio-Cortez calls for full investigation of Cuomo's handling of coronavirus in nursing homes - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is calling for a full investigation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) handling of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes. The New York Democrat in an emailed press release on Friday joined other officials in calling for an investigation into how Cuomo’s administration handled coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes. “I support our state's return to co-equal governance and stand with our local officials calling for a full investigation of the Cuomo administration's handling of nursing homes during COVID-19,” the statement said. “Thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers lost their lives in nursing homes throughout the pandemic. Their loved ones and the public deserve answers and transparency from their elected leadership, and the Secretary to the Governor's remarks warrant a full investigation,” the statement read. The statement makes Ocasio-Cortez one of the more higher-profile New York lawmakers to call for an investigation into Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Cuomo has faced bipartisan backlash over the past month due to the way his administration handled coronavirus outbreaks in the facility after admitting at least some responsibility in witholding data on coronavirus-related deaths in New York nursing homes. The debacle began after New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) released a report last month finding that the administration underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by up to 50 percent. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, later said privately that the administration “froze” a request from the state legislature to release the data because it feared that it would be the subject of a federal investigation under former President Trump.

 New Covid variant with potentially worrying mutations found in UK -Another coronavirus variant with a potentially worrying set of mutations has been detected in the UK and should be targeted in surge testing, experts have said.The variant, known as B1525, is the subject of a report by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who say it has been detected through genome sequencing in 10 countries including Denmark, the US and Australia, with 32 cases found in the UK so far. The earliest sequences were dated to December and cropped up in the UK and Nigeria. The team say the variant has similarities in its genome to the Kent variant, B117, and it contains a number of mutations that have worried researchers, including the E484K mutation to the spike protein – a protein found on the outside of the virus that plays an important role in helping the virus to enter cells.This E484K mutation is present in variants that emerged in South Africa and Brazil and is thought to help the virus evade neutralising antibodies.Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that while it was unclear what effect many of the mutations may have on the ability of the coronavirus to establish an infection, or on the severity of disease, the presence of the E484K mutation was known in the South Africa variant to confer a degree of resistance to some vaccines. “We don’t yet know how well this [new] variant will spread, but if it is successful it can be presumed that immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be blunted,” he said.

 As infections surge, highly contagious strain of COVID-19 confirmed in Sri Lanka -With nearly 1,000 infections reported daily in Sri Lanka, the highly contagious British strain of COVID-19 has been confirmed to be found in several urban areas, including Colombo. This new variant has caused the pandemic to spread at an unprecedented rate throughout the world. According to Sri Lankan researchers, it will increase the rate of spread in the country by 50 percent. As of Monday, the official figures, undoubtedly highly under-reported, stood at a total of 390 deaths and 75,209 infections. The government and media have seized on the relatively low figures to boast that Sri Lanka has achieved the 10th position in controlling the pandemic, but COVID-19 testing rates in the country are low. Doctors and medical experts have warned that the country could face a health catastrophe due to inadequate health facilities and an acceleration of the pandemic’s spread. Institute for Health Policy (IHP) Executive Director Dr Ravindra Rannan-Eliya told EconomyNext: “Sri Lanka will have to step up its pandemic prevention measures without delay.” He added: “There is a significant drop in numbers of PCR tests down to some 12,000 to 14,400 and we need massive increase in testing, up to 60,000 a day or more.” Government has actually given up on any expansion of tests. Speaking to the media on February 9, Dr. Haritha Aluthge, editor of the pro-government Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), said that extraordinary numbers of patients were being reported and the risks had gone up in every province. While the rate of COVID-19 infection was 3 percent before January, Aluthge said that it had reached 6 percent in January and 7 percent in recent days. “Now, there are 7-8 infections reported for every 100 PCR tests” he said. While there were 112 deaths in January, about 50 deaths were reported in the first week of February. One reason for increasing infection rates was the delay in the results of PCR tests, Aluthge said.

Japan begins COVID-19 vaccination in 'first major step' to halt pandemic (Reuters) - Japan launched its COVID-19 inoculation drive on Wednesday, administering the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine to Tokyo hospital workers, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attempts to beat the odds and host the Olympics this summer. Workers at Tokyo Medical Center were among the first of some 40,000 medical professionals targeted to receive the initial shipments of the vaccine. They will be followed by 3.7 million more medical personnel, then 36 million people aged 65 and over. “This is the first major step towards ending the coronavirus (pandemic),” Vice Health Minister Hiroshi Yamamoto told reporters at the hospital after the first vaccines were administered. Suga has said that vaccine deployment will be critical to holding a successful Olympics, delayed from last year and due to start in late July. The government is aiming to secure enough vaccines for its entire population of 126 million by mid-2021. A complete roll-out could take a year, vaccination programme chief Taro Kono said on Tuesday. There are also fears that millions of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine doses could be wasted due to a shortage of syringes required to maximise the number of shots from each vial. Tokyo Medical Center said it has enough supply for now of the low dead-space syringes needed to extract six doses from each vial. It plans to inoculate 60 people a day starting on Thursday to both minimise the amount of vaccine that could go to waste and monitor people who receive a dose.1:31 AM

Australian COVID-19 vaccine roll-out still uncertain - While COVID-19 vaccinations have begun in at least 47 countries, some two months ago, the first stage of Australia’s inoculation roll-out will not start until the end of February. The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia today but according to Health Minister Greg Hunt, distribution and inoculations will take some further weeks. Only the Pfizer vaccine has thus far been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in Australia. Even with the announcement early this month that the Australian government had ordered an additional 10 millions doses of the Pfizer product, at least one other vaccine will be required to cover the entire population. Australia has also ordered 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than the Pfizer drug, but may be less effective, according to clinical trials. The TGA has not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Australia. The country also has an agreement with Novavax to supply 51 million doses, but the company’s vaccine is still in Phase 3 trials and has not yet been approved for use anywhere in the world. The reality is that no vaccination program will be successful unless it is carried out on a global scale and accompanied by serious measures to limit the spread and mutation of the coronavirus. Already, variant strains of COVID-19 have emerged with some degree of resistance to the vaccines, and as long as the virus is allowed to flourish anywhere in the world, the globalised nature of modern production will allow it to spread, causing new outbreaks, even among vaccinated populations. South Africa has temporarily halted rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns it does little to prevent mild to moderate infection from the B.1.351 variant (also known as 501Y.V2) most common in that country. A small study conducted by Wits University in Johannesburg appeared to show that the vaccine only prevented 10 percent of the 2,000 volunteers participating in the trial from developing at least one symptom of COVID-19. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt attempted to downplay these reports with a cautiously-worded statement that did not address the South African worries about mild infection and transmission among vaccinated people. Hunt said: “There is currently no evidence to indicate a reduction in the effectiveness of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines in preventing severe disease and death.” In fact, the South African study was only focussed on mild to moderate symptoms, and did not attempt to draw any conclusions about severe cases. In other words, there is no evidence relating to severe disease and death because it has not been investigated.

  Netanyahu lifts Israel’s third lockdown despite warnings of renewed surge in March --Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began reopening Israel’s economy at the weekend following a third partial, six-week lockdown. He did so despite dire warnings from health experts that this could lead to a renewed outbreak of the pandemic. All shops and businesses will reopen without restrictions, while entry to gyms, cultural and sporting venues, hotels, art galleries and swimming pools will be open to those fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. How this will be verified and enforced is unclear. Houses of worship that cannot meet these conditions will be limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. Schools and kindergartens will reopen on a phased basis, depending on the infection rates in their towns and cities. The government took this criminal decision on behalf of Israel’s financial elite despite nearly 5,000 new cases a day. Some 6.7 percent of over 75,000 tests are proving positive, down from 9.4 percent a week earlier but still higher than the 4.9 percent rate at the beginning of the lockdown, and the 4.5 percent and the 1.7 percent rates at the end of the second and first lockdowns. With each of the second and third surges seeing a higher death toll than the previous one, 5,463 Israelis have now died. Last Saturday, there were still a massive 992 patients in hospital—after weeks of hovering around 1,200—of whom 388 were in critical condition.Professor Nachman Ash, the coronavirus czar, warned, "An irresponsible opening of the economy will lead to another lockdown," saying that the more the economy opened, the more the infection rate will climb. Ash said that if anyone had told him two months ago that the country would be reopening with more than 5,000 new virus cases diagnosed every day and close to 1,000 people still hospitalized in serious condition with COVID, he would have called them crazy.

 WHO investigator claims China refused to hand over key Covid information - There is growing controversy over a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic after one of its members said China had refused to hand over key data, and the US national security adviser said he had “deep concerns” about the initial findings.An international delegation travelled to the Chinese city of Wuhan last month, as part of efforts to understand how the outbreak began. Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious disease expert who was part of the team, said they had requested raw patient data but were only given a summary.Dwyer told Reuters on Saturday that sharing anonymised raw data is “standard practice” for an outbreak investigation. He said raw data was particularly important in efforts to understand Covid-19 as only half of 174 initial cases had exposure to the now-shuttered market where the virus was initially detected.“That’s why we’ve persisted to ask for that,” Dwyer said. “Why that doesn’t happen, I couldn’t comment. Whether it’s political or time or it’s difficult.”Wuhan is where the disease was identified, and the first city to be badly hit by a wave of infections, but China has sought to cast doubt on whether it originated in the country, pointing to imported frozen food as a possible conduit.Last week WHO delegation leader Peter Ben Embarek told a news conferencethat the virus probably came from animals, but could have taken a “very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders”. The transmission of the virus via frozen food is a possibility that warrants further study, he added.

 First human case of H5N8 bird flu reported in Russia - Russia on Saturday announced that it has identified the first cases of H5N8 avian influenza in humans, according to multiple reports. Anna Popova, the country’s public health chief, said in televised comments that seven cases were detected in workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, Bloomberg News reported. Authorities have reported information on the cases to the World Health Organization. Popova said that the workers had mild cases and were recovered. The poultry farm was the site of an outbreak among birds in December, Bloomberg noted. “It is not transmitted from person to person. But only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier,” she said, according to the news outlet. “The discovery of this strain now gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines.” The WHO’s European branch acknowledged in an emailed statement that Russia informed it of a case of human infection with the strain, Reuters reported. The email acknowledged the cases were “asymptomatic and no onward human to human transmission was reported.” “We are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact of this event,” the email said. WHO didn’t immediately return a request for comment from The Hill. Reuters noted that recent outbreaks of the strain have occurred in Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months, but only in poultry.

 Guinea confirms 3 dead from Ebola, first cases since 2016 — Health officials in Guinea on Sunday confirmed that at least three people have died from Ebola there, the first cases declared since it was one of three West African nations to fight the world’s deadliest Ebola epidemic that ended five years ago. An additional four people are confirmed with Ebola, according to a statement from the ministry of health. All seven positive cases attended the funeral of a nurse in Goueke on Feb. 1 and later showed Ebola symptoms including a fever, diarrhea, vomiting, said the ministry statement. The government has declared an Ebola epidemic and started contact tracing and isolating suspected cases. It’s also sent an emergency team to support local teams in Goueke and has accelerated the procurement of Ebola vaccines from the World Health Organization. “I confirm it’s Ebola. The results prove it,” Minister of Health Remy Lamah told The Associated Press by phone. The patients were tested for Ebola after showing symptoms of hemorrhagic fever and those who came in contact with the sick are already in isolation, said officials. Guinea’s announcement comes one week after eastern Congo confirmed it also had cases. The cases are not linked. Health experts in Guinea say these latest cases could be a major setback for the impoverished nation, already battling COVID-19 and which is still recovering from the previous Ebola outbreak, which killed 2,500 in Guinea where it began. More than 11,300 people died in that outbreak which also hit the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016. “The resurgence of Ebola is very concerning for what it could do for the people, the economy, the health infrastructure,” “We’re still understanding the repercussions of the (last) outbreak on the population,” she said. To contain the spread, the government and international health organizations must respond quickly and educate communities about what’s going on,

Californians With Long Commutes Are Inhaling Carcinogens, Study Finds - Californians with long commutes may be inhaling chemicals that put them at risk for cancer and birth defects, a new study has found.Led by UC Riverside, a study published in Environment International found that up to 90 percent of the population with 30-minute commutes in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Santa Clara and Alameda counties have at least a 10 percent exceeded risk of cancer due to inhaling unhealthy levels of chemicals stitched into the fabric of their cars.Long periods spent in cars expose commuters to unsustainable levels of two carcinogens known as benzene and formaldehyde, the study found. "These chemicals are very volatile, moving easily from plastics and textiles to the air that you breathe," David Volz, a UCR professor of environmental toxicology, told UCR.While benzene and formaldehyde are listed under California's Proposition 65, which requires workplaces to post warnings of exposure to chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm, how they infiltrate private spaces, like the inside of someone's car, is less recognized and therefore less regulated, UCR reportedThe average commute time for Californians is 30 minutes, The Sacramento Bee reported. This time spent is expected to grow as cities become more crowded and expensive."Of course, there is a range of exposure that depends on how long you're in the car, and how much of the compounds your car is emitting," Aalekhya Reddam, a graduate student and lead author of the study, told UCR. Keeping windows down during a long commute could allow "some air flow," diluting "the concentration of these chemicals inside your car," Reddam added. But chemicals inside their cars are not the only toxins harming Californians. Heavy pollution, caused by on-road sources, on average disproportionately harm African American and Latino Californians compared to white Californians, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. This exposure comes with a heavy cost, causing lung and heart ailments, asthma and premature death.

‘New Car Smell’ Is The Scent of Carcinogens, And Even Short Trips May Overexpose Us - The average American spends almost one hour each day commuting to work, a number that adds up quickly.Now, research has found that Californian car commuters can be exposed to above-acceptable levels of unhealthy chemicals during their daily work trips.Estimating commuter times from census data and using measurements of chemicals detected in previous studies, the new study found commutes of more than 20 minutes put people at risk of unacceptably high levels of two carcinogens used in car manufacturing.At first glance, it might seem like worrying news for people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel on daily commutes. But there are a lot of factors at play, so let's unpack it a little.The distinct smell of a new car gives you a whiff of what's happening here. Materials used to fit out cars, from hard and soft plastics to adhesives, textiles and foam, contain some chemicals that can slowly seep into the air (the technical term is 'off-gas') or catch a ride on dust."These chemicals are very volatile, moving easily from plastics and textiles to the air that you breathe," said environmental toxicologist David Volz from the University of California Riverside, who co-authored the study.Volatile compounds can build up in small spaces, such as inside a car (unless you open a window for fresh air).While much research to date has focused on outdoor air pollution and its impact on health, and indoor environments, such as workplaces or homes where people spend most of their days, this study suggests chemicals building up inside vehicles could also be a concern - to some drivers. The study aimed to estimate when a person's exposure to known carcinogens likely tipped over safe thresholds based on the time commuters spent inside their vehicles, and on the levels of five chemicals detected inside cars in previous studies.

 Pharmaceuticals Pollute the Ganges - Studies increasingly point to the presence of pharmaceutical and personal care products in urban stretches along the Ganges River, which originates pristine in the Himalayas but is heavily polluted with industrial effluents and domestic sewage when it empties into the Bay of Bengal. Researchers from Doon University, Dehra Dun, India, have reported the presence of 15 pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in the Ganges near two Hindu pilgrimage cities. These pollutants include caffeine, anti-inflammatory drugs, common antibiotics, beta blockers, antibacterials, and insect repellents. Over three seasons, Doon scientists studied the river waters of two cities in the rapidly industrializing Himalayan state of Uttarakhand: Haridwar, where the Ganges enters India's northern plains from the Himalayas, and Rishikesh, 21 kilometers away. Haridwar and Rishikesh, with a combined population of 400,000, attract an estimated 20 million tourists and pilgrims annually. In particular, the scientists analyzed the water at its point of entry into the two cities and at sites before its entry into a sewage treatment plant and after sewage treatment.   PPCP concentrations near the cities varied, with the highest measured concentration being 1,104.84 nanograms per liter. Researchers found higher PPCP concentrations at the lower, more populated reaches of the river. The concentrations, especially of anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, were also higher in winter, possibly because of decreased biodegradation associated with lower temperatures and inadequate sunlight, the report said. The study also showed that PPCPs in the region were associated with a higher risk of algal blooms and a moderate risk to the health of river fish. "The high load of PPCPs during summer and winter could be attributed to the excessive tourist visits for recreational activities and spiritual congregations during these seasons," according to the report, to be published in Chemosphere in April.There are few studies on PPCPs in Indian rivers. "Such studies are expensive, as they require sophisticated instruments," Suthar explained. "Sewage, treated or untreated, flowing into the rivers is the main polluter,"  Sewage and effluent have long been associated with chemical pollution, as people flush medicines, cosmetics, and hygiene products down the toilet or throw them in the trash. The waste ends up in water treatment plants and landfills and then makes its way into water supplies such as the Ganges. "Aquaculture, agricultural farms, and pharma industries can be other important sources," Balakrishna added.

Common weed killers favour antibiotic resistant bacteria, new study shows - The use of weed killers can increase the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in soil, a new study from the University of York shows. Herbicides are one of the most widely used chemicals in agriculture and while these compounds are used to target weeds, they can cause damage to soil microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, potentially changing the ecological properties of microbial communities. Scientists from China and the UK studied the effect of three widely used herbicides called glyphosate, glufosinate and dicamba on soil bacterial communities. Using soil microcosms, researchers discovered that herbicides increased the relative abundance of bacterial species that carried antibiotic resistance genes. This was because mutations that improved growth in the presence of herbicides also increased bacterial tolerance to antibiotics. Herbicide exposure also led to more frequent movement of antibiotic resistance genes between bacteria. Similar patterns were found in agricultural fields across 11 Chinese provinces where herbicide application history, and the levels of herbicide residues in soils, were linked to increased levels of antibiotic resistance genes. "Our results suggest that the use of herbicides could indirectly drive antibiotic resistance evolution in agricultural soil microbiomes, which are repeatedly exposed to herbicides during weed control. "Interestingly, antibiotic resistance genes were favoured at herbicide concentrations that were not lethal to bacteria. This shows that already very low levels of herbicides could significantly change the genetic composition of soil bacterial populations. Such effects are currently missed by ecotoxicological risk assessments, which do not consider evolutionary consequences of prolonged chemical application at the level of microbial communities.

Corn belt farmland has lost a third of its carbon-rich soil - More than one-third of the Corn Belt in the Midwest - nearly 30 million acres - has completely lost its carbon-rich topsoil, according to University of Massachusetts Amherst research that indicates the U.S. Department of Agriculture has significantly underestimated the true magnitude of farmland erosion.In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by UMass Amherst graduate student Evan Thaler, along with professors Isaac Larsen and Qian Yu in the department of geosciences, developed a method using satellite imagery to map areas in agricultural fields in the Corn Belt of the Midwestern U.S. that have no remaining A-horizon soil. The A-horizon is the upper portion of the soil that is rich in organic matter, which is critical for plant growth because of its water and nutrient retention properties. The researchers then used high-resolution elevation data to extrapolate the satellite measurements across the Corn Belt and the true magnitude of erosion.Productive agricultural soils are vital for producing food for a growing global population and for sustaining rural economies. However, degradation of soil quality by erosion reduces crop yields. Thaler and his colleagues estimate that erosion of the A-horizon has reduced corn and soybean yields by about 6%, leading to nearly $3 billion in annual economic losses for farmers across the Midwest. The A-horizon has primarily been lost on hilltops and ridgelines, which indicates that tillage erosion - downslope movement of soil by repeated plowing - is a major driver of soil loss in the Midwest. Notably, tillage erosion is not included in national assessments of soil loss and the research highlights the urgent need to include tillage erosion in the soil erosion models that are used in the U.S. and to incentivize adoption of no-till farming methods.  Further, their research suggests erosion has removed nearly 1.5 petagrams of carbon from hillslopes. Restoration of organic carbon to the degraded soils by switching from intensive conventional agricultural practices to soil-regenerative practices, has potential to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while restoring soil productivity.

A Bleak Future for Water --- IN OUR MOMENT OF RABID FOR SALE-ISM, it would be easy to react to the announcement that even the future of water in California is for sale with a glib of course it is. As of December 7, the availability of water in the state can be bet on or against by way of what’s called a futures contract, which allows investors to make a claim on the future price of water. These are tied to the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index, which measures the volume-weighted average price of water, meaning that investors, farmers (read: agribusiness owners), and climate change onlookers can profit off of growing water scarcity. As droughts worsen, investors will be able reap the benefits of the realities of climate change.  Those titillated by the prospect of making climate change profitable call this move an innovation—water is the only substance on earth to exist in a liquid, solid, and gaseous state; now, with its rebranding as a commodity, it will exist as all four: magic! (Yes, water was subject to speculation and market forces before the establishment of a futures index, but this is a marked change, making water a peer to gold and crude oil.) This, though, is not why investors and market rubberneckers are gleeful about the so-called solution of water futures. They claim that the revolution of water trading is a way to hedge price risks—not the risks produced by the very ability to make money off of the loss and degradation of water, but those posed by a warming atmosphere. A water futures index proposes that climate change is a self-made and ineluctable eventuality, while sidestepping the correct accusation that climate change is, in part, caused by the same forces that give rise to a water futures index. Corn, soybeans, milk, cattle, and wheat have all already been subject to futures trading; they are also components of a nation-wide agricultural operation that’s responsible for approximately 80 percent of the country’s consumptive water use. Over half of the grain grown in the United States goes toward feeding the livestock that we eat (and all of it is making us sick), yet 30 percent of that meat product goes uneaten while, at the same time, Feeding American estimates that in 2020, over fifty million people were what the federal government considers to be “food-insecure.” Trading water is not an aberration, but the logical endpoint of our for-sale system. But gambling on the future of our water supply is not something that we as a human species, nor the planet we’re briefly occupying, can withstand.

 Hundreds of Fish Species, Including Many That Humans Eat, Are Consuming Plastic -Trillions of barely visible pieces of plastic are floating in the world's oceans, from surface waters to the deep seas. These particles, known as microplastics, typically form when larger plastic objects such as shopping bags and food containers break down. Researchers are concerned about microplastics because they are minuscule, widely distributed and easy for wildlife to consume, accidentally or intentionally. We study marine science and animal behavior, and wanted to understand the scale of this problem. In a newly published study that we conducted with ecologist Elliott Hazen, we examined how marine fish – including species consumed by humans – are ingesting synthetic particles of all sizes.In the broadest review on this topic that has been carried out to date, we found that, so far, 386 marine fish species are known to have ingested plastic debris, including 210 species that are commercially important. But findings of fish consuming plastic are on the rise. are improving and because ocean plastic pollution continues to increase.To see the problem more clearly, we had to put those pieces together.  We did this by creating the largest existing database on plastic ingestion by marine fish, drawing on every scientific study of the problem published from 1972 to 2019. We collected a range of information from each study, including what fish species it examined, the number of fish that had eaten plastic and when those fish were caught. Because some regions of the ocean have more plastic pollution than others, we also examined where the fish were found.  Our research revealed that marine fish are ingesting plastic around the globe. According to the 129 scientific papers in our database, researchers have studied this problem in 555 fish species worldwide. We were alarmed to find that more than two-thirds of those species had ingested plastic. One important caveat is that not all of these studies looked for microplastics. This is likely because finding microplastics requires specialized equipment, like microscopes, or use of more complex techniques. But when researchers did look for microplastics, they found five times more plastic per individual fish than when they only looked for larger pieces. Studies that were able to detect this previously invisible threat revealed that plastic ingestion was higher than we had originally anticipated. Our review of four decades of research indicates that fish consumption of plastic is increasing. Just since an international assessment conducted for the United Nations in 2016, the number of marine fish species found with plastic has quadrupled. Similarly, in the last decade alone, the proportion of fish consuming plastic has doubled across all species. Studies published from 2010-2013 found that an average of 15% of the fish sampled contained plastic; in studies published from 2017-2019, that share rose to 33%.

Plastic recycling results in rare metals being found in children's toys and food packaging - Some of the planet's rarest metals - used in the manufacture of smartphones and other electrical equipment - are increasingly being found in everyday consumer plastics, according to new research. Scientists from the University of Plymouth and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tested a range of new and used products including children's toys, office equipment and cosmetic containers. Through a number of detailed assessments, they examined levels of rare earth elements (REEs) but also quantities of bromine and antimony, used as flame retardants in electrical equipment and a sign of the presence of recycled electronic plastic. The results showed one or more REEs were found in 24 of the 31 products tested, including items where unregulated recycling is prohibited such as single-use food packaging. They were most commonly observed in samples containing bromine and antimony at levels insufficient to effect flame retardancy, but also found in plastics where those chemicals weren't present. Having also been found in beached marine plastics, the study's authors have suggested there is evidence that REEs are ubiquitous and pervasive contaminants of both contemporary and historical consumer and environmental plastics. The study, published in Science of the Total Environment, is the first to systematically investigate the full suite of REEs in a broad range of consumer plastics.

 Waste Watch: News from the U.S. and the Maldives --Jerri-Lynn Scofield-- A depressing email popped into my in-box last week, containing a photograph of a rubbish-choked Maafushi harbor. I know the place well, having visited at least four times and completed months of diving training there. Maafushi is an island in the Maldives, where ‘local tourism’ is allowed… tourists can interact with ordinary Maldivians, sample local culture, and enjoy the balmy climate, pristine beaches, and access to marine life for which the archipelago is justly celebrated – at a fraction of the cost of luxury resorts.I found the picture of the garbage-strewn harbor depressing, as I’d previously written about my friend Renee Sorensen’s successful efforts to clean up Maafushi in Dengue on My Mind: Spending on ‘Diseases of Poverty’ Not Enough to Create Effective Vaccines. Renee was an ex-pat Norwegian, who moved to Maafushi to dive, and eventually launched two businesses there. I include a short, inspiring video, in Norwegian with English sub-titles, for those readers who might be interested in how one woman, along with friends, the community,  colleagues, and visitors, has worked to institute better waste management practices to deal with the spike in garbage that has accompanied the spread of local tourism on Maafushi and surrounding islands. Much of this waste was either being burnt or dumped into the lagoon.But to Renee, “the thing is that this is very easy to fix.” She knew that “In Norway we are managing the garbage well, and we are very lucky to have sorting facilities and recycling.”Rather than despairing at the threats to the island she had made her home– waste, plastic, and reef destruction caused by global warming and a tsunami– Renee focused instead on solutions, enlisting locals and visitors alike to fix these problems. In the spring of 2018, she caught dengue fever and despite being fit, healthy, and only in her forties, died. So that picture of a rubbish-choked harbor hit me hard. The last time I was in Maafushi, in July 2019, the harbor was relatively free of trash, the reefs I dived were clear of debris, and the walls outside of the local schoolhouse were decorated with anti-plastic murals.Yet it seems that Renee’s clean-up initiative is yet another causualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. With about a third of Maldivean GDP comes from tourism, and decline in tourism  due to the pandemic has hit these atolls particularly hard. Yet the Maldives are far from unique in seeing a COVID-19 impact on its waste disposal systems, and a consequent buildup of plastic waste. Bali has also suffered, as Raw Story reports in Bali’s ‘trash heroes’ are cleaning up paradise, one beach at a time. And these problems are not just confined to tourist meccas. Heading west from the Maldives, past the mid-east, through the Mediterranean, and eventually across the Atlantic, we find the US confronting its own rubbish problems, with many U.S. towns and cities seeing strain on their waste disposal systems, including cancellation or curtailment of recycling operations.

Stray dogs with bright blue fur found in Russia  -Reuters (photos) - A dog with blue fur is pictured inside a cage at a veterinary hospital where it was taken for examination in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia February 16, 2021. The pack of stray dogs with blue fur was found earlier this month near an abandoned chemical plant in the city of Dzerzhinsk.

Wisconsin Approves February Wolf Hunt --As the former and current administration's endangered species policies battle for prominence, Wisconsin'swolves are caught in the crosshairs, literally.When the Trump administration delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act, it triggered a Wisconsin law requiring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hold a wolf hunt from mid-October through February, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The DNR originally said it would wait until November 2021 to prepare a hunt, but hunting advocates sued to speed up the process, and last week a judge ordered the board to prepare a February hunt. This prompted the DNR to set a quota on Monday of 200 gray wolves that can be killed before the end of the month.Wildlife advocates oppose the move, pointing out that the rushed hunt will take place during the wolves' breeding season."You remove one, you're essentially destabilizing and killing the entire pack," Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife Executive Director Melissa Smith told Public News Service. "So, we expect this to be pretty detrimental to our wolf population."The federal delisting of wolves officially went into effect in January. In December, the DNR said it would wait until November to set a hunting quota, arguing that it needed more time to make a scientifically sound plan and consult with tribes and the public, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. In late January, the state's Natural Resources Board rejected a push from Republican lawmakers to speed up the quota, Wisconsin Public Radio reported at the time.However, Kansas-based group Hunter Nation sued the state to start the hunt this winter. It argued that delaying the hunt violated hunters' constitutional rights, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ruled in the group's favor. While Wisconsin is appealing this decision, the Natural Resources Board still voted Monday to authorize a February hunt.

Pattaya elephants starving, falling ill amid pandemic -- Pattaya-area elephants are going hungry and falling ill as the coronavirus pandemic deprives owners and mahouts of money to feed them. Veterinarian Phadet Siridamrong, owner of Nernplubwan Animal Hospital, responded to the Krating Lai Elephant Garden Feb. 12 after 50-year-old Khunpan became unable to stand. He said the elephant has not been getting enough to eat and has become too weak. 50-year-old Khunpan became unable to stand after becoming too weak from not getting enough to eat. He treated the elephant with 50 bottles of intravenous fluids and medicine for skin sores from lying in the same position too long. Pa Petchkla, the brother of the elephant’s owner, said the camp has five elephants under its care, but no income from tourists. The 43-year-old said his older brother has resorted to driving a songthaew to earn a living, but the money is not enough to feed the animals their usual 1,000-2,000 baht of food a day. This beautiful old pachyderm has suffered terribly from the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19. Phadet said mahouts and camp staff also have left to find other jobs, meaning many elephants are not getting their required walking and exercising. The animals are becoming malnourished, weak and sick. Pa said he has contacted the Thai Elephant Alliance Association for help. The vet is removing the sick pachyderm from the camp and sending it to a specialized elephant hospital in Surin with help from the elephant alliance. Mgid 

 500+ Scientists Demand Stop to Tree Burning as Climate Solution - A group of more than 500 international scientists on Thursday urged world leaders to end policies that prop up the burning of trees for energy because it poses "a double climate problem" that threatens forests' biodiversity and efforts to stem the planet's ecological emergency. The demand came in a letter addressed to European Commission President Urusla Von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The signatories—including renowned botanist Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden—reject the assertion that burning biomass is carbon neutral. Referring to forest "preservation and restoration" as key in meeting the nations' declared goals of carbon neutrality by 2050, the letter frames the slashing of trees for bioenergy as "misguided." "We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world's biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy," the group wrote. The destruction of forests, which are a carbon sink, creates a "carbon debt." And though regrowing "trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt," the signatories say that "regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change." What's more, burning trees is "carbon-inefficient," they say. "Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels." Another issue is that efforts using taxpayer money to sustain biomass burning stymies what are truly renewable energy policies. "Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions," the letter states. "Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming."  Merely making countries responsible for the emissions that stem from land use changes is insufficient, the scientists write, because that would "not alter the incentives created by [national] laws for power plants and factories to burn wood."

 Scientists Make Unexpected Find Beneath Antarctic Ice -- Scientists recently made an unexpected discovery while drilling for sediment on an Antarctic ice shelf.  The researchers were drilling on the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, about 160 miles from the open ocean, and hit almost 3,000 feet when they caught surprising camera footage of sponges and other stationary animals on a sea floor boulder, according to a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) press release. "It's slightly bonkers," Dr. Huw Griffiths, a BAS marine biogeographer and lead author on the paper announcing the find, told The Guardian. "Never in a million years would we have thought about looking for this kind of life, because we didn't think it would be there."  The discovery, published Monday in Frontiers in Marine Science, challenges previously held ideas about what types of life could survive beneath the ice. Previous expeditions observed mobile scavengers and predators such as fish and jellyfish, but scientists predicted life would become less frequent the further beneath the ice sheet one traveled from sunlight and open water, BAS explained. Discovering sedentary filter-feeders is especially surprising, because these types of animals depend on food reaching them from the surface. At the same time, little is known about the world beneath these ice sheets. They cover more than 0.6 million square miles, but scientists have only explored a tennis court-sized area.

 Thousands of ‘cold-stunned’ sea turtles rescued off Texas coast - Volunteers have been rescuing thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles from the shores of the US state of Texas as a deadly cold wave in the region continues to cause power outages and water shortages. About 4,700 sea turtles have been brought to a convention centre on South Padre Island since Monday, after the creatures, unaccustomed to the dramatic drop in temperature, washed ashore. Wendy Knight, the executive director of research and conservation centre Sea Turtle Inc called the volume of distressed turtles “an unprecedented event”. People bring rescued turtles stunned by the cold to an evacuation centre on South Padre Island, Texas [Ed Caum/City of South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau] She told Reuters news agency that a normal winter season sees only between 100 and 500 sea turtles wash up on shore. Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Associated Press it was unclear how long the turtles would need to stay at the convention centre, as another approaching cold front means it could be days before temperatures are warm enough to return them. “We’re trying to do the best we can to save as many turtles as possible,” he said, adding that power had been restored to the convention centre on Wednesday. Video posted by Caum showed volunteers unloading turtles from trucks onto trolleys, and thousands of turtles filling nearly all of the floor space in the convention centre. Volunteers on South Padre weren’t the only ones rescuing turtles from the cold. On Wednesday, the Texas Game Warden’s office tweeted that it had rescued 141 turtles from the Brownsville Ship Channel and “surrounding bays” in the state’s southern tip of Cameron County. Winter storms across the Midwest, Texas and parts of the south left nearly 3.4 million residents across the US without electricity on Wednesday. In Texas, about 7 million people, a quarter of the state’s population, have been told to boil their water or stop using it entirely as homeowners, hospitals, and businesses grappled with broken water mains and burst pipes. Critics have decried the widespread loss of electricity in Texas, attributing it to rampant deregulation that has allowed power companies to get away with not adequately preparing for cold weather events.

Persistent flooding damages thousands of homes and wide swaths of land in southern Mozambique - Persistent flooding in southern Mozambique has caused damage to around 4 200 homes and more than 54 000 ha (133 400 acres) of agricultural land. Heavy rains have been affecting the southern areas of the country, falling on grounds already saturated by downpours brought by Tropical Cyclone "Eloise" in late January.Severe flooding has been affecting the country's southern region after heavy rains fell over the past days. The inundations caused by Eloise, which made landfall in Beira on January 23, were further worsened.As of February 15, around 3 000 houses were flooded in Maputo Provine, while 1 200 homes were damaged in Matola District.Parts of Maputo City and Marracuene District were impacted after the Incomati River overflowed. Boane District was also hit by inundations after the Umbeluzi River broke its banks.The districts of Magude, Moamba, and Matutine were cut off as roads were swamped. Further north, high water levels of the Limpopo River send floodwaters in parts of Gaza Province, damaging crops and houses. According to local media, more than 54 000 (133 400 acres) of agricultural land were ravaged in the province. The worst-hit crops were corn, beans, rice, and vegetables.

 Weeks of heavy rains leave more than 30 fatalities in South Africa (videos) Heavy rains affecting parts of South Africa since January 23 when Tropical Cyclone "Eloise" swept over the region has claimed more than 30 lives in the provinces of Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal. Eloise made landfall north of Beira, Mozambique, on Saturday, January 23, but heavy rains continued through the rest of the month and into February, leading to further flooding. Water levels on dams also continued to rise, prompting authorities to start releasing water from the Vaal Dam as of February 11. Among the worst-hit provinces was Mpumalanga, where 10 fatalities have been confirmed by the government. The victims died during the heavy rains that followed Eloise, which reached the province by the end of January. Most of the casualties were a result of drowning in flooded rivers. Roads and bridges were washed away in Mbombela, Bushbuckridge, and Nkomazi, among other areas, according to the province’s Cooperative Governance Department (COGTA). Downpours continued in the province in recent days, with Komatidraai recording about 130 mm (5 inches) of rain in a 24 hour period to February 13.Heavy rains brought by Eloise reached as far as Northern Cape from around January 27. According to the provincial government, about three people lost their lives in the storm's onslaught. Flooding ravaged farms, damaged hundreds of homes, and washed away roads, particularly in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District. As of February 12, many roads were still flooded, prompting authorities to deliver relief supplies via helicopter. About 600 million ZAR or 40 million dollars is needed for repairs of infrastructure, humanitarian relief, as well as homes and agricultural aid, the government said. In Limpopo, at least 10 fatalities were reported by the provincial government, while seven others remain missing. Search and rescue operations are ongoing, involving the South African Police Service In KwaZulu-Natal, eight people lost their lives as a result of severe weather following the landfall of Eloise. Dozens of buildings were damaged, affecting around 400 people.

New Study Confirms Dangerous Sea Level Rise Projections Are Accurate --A new study from Australian and Chinese researchers adds weight to scientists' warnings from recent United Nations reports about how sea levels are expected to rise dangerously in the coming decades because of human activity that's driving global heating.The research, published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, found that sea level rise projections for this century "are on the money when tested against satellite and tide-gauge observations," as a statement from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) summarized.The researchers looked at projections from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as the body's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), which include multiple representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios for how much humanity reins in greenhouse gas emissions.Based on global and coastal sea level data from satellites and 177 tide-gauges, the researchers found that those two reports' projections under three different RCP scenarios "agree well with satellite and tide-gauge observations over the common period 2007–2018, within the 90% confidence level."In other words, "our analysis implies that the models are close to observations and builds confidence in the current projections for the next several decades," said John Church, who is part of UNSW's Climate Change Research Center. The professor noted projections were accurate not only globally but also at the regional and local level.However, because of the limited 11-year comparison period, Church added, "there remains a potential for larger sea level rises, particularly beyond 2100 for high emission scenarios. Therefore, it is urgent that we still try to meet the commitments of the Paris agreement by significantly reducing emissions."

Powerful blizzard causes whiteout conditions in Northern Ireland - A severe blizzard hit Northern Ireland on Saturday, February 13, 2021, causing whiteout conditions in most areas. The harsh weather conditions came after the UK experienced its deepest "extreme freeze" in a decade, which brought record cold temperatures.Strong winds and snow battered Northern Ireland on Saturday, resulting in whiteout conditions on roads and streets.  "[It was] some of the most dramatic scenes I have witnessed here," a local said after she filmed the powerful snowstorm blowing away bushes and tree branches.The severe weather came after the UK saw its deepest "extreme freeze" for a decade.On February 11, the country recorded its coldest night in more than 25 years as temperatures pummeled to nearly -23 °C (-9.4 °F) in northern Scotland.While temperatures are set to get warmer from Monday, February 15, Met Eireann forecasts more snow to come this week.On Wednesday, February 17, a low-pressure system is set to move up from the south, bringing widespread rain with a risk of flooding.

 Widespread disruption after heaviest snowfall in 12 years hits Greece - Heavy snowfall has caused widespread disruption in many parts of Greece, including the capital -- Athens, on Monday, February 15, 2021, resulting in delayed transport, power outages, and suspended services. According to the National Meteorological Service, this was the country's 'fiercest' snowfall in terms of intensity and volume in 12 years. The snow, which is common in the north but rare in the capital, put many services across the country to a standstill. Most public transport services were delayed, while toppled trees caused power outages in several mountainside suburbs. Parts of the nation's main highway were closed, most ferry services to the islands were canceled, and flights from regional airports disrupted. The fire service said they received more than 600 calls for assistance in greater Athens alone. "The calls mainly concerned downed trees and transporting people stuck in their vehicles to a safe place, but also to transport kidney dialysis patients to receive treatment," fire service spokesman Vassilis Vatharakoyiannis told the state TV."Vaccinations have been postponed but we have helped transport doctors and medical staff where they are needed and we helped power technicians get to damaged electricity pylons in areas where access was difficult," he added. Theodoros Kolydas, head of the meteorological service, said this was the fiercest snowfall, in terms of intensity and volume, in 12 years.

Saudi Arabia hit by a rare blizzard as region sees snow fall -- These camels are taking their lumps in Saudi Arabia, which was hit by a blizzard Thursday, according to a report.The dreary dromedaries – with their humps resembling snowy mountains — were captured on video gazing around their surroundings during the surreal storm.Meanwhile, residents of Tabuk and the adjoining mountainous region enjoyed the winter wonderland as the popular holiday destination was socked with snow, the Khaleej Times reported.Residents and tourists, including some who drove from the UAE, flocked to the area to enjoy the weather, which is an annual phenomenon, according to Al Arabiya.The winter season in the kingdom is called Kashta, or season for camping. Thursday’s highs in Saudi Arabia were 56 degrees Fahrenheit, with a low of about 36 degrees in the Tabuk area. On Wednesday, snow also blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya and Israel, covering areas it has not reached in years.

Libya sees first snow in 15 years as cold snap hits parts of northern Africa and Middle East -The Green Mountain in northeastern Libya saw its first snowfall in 15 years this week as a cold wave swept through parts of the southern Mediterranean region, northern Africa, and the Middle East, including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.The rare snow started falling on Monday, February 15, which brought delight to residents as they enjoyed the wintry scenery.Mohammed Saleh, a resident from Bayda, believes that the snowfall is an omen for peace in Libya. "We hope the snowfall will be a good sign for our homeland by unifying our institutions and unifying our country and for people to return to one another and love each other."He continued, "As we see now, the children, people, and families that came to this area, the area of Sidi Mohamed Al-Hamri."Ali Al-Shairi, another Bayda Resident, captured the winter wonderland and said he was "surprised by the number of families who came here to take pictures in the snow."According to the Libyan National Meteorological Center, temperatures below freezing point were recorded in several cities on Monday, including Al-Bayda, Yefren, Nalut, Al-Marj, Green Mountain, and the Nafusa Mountain.In neighboring Egypt, the cold snap brought freezing rain, strong winds, and mist. While the spell had no remarkable impact on road traffic, officials closed a number of ports in Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheik. Fishing activities were also suspended, as a precautionary measure.Ice pellets were reported in Alexandria, Beheira, and Port Said, with some parts slicked with snow, according to the Egyptian Meteorological Authority (EMA).  Heavy snow was experienced as well over parts of the Middle East, including Syria, Lebanon, and Israel since Tuesday, February 16, paralyzing citizens' daily lives.

Severe snowstorm hits northern Japan, JMA warns it could become the strongest in years (videos) A severe snowstorm started affecting northern Japan on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, causing flooding and transport disruptions. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) warned it could become the most powerful blizzard in years and cause whiteout conditions through Wednesday, February 17.A rapidly developed low pressure system is advancing westward over the Sea of Okhotsk, bringing extremely strong winds and causing storm surge that already flooded many homes in western parts of Hokkaido.Wind gusts of up to 162 km/h (101 mph) were recorded at Cape Erimo, Hokkaido, 135 km/h (84 mph) in Sakata city, Yamagata Prefecture, and 111 km/h (69 mph) in Akita City, Tohoku.The blizzard triggered the closure of nearly 600 schools, the cancelation of about 70 flights, and the disruption of more than 200 train services, according to the Kyodo News.The JMA warned of "the most powerful blizzard in years," and advised people to refrain from going outside as the storm may produce whiteout conditions through Wednesday.Heavy snow, high waves, and strong winds may also cause further disruptions in the northeast and areas along the coast of the Sea of Japan.  Up to 60 cm (24 inches) of snow is forecast in the Hokuriku region and the northeast, while up to 50 cm (20 inches) is expected across Hokkaido in 24 hours to Wednesday morning.

  Large landslide hits East Java, leaving 18 people dead or missing, Indonesia -- A large landslide caused by heavy rains hit Ngetos village of Nganjuk Regency in East Java, Indonesia on February 14, 2021, leaving at least 2 people dead and 16 others missing. According to BNPB, the landslide took place at 18:30 LT (11:30 UTC), severely damaging as many as 8 homes. Initially, 21 residents were reportedly affected by the slide. Of these, 2 were found dead and 3 others injured. Search and rescue operations are in progress for 16 people who remain missing as of February 15. BNPB said rescuers had to use makeshift tools to search for missing people as heavy machinery has not been able to reach the location due to the narrow path to the location. In addition, flooding was reported in Pasuruan Regency on the same day after heavy rain caused the overflow of the Kedunglarangan River in Bangli District, and the Rejoso River in Winongan and Grati districts. Some 300 homes were damaged, officials said.

Forced evacuation of communities near Taal volcano, Philippines --Philippine disaster response officials have ordered the evacuation of residents living near Taal volcano on February 16, 2021, after continued increased activity at the volcano. Taal erupted in January 2020 for the first time in decades, ejecting volcanic ash up to 16.7 km (55 000 feet) above sea level and affecting the lives of at least 500 000 people.According to NDRRMC, evacuation orders are in effect for people living within the volcano island, particularly those in two rural communities in the Talisay municipality.The order was issued after PHIVOLCS recorded 98 tremor episodes with durations of 5 to 12 minutes in 24 hours to 00:00 UTC (08:00 LT) on February 16.During the same period, activity in the Main Crater consisted of weak emission of white steam-laden plumes from fumaroles that rose 5 m (16 feet) high.Temperature highs of 77.1 °C (170.8 °F) and pH of 1.59 were last measured from the Main Crater Lake on February 12, 2021.Ground deformation parameters from continuous electronic tilt on Volcano Island record a slight deflation around the Main Crater since October 2020 but overall, very slow and steady inflation of the Taal region has been recorded by continuous GPS data after the eruption.The Alert Level remains at 1 (Abnormal). PHIVOLCS reminds the public that at this level, sudden steam-driven or phreatic explosions, volcanic earthquakes, minor ashfall, and lethal accumulations or expulsions of volcanic gas can occur and threaten areas within the Taal Volcano Island (TVI).

 Unusual 'lava' flow spotted in Himachal Pradesh, India - (video) An unusual "volcanic eruption" took place in the Kullu District in Himachal Pradesh, India, where a lava-like substance was spotted downhill, making rounds on social media on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. According to local reports, there is no history of volcanic activity in the state. The lava flow occurred in the Lafali panchayat of Anni subdivision in Kullu, which melted the snow and scorched the grass before turning solid. The footage shows a group of officials inspecting the roadside and a burnt and bent pole. Chet Singh, a subdivisional magistrate in Anni, told Times of India that he had seen the video, which seemed to have been taken a few days ago. "The pole has been removed," said Singh. "The tehsildar will lead a team into the area on Wednesday (February 17) and only then can we say anything." S.S. Randhawa, principal scientific officer of the Himachal Pradesh State Center on Climate Change, ruled out a volcanic activity and noted that the uncommon event might be due to either the burning of a carbon shell or tectonic activity as there is no history of volcanic activity in the state. In 2014, the Kangra District reported a similar event wherein flames and lava steam were emitted out of a hill. State geologists confirmed that it was a small magmatic activity. While volcanic activity is rare, magmatic flow is not unusual to the state. Hot sulfur springs in Manikaran, Kalath, Vashishth, and Kalath prove that there is magma underneath.

Intense explosive activity at Etna volcano, Aviation Color Code raised to Red, Italy --Explosive activity intensified at Etna's Southeast Crater (SEC) on Monday, February 15, 2021, and continued into Tuesday. The activity further intensified at 16:10 UTC on February 16 with lava fountaining and strong ash emissions reaching a height of about 10 km (33 000 feet) a.s.l. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red. Activity at the crater started intensifying in the early hours (UTC) of February 15, INGV reported. The average size of the volcanic tremor had already shown an increasing trend in the early hours and further intensified around 16:00 UTC, with the amplitude reaching high values. The tremors were located below the SE crater, at a depth of about 2.9 km (1.8 miles) above sea level. The infrasonic activity was also high, but deformation data from GPS and clinometric networks showed no significant changes. Starting at 16:10 UTC on February 16, explosive activity at the SE crater evolved into lava fountaining with the formation of a growing ash cloud, drifting southward. From a seismic point of view, the average magnitude of volcanic tremor in the last few hours remained at high levels and then significantly increased from 16:00 UTC. The tremors remained confined below the SE crater in the depth range between 2.9 and 3 km (1.8 miles) above sea level. The increasing tremor was accompanied by violent infrasonic activity with high amplitude signals.According to data provided by Toulouse VAAC, the activity produced very strong ash emission with an estimated volcanic cloud height around 10 km (33 000 feet) above sea level. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red at 16:31 UTC.

 Third paroxysm with very strong ash emission to 10 km (33 000 feet) a.s.l. at Etna volcano, Italy The third paroxysm in just several days started at Etna volcano early Friday morning (UTC), February 19, 2021. The Aviation Color Code was raised to Red at 08:53 UTC. Lava fountaining was observed at summit craters with very strong ash emission and ashfall in villages on the ESE flank of the volcano. The estimated volcanic cloud height was 10 km (33 000 feet) above sea level at 10:00 UTC today. A new lava overflow of the Southeast Crater started shortly before 07:55 UTC. The lava flow is descending the eastern side of the cone, heading towards the Valle del Bove.The following videos were captured on February 18:

Historic cold temps and snow in Wichita, Kansas (video)The incredibly historic winter storm continued its assault in southern Kansas on the morning of February 15, 2021, adding another 25 mm (1 inch) or more of snow during the Monday morning commute.Traffic was lighter than normal thanks to the holiday, but icy conditions and low visibility lead to a few issues.Temperatures on February 14 shattered record lows with Wichita recording -21 °C (-7 °F), beating the 1936 record of -20 °C (-4 °F) for the date. The record low for February 15 was already shattered at midnight, but not officially recorded as of late Monday morning.The previous record was -20.5 °C (-5 °F) in 1936, so far Wichita was -22.2 °C (-8 °F) with wind chill values around -34 °C (-30 °F). Wichita has not been above the freezing mark in over 8 days and counting, Storm Chasing Video reports.

Storm knocks out power for more than 3.8 million in Texas, suspected tornado kills 3 in North Carolina ---A deadly winter storm pummeling the country's South and mid-section left millions without power in Texas early Tuesday and spawned a possible tornado that killed three in North Carolina.The suspected tornado hit North Carolina's Brunswick County around midnight and left at least three people dead and 10 injured, Brunswick County Emergency Services said Tuesday, ripping homes from their foundations and snapping trees in half.In Texas, two people, one a child, died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was used to generate power for heat, Houston Police said.More than 4.1 million people are waking up without power in Texas, according to, as record low temperatures bring a demand for power that the state's electric grid cannot keep up with.The areas hardest hit by outages were around Galveston and Houston, according to storm that dropped snow and ice from Arkansas to Indiana — and brought record-low temperatures from Oklahoma City to Minnesota's Iron Range, where thermometers dipped to minus 38 — was expected to move into the northeast Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. Snow, freezing rain and ice are expected from the Ohio Valley to Pennsylvania and Maine, the forecaster added.Texas officials pleaded with residents to stay off the roads, conserve power and seal up drafty windows and doors.At least 25 people have died in weather-related fatalities so far since Thursday, most of them in Texas, as the storm continues to blanket large swathes of the country.In North Carolina's Brunswick County, there were reports of people trapped in homes or feared missing as rescue operations got underway after the possible tornado, Brunswick County emergency management officials said. An estimated 50 homes were affected and a temporary shelter had been set-up for the displaced.

Powerful EF-3 tornado rips through Brunswick County, North Carolina (video, photos) A high-end EF-3 tornado with estimated winds of 255 km/h (160 mph) ripped through the south end of Brunswick County, North Carolina at 23:30 LT on February 15, 2021 (04:30 UTC, February 16), leaving at least 3 people dead and injuring at least 10 others. The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office said the tornado caused devastating damage to many homes, especially in the Ocean Ridge Plantation area. More than 50 homes were damaged and multiple completely destroyed, with a number of people trapped, Brunswick County Emergency Management said. More than 37 000 customers were left without power after the twister downed multiple power lines. The hardest-hit locations are the tows of Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach, and Carolina Shores. A high-end EF-3 tornado with estimated winds of 255 km/h (160 mph) ripped through the south end of Brunswick County, North Carolina at 23:30 LT on February 15, 2021 (04:30 UTC, February 16), leaving at least 3 people dead and injuring at least 10 others. The Brunswick County Sheriff's Office said the tornado caused devastating damage to many homes, especially in the Ocean Ridge Plantation area. More than 50 homes were damaged and multiple completely destroyed, with a number of people trapped, Brunswick County Emergency Management said. More than 37 000 customers were left without power after the twister downed multiple power lines. The hardest-hit locations are the tows of Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach, and Carolina Shores. Another tornado made landfall near Damascus, Georgia, around 17:00 LT on Monday, February 15. Preliminary damage assessments from the NWS confirmed it to have inflicted EF-2 damage. The tornado damaged several homes and left one person injured.

 More than 1.4 million homes without power as unprecedented winter storm hits Texas -  (videos) More than 1.4 million homes are experiencing power outages across Texas after extremely cold temperatures and frozen precipitation blanketed the entire state, crippling transportation and infrastructure. Governor Gregg Abbot issued a statewide disaster declaration on February 12, warning all residents the state faces an unprecedented winter storm.All 254 Texas counties were placed under Winter Storm Warning on Saturday, February 13, the same as in Oklahoma and Arkansas on Sunday. As of Monday morning, February 15, more than 150 million Americans are under Winter Storm Warnings, Ice Storm Warnings, Winter Storm Watches, or Winter Weather Advisories as impactful winter weather continues from coast-to-coast.  One day after record-breaking energy use across Texas on Sunday, February 14, 2021, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) declared an 'energy emergency alert three' -- EEA 3 -- the third of three alert phases.In the first phase, ERCOT looks to get electricity from other grids; in the second stage, large industrial users who've agreed to cut power in emergency situations are shut down; and in the third phase, the operator starts running rotating outages to reduce demand on the electric system.Rolling blackouts, typically lasting from 15 to 60 minutes, could repeat all the way through Tuesday morning."We urge Texans to put safety first during this time. Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporary without power," ERCOT officials said.The supply of natural gas to power plants was limited on Sunday, and half of the system's wind turbines had frozen hours before the state set a new winter peak demand, reaching 69 150 MW between 18:00 and 19:00 LT. This is more than 3 200 MW higher than the previous winter peak set back in January 2018.The last time the state implemented rolling outages was in 2011 -- also due to cold, ice, and snow -- but this time cold temperatures are expected to last for a longer period of time.As of 10:13 UTC on February 15, 1 482 866 customers across the state are without power. "An unprecedented and expansive area of hazardous winter weather continues into Presidents Day as disruptive snow and ice accumulations transpire across the South Central U.S. early this morning," NWS forecaster Mullinax said. "This impressive onslaught of wicked wintry weather across much of the Lower 48 is due to the combination of strong Arctic high pressure supplying sub-freezing temperatures and an active storm track escorting waves of precipitation from coast-to-coast," Mullinax explained. While the current areas of snow and wintry mix over parts of the Southern Plains will conclude later this morning, bitterly cold temperatures will limit the amount of melting today, and thus treacherous travel conditions are likely to persist. .

 South slammed by winter storm, millions left without power in Texas - The South is being slammed by a rare winter storm, leaving millions in Texas without power on Monday as officials scramble to respond to snow and low temperatures in states that typically deal with neither. Much of the U.S. – more than 150 million people across 25 states – are facing a winter storm warning, winter weather advisory or ice storm warning, according to the National Weather Service and USA Today. The storms and low temperatures are extending further south than usual, with single-digit temperatures recorded as far south as San Antonio, according to The Associated Press. Southern states dealt with widespread power outages, with Texas seeing the most with more than 2.8 million homes losing electricity as temperatures dropped, according to The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) moved to rotating outages on Monday morning, cutting off power to thousands of homes at a time to manage the high demand. "Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a release. The weather disrupted 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine shipments expected in the state this week, delaying their arrival until at least Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services told the AP. Travel was also impacted, as officials warned drivers to stay off roads due to several weather-related crashes in at least Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky. More than 3,000 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware, with more than 1,700 involving Dallas-fort Worth International and Bush Intercontinental Airports. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a statewide disaster declaration ahead of the weekend in preparation for the weather event, and other states, including Oklahoma, had declared states of emergency. The National Guard was activated to respond to the weather in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. President Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for all 254 counties in Texas on Sunday night, activating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond.

 Severe winter weather leaves millions without electricity during record cold temperatures across the US - Severe winter weather across the United States has ground traffic to a halt and cut power to millions of people. Temperatures in areas as far south as New Orleans have fallen below freezing with many parts of the country facing subzero temperatures. Nearly 800 temperature records have been shattered in the past week under severe polar vortex conditions which have become more frequent in recent years, with human-induced climate change destabilizing the jet stream allowing for Arctic air to descend deep into the southern parts of the country. Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas, all states which experience little average snowfall, received several inches of snow with some areas recording up to a foot of snowfall in the past couple of days. While the snow and ice have been dangerous, the threat posed by the bitter cold is even greater. Predicted low temperatures for today in Little Rock, Arkansas will reach -1 degree Fahrenheit, with Oklahoma City potentially dropping to -9 degrees F. Freezing temperatures are even reaching as far south as the eastern coast of Mexico. The homeless, particularly in typically warmer regions of the country, are the most at risk of freezing to death or suffering severe injuries during sudden cold snaps. Those who are able to take shelter in warming centers, which have been opened across northern Texas, confront the additional danger posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dangerously low temperatures, the lowest below average anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment, are made even more concerning by the rampant power outages that have affected several states. Four million households and businesses have so far experienced power outages during this winter storm, with 3.5 million left without power in Texas alone. More than 100,000 people lost power in Louisiana, 66,000 lost power in Mississippi and tens of thousands lost power in neighboring states. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which manages the power grids for 14 states in Central and Southern United States, has warned that the drop in temperatures has drastically increased demand for electricity beyond the ability of the power system to provide for everyone. “After exhausting usage of available reserve energy, SPP has now subsequently directed its member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of service to prevent further, more widespread and uncontrolled outages,” the utility said in a statement. SPP moved to direct regional and local power systems to conduct controlled outages, called “rolling blackouts,” of up to an hour. These bursts of power outages are intended to relax the pressure on electricity generators with the hope of averting a broader blackout and to ensure that essential facilities, such as hospitals, are able to receive the power they need. However, several grid systems experienced systemwide failures that resulted in many areas facing full blackouts that lasted hours or are continuing.

Power crews don't know when they'll be cleared to head home: 'This is the worst ice storm I've seen' -- As the cold rain came down Thursday morning in Dinwiddie County, linemen with Dominion Energy continued working to restore power to those who lost electricity during last weekend's ice storm. “I’ve worked a lot of ice storms. I’ve worked a few hurricanes. This is probably the worst ice storm I have seen in my career," Tim Luettel, who has worked as a lineman for 40 years, said.“Right now, we have a grove of trees that have laid over because of the ice," lineman Sean Jones said. "We got to get some tree crews in there to help us cut the limbs, so we can try to get the wire back up, to a customer on the other end." Members of the Virginia Beach-based Dominion Energy crew were not sure when they would get the job done and head home. "We were told to pack for three days when we came here the first time," Luettel said. "We’re beyond our three days." Jones said during their 15-hour workdays, they stayed focused on figuring out how to get the lights back on. Nearly 5,000 Southside Electric Cooperative customers in Dinwiddie remain in the dark.

Texas deep freeze leaves millions without power, 21 dead (Reuters) - A historic winter storm has killed at least 21 people, left millions of Texans without power and spun killer tornadoes into the U.S. Southeast on Tuesday. The brutal cold has engulfed vast swaths of the United States, shuttering COVID-19 inoculation centers and hindering vaccine supplies. It is not expected to relent until the weekend. Officials in Texas drew criticism as the state energy grid repeatedly failed, forcing rolling blackouts. Freezing weather stilled giant wind turbines that dot the West Texas landscape, making it impossible for energy companies to meet escalating demand. University student Corbin Antu found a way to snowboard in the flat West Texas plains town of Lubbock. He clung to a tow rope as friends in a pickup truck pulled him up and down silent white streets. “This is my first time snowboarding out in Lubbock. Trust me, it’s not disappointing,” Antu said. “There is so much powder out on the ground it feels like it’s Colorado almost.” At least 21 people have died in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Missouri including four killed in a house fire in Sugar Land, Texas, where the power was out, according to police and local media. President Joe Biden assured the governors of hard-hit states that the federal government stands ready to offer any emergency resources needed, the White House said in a statement. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a midday news conference that 1.3 million people in his city remain without power. The city is looking for businesses that still have power to open their doors as warming centers. “It’s critically, critically important to get the power restored as quickly as possible. It’s priority number one!” Turner said. Officials in south Texas warned citizens to not bring grills or propane heaters indoors. Hospitals have treated people for carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to heat icy homes using those items. Turner said vaccination centers in Houston would remain closed on Wednesday and probably Thursday. The Texas Department of State Health Services said vaccine shipments around the state would be delayed. “No one wants to put vaccine at risk by attempting to deliver it in dangerous conditions,” department spokesman Douglas Loveday said by email, adding “it is not safe for people to be out across much of Texas.”

100 million Americans brace for more cold, ice and snow (AP) — Winter weather that has overwhelmed power grids unprepared for climate change and left millions without electricity in record-breaking cold kept its grip on the nation’s midsection Wednesday.At least 20 people have died, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage; another perished as they used a fireplace to keep warm.Blame the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, but is increasingly visiting lower latitudes and staying beyond its welcome. Scientists say global warming caused by humans is partly responsible for making the polar vortex’s southward escapes longer and more frequent.More than 100 million people live in areas covered Wednesday by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, as yet another winter storm hits Texas and other parts of the southern Plains, the National Weather Service said. Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity as record low temperatures were reported in city after city. In Mexico, rolling blackouts Tuesday covered more than one-third of the country after the storms in Texas cut the supply of imported natural gas. Nearly 3 million customers remained without power early Wednesday in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, more than 200,000 more in four Appalachian states, and nearly that many in the Pacific Northwest, according to, which tracks utility outage reports. The latest storm front was predicted to bring snow and ice to East Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley before moving to the northeast on Thursday. Winter storm watches were in effect from Baltimore to Boston, and Texas braced for more icy rain and possibly more snow. “There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

 Storm plasters Mississippi to Massachusetts snow, ice -- As South Central states deal with the fallout of an unprecedented winter storm, the same system that left millions without power crept toward the Northeast on Wednesday night, delivering another round of snowfall through Thursday.“Yet another area of low pressure had lifted northeastward, into the mid-Atlantic [Wednesday] night and brought deep Gulf moisture northward with it," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio said. "This moisture interacted with an Arctic airmass that is firmly entrenched over the region and significant snow and ice broke out."Winter weather advisories stretched from eastern Kentucky to Massachusetts by Friday morning with a handful of winter storm warnings splattered across North Carolina into Maryland.At least 58 deaths have been blamed on the extreme weather across the country over the past week, according to The Associated Press.Before the storm departed into the Northeast, it left behind enough snow in Little Rock, Arkansas, to tie a record. The snow depth at Little Rock Adams Field at 6 a.m. CST Thursday measured 15 inches, tying the all-time record snow depth for Little Rock set back on Jan. 21, 1918.Across the northern portion of Alabama, over 100 cars became stuck and abandoned in snow-covered roads around Florence, Alabama, on Thursday morning.While the storm hasn't sent much snow toward areas like North Carolina, freezing rain -- often a factor in power outages -- brought ice accumulation to some areas of the state. The highest ice reports in central North Carolina were about .15 inches in Forsyth, Guilford and Person counties late Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, parts of North Carolina had seen up to .4 inches of freezing rain.Between midnight to 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, the Virginia State Police aided 224 stuck vehicles and responded to 358 traffic crashes. Near Roanoke, Virginia, I-81 Southbound was shut down after a van collided with another truck on Thursday amid icy conditions. About a quarter of an inch of ice accumulation had built up in the area. By 3:15 p.m. EST on Thursday, snowfall totals across the Northeast were quickly rising with some places seeing up to 10 inches of snowfall.

At least 2 400 cold temperature records broken or tied in the U.S. from February 12 to 16, 2021 --At least 2 400 preliminary daily cold temperature records, including cold maximums and minimums, were broken or tied at longer-term sites (75+ years of data) in the United States from February 12 to 16, 2021. The cold snap peaked from February 14 to 16. Another winter storm will affect a large area from Friday, February 19 -- from the Lower Mississippi Valley into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Over just the past week, much of the Lower 48 has been punished with record-breaking cold and unusually heavy snow and ice, NWS Weather Prediction Center said. From the Pacific Northwest across the Rockies and into the Southern Plains and Midwest, the snowfall has been measured in feet. Ice and snow continue to plague Texas and the Northeast. In the NCEI database, approximately 30% of available U.S. sites set cold maximum records, and about 20% set minimum records. Analyzed temperatures were 22 to 28 °C (40 - 50 °F) below average over a large portion of the central and southern Plains. At the peak of the cold, more than 5 million homes were without power, most of them in Texas (4.3+ million). More than 30 people have lost their lives.

Cold outbreak will play key role in spring tornado threat - AccuWeather meteorologists are calling for a slow start to the peak of the severe weather season across the United States this spring, and they are warning of the possibility that severe weather and tornado activity could abruptly fire up and rival one of the most notorious severe weather seasons ever, due to some atmospheric similarities current weather patterns bear to that devastating season. In addition, one area of the country that accounts for only a small fraction of tornado activity could be at risk for more severe weather than usual this year. All of those factors and much more are covered in AccuWeather's annual U.S. tornado forecast, a comprehensive look at what the long-range forecast team expects in terms of the number of tornadoes predicted to occur throughout the year and places that are at risk of getting the most action. In recent years, the severe weather and tornado season has kicked off earlier than usual. Severe weather can occur during any month of the year, but the peak activity usually falls during the months of March, April and May. Storm chasers tracked robust thunderstorms across the Plains during the middle of winter and into the beginning of spring in 2020.   “The last couple years, it was an early start to tornado season," Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer said in AccuWeather's spring preview. "We were already chasing during parts of January last year. That's because there were El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific, so we had a very energized southern stream to the jet that was pumping moisture, bringing with it disturbances as well, early on in the year. And that's why we were chasing in January, February and then again in March.”  However, this spring is forecast to play out differently with a La Niña pattern that is expected to continue and influence weather patterns across the globe. La Niña patterns are characterized by strong northern branches of the jet stream. Some noteworthy historical seasons for severe weather have been shaped by such patterns, but not all La Niña years are exactly alike, and other factors need to be taken into account, AccuWeather meteorologists explain.

Authorities suspect hypothermia after 11-year-old Texas boy dies in bed amid power outages - Authorities believe 11-year-old Cristian Pavon died in his bed from hypothermia on Tuesday after his family's home lost power amid the unfolding winter disaster taking place in Texas. Pavon was found unresponsive in his family's unheated mobile home in Conroe, Texas, according to The Washington Post."It was very cold and the stepdad said even the mom was shivering that night," Jaliza Yera, Pavon's aunt, told a local ABC News station 13.  A winter storm brought plunging temperatures to the Lone Star State this week, creating a power and clean water crisis as millions lost heat and electricity. Freezing pipes have left many without potable water. Authorities said that they are investigating whether Pavon died from hypothermia due to the low temperatures, the Post reported. An autopsy was performed on Thursday, and it could be several weeks before a cause of death is confirmed, Conroe Police Sgt. Jeff Smith told the Houston Chronicle. Pavon is one of the youngest fatalities in Texas as a result of the unprecedented winter storms that have killed dozens of people. The family reportedly thought Pavon was sleeping in, which was not unusual for the 11-year-old, when they went to check on him around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday morning. Upon finding him they proceeded to perform CPR and immediately called 911. "We still did CPR until the fire department came and they took over and within a minute they told us it was too late. It was hard because I have kids myself," Yera said.

Floyd and Franklin counties hit hard by power outages in wake of ice storm - Thousands of Southwest Virginians remained without power Sunday afternoon after weekend ice storms damaged tree limbs and felled power lines.Appalachian Power Co. said it could take until late Wednesday for some customers in Virginia to get electricity back after a double-punch of freezing rain that began Thursday.East of the Blue Ridge Mountains the situation was even worse, particularly southwest of the Richmond metro area. In Virginia as a whole, 189,219 customers were without power as of 6 p.m. Sunday, according That includes customers of Appalachian Power, Dominion Energy and many electric cooperatives serving rural communities in Southside.Closer to Roanoke, residents in Floyd County and Franklin County were hardest hit among Appalachian Power’s customers in the state.In Floyd County, 43% of customers, down from 70% earlier in the day, were without power as of 6 p.m. Sunday. About 4,157 customers were experiencing outages. Franklin County had 7,289 homes and businesses without electricity, 22% of customers, according to the company’s outage map. 30,000+ in NC still without power after ice storm hits counties north of Raleigh and Greensboro area  — More than 30,000 customers in North Carolina were still without power Monday morning after an ice storm hit the north-central area of the state over the weekend. Freezing rain fell in areas around and north of Greensboro and north of Raleigh along the Virginia border. At the height of the storm Saturday, North Carolina authorities reported more than 190,000 utility customers without power, mostly in the central part of the state. RELATED: Power outages affect thousands across NC during freezing weather in northern areas Late Saturday night Person County had about 11,000 outages with Granville County reporting 5,000 and Vance County with just under 8,000, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Those outage numbers have improved, but there are still a total of about 10,000 outages spread across those three counties as of Monday morning. Some spots are estimated to be without power until Tuesday.

Thousands still without power in Central Virginia after ice storm, restoration could take days  — It’s been over 48 hours since ice and freezing rain knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of Virginians Saturday, and power restoration efforts are still underway across Central Virginia. As of 6 a.m. Monday morning, more than 70,000 Dominion Energy customers were without power. Dominion Energy says restoration efforts are in full swing, and the vast majority of customers can expect to be back online between now and Tuesday. Dominion Energy posted on Facebook Sunday saying there were over 5,200 workers and 500 bucket trucks out in the commonwealth to help restore power. “This is the most damaging and widespread ice storm we have seen in Virginia since January of 2000,” said Charlene Whitfield, senior vice president of Power Delivery for Dominion Energy. “Fortunately, our storm restoration plan brings together resources from across our system and beyond to allow us to safely respond to our customers – even in the most difficult conditions.” The company says they have identified damage in 3,500 places and addressed issues at 1,100 of those places. Crews will restore power first to public health and safety facilities like hospitals and fire departments. Next, they will work to get the largest number of customers in the shortest amount of time back online. Restoration efforts will then focus on homes and businesses

Power out for an unprecedented 300k Oregonians after weekend storm. Still unclear when full power will return. - In the pantheon of Portland area weather events, this weekend’s snow and ice storm wasn’t the biggest, longest or coldest. But by one important yardstick – the number of people who lost power, and potentially the duration of those outages – this weekend’s storm appears to be an unprecedented doozy. At their peak, Oregon’s two largest electric utilities, Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp, had well over 300,000 combined customers without power, a significant driver of Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.For perspective, consider the Columbus Day windstorm of 1962. The “big blow,” as it is known, knocked out power to 262,000 PGE customers, a number easily surpassed this weekend. Past ice storms, by contrast, have typically involved outages numbered in the tens of thousands. As of Monday afternoon, PGE reported that 32% of its customers -- or about 284,000 -- were without power, including 105,000 in Clackamas County, 89,000 in Multnomah County, 70,000 in Marion County, 10,000 in Washington County, and 9,300 in Polk and Yamhill counties. The company had turned off the feature on its website where customers can look to see an estimate of when power will be restored. “Right now, there’s just too much,” Corson said. “Crews are still in process of assessing damage. We can’t realistically give an estimate. What we’re saying at this point is that it could be many days.” PGE is re-routing power where possible to get around outages, though that doesn’t help customers at the end of rural feeders. PacifiCorp, meanwhile, had some 35,000 customers without service Monday afternoon, including 23,000 in Northeast Portland and another 12,000 scattered in communities surrounding Salem.

Brutal cold forces generation outages across US, especially ERCOT, MISO, SPP — Grid operators across the US shed loads amid a bitter cold snap that triggered widespread power outages and emergency measures to limit and prevent them. As of midday Feb. 15, more than 4 million customer accounts were without power across the US as frigid Arctic air blanketed the nation, according to, which aggregates US utility outage data. Most of those accounts, 3.4 million, were in Texas. Meanwhile, some 325,000 customers in Oregon, 117,800 customers in Louisiana and 108,000 in Virginia were left in the dark. (Customer accounts can include more than one person). The Electric Reliability Council Of Texas Inc., which operates the grid for most of Texas, was hit particularly hard, with state officials, grid operators and regulators pleading with residents to reduce consumption after more than 30 GW was forced offline, the worst blackouts in the state in decades. ERCOT issued an emergency alert as reserve margins, the difference between total power supply and demand, dropped below 1,000 MW. At its highest point, the grid shed about 10.5 GW of customer load, enough to power 2 million homes. "Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now," ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement. In the early hours of Feb. 15, generators began tripping offline in ERCOT. Natural gas generators faced low gas supplies, while ice froze wind turbines, grid officials said in a Feb. 15 call. In turn, transmission providers faced difficulties balancing supply and demand. The majority of plants that went offline overnight were thermal generators, officials said. Texas by far leads the nation in wind generation capacity and is experiencing a solar power boom that could bring hundreds of megawatts of new capacity online in the next few years. The culprit in the current shortfalls is not a surfeit of variable renewables, though, but the inability of conventional fossil fuel generation to keep up. "Total wind output is slightly below expectations, but the main supply issue is lack of available thermal generation (both gas and coal) due to freezing conditions" in Texas, said ICF International Inc., a consulting firm. Gas production dropped at least 16% because of well freeze-offs and shutdowns of processing plants, ICF said. ERCOT's extreme peak load scenario anticipated wintertime demand of up to 67.5 GW, but the day-ahead forecast for 8 am Central Time (1400 GMT) Feb. 15 was 74.5 GW. The "magnitude of the forecast error was massive," ICF said. "While ERCOT's forecasts are largely indicative since they lack a capacity market mechanism, nevertheless many observers reference ERCOT's forecasts for their own planning purposes."

 Historic winter storm freezes Texas wind turbines -- Nearly half of Texas' installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators. Wind farms across the state generate up to a combined 25,100 megawatts of energy. But unusually moist winter conditions in West Texas brought on by the weekend's freezing rain and historically low temperatures have iced many of those wind turbines to a halt. As of Sunday morning, those iced turbines comprise 12,000 megawatts of Texas' installed wind generation capacity, although those West Texas turbines don't typically spin to their full generation capacity this time of year. Fortunately for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's electric grid, the storm's gusty winds are spinning the state's unfrozen coastal turbines at a higher rate than expected, helping to offset some of the power generation losses because of the icy conditions. "This is a unique winter storm that's more widespread with lots of moisture in West Texas, where there's a lot of times not a lot of moisture," said Dan Woodfin, Senior Director of System Operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. "It's certainly more than what we would typically assume." c Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas' power grid. In 2015 winder power generation supplied 11% of Texas' energy grid. Last year it supplied 23% and overtook coal as the system's second-largest source of energy after natural gas. In Austin, wind power supplies roughly 19% of the city's energy demands, all of which is passed from producers to consumers across the state grid. The city began adding several megawatts of wind energy capacity to its renewable energy portfolio in the 1990s from both West Texas and Gulf Coast wind farms. The frozen turbines come as low temperatures strain the state's power grid and force operators to call for immediate statewide conservation efforts, like unplugging non-essential appliances, turning down residential heaters and minimize use of electric lighting.

Severe Cold Is Messing with Texas - As I repeatedly remind people, you don’t build an electric power grid to handle routine weather conditions, you build them to survive rare but extreme weather events. Texas, which became enamored with wind power — wind accounted for between 22% of the state’s electricity in the first half of 2019 — has learned this lesson the hard way. In the midst of a bitter cold snap expected to last several days, ice storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind-power generating supply. The spot price of electricity has surged to $9,000 per megawatt hour, compared to $100 per megawatt hour during periods of high summer demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas called on consumers and businesses to reduce electricity use as much as possible Feb. 14, through Feb. 16. Just imagine how bad the situation would be if Texas derived 100% of its electricity from renewable energy.Meanwhile, the question Virginians need to be asking in anticipation of the commonwealth deriving much of its electricity from offshore wind power within a few years is this: What’s the freezing temperature for salt water? Answer: 28.4° Fahrenheit.Renewable-energy advocates say that one day Virginia’s electric grid can bank  plenty of energy reserves in electric batteries. The second question Virginians should ask is this: What’s the freezing temperature for electric batteries? According to UFO Battery, lithium-ion batteries can be discharged over a range of temperatures from -20°C to 60°C. 20°C. (-20°C equals -4° F.). But there’s a catch. The lower the temperature, the lower the rate of safe charge and discharge. Says UFO Battery: “Don’t charge them when the temperature falls below freezing (0°C or 32°F) without reducing the charge current.” So, lithium-iron batteries still might work in extreme cold, but their capacity will be severely reduced.  Update: From today’s Wall Street Journal… Freezing temperatures also forced natural-gas an coal-fired power plants offline. The bitter cold also pushed oil and gas prices higher. In other words, the power shortages were not exclusively the result of wind turbines freezing up, as I strongly implied in my post. The article does not say, however, what percentage of wind power has been lost versus the percentage of coal and gas power.

Rolling Texas blackouts: 2 million without power statewide --About 2 million homes statewide were without power Monday as theTexas electric grid grappled with a diminished supply of energy in the face of the lowest temperatures the state has seen in three decades.Energy demand reached a record high Sunday between 7 and 8 p.m. and didn’t taper off as electricity usage typically does during overnight hours. The issue became critical about 11 p.m. when several of the grid’s energy generation units began “tripping offline in a somewhat rapid progression due to the severe cold weather,” said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's main power grid.The state’s grid had already lost a small portion of its energy production over the weekend as wind turbines froze to a halt and natural gas supplies available to electrical plants became scarce. But by Sunday evening, all types of energy sources were falling off the grid: nuclear plants, coal plants and thermal energy generators, Woodfin told reporters Monday morning.“We don’t know exactly why they tripped offline yet,” he said. “We’re certainly going to be doing an event analysis. We’ll certainly go through and figure out why those things have happened.”Facing record-level usage, the grid was short 34,000 megawatts of energy. The decreased supply and heightened demand forced ERCOT to implement Emergency Energy Alert protocols.   After midnight Sunday, the grid enacted Level 1 of the protocol, drawing from an emergency energy supply. But the rapid succession of failing energy generators, which are privately owned, accelerated the emergency alerts to Level 3, which requires local electric providers to enact rotating blackouts and is treated as a last resort.“This even was well beyond the design parameters for a typical or even an extreme Texas winter, which is what you would normally plan for,” Woodfin said.   By Monday afternoon, amid continued widespread outages, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: "The Texas power grid has not been compromised. The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen. This includes the natural gas & coal generators. They are working to get generation back on line. ERCOT & PUC are prioritizing residential consumers." And at 3 p.m., Abbott announced that about 200,000 residential customers were coming back online. "More are expected in the coming hours," he said on Twitter.

ELECTRICITY: Bitter cold overwhelms grid, leaves millions in dark -- Bitterly cold temperatures and icy conditions left millions of people across Texas and several other states without power yesterday as grid operators took unprecedented steps to protect the electric system from a wider failure. More than 4 million Texas homes and businesses lacked electricity as of early this morning, according to PowerOutage.US, and President Biden declared a state of emergency in the state over the weekend. A blast of frigid air in Texas and the central U.S. caused a spike in electricity and natural gas use as people huddled at home to stay warm. Though the cold snap was expected, power producers struggled under the extreme winter conditions and, in certain cases, lacked the gas to fuel power plants. Some wind turbines weren't able to operate. "It's such a black swan event," said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas, Austin. "It is taxing every single piece of the system at the same time." The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's main grid operator, drew much of the attention given the extent and duration of outages in its region. ERCOT said it was dealing with limited gas supplies and frozen wind turbines Sunday when more generating units tripped offline overnight amid deteriorating weather conditions. It had already seen new record winter peak demand Sunday. ERCOT entered its highest level of emergency operations around 1:25 a.m. local time yesterday, leading to controlled outages that often lasted many hours instead of an hour or less. The grid operator said outages likely would persist into today as it seeks to return to normal operations. Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's senior director of system operations, told reporters yesterday that a majority of the generators that went offline during the night before the controlled outages or yesterday morning were "thermal" units that were fueled by gas, coal or nuclear. Of the 34,000 megawatts of generation forced off during the winter event, the grid operator said about 20,000 MW was thermal, with about 14,500 MW of wind.

Texas wholesale electric prices spike more than 10,000% amid outages (Reuters) - The spot price of wholesale electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000% on Monday amid a deep freeze across the state and rolling outages among power producers, according to data on the grid operator’s website. Real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour, according to ERCOT data. The surge reflects the real-time megawatt hour price of electricity and the cost of congestion and losses at different points across the grid. Early on Monday, ERCOT said extreme weather conditions forced many power generating units off the grid, upending the supply of electricity. ERCOT did not respond to an email message about the spike in wholesale electricity prices. On Feb. 10, well before inclement weather hit Texas, spot wholesale prices on ERCOT settled around $30 per megawatt hour at the end of the day, ERCOT data show. But on Sunday, the price per megawatt hour surged past $9,000 on the grid. ERCOT can be more susceptible to wholesale price spikes because it does not have a capacity market, which pays power plants to be on standby during peak demand and weather emergencies, for example. ERCOT’s model means consumers are not paying for generation that may never be called into action. But early on Monday, ERCOT said extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across all fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable. That forced more than 30,000 megawatts of power generation off the grid, ERCOT said in a news release.

Texas Deploys National Guard As 'Grid Chaos' Leaves Millions Freezing In Darkness  - While millions of Texans are without power heading into Monday evening, the power grid may be strained once more as temperatures could reach "dangerous levels," according to The Weather Channel. More record lows are expected for Tuesday morning across Texas. If ERCOT doesn't secure additional power generation - more blackouts may occur.  The Southwest Power Pool (SSP), which manages the electric grid and wholesale power market for the central US, including Kansas, Oklahoma, portions of New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Nebraska, released an update Monday afternoon saying 17 states have "curtailed energy usage to balance supply and demand."  Frigid air continues to pour into the central US, overwhelming power grids, forcing operators to implement rolling blackouts like a third world country.  America's power grid is in shambles. CBS Austin's Melanie Torre reports Gov. Greg Abbott has called up the Texas Army National Guard "to conduct welfare checks and to assist local authorities in transitioning Texans in need to one of the 135 local warming centers across Texas." While Abbott said earlier the "Texas power grid has not been compromised," we find that hard to believe as the number of customers without power has significantly jumped 3.368 million.  Texans had to figure out how to stay warm with record cold temperatures and rolling blackouts due to power grid failures. Internet search trends in the Lone Star State for firewood exploded throughout Monday. Internet searches for "where to buy firewood" erupted on Monday.  These search trends suggest that many were not prepared for the frigid weather and rolling blackouts.

Texas utility commission emergency order requires power generation, sales - The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved an emergency order Monday evening requiring power generators to continue selling electricity on the state's main electricity grid, despite mandated rolling blackouts for utilities that have reduced the number of customers.The order is needed "to ensure that the electricity market provides clear signals to generators of the value of generation when customer loads must be shed to protect the (the electricity grid overall) and to ensure that the citizens of Texas have sufficient electricity to meet their needs during this weather event," according to the utility commission.The commission, which approved the order in an emergency meeting over telephone, oversees the state's main grid operator — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, commonly known as ERCOT. ERCOT's wholesale electricity market is competitive, meaning generators and retailers compete for customers in many areas of the state. Austin’s municipal electric utility, Austin Energy, and Pedernales Electric Cooperative are ERCOT members, although neither participate in ERCOT's competitive retail market.As demand increased amid the ongoing freezing temperatures, ice and snow, ERCOT on Monday began requiring electric utilities to reduce usage through rolling power outages. That prompted the Public Utility Commission to act to ensure generators continue supplying electricity amid the mandated outages, which have caused price distortions and affected power generation."The absence of these generation units has resulted in millions of citizens of Texas losing electricity at a time when this energy is most needed to protect life and property," the utility commission said. The order is needed "to require the sale of electricity to meet the demands of the people in Texas.""Without such decisions, the continuing lack of electricity for some of the citizens of Texas could result in loss of life or damage to property that otherwise could be prevented," the commission said.

Energy prices jump as millions left without power in Texas -Energy prices jumped Tuesday as a deep freeze in the South boosted demand for fuel and hampered production. More than 4 million people were without power across Texas on Tuesday morning, according to, as the electric grid couldn't keep up with heightened demand, forcing utilities to implement rolling blackouts in some cases. "The majority of heating needs are met via electrical baseboard or heat pumps in the southern region," said John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital. "The demand for electricity over the weekend rivaled peak summer heat-wave levels." Henry Hub natural gas futures jumped 7.5% to trade at $3.13 per million British thermal units. Gasoline futures advanced more than 4%. "The storm that has crippled the Midwest and Northeast was much worse than expected," said Jeff Kilburg, CEO at KKM Financial. "Frigid temps and speculators caught short are dramatically moving futures prices higher." The storm knocked out about 30 gigawatts of generation capacity, according to estimates from ClearView Energy Partners, just as consumers were driving up demand to heat their homes. Ultimately, there just wasn't enough supply, forcing power companies to turn to the open market to buy electricity. "Weather is severe enough to curtail supply when demand is near all-time high levels," RBC analysts said in a note. "Certain regional natural gas spot prices have shot up 10- to 100-fold in a matter of days." West Texas Intermediate crude futures, the U.S. oil benchmark, broke above $60 for the first time in more than a year on Monday, and held that level during Tuesday morning trading. Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, slid 21 cents to $63.09 per barrel. Generating units across fuel types have been forced offline — including some wind production — and pipeline freezes are impeding the flow of natural gas and crude oil. Texas is the largest crude oil and natural gas producer in the U.S. and has 30 refineries, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Andy Lipow, president of Texas-based Lipow Oil Associates, said that of the 2.6 million people in Texas without power on Monday, only 70,000 were impacted by downed power lines or trees. He estimates that a million barrels per day of crude oil production has been taken offline, roughly 40% to 50% of natural gas production in the Permian Basin has been shut in, and about 50% of wind power production is down thanks to frozen blades. The energy sector gained more than 3% during early trading on Tuesday. Marathon Oil spiked 9%, while Occidental Petroleum and Apache were up more than 5%. Exxon, Devon Energy and ConocoPhillips were all up more than 3%. On Sunday, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas as the storm brought snow and ice from Arkansas to Indiana. The storm is forecast to move from the Ohio Valley through Pennsylvania and into Maine, according to the National Weather Service. "It's unprecedented in terms of what we're seeing both on the demand side, and in terms of the supply side," said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC.

Power outages linger for millions as another icy storm looms (AP) — Millions of Americans endured another frigid day without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm as utility crews raced to restore power before another blast of snow and ice sowed more chaos in places least equipped to deal with it. Nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. were still without electricity, and some also lost water service. Texas officials ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes. The latest storm front was certain to complicate recovery efforts, especially in states that are unaccustomed to such weather — parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley. “There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas. The system was forecast to move into the Northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

​​​​​​​3 Million Texans Without Power As Grid Chaos Continues Ahead Of Imminent Ice Storm -- Rolling blackouts and power outages have hit 15 states on Tuesday as a polar vortex dumps Arctic air into much of the country. According to PowerOutage.US, 15 states are experiencing rolling blackouts or outages because of extreme weather. Most of the outages are seen in Texas, with over 4 million customers without power (as of this update).  The cold snap in Texas has forced the shutdown of "refineries, oil wells, and meat plants, disrupted shipments of soybeans and corn, and is still leaving more than 3 million customers without electricity could continue to keep parts of Texas in the dark for several days," according to Bloomberg. With more than 3 million customers without power, there is no way ERCOT will restore power tonight. It could be a couple of days before full power is restored. Bloomberg also said fuel storages are developing in the western half of the state. Gov. Greg Abbott told ABC13 Houston that ERCOT had provided him with zero answers about the ongoing power grid collapse across Texas. ABC13's Gina Gaston asked Abbott if ERCOT leadership should resign. He immediately responded with "yes." The local media outlet also said residents should prepare for the next round of wintery weather, expected to hit the state on Tuesday night. Winter weather watches and warnings have been posted for most of the state. As evening sets in Texas, power prices in Austin are exploding higher. In the last 145 minutes, prices have jumped 1,346% to $1,600 per MWh. More than 3 million customers remain without power in Texas. CenterPoint Energy, the utility that delivers electricity to Houston-area homes and distributes natural gas, provided an update on the ongoing grid chaos in Texas with some bad news Tuesday evening. CenterPoint said power shortages could last "several more days" and warned customers "to take precautions for their personal safety." Oncor Electric Delivery, Texas' largest transmission and electric distribution utility, warns customers to "be prepared for additional outages and stay weather aware due to an active Winter Storm Warning."

Texas officials didn’t sound alarm about dayslong power outage, Texans say  -As temperatures began to plummet across Texas on Sunday night, residents were warned that they could face short-term, rotating power outages to prevent the entire electricity grid from going down. Instead, significant swaths of the state’s largest cities were left cold and in the dark without power for more than a day — with no end in sight for many people.And as people continued scrambling to find a safe, warm place — often by traversing already dangerous roads — more bad weather is bearing down on regions across the state. Counties in and around North Texas could get up to six additional inches of snow accumulation, while the Houston area braces for freezing rain. Oncor, the largest electricity provider in the state, tweeted Tuesday night that the state’s power grid operator had directed more reductions in the electric load, and residents should “please be prepared for additional outages.”Energy experts, local leaders and residents said energy and state officials failed to properly prepare people for the mass outages coinciding with dangerous weather that’s already led to at least 10 deaths.“Were we blindsided by the storm? No. Blindsided by the power outages and total lack of planning? Absolutely,” said Shannon Bentle, whose parents have gone without power in Sugar Land since Monday morning.Michael Webber, an energy resources professor with the University of Texas at Austin, said state officials “dropped the ball” by not giving people useful advice on what they would soon face.“What should have been said for several days is this is going to be rough, make sure your car is filled with gasoline, make sure you charge your cellphones … get firewood,” Webber said. “The governor’s office didn’t say that, [the Electric Reliability Council of Texas] didn’t say that.”

Frozen wind turbines are one culprit in Texas’s power outages -- Don’t point too many fingers at Texas wind turbines, because they’re not the main reason broad swaths of the state have been plunged into darkness.While ice has forced some turbines to shut down just as a brutal cold wave drives record electricity demand, wind only comprises 25% of the state’s energy mix this time of year. The majority of outages overnight were plants fueled by natural gas, coal and nuclear, which together make up more than two-thirds of power generation during winter.“The wind is not solely to blame,” said Wade Schauer, research director of Americas power and renewables at Wood Mackenzie. He estimates that about 27 gigawatts of coal, nuclear and gas capacity is unavailable, in part because the cold has driven up demand for natural gas for heating. “That’s the bigger problem.”The blackouts, which are spreading from Texas across the Great Plains, have reignited the debate about the reliability of intermittent wind and solar power as the U.S. seeks to accelerate the shift to carbon-free renewable energy. Rolling outages in California last summer were blamed in part on the retirement of gas plants as the state pursued an aggressive clean-energy agenda.In Texas, where 25 gigawatts of wind capacity feeds into the state’s main power grid, wind can sometimes produce as much as 60% of total electricity. But because wind power tends to ebb in the winter, the grid operator typically assumes that the turbines will generate only about 19% to 43% of their maximum output.Even so, wind generation has actually exceeded the grid operator’s daily forecast through the weekend. Solar power has been slightly below forecast Monday.“The performance of wind and solar is way down the list among the smaller factors in the disaster that we’re facing,” Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, said in an interview. Blaming renewables for the blackouts “is really a red herring.”That doesn’t mean that frozen turbines are playing no role in the energy crisis, which the grid operator has highlighted. Cody Moore, head of gas and power trading at Mercuria Energy America, noted that wind generation this week is down markedly this week from last week, possibly indicating that turbines are automatically shutting down due to ice. “We are seeing wind generation down 60% week-over-week,” said Matt Hoza, manager of energy analysis at BTU Analytics. But wind and solar that are operating “are in a very advantageous position” as power prices have topped $1,000 a megawatt-hour. The situation raises questions about the grid’s preparedness. “Grid demand is so much higher than we’ve really built the system for in the wintertime,”

Winter Storm Leaves Texans in the Cold and Dark, Sparking Political Debate on Renewable Energy -- While Texans suffer from freezing temperatures and extensive power outages, frozen wind turbines are being used as a ploy to spread skepticism on the reliability of renewable energy.  This week, a relentless winter storm pummeled through parts of the southern and central U.S., causing people to crank their electric heating systems. In Texas, the energy demand became too high for its electric grid, forcing the state to begin rolling blackouts on Monday, leaving more than four million Texans in the cold and dark, The New York Times reported.So far, analysts say the grid system failed due to high electricity demand, pushing grid operators into worst-case scenarios, The New York Times reported. Other causes for the failed grid included fuel shortages as gas-fired power plants went offline while demand increased, and frozen wind turbines. Yet while some experts used the dire conditions to urge the state to adopt more climate-resilient energy systems, a few conservative commentators used the example of frozen wind turbines to encourage distrust of renewable energy systems in a state largely dependent on natural gas."Texas is frozen solid as folks are left w/ no power to stay safe & warm," Steve Daines, a Republican U.S. Senator from Montana, tweeted Tuesday. "This is a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal." The Montana senator's tweet included a viral image of a helicopter spraying liquid to defrost a frozen wind turbine. According to the image's caption, fossil fuels powered the helicopter while the liquid it sprayed contained them. "Keep that in mind when thinking how 'green' windmills are," Rep. Lauren Boebert from Colorado tweeted, gaining thousands of retweets, Earther reported. This same image has been shared by Luke Legate, a prominent oil and gas consultant, Earther added, although it is misleading. While helicopters are used to defrost wind turbines, the image is from Sweden in 2014, not present-day Texas, said Brian Kahn, managing editor of Earther. The photo is originally from a Swedish study on de-icing wind turbines using hot water. Now the image is being used "to argue against clean energy in the U.S," Kahn wrote. Wind turbines in Texas did indeed fail during the frigid winter temperatures, losing about 4.5 gigawatts of capacity according to The New York Times. But as of Monday afternoon, 26 of the 34 gigawatts of ERCOT's grid that went offline were from thermal sources such as gas and coal, The New Republic reported.

No, frozen wind turbines aren’t to blame for Texas’ power outages | The Texas Tribune - Frozen wind turbines in Texas caused some conservative state politicians to declare Tuesday that the state was relying too much on renewable energy. But in reality, the lost wind power makes up only a fraction of the reduction in power-generating capacity that has brought outages to millions of Texans across the state during a major winter storm.An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Tuesday afternoon that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, were offline. Nearly double that, 30 gigawatts, had been lost from thermal sources, which includes gas, coal and nuclear energy.“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.While Webber said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis, the natural gas industry is most notably producing significantly less power than normal.“Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Webber said.Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, echoed that sentiment Tuesday.“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” he said during a Tuesday call with reporters.

Texas blackouts fuel false claims about renewable energy - With millions of Texas residents still without power amid frigid temperatures, conservative commentators have falsely claimed that wind turbines and solar energy were primarily to blame.“We should never build another wind turbine in Texas,” read a Tuesday Facebook post from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. “The experiment failed big time.”“This is a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, on Tuesday.In reality, failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, said in a press conference Tuesday.Still a variety of misleading claims spread on social media around renewable energy, with wind turbines and the Green New Deal getting much of the attention.A viral photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine was shared with claims it showed a “chemical” solution being applied to one of the massive wind generators in Texas. The only problem? The photo was taken in Sweden years ago, not in the U.S. in 2021. The helicopter sprayed hot water onto the wind turbine, not chemicals.Other social media users, including Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, puzzlingly labeled the Green New Deal as the culprit. Boebert tweeted on Monday that the proposal was “proven unsustainable as renewables are clearly unreliable.” But the Green New Deal is irrelevant, as no version of it exists in Texas or nationwide, said Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. “It’s really natural gas and coal and nuclear that are providing the bulk of the electricity and that’s the bulk of the cause of the blackouts,” Jacobson told The Associated Press.

PolitiFact | Natural gas, not wind turbines, main driver of Texas power shortage - When a rare blast of Arctic air and ice hit Texas and resulted in a massive power outage, the critics of wind power were quick to focus on the wind turbines that came offline. Supporters of wind power argued back that frozen turbines played a minor role in the outage.Texas does have a bodacious amount of wind power. In winter, it supplies about 25% of the state’s electricity. And nearly half of that capacity shut down when ice coated the turbine blades. As residents tried to heat their homes, demand surged and the agency that manages the state’s power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, imposed rolling blackouts.The question is, was the state’s reliance on wind power its Achilles’ heel? Did it fail to have enough gas and coal capacity to meet people’s needs during extreme conditions?The numbers show that natural gas plants were the biggest cause of the power shortfall, not wind.The state’s grid operator said Feb. 15 that about 34 gigawatts of power were offline. But of that, about 4 gigawatts was due to problems with wind turbines. The rest came mainly from the state’s primary sources, natural gas and coal. Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told Bloomberg that frozen gauges and instruments at natural gas, coal and nuclear plants cut into operations. Natural gas-fired plants also had to deal with low gas pressure in their supply lines. "Those of you who have heard that frozen wind turbines are to blame for this, think again," tweeted Jesse Jenkins, engineering professor at Princeton University. "The extreme demand and thermal power plant outages are the principal cause."It’s not as though the grid operators didn’t plan for winter troubles. But they hadn’t planned for an event as severe as this.In their annual forecast, they predicted that demand would peak at about 67.2 gigawatts. On Sunday night, demand hit 69.1 gigawatts. Meanwhile, outages from coal and natural gas plants were at least 10,000 megawatts larger than they expected in their most extreme scenario. To a certain extent, the wind turbines exceeded expectations. The grid operators predict a day in advance how much power the turbines will produce. At many hours of the day on Feb. 15 andFeb.16, wind delivered more power than the engineers at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas had expected. Woodfin told the Austin American-Statesman that for the turbines that remained operational, strong winds were spinning the blades faster than usual.  Cold weather doesn’t have to curtail wind turbines. In northern states and Canada, turbines are more likely to be designed to shrug off cold and ice, because cold weather is a regular occurrence. "You can use anti-icing methods," said Christopher Niezrecki, engineering professor at UMASS-Lowell. "It can be as simple as heaters built inside the blades."  "It’s alway about money and the capital expenditure," he said. "You build it for whatever events are likely. Why would you pay a lot more for a rare storm?"

Texas Rolling Blackouts Are Due To Economics, Not Renewables - Frozen wind turbines in Texas are causing a huge dip in the state’s power generation capability, reducing available power by almost half. This comes during a record blast of arctic air, which is causing record electrical demand, resulting in rolling blackouts. People opposed to renewables are sharing this on social media, claiming that it’s proof that wind energy and other renewables are a bad idea.In reality, though, the rolling blackouts were caused by economics and not renewables. An example of these economics is snow tires in Phoenix, Arizona. Sure, there is some rare snow and ice in a city that’s comparable to Baghdad in climate, but it’s so rare that you wouldn’t go spend $600-1000 for snow tires.  The economics of buying snow tires just doesn’t add up in Phoenix. In emergency management, there’s the concept of the “X-year event.” A 50-year flood is expected to happen, on average, every 50 years. You can get two years in a row with 50-year floods, but then go decades before one happens again. In other words, it’s just an average and not a rule. The more years, the more rare an event is, so a 100-year snowstorm is twice as rare as a 50-year storm.Climate change is upending these statistics in many areas, and that may be the case here, but the idea for this article is to introduce the concept of the “X-year event,” so I’m not going to get into that here. When planning building codes, infrastructure, flood insurance, and power grids (among many other things), the rarity of natural disasters are factored in. For example, in Florida, homes have to be built to withstand hurricanes better than in other parts of the country. In some parts of California, building codes require earthquake resistance. In other words, standards reflect the rarity of events in a given area so that the enhancements will be made in places where they’re actually needed and money won’t be wasted in places where the problems are far less common.The power grid in Texas is no exception.In Texas, a southern state that generally doesn’t get these sorts of storms, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend millions or billions of dollars extra for grids to be prepared for them. People in Dallas and San Antonio don’t buy snow tires the way that people in Denver or Anchorage do, so it wouldn’t make sense to expect the equivalent of snow tires on the power grid.

Texas Blackouts Hit Minority Neighborhoods Especially Hard - The New York Times — When the lights went out Monday night in the Alazán-Apache housing project in San Antonio — which stands in one of the city’s poorest ZIP codes — the traffic signals in the neighborhood flickered off and storekeepers pulled down their shutters. For residents, there was little left to do but huddle under blankets and hope that their children wouldn’t fall ill. “I need to take my kids somewhere to keep them warm. I don’t know where,” said Ricardo Cruz, 42, who lives at the Alazán-Apache Courts with his wife and five children, between 5 and 13 years old, and who has been without electricity since 7 p.m. Monday. While the rolling blackouts in Texas have left some 4 million residents without power in brutally cold weather, experts and community groups say that many marginalized communities were the first to be hit with power outages, and if history serves as a guide, could be among the last to be reconnected. This is particularly perilous, they say, given that low-income households can lack the financial resources to flee to safety or to rebound after the disruption. Experts worry, in particular, that rising energy prices amid surging demand will leave many families in the lurch, unable to pay their utility bills next month and triggering utility cutoffs at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In Texas’ deregulated electricity market, prices can fluctuate with demand, leading to a potential jump in electric bills for poorer households that already spend a disproportionate amount of income on utilities. “Whether it’s flooding from severe weather events like hurricanes or it’s something like this severe cold, the history of our response to disasters is that these communities are hit first and have to suffer the longest,” said Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University and an expert on wealth and racial disparities related to the environment. “These are communities that have already been hit hardest with Covid,” he said. “They’re the households working two minimum wage jobs, the essential workers who don’t get paid if they don’t go to work.” In Houston, local environmental groups said that neighborhoods like Acres Homes, a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood in the northwest of the city, were among the first to lose power. “The pipes are freezing. They’re out of water and electricity,” said Ana Parras, co-executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, or Tejas, a community group that serves local communities of color. Many of the city’s hardest-hit communities already have poor infrastructure. “The houses there don’t have much insulation,” she said. Research has also shown that in Houston and elsewhere, lower-income, minority communities tend to live closer to industrial sites and be more exposed to pollution, a concern as the freezing weather shut down large refineries and other industrial sites.  Large industrial complexes tend to release bursts of pollutants into the air when they shut down and again when they restart. In the days before and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Houston’s network of petrochemical plants and refineries released millions of pounds of pollutants, raising health concerns in nearby communities. And electricity outages mean that many air-monitoring stations are likely to be down.

Texas blackouts show how vulnerable power grid is to climate change - The major winter storm that's swept across the South this week and knocked out power for more than 3 million people in Texas has raised concerns over the vulnerability of the country's power grid to extreme weather events made worse by climate change. More winter weather is expected to hit the southern and eastern U.S. in upcoming days. Utilities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas have imposed rolling blackouts to ease pressure on strained power systems and to meet high demand for heat and electricity during frigid conditions. The major outages from the storm reveal a broader crisis: Climate change is fueling more frequent and destructive hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts and other disasters that are overwhelming existing infrastructure across the country. Extreme weather events caused 67% more major power outages in the U.S. since 2000, according to an analysis of national power outage data by research group Climate Central. In the U.S. West, record-setting wildfires triggered by dry and hot conditions have also forced blackouts when demand for air conditioning surged and pushed the electric grid beyond its limit. And in Michigan last year, two aging dams collapsed and caused catastrophic flooding following heavy rainfall. "We need to plan better for the increased variability we expect to see under climate change," said Michael Craig, a professor at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability. "States and system planners and regulators need to make sure they are accounting for what weather will look like in the future." Though global temperatures are rising due to the burning of fossil fuels, more scientific evidence finds that the type of extreme cold event happening in the U.S. this week is linked to rapid warming in the Arctic. Disruptions to the polar vortex, a low-pressure expanse of cold air that sits in polar regions, then sends cold air from the Arctic to parts of North America, Europe and Asia. As result, tens of thousands of people in Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia and Louisiana were without power as of Wednesday morning, according to, struggling without heat and electricity in cold and in some cases dangerous conditions.

Utilities in 14 States are Told to Start Rolling Blackouts Because of Storm Strains -  The Southwest Power Pool has ordered member electric utilities in 14 states to start controlled rolling cutoffs of electric service because the demand for power in the region, driven upward by the bitter cold, is overwhelming the available generation, hampered by the storm. “This is an unprecedented event and marks the first time S.P.P. has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Lanny Nickell, the power pool’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse.” Most of the outages will last about an hour and will cut power to a few thousand customers at a time. They are necessary to limit demand and “safeguard the reliability of the regional grid,” Mr. Nickell said. An outage in Oklahoma that began shortly after noon affected about 6,000 customers. The power pool, based in Little Rock, Ark., manages the electric grid that links utilities in all of Oklahoma and Kansas and parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. Most of that region has been affected by the winter storm or by the frigid Arctic air mass that has driven the storm south. The statement said the power pool was forced to begin relying on reserve energy sources at 10:08 a.m. Central Time on Monday, and it issued the controlled outage order when the reserves were exhausted a few hours later. It said it had been steadily stepping up warnings to conserve power since Feb. 9. Each member utility would decide for itself how, where and when to cut off power to customers to achieve the necessary reductions, the statement said. Utilities belonging to the main grid operating authority in Texas, which connects with the Southwest Power Pool, began imposing rolling outages overnight because of the storm.

Texas Power Outages to Drag Into Third Day as Deep Freeze Persists – WSJ - Millions of homes in Texas were without power for a second straight day after historically cold winter weather caused a failure of the state’s electricity grid, triggering a public health emergency in the nation’s second most populous state. Across Texas, temporary shelters filled up and fears rose that there could be an untold number of deaths from the historic cold. The grid operator said it continued to try to restart power plants hobbled by the weather, but it warned that full restoration could take days longer. Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into what caused a failure of the state’s power supplies, as between two million and three million Texans remained without electricity on Tuesday evening. The power crisis came as a far-reaching winter storm brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to swaths of the U.S., with dangerously cold wind chills from Arctic air expected to linger over the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley through midweek, the National Weather Service said. At least 15 people had died nationwide as of late Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Texas power prices spike as deadly cold wave overwhelms grid -(Reuters) - Electricity prices in Texas soared this week, with spot prices breaking above $10,000 per megawatt hour (MWh), as utilities scrambled for power supplies to meet surging heating demand amid a brutal cold wave over the state. Millions of Texans are without power after grid operator The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) instituted rolling blackouts as electric heating demand caused by the historic winter storm overwhelmed generation, some of which was knocked offline by the extreme weather. The electricity shortfall caused prices to spike as utilities seek any power they can find. Next-day power for Wednesday at the ERCOT North hub, which includes the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, spiked to a record of $8,800 per MWh, a nearly six-fold jump from $1,489.75 on the previous day.

Austin first responders seeing more carbon monoxide poisoning cases during power outages — As the power outages continue in Austin, families are doing all they can to stay warm. But it's leading some to resort to unsafe practices. In Houston, carbon monoxide poisoning has already claimed two lives. A woman and an eight-year-old girl died after a car was left running in a garage. Authorities said they were trying to stay warm. In Austin, Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, said Texans aren't used to being this cold for this long. And she had a somber prediction for Wednesday morning. "My partner and I were talking about how we would not be surprised if in the morning, around 7, 8 a.m., that we started seeing a lot of deaths," she said. Thousands of Austinites are waiting for the heat to return. Xie recounted one of her colleague's 911 calls. "I know of a medic who tried to help a father and his daughter possibly go to the hospital. She had frost in her hair. It was so cold inside," Xie said. Xie said Austin-Travis County EMS has never responded to so many calls before in the history of the agency. Nine of them were for carbon monoxide poisoning on Tuesday. Three people are in serious condition. Thirteen calls were for carbon monoxide poisoning on Monday. And the Austin Fire Department also responded to four calls for toxic fumes. St. David's Healthcare started seeing more patients with carbon monoxide poisoning two days ago. Kim Barker, the director of emergency services for St. David's North Austin Medical Center and a registered nurse, warned that people shouldn't ignore one of the most common symptoms. "They just think I have a slight headache, but they're actually getting poisoned. So, one thing is, you know, never use the gas range or oven to heat, never burn charcoal indorse. Never used portable gas stoves and doors and never use a generator inside your house," Barker said.

"Disasters Within Disaster" - Death Toll Rises To 30 As Texas Energy Crisis Hits Sixth Day - Millions of Texans woke up for the sixth day on Thursday, as one of the nation's wealthiest states can barely supply electricity to its residents. The power crisis has spread well among its borders crippling Northern Mexico. According to NYPost, at least 2.7 million Texas households were without heat, electricity, or water on Thursday morning as a polar vortex air mass continues to linger in the Lone Star State. The death toll from the historic cold snap and multiple winter storms has increased to at least 30. Besides power plants, the deep freeze has crippled critical infrastructure systems across the state, such as water treatment plants and cellular networks.  "This is in many ways disasters within the disaster," said Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which encompasses Houston. "The cascading effects are not going to go away."In a note Wednesday, we asked if "Is Texas Facing A Humanitarian Crisis?" Come to find out, the answer is yes. The cascading effects of days without power have effectively transformed some parts of Texas into a third-world country. The local economy is in tatters as one-fifth of the nation's refining capacity has come to a screeching halt. Readers in other states should prepare for a surge in crude product prices, such as gasoline and diesel. Also, the state's oil and natural gas production has ground to a halt. Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that he has forbidden gas producers from selling to power producers outside its borders through Feb. 21.   The disruption has also spilled over into Mexico, where the US has curbed natural gas exports, resulting in power stations grinding to a halt.  ERCOT officials said Thursday morning that "significant progress" was made on Wednesday night in restoring customer power, though outages remained.  "We're to the point in the load restoration where we are allowing transmission owners to bring back any load they can related to this load shed event," said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin in a statement. "We will keep working around the clock until every single customer has their power back on." ERCOT officials said rotating outages might need to be implemented for the next couple of days to keep the grid stable.  ERCOT officials assured customers Thursday that various fuel types of power generation would come back online.

AccuWeather estimates economic impact of winter storms to approach $50 billion  --The United States economy, already unstable from the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions, is now taking another hit from an unprecedented coast-to-coast winter storm. Since last week, at least 38 people have died and the winter storms have and left behind immense damage.  The total damage and economic loss caused by the historic storm could be between $45 and $50 billion, AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers estimates. To put the economic toll of the storm into context, AccuWeather’s estimate for the entire 2020 hurricane season, the most active hurricane season on record, was $60-65 billion. “We have been experiencing one of the stormiest patterns seen in decades,” said Myers, who has been studying the economic impact of severe weather for over 50 years. “The damage has been exacerbated by the record cold temperatures that have pushed all the way to the Gulf Coast this week.” Myers’ expert analysis helps emphasize the magnitude of the life-threatening crisis’s impact and the U.S. financial ramifications.The estimate is based on an analysis incorporating independent methods to evaluate all direct and indirect impacts of the storm and is based on a variety of sources, statistics and unique techniques AccuWeather uses to estimate the damage.Myers said that AccuWeather’s estimate includes damage to homes and businesses as well as their contents and cars, job and wage losses, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses, medical expenses and closures. The estimates also account for the costs of power outages to businesses and individuals, for economic losses because of highway closures and evacuations and the extraordinary government expenses for cleanup operations.As temperatures plummeted to extreme levels in the U.S., temperatures in Siberia, the vast region in eastern Russia notorious for some of the lowest temperature readings on Earth, were at times higher than some of the lowest readings in the United States.

Deep freeze keeps 2.8 million Texas power customers in the cold; prices remain high — Texas had about 2.8 million electric utility customers without power due to the winter storm shutting down generation capacity around 4 pm CT Feb. 17, and real-time wholesale prices reflected that scarcity, as utilities and the grid operator struggled to restore and maintain service to customers. Stay up to date with the latest commodity content. Sign up for our free daily Commodities Bulletin. Sign Up Customer outages in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas footprint made up the vast majority of that 2.8 million total, which is from the website. During an 11 am Feb. 17 media call, ERCOT said it was continuing rotating outages to shed about 14 GW of load across the state to cope with about 46 GW of generation that was unavailable, most of it forced offline by cold weather conditions.Of the 46 GW offline, 28 GW was thermal and 18 GW was renewable – wind and solar. Natural gas freeze-offs were a big factor in much of the thermal generation outage, said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT senior director of system operations. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday ordered that natural gas produced in state remain in Texas until Feb. 21, according to the Dallas Morning News. Icing on wind turbines in West Texas has also been a contributing factor, Woodfin said. A Feb. 17 S&P Global Platts Analytics webinar presentation showed wind output near Abilene, Texas, substantially below normal, given the wind speed – in the range of 4 GW to 7.5 GW during the winter storm, when on other days, those outputs would range from 7.5 GW to as much as 18 GW. As the rotating power outages continue, ERCOT has administratively set real-time locational marginal prices at $9,000/MWh, the systemwide offer cap, in response to a Public Utility Commission of Texas order that scarcity pricing should reflect the value of lost load, which has been determined as $9,000/MWh, as long as rotating outages persist.Real-time prices have also been high in the Southwest Power Pool footprint, which has members in Texas and nearby areas. As of about 4:30 pm CT Feb. 17, the SPP South Hub real-time price was about $698/MWh.

Texas Tesla Owners Are Drawing Power From Their Cars During Blackouts --As Texans gradually regain power after days of catastrophic outages amid freezing temperatures, some Tesla customers are grateful for their electric cars which provided critical emergency power.For example, one Reddit user posted in the r/Teslamotors subreddit that, after running out of firewood, the family including an infant slept in their Model 3 with the heat on while it was parked in the garage. This can be safely done in an electric vehicle because it produces no emissions, but it would be fatal with a gas-powered car that emits toxic carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisonings have skyrocketed in Texas this week, and two people in Houston died from carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the family car in the garage while it was running.Tesla also sells solar panels and a home battery called a PowerWall, andanother Reddit user posted that he was "very grateful" to have one during the rolling blackouts. The non-emergency value proposition for solar installations with batteries is to power the home with stored electricity from the battery during peak usage hours with higher rates, but the battery can also serve as emergency backup. Widespread outages and grid emergencies such as the current situation in Texas and the wildfire-related outages in California demonstrate both the promises and current shortcomings of the energy transition. On the one hand, microgrids with energy stored in local batteries and solar installations are obviously more resilient and resistant to widespread catastrophes. On the other hand, home batteries will only get you so far, and while vehicle-to-grid connections that could turn your electric car into a home battery look promising for evening out grid demand during normal times, it also raises concerns for emergency situations where people need their cars to evacuate on short notice. It's easy to ensure you have a quarter tank of gas at all times, but trickier to ensure the grid doesn't draw down vehicle charges below a certain amount (see, for example, this thread about the mysterious workings between a PowerWall and solar panelsduring the Texas outages).

Power outages dropping, but Texans still wrestling with water shortages  -Power outages are declining in Texas, but water shortages continue to pose problems due to damage caused to pipes and water mains by the subfreezing cold this week. Austin Water, which serves over 1 million in the Austin metro area, said Friday that it had about 32 million gallons of water stored, well below the required amount for an effective system. "For a healthy system, we need to maintain a minimum of 100 million gallons in storage," the utility said on Twitter. "As we work to repair and restore our water system, we need everyone to conserve water as much as possible. Using as little water as possible will allow us to put excess water produced into storage, which is critical for the health of the entire system." Austin Water said water pressure was restored on Thursday to the major pipelines that are "the backbone" of the city's water distribution system. The agency said a top priority remains getting hospitals back in service, although three major hospitals in the region did have their water restored on Thursday. At one point this week, 7 million Texans were ordered to boil water, The Associated Press reported. Cities including Houston remained under a boil water notice on Friday. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Houston Public Works has received 4,900 calls regarding burst pipes around the city. A mass distribution of bottled water began on Friday morning in Houston for residents who can't boil water. Leovardo Perez, right, fills a water jug using a hose from a public park water spigot Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Houston. Houston and several surrounding cities are under a boil water notice as many residents are still without running water in their homes. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) The San Antonio Water Supply said it opened seven water distribution locations around the city to provide affected customers with water. A citywide boil water notice remained in place on Friday. One of the stormiest weather patterns in decades triggered rounds of snow and ice all the way to the Gulf Coast this week, as Arctic air displaced by the polar vortex sent many locations into a deep freeze. The Associated Press reported at least 59 deaths have been linked to the intense cold and damaging storms. Several of the deaths in Texas were linked to carbon monoxide poisoning or house fires in areas where power was out and people were struggling to keep warm. Power outages statewide dropped below 200,000 on Friday morning, according to

Nearly half of all Texans without water even as 'fragile' power grid returns to life (Reuters) - A “fragile” energy grid has returned to life for frigid Texans after five days of blackouts caused by a historic winter storm, but challenges in finding drinking water and dealing with downed power lines loomed on Friday. All power plants in the state were once again functioning, but more than 190,000 homes were still without electricity on Friday morning while 13 million people - nearly half of all Texans - have experienced disruptions in water service. Jennifer Jordan, a 54-year old resident of Midlothian, Texas, said she and her husband were still without power on Friday, even though their online account with their provider indicated their issues had been “resolved.” “I have no power at my house. Not one drop of power,” the high school special-education teacher said in an interview. “It’s really hard. You are really longing to get a hot shower, eat a hot meal.” Ice that downed power lines during the week and other issues have utility workers scrambling to reconnect homes to power, while Texas’ powerful oil and gas sector has looked for ways to renew production. Hospitals in some hard-hit areas ran out of water and transferred patients elsewhere, while millions of people were ordered to boil water to make it safe for drinking. Water-treatment plants were knocked offline this week, potentially allowing harmful bacteria to proliferate. In Houston, a mass distribution of bottled water was planned at Delmar Stadium on Friday for residents needing drinkable water, the city’s Office of Emergency Management said. “The grid is still fragile,” she said, noting that cold weather would remain in the area for a few days, which would “put pressure on these power plants that have just come back on.”

 Millions of Texans without water, hospitals closed as power outages continue - Millions across Texas are continuing to suffer the effects of a historic blackout resulting from the criminal negligence of the state government, working hand in glove with the private utility companies. These corporations, in pursuit of higher profits, have refused to upgrade their plants so as to withstand the type of severe cold that hit the state last weekend. The power outages, which started on Sunday, were both foreseeable and preventable, with a winter storm in 2011 resulting in a similar collapse of the power grid. The Republican state government has faced backlash for its role in the deregulation of the energy grid and its failure to address any of the issues made clear a decade ago. The sole reason for keeping most of the state off the national grid is to enable private energy companies to reap larger profits, in part by not spending money on expensive upgrades, such as winterizing power plants, providing extra capacity and carrying out other measures that are required under federal regulation. This is illustrated by the misnamed Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid suffering blackouts, while the El Paso region of the state, which is connected to the federally regulated Western International Grid, did not lose power. Power remained out for 340,000 Texas customers as of Thursday, down from over three million at its peak, according to Many in Texas were left freezing and in the dark for multiple days, with many areas recording temperatures in the single digits. This massive blackout has caused millions of people to lose water, heat, lights and internet. Most of Houston woke up on Wednesday to find that there was little or no water, with more than 1.37 million in the city having no energy on the same day. In addition to Houston, there have been major disruptions to water systems across Texas, including the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Galveston, Corpus Christi and many more. All of these cities have issued boil water notices and have had water run out, with 13.5 million people lacking access to clean water in their homes. At least 47 people have died due to the winter storm, according to tracking by the Washington Post. In Abilene, a 60-year-old man was found frozen to death in his recliner after losing electricity to his home, with his wife recovering, nearly dead, next to him. A homeless Abilene resident was found dead on the street early Monday morning. Many people have desperately attempted to heat their homes by running cars, grills and propane stoves indoors or in garages, causing a spike in carbon monoxide poisonings. Harris County, which includes Houston, recorded over 300 carbon monoxide cases as of Tuesday.

 Beleaguered Texas hospitals with no water evacuate patients amid winter storm power outages:- After a deadly blast of winter weather overwhelmed the electrical grid and left millions of Texans without power, hospitals in the state are also facing the additional stress of water shortages, crowded emergency rooms and even being forced to evacuate patients….In Austin, hospitals dealt with a loss in water pressure and heat.St. David’s South Austin Medical Center said Wednesday night that it had lost water pressure from the City of Austin. Since water feeds the facility’s boiler, the hospital was also losing heat.Hospital officials were working to evacuate some patients to other area facilities and said they were distributing bottles and jugs of water to patients and employees. Officials added that they were working with the city to secure portable toilets…In southwest Austin, officials with Ascension Seton Southwest Hospital said they too were facing intermittent issues with water pressure, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The hospital was rescheduling elective surgeries to preserve bed capacity and personnel as a result.At Houston Methodist, two of its community hospitals did not have running water but still treated patients, with most non-emergency surgeries and procedures canceled for Thursday and possibly Friday, spokeswoman Gale Smith told the Associated Press.Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity,” Smith said. She added that pipes had burst in Methodist’s hospitals but were being repaired as they happened….FEMA sent generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in Texas, along with thousands of blankets and ready-to-eat meals, officials said.In an “urgent call to action,” the Texas Restaurant Association said hospitals in the state were “in serious need of food for their staff and patients” and said it was working to coordinate food donations.

Texas Was Warned a Decade Ago Its Grid Was Unprepared for Cold - Federal regulators warned Texas that its power plants couldn’t be counted on to reliably churn out electricity in bitterly cold conditions a decade ago, when the last deep freeze plunged 4 million people into the dark. They recommended that utilities use more insulation, heat pipes and take other steps to winterize plants -- strategies commonly observed in cooler climates but not in normally balmy Texas. “Where did those recommendations go, and how were they implemented?” said Jeff Dennis, managing director of Advanced Energy Economy, an association of clean energy businesses. “Those are going to be some pretty key questions.” As investigators probe the current power crisis in Texas, which has left millions of people without power or a promise of when it will be restored, questions are sure to be raised about how the state responded to the urgings from the 2011 analysis, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North America Electric Reliability Corporation, which sets reliability standards. The February 2011 incident occurred when an Arctic cold front descended on the Southwest, sending temperatures below freezing for four days in a row. The result was disastrous. Equipment and instruments froze, forcing the shutdown of power plants and rolling blackouts, according to the report. Representatives of Ercot did not respond to emailed questions asking specifically about why key recommendations from 2011 went unheeded. But asked about the need for more weatherization in news conferences Tuesday and Wednesday, Ercot officials said that while it has called for companies to harden their facilities, it can’t force them to do so. Power generators have voluntary guidelines to follow and already have a financial incentive to keep plants running during cold snaps when prices spike, Dan Woodfin, Ercot senior director of system operations, told reporters Tuesday. “There aren’t regulatory penalties at the current time” for not complying with the weatherization guidelines, Woodfin said.

Texas grid fails to weatherize, repeats mistake feds cited 10 years ago - Ten years ago, plunging temperatures forced rolling blackouts across Texas, leaving more than 3 million people without power as the Super Bowl was played outside Dallas. Now, with a near identical scenario following another Texas cold snap, Texas power regulators are being forced to answer how the unusually cold temperatures forced so much of the state’s power generation offline when Texans were trying to keep warm. To start, experts say, power generators and regulators failed to heed the lessons of 2011 — or for that matter, 1989. In the aftermath of the Super Bowl Sunday blackout a decade ago, federal energy officials warned the grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT, that Texas power plants had failed to adequately weatherize facilities to protect against cold weather. A federal report that summer recommended steps including installing heating elements around pipes and increasing the amount of reserve power available before storms, noting many of those same warnings were issued after similar blackouts 22 years earlier and had gone unheeded. “We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes,” said Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas. “There's weaknesses in the system we haven't dealt with.” A spokesman for the Association of Electric Companies of Texas declined to comment on that criticism and said state power plants submit weatherization plans to both the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the power industry, and ERCOT. In a conference call Monday, Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said generators followed best practices for winterization, but the severity of the weather went “well beyond the design parameters of an extreme Texas winter.” 

Texas Could Have Kept the Lights On - The New York Times -- A cold, sharp dagger has slashed through Texas, America’s largest and proudest producer of fossil fuels, while stranding millions without heat or light. The frigid disaster has also laid bare the fallacy, still prominent in the Lone Star State, that oil and gas are more important than impending climate catastrophe, embarrassing a political class that just weeks ago pledged to defend the oil and gas industry — its own Alamo — from the Biden administration.The fallacy is hard to unwind even as people are dying. But some Texans are also furious about how their state’s ruinous laissez-faire governance led to a cascade of human-caused disasters of epic proportions. Indeed, this was no act of God. Last week, 29 million Texans learned that the weather would turn unseasonably cold. It would be no ordinary blue norther: As the planet warms, so does the Arctic, disrupting the jet stream, which usually keeps the polar vortex of frigid air in place there. Now there is an emerging, if not unanimous, view among climatologiststhat the vortex is wobbling and dipping south, paralyzing Madrid, freezing the American Midwest and blanketing the Sierra Nevada, all since the start of this year.Yet the folks over at the Texas power grid appear to have been caught flat-footed by spiking demand in energy to keep houses warm and phones charged. In general, there’s a storage problem in Texas when it comes to natural gas. Utility companies often don’t bother to buy gas reserves: It’s easier, cheaper and more profitable to tap the gas in the field with a pipeline — usually.But the moment to invest in resilience has passed. The spot pricein early February was under $3 per million British thermal units; this week those spot prices have soared to all-time highs. After a cold snap in 2011, the power companies were supposed to betterwinterize their plants. Ten years later, they hadn’t done it.As the cold froze Oklahoma and sent temperatures in Dallas to lows not seen in over a century, the natural gas industry proved unable to deliver more gas even if it was purchased. Wellheads in the Permian Basin froze solid. Pipelines leaked water, which, in turn, turned metal and gas into useless, immovable ice.The crisis dates back to the 1930s, when the Federal Power Commission gained the authority to regulate interstate transmission of electric power. But politicians in Texas, with their slavish devotion to the fossil fuel industry, didn’t want Washington regulating the electricity business and chipping away at those hefty profits.So the business went entirely unregulated until the formation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in the 1970s. But ERCOT has been anything but reliable. While it is technically overseen by the state, its board is really just an industry club. Several of its members don’t even live in Texas.

From FedEx to GM, firms halt operations as freeze grips parts of United States (Reuters) - Many U.S companies, including FedEx and General Motors, were forced to temporarily shut operations on Tuesday as a bone-chilling winter storm caused power outages and gas shortages in parts of the country. The rare deep freeze swept the southern North America over the three-day Presidents Day holiday weekend, leaving millions without power and sending front-month gas futures to an over three-month high. General Motors canceled the first shift at its plants in Spring Hill, Tennessee, Bowling Green in Kentucky, Fort Wayne in Indiana and Arlington in Texas, factories that make some of its most profitable pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles including Chevrolet Silverado and Escalade. “We will be making decisions at the respective plants later this morning regarding their production status for 2nd shift today,” a GM spokesman said. Japan’s Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor also scrapped the first shift at some of their U.S. plants. Jeep maker Stellantis said it suspended production on the day shift at its Toledo assembly complex in Ohio. GM’s smaller rival Ford Motor said it had stopped production of best-selling F-150 pickup trucks at its Kansas City assembly plant until Feb. 21 to conserve its supply of natural gas. Some other Ford facilities that suspended operations included Hermosillo assembly plant in Mexico, Flat Rock factory in Michigan and Ohio assembly plant in Avon Lake, Ohio. Package delivery company United Parcel Service said operations at its Dallas hub in Texas and Worldport air hub at Louisville International Airport were back to normal. The company said it did not have any coronavirus vaccine shipments in its network on Monday night.

Power outages hit North Dakota's rural co-ops as cold air woes persist in southern US - The frigid weather in the south-central U.S. continues to plague North Dakota's electric cooperatives, many of whom were dealing with power outages Tuesday ordered by a regional grid operator. Capital Electric Cooperative, which serves parts of Burleigh and Sheridan counties, said at least one-third of its 21,000 members were without power at one point Tuesday morning from Bismarck to Wilton. The co-op said the outages were rolling and seemed to last about 45 minutes before the lights came back on for affected members. "We had no warning of this at all," spokesman Wes Engbrecht said. Nor does Capital Electric have control over who loses power and when, as that's managed through one of its power suppliers, the Western Area Power Administration. The rolling outages could last through Thursday, according to WAPA. WAPA is a member of the grid operator known as the Southwest Power Pool, which said Tuesday that it's requiring "controlled interruptions" of electric service throughout its 14-state region that spans the middle of the country from North Dakota to Texas. "This is done as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole," the power pool said in a Facebook post. "Individuals in the SPP service territory should take steps to conserve energy use and follow their local utilities' instructions regarding conservation, local conditions and the potential for outages to their homes and businesses."

US FERC, NERC to launch inquiry into extreme winter weather power outages — As millions of customers are experiencing power outages, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp. said Feb. 16 that they would open a joint inquiry into the bulk power system's operations during the extreme winter weather conditions battering the Midwest and South-Central states. Stay up to date with the latest commodity content. Sign up for our free daily Commodities Bulletin. Sign Up The joint inquiry, slated to begin in the coming days, will see FERC and NERC team "with other federal agencies, states, regional entities and utilities to identify problems with the performance of the bulk-power system and, where appropriate, solutions for addressing those issues," the commissions said in a single statement. As of late afternoon Feb. 16, nearly 4.7 million utility customer accounts were without power across the US, with just over 3.8 million of those in Texas, according to, which aggregates US utility outage data. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid for most of Texas, was hit particularly hard, with more than 30 GW forced offline, the worst blackouts in the state in decades as electricity supply could not keep pace with record-high demand and record-low temperatures. According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, nearly 12 Bcf/d or about 13% of US gas production is offline because of cold weather impacts. The brutal cold snap that continues to blanket much of the US has shown no signs of letting up. The National Weather Service reported a second major winter storm will hit the Southern US with heavy snow and icing starting Feb. 16 before moving east. FERC Chairman Richard Glick said the commission was "closely monitoring" the extreme weather across the country and its impact on electric reliability, and was in contact with ERCOT, Southwest Power Pool and Midcontinent Independent System Operator. "I have directed FERC staff to coordinate closely with the RTOs/ISOs, utilities, NERC, and regional reliability entities to do what we can to help," Glick said in a Feb. 15 statement. "In the days ahead, we will be examining the root causes of these reliability events, but, for now, the focus must remain on restoring power as quickly as possible and keeping people safe during this incredibly challenging situation."

The Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn’t see the need to prepare for cold weather --When it gets really cold, it can be hard to produce electricity, but it’s not impossible. Operators in Alaska, Canada, Maine, Norway and Siberia do it all the time.What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said Matt Breidert, a portfolio manager at a firm called Ecofin.And yet the temporary train wreck of that market Monday and Tuesday has seen the wholesale price of electricity in Houston go from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000. Meanwhile, 4 million Texas households have been without power.One utility company, Griddy, which sells power at wholesale rates to retail customers without locking in a price in advance, told its patrons Tuesday to find another provider before they get socked with tremendous bills.The widespread failure in Texas and, to a lesser extent, Oklahoma and Louisiana in the face of a winter cold snap shines a light on what some see as the derelict state of America’s power infrastructure, a mirror reflection of the chaos that struck California last summer. The immediate question facing the Texas power sector is whether its participants are willing to pay for the sort of winterization measures that are common farther north, even for a once-in-a-decade spell of weather. The Republican speaker of the Texas House, Dade Phelan, announced immediate hearings into “what went wrong.”Fossil fuel groups and their Republican allies blamed the power failures on frozen wind turbines and warned against the supposed dangers of alternative power sources. Some turbines did in fact freeze — though Greenland and other northern outposts are able to keep theirs going through the winter.

Texas was minutes away from months long power outages, officials say --Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, officials with the entity that operates the grid said Thursday. As millions of customers throughout the state begin to have power restored after days of massive blackouts, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, said Texas was dangerously close to a worst-case scenario: uncontrolled blackouts across the state. The quick decision that grid operators made in the early hours of Monday morning to begin what was intended to be rolling blackouts — but lasted days for millions of Texans — occurred because operators were seeing warning signs that massive amounts of energy supply was dropping off the grid. As natural gas fired plants, utility scale wind power and coal plants tripped offline due to the extreme cold brought by the winter storm, the amount of power supplied to the grid to be distributed across the state fell rapidly. At the same time, demand was increasing as consumers and businesses turned up the heat and stayed inside to avoid the weather.“It needed to be addressed immediately," said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.” Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.” Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

Texas power consumers to pay the price of winter storm (Reuters) - Texas residents suffering a winter storm that has left millions without power are set to face a future challenge in higher utility bills, after the days-long cold snap put an unprecedented strain on the state’s power network. Some 2.7 million households in Texas, the largest electricity consuming state in the United States, were without heat on Wednesday as freezing temperatures in a normally temperate part of the country overwhelmed demand, causing blackouts and widespread anger. Wholesale power prices soared more than 300-fold, stirring memories of the price spikes that accompanied California’s energy crisis of 2000-2001, when Enron and others artificially increased prices. Consumers won’t be forced to fork over thousands of dollars when their next utility bill comes due, say analysts, but state utilities will likely hike bills after this year, both to pay for the record price spikes and to fund updates to Texas’s grid to make it more resilient. Texas operates an independent grid closed off from the rest of the country. On Wednesday, power prices in Dallas and Fort Worth hit $8,800 per megawatt-hour (MWh), compared with the more typical average of roughly $26 per MWh. Over time, the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), could impose higher costs to consumers to prepare for subsequent, similar events. “The wholesale market is allowing record high prices, and those record high prices are eventually going to be paid for by end-consumers,”

As Texas deep freeze subsides, some households now face electricity bills as high as $10,000 -- As the Texas power grid collapsed under a historic winter storm,Jose Del Rio of Haltom City, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, saw the electricity bill on a vacant two-bedroom home he is trying to sell slowly creep up over the past two weeks. Typically, the bill is around $125 to $150 a month, he said. But his account has already been charged about $630 this month — and he still owes another $2,600. “If worse comes to worst, I have the ability to put it on a credit card or figure something out," Del Rio said. ”There is no one living in that house. All the lights are off. But I have the air at 60 because I don’t want the pipes to freeze.”  When he contacted Griddy, his electric company, they advised him to switch providers, Del Rio said. Griddy's prices are controlled by the market, and are therefore vulnerable to sudden swings in demand. With the extreme weather, energy usage has soared, pushing up wholesale power prices to more than $9,000 per megawatt hour — compared to the seasonal average of $50 per megawatt hour.In the face of the soaring costs, Griddy has been directing consumers to consider temporarily switching electricity providers to save on their bills.Griddy did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages power for about 90 percent of the state's electric load, was unprepared for the frigid conditions of the past two weeks: The primary electric grid was hit with off-the-charts demand for poweras Texans tried to heat their homes — demand that outpacedutility officials' highest estimates for an extreme peak load. "I'm taking responsibility for the current status of ERCOT," Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters on Thursday.Customers outside the ERCOT service area have also been hit with sticker shock. Veronica Garcia, a Reliant Energy customer in Mansfield, Texas, told NBC News her bill is projected to be twice as much as she typically pays a month for electricity. She last paid $63 on Feb. 11 to power her one-bedroom apartment, but her bill is projected to be between $114 and $133 in March, according to documents reviewed by NBC News.

Texas households face massive electricity bills,  some as high as $17K, after winter storm.-- Some Texans say they're getting massive electric bills following the winter storm that caused chaos throughout the state this past week. NBC News reports that some Texans are getting bills as high as $10,000, while local ABC News affiliate WFAA in Dallas says one man's bill shows him owing more than $17,000. Jose Del Rio told NBC News that the bill for his two-bedroom home is usually between $125 to $150 a month, but this month his bill exceeded $3,000. Rio claims the house, which is empty and for sale, only ran the heater at 60 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing, but that lights and other utilities remained turned off. Another woman told NBC that her one-bedroom apartment usually uses enough electricity to result in a $63 bill, but her next bill is projected to be as much as $133. A Willow Park family that says they were fortunate enough not to lose their power told NBC News that the bill for their three-bedroom home has climbed by nearly $10,000 in the last few days. Ty Williams told WFAA in Dallas that he normally spends $660 for his home, guest house and office electric bills each month. His new bill after the rate spike exceeded $17,000. He told the outlet that he ultimately managed to switch to another provider and was hoping to work out a way to pay his massive bill. But Williams described the situation as "being held hostage and there isn't anything you can do about it." Some groups, such as Reliant Energy, say they are willing to work with customers and offer flexible bill payment options following the storm. The spike in people's bills was due to the skyrocketing demand for power during the freezing conditions, which overloaded the unprepared Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages power for around 90 percent of the state. That demand increased the price of power, but only those on variable rates directly saw their bills impacted.

Cold Truth: The Texas Freeze is a Catastrophe of the Free Market --Yves here. The collateral damage of the Texas power grid power failures is getting worse and worse. Extensive burst pipes now mean that 14 million (no typo) are without potable water. From the Wall Street Journal:More than 14 million people in Texas are without safe drinking water, as the fallout of a severe winter storm exacts a historic toll.Cities including Austin, Houston and San Antonio are under boil-water notices until Monday. Some residents are bringing in shovelfuls of snow to flush their toilets.The harsh weather has crippled Texas’s energy grid, leaving more than four millions residents without electricity during the peak of the blackouts, many of them remaining without heat in subfreezing conditions for days on end. The cold snap has also caused a wave of burst water pipes, which led to a loss of water pressure and a shortage….Huge swaths of residents without clean water don’t have the electricity needed to boil it amid the continuing outages. Many others have pipes that are dry.Jamie Galbraith explains why this mess was a predictable result of unwarranted faith in free market ideology. Safety and redundancy are costs that profit-maximizers seek to avoid.

Rick Perry: 'Texans would be without electricity for longer' to 'keep the federal government out' - Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Wednesday suggested that the people of the Lone Star State would rather spend more time without electricity than see increased federal involvement in their state. “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” a blog post on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website quoted Perry as saying, though the post says Perry’s remark was made “partly rhetorically.“ The remark from the former U.S. Energy Secretary comes as many parts of Texas remain without electricity amid a record-setting winter storm. More than a dozen deaths have been linked to the crisis. The post on McCarthy’s website warns that observers on the left might see the situation as an “opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals.” Texas’s power grid isn’t subject to regulations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, because it doesn’t cross state lines. In recent days, the grid’s isolation has come under some scrutiny amid the power outages. The state’s power sources, including nuclear, coal, natural gas and wind have had difficulties performing in the lower temperatures. A senior director at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas told Bloomberg that wind shutdowns were responsible for between 3.6 and 4.5 gigawatts of the total 30 to 35 gigawatts worth of outages.

Freak cold in Texas has scientists discussing whether climate change is to blame  --Scientists say global warming – specifically the rapid warming of the Arctic – is a possible, if not likely, culprit in the extreme weather. Historically, frigid temperatures have typically been contained within the Arctic by a jet stream circling the polar region. In fact, along with the spinning of the planet, it’s the contrast in temperatures and atmospheric pressures between the Arctic and lower latitudes that results in the winds. But as the Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average over the last three decades, that contrast can be less pronounced, said Paul Beckwith, a climate system scientist in Ottawa. That could cause the polar jet stream to slow down and meander, so that it carries more warmer air toward the pole and frigid air further south, he said. “What we’re seeing this year is an extreme example of what happens when the jet stream trough goes really deep southward,” Beckwith said. This polar vortex theory, first proposed in 2012, has some researchers like Beckwith worried about what future warming might mean for traditionally temperate lands further south. Others caution that it’s still too early to draw conclusions. The theory “remains speculative, and it is the reporting of it as fact that is not justified,” climate scientist Geoffrey Vallis at the University of Exeter tweeted on Tuesday. “It may be true, but perhaps more likely not.” Cold weather is something to expect in winter, after all, and extreme cold could be a result of natural variability, some say.

UK Climate Activists Are Locked in a Self-Dug Tunnel Underneath a London Station -Beneath London's Euston Station, climate protester Blue Sandford is chained by the ankle in an illegally dug tunnel. The tunnel, 12-feet deep and 100ft long, is wet and muddy. It is propped up by wooden frames: in places wide enough only for them to lie flat on their stomachs.The 18-year-old is resisting UK authorities as they try remove her and other protesters.Under the cover of a tent, the "Stop HS2" activists spent two months secretly digging the tunnel with shovels and buckets before going public and locking themselves inside on January 27.They're protesting Britain's High-Speed 2 railway project (HS2), which involves clearing ancient woodland to make way for tracks and other rail infrastructure. It will also mean redeveloping Euston Square Gardens, a park in front of the station, they say."We're in serious debt here, the whole world, in terms of carbon and gas and methane. We need to start planting trees, not cutting them down," said Sandford, speaking on the phone to DW from the tunnel.Four of the tunnelers, including Sandford's brother Lazer, have been either forcibly removed, or left voluntarily. Lazer had encased his arm in a steel tube that was surrounded by concrete and had to be drilled out. At least three more remain, despite fears the makeshift passage could collapse. For the protesters, the stakes are high, because this represents the larger fight to halt climate change."I'm here because we're facing societal collapse, and wars and famine and drought on a scale that we've never seen before and I'm really terrified for my future," said Sandford, who has also taken part in theExtinction Rebellion protests, in a recorded message before the authorities arrived.HS2 is the UK Government's major new railway project linking the capital, London, to northern cities like Manchester. After years of delays, construction finally began in September 2020. The railway will allow high-speed trains to travel along their own tracks, freeing up the existing rail network for more local services with the aim of reducing cars on the road. HS2 says its trains will offer cross-country travel with seven times lower emissions than cars and will carry freight to reduce high-polluting truck journeys.

The Internet’s Big Carbon Footprint Need Not Doom the Climate - Demand for internet services was already rising before the COVID-19 pandemic, and growth will continue once people are able to gather safely in person again. That’s raising concerns about the electricity needed to power servers, networks, and devices – and the resulting consequences for the climate.Eric Masanet, a professor in sustainability science for emerging technologies at UC Santa Barbara, says the internet sector accounts for 2 to 4% of global energy use. Data centers alone are estimated to account for 1% of global energy demand, more than many countries use. Power-hungry data centers are buildings or spaces housing the computers and communications hardware that store, process and transmit the data that run the internet. Everything you do on the internet is connected to data centers.“Data centers are the backbone of the applications, really the backbone of the cloud, of enterprise computing, so everything that is fundamental to an organization runs through a data center,”  Netflix, for example, uses Amazon Web Services to run its application. So when you are streaming a Netflix movie or series, it is delivered via an Amazon data center somewhere in the world – maybe in northern Virginia, a major hub for hyperscale data centers.As internet use increases, the hyperscale data center business is booming. According to a report by Synergy Research Group, by the end of 2019, there were 504 large data centers in operation – triple the number in 2013 – and another 151 were being planned or built. In 2019, Amazon and Microsoft together accounted for half of the new data centers in development. Data centers consume a lot of energy. The servers and other devices need constant, reliable power, and the electronic equipment needs constant cooling. Understanding the energy and emissions use is difficult because many technology companies are not transparent. Renee Obringer, an environmental engineer with the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, said the lack of data was a concern to a team she worked with to analyze the carbon footprint of the internet.“We keep seeing studies that say, ‘Netflix is destroying the climate’ or your emails are, or zooming is bad,” Masanet said. “It’s kind of an alarming view of the internet’s footprint and that narrative is false. These systems are really complicated. The technology improves really rapidly. It gets more efficient not every year [but] every month when the technology upgrades.”

 NAACP: Carbon Tax Resolution Ignores Harm To Low-Income, Black, Brown Communities – The Indiana NAACP is speaking out against a state Senate resolution that urges Indiana to support a carbon tax plan. The Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan proposes taxing companies that emit greenhouse gases and returning that money to U.S. households. Denise Abdul-Rahman is the environmental and climate justice chair for the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP. She said carbon taxes and geotechnology — like carbon capture and storage — don’t address the root causes of climate change and could prop up the dying coal industry.“Unless you get to the tax loopholes or fossil fuel subsidies, they will always continue to find a way to support their profit-making model which will continue to pollute in low-income and Black and Brown communities,” Abdul-Rahman said.She said pollution has affected the health of these communities, shortened their lives and lowered their property values. A small amount of cash can’t undo that harm.“It’s just degrading, I guess, is the best word that I can come with,” Abdul-Rahman said.

 Could Rolling Blackouts Happen In New England? | New Hampshire Public Radio - This week in Texas, millions of people lost power in rolling blackouts after a historic winter storm. But could this happen in New England? And what are the tradeoffs of being prepared to keep the lights on as climate change drives more extreme weather?NHPR's energy reporter Annie Ropeik talked about this with Dan Dolan, the head of the New England Power Generators Association, as part of NHPR's climate change reporting project By Degrees. This transcript of an extended version of the broadcast conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Why the power is out in Texas ... and why other states are vulnerable too » Many – including some prominent climate change contrarians – were quick to pin the “electric emergency” on the massive turbines that make Texas the leading U.S. state for wind energy. While the deep freeze did knock some turbines offline, practically every mode of energy supply was hobbled by the intense cold, snow, and ice.The main cause of the massive disruption, by far, were the frozen components leading to the outage of thermal plants that heat water and convert the steam to electricity. The vast bulk of those thermal plants are powered by natural gas. In addition, the South Texas Nuclear Plant was thrown out of service Monday as a result of frozen pipes, which cut even further into the Houston area’s electricity supply.Also feeding the crisis were several factors unique to Texas. Most of the Lone Star State is on a power grid that’s separate from the western and eastern U.S. grids, a decades-old bid to avoid interstate regulation but one that reduces the Texas grid’s flexibility. The state’s deregulated, just-in-time energy marketplace is also a factor, as it leans on production versus storage –a risk when natural gas lines freeze up – and it allows for massive price spikes during weather outages.Investigations after similar but less-extensive Texas freeze disasters in 1989 and 2011 pinned much of the blame on equipment that was insufficiently protected against extreme cold, a threat that’s infrequent in Texas but notoriously brutal when it does arrive. “Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011,” according to a reportfrom the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission.“I think the Texas freeze will become the new poster child for compound weather and energy disasters,” said atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan of Rice University, who’s working on a book about energy and climate change. “The challenges faced this week will likely be studied for years to come, and they show how tough it is to achieve resilience in a changing climate during an energy transition.”

N.J. offshore wind turbines bring worries of impacted views, tourism, fishing - — A half-dozen people stood on an oceanfront deck with a million-dollar view, asking a hundred questions about what’s on the horizon. On this clear, winter afternoon, it was the Atlantic as far as the eye can see. By 2024, nearly 100 of the world’s largest, most powerful wind turbines could be spinning 15 miles off the coast. With blades attached, the windmills could reach as high and wide as 850 feet, and simulations created by Orsted, the Danish-based power company behind the Ocean Wind project, show the turbines are visible, faintly, from beaches in Brigantine, Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Joe and Tricia Conte’s deck in Ocean City. “Some of those pictures are deceptive, though, because they were taken on a cloudy day,” Joe Conte said. “The pictures they have of a clear day give you a much more vivid view of what it’s really going to look like.” The project will power a half-million homes in New Jersey and, according to Orsted, create thousands of jobs, both offshore and on during the initial construction process, which could begin this year. It has the support of both Gov. Phil Murphy, who has actively pushed for alternative energy in the state, and President Joe Biden. Murphy’s office did not return a request for comment for this story, but Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter, said there was talk of offshore oil wells under past administrations. “The alternative is more pollution,” Tittel said.

Biden gets his first energy crisis — and an opening - The extreme weather that forced power outages from North Dakota to Texas on Tuesday triggered a bout of the usual finger-pointing about the causes. But it could also deliver a boost to President Joe Biden’s efforts to upgrade infrastructure, counter climate change and expand the reach of renewable energy. As millions of Texans shivered in the dark, supporters of the fossil fuel industries turned their ire on the state’s massive — and frozen — wind farms, even as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged that the extreme cold had shut down all types of power plants, including those that burn coal. Data showed that the freeze hit the state’s natural gas power plants the hardest. What most experts saw was the Texas grid’s vulnerability to harsh weather — and a warning that climate change-induced disasters could devastate the nation’s leading energy producer. The resulting crisis could be a boon to Biden’s proposal to spend huge sums of money to harden the nation’s electric grid as it connects giant wind and solar power plants to cities and states thousands of miles away. That’s an essential step if the U.S. is to make a major turn toward relying on solar, wind and other renewable energy to keep the lights on. “When supply doesn't show up, legislative or regulatory intervention begins,” said Kevin Book, managing director at the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners. “The reactivity to a supply shock is one of the few things you can rely on.” Freezing temperatures sent energy demand soaring in Texas to levels that eclipsed even the hottest summer days. Grid operators there and across the Midwest implemented rolling blackouts to prevent further damage to the grid, but in Texas alone 4 million customers have been without power since Monday. Investigations of the causes are just beginning, but data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s electric grid, showed that at least 30 gigawatts of power fueled by natural gas, coal and nuclear went off line Monday, along with 16 gigawatts of renewable power. National Republicans — and those with national aspirations — seized on pictures of frozen wind turbines to hammer Washington’s green energy agenda, even though Texas operates a grid outside of federal oversight and has spent decades making its own energy decisions. “If the last few days have proven anything, it’s that we need oil & gas, ”tweeted George P. Bush, who as Texas Land Commissioner oversees much of the state’s oil and gas production. “Relying solely on renewable energy would be catastrophic. Many of these sources have proven to be unreliable.”

Biden’s Plea to Remake Grid Gets a Boost on Texas Power Crisis - The icy weather that left millions without power in Texas has critics of the Biden administration’s fight against climate change blaming renewable energy, but the failures have more to do with an ill-prepared power grid and shortfalls in traditional electricity sources. Energy analysts and experts said the blackouts in Texas underscore the U.S. electric system’s need for more of almost everything, from additional power lines criss-crossing the country to large-scale storage systems that can supply electricity when demand spikes or renewable generation declines. That could give at least a rhetorical boost to President Joe Biden’s plans for a “historic investment” in the nation’s electric grid, including better transmission systems and battery storage that would make the system more resilient amid extreme weather spurred by climate change. The investments broadly touted by Biden could help satisfy his 2035 goal of an emissions-free power system and help meet increased demand nationwide as more electric vehicles hit the roads and more buildings rely on power instead of natural gas for heat. The administration is set to unveil a blueprint for infrastructure spending, including investments in the nation’s electrical grid, within weeks. “There are parts of the country right now that have excess power, that have low prices, that are not struggling, where it’s a normal Tuesday, and yet in Texas, 4 million people are without power,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Energy Group. “This should reignite a debate about some kind of connection between our disparate grids where we can move energy to places like Texas that are desperate for it right now.” The nation’s grid evolved from a patchwork of local power systems that weren’t meant to serve distant customers. “So cities and even some times neighborhoods have their own systems,” Rhodes said. The downside of that approach became became apparent in Texas as temperatures plunged into single digits. Regional power sources weren’t able to meet the demand as residents cranked up thermostats, straining supplies of electricity in the state known as the energy capital of the U.S. Grid operators were forced to implement rolling blackouts as wind turbines in West Texas froze up and natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants went offline.

Biden's War on Coal @ World Bank -- There's an interesting article on Politico about how the Biden administration's pledge to limit emissions from fossil fuels will be implemented on the global stage. Sure, reducing subsidies for fossil fuel extraction and consumption at home to set an example for the rest of the world is one thing. However, there are also things the United States can do internationally to help ensure fossil fuels are kept in the ground.   In an executive order issued last month, Biden tasked the United States' agencies involved in foreign assistance and development financing--the International Development Finance Corporation (formed in 2019 by combining the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Development Credit Authority), Treasury, USAID, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation among others--with devising emissions-reducing financing.  This executive order also extends to the multilateral organizations the US is a member of, including the World Bank. It states: [The Treasury Secretary shall] develop a strategy for how the voice and vote of the United States can be used in international financial institutions, including the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, to promote financing programs, economic stimulus packages, and debt relief initiatives that are aligned with and support the goals of the Paris Agreement. In doing so, the Biden administration wants to contrast clean, green American with dirty energy China. However, there is a danger that developing countries not as green-minded as Biden may instead be pushed to deal more with China: President Joe Biden’s plan to halt U.S. funding for overseas fossil fuel projects will turn the global spotlight on China for bankrolling coal projects around the globe. But it could also push poor countries closer to Beijing — and risk ceding the United States’ position as a leading financier for developing economies... Biden's directive last month to move toward withholding money from international institutions like the World Bank that help poor nations build fossil fuel power plants stands in stark contrast to Beijing's flow of cash under its Belt and Road Initiative, which supplies 70 percent of the financing for the world's new coal-fired plants. The White House is betting its move will paint China as hypocritical as that country — the world's top greenhouse gas emitter — aims to take a leading role in international climate change efforts.

WVa gov's family settles suit over mine selenium discharges (AP) — A coal company controlled by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice must pay $270,000 to a nonprofit land protection group and comply with selenium discharge limits under a settlement approved by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge David Faber approved the settlement Wednesday, two months after environmental groups filed the proposed agreement with Bluestone Coal Corp., the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. Last year Faber found the company liable for selenium discharges into waters near a McDowell County mine. High selenium concentrations can be toxic to humans and animals. Under the agreement, Bluestone must provide quarterly progress reports on pollutant discharge monitoring to several environmental groups, which had sued under the federal Clean Water and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation acts. The company also must pay a $30,000 federal fine and $270,000 to the West Virginia Land Trust to help finance development of a trail along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Bluestone already has paid $414,500 for selenium violations from June 2018 to June 2020. Bluestone had unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that a 2016 agreement between Southern Coal Corp. — another company owned by the Justice family — and the federal Environmental Protection Agency precluded environmental groups from filing the selenium lawsuit. The five-year-old agreement required Southern to undertake pollution control measures at mines in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

 Ford invests $1 billion in German plant, targets move to 'all-electric' passenger vehicles in Europe by 2030 Ford is investing $1 billion in an electric vehicle production facility in Cologne, Germany, with the European arm of the automotive giant committing to go "all-in" on electric vehicles in the years ahead. In plans announced Wednesday morning, Ford said its entire passenger vehicle range in Europe would be "zero-emissions capable, all-electric or plug-in hybrid" by the middle of 2026, with a "completely all-electric" offering by 2030. The investment in Cologne will see the company update an existing assembly plant, converting it into a facility focused on the production of electric vehicles. "Our announcement today to transform our Cologne facility, the home of our operations in Germany for 90 years, is one of the most significant Ford has made in over a generation," Stuart Rowley, Ford of Europe's president, said in a statement. "It underlines our commitment to Europe and a modern future with electric vehicles at the heart of our strategy for growth," Rowley added. The business also wants its commercial vehicle segment in Europe to be zero-emissions capable, plug-in hybrid or all-electric by 2024.

Three people dead after Arctic processing plant collapse - Three people are dead following the partial collapse of one of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel's processing plants, the company said on Saturday. The processing plant was undergoing maintenance at the time of Saturday's incident, according to Reuters. The production security of Norilsk Nickel's locations has recently come under public scrutiny after a major fuel leak at its power plant located close to the Russian city of Norilsk and multiple smaller accidents that occurred in 2020, the outlet noted. Norilsk has since pledged to invest $1.4 billion over five years into building up its industrial safety measures. “This accident shows that apparently, these efforts are not enough, and we, accepting responsibility for what happened, will tighten requirements for industrial safety and for the people who are responsible for it,” Vladimir Potanin, Nornickel chief executive and the largest shareholder, told Reuters. According to Nornickel, the plant still continues to operate with partial restrictions. A regional committee opened up a criminal investigation into the incident, Reuters reported. The company was fined $2 billion earlier this month for damage caused in the fuel spill last year. A regional committee opened up a criminal investigation into the incident.

Texas Failed To Winterize Nuclear Plant Leading To Reactor Shut Down -- A polar vortex split dumped Arctic air into Texas, along with multiple winter storms, created havoc on the state's power grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). What happened, and why, more specifically, how did one nuclear power plant which provides power for two million homes shutdown?   How is it possible that a nuclear power plant in Texas had to shutter operations due to freezing weather, but nuclear power plants can operate without disruption in Russia?  The answer is simple - the South Texas Nuclear Power Station failed to winterize its facilities. After all, whoever thought Arctic conditions would be seen in on the Gulf of Mexico?  On Monday, the nuclear power plant had to shut one of two reactors down, halving its 2,700 megawatts of generating capacity. The plant, which operates on a 12,200-acre site west of the Colorado River about 90 miles southwest of Houston, provides power for more than two million homes.   According to Washington Examiner, the nuclear power plant was not winterized to withstand cold weather.   "It's very rare for weather issues to shut down a nuclear plant," said Brett Rampal, director of nuclear innovation at the Clean Air Task Force. "Some equipment in some nuclear plants in Texas has not been hardened for extreme cold weather because there was never a need for this." On Monday, South Texas Nuclear Power Station posted "Event Number: 55104" on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website explaining low steam generation was due to the loss of water pumps. In response, reactor one was shutdown. "It was the connection between the power plant and outside systems," Alex Gilbert, project manager at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, told the Washington Examiner.  The reactor's shutdown only represented 1,280 megawatts of the 30,000 megawatts of outages on Monday. Nuclear power provides about 11% of ERCOT's power.  Much of the power generation loss was due to freezing wellheads that impeded the flow of natgas to power stations, triggering electric shortages as demand overwhelmed the grid.   The high concentration of natgas generation on ERCOT's grid makes it vulnerable to power disruptions if fuel flow is disrupted.

 Holtec agrees to keep $10M storage cask at its Camden headquarters  – Holtec International has agreed to a $10 million precaution to end a court fight over its planned decommissioning of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant. The safety measure — a massive cask made of steel and concrete — is part of a settlement that resolves lawsuits between the Camden firm, Lacey Township and the township’s planning board. The court fight began after Lacey’s planning board in August 2020 rejected Holtec’s application to put more storage casks at the now-idled nuclear facility. The casks would hold spent nuclear fuel as part of Holtec’s decommissioning project. A Holtec affiliate currently is developing a business in decommissioning closed nuclear power plants, while the Camden firm pursues plans for a consolidated fuel-storage facility in a remote area of New Mexico.

Groups Concerned About Nuclear Power Want Questions Asked About Point Beach Plan  -Citizen groups are urging a federal agency to ask many questions about a proposal to extend the life of Wisconsin's only remaining nuclear power plant. The two reactors at the Point Beach plant along Lake Michigan, north of Manitowoc, are licensed to run about another decade. But the plant owner, Next Era Energy, has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to extend the licenses until about 2050. Milwaukee-based WE Energies used to own Point Beach, and still buys power from it. Wednesday, the NRC held an online meeting for people to say what they think should be in the agency's draft environmental impact statement (EIS) as part of the application review. Kelly Lundeen, of the group Nukewatch, wants consideration that if Next Era operates Point Beach for three more decades instead of one, the plant will produce a lot more nuclear waste. "If the company wants to continue to create tons of high-level radioactive waste, they're asking for enormous trust on the part of the public. They're also assuming the consent of future generations to create this waste,” said Lundeen. Point Beach and many other U.S. nuclear power plants now store some waste in concrete and steel containers outside the plant that the industry says are very safe. Hannah Mortensen, of Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, is asking the NRC to consider whether the state will need the energy from what is now a 50-year-old power plant. "When Point Beach was built, alternative energy, such as renewable energy — wind, solar, was not as common, was not as economical. Therefore, I think the EIS needs to take a hard look, a hard look, at the alternate option of different energy sources, in comparison to the proposed action of extending the life of the reactors,” said Mortensen.

Magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes near site of Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan — A magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck Saturday off the coast of Japan's Fukushima prefecture, which was home to one of the world's worst nuclear disasters almost a decade ago. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake — which it initially said had a magnitude of 7.1 — struck at 11:08 p.m. local time (9:08 a.m. ET) at a depth of 34 miles. Fourteen aftershocks were recorded, it said, adding that a tsunami warning had not been issued. The quake was also felt in Japan's capital, Tokyo. "There have been no anomalies reported from any of the nuclear facilities," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a press conference. "Everything is normal." Checks were still being carried out to determine the number injured, he said, urging people not to venture outdoors and to be prepared for aftershocks. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a separate news conference earlier in Tokyo that almost 850,000 households had been left without power in areas surrounding Tokyo and northern Japan. "Where the tremor was felt the strongest, there is higher risk of structural collapse and landslides," a spokeswoman for the Japan Meteorological Agency told press in Tokyo. Adding that people should be cautious about tremors. Fukushima became synonymous with nuclear disaster in March 2011 when the area was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake — the strongest in Japan's history. A tsunami soon followed, leaving more than 15,000 people dead and 2,500 others still missing. The deadly wall of water slammed through the walls of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, knocking out the power supply and causing three nuclear reactors to melt, spewing radioactive particles into the air. It will take decades to safely shut down the plant. Space to store the 1 million tons of water — equal to 400 Olympic-size swimming pools — that must be pumped through the reactor to keep the fuel cool, is also running out. While the water has been treated to remove most of the dangerous radioactive components, traces of tritium remain. #160;

Michael Madigan resigns from Illinois House - Chicago Tribune - A half-century after he was first sworn into the Illinois House from Chicago’s Southwest Side, Michael Madigan announced his resignation Thursday, a little more than a month after he was deposed by fellow Democrats as the nation’s longest-serving statehouse speaker. In a statement, the embattled 78-year-old lawmaker, ensnarled in a federal corruption investigation, lashed out at his critics as he sought to defend his actions during his 36-year reign as House speaker. “It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois. The fact is, my motivation for holding elected office has never wavered. I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois,” he said. While his resignation from the House had been expected, Madigan remains the state’s Democratic Party chairman and head of the 13th Ward Democratic organization. The latter post will allow him to choose his successor. Aides said he has no plans to step down from either role.

DeWine refuses to explain aide's role in bailout scandal - If you asked most people to start up a dark money group and then funnel more than $1 million through it and into another such group, they’d probably want to know what it was going to be used for.But now that the second 501(c)(4) dark-money group, Generation Now, has pleaded guilty to being at the heart of one of the biggest bribery and money laundering scandals in Ohio history, Gov. Mike DeWine is refusing to discuss what one of his top aides was told when he formed the first dark money group, Partners for Progress.Generation Now pleaded guilty earlier this month to being the major conduit of money between Akron-based FirstEnergy and related organizations and the effort to pass House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion bailout that mostly went to two nuclear plants FirstEnergy started spinning off in 2016. DeWine signed the bill into law in 2019.Last summer, federal authorities arrested then-Speaker Larry Householder and four associates as part of the scandal and two of the associates later pleaded guilty.As he announced the arrests, U.S. Attorney David DeVillers stressed that the dark money made the massive scandal possible.“I don’t see how (the conspiracy) could possibly have happened” without it, DeVillers said.The feds haven’t accused DeWine’s aide, Legislative Affairs Director Dan McCarthy of wrongdoing, but they refer to his dark-money group in an affidavit supporting Householder’s arrest as “Energy Pass-Through.”Among the activities Generation Now pleaded guilty to was engaging in transactions“designed to conceal the nature, source, ownership and control of the payments” from FirstEnergy and associated companies.But DeWine and McCarthy don’t want to discuss whether McCarthy intended to obscure that FirstEnergy was bankrolling an effort to prop up nuclear plants it was spinning off.Asked last week about the matter, DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney pointed to a statement McCarthy issued last summer when The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported that he’d started a dark money group that helped fund the HB 6 effort.In it, McCarthy explained that in addition to his lobby work for FirstEnergy, he had also worked with people who had adversarial relationships with Householder and one of his indicted associates, Neil Clark, so “any insinuation I was involved in this disgusting scheme is without merit.” But he didn’t explain why he founded Partners for Progress two days after the founding of Generation Now, or why a week later his dark money group got $5 million from FirstEnergy and within a month it was forwarding some of that money to Generation Now. ‘

Editorial: Repeal corrupt HB 6 now. Expel indicted Rep. Householder - Beacon Journal - What will it take to knock down House Bill 6, a corrupt Ohio law which still stands like the coal-fired smokestacks of old? Well, after nearly eight months of waiting, it appears Ohio Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Romanchuk, is advancing. That’s good news for consumers, as it would formally remove one form of electric utility subsidy and provide refunds to electric utility customers. However, coal and nuclear subsidies would stay and renewable energy provisions would remain dead.HB 6 remains polluted by a $61 million bribery scandal tied to its support and passage. Federal investigators allege FirstEnergy Corp., known as “Company A” in court filings, bribed former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Perry County, and others to pass the bill that allows a $1 billion-plus rate-payer bailout of two nuclear power plants and other operations once owned by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. The conspiracy continues to grow. On Feb. 5, representatives of the political group Generation Now signed a guilty plea acknowledging it was part of a criminal conspiracy with Householder, who was arrested in July, and others. Those others include lobbyists for FirstEnergy and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions. Two men also have pleaded guilty in the case.In some quarters, including this editorial page, House Bill 6 was hailed in 2019 for helping to keep the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants online. Nuclear energy is a reliable source for Ohio and is considered clean energy. The two Lake Erie plants employ thousands of people, as well. In written testimony in support of Senate Bill 10, Greg R. Lawson, research fellow at the Buckeye Institute think tank, called HB 6's decoupling provisions, a type of subsidy, egregious for locking in “the highest possible cost to consumers for the maximum benefit of one company — FirstEnergy.” The Buckeye Institute, a conservative free market public policy supporter, says SB 10 is a step in the right direction but “does not repeal the bailouts or all that was wrong with House Bill 6.” The Nature Conservancy, in its written testimony, also calls SB 10 a step forward, but adds it doesn’t come close to addressing the “myriad” of shortcomings in the state’s energy policies. The nonpartisan conservancy group urges the state to work with “businesses and manufacturers, municipalities, environmental and conservation groups, consumer advocacy agencies” and others in crafting an energy plan for the state. Even if one agrees that Energy Harbor (formerly FirstEnergy Solutions) needs a subsidy to keep its aging nuclear plants online as a reliable, clean source of electricity, Ohio lawmakers should try again. Scandal taints HB 6 and the House, where Householder remains a representative.

Hoops introduces bill to repeal energy subsidies in HB 6 - – State Reps. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, and Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, on Tuesday introduced legislation to repeal the controversial nuclear and solar energy subsidy created by House Bill 6. Stein said several changes at the federal level since the original passage of House Bill 6 make the subsidy no longer necessary to maintain operations at Ohio’s two nuclear plants, Davis-Besse and Perry. House Bill 128 calls for refunds to ratepayers for fees collected under both provisions. “The average ratepayer has already seen a decrease in their rates due to House Bill 6 and, with the proposed changes in House Bill 128, customers will see further ratepayer protections,” Hoops said. Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was arrested last summer and accused of using nearly $61 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and others to win control of the Ohio House, pass House Bill 6 and defend it from a ballot effort to block the subsidies.

FirstEnergy terminates fee, shares additional details on fallout from House Bill 6 investigation - —FirstEnergy announced Tuesday it will stop collecting a fee that likely has cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars since 2011, as the company continues to wrestle with the damage to its reputation in the fallout of the House Bill 6 corruption scandal. In a new regulatory filing, the Akron-based utility said it will stop collecting “lost distribution revenue” from residential and commercial customers. FirstEnergy has collected this money since 2011 as a way to make up for lost sales as a result of its state-mandated energy-efficiency programs. FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said she didn’t immediately know how much the end of the rider will save customers in total, though a FirstEnergy filing stated that the company will lose 11 cents per share in revenue as a result. Young said the end of the “lost distribution revenue” charges will help FirstEnergy “move forward past some of these regulatory issues” that the company has faced since the company became embroiled in the HB6 scandal, in which ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were charged with using more than $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to secure the bill’s passage. The bill was to send $1 billion to two financially troubled Ohio nuclear plants owned by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary.

FirstEnergy says its $4 million payment to state official ‘may have been for purposes other than those represented’ - -- In a new disclosure to federal regulators, FirstEnergy is bringing renewed attention to a questionable $4 million payment the company made to someone shortly before that person became a top state regulator. The discovery of the payment prompted the company to fire its then-CEO and other top executives last fall.The Akron-based company described the $4 million payment in a Tuesday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company first disclosed the payment in October, saying it was discovered during an internal investigation prompted by the fallout from the federal corruption probe into Ohio House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout bill. The company said it made the payment in early 2019, purportedly to end a consulting agreement held with an entity associated with the unnamed official, who Gov. Mike DeWine has said is former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo.The October filing said the company could not determine “if the payments were for the purposes represented within the consulting agreement.” The company faulted then-CEO Chuck Jones and two other senior executives, firing them for violating unspecified company policies and codes of conduct.But the new filing says the company now believes “that payments under the consulting agreement may have been for purposes other than those represented within the consulting agreement.”“The matter is a subject of the ongoing internal investigation related to the government investigations,” the filing says. The company in its new filing went on to describe the possible harm the company could suffer from “any appearance of non-compliance with anti-corruption laws, as well as any alleged failures to comply with anti-corruption laws,” then listing the various state and federal investigations, as well as lawsuits, the company faces emanating from the HB 6 scandal. FirstEnergy for months has been grappling with the the fallout from the HB6 scandal, in which ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies were charged with using more than $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to secure the bill’s passage. Two Ohio political operatives -- Jeff Longstreth, Householder’s former top political aide, and Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist for Energy Harbor, the nuclear plants’ current owner -- have pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in connection to the bill’s passage, and a Householder-controlled political nonprofit is expected to also.

FirstEnergy SEC Filing Suggests Improper Transactions Started 10 Years Ago - FirstEnergy has filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission saying it has identified improper transactions that date back as far as 10 years ago. The large electric company says these transactions include amounts collected from customers. FirstEnergy's latest report with the SEC says an internal investigation identified certain transactions that were either "improperly classified, misallocated to certain of the [sic] Utilities and Transmission Companies, or lacked proper supporting documentation." The report does not provide any more specifics but says the transaction resulted in "amounts collected from customers that were immaterial to FirstEnergy." The SEC filing also revisits a $4 million payment to end a consulting agreement with a company associated with an individual who went on to become a state regulatory official. Public Utilities of Ohio chair Sam Randazzo resigned after speculation that he was the official in question. FirstEnergy's report now says payments under the consulting agreement may have been for purposes "other than those reported." A federal bribery investigation says a utility, believed to be FirstEnergy, funneled millions of dollars to a dark money group that was controlled by former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford). Investigators say that money was used to help Householder become speaker, and in return, he would pass HB6, a nuclear power plant bailout bill. Two defendants and the dark money group Generation Now have pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges. Householder has pleaded not guilty and remains in the Ohio legislature after winning reelection this fall.

FirstEnergy says activist investor Carl Icahn looking to buy stake  (Reuters) - Activist investor Carl Icahn is looking to buy a stake in FirstEnergy Corp, the energy distributor said in a regulatory filing on Thursday. He intends to acquire a stake worth between $184 million and $920 million, the Ohio-based company said, citing a letter from Icahn dated Feb. 16. ( The power utility said it does not know if the billionaire investor or his affiliates have already bought shares or derivatives of the company. Icahn Capital did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Last year, FirstEnergy had received subpoenas in a $60 million bribery case stemming from a controversial bill to bail out the state’s nuclear power plants. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four other men tied to state politics were arrested in the case. Shares of FirstEnergy closed up more than 7% on Thursday.

City Council Issues Two New Subpoenas, Wants to Learn Extent of FirstEnergy's Dark Money in Cleveland  --After issuing a subpoena last week to determine the unknown funding sources of a nonprofit designed to discredit and destroy Cleveland Public Power, Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley signed two new subpoenas Friday, council announced. These subpoenas are targeting both the Delaware and Ohio iterations of Generation Now, the nonprofit which last week pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the $60 million bribery scandal that has embroiled the Ohio statehouse since last year. Council's goal, as with the subpoena seeking information about Consumers Against Deceptive Fees, is to determine how dark money from FirstEnergy was used in Cleveland, specifically to undercut the public utility. Generation Now, in its guilty plea, acknowledged that it served as a pass-through organization to funnel contributions from FirstEnergy to former House Speaker Larry Householder and others in order to secure passage of House Bill 6, the legislation authorizing a $1 billion+ bailout of two Ohio nuclear facilities, which were then owned by FirstEnergy. Generation Now also provided at least $200,000 in funding to Consumers Against Deceptive Fees. Council wants to know how else the money was used in Cleveland. “We are waiting for information from Consumers Against Deceptive Fees, but we know that they received much more than the $200,000 that tracked back to another FirstEnergy dark money group,” said Council President Kelley, in a statement. “Generation Now seems to be the first stop for a huge amount of money that was then passed out. We want to know where it went and if it was used against the city of Cleveland and CPP.”

Mayor Frank Jackson says Cleveland will sue FirstEnergy over actions by dark-money group against CPP - – Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said Tuesday that he intends to sue FirstEnergy Corp. for efforts to undermine Cleveland Public Power, the city-owned electric utility.Jackson, speaking to the City Council, didn’t provide a date for when a city’s suit might be filed, nor did he specify damages for which the city would seek compensation.But unlike previous comments, when Jackson said Cleveland would consider legal action, the mayor was more definitive.“We’re developing a lawsuit on that. We’re going after them,” Jackson said. “I’m going to the jugular on our stuff.”FirstEnergy, contacted for comment by and The Plain Dealer, issued a statement.“FirstEnergy looks forward to engaging in discussions with city of Cleveland leaders to resolve outstanding issues. We support the city’s operation of Cleveland Public Power and are committed to fostering mutual respect for each other’s ability to serve customers,” the company said.Jackson was responding to questions from Councilman Mike Polensek during the council’s opening budget hearing. Polensek asked if the city would join a lawsuit filed by Columbus and Cincinnati seeking to overturn nuclear bailout fees contained in H.B. 6, which FirstEnergy had sought from the legislature.The fees would benefit Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which are owned by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary once owned.That legislation is tied into a statehouse bribery scandal that toppled former House Speaker Larry Householder and already has led to several indictments.

More Ohioans Want Some Say On Location Of Wastewater Injection Wells – WOSU - Each well drilled using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas production creates tens of millions of gallons of wastewater, called produced water or brine.In Ohio, much of that wastewater is disposed of in underground injection wells, including waste from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. As the number of injection wells grows in Ohio, local communities want some control over where these wells are located. In Belmont County, Ohio, Judy Burger’s husband is getting ready to retire. After 25 years, their peaceful home near the highway is quickly changing, “I’m a nervous wreck, I’m on blood pressure medicine,” she said. “I have my Venetian blinds closed in my house so I don’t have to look across the street to see the mayhem and the destruction and the coming reality.” Across the street, OMNI Energy Group of New Jersey has been drilling two frack waste injection wells. Heavy construction equipment has torn up the ground, and some days loud drilling noises remind her of what’s coming. When the work is done, wastewater from oil and gas operations in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will be trucked here. According to a state transportation study, 48 trucks will enter and exit the site during peak hours in the morning and afternoon to inject waste into the wells, a salty brine that the U.S. EPA says can be toxic and radioactive. Burger doesn’t want to live here anymore, and she doubts anyone else would either. “It’s beyond description, how horrible it is to feel like you’re stuck. We were told we have no property value,” she said. “Nobody would buy our property.” Burger wants it known that she is not an environmentalist. She voted for the past two Republican governors. “Yes, I’m a Republican. I voted for Mike DeWine. I voted for John Kasich,” she said. But she blames those same Republicans for supporting industry over local communities. “Why the state favors somebody who comes in here from out of state over its own citizens?” Burger asked. “That’s what’s happening.” For years, many Republican leaders in southeastern Ohio have lined up to support the oil and gas industry. They’ve seen some residents make good money from land leases and royalties, and find good-paying jobs in things like machinery rentals and pipeline construction. But, like Burger, some of those same leaders in Belmont County are flummoxed by the lack of local control in citing the OMNI injection wells, and two others nearby by another company. “We’ve got the township trustees don’t want it. We’ve got the county commissioners don’t want it. We’ve got the state rep don’t want it. We’ve got the locals that don’t want it,” said state Sen. Frank Hoagland (R-Mingo Junction), who represents the area. “And I myself put in a letter saying we don’t need it there.”

 Rep. Balderson calls report stating decline of oil, gas industry “misleading” - U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) criticized a recent report from the think tank Ohio River Valley Institute that said 22 counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia responsible for 90 percent of the oil and gas production in the Appalachian region saw their share of jobs, personal income, and population all decline since the start of the fracking boom in 2008.“This so-called report is nothing more than a scam to undermine the energy sector, which has long withstood slanderous labels and stereotypes that demean the livelihoods of blue-collar workers,” Balderson said. “In reality, thousands of Ohioans rely on energy jobs to support their families, and in turn, these jobs lay the foundation for the regions’ total economy by supporting small local suppliers, restaurants, and more.” Balderson and a group of key Ohio stakeholders found the report misleading and said it does not present all relevant data, such as figures showing per capita income increasing for residents of the seven Ohio counties included in the report. According to Ohio Development Services Agency data from 2008-2018, all seven counties – Belmont, Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison, Guernsey, Noble, and Monroe – experienced an increase in per capita income by an average of 36.67 percent. From 19 micro-sized refineries with a combined capacity of just 68 Mb/d in the late1940s, the refining sector in Western Canada has undergone decades of expansion and eventual consolidation to reach the final tally of nine refineries (green numbered diamonds in Figure 1) with a total capacity of 770 Mb/d as of 2020. Of that, the combined capacity of the refineries in Alberta (#1 to #5) is 546 Mb/d, while those in Saskatchewan (#6 and #7) total 147 Mb/d and British Columbia’s (#8 and #9) refining capacity adds up to 67 Mb/d. Note that Alberta’s and Western Canada’s total refinery capacity are slightly higher than we stated in Part 1 due to a subsequent year-end disclosure by one of the refiners — more about this in a moment.

Is fracking helping or hurting? Oil & gas industry weighs in on new report - WTRF– Is fracking helpful or harmful? That’s the question surrounding a new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute.  It claims counties in our area suffered as production increased in oil and natural gas, but those working in the industry have a very different view. “This report is nothing more than once again, someone who is out of town and out of touch talking bad to the Ohio Valley.”  That’s basically how the Ohio Oil and Gas Association said it feels about the Ohio River Valley Institute’s fracking counties economic impact report called “Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return”. While the report claims that the industry’s promises of jobs and money to local economies weren’t delivered, others say that’s not what’s happening in our area.    Unless you’ve been here and seen it it’s easy to drive through and think ‘oh  nothing’s ever happened here look how bad it is’. If they’d seen it before versus where it is now there’s a big difference.  The Ohio River Valley Institute’s report says natural gas counties are suffering.  So, 7News took their data for the last ten years to those representing the oil and gas industries and local counties for comparison.  Let’s start with jobs.  The report claims that jobs in the 22 county region covered didn’t live up to the 450,000 jobs that were expected in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It goes on to say that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, jobs increased by 1.7%. That’s compared to the nationwide 10%.”Don’t take it from me. Take it from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services and their numbers say over 200,000 Ohioans work in the Ohio oil and gas industry. Now, you add this to the Pennsylvania number and the West Virginia that becomes several hundred thousand very quickly. MIKE CHADSEY, Ohio Oil and Gas Association What about impact on the economy?  The report says while economic output grew by 60%, little of that money actually made it into local economies.   The Ohio Oil and Gas Association countered with numbers from the state.  They tell us that the average wage in the oil and gas industry is higher than the overall wage in the state of Ohio. That’s a really good thing. We also know that $86 billion has been invested in Ohio over the last 10 years because of shale development. 

DEP gives OK to public comment on fracking wastewater permits   --The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to allow public comment on permits at 49 fracking waste facilities. The sites include tank farms, industrial treatment plants, and well pads that use, store or process liquid fracking waste. The agency approved the permits in December and January without public comment. But environmental groups protested, saying the DEP’s own rules required a notice-and-comment period. The DEP agreed, in a signed settlement. The 49 permits were renewals of existing permits, made after the agency updated its wastewater reuse and storage permitting program at the beginning of the year. Without public comment, the environmental groups said people would not have been able to scrutinize the permits for 10 more years, the life of the new permit. Over that time, much of the facilities’ operations could change, said Lisa Hallowell, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, one of the groups that lobbied for the public comment period. “It’s possible that there’s new infrastructure that’s been added (to a site) that would bring additional dangers or concerns that the community might want to know about,” Hallowell said. “The permit renewal cycle allows for all of this information to be packaged together and submitted to the people to scrutinize it. And in some cases, maybe not much has changed. But there’s certainly the potential for many, many components of the process to change.” David Callahan, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement the groups’ push for more public comment was “another activist attempt to halt natural gas development” and said the facilities “have been rigorously reviewed and subject to regular inspection.” But leaks or spills can pose a public risk. The waste contains carcinogenic chemicals, heavy metals, and high levels of radioactive materials. A 2011 analysis by federal scientists found concentrations of radium, a radioactive element found naturally underground, roughly 40 times what the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies as “hazardous” or “radioactive” waste. (Federal law exempts oil and gas waste from being classified as “hazardous waste.”)

Pipelines Make Uncomfortable Neighbors in Appalachia -- More than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines run throughout the United States. In Appalachia, they spread like spaghetti across the region. Many of these lines were built in just the past five years to carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where hydraulic fracturing has boomed. West Virginia alone has seen a fourfold increase in natural gas production in the past decade. Such fast growth has also brought hundreds of safety and environmental violations, particularly under the Trump administration’s reduced oversight and streamlined approvals for pipeline projects. While energy companies promise economic benefits for depressed regions, pipeline projects are upending the lives of people in their paths. As a technical and professional communication scholar focused on how rural communities deal with complex problems and a geography scholar specializing in human-environment interactions, we teamed up to study the effects of pipeline development in rural Appalachia. In 2020, we surveyed and talked with dozens of people living close to pipelines in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.What we found illuminates the stress and uncertainty that communities experience when natural gas pipelines change their landscape. Residents live with the fear of disasters, the noise of construction, and the anxiety of having no control over their own land. Appalachians are no strangers to environmental risk. The region has a long and complicated history with extractive industries, including coal and hydraulic fracturing. However, it’s rare to hear firsthand accounts of the long-term effects of industrial infrastructure development in rural communities, especially when it comes to pipelines, because they are the result of more recent energy-sector growth. For all of the people we talked to, the process of pipeline development was drawn out and often confusing. Some reported never hearing about a planned pipeline until a “land man”—a gas company representative—knocked on their door offering to buy a slice of their property; others said that they found out through newspaper articles or posts on social media. Every person we spoke with agreed that the burden ultimately fell on them to find out what was happening in their communities.

Neighbors still haunted 10 years after deadly gas explosion - The emptiness across the block still unsettles Elsa Reyes after midnight, when she returns from work to her North 13th Street home in Allentown. During the first five years Reyes lived on the east side of the 500 block, eight row homes stood across the street. Her son Joel would walk to school with a girl, Katherine Cruz, who lived at 542 N. 13th St. But for a long time now, Reyes has turned the corner at Allen Street to see nothing but five small white crosses on the end of a vacant lot. Ten years ago, a natural gas explosion leveled the homes, killing 16-year-old Cruz; her 4-month-old son, Matthew Manuel Vega; and her 69-year-old grandmother, Ofelia Ben. A couple living next door — William Hall, 79, and his wife, Beatrice, 74 — also died. Long after the debris was cleared, the site has remained subdivided into eight undeveloped plots. At night, the emptiness plays mind games with the neighbors who lived through the disaster. Cathy Royack, who lives a few doors down from Reyes, sometimes sees the Halls’ Christmas lights. And Reyes revisits the moment her son ran out into the bitter cold Feb. 9, 2011, to see if he could rescue his friend. “We are still traumatized,” Reyes said last week. “You see the lot, and you see the crosses, and you remember: People died there.”

150 years of spills: Philadelphia refinery cleanup highlights toxic legacy of fossil fuels (Reuters) - Wearing blue hard hats, white hazmat suits and respirator masks, workers carted away bags of debris on a recent morning from a sprawling and now-defunct oil refinery once operated by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES). Other laborers ripped asbestos from the guts of an old boiler house, part of a massive demolition and redevelopment of the plant, which closed in 2019 after a series of explosions at the facility. Plans call for the nearly 1,400-acre site to be transformed into a new commercial hub with warehousing and offices. All it will take is a decade, hundreds of millions of dollars, and confronting 150 years’ worth of industrial pollution, including buried rail cars and a poisonous stew of waste fuels poured onto the ground. A U.S. refinery cleanup of this size and scope has no known precedent, remediation experts said. It’s a glimpse of what lies ahead if the United States hopes to wean itself off fossil fuels and clean up the toxic legacy of oil, gas and coal. It’s a transition fraught with challenges. Among the biggest is what to do with the detritus left behind. The old PES plant is just one of approximately 135 oil refineries nationwide, to say nothing of the country’s countless gas stations, pipelines, storage hubs, drill pads and other graying energy infrastructure. In recent months, at least six other large U.S. oil refineries - from New Jersey to California - have announced they will close or cease oil refining as the coronavirus pandemic has sapped global fuel demand.

Fire at Oil and Gas Waste Site Raises Safety Concerns Around Possible Radioactive Accidents – DeSmog - On the evening of February 1, a fire erupted at a West Virginia facility that processes radioactive oilfield waste generated from nearby fracking operations, injuring two workers. A video of the fire captured by local news station WTRF shows a raging nighttime inferno billowing out of the collapsed building.Initial news reports described the facility — located in Dallas Pike, 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh — as a truck stop cleaning station. However, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) confirmed to DeSmog that the facility, which the agency says is owned and operated by Ohio-based company Petta Enterprises, does a lot more than clean trucks: It processes oil and gas waste. And the agency confirmed that it was the volatile nature of this waste — transported inside trucks arriving at the site — that helped cause the blaze.The blast raises concerns about the risk to health and the environment from waste processing facilities like this which continue to pop up around the Marcellus and Utica shale region, not just in West Virginia, but also Ohio and Pennsylvania. Community members, advocacy groups, and some industry workers fear that the government, whether local, state, or federal, is not properly regulating or monitoring the toxic and radioactive waste produced from fracking and being processed at sites like the Dallas Pike facility.Lou Vargo, Director of West Virginia’s Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, told DeSmog the blaze occurred when a type of worksite space heating unit called a torpedo heater ignited vapors leftover in an oil and gas waste truck that was being cleaned at the facility. The heater apparently was being used to warm the workspace on a cold, snowy night.    “We got there at 8:00 p.m. that night and everything was pretty well burnt up,” said Vargo. “We believe that when the workers opened the truck hatch to start cleaning inside the truck, there must have been enough vapors left in there that came out, and it was in close enough range that they came in contact with the flame from the torpedo heater.”Video of the February 1 fire at Petta's Dallas Pike, West Virginia, oil and gas waste processing site, from local news station WTRF.Two workers suffered burns. One of them, according to a brief summary of the incident provided to DeSmog by theWVDEP, was “badly injured.” Vargo said this worker was transported to a burn center in Pittsburgh, but had no further details.The Department of Environmental Protection summary indicates that the torpedo heater caused the explosion by igniting condensate gas and petroleum that was “mingled” with the fracking flowback matter and brine in the truck. Flowback and brine are both fluid byproducts from oil and gas extraction with toxic and radioactive constituents.

 Manchin Letter To The President Highlighting The Importance Of Fracking -Last week, Senator Manchin of West Virginia sent a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to carefully consider the benefits of natural gas as Biden forms his energy policy: “Responsible production of natural gas and practices like hydraulic fracturing have improved our nation’s energy security while supporting the nearly 1.5 million hard working Americans the industry employs.”Manchin highlights the role that the “shale revolution” played in America’s energy security and which resulted in the “U.S. becoming a net total energy exporter in 2019 for the first time in 67 years.”The letter continues: “The U.S. Geological Survey recently estimated that there are still 214 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable continuous resources of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations alone. Responsible production of our abundant resources is critical. That includes using existing technologies and continuing to innovate new ways to reduce methane flaring and leaks from oil and gas systems and expanding our energy infrastructure and gathering lines to instead get that product to market. I also strongly support advancing carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies, including for natural gas applications, to further reduce emissions.”

Residents asked to reduce natural gas usage as frozen pipes cause shortage across Midwest - — Fulton residents are being asked to reduce their natural gas usage due to a massive spike in natural gas prices caused by frozen natural gas wells in Oklahoma and Texas. The City of Fulton held a special press briefing on Friday to urge residents to reduce their natural gas usage. The city said frozen natural gas wells in Oklahoma and Texas are causing a shortage of available natural gas, leading to an increase of as much as 100 times the typical purchase price. The City says it has reserves in its natural gas fund to cover unexpected costs so natural gas customers won't necessarily see an increase in their utility bills. However, costs could eventually be passed on to consumers if prices remain high. The City said this problem is not only impacting the City of Fulton but other natural gas utilities throughout the Midwest. Lowering a home’s thermostat by only a couple of degrees can have a significant impact on natural gas consumption and costs, the City said. Ameren a Mid-Missouri natural gas provider and Columbia's provider stated in communications with KRCG-13 that they are aware of the impact cold temperatures can have on natural gas service, however their supplies are adequate at this time. They suggest prudent use of natural gas would be best given the low temperatures which will help customers save money during this extended cold period.

Weekend Freeze to Set Records in US as Energy Prices Spike (Bloomberg) -- There’s no respite this weekend for much of the U.S. with temperatures likely to hit new lows. Arctic cold is already gripping much of the interior, freezing natural gas pipelines and threatening snow as far south as Houston. Nearly 300 new daily temperature records could be set mainly across the Great Plains from Canada to Texas through Tuesday, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. The frigid air is heating up gas and electric markets as U.S. residents turn up thermostats to stay warm. “One of the main stories is the very cold temperatures and the expanse of the cold,” Chenard said. “Most of the country will be at or below average except Florida.” Furthermore, a series of winter storms will ride along the leading edge of the cold from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast. That could bring 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of snow across western Washington and Oregon, including Seattle, while ice and sleet could touch Houston before coming up the East Coast early next week. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s main power grid, warned of record power demand due to extreme temperatures. The average spot price for electricity in North Texas climbed 738% to $289.40 a megawatt-hour Thursday at 2 p.m. local time, after much of the region spiked briefly to about $1,900 earlier, according to data compiled by Genscape Inc. Prices for gas, propane and heating oil, fuels used to heat homes, are also surging, and not just because of elevated demand. Temperatures are low enough to trigger so-called freeze-offs, when wells shut down because of liquids freezing inside pipelines. Texas facilities operated by pipeline companies DCP Midstream LP and Targa Resources Corp. were reported shut on Thursday due to the cold. The impact on regional gas prices has been dramatic. The rate for next-day delivery at the Oneok hub, which hauls Oklahoma gas to networks serving the Midwest, rose sixfold Thursday. Gas for next-day delivery to Houston and Chicago climbed to the highest in seven years. Chenard said the country can expect a mix of ultra-cold lows, with high temperatures that struggle to be anything but frigid. What makes the outlook all the more remarkable is that it’s the dead of winter, so the air has to really chill to set new marks. Also noteworthy is how far into Texas the cold will get, along with the potential of snow, sleet, and freezing rain reaching Houston lateNew Tab Sunday into Monday. In Lubbock, Texas, Monday’s forecast high will be 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius), which will shatter the old record of 30 for the date. “You don’t often see records being broken by that much,”

US oil and natural gas prices rise as freezing temperatures leave millions without power in Texas- U.S oil and natural gas prices rose on Tuesday, as freezing cold weather battered Texas's energy infrastructure, leaving millions without power.WTI crude oil was up 0.52% to $59.77 per barrel as of 6.10am ET. That was just off a more than one-year high of more than $60.80 touched on Monday as plunging temperatures hit Texan oil plants.Natural gas futures were up 5.8% to $3.079 per million British thermal units on Tuesday, trading at around the highest levels since November.More than 3 million people have been left without power in Texas and close to 5 million around the US as a whole, according to, as a rare winter storm sweeps the country.Temperatures fell to 4F (-16C) overnight in Dallas, Texas, and have plunged across Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and elsewhere.It has been challenging for Texas's energy grid, which does not pay generators to keep capacity in reserve. The weather has forced many generators to stop production.Wholesale energy prices have skyrocketed, at times above the market cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour, compared to prices of around $25 to $50 per MWh before the winter storms.The frigid temperatures have hit oil production and natural gas supplies and led to a surge in demand for energy, causing prices to spike.Heating oil futures - a proxy for diesel - were up 2.58% to $1.817 per gallon on Tuesday morning. Gasoline futures were up 4.11% to $1.7621 a gallon.Texas is also home to some of the country's biggest oil refineries, as well as the heart of the shale basin.  Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at currency firm Oanda, said he thought the US oil market had been due a correction after a surge in prices in recent weeks. But he said the current weather situation "will likely continue to offset that."

Natural-gas prices soar amid freezing U.S. temperatures, while oil prices settle at a more than one-year high  --Natural-gas futures mark highest finish since November Natural-gas futures led an across-the-board surge in energy prices on Tuesday, as swaths of the U.S. struggled with subzero temperatures and rolling blackouts hit several states. "Elevated, weather-driven demand across much of the nation" supported the rally for natural gas, said Tyler Richey, co-editor at Sevens Report Research. "Supply has also become an issue in some locations as the storage infrastructure has literally frozen, preventing physical delivery to various consumers," including utility companies, which contributed to some regional power issues. March natural gas climbed 22 cents, or nearly 7.5% to settle at $3.129 per million British thermal units, with front-month contract prices logging their highest settlement since early November of last year, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The surge in prices came as the Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, ordered utilities to start rolling blackouts (link) to cope with an exhausted supply of reserve energy. That came as a winter storm swept from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf Coast of the U.S., bringing freezing temperatures as far south as San Antonio.Extreme winter weather forced wind power generators in Texas offline and caused spikes in electricity prices. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas estimated two million people were without power on Monday evening, The Wall Street Journal reported (link). President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott, paving the way for emergency aid to reach the state. The storm has killed two people so far in Texas. "Since many well sites are frozen, there is little gas to feed pipelines," . "Any available gas is being prioritized for heating rather than for electricity generation, further exacerbating the shortage for electric generation in Texas." "For natural-gas producers, it is a 'theoretical windfall', but practically just a missed opportunity," said Raj. "Even though prices have skyrocketed beyond anybody's belief, little gas is actually available to trade at these prices."

U.S. natgas gains 3% as winter storm persists (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose nearly 3% on Wednesday to a more than three-month high, extending its rally to a third session as a cold snap continued to wreak havoc on the energy industry and fuel soaring demand for heating. Front-month gas futures NGc1 rose 9.0 cents, or 2.9%, to settle at $3.219 per million British thermal units, shaking off initial declines, which analysts attributed to forecasts suggesting a likely reprieve from the deep freeze next week. Prices jumped over 10% on Tuesday to hit a high since Nov. 3 at $3.214. "The current cold snap is expected to take a heavy toll on amount of gas available now and also down the road," "The spike in the consumption coupled with the continued decline in production makes the gas market tighter than before." Unusually freezing weather is likely to wreak havoc on U.S. oil and gas production for several days, if not weeks, according to industry experts, as companies deal with frozen equipment and a lack of power to run operations. The deep freeze left millions without power along the U.S. Gulf Coast, causing power prices to surge, especially in Texas - the country's biggest oil and natural gas producer. Next-day power for Wednesday at the ERCOT North hub, which includes the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, spiked to a record of $8,800 per MWh, a nearly sixfold jump from $1,490 on Tuesday. Next-day prices at Waha hub in the Permian basin in West Texas also hit an all-time peak of $209.75 per mmBtu. Power at PJM Western Hub hit a high since January 2018. Daily U.S. natural gas production has fallen by roughly 17% from the end of last week to 72.1 billion cubic feet per day on Wednesday, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv Eikon. nL1N2KL0HR Data provider Refinitiv estimated 401 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks in the Lower 48 U.S. states, slightly down from Tuesday's forecast of 425 HDDs. The normal is 374 HDDs for this time of year. HDDs measure the number of degrees a day's average temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). The measure is used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses. Prices will be susceptible to selling in the coming days as temperatures ease, said Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston. Meanwhile, Refinitiv projected average demand, including exports, would ease to 122.2 to billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) next week from this week's 144.4 bcfd, while staying above the five-year average of 107.2 bcfd. 

Natural Gas Prices Hit Historic $999/MMBtu High as Unrivaled Cold Strains Supply, Fuels Record Demand - Natural gas futures soared Tuesday following a historic Arctic freeze that crippled much of the nation’s natural gas infrastructure as demand soared to unprecedented levels. The March Nymex gas futures contract settled at $3.129/MMBtu, up 21.7 cents from Friday. April prices lagged a bit, climbing 10.7 cents to $2.983. Cash prices remained volatile after the weekend, with next-day gas in Oklahoma surging as high as $999.00 amid the unparalleled winter blast that slammed the region. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. rose $18.800 from Friday’s levels to $80.760. The American Gas Association said 151.7 Bcf of natural gas was delivered in the United States on Sunday and 149.8 Bcf was delivered on Monday, setting a record for demand over the two-day period. Monday was the second highest delivery day ever. However, the record demand was not without its challenges. Operational issues on more than 30 natural gas pipelines, as well as numerous storage facilities and gas plants, were reported amid the multi-day stretch of bitter weather, reducing supplies as extreme cold blanketed the country’s midsection. Northern Natural Gas declared a critical day across its system for Wednesday. The pipeline indicated it is at “imminent risk” of experiencing reduced receipts at pipeline interconnects in its market and field areas. A standard operating limit was in place by late Tuesday. “It is uncertain when this situation will improve. As this situation continues, Northern’s pipeline system integrity will be negatively impacted if deliveries are in excess of receipts, resulting in low line pack levels across the entire system,” it said.

Deep cold puts pinch on natural gas, drives Missouri prices sky-high — Natural gas providers urged St. Louis customers to minimize their usage of heat Monday, even as single-digit temperatures and subzero windchills gripped the region and a huge portion of the U.S. The widespread cold has sent gas demand soaring — and prices skyrocketing — while simultaneously creating supply problems, such as frozen gas wells. The multi-sided crunch is prompting calls from utilities for their customers to conserve. “It’s just straining the entire system,” said Scott Carter, the president of Spire Missouri, the St. Louis-based natural gas utility. Spire issued a statement Sunday requesting that its gas users reduce consumption. Ameren, the St. Louis-based energy monopoly, also issued similar advisories Monday for its 132,000 natural gas customers. In parts of Missouri, market prices for natural gas have risen more than 200 times compared with their levels from just last week, said Ewell Lawson, the vice president of external affairs for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, which helps coordinate a natural gas supply pool for 11 municipalities in the state. Other states faced a similar plight: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, for example, said the subzero temperatures have driven wholesale prices 10- to 100-times higher than normal. There’s a chance that customers could be shielded from the exorbitant prices. Many natural gas providers buy the bulk of their supply in advance, and store it. But as reserves dwindle, utilities will likely need to turn to the sky-high prices on the wholesale market. “We don’t want to get to that point where we have to tap into those market prices,” said Lawson. “That’s not to say that we won’t have to.” Spire said its local operations are holding up just fine. But Carter said a primary issue is that extreme cold has frozen natural gas wells in places like Texas and Oklahoma, choking off the gas they would typically supply to national distribution systems. Wells in those locations aren’t designed for such conditions, he explained, and the loss of their production creates a void in the system that can domino.

Ford shuts F-150 plant as winter storm creates natural gas shortage - Ford is shutting its Kansas City assembly plant, which makes its best-selling F-150 pickup, because of a shortage of natural gas caused by severe winter weather hitting much of the country."To ensure we minimize our use of natural gas that is critical to heat people's homes, we decided to cancel operations for a week, beginning Saturday, February 13," Ford said in a statement. "We expect to return to normal operations on Monday, February 22."About 200 million people were under some sort of weather-related alert Tuesday as a winter storm pummeled much of the United States. After hitting Texas and Oklahoma especially hard, the storm was expected to move out through the Northeast late Tuesday, leaving a trail of heavy snow and ice in its path, CNN Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said.Oil and natural gas prices rose sharply this week as the storm disrupted normal operations in the Permian Basin, the fracking capital of the United States. The price of natural gas jumped more than 5% Tuesday.General Motors confirmed that it canceled the first shift at four plants Tuesday, but that was due to the weather and not a shortage of natural gas. The plants are located in Spring Hill, Tennessee; Ft. Wayne, Indiana' Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Arlington, Texas. The company said it would make a decision on the second shift later Tuesday, based upon local weather conditions. Stellantis, the new name of the company previously known as Fiat Chrysler, confirmed it shut its Toledo, Ohio, Assembly plant, also due to weather.

No Easy Answers as Texas Power Grid, Natural Gas Market Rocked by Unprecedented Cold Snap - Rotating power outages continued to impact Texas end-users on Tuesday as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) scrambled to restore service amid a blast of arctic cold that sent the electric grid and natural gas markets into chaos. Texas power prices About 10,500 MW of customer load, equal to the demand of about 2 million homes, was shed at the highest point on Monday as the extreme weather caused “many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable,” ERCOT said. The independent system operator, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million Texas customers, said that while it was “already contending with frozen wind turbines and limited gas supplies to generating units on Feb. 14, a significant number of additional generating units tripped offline when the weather worsened overnight.” [Want to know how global LNG demand impacts North American fundamentals? To find out, subscribe to LNG Insight.] The outages extended south of the border as well, with Mexican grid operator CENACE enacting rolling blackouts across the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas. “The number of controlled outages we have to do remains high,” said ERCOT’s Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations in a tweet posted at 8:23am CT on Tuesday. “We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day.” Around 11:30 am CT Tuesday, ERCOT said it had directed local utilities to restore power to 400,000 households, in addition to 500,000 households whose electricity had been restored as of Monday evening. ERCOT said it expected to restore more customers by the afternoon as additional wind, solar and thermal output became available. However, “the amount we restore will depend on how much generation is actually able to come online.” ERCOT urged Texans without power to turn off their thermostats and unplug appliances, warning that too much load on restored circuits at once could cause another outage. The bitter cold blast and shortage of natural gas pushed natural gas prices into the stratosphere on Tuesday. At midday, Texas natural gas prices were up $238.835 to $400.000 at Houston Ship Channel, and ahead $55.280 to $204.680 at the Waha hub.

East Is East, West Is West - U.S. Natural Gas Spot Prices Race To $600/MMBtu As Midcon Runs Out Of Gas --Physical natural gas spot prices in the U.S. Midcontinent trading as high as $600/MMBtu, while Northeast prices barely flinch – that was the upside-down reality physical traders were contending with Friday in trading for the long weekend, with Winter Storm Uri bearing down on large swaths of the Lower 48 and spreading bitter-cold, icy weather from the Midwest and Northeast to Texas and the Deep South. The record-shattering, triple-digit spot prices, mostly all west of the Mississippi River, were indicative of some of the worst supply shortages the market has seen during the generally oversupplied Shale Era, or ever. But the East vs. West price divergence also marks the culmination of years of shifting gas supply and flow patterns that have redefined regional dynamics. The market will be digesting the various impacts of this still-unfolding event for days, but some of the effects and implications can be gleaned already from daily pipeline flows. In today’s blog we provide an early look at the market impacts of the polar plunge. Last Friday, February 12, as most of the Lower 48 was cranking up the heat and hunkering down for some of the coldest weather in decades, the physical gas market went absolutely berserk. You wouldn’t know that from futures trading — the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt futures contract last week dallied just under $3/MMBtu for March delivery and settled at $2.912/MMBtu Friday. But prices for physical “next-day” delivery of gas at the dozens of hubs across the U.S., which reflect the immediate and localized market for the long, holiday weekend, skyrocketed to previously unimaginable levels, with volumes trading at hundreds of dollars per MMBtu at many physical trading hubs — in some cases 200x the price just days earlier and three times the previous all-time highs (which were also in the triple-digits).

US working natural gas volumes in underground storage decline 237 Bcf: EIA | S&P Global Platts -- US natural gas storage inventories posted the largest withdrawal of the winter last week with the largest pull ever possible for the week in progress as an arctic storm sweeps across the nation, propelling summer strip prices. Storage inventories decreased by 237 Bcf to 2.281 Tcf for the week-ended Feb. 12 the US Energy Information Administration reported the morning of Feb. 18. Natural gas prices gained ground this week, with the March NYMEX contract touching near $3.30/MMBtu earlier this week – although prices backed off to near $3.09/MMBtu following the storage report. Temperatures across key producing regions of the country plummeted for the week ended Feb. 12 – sparking massive production curtailments. Record levels of production losses and heightened demand sparked huge gains in spot natural gas prices across the country – with multiple locations getting deep into the triple digits – with Henry Hub cash establishing an all-time high too. The call on storage increasing by 13.3 Bcf/d week over week. On the demand side of the ledger, US consumption increased by roughly 13 Bcf/d as heating degree days jumped sharply. Outside of residential and commercial, gas-fired generation demand grew 1.7 Bcf/d week over week as lower wind generation and higher total loads pushed the call on thermal generation nearly 10% higher week over week. LNG sendouts decreased by nearly 50% week over week – with milder temperatures in the Northeast sparking the reduction, according to Platts Analytics. The withdrawal was less than the 251 Bcf draw expected by an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts. The pull proved much stronger than the 141 Bcf draw reported during the same week last year as well as the five-year average withdrawal of 142 Bcf, according to EIA data. Storage volumes now stand 105 Bcf, or 4.4%, less than the year-ago level of 2.386 Tcf and 57 Bcf, or 2.6%, more than the five-year average of 2.224 Tcf. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model expects a 369 Bcf draw for the week-ending Feb. 19, which would register as the largest weekly withdraw from working gas stocks in US history, according to EIA data. US production was down 10 Bcf/d – with much of the losses stemming from weather induced curtailments in Texas, Southeast and the Midwest regions. Losses could be greater than current modeled output suggests, as sample declines have been pronounced. The largest weekly storage decline on record stands at 359 Bcf, which was set for the week-ended Jan. 5, 2018. During that week, a "bomb cyclone" blasted its way across the US, prompting freeze-offs and pipeline-related outages, dropping supply by 3 Bcf/d. At that time, when the freeze-offs primarily hit the Midwest and Texas, production bounced back within a week.

US natural gas falls on smaller storage draw - US natural gas futures fell more than 4% on Thursday, snapping a three-day gaining streak, as a smaller-than-expected storage draw last week and forecasts for a reprieve from an Arctic blast weighed on prices. Front-month gas futures fell 13.7 cents, or 4.3%, to settle at $3.082 per million British thermal units. In the previous session prices hit their highest since Nov. 2 at $3.316 per mmbtu. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast US utilities pulled 237 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Feb. 12. That was lower than the 252-bcf draw analysts forecast in a Reuters poll, but above a decrease of 141 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average withdrawal of 142 bcf. The data covers the period that ended Friday, just before blistering cold and snow hit most of Texas, New Mexico and other big energy producing areas, shuttering millions of barrels of production and refining output. Thomas Saal said this week’s draw, announced next Thursday, would likely be a big number although it could be offset by forced blackouts in Texas and Oklahoma. “Last week’s weather was cold but not as much as it is now.” Texas produces the most gas - almost a quarter of the US total. It is also the biggest consumer of gas in the nation, accounting for about 15% of the total, and it exports more gas to other states and nations than it pulls in. Natural gas production in the Lower 48 US states fell to 72.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Wednesday, its lowest since August 2017, according to Refinitiv data. On Thursday, preliminary data from Refinitiv showed output is expected to edge up to 73.5 bcfd. Refinitiv estimated 397 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks in the Lower 48 US states, down from Wednesday’s forecast of 401 HDDs.

Head-Spinning Week Culminates with Natural Gas Futures, Cash Lower Again -- After a week in which the term “volatile” may be the understatement of the year, natural gas prices in both the futures and spot gas markets ended Friday on a much quieter note. Still trying to digest the past week’s crippling Arctic blast and the long-term implications it may have on natural gas, traders pushed the March Nymex gas futures contract down 1.3 cents to $3.069. April finished at $2.991, up 2.1 cents. working gas in storage Spot gas action continued to slow as temperatures throughout the Midcontinent and Texas were forecast to climb from the record lows experienced over the past week. NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. fell $4.385 to $4.475. An unbelievable week in the natural gas market that all started with an Arctic blast that gripped the country’s midsection down into Texas fittingly ended with power restored to nearly all Texas homes and businesses. That said, the storm, on a more figurative level, is far from over. The lack of clarity was likely what kept futures traders content with leaving their positions relatively intact ahead of the weekend. “It’s difficult to know if futures are trading on impacts from the recent/current Arctic blast or are looking to late February and early March patterns to decide if April prices are worthy of $3 or not,” said NatGasWeather. If the latter, the forecaster said there is more cold weather forecast late in the coming week. The latest Global Forecast System (GFS) was trending even colder across the central and northern United States, and it was also a little colder into the Northeast March 1. However, the model was “a bit too mild” over most of the country March 3-6.

Jerry Jones' Company Hits 'Jackpot' As Storms Send Gas Prices Surging - The winter storms gripping much of the United States have devastated many families and businesses, with frigid temperatures and power outages causing particularly dire conditions in Texas. But for oil and gas producers that have managed to keep production going, this is proving to be a big payday. Jerry Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, appears to be one of the beneficiaries. Comstock Resources Inc., a shale driller that operates in Texas and Louisiana, told investors on an earnings call this week that the surge in natural gas prices was providing it with a major — albeit almost certainly temporary — financial boost. The company is publicly traded but Jones holds a majority of the shares. "Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot," President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Burns said Wednesday. The storm has reduced natural gas output at the same time that demand — for both home heating and power generation — has skyrocketed. That's resulted in catastrophic shortages, as well as some truly eye-popping prices for natural gas in the affected regions. Many in the oil and gas industry have taken a blow because wells and pipelines have stopped working in the unexpected cold. But Comstock was already ramping up production in anticipation that natural gas prices would increase, and now finds itself benefiting from what it described as "super-premium prices" of "anywhere from" $15 per thousand cubic feet to as much as $179 per thousand cubic feet. For comparison, the company had sold the same gas last quarter for an average of $2.40 per thousand cubic feet.

Bedlam in U.S. Energy Markets Sends LNG Feed Gas Deliveries Spiraling Downward — U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals were struggling to bounce back Tuesday after feed gas deliveries in recent days plummeted to their lowest point since the fall amid a historic cold snap gripping much of the country that’s created unprecedented energy demand.  Deliveries to the terminals via interstate pipelines fell to 5.45 Bcf Monday, down from 9.16 Bcf on Friday, according to NGI data. The declines have been driven by facilities along the Gulf Coast, where some of the worst winter weather has touched down in an otherwise temperate part of the country. Nominations had bounced back by 2 Bcf day/day on Tuesday and were at 7.70 Bcf.   However, a return to normalcy is tenuous for now as record cold was again expected in Texas on Tuesday. The forecast in the South and along the East Coast is expected to remain cold in the coming days, which is likely to fuel more volatility in the U.S. gas market.  The weather has sent pipelines into emergency mode, with many declaring force majeures, operational flow orders and other restrictions. “Other declarations were made by multiple systems putting in place ‘human needs’ requirements,” Wood Mackenzie analysts said.  The American Gas Association said 151.7 Bcf of natural gas was delivered in the United States on Sunday and 149.8 Bcf was delivered on Monday, setting a record for demand over the two-day period. Monday was the second highest delivery day ever.

LNG Loading Disrupted as Weather Continues to Upend U.S. Export Operations -U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations were again disrupted on Wednesday as wintry weather continued to grip the Gulf Coast, forcing traders to shuffle cargoes as American exports continued to decline. Power has been restored at Cameron LNG in Hackberry, LA, after a problem with the transmission grid knocked it offline Monday. But the terminal was still working to ensure it could safely restart operations, a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, two of three liquefaction trains remained offline at Freeport LNG on Quintana Island in Texas in order to cut natural gas and electricity consumption in compliance with the state’s emergency declaration. Cheniere Energy Inc. also was said to be diverting cargoes away from Corpus Christi in South Texas to its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana for similar reasons. Emstream LNG broker Melissa Lindsay told NGI that traders were likely working through operational management issues to accommodate the disruptions, saying it’s likely that a handful of cargoes from the Gulf Coast have for now been canceled. Energy Aspects analyst James Waddell said his firm expects up to 10 cargoes would be lost or delayed because of U.S. outages, or a roughly 1 billion cubic meter bite out of global supply that should be spread between European and Asian markets. The loss, he added, is small compared to the number of cargoes that were drawn away from Europe last month when Asian LNG prices soared amid historic cold in the region and left European inventories depleted. While Waddell told NGI that the latest U.S. outages should help drive some restocking demand on the continent, Lindsay added that Europe is for now comfortable on supply. She said LNG bids for March were trading in the price range of the Title Transfer Facility benchmark minus about 30 to 40 cents. After jumping on Monday, gas benchmarks in Europe fell Tuesday. Meanwhile, spot prices in North Asia stopped falling. But significant gains in overseas prices aren’t expected because of the Arctic blast in the United States. “I think these outages would have to be prolonged” to see any meaningful increases in European or Asian prices.

 Natural Gas Market Chaos Continues as Texas Governor Bans Producers From Selling Outside State - The fallout of the prolonged Arctic freeze that’s draped over the central United States and into Texas is still unfolding, with a temporary ban on gas exports out of the Lone Star State the latest development in the ongoing crisis. Hours before the surprising announcement, steep decreases in production and large swings in demand fueled Nymex gas futures prices for a second day. Facing what potentially could be the largest storage withdrawal of the winter so far, the March Nymex natural gas futures contract settled Wednesday at $3.219, up 9.0 cents from Tuesday’s close. April picked up 4.9 cents to $3.032. Action in the cash markets remained volatile midweek as Oklahoma added another digit to next-day prices, while prices in other parts of the country also started to tack on more meaningful gains than in recent days. However, other areas tumbled in dramatic fashion, helping to send NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. down $40.135 to $40.625. The energy crisis in Texas is far from contained, with additional prolonged power outages implemented across the state early Wednesday as temperatures remained not far above freezing. The state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said some 185 generating units have tripped offline for one reason or another amid the unprecedented freeze. Until more generation comes back online, power restoration efforts would be hampered. [NGI’s natural gas price indexes have included trade data from both price reporters and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) since 2008. Find out more about our price index data here.] In a media address on Wednesday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that some natural gas produced in Texas is currently being shipped to locations outside of the state. In response, the governor issued an order prohibiting those producers from transporting that natural gas beyond state lines. “I have, earlier today [Wednesday], issued an order effective today through Feb. 21 requiring those producers that have been shipping to locations outside of Texas to instead sell that natural gas to Texas power generators,” Abbott said. “That will increase the ability of gas power generators in Texas to increase power sent to the Texas power grid.” In addition, Abbott said that President Biden has assisted Texas with orders that “allow additional power generation or have accelerated nuclear plant restoration.” In Texas, some 28,000 MW of thermal generation has been forced off the system during the extreme weather event, according to ERCOT. Another 18,000 MW of wind and solar also have been kicked off the grid. Overnight, ERCOT was able to restore around 3,500 MW of load, which is roughly 700,000 households. However, some of that was lost when the Midwest went into a power emergency of its own, and the grid operator was no longer able to import around 600 MW. As of 9 a.m. CT, ERCOT instructed local utilities to shed 14,000 MW of load representing around 2.8 million households. “The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online,”

With Worst of Energy Crisis Likely in Rear-View Mirror, Natural Gas Futures, Cash Prices Plummet -Despite the lack of clarity on the long-term impacts from this week’s Arctic storm, news that power had been restored to most Texas residents on Thursday and warmer weather seen moving into the Lower 48 by next week sent natural gas futures prices crumbling. A huge bearish miss in the latest government storage data sealed the drop, with the March Nymex futures contract tumbling 13.7 cents to settle the day at $3.082. A dramatic fall also occurred in the spot gas markets, where Oklahoma next-day gas plunged back to the single-digits after surging well into the thousands on Wednesday. Texas prices also fell hard, helping to send NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. tumbling $31.765 to $8.860. With temperatures slowly starting to climb from the unprecedented lows experienced earlier this week, gas prices too began to normalize on Thursday. Futures action was still volatile, though, with large decreases seen early in the trading session as the latest weather models teased at a more variable, rather than downright bitter, pattern beginning next week. Bespoke Weather Services said although there remains some North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) blocking that typically leads to colder conditions, a warmer signal is developing that portends at least some variability in the 15-day outlook. The southern United States is expected to see warmer weather, finally, as is the East, but there remains “cold air on the maps” from western Canada down into parts of the Rockies and Plains.  Regardless of the forecast, market fears related to the energy crisis in Texas appeared to be subsiding on Thursday.  As of Thursday morning, the state’s electric grid operator had restored power to all but around 500,000 households and businesses. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said it made “significant progress” overnight restoring power, although some outages still remain throughout the state.Meanwhile, several gas pipelines continue to face operational issues. El Paso Natural Gas and Kern River Gas Transmission both posted forces majeure on Wednesday related to the performance of several locations along the system and mechanical issues at compressor stations, respectively. Northern Natural Gas Pipeline also continued to operate Thursday with restrictions across its system. On the other hand, Golden Pass Pipeline lifted its force majeure at more locations in a sign that it continues to gradually return to normal operating conditions.Production freeze-offs, meanwhile, remain exceptionally high, and revisions in the data have shown even lower output levels than previously reported. Production came in at around 71 Bcf on Tuesday, down 3.4 Bcf day/day, according to Wood Mackenzie. The firm said, however, these low production numbers could be understated, as there could be a fair amount of gas in the Permian Basin and on intrastate pipelines that are being delivered directly to meet local demand rather than showing up as production in its models.

U.S. LNG Exports Bouncing Back as Weather Finally Shifts Along Gulf Coast - U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports were slowly recovering Friday, but the impacts of brutal cold along the Gulf Coast that nearly halted shipments altogether were lingering. Eighteen empty LNG vessels were floating in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, up from 12 on Thursday, Kpler economist Reid I’Anson told NGI. Another two tankers were diverted away from Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Corpus Christi LNG (CCL) terminal in South Texas to its Sabine Pass LNG plant in Louisiana. Both CCL and Cameron LNG in Louisiana remained offline Friday. Freeport LNG on Quintana Island, TX, was still operating at partial capacity. However, following disruptions at Gulf Coast ports caused by the unusual winter weather conditions, The Maran Gas Troy left Freeport LNG and the Gaslog Galveston departed Sabine Pass on Thursday, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data. Along with the Seri Balhaf, which left Freeport LNG on Wednesday, only three tankers have set sail from Gulf Coast LNG terminals since Feb. 14. LNG traders, brokers and executives expect up to 10 LNG cargoes to be lost because of the disruptions, according to a Bloomberg survey. The extreme cold impacted U.S. natural gas supply more than demand, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. Supply fell by 20% to 75 Bcf/d as the weather impacted production operations. The supply declines, analysts said, have been partially offset by demand disruptions, largely from reduced LNG exports. Total U.S. gas demand fell by 8 Bcf/d during the cold snap, with 70% of the demand decline caused by the loss of LNG exports. Feed gas nominations to U.S. terminals appeared to be recovering Friday at near 6 Bcf. Deliveries were well below that level throughout the Arctic blast and hit a low point of 2.20 Bcf on Tuesday, according to NGI data. Morgan Stanley analysts said LNG exports were expected to recover quickly. Temperatures were already rising in Texas and Louisiana on Friday and were forecast to continue climbing through the weekend. Given a warmer forecast and a lack of clarity on longer-term impacts from the storm, Henry Hub prices fell on Thursday. The March contract shed 13.7 cents to settle at $3.082/MMBtu on Thursday and finished lower at $3.069 on Friday. In North Asia, spot prices remained steady around $6.00/MMBtu as the region continued to assess the impact of U.S. outages. In Europe, prices fell on a warmer forecast and an improving outlook for U.S. LNG imports.

Energy Transfer to Take Out Enable Midstream for $7.2 Billion, Expand Natural Gas Footprint -Major U.S. pipeline operator Energy Transfer LP said Wednesday it would pay $2.6 billion in an all-stock deal to acquire Enable Midstream Partners LP. Including debt, the transaction is valued at $7.2 billion.Energy Transfer, whose plan to expand the controversial Dakota Access crude oil pipeline has been met with repeated court challenges and setbacks, would pick up natural gas gathering and processing assets across parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, while also combining Enable’s assets with its own existing gas operations on the U.S. Gulf Coast.The deal is a bid to bolster its natural gas transportation operations and offset the legal and political woes that threaten to imperil the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and other plaintiffs have opposed the pipeline that stretches from North Dakota to Illinois because of pollution concerns.The pipeline’s future is uncertain under a new Democrat administration that has vowed to ramp up efforts to safeguard the environment.President Biden, who took office in January, revoked a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported oil from Canada to the Lower 48. Opponents are pressing Biden to similarly halt Dakota Access, which transports 570,000 b/d of crude from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a terminal in Illinois. The Biden administration has said it is currently studying the project and may take until April to decide next steps. A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. this year ruled that government officials under former President Trump failed to conduct an environmental impact statement before moving ahead with the pipeline. The court upheld an earlier ruling that vacated a key federal permit.

Natural Gas Production from Seven Key U.S. Shale Plays to Fall from February to March, EIA Says - Natural gas production from seven key U.S. shale plays is set to fall by a combined 560 MMcf/d from February to March as output from most major producing regions is expected to slow over the next month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Combined natural gas output from the Anadarko, Appalachian and Permian basins, as well as from the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Niobrara shales, is set to fall from 82.586 Bcf/d in February to 82.026 Bcf/d in March, according to EIA’s latest Drilling Productivity Report (DPR), published Tuesday. Only the Haynesville is expected to grow gas output month/month, increasing 96 MMcf/d to 11.647 Bcf/d in March. The Appalachian Basin is expected to see the largest month/month decline, projected to lower output 260 MMcf/d to 34.250 Bcf/d; the Anadarko is on track to post the next largest decline, projected to drop 142 MMcf/d to 6.021 Bcf/d, according to the February DPR. Last month’s DPR modeled a similar monthly decline in natural gas output from the seven plays for the January-to-February time frame. Meanwhile, oil production from the plays is projected to drop a combined 77,000 b/d month/month to just over 7.5 million b/d. The Anadarko is projected to post the largest decline at 19,000 b/d, with the Bakken (down 18,000 b/d), the Eagle Ford (down 16,000 b/d) and the Niobrara (18,000) also projected to slow output. EIA expects the Permian, the most active U.S. onshore play, to slow output by 5,000 b/d to 4.315 million b/d in March. EIA’s latest tally of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUC) showed inventories dropping a combined 159 across the seven regions from December to January. The Permian depleted its backlog to 3,468, down 38 month/month, while the Niobrara backlog fell 36 units to 467. The Anadarko (down 20), Appalachia (down 9), Bakken (down 24), Eagle Ford (down 27) and Haynesville (down 5) also saw DUC inventories fall from December to January, EIA data show. Across the seven regions, new-well natural gas production per rig is set to fall by an average 94 Mcf/d from February to March to 6,876 Mcf/d. That includes a projected 244 Mcf/d decline in per-rig productivity in the Niobrara. On the other hand, per-rig productivity in Appalachia is set to climb 272 Mcf/d month/month, according to the February DPR.

Gas utilities deliver record volumes during cold snap, but not out of woods -  Natural gas utilities were able to deliver record volumes during a historic cold snap in parts of the U.S., even as vulnerabilities in parts of the broader gas complex and electric grid posed ongoing risk to local distribution companies and their customers. Several days into an energy crisis afflicting the southern and central U.S., missed opportunities to harden thermal power plants following past cold weather events emerged as a contributing factor. The freeze has also led to natural gas production and transmission disruptions, though serious problems do not appear to have materialized in the downstream gas utility sector. The U.S. set a two-day record for natural gas deliveries, pumping 151.7 Bcf to residences, businesses and power plants on Feb. 14 and meeting 149.8 Bcf of demand on Feb. 15, according to figures provided by the American Gas Association, or AGA. The Valentine's Day deliveries marked the second-highest single-day demand figures on record, going back to Jan. 30, 2019. The record figures showed up on the company level, too. CenterPoint Energy Inc. said it had delivered record gas volumes during the week's extreme weather conditions. Gas systems face challenges Still, gas utilities in affected areas urged consumers to conserve gas. CenterPoint issued advisories for six of the eight states where it delivers gas, including Texas. Atmos Energy Corp., which also operates in Texas, advised customers to set thermostats no higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit, lower their water heater temperature, reduce bathing time and avoid using large appliances or natural gas fireplaces. Power outages impacted heating for customers with both gas-fired and all-electric systems, since gas-fired furnaces typically require electric power. One Gas Inc. on Feb. 17 reminded customers in its Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma service territories that furnaces will not operate during a blackout and advised them to turn off power to the equipment until shortly after electric service returns. It also warned that a sudden surge in demand as thousands of furnaces turn on simultaneously can put stress on the gas system. One Gas on Feb. 15 stressed the importance of conservation, noting that should an area lose service, it would take an extended length of time to restore service due to the need to check each home for leaks and reestablish service. The company said its suppliers' gas wells were freezing due to prolonged extreme cold, limiting the volumes they could provide to One Gas and raising the prospect of widespread gas outages to ratepayers. "The demand for natural gas continues to outpace supply, and it is going to take time for our suppliers to get their natural gas wells back online," the company said in a Feb. 16 update. The gas distribution arm of Black Hills Corp. issued similar conservation bulletins to customers in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming. Black Hills Energy reported on Feb. 16 that about 2,300 customers in Pea Ridge, Ark., were without service following reports of loss of gas pressure.

Oil spill has long-term immunological effects in dolphins --A study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry has found long-term impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico on bottlenose dolphins' immune function.Bottlenose dolphins from an area that received prolonged and heavy oiling were temporarily captured, sampled, and released as part of health assessment programs. The animals were compared with dolphins from an area where no oil was observed.Investigators documented immunological alterations in bottlenose dolphins tested up to a decade following the oil spill that were similar in nature to those immediately following the spill. The effects were seen even in dolphins born after the spill. The nature of the immunological effects observed in dolphins were also similar to those in mice experimentally exposed to oil in the lab.The findings suggest that there are long-term consequences of oil exposure on the mammalian immune system, with possible multigenerational effects."The parallel between findings in dolphins exposed following the Deepwater Horizon spill and laboratory mice experimentally exposed to oil was impressive and really helped build the weight of evidence between oil exposure and specific effects on the immune system," said corresponding author Sylvain De Guise, PhD, of the University of Connecticut. "However, the long-term effects and potential for multigenerational effects raise significant concerns for the recovery of dolphin populations following the spill," he added.

Biden administration cancels March oil lease sale in Gulf of Mexico - Oil and environmental interests reacted Friday to the federal government's cancellation of March's oil lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The action was widely expected after President Joe Biden signed an executive order Jan. 27 halting new leases in the Gulf as his administration makes plans to deal with climate change. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management cited the order in canceling the lease sale, in which companies bid for the right to explore for and produce oil in specific areas offshore. Officials had been scheduled to open bids March 17 in New Orleans. “We remain hopeful that the administration will proceed with the lease sale upon completion of its review," said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents oil service companies across the U.S.  Business and industry officials have expressed concern that Biden's restrictions will cost Louisiana and other oil-dependent states jobs and damage their economies.The Obama Administration subjected the oil and gas leasing plan for 2017-22 to numerous environmental reviews, Milito said in a prepared statement. The Interior Department determined greenhouse gas emissions "would be higher without these lease sales because energy production would be outsourced to foreign counties resulting in a higher carbon footprint," he said. "Offshore oil production has the lowest carbon intensity of the oil-producing regions and supports more than 345,000 jobs, many of which are accessible, high-paying and cannot be easily substituted,” Milito said.Environmentalists counter such restrictions are an essential step toward fulfilling Biden's pledge to reduce the pollution, rising seas and other ill effects greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels are wreaking on the planet.

Louisiana coastal worker alleges dredge company ordered coverup of 2016 oil spill - A marine contractor who ruptured an oil pipeline during a Louisiana coastal restoration project – itself stemming from the BP oil disaster – blames the company leading the operation for the resulting spill and says it directed him to cover up evidence and keep quiet. James Tassin, a heavy equipment operator from Harvey, is providing evidence to federal prosecutors for possible water pollution charges against Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., the Houston-based company that the government hired to rebuild a Plaquemines Parish island six years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster oiled it.Last month, the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans charged Tassin with violating the Clean Water Act when he “negligently discharged” an estimated 5,250 gallons of oil into the south edge of Barataria Bay. That happened during the 2016 restoration of Chenier Ronquille Island, a sandy, uninhabited barrier island that was saturated with oil after BP’s rig exploded. Tassin faces as long as a year in prison and a fine of as much as $100,000 if convicted. He has agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in exchange for cooperation in the larger case against Great Lakes Dredge, said his attorney, Anthony Staines. “James was not a lone ranger driving a marsh buggy over a pipeline and releasing oil,” Staines said. “He was directed by Great Lakes. All direction came from Great Lakes. He had no knowledge the pipeline wasn’t buried properly.”On Sept. 5, 2016, Tassin was operating a shallow water excavator known as a marsh buggy when he punctured a 12-inch underground pipeline owned by Arrowhead Coast Pipeline. The Coast Guard said more than 20 boats, eight skimmers and 10,000 feet of boom were deployed to contain the spill. At least 200 birds were oiled before a large share of the oil was recovered, Coast Guard officials said in 2016. Tassin, who worked for Great Lakes Dredge subcontractor Shallow Water Equipment Co., of Morgan City, asserts that Great Lakes directed him to dig a channel near the pipeline on Sept. 2. He later learned the channel had not been permitted by government regulators or approved by Arrowhead.

EIA forecasts the U.S. will import more petroleum than it exports in 2021 and 2022 - -(EIA) Throughout much of its history, the United States has imported more petroleum (which includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other liquids) than it has exported. That status changed in 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) estimates that 2020 marked the first year that the United States exported more petroleum than it imported on an annual basis. However, largely because of declines in domestic crude oil production and corresponding increases in crude oil imports, EIA expects the United States to return to being a net petroleum importer on an annual basis in both 2021 and 2022.EIA expects that increasing crude oil imports will drive the growth in net petroleum imports in 2021 and 2022 and more than offset changes in refined product net trade. EIA forecasts that net imports of crude oil will increase from its 2020 average of 2.7 million barrels per day (b/d) to 3.7 million b/d in 2021 and 4.4 million b/d in 2022.Compared with crude oil trade, net exports of refined petroleum products did not change as much during 2020. On an annual average basis, U.S. net petroleum product exports—distillate fuel oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and motor gasoline, among others—averaged 3.2 million b/d in 2019 and 3.4 million b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that net petroleum product exports will average 3.5 million b/d in 2021 and 3.9 million b/d in 2022 as global demand for petroleum products continues to increase from its recent low point in the first half of 2020.EIA expects that the United States will import more crude oil to fill the widening gap between refinery inputs of crude oil and domestic crude oil production in 2021 and 2022. U.S. crude oil production declined by an estimated 0.9 million b/d (8%) to 11.3 million b/d in 2020 because of well curtailment and a drop in drilling activity related to low crude oil prices. EIA expects the rising price of crude oil, which started in the fourth quarter of 2020, will contribute to more U.S. crude oil production later this year. EIA forecasts monthly domestic crude oil production will reach 11.3 million b/d by the end of 2021 and 11.9 million b/d by the end of 2022. These values are increases from the most recent monthly average of 11.1 million b/d in November 2020 (based on data in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly) but still lower than the previous peak of 12.9 million b/d in November 2019.

Cold Weather Cuts Permian Oil Output by 1 Million Barrels a Day - Permian oil production has plunged by as much as one million barrels a day as the coldest weather in 30 years brings havoc to a region that seldom faces frigid Arctic blasts.Oil traders and company executives, speaking on condition of anonymity, lifted their estimate of supply losses in the region as the temperature in Midland, the capital of the Permian basin, dropped to -1 Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius), the lowest since 1989, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. Traders had previously estimated losses at several hundred thousands barrels per day.The supply hit is expected to be short-lived, as temperatures are due to start recovering on Tuesday.“Loss of U.S. production looks substantial,” said Gary Ross, a veteran oil consultant turned hedge fund manager at Black Gold Investors LLC.The Permian oil outage helped to push West Texas Intermediate, the crude benchmark in the U.S., above $60 a barrel for the first time in more than a year. The shape of the oil market curve also stepped up, a condition known as backwardation that denotes market tightness. The prompt backwardation in WTI reached as much as 25 cents per barrel, the widest since May.Texas and New Mexico, home of the Permian region, produce about 5.8 million barrels a day in normal circumstances, about half of the country’s total crude output, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.The current losses are due to a combination of well shutdowns, flow-line outages, and disrupted road transport, all due to the extreme cold weather. Small Permian producers pick up crude every few days using trucks, but bad weather is making it hard for vehicles to get out, forcing companies to close wells.While oil production continues in many regions despite the cold, including the Bakken basin in North Dakota, the kit used in the Permian isn’t built to withstand extremely low temperatures, executives said. For example, flow lines, which link individual wells to gathering centers, are laid overground, rather than buried, as in colder regions.The low temperatures have already caused equipment failures at multiple natural gas processing plants in the Permian basin and in the Anadarko basin in Oklahoma, sending regional natural gas prices to record highs.

U.S. Oil Output Slumps by Record One-Third as Permian Freezes - Total U.S. oil production has plunged by one-third -- the most ever -- as an unprecedented cold blast freezes well operations across the central U.S., according to traders and industry executives with direct knowledge of the operations.Crude output has now fallen by about 3.5 million barrels a day or more nationwide, they said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Before the cold snap, the U.S. was pumping about 11 million barrels a day, according to last government data. Production in the Texas’s Permian Basin alone -- America’s biggest oil field -- has plummeted by as much as 65%. Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd., said the production losses were “much higher than initial estimates” and warned that Permian output may not return to pre-freeze levels until Feb. 22.“As producers need pipes to be fully running and power prices to normalize before they return production, a substantial return in production may not occur until this weekend at the earliest,” she said in a note to clients.Operations in Texas have stumbled because temperatures are low enough to freeze oil and gas liquids at the well head and in pipelines that are laid on the ground, as opposed to under the surface as practiced in more northerly oil regions. The big question now is how quickly temperatures return to normal. The huge scale of the disruption has helped oil prices to rise to their highest so far this year. It’s also threatening to starve oil refineries, although such is the chaos in Texas right now that many of the largest plants have already had to shut down. Among the companies hit by outages is Occidental Petroleum Corp., the second-largest producer of oil in the Permian, which has issued a force majeure notice to suppliers, and Chevron Corp., which has shut in compression and production at wells in Culberson County in West Texas due to cold weather.

Occidental Issues Force Majeure as Cold Shuts in Permian Oil - Occidental Petroleum Corp., the second-largest oil producer in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, told buyers it will be forced to curtail deliveries due to complications from the historic freeze in the region. The company said weather disrupted transportation facilities and forced delays in the receipt and delivery of oil by carriers, according to a force majeure notice to customers seen by Bloomberg. Occidental also expects curtailments of downstream shipments because of limited deliveries into Midland, Houston and Corpus Christi in Texas. A company spokeswoman declined to comment. U.S. oil wells, refineries shut as winter storm hits energy sector   (Reuters) - A deep freeze across the United States is taking a toll on the energy industry in the largest U.S. crude-producing state, halting Texas oil wells and refineries on Monday and forcing restrictions from natural gas and crude pipeline operators.The rare deep freeze prompted the state’s electric power suppliers to impose rotating blackouts, leaving nearly 3 million homes and businesses without power. U.S. President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration, unlocking federal assistance to Texas.Texas produces roughly 4.6 million barrels of oil per day and is home to some of the nation’s top gasoline and diesel producing refineries.In Midland, heart of the West Texas shale region, a record snowfall and temperatures that hit a 32-year low closed offices and businesses. Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing on Tuesday.“Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, are experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production,” the state’s energy regulator said on Monday. Oil refiner Motiva Enterprises said it was shutting its 607,000 barrel-per-day Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, the largest in the United States. Valero Energy Corp and Total SE separately moved to shut their 335,000 and 225,000 bpd plants in Port Arthur, Texas, due to Monday’s severe cold, sources familiar with plant operations said.Exxon Mobil also began shutting its 369,024 bpd Beaumont refinery and 560,500 bpd Baytown refinery and chemical plant in Texas, sources familiar with plant operations said. Its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, plant also suffered operational issues.Citgo Petroleum Corp said some units at its 167,500 bpd Corpus Christi, Texas, oil refinery were shutting due to weather-related power disruptions.The plant’s crude distillation unit, a reformer and a hydrotreater were shut by cold weather, sources familiar with plant operations said, with all other units also being powered down.The cold snap forced LyondellBasell’s 263,776 bpd Houston refinery to operate at minimum production and shut most units at Marathon Petroleum’s 585,000 bpd Galveston Bay plant.Reports of power outages across the Permian may result in a moderate impact on Permian oil production for the month, Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen, said in a note. Energy distribution was stalled across large parts of the United States. Kinder Morgan reported gas-pipeline capacity constraints at locations in Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas, while Enable Gas Transmission said it was taking measures to ensure adequate supply for customers.

Texas deep freeze hits energy sector, Houston ship channel shut  (Reuters) - A deep freeze that hit Texas over the weekend wrought more havoc on the U.S. energy sector on Tuesday, curbing output in the largest U.S. oil field, knocking out a fifth of the nation’s refining capacity, and shutting a key shipping channel in Houston. Historic cold has knocked out roughly 4 million barrels per day of refining capacity, more than one-fifth of national capacity, according to Reuters calculations. About 500,000 to 1.2 million bpd of crude production has also been affected, and it could be weeks before it is fully restored, industry analysts said. Around 5.3 million customers were without power nationwide due to winter storms. Texas was hardest hit with around 4.4 million customers affected, according to local power companies, as the state’s electrical grid operates largely independent of other states and therefore cannot draw power from nearby operators. “The entire Texas system from the wellhead to the electric meter on a home is more designed to deal with multiple 100 degree days than multiple single-digit days,” said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association. Many refiners, including the biggest in the United States, have shut down due to the freeze. Around 4 mln bpd, or 21% percent of U.S. refining capacity, is shut, the biggest weather-related hit since Hurricane Harvey rumbled through the Gulf in 2017. “We’re talking about a major portion of the U.S. Gulf Coast refining capacity currently being offline, in all likelihood, above 4,000,000 barrels a day,” said Marc Amons, senior research analyst with Wood Mackenzie. The cold snap sent U.S. oil prices to near 13-month highs, while front-month gas futures jumped to an over three-month high.

Texas Frozen Chaos Becomes Global Oil Market Nightmare With 40% Of US Crude Production Offline -- One week ago, when virtually nobody was following the sudden surge in certain obscure mid-continent nat gas prices... [] ... we warned that the ripple effects of the freezing vortex-induced calamity, which led to near record-low temperatures across the plains states, would ripple far and wide sparking logistical and commodity shockwaves not only in Texas and the continental US, but also around the world. Sure enough, just a few days later, Texas has been hit by a humanitarian crisis the likes of which it has never before seen with millions of people without electricity and increasingly without running water.And even though Texas is doing everything in its power to contain the fallout that, it appears that the crisis is now spreading, because as a result of the persistent freeze and rampant "force majeueres" across the industry, more than 4 million barrels a day of output - almost 40% of the nation’s crude production - is now offline, Bloomberg reports citing traders and executives.This is because not only has Texas - one of the world’s biggest oil refining centers - seen output drastically cut back but the waterways that help U.S. oil flow to the rest of the world have been disrupted for much of the week. The country’s largest refiner, Motiva in Port Arthur,  has closed and at least 3 million barrels a day of processing got taken offline.“The market is underestimating the amount of oil production lost in Texas due to the bad weather,” said Ben Luckock, co-head of oil trading at commodity giant Trafigura Group.As a result of the collapse in output, late on Thursday night Brent briefly surged above $65 a barrel, a level not seen since last January. Spreads indicating supply tightness also soared.

Arctic blast delivers historic blow to U.S. oil output -- The Arctic blast wreaking havoc across Texas has caused the largest disruption to U.S. oil production in history, pushing crude prices over $60 a barrel. U.S. oil production has fallen by a third, or an estimated 3.5 million barrels per day, after freezing temperatures immobilized well equipment, knocked out communications to remotely operated wells and made travel treacherous for oil-field workers looking to restart or repair facilities. Norwegian energy research firm Rystad said the U.S. production disruption was one of the world’s largest, eclipsed only by a Yemeni drone attack on a Saudi Arabia oil field in September 2019 that knocked out 5.7 million barrels per day of oil for several days. The drop in U.S. production sent global crude prices soaring this week. West Texas Intermediate crude was up nearly one percent to $61.61 in early Thursday trading. “Remember how the market reacted when Saudi Arabia offered voluntary cuts of 1 million barrels per day? Well double that number and see what happens,” said Artem Abramov, Rystad’s head of shale research, referring to the oil price rally bolstered by Saudi Arabia’s voluntary production cuts in February. “It’s exactly the same market reaction now with the U.S., although the cuts are not voluntary.” The Arctic blast brought one of the worst cold spells in over a half-century to the Permian Basin of West Texas, the biggest driver of U.S. oil production. Temperatures across Texas this week were about 40 degrees below average, with many parts of the state approaching or hitting record lows. Some parts of the Permian Basin have been without power since Friday while other sections are experiencing rolling blackouts like the rest of the state.

Oklahoma regulators open flow on wells to help address natural gas shortage - Members of Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission on Monday voted to remove a cap on natural gas production from wells inside the state, at least temporarily. The removal marks the first time the commission has allowed a well operator to produce natural gas from a well at 100% of its open flow potential without a cap since at least 1999. Between then and March 2020, commissioners routinely had set proration formulas for natural gas production from the state’s most prolific unallocated wells at 65% of open flow potential, or 2 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d), whichever is greater. Most wells don’t produce that volume for extended periods of time. In March 2020, commissioners adopted a proration formula impacting those wells at 50% of open flow potential, or 2 million cubic feet per day. They were set to make a semi-annual review of that limit later this week, until things changed. Commissioners called an emergency meeting Monday to consider suspending the cap in response to a critically low supplies of natural gas available for consumption. Available supplies fell over the past week as consumption rates spiked across the central U.S. between the Gulf Coast and Canada.

NatGas Prices Plunge 99% In Oklahoma -- The Oneok natgas network connects Great Plains gas fields and major metro areas in the Midwest and East. The natgas network is massive, spans about 2,400 miles of pipe, connecting 130 natgas fields, six storage centers, and a dozen interstate systems. Last week, as the polar vortex poured Arctic air into the central US and down into the Gulf of Mexico, Oneok's network experienced a catastrophic meltdown as frigid temperatures caused equipment failures. As natgas wellheads froze and supply halted, Oneok OGT nat gas spot exploded from $3.46 to $9 on Wednesday, $60.28 on Thursday, and an insane $377.13 on Friday, up 32,000% in a few days. Next-day delivery at the Oneok Gas continued to erupt early this week. On Wednesday, spot prices at Oneok jumped to $1,250. This is one of those markets where having a limit-up circuit breaker could actually be helpful, even though there is nowhere near enough product to satisfy demand at any price hence the explosive move. Limit-down circuit breakers would have been good today on Thursday as Oneok NatGas Spot prices crashed down 99% to 'norms' around $4 as temperatures rose. NatGat futures (Henry Hub) prices also tumbled, erasing the spike from earlier this week as more supply came online and weather conditions improved. Earlier today, we showed the worst is likely over as warmer temperatures could be seen by the weekend.

New Mexico Families in Oil and Gas ‘Waste Zone’ Seek Help - -- “Something just blew up!”  Cora Gonzales was in her room on Jan. 4 when she heard her father yell. In the evenings he watches TV while sitting by the living room window, and that’s where she found him, looking outside and not at the tube. The rest of the family quickly joined them and they stared through the picture window as flames shot into the night sky from a nearby well pad.  This particular fire was uncommon. That’s because it was quiet. “Usually whenever things blow up,” she says, “we can feel the house shake and also hear a boom.” Gonzales and her family live on a 160-acre ranch outside Loving, New Mexico. Their land is dotted with drilling pads and tank batteries that hold and pump oil and natural gas. A couple of times a year, she says, the whole house shakes when one of those pumps or batteries catches fire and goes “boom.” “It’s just the normal thing around here … just another day,” Gonzales says. “We look and watch and we get tired of watching it and then go back to our normal program.” It’s unclear how common these explosions are here in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico. About 129,000 people live amid more than 20,000 wells actively churning out oil and gas in this panthecake-flat stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert. Despite state regulations that require operators to report accidents, what triggered them, and how much oil, gas and water were lost or spilled, it’s not clear operators always file those reports. Furthermore, the state of New Mexico still lacks comprehensive regulations covering leaks, spills and other accidents in the oil and gas production process. That leaves families like the Gonzaleses scratching their heads. A security camera on the front of the Gonzales home caught the explosion and subsequent fire. In stark black and white it shows the darkness explode into a burning white light. Caza Petroleum of Texas operates the facility and filed an incident report with New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD). In a phone call, Tony Sam, vice president of operations at the company, says that he doesn’t know exactly what happened that night or why, but he thinks it was a stack fire – when a flare that burns off natural gas and impurities from a well malfunctions and burns out of control. According to the OCD report, the fire was considered a “major release” since it included a fire or explosion. It also spilled 47 Mcf of natural gas, two barrels of oil and two barrels of produced water. Sam did not respond to follow-up questions about the accident.

Peoples Gas pipeline replacement costing Chicagoans more - The average Peoples Gas customer in Chicago paid $131 last year on top of their monthly bills for the utility’s massive pipe-replacement work, according to a report the utility filed Tuesday. And that figure could hit $174 by the end of this year if it keeps rising at its current pace, a consumer group says. The added cost amounted to about 11% of the typical customer’s bill. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, says consumers are now paying about 10 times the original $1.14-per-month estimate given to the Illinois Legislature when it passed a law in 2013 allowing the utility to bill customers via an added “rider” on their bills for the work. And the work is behind schedule. About 51 miles of deteriorating gas pipes were replaced last year, fewer than the planned 70 miles, according to the quarterly report Peoples Gas filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission. The program has been plodding along for well over a decade. Originally pegged at $1.4 billion in 2007, it could end up costing $8 billion to $11 billion by the time the work is finished in 2040. Illinois PIRG says that what began as a necessary project to replace aging gas lines for safety reasons has ballooned into a much larger and more expensive program that’s also moving the entire natural gas system from low pressure to medium pressure.

Hawkins County Gas Utility in negotiations to get 82 percent pipeline rate increase reduced — Hawkins County Gas Utility general manager Patrick Lund admits that a letter his customers received with their bills this week announcing an 82% increase from their pipeline provider likely came as quite a shock. In July 2020, the Canadian-based Enbridge Inc., which operates the transmission lines that transfer natural gas to HCGU, filed the 82% rate increase with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but it was automatically stayed for six months to allow time for a hearing. FERC hadn’t been able to hear the case due to COVID-19 delays, and as of Jan. 1 the Enbridge rate increase automatically took effect. Lund told the Times News on Thursday that he and other natural gas providers in Tennessee are negotiating with Enbridge for a lower rate increase. If those negotiations are unsuccessful, the FERC hearing is scheduled for this July. “Enbridge has to justify their rate increases to FERC, but that hearing is not until July,” Lund told the Times News. “It will probably be reduced. They’re justified in going up some, because the Feds have massive requirements for pipeline integrity and safety, so it’s costing everybody a lot more money. But that much, I don’t think so.”

Enbridge raises Line 3 Replacement project costs, touts confidence as protests escalate — Enbridge increased the cost of its large Line 3 Replacement project by nearly $1 billion and touted its confidence in bringing the heavy oil sands system online in late 2021 amid escalating environmental protests and heightened political scrutiny under the new Biden administration. Enbridge said during its Feb. 12 earnings call that capital costs for its major Canadian heavy oil artery to the US have risen from more than $6.5 billion to $7.3 billion because of more construction time concentrated in the snowy winter weeks, additional environmental mitigation, enhanced coronavirus protocols and higher regulatory and legal costs. The Line 3 Replacement project would more than double crude pipeline capacity from 370,000 b/d to 760,000 b/d as it moves Canadian crude from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. The pipeline runs more than 1,000 miles, including its largest 337-mile segment in Minnesota where construction is currently concentrated, and would serve as a larger avenue to move more heavy crude from Canada to the Midwestern US and, ultimately, to the major refining corridor along the US Gulf Coast. "This increase really stems from our revised execution plan," Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said. "So, not surprising, costs have come up." However, with President Joe Biden having essentially canceled the competing Keystone XL Pipeline on the first day of his presidency, the Line 3 project is now on the precipice of becoming the epicenter of the anti-fossil fuel movement in the US as opponents aim to pressure Biden into action. The Canadian portion of the pipeline is already complete and the US portion is expected to come online in the fourth quarter, making for a race against the clock. Energy analysts are counting on the pipeline project to be completed, but Biden's win against the industry-friendly Donald Trump has kept it from becoming a certainty. While Biden publicly opposed the more famous Keystone XL Pipeline project in his campaign, he has not weighed in on Line 3. As recently as Feb. 4, construction temporarily was impeded by protesters locking themselves to barrels of concrete and even a piano.

Urging Biden to Stop Line 3, Indigenous-Led Resistance Camps Ramp Up Efforts to Slow Construction - The Biden administration may have finally put the Keystone XL pipeline to rest, but Tara Houska has hardly had time to celebrate. Just a week after President Biden revoked Keystone’s border-crossing permit, Houska was on a video call in late January with a dozen other Indigenous activists and over a thousand spectators. She was calling on them to join her fight in northern Minnesota to stop another trans-U.S.-Canada oil pipeline: Line 3. After obtaining the final necessary permits in November, and with a Minnesota appeals courton Feb. 2 denying a request to stay construction, Enbridge Energy is speeding forward with its Line 3 replacement project, hoping to finish building the 1,031-mile-long pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the Midwest before the end of the year. That has Houska, and other Indigenous and environmental activists who have long fought Line 3 and similar fossil fuel infrastructure, scrambling to delay construction as they await rulings on several legal challenges to the project and call on President Biden to intervene.Over the last couple months, opponents to Line 3 have been ramping up their efforts to stop it, marching down streets, blocking roads and chaining themselves to construction equipment. In one encounter, an individual spent more than a week in a tree, suspended dozens of feet above the frozen ground, to delay work in the area.Resistance camps and protests, where activists call themselves “water protectors” and “land defenders,” have cropped up near half a dozen cities and small towns along the pipeline’s proposed route in northern Minnesota. “Just under 100 people have been arrested out defending our beautiful territory here, defending our wild rice, trying to protect the sacred with our bodies and with our freedom,” Houska said during the Jan. 26 call.

 'It's cultural genocide': inside the fight to stop a pipeline on tribal lands --- Tara Houska gazed down at the trickling waters of the Mississippi near its headwaters. The great American river that eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico is just a stream in these parts of northern Minnesota. A pipeline will soon burrow underneath this part of the Mississippi and its surrounding wetlands. It is one of hundreds of water crossings, including wild rice fields, that lie in the path of a new stretch of Line 3, a pipeline bringing nearly 1m barrels of tar sands a day from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin. But opposition to the pipeline is considerable, and is supported by environmental organizations and activists resisting pipelines such as the Dakota Access pipeline, and Keystone XL – a project that Joe Biden cancelled on his first day in the White House. The on-the-ground activists are called “water protectors”, who are against the pipeline because of its impact on the climate crisis, oil spills and infringement on Native treaty rights. There are numerous sites in Minnesota, along the new Line 3 route, where water protectors have set up camp. Much of the route goes through tribal lands, as well as Minnesota’s iron range and areas popular for recreation, including hunting, fishing and people enjoying the outdoors. It is a lush, wooded part of the state, thick with birch and pine trees, pristine lakes, rolling creeks and lakes filled with wild rice, an agricultural product that is historically significant to the Ojibwe.For the past three years, Houska, an attorney, has set up camp here with the resistance group Giniw Collective, which she founded. Last week Houska met with the congresswoman Ilhan Omar at the bridge overlooking the river, along with a group of other Native female leaders. “We need Biden to revoke the water-crossing permit,” Omar told the Guardian. “That is one of the greatest opportunities that can be given to this community.”  Omar sent a letter to Biden calling on him to cancel the permits allowing the pipeline to cross under the river. Among the objections are that the line will bring an expansion of tar sands, which have higher emissions than other types of crude oil. In addition, opponents say the line is a violation of indigenous territory, as it causes pollution in lands and waters that the Ojibwe were promised to be able to use for ever.

3 arrested after locking themselves inside a Line 3 pipe -- Around 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, three self-described "water protectors" locked to one another inside of a Line 3 pipeline segment near the Crow Wing River, while dozens more rallied in support. According to a Northern Lights Task Force news release, the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office received a report of demonstrators on the pipeline right-of-way in section 4 of Huntersville Township, northeast of Huntersville. The reporting party stated there were approximately 30 individuals demonstrating and some of them were climbing on equipment and pipes at the work site. The Northern Lights Task Force is a law enforcement coalition formed to address public safety needs posed by the installation of the Line 3 pipeline across northern Minnesota. The task force reports that law enforcement arrived on scene and demonstrators got off the equipment. Enbridge construction workers told officers that four individuals climbed into the pipe “with cold weather gear and sleeping bags.” “Dispersal orders were given to the group of demonstrators that were trespassing on pipeline property. Most left the area, but three remained inside the pipe. The section of pipe was approximately 2,250 feet long and the three individuals were approximately 70 feet inside the east end of the pipe,” said the release.  Three individuals – identified as Trinity Shaw-Stewart, 20, of Medford, Ore.; Bonnie Hoekstra, 22, of St. Paul, and Jack Keenan, 26, of Stevens Point, Wis. – refused to comply and stayed in the pipe for approximately six hours, according to the task force. At approximately 5:30 p.m., they exited the pipe without incident. The task force says they were taken into custody, medically cleared by medical personnel on scene, and transported to the Wadena County Jail. They were held in custody on probable cause for gross misdemeanor trespassing.

Majority of those working on Enbridge pipeline from outside Minnesota - Enbridge has fallen considerably short of goals to hire Minnesota workers for its controversial new 340-mile oil pipeline across the northern part of the state. The Calgary, Alberta-based company and union representatives have said they had expected at least 50% of its construction workforce to be from Minnesota. But at the end of December — the first full month of construction — just 33% of the 4,664 workers building the replacement for Enbridge's current Line 3 were Minnesota residents, according to a recent filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. When broken down by hours worked on the project, the Minnesota percentage is even lower. About 28% of hours worked through December were by Minnesota residents. The filing didn't specify the home states of other workers. With a price tag of more than $3 billion, the new Line 3 is one of the largest Minnesota construction projects in recent years. Enbridge said its labor contracts stipulate that the project's contractors supply half the workforce. The rest come from union locals based in Minnesota. In December, just 33% of the 4,664 workers building the replacement for Enbridge’s current Line 3 were Minnesota residents.More"In many cases, local union halls include membership in neighboring states," Enbridge said.

FINANCE: Groups push to 'choke off' funds to Line 3 pipeline project -- Tuesday, February 16, 2021 -- Environmentalists are pressuring big banks to stop lending to a Canadian energy company behind a controversial pipeline project in the Midwest.

Texas oil company agrees to pay $1.9m for Wyoming spills (AP) — A Texas oil company has agreed to pay almost $2 million for spilling crude oil and wastewater at two central Wyoming oilfields. The spills happened between the fall of 2016 and spring of 2018. One was in the Linch Complex Field in Johnson County and five were in the Salt Creek Field in Natrona County, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest spill was about 300,000 gallons (1.1 million liters). The rest were 23,000 gallons (87,000 liters) or less. Irving, Texas-based Fleur de Lis Energy, LLC, has agreed to pay a $1.9 million settlement, EPA officials said in a release Wednesday. A phone message left with the company seeking comment wasn't immediately returned Wednesday. Fleur de Lis didn't have adequate plans to prevent and respond to spills but recently has submitted plans that meet regulatory requirements, according to the EPA. The penalty goes into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund used by the U.S. government to respond to spills of oil and hazardous substances.

Biden administration stops half-million-acre Wyo oil and gas sale - President Joe Biden’s Jan. 27 order to pause oil and gas leasing on federal lands hit Wyoming on Friday as the BLM postponed the auction of 383 parcels covering almost half a million acres. The leasing pause will enable a review that’s part of an all-government fight against “a profound climate crisis” exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels, Biden’s order states. The BLM had scheduled the first-quarter 2021 sale of development rights on 476,506 acres for March 15 after deciding the sale would not “significantly affect the rate of change” in the environment. The agency did not say when a lease sale might be rescheduled. The BLM’s first quarter sale last year brought in $3.4 million after energy companies leased 75 parcels covering 71,689 acres. Wyoming received about half the sale’s proceeds and will also get a share of future production royalties, if production ever occurs. The auction last year sold less than a sixth of the acreage that had been proposed for sale this March. Wyoming lawmakers last year, reacting to Biden campaign positions that threatened leasing, funded a report that says Wyoming would lose $304 million in annual tax revenue if leasing stopped on federal lands. That report has been much-touted in the wake of the official pause. But a critic who reviewed the report for The Wilderness Society says it overestimates impacts by up to 85%. This pie graph from 2018 shows the portion of greenhouse gasses emitted from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands in individual states and Wyoming’s 57% share. (USGS) The state-commissioned drilling-ban impact report by a University of Wyoming energy economics professor predicts production and investment losses in Wyoming, plus the lost tax revenue, would amount to $640 billion through 2040.

How Keystone XL politics have changed -- Friday, February 12, 2021 -- Last week, two Senate Democrats joined with all 50 Republicans to adopt a nonbinding budget amendment backing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Hours later, Democratic leaders stripped out the amendment and reversed the show of support for the pipeline, which would bring crude oil from Canada into the United States (E&E Daily, Feb. 5). It was the latest example of how the Keystone XL project, which once had bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill, has become a partisan environmental lightning rod. The recent Senate action marked the first significant stand-alone vote on Keystone XL since early 2015, when Republicans were in control of both legislative bodies and then-President Obama, who opposed the project, was completing his final term. That year, 28 House Democrats voted in favor of completing the pipeline, with eight Senate Democrats voting similarly in their own chamber. Although the Keystone XL project in 2015 was backed by Congress, it was ultimately vetoed by Obama. Six years later, a survey by E&E News found that of the 17 Democrats who still serve in the House today, only a small handful were willing to say definitively that they would vote to support the Keystone XL project again. Only one member said he had changed his mind, while the others declined to comment. In the Senate, six of the 2015 Democratic Keystone XL backers remain in office today. Only two of them voted with Republicans on the initial amendment of support last week.

To Keep Indigenous Women Safe Joe Biden Must Go Beyond Keystone XL - Population booms caused by resource extraction sites and nearby temporary housing, or man camps, create a "hotbed" for criminal activity that disproportionately harms Indigenous communities. When Indigenous activist Angeline Cheek learned President Joe Biden revoked the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, relief washed over her, even if only for a moment. For Cheek, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Montana, halting what would have been a 1,897-kilometre pipeline carrying 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands into Nebraska, is about keeping Indigenous women safe. “I’m relieved the man camps won’t be here,” said Cheek, referring to the temporary housing erected near job sites. Fort Peck is located on the northeastern edge of Montana, and the Keystone XL would have travelled near the community. If the project were to have gone ahead, thousands of hired workers would have stayed in man camps. During the last oil boom, “it was really scary to live in our area,” said Cheek, who organizes and educates people about the dangers of resource extraction and man camps. She recalled how a teacher, Sherry Arnold, was abducted by oil workers in North Dakota, just across the state border, while out for a run. Years later, in 2017, Cheek said oil workers chased two teenagers in Fort Peck until the girls managed to duck into an unlocked house. During a walk denouncing man camps and Keystone XL, organized by Cheek, white men approached the group and threatened to scalp her, she said. “We heard all of these stories about women getting abducted, and we'd hear about sexual assaults happening,” Cheek said. “You hear this stuff and it triggers you.” Biden’s decision to stop Keystone XL’s expansion limits the number of new transient workers who will flow into the area, ultimately quelling some fears that violence targeting nearby Indigenous communities will spike as a result of the pipeline. But more needs to be done to keep Indigenous peoples safe, especially since these problems are replicated across North America, Cheek said.

Black Hills CEO Says ‘Lethal’ if Natural Gas Bans Enacted in Service Territories -  Rapid City, SD-based Black Hills Corp. is undeterred by increased pressure from climate change advocates to phase out fossil fuel use, CEO Linn Evans said Wednesday. During a conference call to discuss fourth quarter results, Evans discussed the impact by opponents to fossil fuels and whether that could impact the natural gas utilities. He said he was “very comfortable” with the company’s local distribution companies (LDC). “Our service territories are very cold climates that are below zero degrees right now, so life would be lethal without the gas that we serve,” he said. “We have not had any local bans on gas within our service areas, but we are certainly aware of conversations going on and we have highly engaged teams executing outreach programs within those individual communities.” Black Hills utility personnel are in contact with state legislators and working with various industry associations on the issue of natural gas bans. “We’re making sure our communities and stakeholders understand the value and necessity of gas and what it brings to the table,” he said. “We’re watching it closely and see a strong future for gas.” CFO Rick Kinzley said the impacts from Covid-19 on gas and electric loads “were not substantial at all” as most of the territory did not have prolonged lockdowns. “We’re about halfway through our heating season, and the first one with the pandemic, and the impact on our gas loads is what we call immaterial,” Evans said. Regulatory relations in the territories served in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming remain strong, executives said. However, that’s not the case in Colorado. “We’re disappointed that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission dismissed our rate review filing,” Evans said. “We’re seeking a rehearing, and the commission should decide on that by the end of this month.”

ND oil production falls slightly in December  -– North Dakota’s oil production made a slight dip again with 1.192 million barrels of oil produced in December 2020. In November 2020 the state produced 1.227 million barrels of oil. The most recent figures were released by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources on Friday. Lynn Helms, director of the Mineral Resources Department, said in his report the OPEC+ agreement to cut 7.2 million barrels per day expired. He said OPEC+ met on Feb. 3 “emphasizing the ongoing positive contributions of the Declaration of Cooperation in supporting a rebalancing of the global oil market and noting the significant additional voluntary supply adjustment made by Saudi Arabia, taking effect on 1 February, 2021, for two months. Overall conformity with the original production adjustments was 101 per cent.” He said they will discuss production again at their March 2021 meetings “with a general consensus to maintain $45-$55 WTI (West Texas Intermediate.” “The two biggest uncertainties are COVID and Biden administration policies on Iran,” Helms also said in his report.

Equipment failure causes crude oil release near Williston -An equipment failure at a saltwater disposal well in the Williston area released 25,200 gallons of crude oil on Monday. The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division was notified of the release at the WISCO 1 saltwater disposal well, about 16 miles west of Williston. WISCO reported the incident on Monday. The product was contained on-site and at the time of reporting all of the crude oil had been recovered. A state inspector has been to the location and any additional cleanup will be monitored.

U.S. Army Corps attorneys withdraw from Dakota Access Pipeline case - (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said two federal attorneys representing it in an ongoing legal battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline are withdrawing from the case, according to court filings, as opponents fight for the line’s closure. The case is being closely watched by native groups and the energy industry, particularly after the Biden administration canceled a permit for the long-gestating Keystone XL project and has taken other steps to limit oil-and-gas exploration. Jeffrey Clark Sr and Eric Allen Grant, who represented the Army Corps, are withdrawing from the case between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Corps, the filing said. The tribe is seeking the closure of the Dakota Access pipeline, which can carry roughly 550,000 barrels of oil daily from North Dakota’s shale region to the Midwest. Clark left the U.S. Justice Department at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term. Divisional heads at the U.S. Department of Justice frequently change hands with the onset of a new administration. It is unclear whether President Joe Biden, who was sworn in last month, will seek to close the pipeline. A judge in January revoked the line’s permit to operate under Lake Oahe, a water source for the Standing Rock tribe.

The Dakota Access Pipeline continues to operate, but under an unclear future - (KFYR) - A decision on whether the Dakota Access Pipeline would be shut down was supposed to take place on Feb. 10, but the deadline has been extended. The Army Corps of Engineers said they need more time to discuss what to do regarding the pipeline with the new Biden administration. Oil and gas industry leaders said this buys them more time, but offers no clarity on what’s ahead. The impact on North Dakota if Dakota Access were to shut down would be dramatic. About 570,000 barrels of oil per day would need to find a new, more expensive route to market, which could cost the state about half a million dollars per day.  “That is of enormous concern to the state,” said Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms. Those numbers are why state officials have been writing to the Army Corps and the administration in a plea to keep the pipeline operating. Industry leaders said finding an alternative way to market right now, like returning to rail, would be tough. “It would likely take several months at least before the industry could start shifting and transitioning those barrels more and more onto the rail cars. So there would certainly be production and economic shock,” said North Dakota Pipeline Authority President Justin Kringstad. The current decision extension, however, does buy the industry some time with no surprise shutdowns expected from the executive branch, at least not before the next hearing on the matter. ADVERTISEMENT “It was actually the Biden administration that asked for the extension so they could give it some review before that hearing,” said Helms. Helms added it’s also been helpful to have MHA Nation leaders on their side, reaching out to the administration asking for the pipeline to continue operating. However, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is still fighting for the opposite outcome, to have the pipeline shut down. The hearing deciding whether the Dakota Access Pipeline will be able to continue operating while another environmental review happens will take place on April 9.

Probe into Dakota Access protest continues 4 years later — A violent clash four years ago between Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and law enforcement is still being investigated, and one protester has been arrested for contempt of court after refusing to provide grand jury testimony, his attorneys said. No one has been criminally charged in the November 2016 clash that severely injured Sophia Wilansky, 21, of New York. She has sued law enforcement officers and Morton County, alleging police intentionally targeted her with a concussion grenade. Officers have denied wrongdoing. Federal authorities arrested fellow protester Steve Martinez on Feb. 3 for contempt of court, according to his attorneys, who said his detainment is tied to Wilansky’s lawsuit and government attempts to blame protesters, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme did not respond to a Bismarck Tribune request for comment. In 2016 and 2017, American Indian tribes and environmental advocates tried unsuccessfully to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, fearing an oil leak would contaminate the water. Pipeline operator Energy Transfer and federal officials who approved the $3.8 billion line maintain it’s safe. The pipeline has been moving Bakken oil since June 2017. More than 750 people were arrested during six months of protests. On Nov. 20, 2016, protesters tried to push past a blocked highway bridge but were turned back by authorities with tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays. Police say protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers. Wilansky’s left arm was injured in an explosion and her father said at the time that doctors considered amputation because her forearm was nearly torn off. Protesters allege the blast was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by officers; police say protesters rigged a propane canister to explode. So far, neither theory has been proven.

 Chevron estimates up to 750 gallons of mixture spilled into the Bay - The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that the impact from Tuesday's petroleum product leak at the Chevron refinery long wharf in Richmond appears to be centered near the city's Keller Beach, but no oiled wildlife or public health impacts have been found.In an update Wednesday evening, Chevron said as much as 750 gallons of the product were leaked. "Lab analysis and technical review determined that approximately 12-18 barrels (500-750 gallons) of a low-sulfur diesel fuel and flush water mix was released," the company said in their updated statement. Initial estimates said that 600 gallons went into the Bay between 2:40 p.m. Tuesday and about two hours later when the leak was stopped, according to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. Petroleum leaked from a quarter-inch hole in an unpressurized wharf pipeline.For its part, Chevron has not yet disclosed the size of the hole, nor the exact duration of the spill. Much of this information is already in the company's possession.  "We're getting very close on an estimate and we'll release that as soon as we can," said Chevron refinery executive Lynsi Crain just before the evening update.

New Bill Seeks to Ban Fracking in California -- California state senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban fracking and other controversial oil and gas extraction techniques in the state by 2027. The bill, SB467, would prohibit the government from issuing new fracking permits or renewing old ones as of Jan. 1, 2022, The Guardian reported. The bill's authors also plan to amend it to outlaw any new oil or gas production within 2,500 feet of a school, home, healthcare facility or any form of long-term accommodation, including prisons, by Jan. 1, the San Francisco Chronicle reported."Fracking & other destructive oil extraction methods are deeply harmful to our environment & public health," Sen. Scott Wiener, who introduced the bill with fellow Democratic Senator Monique Limón, wrote on Twitter. "They contaminate water, increase particulate in the air, & make people sick. And oil is at the heart of climate change. California must lead on climate & public health."The new bill also promotes environmental justice with the pending addition restricting oil and gas production near schools and homes."Overwhelmingly, it's happening in communities of color and low-income communities," Wiener told the San Francisco Chronicle concerning oil production. "Communities that are already struggling with health outcomes — we're allowing them to be poisoned, and that's just not OK."California possesses a progressive reputation on environmental issues, but it also contains a powerful fossil fuel industry that has successfully lobbied against legislation that would limit its operations, The Associated Press reported. However, the state's oil production has declined since the 1980s, partly because the oil that remains requires measures such as fracking, cyclic steaming, acid well stimulation and water and steam flooding to extract it from deeply buried rock. "It's some of the dirtiest oil in the world," Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, told The Associated Press. The new bill would ban all of these methods, which its authors view as environmental and public health threats, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Cyclic steaming in particular has been linked to oil spills that harm wildlife, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.

Federal appeals panel stops work on ConocoPhillips’ Willow project - A federal appeals court has sided with conservation and Indigenous groups and halted winter work at a major ConocoPhillips oil project on Alaska’s North Slope.The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday issued the six-page decision, by 9th Circuit Judges William Canby and Michelle Friedland, on Saturday.The decision will halt on-the-ground work at Willow for the year, said Natalie Lowman, a spokeswoman with ConocoPhillips, in an email Sunday.Winter activity at developing projects on Alaska’s North Slope is supported by ice roads that melt in the spring, sharply reducing on-the-ground activity for all but a handful of months. The project, among the most promising North Slope prospects, was expected to employ about 120 people this year.Lowman did not say if the company plans to appeal the decision. Other questions must be answered later, she said.Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and other groups sued last fall to stop the project, not just in winter, but altogether. They argue that federal agencies under the former Trump administration did not follow environmental laws before approving the project.The Willow project is located in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in northern Alaska, near the village of Nuiqsut.ConocoPhillips had planned to break ground at a mine site early this month, blasting away the surface to reach gravel, according to court records. The company had planned to haul gravel and start gravel road construction in mid-March. If developed, the field could produce 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years, boosting state revenues and jobs, estimates say.

Western Canada's refineries provide a bonanza of fuels, part 2 - Long established as an oil-producing region, Western Canada has also become a major producer of refined products. With enough oil available to serve the nine refineries in the region, there is no need to import crude oil, making Western Canada one of the few parts of the world where the refineries are completely self-sufficient regarding oil supply. The region is also noteworthy in that, like the U.S. Gulf Coast, its refining capacity and gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel output is vastly greater than its own demand, resulting in a large surplus of refined fuels that can be sent across Canada and exported to the U.S. Today, we look westward, focusing on the nine refineries located in the Canadian West. Although the presence of crude oil in Western Canada had been known to First Nations inhabitants for centuries, oil production did not really pick up momentum and scale until just after the end of World War II. The celebrated Leduc No. 1 oil discovery in 1947 near Leduc, AB — just south of the provincial capital of Edmonton — kicked off the modern oil industry across Western Canada, resulting in a steadily growing supply of crude oil to its own refineries, those in other Canadian provinces, and the U.S. That growing production has allowed all 17 of Canada’s refineries, which we summarized in Part 1, to partly or fully wean themselves off imported crude oil. In 2020, Canada’s crude oil imports averaged 435 Mb/d, down from 800 Mb/d 10 years earlier, with most of the imported crude now being sourced from the U.S. With crude runs to Canadian refineries averaging 1.59 MMb/d in 2020, the roughly 1.15-MMb/d difference between those runs and imports (1.59 – 0.435) is largely supplied by Western Canada.

Power Outages Hit Mexico as U.S. Natural Gas Prices Reach Historic Highs - Mexico’s electric power operator Centro Nacional de Control de Energía (Cenace) said 2,200 MW of power was still offline in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, and pleaded Tuesday for the efficient use of energy as the crisis was still days from being over. Rolling blackouts were planned on Tuesday evening throughout Mexico in Aguascalientes, Colima, Estado de México, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Puebla, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas. Cenace and Mexican state utility Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) blame limited natural gas imports and surging natural gas prices for the outages. Mexico imports 70-80% of its natural gas from the United States and 60% of the nation’s power plants run on the fuel. Due to “bitterly cold air” making its way into the Midcontinent and Deep South of the United States, “massive amounts” of natural gas production were offline as of early Tuesday, as were numerous gas-fired power plants, EBW Analytics Group analysts said in a note to clients. The “extreme cold” has “brought chaos to the U.S. oil, gas and power markets,” the EBW analysts said. “Texas has been hardest hit… More than 30 natural gas pipelines have declared force majeure and at least 7 Bcf/d of natural gas production has been shut in due to freeze-offs, gas processing plant shut-ins and pipeline outages.”

Abbott Nixes Gas Exports Outside of Texas as Mexico Already Facing Cold-Induced Supply Crunch -  A clearer picture was emerging on Wednesday of a massive natural gas shortage facing Mexico amid the extreme cold gripping Texas, Mexico’s main source for the fuel. The supply shortfall was punctuated by a late-breaking announcement Wednesday from Texas Gov. Greg Abott that he was prohibiting the sale of natural gas produced in Texas outside of the state, and ordering producers to instead supply gas to local power generators in order to curb the extended power outages plaguing the state amid a severe cold snap. The order will remain in effect through Feb. 21, Abbott said during an afternoon news conference.Abbott said that about 19,800 MW of gas-fired generation remained offline in Texas because of either mechanical issues or insufficient gas supply, necessitating the order to keep locally produced gas within state lines. Abbott’s announcement was met with disbelief from observers of the energy market in Mexico, which relies on U.S. gas supply, mostly from Texas, for up to 80% of its natural gas needs. Gas-fired plants account for about 60% of power generated in Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexico’s Centro Nacional de Control del Gas Natural (Cenagas), operator of the Sistrangas national pipeline grid, declared a systemwide state of critical alert on Tuesday until further notice, citing scarce gas supplies from Texas due to the inclement weather.The alert came amid rotating blackouts enacted by power grid operator Centro Nacional de Control de Energía (CENACE) for the same reason.Cenagas said that due to the arctic air mass in the southern United States, injections into the Sistrangas remained below the amounts scheduled, restricting the availability of the molecule for system users, a situation “outside the control” of the operator.“The polar vortex is indeed taking its toll on Mexico’s natural gas market,” Genscape Inc.’s Ricardo Falcón, natural gas analyst, told NGI’s Mexico GPI on Wednesday. He said that based on Genscape’s estimates, U.S.-to-Mexico pipeline gas exports had averaged 4.7 Bcf/d over the last six days, about 1.1 Bcf below the average of the preceding 30 days.“Several border crossing points are showing weaker-than-normal flows, especially those linking to pipes in Mexico’s north and northeast,” Falcón said.Apart from the Sistrangas, Falcón highlighted that most of Mexico’s major privately-owned pipelines had declared critical alerts as well due to the pervasive supply restrictions, operational flow orders (OFOs) and force majeures north of the border.The privately-owned systems include, but are not limited to, Fermaca’s Waha-to-Guadalajara system, as well as pipelines owned by TC Energy Corp. and Infraestructura Energética Nova (IEnova), Falcón said. “We believe that industrial users may face the strongest short-term impact under the Cenagas contingency, given the supply cuts imposed by the system operator.”

Texas mandate to bar natural gas exports during power crisis likely unenforceable - official -(Reuters) - The Texas oil and gas regulator on Thursday alerted state natural gas producers of a directive to reserve their supplies for in-state electric generation even as one member questioned whether the directive could be enforced. Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order restricting gas exports and asked the state regulator to “take all reasonable steps” to keep fuel in Texas until Sunday, a decision challenged by gas importer Mexico. Days of freezing temperatures shut in about one-fifth of the region’s refining capacity, shuttered oil and natural gas wells and affected power generation in Mexico, which imports Texas natural gas. The Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, likely does not have the authority to interfere with contracts between companies to sell gas out of state, Commissioner Jim Wright said in an interview on Thursday. Producers “are certainly focused on selling everything they can into Texas, but they’re obligated under contract,” said Wright, one of three elected commissioners. “I’m not sure we have authority to mess with that, nor do I really want to.” There has been no practical impact from Abbott’s order on the gas market, said Bernadette Johnson, vice president at data firm Enverus. Less natural gas has been leaving Texas, but that was because producers had to shut in wells because they lost power and equipment froze. “You can’t just stop a pipe at the border and turn it around. That’s not a thing,” said Johnson. “The systems are not designed with these crazy orders in mind.”

Natural Gas Flows from Texas to Mexico Taking Hit, but Worst Appears to be Over - Despite a Wednesday evening order from Texas Gov. Abbott to prioritize in-state consumption, natural gas continued to flow from Texas to Mexico Thursday, albeit at reduced levels. Scheduled deliveries of piped gas to Mexico from Texas hit 1.6 Bcf/d Thursday, up from 1.3 Bcf/d on Wednesday and 1.1 Bcf/d on Tuesday. Typical export volumes from the state generally exceed 2 Bcf/d. As a percentage of total pipeline deliveries, natural gas exports to Mexico were 16.3% on Thursday, compared to an average of around 25% for the first week of February. “Both the absolute volumes of gas sent to Mexico and the relative percentage of gas shipped to Mexico versus total deliveries from Texas pipelines have fallen in recent days. Texas shippers are definitely doing more to keep domestic customers whole than they are consumers in Mexico,” said NGI’s Director of Strategy and Research Patrick Rau. Matthew Lewis, senior director of research at East Daley Capital Advisors said that based on pipeline nominations Thursday “there are still significant gas flows into Mexico. There also appears to be gas flowing West on El Paso leaving the state of Texas.” He added that despite the governor’s order, the language may leave room for certain types of customers to still transport gas out of the state. “Whether or not the governor has the authority to allow producers to not fulfill existing contracts is still unclear,” Wood Mackenzie analysts said. The order is effective through Sunday. But improving weather conditions in Texas and power being turned back on in homes on Thursday may also have eased the potential strain.

LNG Import Terminals in India, Europe to Add Capacity as Demand Grows -Belgian midstreamer Fluxys said Monday that it has made a positive final investment decision to nearly double the regasification capacity at its Zeebrugge liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal after a successful open season. The company said the full 6 million metric tons/year (mmty) of additional regasification capacity at the facility in Belgium was fully subscribed during a binding open season. Fluxys said it would move ahead on construction of the infrastructure required to expand the terminal. The expansion would be completed in two phases. Another 4.7 mmty would be made available in early 2024, while the full 6 mmty would become available in early 2026, almost doubling the terminal’s capacity, Fluxys said. Europe remains a top destination for U.S. LNG exports, accounting for roughly 40% of all cargoes that left the country between January 2020 and January 2021, according to NGI calculations. Fluxys’ announcement followed another from Petronet LNG, India’s top LNG importer, at a news conference Friday. Petronet CEO A.K. Singh reportedly said the company plans to increase capacity by 29% from current levels to 22.5 mmty at its Dahej terminal in western Gujarat state. Capacity at the terminal is to be added in two phases. The first 2.5 mmty expansion is set for the next three to four years, while a similarly-sized expansion would be completed sometime after that. Indian LNG imports have been increasing steadily in the last decade, hitting a record high early last year, according to data intelligence firm Kpler. India has typically been a consistent home for Qatari cargoes, but those sourced from the United States have increased in the last year, Kpler said recently. India is aiming to curb emissions by increasing the share of natural gas used in its energy mix to 15% from current levels of 6.2%.

Failed valve on cargo ship causes oil spill in bay - A valve problem on a bulk carrier anchored in British waters in the Bay of Gibraltar caused an oil spill on Friday, some which drifted into the harbour basin. As boat marinas inside the harbour deployed booms to stop the spill damaging boats, the Gibraltar Port Authority implemented its counter pollution plan and liaised too with Spanish authorities, who assisted in containing the spill. As clean-up operations got under way inside the harbour and in the bay, two vessels from Spain including a large salvage tug operated by Salvamento Maritimo deployed booms at sea to contain the spill as it drifted toward La Linea. Crew on the AM Ghent confirmed that the spill was caused after one of its venting valves failed. The GPA’s Bunkering Superintendent attended to investigate the issue further and coordinate the clean-up. “The Captain of the Port contacted his counterpart in Algeciras to inform him of the situation and although assistance was offered, it was declined but special permission was granted for two Spanish assets to come into BGTW to prevent oil from transgressing the median line in the bay,” a government spokesman said.

Oil spill ship detained as clean-up continues - The ship that caused an oil spill last Friday will be detained in Gibraltar waters until the Gibraltar Government can recover the costs of a clean-up operation over the bank holiday weekend. Specialist vessels and teams on land have been busy scooping up fuel oil from the sea and the shoreline following the spill. Much of the oil drifted into the harbour basin but there were patches spotted out in the bay including in the area of Rosia Bay. Dr John Cortes, the Minister for the Environment, acknowledged the impact of the spill on wildlife, particularly inside the harbour. “Over the last ten years the marine life in our harbour had come back in strength and it was becoming a key wildlife area,” he said. “This is a significant setback which we are monitoring closely and we are working hard to minimise the impact as much as possible.” “But it will take time to recover.” The spill appears to have been caused by a valve problem on the Liberian-flag bulk carrier AM Ghent during a bunkering operation while anchored in British waters in the Bay of Gibraltar. An anti-pollution operation involving vessels from Gibraltar and Spain tried to contain the spilt fuel to prevent it from reaching shore. But an oily sheen stretched across much of the north end of the bay over the weekend, while inside Gibraltar harbour thick tendrils of black gunk floated on the water emitting a powerful fuel smell. Booms were stretched across the entrance of marinas inside the harbour to limit the amount of spill that could drift inside and damage boats. A specialist vessel sucked up the fuel floating on the surface, although the size of the spill is significant and the was work was ongoing on Monday. “I am very satisfied with the work being done by all those involved and this will not stop until the oil has been cleaned up fully,” said Vijay Daryanani, the Minister for the Port. “I will make sure that we carry out a full investigation into how this accident occurred as soon as possible.”

Oil spill stops shiploading at W Australias Geraldton - Australian iron ore mining firm Fenix Resources has stopped loading the Ya Tai 2 bulk carrier after mechanical issues caused an oil spill at the port of Geraldton in Western Australia's (WA) MidWest region. The cargo, the first loaded by Fenix from its 1.25mn t/yr Iron Ridge project, was under contract to Chinese firm SinoSteel International. SinoSteel is responsible for chartering the vessel as part of an fob contract under the offtake agreement between SinoSteel and Fenix, according to the Australian firm. Fenix had loaded 5,004 wet metric tonnes (wmt) of 64pc Fe lump onto the 76,000 deadweight tonne (dwt) capacity Ya Tai 2 before the mechanical issues stopped loading. It is unclear if the rest of the cargo can be loaded onto the ship and Fenix is looking at other export options. The firm's second shipment is due be loaded at Geraldton from 27 February. Geraldton is becoming increasingly busy, with new iron ore mining firm GWR making its first shipment last week and shipments of wheat and other grains increasing because of higher WA rainfall. WA iron ore mining firm Mount Gibson also plans to restart shipping through the port from mid-2021 when its begins sales from its 1.5mn t/yr Shine project. It is unclear if the oil spill has affected shipping from other firms using Geraldton.

 Oil spill from TTPL sparks environmental concerns --A leakage in the pipeline carrying furnace oil to the boiler at Travancore Titanium Products Ltd (TTPL) on Wednesday caused oil spill in the sea along Shanghumugham-Veli coast forcing a temporary ban on visit to tourism spots and fishing activities for 48 hours. Tourists will be prohibited from entering Veli, Sanghumugham and Vettucaud beaches on Thursday too.  The pipeline carrying the furnace oil runs above the drainage line and the spilled oil directly flowed into the drainage line leading to the sea. About 5,000 litres of oil is estimated to have been leaked. High-pressure pumping caused excessive leakage following the pipe burst. The authorities said approximately 2,000 litres of oil must have spilt into the sea.  Later in the day, the TTPL stopped operations following a directive from the pollution control board. PCB issued a letter to TTPL expressing strong objection over the company’s failure to inform it about the oil spill. The agency has instructed PCB instructed TTPL not to resume operations until containment, cleansing and disposal measures are completed.  An emergency response team has managed to contain the flow by blocking the drainage line. The recovery of spilt oil has also been initiated. With sea waves washing ashore the oil, thick tar has been formed on the beach. Saw dust is being sprayed over the tar which is then scooped up and stored at TTPL and will be disposed of scientifically. The team is also in talks with technical firms to engage machinery for the recovery of oil sediments. The damaged pipeline will be replaced. Generally, around 26,000 litres of furnace oil are stored at TTPL and 12,000 litres are used daily to generate steam and for other burning purposes. Such an oil leakage has been reported at TTPL for the first time and the company has initiated an internal inquiry. An acid plant is generally used to generate steam but as it was shut down, furnace oil was used for the purpose.  A Coast Guard ship and an aircraft conducted surveillance over the coastal area following the oil spill. The officials of pollution control board visited the site and assessed the situation. District authorities havedirected TTPL to remove the sand littered with oil on the beach from Vettucaud to Veli.

 Shell reports Nigeria to WBank panel over oil spill dispute - Royal Dutch Shell Plc along with its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), has launched arbitration proceedings against the federal government over a long-running dispute with a Rivers community.The oil major’s Netherlands-registered holding company and SPDC filed the case at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on February 10.This is coming as the Joint Venture (JV) between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Total E & P targets to hit first oil in the $500 million Ikike Oilfield from the last quarter of 2021.A post on the website of the Washington-based World Bank dispute resolution body, indicated that the hearing of the case marked “Shell Petroleum N.V. and The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (ICSID Case No. ARB/21/7)” was still pending.It listed the claimant’s representative as Debevoise & Plimpton, London, UK and New York, NY, U.S.A, while the respondents representatives were named as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abuja, Nigeria, Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja, Nigeria as well as the Federal Ministry of Justice.The World Bank’s arbitration body is a leading institution devoted to international investment dispute settlement, having administered the majority of all international investment as agreed to by participating states.It was set up under a multilateral treaty formulated by the executive directors of the World Bank to further its objective of promoting international investment. It was established in 1966 by the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the ICSID Convention) and has handled over 700 cases.

Nigerians can now sue Shell in the UK for oil pollution --Nigerians can sue Shell in English courts for damage to communities caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta, the UK’s Supreme Court said on Friday, allowing the communities to bring their claims for compensation and clean-up in UK courts.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Ogale and Bille communities who have contended that Shell should be held liable for the oil spills under the supervision of its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC.The UK Supreme Court overturned a split decision of the Court of Appeal and held that the two cases brought by the Ogale and Bille communities are arguable and can proceed in the English courts.The Supreme Court ruling adds another precedent for oil companies who can be sued in their domicile for oil spills and other harm to communities in other countries. Last month, The Hague Court of Appeal ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for two oil spills in the country 13 years ago, in the first lawsuit in which a company has been held liable in the Netherlands for its actions abroad. Shell hasn’t argued that the oil spills did not happen, but has always said that the spills happened in communities with rampant oil theft and infrastructure sabotage.“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment. Unfortunately, such criminal acts remain the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta today,” a spokesperson for Shell said, as carried by Sky News. Persistent issues with theft and sabotage in the Niger Delta could prompt Shell to take a hard look at its operations onshore Nigeria, the supermajor’s chief executive Ben van Beurden said last week.  Daniel Leader, a partner with law firm Leigh Day representing the Nigerian communities, said, commenting on Friday’s ruling: “This Supreme Court judgment gives real hope to the people of Ogale and Bille who have been asking Shell to clean up their oil for years. We hope that now, finally, Shell will act. But it also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies.”  

Funds bought U.S. crude ahead of big freeze: John Kemp - (Reuters) - Hedge funds purchased more petroleum last week, but buying was almost entirely concentrated in WTI, which suggests it was driven by the prospect of freezing weather temporarily hitting U.S. oil production. Hedge funds and other money managers purchased the equivalent of 33 million barrels in the six most important petroleum-linked futures and options contracts in the week to Feb. 9. But the buying was concentrated in NYMEX and ICE WTI (+30 million barrels) and to a lesser extent European gas oil (+7 million), according to ICE Futures Europe and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There were only very minor changes in Brent (+2 million) and U.S. diesel (+1 million) while U.S. gasoline (-5 million) saw selling for the second week running ( Combined positions across all six contracts are now just over the 80th percentile for all weeks since 2013, implying most portfolio managers anticipate further price increases in the short term. Fund managers have increased their bullish positioning for 14 weeks running, by a total of 531 million barrels, the longest and largest increase in bullish positions since the first four months of 2019. The hedge fund community remains bullish even though crude prices have increased by more than half in less than three months since the first successful coronavirus vaccines were announced in early November. But the concentration of buying in WTI implies that much of the buying in the most recent week was fuelled by U.S.-specific factors, while the more internationally-oriented Brent contract saw little change. Forecast freezing weather, which has now arrived, was expected to hit oil and gas production across the Great Plains and down into the Permian Basin of Texas, temporarily curbing crude supply in the United States. On the other side of the Atlantic, buying in European gasoil was likely driven by the prospect of colder weather across much of Europe as well as the strong recovery in global freight and manufacturing consumption.

Oil rises on fears of heightened tensions in Middle East - Oil prices rose to their highest in more than a year on Monday, after a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it intercepted an explosive-laden drone fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi group, raising fears of fresh Middle East tensions. Hopes for more U.S. stimulus and an easing of coronavirus lockdowns helped support the rally, after prices gained around 5% last week. Brent crude was up 66 cents, or 1.1%, at $63.09 a barrel at 0004 GMT, after climbing to a session high of $63.44, the highest since Jan. 22, 2020. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 86 cents, or 1.5%, to $60.33 a barrel. It touched the highest since Jan. 8 last year of $60.77 earlier in the session. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said late on Sunday it intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone fired by the Iran-aligned Houthi group toward the kingdom, state TV reported. "An early spike in oil markets was triggered by the news," said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at commodities broker Fujitomi Co. "But the rally was also driven by growing hopes that a U.S. stimulus and easing of lockdowns will boost the economy and fuel demand," he said. WTI may be pulled back by profit-taking as it reached a key $60 level, he added. U.S. President Joe Biden pushed for the first major legislative achievement of his term on Friday, turning to a bipartisan group of local officials for help on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. Oil prices have rallied over recent weeks also as supplies tighten, due largely to production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers in the group OPEC+.

  Oil hits pandemic high as winter storm pushes demand and poses production risk - Freezing weather in regions across the U.S. sparked another rally in energy prices and put West Texas Intermediate crude on pace to settle above $60 a barrel for the first time since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. WTI crude futures rose 67 cents, or 1.1%, to $60.14 a barrel Monday morning around 10:08 a.m. ET. The jump brings WTI crude futures up 24% so far in 2021. It touched $60.77 a barrel earlier in the session, its highest level since January 2020. Brent crude, the international benchmark, climbed 1.3% to $63.26 after hitting its own 13-month high. The latest pop in the energy market came as cold weather racked portions of the U.S. and fostered demand for power and fuel while simultaneously threatening to hamstring production in Texas. "Winter storm and arctic blast of cold weather that is making its way south to Houston may have some severe impacts on the oil industry," oil analyst Andy Lipow wrote over the weekend. "Frigid weather means that many oil wells may be shut in. Water is produced along with oil, that water can freeze up equipment," he added. "The cold air affects oil production in Canada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere." More than 150 million Americans are currently under some category of winter weather advisory, according to the National Weather Service. As of early Monday morning, the agency was predicting a "major winter storm" to dump heavy snow and significant ice from the southern plains and Ohio Valley into the Northeast. Lipow, president of Texas-based Lipow Oil Associates, added that while the winter storm likely isn't as severe as the Category 5 hurricanes the Gulf Coast has come to know, odds are good refineries will slow operations and prepare for outages. He also noted that the storm is partly to blame for a steady rise in gasoline prices over the last week.   Analysts expect that the EIA's next weekly report, due Tuesday, will show that retail gas prices climbed further. The recent rally in crude prices also marks an extension of the oil market's rebound since the coronavirus pandemic gutted demand for petroleum products throughout much of 2020 and sent crude prices reeling in April.

Oil price rally points to more OPEC+ easing from April -sources (Reuters) - OPEC+ oil producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although any increase in output will be modest as producers are wary of fresh setbacks in the battle against the pandemic. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, slowed the pace of a planned output increase in January to match weaker-than-expected fuel demand due to continued restrictions on population movement because of the pandemic. Saudi Arabia made additional voluntary cuts to supply for February and March. An oil rally since then to a 13-month high to almost $64 per barrel has boosted confidence among producers that the market could absorb more supply. Forecasters, including OPEC, are predicting a record rise in demand this year as vaccines are rolled out, despite current weakness. [OPEC/M] “Yes, if demand recovers as we expect, OPEC+ will ease the production adjustments gradually, always thinking about reducing the inventory overhang,” said an OPEC delegate, asked if the oil rally would make easing more likely from April. OPEC+ meets to set policy on March 4. The two key questions for the group will be whether Saudi Arabia rolls back its voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) - which is due to end next month - and whether there is room for an additional increase in supply from the whole group. Saudi Arabia’s voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) ends next month. While Riyadh hasn’t shared its plans beyond March with its OPEC+ partners, expectations in the group are growing Saudi Arabia will bring back the supply from April, perhaps gradually. “Oil prices are very good now so there is no need for the Saudis to continue with the voluntary cuts beyond March,” an OPEC+ source said. “But it is not clear if the Saudis will bring back the 1 million bpd gradually or not.” Iraq’s oil minister said on Feb. 10 Saudi Arabia would likely abandon the voluntary cut after the March meeting, and also said OPEC+ would keep its output cuts policy unchanged. Still, with prices rising, some in OPEC+ are likely to propose a modest rise in output, although this could depend on whether Saudi Arabia ends the voluntary cut all at once.

Oil prices climb as deep freeze shuts U.S. oil wells, curbs refineries (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Tuesday as a cold front shut wells and refineries in Texas, the biggest crude producing state in the United States, the world’s biggest oil producer. Prices also gained as Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it struck airports in Saudi Arabia with drones, raising supply concerns in the world’s biggest oil exporter, and on optimism for a global economic recovery amid accelerated COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Brent crude was up 14 cents, or 0.2%, at $63.44 a barrel at 0740 GMT, after rising to its highest since January 2020 in the previous session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 61 cents, or 1%, to $60.08 a barrel. WTI did not settle on Monday because of a U.S. federal holiday. Prices will settle at the close of trading on Tuesday. “The unexpected U.S. supply disruption provides another short term price recovery bridge that has likely taken oil prices to a level where markets were eventually heading but just a little bit quicker than expected,” Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at Axi said in a note on Tuesday. The cold weather in the United States halted Texas oil wells and refineries on Monday and forced restrictions on natural gas and crude pipeline operators. The rare deep freeze prompted the state’s electric power suppliers to impose rotating blackouts, leaving nearly 3 million homes and businesses without power. Texas produces roughly 4.6 million barrels of oil per day and is home to 31 refineries, the most of any U.S. state, according to Energy Information Administration data, including some of the country’s largest. In the Middle East, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said on Monday it had struck Saudi Arabia’s Abha and Jeddah airports with drones. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said early on Monday morning it had intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone fired by the Houthis toward the kingdom. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday listed AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, widening access to the relatively inexpensive shot in the developing world. Capping prices gains, Norway’s oil industry employers struck a wage bargain with the Safe labour union on Tuesday, preventing a strike at the Mongstad crude terminal and shutdowns of major offshore oil and gas fields.

 Oil steady amid Texas supply disruptions, potential OPEC+ moves -- Oil extends rally on Texas supply disruptions - Oil prices rose on Wednesday, underpinned by a major supply disruption in the southern United States this week where a winter storm hit Texas. Benchmark Brent crude gained 22 cents, or 0.35%, to trade at $63.56 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 15 cents, or 0.28%, to $60.22 per barrel. Both contracts were at their highest level since January 2020. "WTI clocked in at $60 a barrel this week, joining its transatlantic peer (Brent) above the psychological level for the first time since January 2020. At this price point, any oil production is profitable," Oil has been supported in the past few weeks by OPEC+ supply curbs and hopes of a demand rebound due to COVID-19 vaccinations, but severe cold weather in Texas, the country's largest oil producing state, has boosted the prices in recent days. The U.S. deep freeze is expected to disrupt production for several days if not weeks, industry experts said, as wellheads have frozen and refineries have been shut. ANZ and Citigroup analysts estimated at least 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. shale oil production had been curtailed. Citi estimated a cumulative production loss of around 16 million barrels through early March. The stronger price environment has put more attention on OPEC+, which groups OPEC, Russia and allied producers. It meets to set policy on March 4. "The impact on crude oil prices will largely depend on how long the power crisis will last, but eventually prices will likely return to the fundamentals with a focus on the global energy demand and OPEC+," OPEC+ oil producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources told Reuters. "We believe that OPEC+ will likely take a more conservative approach, and ease output more modestly," . U.S. oil inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will be released on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, a one day delay for each after this week's U.S. holiday. Analysts polled by Reuters estimated, on average, that crude stocks fell 2.2 million barrels in the week to Feb. 12.

Oil jumps US$1/barrel as Texas freeze prompts US output drop,-- Oil prices gained more than US$1 a barrel on Wednesday, as frigid Texas temperatures shut production across the largest US crude producing state, with the unusually cold weather expected to hamper output for days or even weeks. Brent crude settled at US$64.34 a barrel, gaining 99 cents, or 1.6 per cent, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled at US$61.14 a barrel, rising US$1.09, or 1.8 per cent. Both benchmarks were at their highest levels since January last year. Oil has been supported by Opec+ supply curbs, Saudi Arabia's additional cuts and hopes of a demand rebound due to Covid-19 vaccinations. Historic cold weather since the weekend in Texas, which supplies the bulk of US crude and is part of the main US refining hub, has propelled prices even higher. The US deep freeze has shut an estimated 1 million barrels a day of production and is expected to disrupt production for several days if not weeks, industry experts said, as wellheads have frozen over and pipelines have shut. At least a fifth of US refining output has been knocked offline, which is hampering demand for crude at the same time production is down,. "This will all thaw out and things should ramp up rather quickly," he said. In a statement that helped ease fears that Opec and allied oil producers would announce plans to raise output after meeting next month, Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said it was too early to declare victory against the Covid-19 virus and oil producers must remain "extremely cautious." The stronger price environment has put more attention on Opec+, which groups Opec, Russia and allied producers. It meets to set policy on March 4. US crude oil stocks fell by 5.8 million barrels in the week to Feb 12 to about 468 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a draw of 2.4 million barrels, American Petroleum Institute data showed.

Oil Prices Advance Amid US Energy Crisis  | Rigzone -- Oil rose to the highest in over a year as U.S. oil output plunged by a record 40% amid the ongoing energy crisis in the country. Futures climbed 1.8% in New York after flipping between gains and losses earlier on Wednesday. The deep freeze causing historic power outages across the central U.S. has led oil output to fall by more than 4 million barrels a day nationwide. Meanwhile, Brent’s nearest contract is trading at its strongest premium to the following month in over a year, with North Sea traders this week frantically bidding for the region’s cargoes as replacements are sought for U.S. crude exports. However, a spate of refinery outages from the freezing temperatures has curbed demand for crude in the U.S., while gasoline consumption also decreased as the cold kept even more Americans off the road. WTI’s nearest time spread flipped back into a bearish contango structure this week amid refinery closures and infrastructure issues associated with the freeze in the U.S., indicating oversupply. “This arctic blast is really delivering a key surprise that’s elevating prices,”   “The short-term disruption underlines the fragility of where we are with supplies, and we could see a number of different events that could provide us with another surge higher.” Crude’s rally faded briefly during Wednesday’s session after Dow Jones reported that Saudi Arabia plans to boost oil output in the coming months, citing unnamed advisers to the kingdom. While Saudi Arabia’s unilateral supply cuts this year came as a surprise to the market when initially announced, many investors had expected the producer to raise output come April. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is urging fellow members of the OPEC+ alliance to remain cautious as they prepare to consider further supply increases.  West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose $1.09 to settle at $61.14 a barrel.  Brent for April settlement gained 99 cents to end the session at $64.34 a barrel. Both benchmarks are at the highest since January 2020 Temperatures in Texas are now low enough to freeze oil and gas liquids at the well head and in pipelines laid on the ground. Before the crisis, the U.S. was pumping about 11 million barrels a day, according to government data. Production in the Permian Basin alone -- America’s biggest oil field -- has plummeted by as much as 80%. A slew of crude pipelines were also shut earlier this week due to the freeze, including those that transport oil from the nation’s largest storage hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to data-provider Genscape Inc. Multiple pipelines remained offline as of Tuesday.

WTI Extends Gains After Bigger Than Expected Crude Draw  -- Oil prices ended a roller-coaster day higher (WTI above $61) after the deep freeze shut in a stunning 40% of US crude production (prices higher), headlines reported that the Saudis plan to boost production going forward (prices dived), and a late-day buying panic post-FOMC Minutes (ignoring transitory inflation factors). “We’re at a very delicate point here,” said Bob Yawger, head of the futures division at Mizuho Securities. OPEC+ has “to make sure the associated demand is there before increasing the barrels and not kill the golden goose here, which is what they’ll do if they add everything at once.”  Today's reported inventory data is unlikely to show any of the affects from the current storm (although potentially some stockpiling may have occurred)... API

  • Crude -5.8mm (-2.15mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.00mm
  • Gasoline +3.90mm (+1.397mm exp)
  • Distillates -3.50mm (=1.57mm exp)

As analysts expected, crude stocks drew down for a 4th straight week (and more than expected). Gasoline stocks rose for the 6th week of the last 7... WTI was hovering around $61.20 (highs of the day) ahead of the API print, and extended gains after the bigger than expected draw... “This arctic blast is really delivering a key surprise that’s elevating prices,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda Corp. “The short-term disruption underlines the fragility of where we are with supplies, and we could see a number of different events that could provide us with another surge higher.”

Saudi Arabia May Reverse Course, Respond to Rise in Oil Prices with Increased Production --Saudi Arabia, which leads the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), may quickly ramp up production this spring, following the recent momentum in oil prices and its own expectations for increased demand in the second half of 2021. It would mark a stark shift from its current stance. OPEC and its allies, aka OPEC-plus, this month maintained lower near-term production targets. The cartel had previously called for its members to keep supply levels steady this month, with the exception of leader Saudi Arabia. The kingdom agreed to voluntarily trim output by 1.0 million b/d in February and March to further align global supply with demand that has been under pressure from pandemic fallout. [NGI’s natural gas price indexes have included trade data from both price reporters and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) since 2008. Find out more about our price index data here.] Saudi Arabia, however, is preparing a plan to reverse course in April and could announce the shift in policy when OPEC-plus meets early next month, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing advisers to the cartel. Oil prices reached 13-month highs in recent days. The Saudis’ plan had not otherwise been made public or formally communicated to OPEC delegates. Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, while speaking at a virtual conference on Wednesday, said it was too soon to assess with confidence the trajectory of the pandemic or to make any new announcements. “We are in a much better place than we were a year ago, but I must warn, once again, against complacency. The uncertainty is very high, and we have to be extremely cautious,” he said. “Those who are trying to predict the next move of OPEC-plus, to those I say, don’t try to predict the unpredictable.” Virus outbreaks during the winter months have kept travel in check and, by extension, muted demand for gasoline and jet fuel. OPEC-plus ministers are scheduled to meet March 4 to determine output quotas for April and potentially ensuing months.

JPMorgan says two factors could drive up oil prices by another $5 to $10 per barrel— JPMorgan says crude prices could see further upside ahead as oil continues to see strong gains so far this year. It comes against the backdrop of an improving global outlook as major economies press ahead with their ongoing coronavirus vaccination campaigns. "I think there's room for oil prices to move a little bit higher in this environment but, you know, not thinking about a price of $80 or $90 a barrel. Maybe it goes up by $5 or $10 more from here," Kerry Craig, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia" on Friday. In the afternoon of Asia trading hours on Friday, international benchmark Brent crude futures were at $62.91 per barrel. U.S. crude futures changed hands at $59.34 per barrel. Both Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude futures have risen more than 20% each so far in 2021. Oil prices have moderated in recent days after surging to their highest in more than a year. Just this week, a deadly winter storm in southern U.S. resulted in days of power outages in Texas, wrecking havoc on the state's energy infrastructure and taking millions of barrels per day of oil production offline. Energy prices popped as a result of that development. There are two things that will likely drive oil prices going forward, according to Craig. Firstly, demand for oil is expected to pick up as the global economy recovers from the hit of the coronavirus pandemic, he said. However, that will be "curtailed to a certain extent" due to the low likelihood of international travel coming back in a big way soon. Travel is an "important source of demand," he added. On the supply side, he said: "We're still relying on those OPEC+ members to keep that supply relatively curtailed and I think there's still a question about that in terms of the amount of supply coming on relative to demand." OPEC and its allies, known collectively as OPEC+, have sought to navigate their way through a historically tumultuous period that has included an unparalleled collapse in oil prices as well as a major fuel demand shock amid the pandemic.

WTI Rebounds Above $61 After Big Crude Draw, Production Drop - Oil prices are lower this morning ahead of the official inventory data (after spiking on Permian shut-ins and a bigger than expected crude draw reported by API) as stocks sank: “The outage will be temporary but it will still help to accelerate U.S. oil inventories down towards the five year average quicker than expected,”  Estimates for how long the U.S. outages may last have risen in recent days as analysts try to figure out the timespan involved in thawing out infrastructure.One million barrels per day of production are offline due to the winter storm, according to Wood Mackenzie analysts. At least 6% of Permian Basin production was hit by freezing weather, and 225,000 barrels per day of Eagle Ford production. Meanwhile, Citigroup analysts have estimated a cumulative production loss of 16 million barrels through early March. This week's inventory data is unlikely to reflect any effects of the storm (except the possibility of some stockpiling ahead of it). DOE

  • Crude -7.257mm (-2.15mm exp)
  • Cushing -3.028mm
  • Gasoline +672k (+1.397mm exp)
  • Distillates -3.422mm (-1.57mm exp)

After API's big draw, analysts expected 9th weekly drop in crude stocks in the last 10 weeks and were right as crude inventories dropped a far greater than expected 7.25mm barrels. Gasoline stocks rose for the 6th week in the last 7...

Oil prices dip after surpassing $65 a barrel amid Texas cold snap --Oil prices fell on Thursday despite a sharp drop in United States crude inventories, as market participants took profits following days of buying spurred by a cold snap in the largest US energy-producing state. Brent crude fell 41 cents, or 0.6 percent, to settle at $63.93 a barrel. During the session it rose as high as $65.52, its highest since January 2020. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 62 cents, or 1 percent, to settle at $60.52 a barrel, after earlier reaching $62.26, the highest since January 2020. Brent had gained for four straight sessions before Thursday, while WTI had risen for three. “The market probably got a little bit ahead of itself,” said Phil Flynn, a senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “But make no mistake, this selloff in oil doesn’t solve the problems. The problems are going to persist.” Though some Texas households had power restored on Thursday, the state entered its sixth day of a cold freeze. It has grappled with refining outages and oil and gas shut-ins that rippled beyond its border into Mexico. The weather has reduced the nation’s refining capacity by one-fifth and closed oil and natural gas production across the state. “The temporary outage will help to accelerate US oil inventories down towards the five-year average quicker than expected,” SEB chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said. Prices dropped despite a decrease in US oil inventories. Crude stockpiles fell by 7.3 million barrels in the week to February 12, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Thursday, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 2.4 million barrels. Crude exports rose to 3.9 million barrels per day, the highest since March, EIA said. “The big nugget was the big jump in exports of crude oil,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital in New York. “We’ll have to see what happens with that next week [related to] weather in Texas, but I have been looking for a pickup there for a while.” Oil’s rally in recent months has also been supported by a tightening of global supplies, due largely to production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers in the OPEC+ grouping, which includes Russia. OPEC+ sources told Reuters news agency that the group’s producers are likely to ease curbs on supply after April given the recovery in prices.

Oil Prices Dip as Some Cash in on US ‘Freeze’ Trade - The one-way move in oil prices snapped on Thursday as some cashed in on this week’s “freeze” trade that sent crude markets higher than they might have otherwise gone. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate crude settled down 1%, or 62 cents, at $60.52 per barrel as players took profit on its run to 13-month highs of $62.27 after the Arctic freeze that crippled part of the oil production in Texas, the heartland of U.S. energy. London-traded Brent, the global benchmark for crude, settled down 0.6%, or 41 cents, at $63.93, after briefly breaking above $65 — its highest since January 2020. After an unseasonably warm start to the 2020/21 winter, a hail of snow storms have descended upon central and eastern United States in recent weeks. This has slowed or, in some cases, shut altogether energy production in some places, particularly in Texas, where the freeze was so severe this week that oil and gas just couldn't flow like normal. Analysts at ANZ Bank and Citigroup (NYSE:C) estimate that at least 2 million barrels barrels per day of US shale oil production has been curtailed by the Texas storm. Citigroup also expects a cumulative production loss of around 16 million barrels through early March. Typically known for its sweltering weather most of the year, Texas now looks more like a white blanket after this week’s storm in the state known temperatures of between 60°F (15.6°C) and 70°F (21.1°C). At least 500,000 homes in Texas had no power on Thursday morning after as many 3.1 million were impacted a day earlier by the worst snowstorm in 30 years to hit the state.

 Oil drops as investors gauge big chill impact on U.S. refineries --Oil prices slid as much as 2% in early trade on Friday, adding to overnight declines, on worries that refineries shut by a big freeze in the U.S. South will take some time to revive operations and dent crude demand. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.21, or 2%, to $59.31 a barrel at 0157 GMT, after declining 1% on Thursday. Brent crude futures dropped $1.07, or 1.7%, to $62.86 a barrel, after declining 0.6% on Thursday. Both benchmark contracts rallied to 13-month highs on Thursday driven by the historic freeze in U.S. southern states. While analysts estimate the extreme cold has shut in as much as one-third of U.S. crude production, attention has now turned to the impact on refiners. "The market is concerned about the refinery outages in Texas, where arctic weather has caused power outages and frozen wells and pipes," ANZ Research said in a note. The lack of demand from refineries will likely lead to builds in crude stocks over coming weeks, even though around 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. oil output has been shut, ANZ said. Citi analysts said in a note that some U.S. refineries might bring forward maintenance work normally scheduled for the spring, ahead of the summer driving season. "Refinery outages could be deeper and longer lasting, especially ahead of the spring maintenance season, as some plants could decide to anticipate planned turnarounds of roughly 500-k b/d on aggregate over the next month," Citi analysts said. U.S. crude stockpiles fell more than expected in the week to Feb. 12, before the freeze, with inventories down by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday.

 Light Crude Ends Week Below $60  | Rigzone -- Oil fell to the lowest in a week as output slowly resumed in Texas, while margins for processing gasoline surged as Gulf Coast refineries are seen taking weeks to restart operations after the deep freeze. Crude futures in New York plunged $1.28 on Friday, its biggest decline in dollar terms since late December. Producers including Marathon Oil Corp. are using restored power from grids or generators to resume output that was halted by the frigid weather this week in the Eagle Ford shale basin. Meanwhile, fuel margins jumped with four of the biggest refineries in Texas seen taking several weeks to resume operations, raising the potential for fuel shortages. “Crude production is going to come back up a lot faster than refineries, leaving more crude available than there will be demand for it coming up over the next few weeks.” Oil is still up more than 20% this year due to Saudi Arabia’s unilateral output cuts in February and March and an improving demand outlook. The market largely expects Saudi Arabia to roll some of the output cuts back, “but how much they try and bring back is the question mark we’re all waiting for,” said Gary Cunningham, director at Stamford, Connecticut-based Tradition Energy. “We don’t see them discontinuing the cut entirely. We still haven’t seen the recovery in global demand, even though there’s all kinds of positive outlooks.” West Texas Intermediate fell $1.28 to settle at $59.24 a barrel, falling less than 1% over the week. Brent for April settlement slipped $1.02 to end the session at $62.91 a barrel, posting its largest daily drop since Jan. 15. The contract eked out a slight weekly gain. Gasoline futures rose by 1.26 cents per gallon to $1.8069. The refining margin for Nymex gasoline versus WTI futures surged as much as over 16% on Friday, rising to the highest since April. There should be only a small and transitory impact on global oil prices from the U.S. freeze as the supply and demand impacts balance out, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said. Still, Brent’s nearest timespread remains at one-year highs in a structure indicating tighter supplies and WTI’s discount to Brent has widened further past $3 a barrel this week, as replacements are sought for U.S. crude The cold snap and power cuts affected more than 20 refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Crude-processing capacity fell by about 5.5 million barrels a day, said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst for Energy Aspects Ltd. Meanwhile, the White House said it would be willing to meet with Tehran to discuss a “diplomatic way forward” in efforts to return to the nuclear deal that the U.S. quit in 2018, adding further pressure to prices. Iran is pressing the U.S. to lift sanctions and rejoin the deal if talks are to resume.

A shot at Dubai? Saudi Arabia issues dramatic ultimatum to pull global head offices into the kingdom— Saudi Arabia, in a bold and unexpected move, announced late Monday that by 2024 its government would cease doing business with any international companies whose regional headquarters were not based within the kingdom.  The news has investors, bankers and expat workers buzzing — and scratching their heads. Saudi Arabia in recent years has pitched itself as a location for HQ offices in its campaign to create private sector jobs and diversify its economy as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030. But what began as a pitch to global head offices has now become an ultimatum for some: either relocate your headquarters to the kingdom, or lose out on lucrative government contracts. And the move, regional analysts and finance professionals say, appears to be targeted at the region's current headquarters hub: Dubai. "The Kingdom of Saudi of Arabia intends to cease contracting with companies and commercial institutions with regional headquarters not located in the Kingdom. The cessation will include agencies, institutions and funds owned by the government and will take effect January 1st, 2024," Saudi state agency SPA reported on Monday. So far, the policy appears only to apply to firms doing business with the government; those that don't move their head offices to Saudi Arabia can still work in the private sector. Riyadh vs. Dubai The Saudis are "trying to lure companies out of Dubai, I expect, and elsewhere," Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at risk consulting firm Stratfor, told CNBC. One UAE-based financier, who spoke anonymously due to having business operations in Saudi Arabia, described the move as "clearly targeting the UAE" and a "jab in the face" to Dubai. "It's a terrible decision," the financier, a longtime veteran of the region, added. "It's anti-common market, it's anti-competition, and it's essentially corporate bullying."

After Qatar, Belligerent Saudi Takes on the UAE -- Will the world go to Riyadh if coerced to do so by the Saudi government?   Upon taking power, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as a reformist, market-friendly leader able to take Saudi Arabia forward into a post-fossil fuel future. This impression has taken a big hit in recent years with the 2017 embargo on Qatar as well as the still-unresolved 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia's Turkish consulate. Taking endless potshots at its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members doesn't seem to be the way to signal that Saudi Arabia is open for business.  More recently, Saudi Arabia has come up with its most outlandish power play yet: It has cautioned multinationals that, unless they place their regional (read: Middle East) headquarters in Saudi Arabia, they will not be able to ink government contracts. Obviously aimed at Dubai in the UAE which vastly outstrips Saudi Arabia in "ease of doing business" indicators that you would naturally think companies would gravitate to when siting regional headquarters, the outcry has been understandably strong: Saudi Arabia, in a bold and unexpected move, announced late Monday that by 2024 its government would cease doing business with any international companies whose regional headquarters were not based within the kingdom.    The news has investors, bankers and expat workers buzzing — and scratching their heads.    Saudi Arabia in recent years has pitched itself as a location for HQ offices in its campaign to create private sector jobs and diversify its economy as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030. But what began as a pitch to global head offices has now become an ultimatum for some: either relocate your headquarters to the kingdom, or lose out on lucrative government contracts. And the move, Middle East analysts and finance professionals say, appears to be targeted at the region’s current headquarters hub: Dubai.   Mind you, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia in the embargo on Qatar. Although regional economic rivalry is expected, punching below the belt in this way over restricting government procurement lest they headquarter in Saudi Arabia is widely perceived as unfair, especially since they are all supposedly part of a customs unionin the GCC: The Saudis are “trying to lure companies out of Dubai, I expect, and elsewhere,” Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at risk consulting firm Stratfor, told CNBC. One UAE-based financier, who spoke anonymously due to having business operations in Saudi Arabia, described the move as “clearly targeting the UAE” and a “jab in the face” to Dubai.  The truth of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is a less attractive place to site your regional HQ with its more restrictive environment--economically and socially. The latter is of particular concern to Western expats:

Over 700 detained after Turkish invasion of Iraq targets PKK -- Yesterday, the Turkish Interior Ministry announced that 718 people, including officials and members of the legal Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have been detained as part of “terror operations” carried out in 40 different cities across the country. As part of an already advanced drive towards dictatorship that is eliminating basic democratic rights and constitutional guarantees, this state crackdown launched by President Recep Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is a massive witch-hunt aimed at suppressing any kind of opposition. It is unprecedented in its scope since the NATO-backed attempted military coup in 2016. These police operations came immediately after Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s announcement Sunday that 13 Turkish nationals, including soldiers and police officers, were killed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the mountainous Gara or Gare region of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) during a recently launched Turkish military invasion. They had reportedly been held as prisoners by the PKK since 2015. After this announcement, a feverish government and media campaign was unleashed, blaming the HDP for deaths. Meanwhile, the HDP had announced on Saturday that at least 143 of its members had been detained over the past two days. According to Defense Minister Akar, “It has been established that one of our innocent and unarmed citizens was shot in the shoulder, and the remaining 12 were shot in the head. They were killed in a cave where the Turkish forces arrived to carry out a search.” He also said that the operation, conducted in a 75 kilometers-wide and 25 kilometers-deep area in Iraq, had been successfully concluded. “With the operation, all the elements that had been settled in this area and were preparing to attack our borders, security forces and people have almost been eliminated,” he said. Three Turkish soldiers and 48 PKK militia members lost their lives in the military clash, according to Akar. The Defense Ministry had announced last Wednesday that it had launched a new military invasion dubbed Operation Eagle Claw 2 into northern Iraq targeting PKK forces on the ground, claiming that there was a growing threat against Turkey from a PKK presence in the area. Dozens of warplanes and drones were used in the military operation, along with ground forces deployed to the area by helicopter.

Turkey Summons US Ambassador As Erdogan Blasts Biden's Support For "Kurdish Terrorists" Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is once again blasting what he's deemed US support of "terrorists" after a major incident in which Kurdish militants reportedly executed 13 kidnapped Turks in northern Iraq. Ankara on Monday summoned the US ambassador to express outrage at the lukewarm American statement on the killings which appeared to question the credibility of the Turkish claims. "The United States said it stood by fellow NATO member Turkey and that it condemned the killings if it was confirmed that responsibility lay with the PKK," according to a Reuters summation of the State Department statement. Erdogan and top officials were outraged, with the president in a speech before AK Party supporters calling the US official stance "a joke"and "ridiculous". "Now there is a statement made by the United States. It's a joke. Were you not supposed to stand against the PKK, the YPG? You clearly support them and stand behind them," Erdogan said, enraged by what's being perceived as US skepticism over Turkey's version of events.  The summary execution allegation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was leveled on Sunday, and included claims the PKK had killed Turkish military and police which had been previously captured. Turkish officials described some of its forces were captured on Feb.10 during an operation against Kurdish militants in which 48 PKK members were killed.   Below is the US statement that Erdogan accused of being intentionally weak: "We stand with our NATO Ally Turkey and extend our condolences to the families of those lost in the recent fighting. The United States deplores the death of Turkish citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.Price said that if reports that the PKK was responsible were confirmed, they "condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."Erdogan was visibly angry in a Monday speech he gave to supporters at an event in a coastal Black Sea town: Tensions between the US and Turkey have already been on edge for years given the US backing for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria. Addressing this, Erdogan continued: "If we are together with you in NATO, if we are to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely towards us. Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists."

Rocket attack on US base in Iraq underlines continued Middle East militarism under Biden -A rocket attack Monday on the heavily fortified American military base in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has underlined the continued US intervention in the Middle East under the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden. The attack, which killed one military contractor, initially identified as a Syrian Kurd, and wounded nine others, including an American soldier, came as the Pentagon is formally evaluating US troop deployments in the Middle East and Afghanistan. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared Washington “outraged” by the attack. Tehran, meanwhile, angrily refuted allegations that Iran was in any way involved in the rocket strike. A little-known group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Guardians of the Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. A wall is damaged in a residential complex after rockets attack in Irbil, Iraq, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.(AP Photo/Salar Salim) A similar attack on a US base in Iraq last December led to a spiral of US retaliation that included the bombing of Iraqi Shia militia positions and the criminal US drone strike assassination of senior Iranian leader Qassem Suleimani and a top Iraqi militia leader at Baghdad international airport last January. While in the course of his election campaign, Biden criticized this assassination and promised to “end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East,” there is no indication of any move toward a de-escalation of American militarism in the region. In a press conference last Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the ongoing review of US deployments was aimed at assuring “that we have a robust enough deterrent capability in the Middle East,” including “both the fixed and the rotational capabilities in the region to deal with the threats that are posed by Iran.” Officially, Washington has 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq and approximately 900 in Syria, along with 2,500 more in Afghanistan. The real US military footprint is undoubtedly far larger, however. The Pentagon stopped releasing figures on the number of uniformed forces and military contractors deployed in the three countries in 2017 on the order of the Trump White House. Moreover, other military units are rotated in and out of the war zones on a regular basis. Meanwhile, as many as 40,000 more troops are deployed across the region at US military bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. US aircraft carrier strike groups have carried out continuous threatening maneuvers in and near the Persian Gulf, while the Biden administration has continued menacing Iran with the overflight of the region by B-52 Stratofortress heavy bombers.

In Major Nuke Deal Breakthrough, Biden Tells Iran 'We're Ready For EU-Sponsored Talks' -A first potential major breakthrough which so far has proved elusive after Biden has stalled on prior promises to 'immediately' restore US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, the United States appears to have just changed its tune. An admin official has said 'maximum pressure' could come to an end if Iran agrees to engage through a broader EU-hosted meeting base in the P5+1 framework. "The United States would be ready to hold talks with Iran if the European Union extended an invitation, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday, sketching out a possible diplomatic path to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal," Reutersreports late in the day Thursday. Further the official said the administration's "goal is to get both sides back into compliance with the nuclear deal" and has extended the invitation to Iran: "Let's talk about how to get there."Previously the administration appeared to balk when initially just such an offer was made two weeks ago by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for the European Union to coordinate a piecemeal approach for dropping sanctions and Iran's return to conformity. But now Reuters has cited a top admin official to say "We are ready to show up if such a meeting were to take place" - in what's clearly an invitation for Iran to signal the same. Iran has indicated it will begin blocking IAEA inspectors from its nuclear facilities starting Sunday, February 21st, hence this new scramble out of the Biden administration to find a way forward before this next escalation measure that many fear would be hard to roll back takes effect. Both the US and Europe are warning against such a step.The US has lately been in direct talks with allies Britain, France, and Germany - the key European signatories to the JCPOA - and it appears they've finally struck up a common strategy in getting the frozen communications between Tehran and Washington going again.

NATO summit stresses anti-China strategy as wars in Middle East, Afghanistan continue - The two-day NATO defense ministers meeting that concluded Thursday was marked by the attempt of the Biden administration and its defense secretary, retired General Lloyd Austin, to adopt a new “tone and approach, a desire to work with our allies and partners,” as a senior Pentagon official put it. Whatever the claims that “America is back” after the four years of Donald Trump, the US used the meeting, held via a secure videoconference because of the pandemic, to press for the same essential policies: continued imperialist operations in the Middle East and a strategic shift toward the preparations for “great power” confrontation with China and Russia. This was combined with a continuation of Washington’s insistence that the European powers devote a greater share of their budgets—two percent of GDP—to military spending, including buying American-made hardware, a demand that has remained consistent from Obama to Trump to Biden. The most pressing immediate issue confronting NATO, a May 1 withdrawal deadline for 10,000 NATO and allied troops occupying Afghanistan, was left unresolved, waiting for a decision to be made in Washington. The deadline is part of the peace agreement signed last year in Qatar between the US and the Taliban, which was supposed to trade the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops for the Taliban’s commitment to denying the use of Afghan soil to Al Qaeda or any other forces seeking to attack the US and its allies. In the year since the negotiation of the accord, not a single US soldier has been killed in the country. Now, the Pentagon is claiming that the level of “violence” in the country makes it impossible to move forward. The US-backed security forces of the puppet regime in Kabul are facing a debacle, giving up bases and checkpoints to the Taliban, which is encircling major regional capitals. The insurgent movement’s traditional spring offensive is still to come. While European forces account for the majority of the foreign troops still in Afghanistan—officially, the US has only 2,500 soldiers deployed in the country—the occupation is wholly dependent upon US airpower, supply lines and logistical support.

Biden team a takes major step in offering to start talks with Iran as Tehran’s sanctions deadline approaches - Iran and the U.S. are in a standoff. President Joe Biden's administration wants to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, but is demanding to see changes from Tehran before it will lift the heavy sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump team. Meanwhile, Iran says it wants Washington to step up its game and make the first move, refusing to budge until those sanctions are lifted. But the Biden administration on Thursday took a major step, joining with European partners in offering to begin talks with the Iranians for the first time in four years. "The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting ... to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. The Biden team also rescinded the former Trump administration's efforts to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told European ministers in a call Thursday that it would work with them to restore the 2015 accord, which he described as "a key achievement of multilateral diplomacy," according to a New York Times report. It remains unclear whether Iran will agree to the talks. Iran previously set a deadline of Sunday, Feb. 21, vowing that if oil and banking sanctions are not lifted by then, it will expel the U.N.'s nuclear inspectors from the country, ending outside access to its facilities. The political brinkmanship raises questions over Biden's plans to salvage a deal which has effectively been on life support since former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of it in 2018. The Iranian nuclear deal, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was spearheaded by the Obama administration and involved several other world powers. It lifted international sanctions on Iran, offering the country of 83 million economic relief, in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program, which included mandated inspections by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Any removal of IAEA inspectors "would make an agreement much more difficult to achieve; without mechanisms for monitoring Iran's nuclear program, mistrust from the U.S. and the remaining parties to the JCPOA would deepen," Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in a research note this week.#160;

Iran, Russia and China launch joint naval exercises in Indian Ocean -On February 16, as NATO prepared its summit to prosecute “strategic rivalry” with Russia and China, Iranian and Russian warships launched ongoing naval drills in strategic waters of the Indian Ocean, south of Iran and the oil-rich Persian Gulf. They are to soon be joined by Chinese warships which were reportedly delayed by the Chinese New Year festival. The drills highlight the global war tensions that are at explosive levels as the Biden administration takes office. These are the second such exercises, continuing a format inaugurated by joint Iranian-Russian-Chinese “Maritime Security Belt” naval drills held in December 2019. Shortly afterwards, Washington ordered the brazen assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was murdered in a US drone strike at the Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020. A warship sails while approaching Iran’s southeastern port city of Chahbahar, in the Gulf of Oman. Iran’s navy on Friday kicked off the first joint naval drill with Russia and China in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. (Iranian Army via AP) This year’s Iranian-Russian-Chinese exercises take place as Iran’s economy reels under the impact of US sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. As he maintains devastating financial sanctions that Trump imposed on Iran after unilaterally scrapping the 2015 Iranian nuclear treaty, Biden ordered last month a provocative flyover of the Persian Gulf by a lone B-52 Stratofortress bomber escorted by Saudi F-15 fighter jets. The Iranian-Russian-Chinese drill underscores that with its threats against Iran, Washington is prosecuting a far broader, global conflict that threatens to erupt into war. This drill comes shortly after the larger Malabar 2020 naval exercise in November with US, Indian, Japanese and Australian ships including aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and INS Vikramaditya. This joint naval mobilization of the so-called “Asian Quad” of US allies was, as Voice of America reported citing Indian naval spokespersons, an “effort to contain China.” Shortly after these exercises, top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died on November 27, near Tehran, in what US intelligence officials described as an Israeli assassination. Iran’s Navy Chief Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi announced that the current drill aims to “ensure collective security in the region and in the northern Indian Ocean.” Khanzadi implied that the drill aims to expel US influence from the region: “It means that global arrogance which until today dominated the region must realize that it needs to leave it.” While Khanzadi also initially reported that Indian warships would join the joint exercise, Indian navy officials subsequently denied that India is participating in the exercises.

  Africa’s reliance on Chinese loans has experts concerned about more debt defaults - After Zambia became the first coronavirus-era debt default on the African continent, analysts are questioning whether nations heavily dependent on Chinese loan financing would be susceptible to debt distress. The Covid-19 pandemic has posed difficulties for a host of sub-Saharan African countries that have borrowed substantially from China in recent years to fund major infrastructure projects, compounding pressures from a slowdown in the continent's economic growth and falling commodity prices. Zambia became the first country on the continent to formally default on its debt in November 2020, opting out of a $42.5 million eurobond repayment. As Africa's second-largest copper producer, falling copper prices in recent years rendered its $11 billion debt pile increasingly difficult to manage, but concerns also emerged from eurobond investors regarding the transparency of its Chinese loan payments. What we learned from Zambia "The popularity of Chinese creditors has created a more diverse creditor base than the historical primarily Paris Club bilateral lenders, which complicates the resolution of repayment conflicts," Verisk Maplecroft Research Associate Aleix Montana said in a recent report. Montana said the Zambia case indicates that beyond just the size of debt, the composition of creditors also plays a role in determining debt risk. Transparency concerns mean Western bondholders are more likely to reject potential debt relief packages in countries borrowing from China, due to fears that debt relief will be used to repay Chinese loans. Resource-backed loans are often attractive to nations with rich natural resources, a need to finance infrastructure projects and limited access to capital markets. In some of China's financing arrangements, commodities are used as a means of repayment or collateral, Montana highlighted. Loans are often predicated on future production of resources like cocoa, tobacco, oil or copper."Repayment deals based on the future value rather than on the quantity of a commodity are especially risky for the borrower, since a decrease in commodity prices in the global market would require an artificial increase in its production to cover the debt obligations," Montana said.

Somali government forces, opposition clash in Mogadishu over election protest (Reuters) - Somali government troops and opposition supporters - including some soldiers - exchanged gunfire in Mogadishu on Friday in street clashes that broke out during a protest march over delayed elections. Demonstrators said they had been attacked first by the government forces. Residents reported sporadic shooting and said rocket-propelled grenades had also been fired. The violence, which followed fighting overnight, subsided by Friday afternoon. But it fueled concern that the military could split along clan lines. It could also strengthen an al Qaeda-linked insurgency, especially as hundreds of U.S. troops have just pulled out of Somalia. Lawmakers were due to select a new president on Feb. 8, but the process was delayed after the opposition accused President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is seeking a second term, of packing regional and national electoral boards with supporters. An opposition alliance says his term has expired and he is no longer president.

Hershey, Nestlé, Mars and Other Chocolate Makers Named in Child Slavery Class Action Lawsuit -- Hershey, Nestlé, Mars and Other Chocolate Makers Named in Child Slavery Class Action Lawsuit - A human rights group filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of eight Malian men who say they were trafficked across the border to the Cote D'Ivoire and forced to harvest cocoa for one or more of seven popular companies, including Mars, Nestlé and Hershey. "Enough is enough!" IRAdvocates Executive Director Terry Collingsworth said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "Allowing the enslavement of African children in 2021 to harvest cocoa for major multinational companies is outrageous and must end." The class action lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition to Nestlé, Hershey and Mars, the lawsuit also names Cargill, Mondelēz, Barry Callebaut and Olam. It marks the first time that a class action lawsuit of this type has been brought against cocoa companies in a U.S. court, The Guardian reported. The eight men, who are now young adults, seek damages for forced labor and compensation for the fact that the companies inflicted emotional harm and improper supervision while getting rich at their expense. Child labor is a major and ongoing problem for cocoa production in West Africa. NORC at the University of Chicago found that 1.56 million children were harvesting cocoa in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana during the 2018 and 2019 growing season, up 14 percent from 2015, IRAdvocates said. At the same time, 1.48 million children undertook dangerous tasks while working. The defendant companies have long pledged to end the use of child slavery in their supply chains, but continually extend their deadlines for meeting this goal. In 2001, they signed the "Harkin-Engle Protocol" promising to end child labor by 2005; more than 15 years later, they are now promising to reduce the use of child labor by 70 percent by 2025. "By giving themselves this series of extensions, these companies are admitting they ARE using child slaves and will continue to do so until they decide it's in their interests to stop," Collingsworth said. "Based on the objective record of twenty years of the failed Harkin-Engle Protocol, these companies will continue to profit from child slavery until they are forced to stop. The purpose of this lawsuit is to force them to stop."

 As farmers expand their agitation, Indian government intensifies repression -- Pushed on the back foot by the popular support for the farmers’ agitation against its pro-agribusiness farm laws, India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is systematically intensifying state repression against protesters and their supporters. Since late November, tens of thousands of protesting farmers, principally from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been encamped on the outskirts of the Delhi National Capital Territory. Their Delhi Chalo (Let’s go to Delhi) protest, which is demanding the repeal of all three recently-enacted farm laws, was prevented from entering the capital by a massive police mobilisation organised by the Modi government. During the first 75 days of the protest, over 200 farmers have died due to bitterly cold weather, accidents, and suicides. The farm laws strengthen the domination of major domestic and international agribusiness concerns over India’s agricultural sector, and all but abolish the minimum support price (MSP) guarantee for farmers’ crops. They are part of a battery of pro-investor reforms being implemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu supremacist BJP in order to boost the competitiveness of Indian capitalism, and intensify the exploitation of the working class and rural poor. The farm laws were passed in last September’s session of parliament together with labour “reforms” that illegalize most strikes and promote precarious contract-labour jobs. Under these conditions, the Modi government fears that the longer the farmers’ protest goes on, the greater becomes the risk it could serve as the catalyst for the eruption of much broader social opposition to the Indian ruling elite’s class war agenda. It is in this context that the right-wing BJP government has vastly expanded its vicious campaign of repression against the protesting farmers and their supporters, following their January 26 tractor rally in Delhi to mark Republic Day. The Delhi police, which are directly controlled by Modi’s chief henchman and Home Minister Amit Shah, have filed 44 First Information Reports (FIR) against hundreds of farmers and more than 40 farmer leaders, claiming they orchestrated mass “violence” on Republic Day. One hundred twenty-two farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been arrested. The Modi government is also trying to disperse the tens of thousands of protesters who continue to camp at the protest sites by cutting their access to water, electricity and telecommunications. The police have put up several layers of “war zone-like” barricades to prevent the protesters from entering Delhi and confine them to the protest sites. The Modi government’s repressive measures have thus far backfired. Tens of thousands of new protesters, including women, youth and students, have begun arriving at the protest sites to show their solidarity with those encamped on the outskirts of India’s capital.

India activist arrested over circulating Greta Thunberg 'toolkit' - An Indian activist was taken into custody after being accused by officials of editing and circulating a “toolkit” that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted out sharing how to support the farmers' protests going on across the Asian nation. Activist Disha Ravi is being charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy; authorities have accused her of being a “key conspirator” for the toolkit and have accused her of spreading “disaffection with the Indian state,” The Guardian reported. The move was quickly met with protests and criticism.  Ravi’s arrest is “an unprecedented attack on Democracy. Supporting our farmers is not a crime,” said Delhi chief minister Arwind Kejriwal.  Ravi admitted to editing two lines in the file during her court hearing, but police claim they have evidence that she did more than edit those two lines. The court ordered Ravi to stay in police custody for five days as the police wanted time to “unearth her connections with the Sikhs for Justice,” according to The Guardian.The toolkit was shared by Thunberg to support farmers who have been protesting new agricultural laws that affect the pricing and storage of farmers’ produce. Thunberg has faced backlash over her support of farmers, with some counterprotesters burning effigies of the Swedish teen.   Ravi was flown to New Delhi and taken into custody after authorities raided her home on Saturday.   “Delhi police’s actions are all the more sinister because Disha was taken to Delhi with no disclosure about her whereabouts, not even to her parents, an action that can be termed extrajudicial abduction,” said the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India, The Guardian reported. The farmers’ protests have become a controversial topic in India after the farmers became violent in January and broke into the Red Fort complex.

Global Outrage After India Arrests Climate Activist Over Farmer Protest Toolkit Shared by Greta Thunberg -- Public figures within and beyond India are demanding the release of Disha Ravi, a climate campaigneraccused of sedition for allegedly editing and distributing an activist "toolkit" in support of the ongoing farmers' protest that was tweeted by Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg.  A petition calling for Ravi's release has over 12,100 signatures. Activists, actors, politicians, and others have condemned her weekend arrest, which followed months of farmer-led demonstrations against agricultural reforms and other policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Hindu nationalist government.  More than 50 academics, activists, and artists have released a joint statement denouncing Ravi's arrest as "disturbing," "illegal in nature," and an "over-reaction of the state," according to The Tribune, an English-language daily in North India.  Arresting the activist, in her early 20s, "is an unprecedented attack on democracy," tweeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. "Supporting our farmers is not a crime." Indian MP P. Chidambaram, also responded on Twitter, declaring that "the Indian state must be standing on very shaky foundations if Disha Ravi, a... student of Mount Carmel college and a climate activist, has become a threat to the nation." "India is becoming the theatre of the absurd and it is sad that the Delhi Police has become a tool of the oppressors," he added. "I strongly condemn the arrest of Disha Ravi and urge all students and youth to raise their voices to protest against the authoritarian regime." Delhi Police said in a series of tweets Sunday that Ravi — who co-founded a branch of the youth-led climate movement Fridays for Future in Bangalore — is a "key conspirator" in the "formulation" and "dissemination" of the toolkit. They also accused her of starting a related group on the messaging service WhatsApp.

 School Success Model spearheads deeper offensive against Australian public schools - A new blueprint, dubbed the School Success Model, was imposed on teachers and students last month with the opening of the school year in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state. It takes another major step toward implementing the pro-corporate education restructuring ushered in by the federal Labor Party governments a decade ago. School Success features a further narrowing of the school curriculum, and the imposition of mandatory teaching methods, learning materials, classroom content and practice. It establishes annual improvement targets, with “underperforming” schools facing automatic departmental intervention, and ties teacher performance to how much “value” they add to student “learning progressions.” Taken as a whole, the model represents a historic attack on any notion of enlightened education for the vast majority of children. School Success is being implemented by state Liberal-National Party government in NSW to replace the Local Schools Local Decisions (LSLD) autonomy model introduced in NSW in 2012. LSLD eliminated 800 curriculum support positions in the state education department’s central office and devolved many financial decisions to school principals. Thousands of permanent teaching positions were replaced by casual and temporary appointments as cost-cutting measures. In addition, in order to extract increased productivity from already overworked teachers, teacher dismissal procedures were fast-tracked, assisted by a call by the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) for a special task force to facilitate the removal of so-called underperforming teachers. LSLD also tied teachers’ pay rises to meeting “standards,” a step toward pay for “student performance.” The new model will further entrench a two-tier system of school education. In a country with already one of the highest levels in the OECD of private school enrolments, the growing resource gap between public and private schools, compounded by the mandating of regressive new teaching methods, will further drive down public school enrolments and undercut public education.

Facebook Bans News in Australia to Avoid Paying Charges - Yves Smith -  Facebook has decided to go nuclear in its dispute with the Australian government over a plan to require the media giant to share revenues with content providers and has barred all news content. And yes, this is a big deal:  More detail starting with Reuters:Australians woke to empty Facebook news feeds on Thursday, after the social media giant blocked all media content in a surprise escalation of a dispute with the government, which could be a test for the future of online publishing worldwide.The move was swiftly criticised by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates, particularly as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on his own Facebook page, using the vernacular for cutting ties with another person on the site.“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”A planned Australian law would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.  The Guardian stresses that Facebook’s ban was a big cock-up:The Bureau of Meteorology, state health departments, the Western Australian opposition leader, charities and Facebook itself are among those to have been hit by Facebook’s ban on news in Australia.On Thursday morning Facebook began preventing Australian news sites from posting, while also stopping Australian users from sharing or viewing content from any news outlets, both Australian and international.The social media giant said it made the decision in response to the news media bargaining code currently before the Senate, which would force Facebook and Google to negotiate with news companies for payment for content.While the ban was only meant to target Australian news publishers, dozens of pages run by key government agencies, community pages, union pages, charity organisations and politicians were also blocked for several hours.Australia’s main source of weather information, the Bureau of Meteorology, said on Thursday morning that it had been blocked, and was advising users to go to its direct website, app or Twitter page. Needless to say, this is not winning friends among the locals. From BBC: “Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan accused the company of “‘behaving like a North Korean dictator’.” And by contrast, Google was working on getting deals done.

Furious Aussies React To "Zero Warning" Facebook Ban On News Content --The pushback and reaction to Facebook's drastic 'retaliation' on the Australian government has been fierce from both officials and the broader public in the hours following the Wednesday decision of the US-based social media platform to block all news sharing on the continent. Australian officials are warning that Facebook's actions are severely damaging the ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.The Facebook announcement came a day after on Tuesday the current session of parliament vowed to implement the so-called "News Media Bargaining Code" by end of next week. The controversial legislation will force major US-based internet companies to begin paying local Australian publishers for use of their content. Aussies are now barred from posting, sharing or even viewing news content on Facebook whatsoever in a move that Google had previously threatened with its search engine. According to FT the ban has already "restricted access to critical public information on government health and emergency service sites on Thursday."  Australia's national government has since said that Facebook gave "no warning" of the drastic action, which Canberra officials further slammed as "wrong" and "heavy-handed". However, there doesn't appear appetite for backing down anytime soon; instead, Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg pointed out, "But what today’s events do confirm for all Australians isthe immense market power of these media digital giants."Public health and emergency authorities and experts appear to be saying in unison "the timing couldn't be worse" given the country is in the midst of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. FT offered some of the following examples of public services that immediately had their content blocked as a result of the news sharing ban: The Facebook pages of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland Department of Health and Hobart Women’s Shelter were among dozens hit...And in another example:Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said her organisation had been mistakenly blocked by the platform. "Australian workers cannot now find out about their rights at work via Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately," she wrote on Twitter.

Australian government overturns university research grants as part of anti-China campaign --According to an “exclusive” report in the Murdoch media’s Australian newspaper yesterday, the federal Liberal-National government last December secretly blocked a number of university research grants because they allegedly represented a China-linked “national security threat.” This development, only made known by a leak to the corporate media two months after the grants were overturned, is bound up with the US-instigated confrontation with China, now being intensified by the Biden administration. It also marks a further step in the government’s political censorship of research at universities, and their integration into preparations for a potentially catastrophic military conflict with China in order to reassert US dominance over the Indo-Pacific region and internationally. The Australian reported: “Top scientists at Australian universities have been denied lucrative taxpayer-funded research grants on national security grounds, as the federal government cracks down on projects that could hand military or economic advantage to foreign adversaries. “The Australian can reveal that, in the first decision of its kind, five applicants for Australian Research Council (ARC) grants were blocked from receiving funding of up to $500,000 a year on the orders of former education minister Dan Tehan.” Tehan reportedly refused approval after Australian intelligence agencies, such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), subjected 18 ARC grant applications to additional checks. The move came amid an escalating anti-China scare campaign, spearheaded by the same agencies, the media and the entire political establishment, including the Labor Party and Greens, featuring unsubstantiated allegations of “Chinese interference” and “recruitment” of dozens of academics.

US, OAS, Colombia try to steal Ecuador’s election from popular socialist candidate, while spreading fake news– A popular socialist candidate, Andrés Arauz, won the first round of Ecuador’s historic presidential election by a landslide on February 7. The leftist’s overwhelming victory prompted the US State Department, the right-wing government of neighboring Colombia, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to mobilize to prevent him from entering office.Arauz won the first round of the election with 33 percent of the vote, a full 13 percent greater than the second-place candidate, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso. His opponents are now seeking to force a vote recount under the supervision of the OAS, while simultaneously launching a smear campaign relying on blatant disinformation to link Arauz to a Colombian guerrilla group in hopes of disqualifying him.Arauz has accused Ecuador’s US-backed government, led by right-wing leader Lenín Moreno, of “pushing to persecute me with crude lies… blackmailing and cheating justice.” The former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who was targeted in an OAS-backed coup in 2019, has also warned that a new plot is afoot.The Moreno administration has broken records of unpopularity, garnering just an 8 percent approval rating. Against popular discontent, Moreno’s government is desperately working to disqualify Arauz, a follower of socialist former President Rafael Correa and his leftist Correista movement.Just two weeks before the election, Moreno traveled to Washington, DC to meet with top officials from the US government, as well as the coup-sponsoring general secretary of the OAS, Luis Almagro. Now, the Moreno administration’s top electoral body is openly conspiring with the second- and third-place candidates, meeting privately with them, giving them a massive public platform to call to “defeat Correismo,” and even agreeing to conduct a recount of the vote in the specific precincts where they lost.This highly politicized recount, which has no legal basis, is estimated to take two weeks – an extraordinary length of time. The unusual process has the full backing of the US State Department, and will be overseen by the OAS, which inspired a military coup targeting Bolivia’s democratically elected socialist government in November 2019.

Texas Blackouts Cost Mexican Manufacturers $2.7 Billion - Rolling power blackouts have affected key industrial sites across Mexico, including border states home to hundreds of factories producing everything from auto parts to electronics. Factories across northern Mexico states such as Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon reported more than $2.7 billion in losses from blackouts that started Monday when Texas began limiting natural gas supplies, according to Mexico’s National Council of the Maquiladora and Export Manufacturing (INDEX). INDEX reported 2,600 companies across Mexico have been affected by the power outages since Monday. General Motors, Mazda and Volkswagen are suspending some of their operations for several days in Mexico due to the natural gas shortage, the automakers said in separate statements. “Due to the natural gas shortage affecting the Mexican territory, our Silao Guanajuato Complex was forced to stop its operations on the night of February 16 and February 17,” GM said in a statement. Volkswagen adjusted the production schedule of its plant in Puebla where it produces the Jetta, Taos and Golf model cars. Japanese automaker Mazda announced it would stop production of its plant in Salamanca, Mexico, starting Wednesday due to the lack of natural gas from the U.S. Production could resume by Friday. More blackouts across Mexico could be on the horizon with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that natural gas sale and exports to Mexico will be suspended until Sunday. “Some of the natural gas produced in Texas is occasionally shipped out of state. Today I have issued an order effective today through February 21, requiring producers who have been shipping to locations outside of Texas to instead sell that natural gas to the Texas power generator which will also increase the power produced and it will be shipped to homes in Texas,” Abbott said during a Wednesday press conference.

"Far-Reaching Violation": Dutch Govt Ordered To Lift 'Illegitimate' Pandemic Curfew By Hague Court  -- A top court in The Hague issued a "shock" ruling that curbs the power of civic authorities to impose sweeping coronavirus-related curfews which should have significant reverberations legally for similar scenarios in other countries. "The curfew must be lifted immediately," the court said in a statement, underscoring that the Dutch government isabusing its powers by violating freedom of movement and assembly in particular. The pandemic curfew must be reversed immediately, the government has been told, which comes after weeks of fierce protests by an angry population which seems to have rejected it in unison.  In the official court statement, the Hague deemed the invocation of the Extraordinary Powers of Civil Authority Act to impose a national curfew is not justified on the basis of the COVID-19 emergency. The law allows the government to circumvent normal legislative channels to impose curfew in "very urgent and exceptional circumstance".  "The curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy and (indirectly) limits, among other things, the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration," The Hague court said. "The Preliminary Relief Judge ruled that the introduction of the curfew did not involve the special urgency required to be able to make use of the [act]," the Hague said. One key issue cited is that the government had plenty of time to discuss and consider such a curfew through the normal legislative process, thus "the use of this law to impose curfew is not legitimate," according to the ruling. The Netherlands' curfew had been among the most draconian in Europe and the world. While early in the pandemic during the first wave of lockdowns a number of countries had imposed such curfews, since January 23 Dutch citizens wereordered to remain home between the hours of 9pm and 4:30am, which would result in steep fines if violated. It was to be in effect until March 2.

Exclusive: Google's $76 Million Deal With French Publishers Leaves Many Outlets Infuriated (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's Google has agreed to pay $76 million over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end a more than year-long copyright spat, documents seen by Reuters show. The agreement between Google and the Alliance de la presse d'information generale (APIG), a lobby group representing most major French publishers, was announced previously, but financial terms had not been disclosed. The move infuriated many other French outlets, which deemed it unfair and opaque. Publishers in other countries will scrutinize the French agreement, the highest-profile in the world under Google's new program to provide compensation for news snippets used in search results. Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other French news providers that do not belong to the group are not part of the agreement and are pressing forward with various actions against Google. The accord follows France's implementation of the first copyright rule enacted under a recent European Union law that creates "neighbouring rights," requiring large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content.

UK Government Is "Considering" Vaccine Passports To Enter Pubs, Shops, Events - After months of denying there are any plans to introduce so called vaccine passports, the British government has now admitted that not only is it considering introducing them for travel, but also merely to gain access to events spaces, and even shops and pubs. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told LBC radio that the government is considering a domestic scheme to allow greater freedoms to those who can prove they have been vaccinated.“It’s under consideration, but of course you’ve got to make it workable,” Raab stated:“I’m not sure there’s a foolproof answer in the way that sometimes it’s presented, but of course we’ll look at all the options,” Raab added.Raab’s comments come after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi declared last month that any form of vaccine passport would be ‘discriminatory’.A senior government source also told the Telegraph that the Government has been “very cautious about this idea that if you don’t have a passport therefore somehow your liberties are curtailed”.“As Conservatives we should be instinctively concerned about that,” the source further noted.Despite the repeated denials, the government has continued to develop the vaccine passport system.There are also reports that the government plans to issue exemptions for ethnic minorities, in order to avoid charges of xenophobia and racism.Former Prime Minister, and arch globalist, Tony Blair has renewed his push for Britain to implement a standardised global vaccine passport while the country has the G7 Presidency.Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Blair urged “We should plan for an agreed ‘passport’ now. The arguments against it really don’t add up.” “The world is moving in this direction,” Blair added, saying that he “can’t see another way of this.”

 The century-old tax that could help pay for the pandemic - Britain’s indebtedness, relative to output, has risen to levels not seen since wartime. That fact has caused many to draw parallels between battling the Covid-19 pandemic and that of waging war. Both the waging of war and the blockage of a highly contagious, deadly illness require supply chain disruptions. These lead to distortions in both the supply of, and demand for, goods and services. This, in turn, leads to distortions in prices and profits of the sort we are seeing now. Britain’s response to the onset of war in 1914 was characterised by two slogans; the first was ‘Business as usual’. Chancellor David Lloyd George insisted that commercial life would go on as before. The second, ‘Home by Christmas’, indicated government’s belief that the war would be short-lived. While neither slogan has been expressed in exactly these terms by the Johnson government, both have been themes running through its response. Now, as then, both have proved woefully inadequate. Today Britain is bracing for the Chancellor’s next budget on March 3, with the expectation that the gaping deficit will be addressed with some tax increases. Among the ideas circulating – as in the years after the First World War – is that of a tax on wealth. So it is helpful to take a close look at what became one of the most significant tools in financing the First World War; the Excess Profits Duty (EPD).. A tax designed along similar lines today would allow the government to extract higher revenues from businesses able to exploit the effects of the pandemic, while shielding the weakest. The tax was adopted amid a raging debate in Britain about how the debt burden should be shared.  The immediate effect of the outbreak of war in 1915 was to send the prices of basic goods soaring; the price of a standard 4lb loaf of bread rose roughly 40 per cent to 8d in the opening weeks of war. By December 1918, The Economist index of wholesale prices had more than doubled from the outbreak of war. The perception was that business owners were getting very rich at the expense of their workers. Strikes – several in key industries supplying war materials – ensued. It was quickly becoming apparent that ‘profiteering’ was more than just economically destabilising. It was politically destabilising as well.  Of course, there are several important distinctions between wartime 1914-18 and the current pandemic.  Nevertheless, what is very clear is that, as in wartime, the pandemic’s economic effects have been wildly unequal. The emergence of a so-called ‘K-shaped recovery’ has granted outsized profits to businesses in certain sectors such as housing and online retailing, and staggering losses to others such as hotels and travel businesses. Covid-19 has also highlighted the inequality rampant long before the illness broke out. Front-line workers on low wages who cannot work from home must show up for jobs where they are likely to become infected. These have disproportionately become ill. Similarly, low-waged workers are most frequently sharing high-density, multi-generational homes where the disease spreads quickly.  The application of a tax policy that tries to address not just the issue of revenue-raising, but also that of fairness, is an idea deserving of consideration.

UK economy shows signs of stabilisation after new lockdown hit (Reuters) - Britain’s economy has stabilized after a new COVID-19 lockdown last month hit retailers, and business and consumers are hopeful the vaccination campaign will spur a recovery, data showed on Friday. The IHS Markit/CIPS flash composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, a survey of businesses, suggested the economy was barely shrinking in the first half of February as companies adjusted to the latest restrictions. A separate survey of households showed consumers at their most confident since the pandemic began. Britain’s economy had its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020, when it contracted by 10%, and will shrink by 4% in the first three months of 2021, the Bank of England predicts. The central bank expects a strong subsequent recovery because of the COVID-19 vaccination programme - though policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said in a speech on Friday that the BoE could need to cut interest rates below zero later this year if unemployment stayed high. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due on Monday to announce the next steps in England’s lockdown but has said any easing of restrictions will be gradual. Official data for January underscored the impact of the latest lockdown on retailers. Retail sales volumes slumped by 8.2% from December, a much bigger fall than the 2.5% decrease forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, and the second largest on record. “The only good thing about the current lockdown is that it’s no way near as bad for the economy as the first one,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said. The smaller fall in retail sales than last April’s 18% plunge reflected growth in online shopping.

No comments: